Friday, January 15, 2016

Ideas Like Bullets -- The Perilous Adventures of Anabelle Flagstaff

A few posts ago, I issued an IDEAS LIKE BULLETS challenge.  For those unfamiliar, I tend to have lots of ideas and I will share some of them on this column sometimes and encourage people to run with them. If you missed the first post about this one, THE PERILOUS ADVENTURES OF ANABELLE FLAGSTAFF, then look back through the archives for it. (EDITOR'S NOTE: Or click the handy link I provided.) It’s still one You can do!

Below find a tale from the first hardy individual to take on the challenge! And remember, though some ideas I share I will give away freely, this one is still mine, therefore all submissions are to be considered ‘works’ for hire.

Read on and enjoy Ray Dean’s take on….

The Perilous Adventures of Anabelle Flagstaff:

BENEATH THE SURFACE
by Ray Dean


Anabelle Flagstaff created by Tommy Hancock

Montgrove Manor had a rather illustrious past amongst the occult. Both the practitioners and the merely curious had heard of its curious history, but only the most adventurous and some of the most foolhardy ventured into the moors to seek out its rather inhospitable halls.

But for Anabelle Flagstaff, a weekend spent at the Manor had nothing to do with curiosity and everything to do with settling old scores.

The Earl had once been a robust man of steely nerves and a steady constitution. Inheriting the lands and possibly the malevolent specters of Montgrove Moors had nearly hollowed him, aging him far before his time. That was the fate of the man revealed to her upon her arrival, seated behind his desk, drawn and pale.

"Forgive me for not standing to greet you, my old friend."

Anabelle waved off his concern. "No need to stand on formalities, Edward. This isn't a friendly visit."

"True enough," he sighed and gestured to the file on the edge of his desk. "Everything I know is contained there is my-"

"That's not how I work, Edward." She gave him a soft nod, her red curls dancing along the alabaster column of her neck. "I walk in blind, for that is the only way to take true measure of what lies in the dark."

The Earl crossed himself, a gesture of habit more than hope, for the Earl seemed to be short of hope as of late. Given his weakened state, it must have been his dogged devotion to the stringent manners that he would have acquired growing up as a member of the peerage that aided him now. As Anabelle bid him a good evening she turned to leave the room and saw the sag of his shoulders reflected in a cabinet door.

*****

Cullen, the butler with his stern mien and tight lips, showed her about the house from eaves to the cellars. He had no kind words for her and she preferred it that way. Kindness was for the weak and Anabelle had backbone enough for three men. She cared little for the way that Cullen watched her as she moved through the house, his eyes narrowed, his hands clutched behind him as he led her from room to room as though he could not trust himself to leave them loose.
She felt no malice from him, only distrust and worry. Anabelle did not hold it against him, this house had known too little joy of late and she aimed to leave some peace in her own wake. She’d suffered worse than his dark looks.
    
Once she knew the floors and rooms by placement and feeling, she let him go back to his duties and he went with all speed, turning his back on her as if to forget she even existed. She preferred it that way. It was hard enough to look over her shoulder and keep herself out of harm's way. To have others at her side, or even nearby, was a danger for all concerned, for there was something inside of her that seemed to call to monsters, a beacon for darkness and pernicious entities. If she could find it within herself, she would, without a doubt, cut it free and dispose of it, for she longed to have some measure of peace in her own life.

*****

For days, there was nothing. No mysterious sounds. No screams in the night. No dire warnings from unseen frights. And yet, instead of calm and peace descending over the house and its occupants, it only brought dread. The servants whispered about their business, Edward’s wife took to her bed, and the Lord of Montgrove paced a weary rut into the rug in his study.

At supper, Anabelle was the only one seated at table, a single candle lit to illuminate her meal. She picked at the broiled piece of lamb and made her paces through the potato beside it. But when she took her final sip from her cup, what she felt wasn’t the warm infusion of wine into her blood; it was the cold frisson of fear that prickled along her skin.

She had waited for days to discover the origins of trouble at the moors, and tonight she knew was her best chance to get a good look at the mythical creature that had so many fearing its appearance.
Done with her meal, she retired to her quarters to await the first sign of danger.

*****

When a tremor rolled through the floorboards of the old keep, Anabelle had her boots on the floor a moment later.  She didn’t move. She waited for the odd sensation to tremble through her body one more time before she stood and deadened the elusive vibrations a bit. But like a bloodhound she had the scent and that was all she needed.

One step and then another led her from the door of her room and down the hall. The staircase, constructed of stone and part of an old tower, was a blank and dead space. Her boots, worn soft with hundreds of miles trod, made quick work to the floor below and there, she felt the tremor again.
She was closer. She could tell by the heavy twist of the muscles in her gut. It wasn’t easy for it to happen, but somehow beneath the thick duck cloth and metal stays, the tension she felt transformed her insides into a knot.

Turning one way in the hall, she felt the air cool as she moved through the space, the tension easing in her middle.

Anabelle turned back and moved down the opposite wing and stumbled, catching her balance with an outstretched hand pressed flat against the wall. Her skin burned hot, frosted over with a shiver.
She hung her head, taking in one breath after another, willing the sensations to slide beneath the surface and give her a chance to rein them in.

A soft hiss of sound to her right, something beyond the heavy wooden door, drew her away from the wall. Her hand fell to her side and she moved on, following her ears.

The study.

Pushing herself forward, she moved along the hall, grateful that she had been in this state before. It hurt like the dickens but at least she had the fortitude to put one foot in front of the other, because somewhere in the study there was at least a clue that would help to end this frightening mystery.
And maybe she’d be one step closer to finding the answer to her own mystery. To make the monsters the hunted, instead of herself.

The door wasn’t locked. None of the rooms were. It had nearly driven Cullen into fits when she’d made the request. Cullen wanted to refuse but with the Earl’s insistence, the butler had allowed the rooms to remain open.

Anabelle slipped inside the study and felt the bracing cold air buffet against her body, rocking her back on her heels. It wasn’t an unfamiliar feeling. She was used to unseen forces, and those that were seen, knocking her around. A wind was child’s play.

And the open window across the room, the obvious culprit.

Had this all been an open window? An errant maid distracted by the impending doom? Moving across the room, using only the ambient light of the slivered moon outside and the umber flicker of the fireplace, Anabelle was steps away from the window when the heavy wooden frame slammed closed.

There was a distinct noise somewhere beyond the tick-tick-tick of the grandfather clock behind her.  Somewhere above the hungry flicker of the fire eating up the logs behind the grate of the fireplace. And somewhere outside of the soft thump of her pulse in her ears.

There... There! She could hear it, but could it hear her?

Could it hear the quiver of her muscles from bone-deep exhaustion as she moved inch by inch about the room?

Could it hear the clicking of the lapel watch that had ridden up just under her ear?
Could it?

Ah, a scratch. Metal or bone against hard wood.

She smiled and heat flooded through her fingertips, bringing back the needle-like prick of feeling that the cold of fear had stolen away.

Another scratch and a huff of breath, a twist of sound that said 'it' had a head that turned away from her. What was it looking for?

The answer came to her in a rush that stole her own breath.

The door.

She didn't hear, so much as feel, the shift of weight in the room. It had moved... and stopped... between her and the door. She reached down into a pocket tied under her skirt and felt the slim handle of her dirk warm against her palm. By the sounds she could tell that the beastie wasn’t going to be very wee at all. She would need to put a great deal of effort in if she was going to subdue it enough to answer her questions.

But she doubted that it was going to be in the mood to be helpful. A floorboard creaked and she turned, the tip of her dirk slipping through the heavy fabric of her skirt, and nicked her long drawers and the skin beneath.

She heard the sudden intake of breath, the heated flare of nostrils, and knew that her prey had now become the hunter. It smelled her blood, and if the wet smack of sound was any indication, it was hungry.

Damn... Double damn.

She smiled.

Interesting.