Wednesday, 1 August 2018

The Grand House: A Story


This is the story I wrote incorporating the words for the July writing challenge (which are shown in italics). 
Hope you enjoy reading it!

She sits in the drawing room staring up at the chandelier. The oranges and pinks of the setting sun are streaming in from the tops of the tall leaded windows and should be dancing in the crystal droplets. But there’s no sparkling. She presses a button and notes how long it takes for Charlie to reach her. It should take one minute precisely, but Charlie often takes two. She can feel her blood pressure rise as the large, dark grandfather clock ticks past one minute and past two.
            “You called, your Ladyship.”
            “I did indeed. Quite some time ago.”
            “Yes, your Ladyship.”
            “This chandelier. When was the last time you cleaned it?”
            “I think it was last week, your Ladyship.”
            “You think. That isn’t good enough. It must be cleaned every Friday so that it’s at its best brilliance for each and every week-end.”
            “Yes, your Ladyship.”
            “When is the car coming?”
            “I’ll check, your Ladyship.”
They both turn towards the French doors as the patter of little claws approaches. Charlie’s face reddens as she turns back to face the woman.
“What is Samuel Junior doing out of his crate?” Lady Devon demands. “I asked you to put him to bed an hour ago. I don’t want spaniel hair on my black dress. What are you thinking? Not much, evidently.”
“No, your Ladyship. I’ll put him to bed right away.”
“Pick him up, then. Before he comes in.”
“Yes, your Ladyship. The car must be here. Mr. Swan’s at the door.” Charlie lifts the dog up and pets him.
“About time too.”
“Lady Devon, I trust you’ll be comfortable in this vintage Rolls Royce,” the chauffeur says.
“No need for chit-chat. Just get me to the theatre in one piece and two minutes late.”
“Just as you say, your Ladyship.” He opens the door.
“I can’t be seen arriving in this!”
“What do you mean, your Ladyship?”
“There’s a hubcap missing, you fool.”
“Must have come off when I went down one of them there pot holes, your Ladyship.”
“I don’t care how it happened. You’ll have to call for another car. I’ll be waiting inside.” She brushes past the butler, leaving a trail of heavenly scent, apparently ignoring his existence. 
She anticipates a twenty-minute wait but a replacement car shows up in ten. That puts her in a better mood, much to the relief of Charlie who’s been summoned to clean the dust off the gilded picture frame hanging above the stone fireplace.

Lady Devon sinks into the leather seat and watches the sun sinking into oblivion as it lengthens the shadows of the grand oaks lining the one-mile drive.
The driver turns away from the city. She presses the communication button.
“You’re to drive me to the theatre. Where are you going?”
“Short cut, your Ladyship.”
“Is this car bullet-proof, as Mr. Swan ordered?”
“I wouldn’t know, your Ladyship. I’m just the driver.”
The speaker crackles, but she can detect something familiar about the man’s voice. She can’t see his face in the mirror in the semi-darkness and realizes she didn’t give him so much as a glance as she got into the car. She remembers that Mr. Swan opened the door for her. The driver didn’t even bother to get out and acknowledge her.
Something isn’t right.
She can make out the slope of the man’s shoulders and the squareness of his head. His hands are partly visible. A tremor of recognition quivers down her spine.
“Bartholomew, stop the car.”
“I don’t think you want to stop here, mother. This is the disreputable end of town.” There’s a hint of disdain.
“What’s going on?” This is why the dusting wasn’t done and why Samuel Junior wasn’t in his bed. No-one expects her to return. She’s going to be shot and her body hidden so that Bartholomew can inherit her fortune. He’s been blatant about his quest but she’s refused to bend to his demands. He wants to turn Dorset House into a rehabilitation centre for drug addicts and alcoholics. What a disgrace for the beauty of the old mansion to be destroyed so that people, who brought misery on themselves, can writhe in their vomit and scratch at the walls.  
“Let’s just hope the car is bullet-proof,” Bartholomew says. She can’t see the faint smile on his lips.
“Can we talk?”
“What do you want to talk about? We’re nearly there.”
“Where?” She looks around but can’t distinguish anything out of the shadows.
“Where we’re going.”
“You want to turn that beautiful house, my home, into a lunatic asylum.”
“That’s not exactly correct.”
“Why?”
“Because your grandson died of an overdose and I think it’s because we all failed him.”
“Johnny died of an overdose?”
“We hid the truth because of you - fearing your judgement, knowing you’d feel angry and ashamed. We shouldn’t have. We should have done something. We should do something. I’ve tried everything I can think of to get you to listen – threats and more threats. But you only hear what you want to hear. You haven’t wanted to know.”
“Johnny was only sixteen when he died.”
“Yes.”
“He was your only son.”
“Yes.”
“We should have done something.”
“Yes.”
“Where are we?”
“We’re back at the house. The lights are out. This is my last threat. I’m so desperate to do something so that my son, your grandson, didn’t die in vain, that I’m going to burn this place down and collect the insurance money. Yes, I fixed it so that I’m the beneficiary and I’ve a plan so that arson won’t be suspected. Then I can make the rehabilitation centre happen. Or, you’re going to help make this rehabilitation centre a reality in Dorset House. Your choice.”
“Why didn’t you tell me before?”
“Because you don’t listen and you have contempt for people who are poor, sick or addicted to anything.”
She believes he’s bluffing. It would be almost impossible to burn such a large place down without it appearing suspicious. But he’s planned it well: the missing hubcap, the dust, the dog; and he’s got her attention. She pulls her head out of the sand, and her grief stings like a wasp in her heart.
“I don’t believe you can burn the house down, but,” she pulls out a lace-trimmed handkerchief to dab at the strange drops which dampen her powdered cheeks, “I’ll help for Johnny’s sake. But they’ll be conditions. I’ll run the business affairs and I’ll have the east wing for my living quarters.”
“Done. I have the documents drawn up. Mr. Swan is waiting in the drawing room.”
“I’ll read them carefully before signing.”
“I wouldn’t expect anything less.”
  
Vicky Earle Copyright 2018 











Wednesday, 27 June 2018

Second book in Meg Sheppard series is on its way!

This book follows "What Happened to Frank?" which I'll be reissuing at the same time as my launch of the second book.
Watch for the announcement!

I'm grateful for the assistance of Stone's Throw Publications who have provided excellent services to me in this journey.

I'm thankful to my readers who have encouraged me and helped me to work through self-doubt. And thank you for your patience. This has been a long time coming.

And yes, I'm working on a third book in the series.

The books will be available in print and as e-books.
I will provide all the information soon.

I'm looking forward to hearing your feedback on book 2! 

Monday, 14 May 2018

"The Decision": A story from a racehorse trainer's point-of-view!




This short story was written for a "word challenge" which members of the Uxbridge Writers' Circle often participate in. 
We select words at our meeting and then read our stories which incorporate all these words at the following meeting, a month later. 
The chosen words are in italics. 
What would you have written?



Photo by Gene Devine on Unsplash



A fat rat scampers under the rusty but sturdy metal shed which houses the hay for the five horses I train. The pests are the only ones doing well around here. This racetrack has lost a lot of its dignity, and so have most of the people involved in the horse-racing business.
Where the horses are stabled is the place you notice it the most. If there is any paint left, it’s peeling and flaking, and the old neon lights are flickering - if they work at all. There isn’t a tap that doesn’t leak, and the doors to each barn either won’t move at all or get stuck every other day, requiring a team effort to open or close them.
The race purses have diminished and costs have increased. Foreign workers are hard to come by since the new regulations have come in. Not many locals want to clean out stalls, walk hot horses or groom them, or even ride them.
Every day I ask myself why I’m still in this business, scraping a living, barely making it through each racing season.
That’s not true.
I haven’t examined my reasons for hanging in here until today. And I wish I hadn’t started to think about it: it’s as if my thoughts have entered a labyrinth so complicated and confusing that I’m more conflicted than when I started. I should know better than to try to analyse, in a rational way, why I train racehorses. Horseracing defies logic.
I chuck my empty cup into the garbage and walk down the shedrow past several pairs of bright eyes and large nostrils, towards my area of the barn. One of my five horses whinnies. I like to think that it’s a greeting but I suspect it’s a plea for his grain. Bertie’s racing this afternoon, so hasn’t been fed his lunch. His whinny is half-hearted, though, because he understands he’s going to run. He knows the ropes probably just as well as I do.
I talk to each of them in turn, offering mints which are grabbed by soft, fuzzy muzzles from my outreached palm. I take out the empty feed buckets and as I’m scrubbing them under a tap which refuses to ever be shut off, my thoughts delve back into the labyrinth. My lips are dry and my stomach unsettled. Perhaps I need to get out of this business. The fact that I’m asking questions probably means that my heart isn’t in it any more.
But I can’t think of what I’d do instead. My father was a racehorse trainer. I was immersed in this world from a young age.
When Dad was injured in a car accident, I got my trainer’s licence, graduating from assistant trainer. So, it’s as if this is my heritage.
Dad had been a private trainer for a wealthy family, but I had a falling out with the grandfather, the patriarch. His ideas of horse management and horse care didn’t come up to my standards. So, I became a public trainer. But I only have five horses so far. I’d like twenty. But to get twenty you have to have success. You have to win races and get noticed.
Bertie doesn’t have much of a chance today. The competition has come up tough.
I can hear Sally, my horses’ groom, humming. She dumps a cracked laundry basket on the rubber mat near to the tap and picks up a clean saddle pad. As she folds, she glances at me and asks why I look so glum. Ever the optimist, Sally gets excited about every race. I shrug and put the feed buckets on their hooks handy for later use.
We get Bertie ready and take him over to the paddock for saddling up. I give the jockey a leg-up and Bertie trots almost on the spot, in anticipation. Sally hands him off to the pony who escorts him, in the company of the other nine horses with their ponies, through to the post parade, and on to the starting gate.
I’m at the rail near the finish line and Bertie’s coming around the last turn. Sally and I scream at him, although I doubt he can hear anything of our impassioned encouragement over the thunderous pounding of thirty-six hooves and the explosive puffing of eighteen flared nostrils, all on his tail.  
If Bertie wins, I’m staying in this business: and that’s my final decision.

Vicky Earle Copyright 2018

Friday, 6 April 2018

A Very Short Story: "Finding Badger"

This is a story I wrote in the allotted ten minutes during a meeting of the Uxbridge Writers' Circle (no editing allowed!):

At last I have time to ride my flashy quarterhorse out in the expansive conservation area, which is a short walk from the farm. Marigold is a handful at the best of times, but today she's even more spirited and alert.
     Frost has settled on the tall weeds, muting the browns and contrasting with the bright oranges and yellows of the turning birch leaves. But the undergrowth holds monsters of various shapes and sizes, all enemies of the horse, as far as Marigold is concerned.
     We do a couple of spontaneous pirouettes but I manage to calm her with my voice.
     A rustling ahead shakes some of the weeds and rattles Marigold. She spins around, bucks and takes off at a gallop, having dismounted me in the process.
     As I lie on the ground and check for broken bones, I look towards the source of the trouble, and the movement comes nearer. The weeds are so tall, it could be a coyote or even one of those coy-wolves I've seen at a distance. A black-and-white face emerges and I think I must be suffering from concussion. This apparition looks just like Badger, my barn cat,who disappeared over a year ago during a snowstorm. I assumed she'd met some dreadful fate.
     Badger comes sauntering over to me, licks my face, purrs, and I immediately feel much better. I pick up her thin, frail body and we stumble home to find Marigold.

Vicky Earle Copyright 2018

Wednesday, 14 March 2018

"The Offer": A story

"The Offer" was written as a word challenge exercise for the Uxbridge Writers' Circle. The words we had to incorporate into our piece are: harlequin; burro; spurt; seaweed; gaseous; leather.



            The fast-moving stream tumbles over the weir on its urgent rush to the sea. Male harlequin ducks bounce like large, colourful corks on the turbulent water. Their striking, definitive markings in various blues, greys and browns, contrast with deep black and vivid white, and have always captivated me. The town is still looking after some of them here, far away from their native habitat, in a ramshackle duck house surrounded by shabby fencing.
The burros have long gone, but I can see them in my mind’s eye lined up on the beach, resplendent with blue saddles and yellow halters, waiting to carry their light loads up and down the shore, splashing in the waves, much to the delight of many children.
            Other memories of this small town, where I spent my summers as a child, aren’t ones to be treasured.
            From an early age, I don’t recall when, I was put on the train by my mother, and travelled here on my own - a place where I knew virtually no-one. I felt as if I was imprisoned for the summer in my grandparents’ large, cold, damp and dismal house which smelled of stale tobacco and sour milk. My bedroom overlooked the park and I’d watch the ducks bobbing for food, tails in the air, and the old men playing bowls, and the luckier children running in spurts around the slide. 
            My grandfather took me out for the occasional walk to the sea wall where he would peer through the telescope mounted on a stone post and watch the ships. Nothing could be more boring. Once you’ve seen one large freighter moving at a snail’s pace in the distance, you’ve seen them all. I would find more excitement in seaweed being washed up on the colourful pebbles below, or, depending on the tide, the seemingly gaseous spray thrust high into the air as the tumultuous sea thrashed at the rocks. All I could do was look around me. I wasn’t permitted to walk on the beach for fear of ruining my leather shoes. And it was out of the question to go barefoot: the danger being that I might bring sand into that dank and dingy house.
            Not until his death did I realize why my grandfather was so interested in the movements of ships: he’d been watching the ferries crossing over from France, carrying his cargo in specially adapted vans.
            This cargo was living, or hanging onto life – being smuggled into Britain by a small group of which my grandfather was a part - to be used like commodities. These human beings were sold to other gangs who would use them as forced labour or in the illicit sex-trade.
            When my grandfather died, my mother called me into her bedroom and asked me to sit on the edge of the bed with her. She put her small hand on my thigh and looked at me, her dark eyes curiously moist, her black hair uncharacteristically dishevelled and her light brown complexion oddly sallow. As she spoke, I realized how blind I’d been, how unquestioning, how accepting. Her sorrow was her shame at having deceived me; there were no tears for my grandfather.
            That man was my father. His purchase of my mother from an organized crime syndicate was the beginning of his involvement in human smuggling.
            But he fell in love with her, and she lived as his mistress. But she told me that he behaved as if he owned her until his dying day. She didn’t feel loved. She just felt used.
            No wonder my grandmother was cold, unloving and sometimes downright cruel to me. She must have known.
            I met with my grandfather’s lawyer this morning. (I cannot refer to him as my father). He left nothing in his will for my grandmother or my mother. His small fortune, including the house has been left to me.
As soon as matters are settled, I’m giving the house to my grandmother.  And I’ll give half of the money to my mother so that she can help underprivileged people in her native country. Perhaps we’ll connect with some of our family members. And I’ll make substantial donations to the donkey sanctuary and to the town for improvement to the duck enclosure and the brook.
            That still leaves me with lots of dough. A life-changer. I can definitely turn down that assertive offer for a lucrative job which was made by one of grandfather’s connections. I’ll set up my own law practice and specialize in human rights cases: that’s what I studied law to do in the first place.
But I wonder what I would have done if I hadn’t inherited grandfather’s fortune? Would I have been tempted to follow in his footsteps and taken that job?

Vicky Earle Copyright 2018

           

Saturday, 20 January 2018

Looking for some stories to read on these cold nights?

I have just the stories for you! - an eclectic mix of fun reading. Find "Awesome Natural Phenomenon"; "Doubt"; and "Sling-shot" posted on the "Short Stories" page. Find the very short stories "Umbrella" and "Rum" posted on the "Micro Stories" page (vicky'sblog)
I hope you enjoy them  - and keep warm!

Thursday, 12 October 2017

Two New Stories: "Avarice" and "Cubicle"

"Avarice" is the story I wrote using the words for the October word challenge: stockbroker; acute; stray; emotional; billy club. "Cubicle" is the ten-minute on-the-spot story I wrote, using the prompt of a postcard showing small boats on the sea near the coast. Click on "short stories" and "micro stories" in the header vickyearleauthor.blogspot.ca
What would you have written? The words for November are nurse; trite; habitual; sling shot; conniving; disingenuous; signature.
Find out more about the Uxbridge Writers' Circle here: uxbridgewriterscircle.blogspot.ca