Foretold, really?

The rise, rise and decline of Penny Dreadful.

“I think they’ll be emotional. And maybe even devastated. But I hope, when they get past that, they’re going to feel satisfied. I think John has done a brilliant job of creating closure. Nobody can say he didn’t end the story on his terms.” – David Nevins, Showtime President.

I fell in love with Penny Dreadful, Showtime’s critically claimed and underwatched Gothic psycho-sexual drama, during season 2 after hearing my parents, of all people, froth and foam at the mouth as to how good it was.

I ignored them at first.  Seeing classics such as Dracula and Frankenstein being butchered wasn’t top of my viewing list but one school holiday, when it was greyer outside than a Victorian slum, I succumbed to the lyrical script, elegant prose and sublime acting that Penny Dreadful presented, becoming engulfed in the battles of characters whose many dimensions reflected the rainbow of greys between black and white.

And then, it ended.

Dear reader, our creator destroyed, with one fell swoop of his pen, all our hopes and dreams, leaving us with the grief and grim future of only fanfiction.

Season 3 – much awaited.  Predictions of how, not if, Ethan and Vanessa would finally protect each other from their inner demons and find the light together.  Like most series, there was the blending of names, the will they/won’t they that keeps the viewer glued, the suspense at the undoing of a complex weave of intertwined individual narratives presented with costumes and sets that should have been in the theatre.

Maybe I was naive.  Maybe I should’ve known better than to give my trusting heart to a creator who acknowledge long before that he had drafted the story arcs of the first three seasons.  Maybe I should’ve recalled my Shakespearean tragedies and Victorian poetry a little more clearly from my three year toil through an English Literature degree.  As I went to sleep on Sunday evening, knowing that when I awoke I would discover the fates of Ethan and Vanessa, hopefully Ethanessa, and Showtime’s renewal for the next two seasons, a nagging doubt entered my mind: the ratings weren’t stellar; Victorian literature is not obligated to make an ending happy and well, maybe it was just going to be one of those Mondays.

I reassured myself in the knowledge that the public like a happy ending and that is what is usually provided in works of popular television fiction.  After all, real life is generally unpredictable enough with plenty of its own dark shadows to warrant writers shedding a little light.  Surely John Logan would create a little happiness for his characters and the #Dreadfuls that followed the show so passionately.

I don’t like Mondays, especially that first gaining of consciousness when you recognise the working week has begun and your body hasn’t quite got the strength to embrace it.  I should’ve been upbeat, looking forward to Tuesday’s double episode after soaking up the reviews that would leave me hanging on for season 4 and celebrating the reunion of Ethan and Vanessa, with a cliffhanger or two around whether they would ever actually be a couple.  I had plans for Ferdinand Lyle’s character to reemerge next May, full of tales of legend and superstition from Cairo, Amunet and Amunra forefront in our minds after foretelling from season 1.  I was hopeful of a glimpse of Ethan recognising Lily, seeing Brona through undead yet well-nourished skin.  I wondered how close the monologue in my head, spoken by Ethan to Victor when he learned of Brona’s resurrection, would be to what Logan would script.

It was not to be.

Vanessa died.  Ethan killed her.  You knew this would happen.  She had to return to God.  It was all about her religion.  The end.  You’ll get over it.

Cheers.

What a pile of bollocks.

First, kudos to Logan.  Penny Dreadful was brave and beautiful.  It took concepts and notions and stereotypes to their boundaries and broke them.  Eva Green’s acting; the exploration of Victorian England through science, perceptions of religion and the occult; the role of women (the portrayal of whom took an odd turn in season 3, but that’s one to explore later); our duality and the shades of grey that exist between the definitions of good and evil.  And love.

As much as Logan now states that the whole show was Vanessa Ives’ loss and reclamation of her religion and there was no other way for it to end other than her death taking her to God I reserve the right, under the argument of ‘The Death of the Author’, to differ.

It was about love.  And not Vanessa’s love for her deity, but a human love.  Malcolm and his daughter, son, wife; his changing family; John Clare’s seeking of acceptance and a partner to share the hideous reality Frankenstein had created; Frankenstein’s own battle to deal with his mother’s death by defeating death itself and his own ability to love a woman (the whole Frankenstein/Jekyll chemistry needed a season of its own); and of course, Ethan and Vanessa.  He was her guardian, the ‘Lupus Dei’ sent to protect her and in the course making the still teenage hearts of a variety of men and women flutter in the hope that the chemistry between them would come to bear fruit in an artfully dramatic and somewhat erotic way.

So much was promised, so many beautifully ugly cans of worms were unleashed on the viewers like tantalising spells, luring us in with lyrical prose and scrumptious sets.

For me, things started turning bleak around season 3, episode 2 – feel free to differ, dear Dreadfuls – with the exception of A Blade of Grass.  The script wasn’t up to standard; some of the dialogue and monologues felt repetitive and on the verge of cliche.  Yes, Logan was a master of the refrain which gave the script its poetic appeal, but my desperate willing suspension of disbelief was left dehydrated.  Penny Dreadful is an unbelievable tale, as it is meant to be, but it had been delivered in such a way to allow me, as with a fairytale, to relinquish reality and enjoy the resemblances to my life in the context of safety.  I could explore such emotions as the program would elicit safe in the knowledge that it would be put right – that’s why we love horror movies and novels.  We can be scared because the monster under the bed isn’t really there.  We learn, as children, to deal with these ‘false’ emotions in a place of safety.  Penny Dreadful was that.  It was my moors.

This season, I didn’t buy in.  The whole America plot with Ethan was drawn out, although I did enjoy the dinner scene.  We were meant to see him find his dark side, to explore and rationalise that darkness within himself so he himself could return to the light and Vanessa an unbroken man.  And he did, just a little too quickly given the depths to where he’d sunk the previous season. He was clearly too late to rescue her, obviously men can’t battle their inner muppets without the girl being seduced by Drac,  although this may be due to Logan’s decision for 9 episodes and there not being enough time to bring realism to this arc – if you recall, he said that Showtime had told him he could have as many episodes as he needed.

Sembene – was his name mentioned?  Malcolm returned to Africa and John Logan missed a bloody big boat.  How did Sembene know of Ethan’s fate as ‘Wolf of God’ apart from the obvious of seeing him howl at the moon?  There was so much there to explore and I felt it was skated passed, just as one of my young students creates a beautiful story and then gets bored, sticking a quick ‘they all lived happily ever after.  The end’ at the bottom of the page.

I was a little lost with the Lily sidestory.  I’m not sure exactly how incompetent the police were back in 1892, but I’m almost certain they’d have caught a few of Lily’s alternative Suffragettes hacking off the odd hand.  They’d be a certain amount of strength and skills to chop through bones as neatly as the pile of bloody fists suggested.  As brilliant as Billie Piper has been, the lines where she asked her gang of girls to commit said deed ran flat: I’m not convinced the actor believed in those words herself: I definitely didn’t.

Why was Lyle binned off part way through the season?  Yes, I see he might have had a happy end in Cairo, where the were more accepting of ‘his type’, but then the viewer was deprived of one of the few characters to bring genuine comedic lightness to the show.  Surely, if this was always planned to be the final season, there was no reason to part him from his beloved Miss Ives, and the viewer from the ‘queen with lovely hair’?

And we never felt the full force of Ethan’s fury at discovering what Victor Frankenstein meant when he said regarding Brona: “don’t worry, I’ll take care of her”.  Nor did we experience the potential love triangle between Lily/Brona, Ethan and Vanessa – in fact, add Dorian (you could pop in Victor) into that mix and you’ve potentially got a pentagram inside a pentagon!  Maybe not very Victorian… hang on, I forget –  Shelley, Byron, Keats – their love lives were hardly uncomplicated.

At the end of season 2 I had so much faith in Logan’s story telling.  I knew I’d get back story, legend, folklore.  I was positive I’d discover more about Lupus Dei and where it was foretold.  I was sure we’d have another devil versus Vanessa battle so Ethan could save her.  Even at the end of Ebb Tide where Vanessa presents her neck in much the same way as my cat presents hers to be stroked, I expected some twist of fate, some plot cooked up between Vanessa the superb Catriona, to entrap Dracula, end him to some extent then have Malcolm and the boys return with the next Big Bad for season 4.

Instead, after all of Vanessa’s fight and passion and acceptance of her difference from the norm, she gives it all up for a rebound shag in a museum (so Ross and Rachel.) which, despite the great pressure applied to her mental health, seems rather out of character. And, even after becoming a ‘great fertile bitch of evil’ and bringing endless night to London, she, very, very quickly, rediscovers her religion as soon as she lays eyes upon Ethan and enters heaven’s pearly gates.  Her god clearly does forgive all, or maybe ‘our Lord’, as she said to Ethan, is not the lord we assumed. Granted, Josh Hartnett and Eva Green, as with the rest of the cast, are such superb actors this was carried off to near-perfection, it was Logan’s plot that provided the piss for the candlelit parade.

It was all foretold, Logan told us in the eulogy.  Yes ‘claws will slash and tooth will rend’ certainly suggests Wolf versus Vampire but we didn’t really get that.  Yes, season 1 had Vanessa calling Ethan cruel for not ending her suffering and I suppose the last episode shows Ethan’s selfless love in ending that and in theory returning her to god.  I can see that, but that was a lot of foreshadowing, and more blatant than any was the whole ‘Lupus Dei’ premise.  I’m still unmelting from Ethan’s, “You will not die while I’m here. You will not surrender while I live. If I have one goddamn purpose in my cursed life, it’s that.”  And that’s what gave me hope, John Logan!  Faith!  That was my comprehended foreshadowing and if I got it wrong, it was your responsibility to ensure I didn’t!

So, like many Dreadfuls, I am broken.  It’s just but a story, albeit two seasons and a bit of wonderfully crafted art.  But it was more than that.  This was my grown up Buffy, my go to comfort food, my visual Ben and Jerry’s-with-chocolate-mixed-with-a-dozen-wonderfully-crafted-G-and-T’s-without-the-hangover.  I really wasn’t ready for it to end, especially in such a disappointing way. There is going to be no Ethan and Vanessa victory and however much John Logan may say it was the only possible ending, to fulfil Vanessa’s faith he broke mine.  That can of beautifully ugly worms was clearly too much for Logan and Showtime to untangle.  There is no satisfaction, too much still rides on the ebb of an intricately beautiful tide, whose gifts will never be presented in a neat and tidy proper final season.

Mr Logan, I thank you for two gloriously groundbreaking seasons that will forever have a cult following, several stand out episodes and reintroducing me to an era of history that is so compellingly intricate as well as reminding me what great writing is about.

You ended this series on your own terms: they just weren’t the same as mine.

 

 

 

 

 

Midwinter – written for @PennyDFans

A/N This story completely ignores the Season 2 Finale, assumes that the witches were defeated and all was well afterwards.  Merry Christmas!

Midwinter

The sea was grey; white foam bubbling on waves that bounced against the rocks. In the distance a lighthouse flickered every few seconds, guiding boats away from the perils of the coast. As used as she was to the sea, Vanessa remained in awe of its power, its hold over the people who lived beside it and the hypnotism it magicked.

“We’ll see you Christmas Eve, around midday,” she heard Ethan say, money exchanging hands. Then the carriage door opened and his large hand appeared to assist her descent, the seagulls calling a greeting from across the waves.

The rain that had shrouded them since London had ceased, although the sun was no more than a pale, watery yolk seeping intermittently through grey clouds. Vanessa stretched imperceptibly having been sitting in the cramped carriage since an inn several hours away. “Might we walk once we have taken our rooms?’ she said, knowing that Ethan would not refuse.

“I’d agree with that. Have you been to Whitby before?”

She shook her head. “No. I know little of it, apart from what Sir Malcolm told us. A fishing port, whose rocks are lethal; it is where Whitby jet is found and near to Captain Cook’s place of birth.” The words were a summary of the vast information they had received from Sir Malcolm before undertaking the journey and task he had set less than a week before Christmas. So instead of making the usual merry in London and partaking in the parade of parties and balls, she and Ethan were in a town on the north east coast of the country, seeking information to confirm a rumour they had heard.

“Also home to the abbey that overlooks the bay,” Ethan said, pausing and pointing in the direction of the building that stood behind the inn he had secured for them. “The rumours we have heard could be nothing. This could all be a wild goose chase.”

“Especially with it nearing Christmas. Plenty of geese will be being chased.” She saw him smile at the quip. “The White Horse and Griffin? This is where we’re to stay?”

IMG_1239 “Indeed, Miss Ives. If they received the letter.”

He carried her small suitcase into the narrow building, recalling the first time he had seen
her in an inn after one of his less salubrious encounters. The case was heavier than he’d anticipated and he wondered what the hell she had in there. “Good afternoon,” he said to the gentleman behind the bar. “I’m hoping you’ve received my letter requesting two rooms for the next two nights.”

The man squinted, looking at Vanessa more frequently than Ethan. “Your name?”

“Chandler. Ethan Chandler.”

The man scowled down a list, frowning. “I don’t see any Chandler here. You sure it was us you wrote to?”

“Positive.”

“No. Sorry sir. There has been an issue with post going missing these past few weeks. You’re not on the list and we only have one room available too.”

“Can you recommend anywhere else to stay?”

“You’ll struggle. Whitby’s busy at this time of year. If I were you I’d take the room here. There’s a separate room with a settee if you need to be proper and all that,” he said, eyes flicking back to Vanessa. Ethan felt a growl rising from within, not keen on how the man’s eyes were staring. She’d be safer in a room with him, that no one could enter to pay her a night-time visit.

“I’ll take it.” He handed money over, Vanessa in the corner of his eye, looking at the posters on the walls.

“Up the stairs then take the first left. There’s a short corridor and then your room. Meant to be haunted, if you believe that sort of thing,” the man said, handing over a key.

“Really?” Vanessa said. “How did they die?”

The man shrugged. “No idea. There’s two little children who haunt this place too. Got knocked down by a carriage and have never left the place, poor weans. That’s true enough, but whether they’re here as spirits I couldn’t say.”

Vanessa gave him her smile, the one she reserved for keeping people on side. Ethan held back his own grin, fascinated by other people’s reactions to her. “Have there been any other strange going’s on? We heard of a visitor who preferred to remain inside during the day, only leaving his domain at night.”

The man looked puzzled. “I’ve not heard of anything like that, Ma’am. But then, I’m usually in the cellars looking after the ale. It’s Mrs Machin you’d be wanting to ask; she’s the one the punters speak to. I’ll tell her you’ve been asking. She’d like to have another lady to speak with, I’ll bet.”

Vanessa smiled, saying nothing and looking towards Ethan. “We have a room?”

“We do. I’ll take your luggage.” The walls were decorated with busy wallpaper and posters of events, many out of date. A few older looking portraits were scattered, their hanging the opposite of what she had seen in Mr Gray’s abode.

“Exactly how many days away did you pack for, Miss Ives?”

“Is the case too heavy for you Mr Chandler?”

“Not at all,” he put it down outside the bedroom door with some relief. “I was just wondering if you had included one of Sir Malcolm’s paperweights? Or maybe enough dresses should we be asked to a dozen balls?”

She smiled as he unlocked the door, lifting the suitcase herself this time, determined to remain expressionless at its weight. The room was a pretty one; fresh curtains and carpets, furniture that wasn’t new but had been cared for and a large four-poster bed. Next to the dressing table was the doorway to an adjoining room in which was a huge Chesterfield sofa, the leather on the arms slightly cracked. “I’ll sleep here,” she said, placing her suitcase next to it.

“No you won’t,” Ethan pulled off the thickly knitted sweater he had worn to travel in, leaving the suits he had at home. “You can have the bed. I can sleep anywhere. Besides, the four poster look suits you.”

She debated arguing but decided against it for now. The fresh air outside called her and already the sun was descending. It was St Lucy’s Day, the Winter Solstice and light was at its least   “We’ll discuss it later,” she said, re-pinning her hair. “Shall we take a walk?”

“Where to?”

“The sea.”

There was little light left by the time they had reached the pier that jutted into the sea. The wooden slats were dark, glistening with the residual water on them. The promenade bustled with merry makers and fish

ermen preparing boats for the following morning’s catch. They had said very little during their walk over the bridge that crossed the River Esk. Instead both had been studying the town around them; the shops that had remained open late selling Whitby jet and other mementoes of the town, keen to attract the Christmas shoppers. Vanessa could smell the sea and hear the call of the seagulls and part of her felt the liberty she had almost enjoyed when she was younger.

“You like being by the water, don’t you?” Ethan said, stopping, his back against the railings.

“Yes. I feel alive here.  There’s something primordial about the sea; the fact that we can’t control it. The never wanted to be a sailor?” she said, peering into the black waters.

“Not for me, that life. I prefer the land; riding horses as opposed to the waves. Are you hungry?”

They found a restaurant serving freshly caught fish and seafood and he watched her eat and drink wine, savouring the taste as if it was a pleasure often denied to her. The restaurant was busy, bustling with life and he wondered how IMG_1255fruitful the trip would be. From what they had observed so far there had been no sign of anything untoward.

“Shall we walk to the abbey?” Vanessa said as he paid the bill. “There will be enough light from the street lamps to see and it seems the mostly likely place for odd encounters.”

“We can do. How many steps is it to the church?” He stood, aware of two gentlemen watching them carefully. Automatically he felt on guard, extremely aware of any danger they could pose. Vanessa looked at him strangely for a moment, then to the men, knowing what was perturbing him.

“Thank you, sir,” the waitress said with a shy smile at Ethan, taking away the last of the plates. “Have a good evening.” He watched Vanessa’s face change, wondering if it was because of the waitress’ attention, the knew it was something else as her expression grew concerned.

“What is it?” he said, keeping his voice low.

“Her neck,” Vanessa said. “There were two marks, as we have seen before.”

“I’d like to hope she has an enthusiastic lover,” he said, helping Vanessa with her coat.

“Have you ever been that enthusiastic?”

Ethan laughed. “Now that would be telling, Miss Ives!” And I’d much rather you found out.

Christmas decorations adorned the town; wreaths of holly on doors, trees in windows. The mood was calm, serene even. The wind of early had died down and even the sea was stiller than before.

The one hundred and ninety nine steps to the churchyard of St Mary’s weren’t noticed as they talked, about the waitress, the men in the restaurant, the strange dog they had seen moments earlier that had seemingly disappeared. Vanessa linked his arm as they took the last dozen steps and came to the old church. She stopped abruptly, her gaze stiffening across the graves. Ethan followed it and saw a tall, slim figure standing statue-like.

Keeping slightly in front of Vanessa, he walked towards the silhouette. Up here, up on the cliff, the only light was that of the moon and dim candlelight from the abbey.

“Good evening, sir,” Ethan said, not taking off his hat. “We didn’t expect to see anyone here on such a night.”

“Likewise,” the man said. In the gleam of the moon his skin appeared pale, almost translucent. Ethan kept a few steps away, one hand on Vanessa, another on his gun. “Are you here visiting relatives?”

“No,” Vanessa said. “We are here to take the sea air and see what Whitby has to offer. Do you live here?”

The man looked at her curiously and Vanessa felt any apprehension wash away. “Yes. In a manner of speaking. Although I haven’t always. I must not keep you. I have an arrangement I must keep.” He left them, almost gliding away towards the abbey.

They said little as they walked back down the steps to the White Horse and Griffin, both in thought. Ethan’s hand remained on the small of her back or hers linked into his and they heard the rush and wash of the sea as they descended.

“A nightcap?” he said as the warmth of the roaring fires hit them.

“Yes,” she said. “I think I will.”

They drank whisky and he sipped it slowly while watching her. “The first time I saw you I was half-cut on whisky. You were some fine lady who didn’t give me a single smile until I requested it.”

“And you were a man with a gun and a charming accent who told a pretty tale.” She took a sip.

“You didn’t find me handsome?”

Then he got that smile.

“You know very well what your attributes are, Mr Chandler.”

Upstairs, in their room, he was aware of her changing into nightclothes; the rustling of material, the opening of her suitcase. He pictured her in her long white gown, dark hair down her back, as she had been in the cut wife’s cottage and recalled the feel of her lips against his, the thunder their music. But here, in the inn, with the singing and banter around them it was different, every day. And in their room, with just one bed he again thought of how their lives could be, even with all what they had to face. If he could pluck up the courage.

Ethan closed his eyes, praying to whichever god was on duty to help him out in some manner. When he opened them Vanessa was standing in front of her, her lips parted in a smile.

“Are you sure you don’t want the bed, Ethan?” she said.

He stood, keeping hold of her eyes with his. “Not by myself.”

She stepped towards him and then paused. “I could suggest that there were several women downstairs who would offer you their beds this evening but I’ll choose not to.”

“They’re not who I would want it to be shared with.” It was almost a whisper.

Her eyes left his to look at the window and he became aware of singing outside. They peered out of the glass onto the courtyard, seeing a dozen carolers, their voices fracturing the night.

“God rest ye, merry gentlemen, let nothing you dismay…”

He heard her singing along quietly, standing closer to the window so she could see the men and women. He stood behind her, a hand on the small of her back once more, feeling her warmth.

And then she stopped, her muscles tensing. “What is it?” he said.

“The man from St Mary’s. Look.”

He did, noticing his height and gait, as if the slightest breath of wind would knock him over. “Do you think it’s him? The one we have heard of?”

“If it is, he is different from what we have met before.”

The carol changed, the tone softening. White flakes began to drift by the window. “It’s snowing,” Ethan said. Vanessa had taken a step back so she was against him, the back of her head against his collarbone. He begged his body to not give him away as his arms wrapped around her waist, the soft cotton of her nightgown against his bare arms.

“This isn’t proper,” he said, the carolers still singing.

“What is?” she said and he realized she was enjoying the power that she held over him.

Ethan let go of her and stepped away, the snow thickening as it fell. The fire in the room still glowed, warm enough in what was becoming a cold winter’s night. It wouldn’t stick, the salty air would see to that and they would be home in time for Christmas, he was sure.

“Van… you know what I feel. I guess you do anyhow, and right now you can probably guess what I’d like to do, despite what we’re here to do, despite the trust Sir Malcolm has in me and despite the strange guy in the courtyard. But I don’t want it to be this way, not tonight.” He cursed himself silently.

“I understand.” She leaned over to him and gave him a chaste peck, like the ones he had seen her give Victor and his heart sank.

Time had wandered past midnight, dancing a slow waltz. The fire in the room had dwindled to an ember and the air was now chill. Vanessa woke suddenly, violently, her eyes focusing on the amber coals and she sat upright, gasping. He had been there, the man from St Mary’s, in her dreams. Her dreams that were a public walkway for any demon or spirit to enter.

Vanessa got out of bed, hugging herself to keep warm and stepped to the window. The courtyard was empty; there was no sign of the tall figure she had seen early and just now in her dreams.

“Vanessa?”

She turned towards the entry to the sitting room. Ethan stood there, tall, hair mussed and shirtless. Her heart jumped and then she remembered his words; a promise rather than an excuse.

“Did I wake you?”

“Floorboards. Why are you up?”

“Dreams.”

“Nightcomers?”

She shook her head. “No. They’ve been absent since Evelyn Poole died. It was the man from St Mary’s. He was trying to persuade me… seduce me.”

Ethan moved towards the bed, pulling back the bedclothes. “You’re cold. Get back in and I’ll get the fire going.”

“Do you think it was him?” She heard the anxiety in her voice and knew she needed more than just words to reassure her.

He stoked the fire, adding wood and seeing it catch light. There were minutes before he replied. “No. I think it’s your mind telling you something about him, but I don’t think it was actually him. You’re too strong now, after everything.” He sat down on the bed beside her and stroked her hair.

“Stay,” she said. “Stay with me. I feel safer when you’re here.” It was only in the depth of the night, when the darkness was all consuming, when she would admit such weakness.

“But the sofa was so comfy,” he smiled. “Move up.”

“So you can have the warm part?”

He laughed quietly. “You’ll warm up.” He lay next to her, the light from the fire casting shadows that danced. She was as restless as the flames and his eyes stayed fixed on her, unable to close. Then he moved closer to her, his knees nestling into the backs of hers, her back against his chest and his arm fell over her waist, hand near her breasts. He heard her murmur softly, stiller than she had been and more relaxed.

“Van,” he said quietly.

“Mr Chandler?”

He wanted to laugh. Here they were in a situation usually reserved for man and wife and she was acting formal.

“Are you okay with this?”

His voice was tender, his hand even more so. Vanessa relaxed into him, her breathing less labored, head clearer. She was ‘okay’ with it; she’d be ‘okay’ with more also, but maybe not yet. “Yes, thank you. Are you?”

There was no response, just a pregnant pause. For a moment she worried and then realization dawned and she laughed softly, understanding his discomfort.

“Your laughing doesn’t help,” he said. ‘The movement…”

She laughed again.

“Vanessa!”

“You needn’t be embarrassed about it. It’s perfectly natural.” She thought it was any way. None of her previous encounters had involved anything as intimate as sharing sleep, or a bed for anything other than the act itself.

“I like to be in control,” he said, his voice deep with oncoming sleep. “I don’t like to be given away like this.”

His arm tightened almost involuntary, his warmth heating her more than the fire in the room. “If it helps, I find it flattering.”

There was a chuckle, then silence. Sleep had found them.

XxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxX

When Vanessa woke the bed beside her was still warm but empty. She sat up, noticing light coming from the room next door and questioned the time; the sun was rising late which meant it was not as early as she had wanted to be up.

“Coffee?” The door swung open and Ethan stood with a tray laden with breakfast. “How did you sleep?” He placed it on the bed and sat next to her, pouring from the coffee pot.

“Well, once you were here. You?”

“Good, once I had gotten over my embarrassment.” He smiled at her, allowing her to see his vulnerability. A wave of desire ran through her and she tried to push it away, knowing that any flirtation would lead to a rejection of sorts.

“As I said…”

Ethan chuckled. “Drink your coffee, Van, then we’ll take a walk around the town during the daylight and see what we can find out about that man who tormented your dreams.”

She sipped at it, watching him intermittently. He was nothing like a conventional English gentleman and nor would she want him to be. “You think he’s behind the rumours we’ve heard?”

“Maybe. Or it could be that this Stoker friend of Sir Malcolm’s is just weaving a pretty tale. Either way, I like this place. There’s something about it.”

“The sailor in you?”

He laughed. “This wolf is not for swimming across any seas, Miss Ives.”

They ate and drank, Ethan taking the breakfast crockery downstairs to let her dress in private. She chose her outfit carefully, opting for less black. The white blouse reminded her of the scene she had been shown, the promises she had been made if she had relinquished her soul, but the blue did not. She was still who she was meant to be.

They walked about the town, as far as Robin Hood’s bay, chatting to strangers about the place and its residents. Ethan conversed easily and people flocked about him, intrigued by his accent. Girls flirted and although he didn’t dismiss them, they weren’t encouraged.

At one point as they walked past the row of arcades and market stalls selling the day’s catch he slipped his hand around her waist and walked closer to her. “So, Miss Ives. What do you say to a return visit to St Mary’s and the Abbey?”

“Now that is a proposition a lady cannot refuse.”

They headed back across the bridge and through the narrow streets to the steps, noticing in daylight what they had missed in the dark. The skies above were grey again, whitish clouds thick enough to block any sign of the sun. The snow that had fallen last night was barely there, just a few drifts in corners and by the side of fences. The world was monotone.

They talked about nothing in particular as they wandered around the graveyard of St Mary’s, reading the names on the tombstones. The door to the church was ajar and Vanessa entered, closely followed by Ethan. Inside, the church was empty, candle flickering near the alter which was set for Christmas services.

“Can I be of assistance?” a voice said from behind them, causing them both to startle.

“We’re enquiring about a gentleman we saw last night around here,” Vanessa said. “A tall, rather thin man, with pale skin.”

“Aye. That’d be Count De Ville. He likes it here at night, or so he says. Odd bloke,” the man responded. Vanessa took him to be the sexton given his attire and demeanor: an old coat, trousers that had seen better days and unkempt hair. HisIMG_0973 face was tired, wrinkled and his eyes lacked shine.

“When did he move here?” Ethan said. Two crows landed nearby, pecking around for breakfast.

The man shrugged. “Three months ago? It’s hard to say as he’s travelled round a bit since then.”

“Does he have any visitors?” Vanessa said, feeling the cold since they had stood still.

There was a shake of the head. “I wouldn’t know. A couple of people in the town have said they see him at night, watching everyone. He sits in the inns and doesn’t bother to get to know anyone, but no one complains. He spends money round here.”

The man turned his head to the alter and grimaced. “Bloody pigeons,” he muttered. “I’d best be getting on.”

Neither Vanessa nor Ethan stepped away, watching the man and viewing the inside of the church. There had been recent additions, money spent on the building and some of its furnishings, but much was old architecture, added across the centuries.

It was Ethan who began to back away first, exiting the church and then walking towards the abbey, black against the grey sky. Vanessa followed, not rushing to catch him up.

“Did you notice anything strange about the sexton?” Ethan said as they walked towards the abbey.

“I didn’t see anything that wasn’t strange,” she said. “He appeared older than he was and his pallor was quite distinctive.”

“His neck,” Ethan said. “He had the same two small marks we saw on the waitress last night.”

They left the abbey after walking around it, the monastery closed with no one apparently home. From the height of the abbey they could see across Whitby, the tidy but mismatched buildings and narrow streets, busy port with boats coming in with the day’s catch. They found a café not far from the White Horse and Griffin. Ethan asked for coffee and drank it while watching Vanessa pour tea in the fashion she had been taught as a girl.

“I think we have enough to take back to Sir Malcolm,” Ethan said. “Something strange is going on here, enough to suggest that his friend was right.”

Vanessa nodded, sipping the tea. “We have another evening here and tomorrow is Christmas Eve. I’d quite like to have chance to look round the shops and maybe buy some more Christmas presents.”

“Really?” Ethan was unenthused by the idea. He had already done what he deemed necessary for Christmas, although there was one item he might purchase if he had a few minutes away from Vanessa, although even if he hadn’t he’d have managed to do it anyway.

She tipped her head to one side and gave him that smile. “Yes, Ethan.”

“I though you were organized.”

The smile changed to a look of annoyance. “I am. I’ve just spotted a few extras I think Sir Malcolm and the doctor may like.”

His eyes twinkled and he chuckled softly. ‘Then I’ll leave you to finish your tea and shopping, Miss Ives.” He stood, putting on his coat. “Try not to get into any trouble.”

“I am sure I can take perfectly good care of myself, Mr Chandler. I will see you about town.”

He gave a slight nod and then exited, knowing exactly where he would visit first and what he would buy.

Whitby was full of small jewellery shops all selling Whitby jet, a gemstone made of fossilized wood, lightweight and yet so shiny it could be used as a mirror. The jet was found washed up on the beaches of Whitby and Robin Hood’s Bay, eroded from seams under the sea. Men also mined the seams in the cliffs, extracting the jet and then refilling in where they had excavated.

It was a small jewelers he went in, his eye having been caught earlier that morning by a jet and silver necklace, the silver work intricate, weaving around three pieces of jet, the largest in the centre.

“Are you from America?” the jeweler asked, his hands calloused and dirty with his work.

“Yes. I grew up there. Prefer it over here though,” Ethan said, casting an eye over the necklace, not that he was an expert.

“Bit cold though.”

“Can be over there too. Do you have earrings to match this?”

He was shown them, not an exact match, but close enough. He bought them, not bothering to haggle a price; it was Christmas, after all. With them safely tucked into his jacket pocket he took to the streets to have another look around, maybe visit one or two of the inns where he wouldn’t have taken Vanessa, such as the ones near to the docks where the language was choice and the atmosphere volatile.

There were tales told around the large fire in the inn, once Ethan had asked the right questions and bought the scotch. He learned of a ship’s crew that had disappeared, the ship steered into port by the just the captain. There were stories of silver sand brought from the ship and barrels of earth and a large dog that disembarked the ship, later seen climbing the one hundred and ninety nine steps up to St Mary’s.

“Why do you want to know all this, lad?” one elderly man asked. His cheeks were ruddy with the sea air and ale.

Ethan shrugged. “I like a good story. I can use it to fear the ladies into taking comfort.” A few lewd comments flew. He let them go, finishing the scotch and standing. ‘It’s good to meet you gentlemen. I must find my companion and rescue the shops from her.”

“Your lady is the fine dark haired lass, isn’t she?” a voice said, one that had been quiet so far. “I saw her a short time ago, causing a few heads to turn.”

“That’ll be her. Maybe it’s not just the shops that need saving from her, man. She’ll break your heart if you’re not careful, I’ll wager you that,” he said.

Ethan recalled the warm body lay sleeping next to his. When he had awoke that morning her head had been on his chest, his arm lacking feeling due to her even slight weight. He’d not disturbed her. Instead he’d ran a finger across her face, stroked her hair while she slept like the dead. And then somehow he’s managed to pull out the numb arm and massage life back into it. The scene hadn’t been lost on him. He was no longer sure that he could sleep by himself.

“I can look after myself,” he said. “Merry Christmas. Thank you for your company.”

The dark had already begun to descend, the air brittle with cold. The docks were closing for Christmas although there would still be the local fishermen out later, bringing home Christmas dinner that cost less than a goose. Houses were lit with candles and the streets were bustling with preparations for Christmas Eve. The atmosphere was jolly and most faces were smiling.

He saw Vanessa leaving a shop, arms laden with packages. About to rush over to assist, he paused suddenly, noticing the tall, pale figure watching his lady as if she was prey.

Ethan hid in the shadows, breath shallow, heart pounding. He stayed in the darkness, following the follower, growling inside and knowing that the wolf was emerging, not as at a full moon, but as Vanessa’s protector. He watched while she went in shops, spoke to a seller on the street, wished a band of children happy Christmas, all time unknowing of himself and her stalker.

It was when she took a shortcut down a snickett he upped his pace, slipping closer behind the pale man. She cut into a doorway before Ethan noticed the sign, a witch’s symbol. The man stopped, looked about him and Ethan shifted grasping him with both hands and forcing him to turn around.

“Why are you following her?” he said, although it was more of a growl, low and threatening.

“Take your hands off me.”

“No.”

For a moment there was a stand-off, neither party moving or speaking. A cloud shifted and the moon slipped through, casting enough light for Ethan to see his face clearly: old, broken with wrinkles and pale lips. He looked hungry.

“You know who I am?” the man said with a flawless English accent. “You recognize me? If you don’t, you should as I’ve known your sort for many a year.”

Ethan did not let go. “You leave her alone. She is mine.”

“And how would she feel if she heard you say that?”

“She’d welcome it.”

It was then he felt the man’s power; a shift in energy as if something had called to him and that had given him the momentum to flee. Ethan glanced to where the man was looking, heading towards, and saw the waitress from the previous night heading to the path to St Mary’s.

“I will leave your mate,” the pale man spat. “Though there are others who will not.”

Ethan let him go, resisting the urge to call for the moon and switch to all fours as this had been his foe, should be his foe still.

“Ethan,” Vanessa said, a door behind her closing. “How did you know where I was?”

He made the decision then not to tell her, to let her have Christmas without fear or worry. He would keep watch and stop anything that tried to cause her harm. “I saw the sign. Shall I carry some of your packages?”

She handed three to him and preceded to tell him what she had found and of the conversations she’d had. They meandered back to the White Horse and Griffin and their room with the bed that they had both slept in.

“Shall we eat soon?” she said. “I feel rather tired after all the walking today and I know we have an early start back tomorrow if we are to be home in time.” He knew she meant in time for midnight mass.

“We’ll eat downstairs, then there’s barely any walking. I’ll leave you to get ready.”

Ethan heard her in the bathroom, smelled her perfume and smiled when she emerged. He switched places with her, needing to eradicate the smell of the pale man that had seeped through to his skin.

Vanessa stood by the window and watched the world walk by as she waited for him to be ready. The day had been pleasant, successful. She had bought him a new pistol, taking the opportunity to practice shooting with it herself in the yard of the gunsmith’s, knowing it had the right pull for him. There was cologne too, a scarf and a talisman she had found in the witch’s shop.

Turning her back to the window, she saw the chesterfield sofa where Ethan had begun to previous night. She folded the blankets and replaced them in the wardrobe. There was no need for him to sleep there tonight. She did not want him to.

“Shall we eat?” he said, startling her.

“Yes,” she said. She took him in: tall, waistcoat, trousers, a jacket she had seen many times before. He was handsome, but she had seen that the first time they had met, had noticed how the ladies’ eyes had followed him. She hadn’t been immune to his obvious charms but neither had she fallen for him there and then. “I could eat a horse.”

“Hopefully that isn’t on the menu.”

The slated floor was well trodden; so smooth in places she felt she could slip. They ordered drinks, ale and a mulled wine, and were presented with a menu and freshly baked bread to nibble on.

Dinner seemed to go too quickly, the food disappeared along with the wine and the conversation stayed far away from their task in Whitby. A clock sounded and Vanessa realized they were the only ones left in the restaurant. “We should let them finish tidying. Are you ready?” She wasn’t sure what she was asking him to be ready for.

Ethan placed his napkin down on the table. “Sure. Best get some sleep. We’re leaving before dawn in the morning.”

The floorboards creaked familiarly as they headed up the stairs to their room, friendly voices greeting them. “No sign of any ghosts,” she said, almost disappointedly. “This would be a good place for a séance.”

He laughed quietly as the door opened to their room, the scent of her perfume wafting to greet them. “I thought you could take the sofa tonight,” he said, sitting down on the bed and pulling off his boots.

Vanessa stood still, unsure as to whether he was jesting. “Really, Mr Chandler. You’d let a lady suffer discomfort when there’s a large bed available?”

There was a laugh as he pulled off his shirt and moved towards her, pushing the door closed. “Miss Ives,” he said. “I see you have tidied the blanket away.”

“It seemed silly for you to wake up Christmas Eve morning with a stiff neck from sleeping in a silly place after last night we were quite comfortable.”

She watched the expression on his face move from teasing to thoughtful to concerned. “It’s different. Last night soothed something. This is a conscious decision and where does it lead?”

“I’m no virgin, Ethan.”

“And neither am I. But this changes things and maybe I’m not ready for things to change yet.”

She was surprised, hurt maybe. “Why?”

“Van… Because I don’t know where this will end. How far does it go?”

“As far as it needs to, as far as is planned.”

Ethan recalled his words to the pale man: she is mine. And then he threw fate’s dice and pulled her towards him, lips pressing on hers, hands searching and the frustration and anxieties of the past few months bubbled up and away from them.

He didn’t notice the softness of her skin, not the first time. The first time was full of desire and need and there wasn’t the time to be tender, not yet. The first time they fought, both trying to take control, a war of hands, of mouths. He didn’t notice how he undid her dress or where indeed it went to after, or how the bedclothes fell onto the floor. He noticed how she moved under him, how her nails pierced his skin and hands pressed so the rhythm they found suited them both. He understood when she wanted to move so she could ride him herself. He watched her eyes as she reached her peak and came calling his name, the devil far away from both their minds. And then he watched her as their breath subsided and heart rates dropped, kissed her softly before she clung to him, and him to her.

He didn’t sleep much. When she did, he watched, watched her, felt her presence beside him, her warmth. When she awoke he took his time to explore the flesh that was usually hidden under high necks and corsets and he became a student again, a willing one.

“Ethan,” she said, after a knock at the door signaled the need to dress and leave. “What happens when we return home?”

She lay on him, listening to his heartbeat, not wanting to get up and leave. “Whatever we wish. Sir Malcolm is no fool but he will not judge.”

Ethan began to stir from under her. “Sleep in my room tonight. Spend Christmas morning with me.”

She smiled, the wide grin that told him everything. “I prefer your room. It’s lighter.”

He watched her dress, apply rouge and make up, tie her hair and become the respectable woman, the one he had taken to bed – or was it the other way round? He loaded her luggage, significantly greater in volume, into the carriage and they set off, leaving Whitby and unknowing of their return.

As the town fell behind them and they headed to the moors, he saw the tall, pale figure walk the pavement.   “Pause a moment,” he called to the driver. Ethan open the door, catching the man’s eye. “Merry Christmas,” he said.

“And you,” the man said. “You are heading to London?”

“That area,” Ethan said. ‘You will stay here?”

There was an imperceptible nod. “Until circumstances change. But don’t worry. She is safe from me.”

Ethan gave the sign and the carriage continued, moving forward along the country and into Christmas.

 

A/N Thank you for reading, Dreadfuls! Feedback is a lovely gift to receive.

Photos are my own taken this summer and autumn on a trip to Whitby, which is a wonderful place.  The White Horse and Griffin is an excellent place to stay or to eat at, we’ll definitely be returning – and they are pretty good with communication nowadays.  The ghosts mentioned are apparently true.  

If any facts, places or references are incorrect it was either ignorance or deliberate ignorance for the sake of the tale. 


Merry Christmas!

 

 

 

A Summer of Books – Part 1

So, what do teachers do with the six weeks holiday? I have to add here that it wasn’t actually 6 weeks, but 5 weeks and 3 days, and now I’ll hide behind a cushion while people tell me that’s more than they have off in year…

This summer has mainly been about books. To be fair, most summers are about books as when IMG_0406-0.JPGI go on holiday I tend to plough through them like they’re going to dive into a pool if I stop reading. Kindles were a godsend as now I can fill my suitcase with clothes and shoes instead of paperbacks.

First up this summer was In the Bleak Midwinter by Julia Spencer Fleming (Kindle Edition, Headline, June 2013). I started it prior to going away and finished it on the plane. It was good enough to stop me from sleeping after a very early, 2.30am, start. Set in December in a New York state town of Miller’s Kill, the novel follows Clare Fergusson, newly ordained priest, as she begins her career with the delivery of a newborn baby left on the doorsteps of the church on a freezing cold night.

The resulting investigation leads her to meet local cop, Chief of Police Russ Van Alstyne and here were have Common Plot Device Number One. He’s attractive and in what seems like a fragile marriage. Now don’t get me wrong, I’m not knocking this. Part of the enjoyment of crime fiction for me is the romance angle – it goes hand in hand with a spot of murder. Kay Scarpetta and Benton Wesley. Temperance Brennan and Andrew Ryan. And if we encroach onto the TV side of things, Patrick Jane and Theresa Lisbon in The Mentalist (I did enjoy the end of last season).

Turns out that in Killer’s Mill there’s a couple who are just desperate for a baby and have struggled to adopt but a note left with the abandoned child recommends them to be the guardians. Cue Clare’s first issue. The second follows closely, with the discovery of the body oIMG_0003.JPGf a young woman, one who has recently given birth.

I enjoyed In the Bleak Midwinter and will certainly read the sequels. While this series is nothing particularly new, the writing is solid and the characters are believable. The plot was a nice ride with enough twists and turns and peril for Clare to keep me entertained on the boat ride from Naples to Ischia. The setting was particularly well drawn up as well, with the harshness of the winter creating some nice atmosphere. If you want an easy read that’s none too gruesome with plenty of potential murderers then this would be a good read for you.

After an uneventful, but early flight we arrived in Naples and were quickly ushered to the ferry to cross to the island of Ischia. I finished the book on the ferry, but still managed to take a few photos!

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How To Know When You’re A Teacher

So so true!

Suzie Speaks

ImageTeaching, in my experience, is an undervalued and often misunderstood profession. I have been a qualified music teacher for eight years now, and after I saw a great list on Facebook this morning about teaching and the stereotypes that are associated with the profession, it prompted me to compile a list of my own.

These are my Top 25 ways to know when you’re a teacher:

1. Regardless of where you are – shopping, the cinema, in a restaurant, even on a beach on holiday – you’ll almost always hear ‘Hi Miss/Sir’ and instantly know that a student is standing behind you. The event of this happening is even more likely when you’re wearing your scruffy clothes and haven’t washed your hair.

2. You are called ‘Mum/Dad’ accidentally at least ten times a day.

3. You’ve learnt not to complain about your job to your non-teacher friends as this will…

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Friday Flash Fiction – Synesthetic Trainers

Friday Flash Fiction

Synesthetic Trainers

It feels red. Angry. The colour of warning signs. The colour of blood. But the red turns orange as it flows upwards and around with every step, every lift of leg as the rhythm sets in, as feet pound the ground which is grey, hard metallic on and on, keeping time, maintaining pace with the roar from the crowds and their clapping and their shouts which are the colour of fire, the colour of warmth and the blood rushing through as feet continue to lift and go and go and run and go towards the distance, in the future, where a finish line blazes gold but that is more than hour away.

When she gets there, when the ache and the cold and red of the pain she has put herself through have subsided, the gold tingles through everyone, a glittering breeze. Something achieved. Another goal set. More to come.

Running on Empty, Writing on Full and Different Types of Rabbits

So.  I ran my first half marathon last Sunday.  I’d like to say it all went according to plan, but, well – it didn’t.

In January my intentions were good.  I started running three times a week, not long runs but always at least 5k, partly motivated by Jantastic (an online team where you log your number of runs per week and accumulate points).  February half term I was meant to reach 11 miles.

It was cold.

March brought the final three weeks before the half and the longest I’d done was 8 miles.  But there were more important things to panic about, like job interviews, some idiot putting my car window through while I was at the match, marking maths GCSE papers at the last minute and attempting to keep warm in the hideous weather. My preparation was then limited to an 11.7 mile run the Sunday before.

However, I was fit and confident and good at plodding and I had Mike Thirsk running with me to get me round.

The week before I ate sensibly, didn’t drink and did everything possible to avoid wheat and dairy, my IBS triggers, as my stomach had not been settled.  Unfortunately, the corned beef hash the night before and Greek yoghurt that morning I ended up in Wilmslow with nothing in my stomach.

I looked like something Dracula had brought back from the dead.

But, contrary to common sense and my gurgling innards and the desire to retreat from the zero degree outdoors into somewhere warm with clean facilities, I started the Wilmslow Half Marathon and it started okay.  Mike was excellent pacing us, walking for 45 seconds for every 10 minutes and aiming for ten minutes miles.  My bottle of coconut water was my life line and it wasn’t until the five mile mark where I started to see stars and begin to keep my eyes open for the nearest ambulance.

The fainting fit did not occur and the temperature became a little more pleasant, until the last mile and a half where the wind whipped in an effort of Boundary Park on a Tuesday night in February standard and somehow, somehow, I managed to cross the finish line in an unmighty 2 hours 21 and collected a very nice medal and an oversized pink t-shirt that will now serve as either a nightie or a tent.  I haven’t decided yet.

Somehow I have inherited a gene from one of my mill-working ancestors that makes me keep on going.  Either that or the Duracell bunny I swallowed aged ten is waving its magical wand – that could be the cause of my IBS I suppose – because I’m now planning to run the Chester Half Marathon in May and knock ten minutes off that time.

I think it’s that same bunny that keeps me writing.  I finished We Were Never Alone in its first draft format back in February and have edited around thirty pages so far.  It’s not unpleasant, possibly a nicer process than writing straight out, but time has not been plentiful at the moment.  Plus the plot bunnies keep biting and I keep looking at writing competitions, which doesn’t make for a focused marathon of novel improving!  So this weekend I’m working on a ghost story for one competition, a short story for the Bath Short Story Comp – whose deadline is midnight tomorrow – and parkrunning tomorrow morning.

So that hour we lose on Sunday, can we have it back with reinforcements?

ImageNot a very pretty picture of me running on a Saturday morning with no make up on.

Super idea! I’ll definitely be submitting something for perusal!

Confessions of a Mystery Novelist...

ShortStoryCall New years (well it isn’t that far into 2013 yet is it?) often bring with them new projects. Let me tell you about a project I’m starting and then let me invite you to be a part of it.

Maxine Clarke was an avid reader and strong supporter of crime fiction and crime writers. The world of crime fiction lost one of its dearest members and I lost a good friend when Maxine passed away in December 2012. As a way of giving back just a little of what she gave to us all, I’ve decided to put together a crime fiction short story anthology.

Maxine always told me I ought to have my sleuth Joel Williams solve the murder of a publisher, editor or reviewer. Well, Maxine, I’m going to take your advice. The short story collection I have in mind will focus on the world of writing, publishing…

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