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Death By Recourse – Chapter One

by on Nov.17, 2009, under Writing

Finally, I’ve put to rest and connected enough text to post an additional chapter. This was from a spurt of energy on Sunday that netted some progress that I am happy with. Technically the Introduction and Chapter One are one and the same, but for the sake of posting this here, they will be separate.

#NaNoWriMo, or National Novel Writing Month has been considerably harder to manage than expected. There are various reasons for this, Family visiting for a weekend, long days/overtime at work, and the always present procrastination. At the tail of the opening weekend, my progress dropped off to a slow crawl of sentences and small paragraphs at a time, I was reinvigorated though by the support of the core group of 5 (which recently expanded to six) of fellow #NaNoWriMo writers at work. We all decided to pass each others’ stories around and give some feedback/critique, and generally BS about where we want our stories to go, problems we are having and other experiences related to each of our individual efforts. After the first session of passing the stories around I was completely out of congealed content to pass to my reader for the session. This forced requirement of a Reader pushed me to the edge, and netted me 4000 words in a night. Most of it was that motivation that I had to produce something, anything, for someone else to read. The group also had an interesting discussion about writing for your audience, the one person who’s going to read the book, that you are writing for. Without that person it can be hard to determine direction, and for me, build motivation. So in the future I’m going to make sure I’ve assigned a “reader”,  and have regular discussions with them to keep me rolling.

So for the evening I give you.

Death By Recourse – Chapter One

Christie and the Orphanage

Miss Christie stepped out of the carriage and onto the cobbled street below. The heels of her boots clapped roughly along the stone, scuffling away the white flurries attracted to the black leather. By most standards, Miss Christie would be considered an old maid, childless and husbandless, she had no family to speak of. She was tall and slender, covered from head to toe in black sharply tailored fabric. Her mostly gray hair, classically primp bent, chiseled out the deep protruding features of her hollowed face. It wasn’t unusual for a crowd of people to separate as she approached. It was well known among the townspeople of Lenore that Miss Christie would destroy anything that got in her way of going about her business. She lived on the outskirts of town, in a lavish mansion along the riverside, and rarely came into town. On the rare occasion when she graced the streets with her ornery presence, the people made sure to make themselves scarce. It was no different today. Outside of those attempting to operate their businesses, the cobblestones were silent of unnecessary feet.

With a slap of the door, and a whistle, Christie called away the carriage and began the ascent up the steps of the decaying structure in front of her. Despite the money she invested into the building, the Orphanage remained in a constant state of collapse. It wasn’t that her money was being spent recklessly, she made sure of that. But by the nature of this town, a central hub of chaos for the surrounding cities, the Orphanage saw an unusual number of tenants, turning over up to a dozen children a month. With the constant beating of feet, throwing of food against walls, and ever present slamming of doors, the brick and wooden clasped walls could only bare so much, its bruised exterior stained with the blood and tears from decades worth of bastards.

She approached the brass handled door and pulled. It loosened slightly and tweaked along its hinges, but quickly sucked back into place. On the other side of the door Miss Christie could hear the scuffling of feet and straining grunts of someone exerting far more effort than their body was capable of sustaining. She reached deep into her coat pocket and extracted a thinly wrapped carmel covered sugar cane stick. Bending down slightly she slipped the sweetness into and through the keyhole, threading the sugar cane like a thief picking the lock. She swirled it around, tipped it and jiggled until she heard the struggling from the other side relax. The light emitting from the keyhole vanished, as did the caramel stick. A soft drag and thump from the other side of the door indicated that the poor waif had taken it. She soon began to hear the crinkling of the wrapper and creaking of wood as the child rest their back against the frame of the door.
Christie stood then and grasped the brass handle tightly. With a jerk she yanked on the metal pulling the bowing mass of cherry wood towards her. The child, now without a back rest tumbled backwards onto the step. Miss Christie released the door and swiftly grabbed the collar of the boy’s sweater tossing him into the front hallway of the orphanage, the caramel candy skidding to a halt next the steps leading upstairs. The boy attempt to get to his feet, but a swift clamp of Christie’s heeled boots in his back kept the child down.

“Name.” She rasped. “Now.”

The boy struggled in earnest writhing under the sharp thick leathered anvil holding him down. Christie squeezed and twisted her heel in harder, “Ugh.. Get off me you old hag!”

In a flash the boy was on his back and starring into the gray needled eyes of Miss Christie. “Name.” She whispered into his nostrils, an acrid, sickening sweet smell of caramel and cherries invaded his nose. He coughed and gagged at the smell. “Now.” She insisted again, digging her long skeleton fingers into his shoulders.

He cried out in pain and screamed. “Stop it! Your hurting me,” he managed to blurt out before Christie’s cold leathered and bony hand came up against his cheek and squeezed. “Arr…ferr! My name is Arr..fer.” He finally gave, as Miss Christie collapsed his cheeks together between fingers and thumb. She released the boy’s face immediately upon answer, though the redness in his cheeks wouldn’t be going anywhere soon.

“That wasn’t so hard now, was it, Arthur.” She spat out while reaching down for the piece of caramel resting against the stairs. She unwrapped the candy and rolled the sugared mass into a spiral and dropped it into her mouth. “Go fetch Mrs. Maple for me.”

The boy glanced skeptically at the scarecrow in front of him, considered kicking her in the shins, but decided against it as a scowl crossed her cud chewing face. Arthur rolled over to get away from Miss Christie and daftly bounced onto his feet, heading toward the back room. Soon Arthur was out of site and Christie could take in the front room. It wasn’t anything spectacular, though there was a Imperial Grand Piano, crested entirely in a matte black finish, resting in the far corner away from the windows. It hadn’t been here long, perhaps a year by Christie’s count. Irene Popov from across the street had taken an unhealthy interest in the orphans, insisting they be given the gift of music. Miss Christie thought it a vile thing, the off-tune, ear-bleeding, violent cacophony that the orphans spewed from their mouths and with their fingers when they plucked at the ivories. Still, it did provide a distraction from their otherwise miserable existence, and for that Christie was grateful to Mrs. Popov. The rest of the room was dwarfed by the piano. A set of arm chairs rested against the walls on either side and a massive rug lay between them. A small table was pushed up next to the stairs and was adorned with a pathetic knit mass. The mass used to be a beautiful runner covering the length of the table, but after years of abuse, was no more than a snot rag.

Upstairs Miss Christie could make out the sounds of a handful of children fighting over some toy, or a blanket, or access to the commode. It had been six months since her last visit, the chances of her knowing any of these children was unlikely, still she thought it worth checking just in case. Arthur’s face was certainly new to her, and his behavior was proof they had never met, though she was certain he wouldn’t be putting up a fight the next time.

Christie began to walk to the back room where she could hear the stifled cries of Arthur, and the reassuring coos from Mrs. Maple. Maple was a generous woman to be sure, but far too soft on these knock-a-bouts. She pressed open the door and walk into the musty room. The back room served as both Mrs. Maple’s office and her bedroom, leaving the room tightly packed full of books, magazines, knick-knacks, clothing of all shapes and sizes, and stacks upon stacks of papers and files outlining each and every orphan that had come and gone from this room.

“Ah, Miss Christie, I was expecting you.” Mrs. Maple spoke, gently chiding Arthur off of her lap. “Arthur, could you please make sure the rest of the children upstairs are ready for the daily inspection. I’ll be up in a moment once I’m done with Miss Christie.”

Arthur scowled at Christie and tried to squeeze past her. She stepped aside as he made an attempt to push between her woolen coat and the door frame, causing Arthur to lose balance and stagger through the doorway like a drunken swine. He recovered just before his balance was nearly lost, and turned to head upstairs.

“Sit down, please.” Maple chimed, her glowing cheeks lighting the otherwise ashen colored room.

Miss Christie stared at the seat opposite Mrs. Maple. The chair was covered in filth from the hundreds of orphans who had sat there, surely it was covered in snot and salted drippings, and was not fit for anyone to rest on. Ignoring Maple, Christie began, “You wrote to me a little over a week ago.”

“I did.” Replied Maple. She began sorting through some papers on her desk, methodically filtering out each sheet until her thumb rested on the one she was looking for. “I did indeed, I have been having trouble keeping track of all of the younglings that come and go.” She began as she pulled the paper loose from the stack. After glancing over the document briefly she handed the paper over to Miss Christie. “I believe this is the one you were looking for. A young girl, around 2 years of age. She has curly blonde hair and the sharpest green eye’s I’ve ever seen.”

“I see, and you think…”

“I do, at least she resembles the pictures you’ve provided.” Maple responded eagerly, not giving Miss Christie the chance to finish.

“Where is this girl now?” Christie asked.

“Upstairs with the other’s I imagine, She’s just like the ones from before.” Maple responded in earnest. “It’s been years since we’ve had one come in like her, so I had just assumed that we may never be able to complete your request. But there she was, brought in by an elderly woman last week. She hasn’t spoken more than few words to me.”

“I’d like to see her for myself, if you will Clarissa.” Miss Christie folded the document in half and placed it into her coat pocket. Maple made a vain attempt in arranging the documents in front of her before standing up and walking towards the door to the front room.

On the stairs Clarissa Maple took lead and clamored up the hardwood steps. The fuming stench of the cedar lined closet under the stairs drifted up, a sharp bitter bite that attacked the senses. Miss Christie ignored the scent, and hurried behind Maple. As they reached the top of the stairs Mrs. Maple called out. “Inspections in three,” she began to count down. They walked down the hallway toward the large room along the left of the house.

“Two!” She hollered as they neared the entry way. Maple paused momentarily, adjusting her bodice, and pulling at the light brown curled locks framing her face. “Are you ready to meet the latest orphans, Miss Christie?”

“If you will, please.” Christie replied. She too adjusted herself, releasing white fabrics from underneath the black woolen coat as she unclasped the top three notches of her thick outer layer. She was wearing a rich silk tunic underneath. In the dim light of the hallway it appeared as a pair of doves surrounded by complete darkness. From around her neck she pulled up and out a silver chained neckless. A series of intricate knots and angles, encrusted with emeralds and diamonds led toward the center piece, a brilliant winged beetle, with ruby eyes.

“One!” Maple shouted as they stepped through the threshold leading into the massive bedroom. The room was enormous, lined front to back, and ceiling to floor with beds. The room was designed to hold a platoon of orphans. The unfortunate orphans who found themselves here more permanently were given a smaller, more private room along the corridor outside, but this week, all of the orphans were present in the main hall.  There were only a dozen or so children, from as young as two up to about fourteen. Miss Christie quickly scanned the lot of them. The children were standing in front of their beds, some were upright and attentive, others fidgeted with the hem of their shirts, or pulled their tousled hair. While Mrs. Maple began making her rounds to each of the children, Christie stayed back, working her way mentally through the room and to each of the children, until her eyes caught site of the golden locked girl.

The girl, barely two years old, was sitting on the chest at the foot of her bed. In her hands was a wooden block with a thick rope pulled through the center, at each end of the rope were knots preventing the block from sliding off the rope and onto the floor. The block was smooth and worn down from constant use. What it was exactly, Miss Christie didn’t know, but the girl was certainly fond of it. She spun the block and slid it back and forth along the length of the rope. The block climbed and scurried along the line locked in its infinite charade until it hit the knot and begun traveling in the opposite direction. Miss Christie glided across the floor toward the girl. Not to dismiss the rest of the children, Christie reached into her deep pockets and pulled out a handful of the sugar sticks. As she passed each aisle, she stopped, stared down the child for a moment, then placed a stick in their hand. When she reached Arthur and his bunk mate, a slick haired, doe-eyed deviant, she paused for a moment and whistled to herself. Arthur glared at her intently, attempting to loosen her composure, but she was granite. The boy’s courage paid off as Miss Christie’s fingers released a roll of carmel into each boys’ hand.

“Thanks Mum,” Arthur murmured and turned toward Mrs. Maple gleaming. As cold hearted as Miss Christie was, she wasn’t one to dismiss the fortitude and resilience of a child. Sure he’d been a nuisance only moments before, but his lesson learned, she was sure he wouldn’t be repeating is actions, at least not in front of her.

Miss Christie turned her attention to the blonde youth at the end of Arthur’s row. The object of her current objectives, the girl did indeed appear exactly as Mrs. Maple had described. The morning light made the girl’s hair sparkle immensely. Christie knelt down next to the girl, one hand resting on the chest, the other on the girl’s dress.

“What’s your name, young one?” she asked. The girl tilted her head slightly, but otherwise made no indication that she understood the question. She continued to spin her block along the rope. Her features were rounder than the rest of the kids in the room, less defined, as if God had let his apprentice create this child. Her eyes large in the socket, glassy and absent, momentarily locked with Christie’s before returning to the cube.

Miss Maple came up behind Christie and chimed in, “Her name is Margaret, at least that’s what the elderly woman said when she was dropped off. It’s all on her paperwork.”

Christie brushed a curl away from the girl’s face, “My name is Mary. I would very much like to take you with me.” Her slender hand adjusted the collar of the girl’s dress. “I’ll be back in a week’s time to pick you up.” Christie turned to Mrs Maple. “Be sure to have her ready Clarissa, I won’t accept a delay like last time.”

“Of course, Miss Christie, she’s ready to go today…”

“Today is no good, I have other business to attend to here in town, plus the arrangements are not in place to take her in just yet, next week will be fine, I can’t be bothered to attend to this child just yet.” Christie, already moving on with the rest of her tasks for the day, stood and straightened her coat. “Margaret, I’ll be seeing you soon.”

Christie began to walk back down the rows of children now savoring their caramel delights, except for Arthur whom had slipped it into his pocket for later consumption. A thumping noise sounded from behind her. She ignored it at first, thinking it was Margaret tapping her stocking covered feet against the chest she sat on. The thump was followed by a muffled cough. Margaret shifted her weight and giggled.

“Clarissa, are all of your children accounted for?” she asked, now slightly annoyed by the interruption to the rest of her day.

“Yes Miss Christie, we currently have thirteen orphans in this house, a far cry from last year with twenty eight at this same time, but I assure you they are all here and accounted for.” Miss Maple responded politely, but shrunk back towards one of the bunks.

“And, outside of this girl, no one new has arrive?” Christie with long strides slides back towards Margaret, towards the origin of the thumping and coughing.

The wardrobe chest jumped slightly and Margaret tumbled onto the floor in a tussle. She giggled again as she stood up and ran towards the windows on the other side of the room, lost in her own little world. Christie, with a dignified kick of the heel, popped open the chest. Inside, among the assortment of stuffed dolls and animals, jumble of clothes and other odds and ends, was a raven locked child. A girl. Miss Christie yanked her from the box and tossed her onto the bed.
“Who is this Miss Maple? Are you sure all of your orphans are accounted for? Because by my count, this makes fourteen.” Christie spat out, infuriated. “And what was she doing in the box?”
“Honestly Mary… I hadn’t a clue that she was in there.”

“It’s Miss Christie to you, Clarissa.” She snarled. “Now tell me who is this girl?” Christie grabbed the black eyed, black haired girl by her long stringy hair and dragged her toward Miss Maple.

“She’s nobody, she comes and she goes, she’s no orphan, at least not an orphan in this house.” Clarissa sighed, “ I have no control over her, she finds her way in and talks with the children. By the time I notice an extra head, she’s already out the door.”

“What’s her name, Clarissa?” Miss Christie screamed loudly. The orphans all clamored out of the room, except for Margaret who was starring out the window, and the raven haired girl now resting at the feet of Miss Christie, not making a sound.

“For heaven’s sake, I don’t know, ask the children they are the ones who deal with her, not me. She’s just a nuisance to me, do what you will with her, she’s not my child to care for.”

Miss Christie picked up the child again, dragging her by the wrist out into the hallway. The girl did not resist, and did not fight, instead remaining completely limp. Only Arthur remained in the hallway, the rest of the orphans had made themselves scarce, so as to not face the wrath of Miss Christie.

“Who is this girl, Arthur?” She glared intently into the boy’s eyes.

“Tabatha.” The boy announced. The girl scowled at Arthur for giving her name up so easily. He was no longer in control of himself though, and couldn’t help but respond to the sharp stare of Miss Christie. “She stops by and talks to us sometimes, and teaches us games to play.”

“Thank you, Arthur.” Christie said, as she whipped the girl around and, with a swing of her arm, released her down the flight of stairs. It was only a dozen stairs, but for a girl as small as Tabatha it was a long fall. Tabatha braced her fall with her shoulder which promptly cracked as she slid into the cherry wood door. She struggled to her feet and reached for the door’s brass handle, but the gray haired demon was already behind her grasping her by the hair again.

Miss Christie swung open the door, which came to an abrupt halt against the plaster wall opposite the door. “If I ever catch you in my orphanage ever again, I will feed you to the boars down at the butcher shop, you miserable child!” Tabatha tried to break free of her boney grasp, but her shoulder was lax, unable to build up the necessary force. With a push of a leathered anvil heel in the small of Tabatha’s back, the girl lost her balance and begin her descent down the stairs. As the slack began to give between Miss Christie’s hand and Tabatha’s hair, the sharp talons yanked hard stripping and ripping a chunk of the girl’s scalp from her head. Tabatha tumbled forward, then sideways out into the now bustling street before falling flat onto her chest. Blood flowed freely from the open wound on her head, but Tabatha did not notice. Her vision became blurred from the stuff. She struggled onto her feet and turned back toward the Orphanage, who’s red stained door slammed shut as she attempted to make eye contact one last time with Miss Mary Christie.  Tabatha stepped back slightly and grasped her head, blood seeped between her fingers and matted the black locks down.

As Tabatha turned to head home, she glanced up one last time at the Orphanage, where, in the window on the second floor Tabatha could make out the golden sparkled light shimmering off Margaret’s hair. She couldn’t be sure, but it looked as if Miss Christie was there too, with her arm around the young girl.

:,

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