I wouldn’t call myself a perfectionist, however there are many things that I want to do or have done but haven’t shared because “they’re not ready”. As I come close, my Top Dog starts yapping in my ear and I give in, telling myself “one day I’ll do something with that.” Well, I’ve been called on it today. As part of my 30 Day Challenge, we’ve been asked to do something we think is mediocre or that isn’t ready yet for the world to see. And then put it out there. Jeepers. In deciding what to do, the first thing that came to mind has nothing to do with my challenge or even this blog really but in the interests of putting myself firmly out of my comfort zone, I’m going to share the first part of the first chapter of a book I’ve been writing for about, oh I’d say, 7 years? How’s that for procrastination? It’s working title is “The Extraordinary Reality of Ella Rove.” Hope you enjoy it (you might want to get a cup of tea and a biscuit before you start…) Here goes. *deep breath*
The midnight moon shone brightly over Throckbade Cemetery where, in the branches of a giant, blossoming cherry tree, sat a girl in her pyjamas. Ella Rove let her legs swing freely, concentrating on the mild breeze tickling her toes to try to calm her racing heart. With deep breaths, she inhaled the scent of the blossom from the tree and the wild garlic that grew all around. But images from her nightmare kept flashing through her mind.
Memphis pinned against the rocks. A pack of wild dogs, foaming at the mouth, surrounding her.
“Don’t think about it!” Ella scolded herself.
The dogs begin to advance. Memphis calls out to the dark sky for Granny.
“Stop it!” Ella thumped her forehead with the palm of her hand.
The dogs jumped back in confusion when Granny appears from nowhere and throws out her arms towards them, pushing them back with an invisible force field. But her strength quickly weakens. Holes appear in her protective bubble and one of the dogs lunge.
“Argh! That’s enough!” she screamed into the night. Only a startled bird, roosting high above her, replied.
She had had the same dream every night this week but tonight it was so intense, so real, that Ella had to get out of the house to somewhere she felt safe, comforted. She and her big sister Memphis had played in this tree since they were big enough to climb it. The Cherry Blossom was famous in the surrounding area because no matter the time of year, it held onto its green leaves and blossom. It had been planted as a centrepiece when the graveyard was first laid out, over eight hundred years ago. As they sat together whispering, cradled in the branches of their tree, Memphis would tell her how its roots extended down into the rich soil and spread out into every grave in the Yard. The dead would communicate their messages back to the leaves for those who believed, and listened hard enough, to hear. After years of practice, Memphis had become privy to all sorts of information about the town’s ex-residents. Or so she said. And even now, when so much had happened to rock her belief in her big sister, Ella still couldn’t stop herself from pulling a branch gently to her ear and praying desperately to hear, for once, the voices of the inhabitants of her back garden. All she could hear was the wind dancing through the leaves. What a loads of rubbish, she thought.
Ella let go of the young branch in disgust. Growing up in a graveyard was making her crazy, just like the kids at school said. Throckbade Cemetery Park, or the Yard as her family called it, was the biggest cemetery in the country, which was a baffling mystery to anyone interested in that kind of thing, as Throckbade was a relatively small town. No one knew why the Yard had had to expand its boundaries a number of times over the years until it covered the bottom half of one of the town’s three large hills. Another curious fact was that the Yard didn’t have, nor ever appeared to have had, a church attached or anywhere near it. The Minister from the church on the other side of town had to make the trip to carry out funeral services.
Ella looked out over the entire sleeping town laid out like a rug over Throckbade’s hills on the shore of the North Sea. The water was calm tonight except for a frothing white strip over the deadly sharp rocks that hid just under the surface. The locals called them the Hound’s Teeth which, while only a mile or so in width, extended out for miles. A blinking beacon signalled its end point and warned passing boats to stay away. A couple of times a year, a boat would get impaled on the rocks and would have to be rescued by the town’s lifeboat. All the kids would get pokes of chips or ice creams and take them down to the beach to watch. Ella preferred to watch from up here or, with a sudden surge of happiness, she thought that maybe next time she could watch it with Reggie and Danick. Since moving to high school a couple of months ago, Ella had at last made some real friends who loved all the weirdness about her rather than taunted her about it. Or at least Reggie did. Ella had a feeling Danick was yet to be convinced. He was worried she was trouble and Danick hated trouble. That reminded her, she had better get back to bed or risk another trip to the head teacher’s office, this time for falling asleep in class.
Swinging onto her stomach, Ella reached out for the branch below with her toes but froze when she heard something. Voices somewhere in the Yard. Instinctively, she drew her feet back up and hung onto the branch until she could figure out what was going on. There it was again and this time she saw a number of light beams cut through the darkness. One was waving erratically at every tree and headstone it passed. Feet crunched softly on the gravel path, and stopped suddenly only a few metres away from Ella.
“Oi! Keep that damn torchlight pointed down, Skull! I can’t see a thing and I don’t want to end up falling into an open grave.”
“Sorry chief. Thought I heard something.” The torchlight flicked from a tree nearby, to the ground below Ella, illuminating four pairs of scruffy Doc Martin boots. She could just make out the faces and shapes of two boys and two girls, a few years older than her.
Why were they here, at this time of night?! If she timed it right, Ella could scare the living daylights out of all of them by jumping down right in front of that Skull guy. They’d think twice before breaking into the Yard again. But most kids in town wouldn’t come into the Yard even in the daytime, never mind creep around it in the early hours of the morning. And on a school night. Thinking it was maybe best not to mess with them, Ella kept still, willing them instead to move on quickly.
“You always think you heard something or saw something,” the Chief boy jeered. “Everyone’s dead round here! That’s why it’s perfect.”
“But, it’s the middle of the night and there’s a full moon,” Skull flung his torchlight skywards.
“Aren’t you scared, even a little?” it was a different voice this time, one of the girls who was clinging on to the other girl’s hand. The boy they’d called Chief spun round to face her, throwing something large and heavy against the tree trunk as he did.
“What a bunch of wooses!” he snapped. “After everything we’ve seen and done, how can you be afraid of a few ghosts?”
Ella was puzzled and intrigued. Most people get freaked out a bit in the Yard, which is natural because it’s so quiet and has lots of twists and turns so it’s easy to get lost and start thinking you’ve seen something that’s not there but few people, especially those willing to come into the Yard at night, would openly talk about seeing a ghost. Also, the more they talked, the more something nagged at her. They seemed familiar somehow but she couldn’t place them.
“A few ghosts? A place this size is bound to have hundreds of them!” Skull whispered loudly and started whipping his torch around again, pointing it at anything and everything.
“Well, we better get on with it before we wake them up with your yammering!” the Chief said. “Pull yourself together! It’s not like this is our first time here. Now shut up and keep an eye out for that old man. He almost caught us last night.”
Ella caught her breath at the mention of her Dad. Her head felt dizzy and her hand slipped slightly causing a big piece of bark to break off and land on top of the Chief’s backpack. No one noticed though. They were too busy trying to agree on which direction to go in.
Her heart pounded in her chest as she had realised that these kids were the vandals that had been breaking in at night for the last few weeks and drawing strange symbols over some of the headstones. Dad, the latest in a long line of the Yard’s Caretakers in the Rove family, was so determined to catch them that he had taken to sleeping in an old caravan further up the hill. He was more likely to catch them from there than from their house at the front gate. He knew these kids weren’t coming in the conventional way.
Then suddenly, as if his ears had been burning, a voice yelled through the trees, “Oi! You there! What the hell are you lot up to?!”
Ella saw the faint outline of her dad between the dark trees, pushing his way through the tall grass as he hurried through the headstones. But he was still quite far away. Nice one dad, she thought. Lost the power of surprise.
The gang panicked, pushing and banging into each other in a frantic attempt to escape. Their trainers scuffed in the gravel and Skull landed on his backside, slamming into the tree trunk and causing Ella’s branch to shake wildly. Finally the gang leader yelled, “For god’s sake, RUN!”
That snapped them out of their panic and they took off down the path towards the gate.
At last dad made it out of the overgrowth and onto the path, dressed as ever in his old gardening clothes. It was clear that he would never catch up with the kids so he paused to catch his breath, doubling over and putting his hands on his thighs.
“Bloody kids,” he mumbled, and then for good measure, cupped a hand over his mouth and shouted after them, “I’ll be here every night! I’ll catch you lot next time!”
After a few more deep breaths, he collected himself and flashed his torch onto the surrounding headstones checking for damage. Sighing with relief as he found nothing, he started on his way back to the caravan, mumbling grumpily to himself.
Ella pushed herself back against the tree trunk and let herself breathe again. That had been close. She had bark under her fingernails and her arms ached from holding on to the branch so tightly. She wasn’t sure if she would have been in more trouble if she had been caught by that gang for spying or by her dad for being out of bed.
After a few more minutes, she decided that the coast was clear and jumped down onto the bone-dry grass. Her foot caught on something and reaching down her realised that in the mayhem, the Chief had left his backpack behind. Picking it up, she quickly looked it over. It was a standard black bag but an eye had been painted on it in reflective paint. It glowed eerily in the moonlight.
“I bet there will be something in here that will tell me who you are and what you’re looking for,” she said softly, feeling the weight of its contents. Throwing the backpack over her shoulder, she took off through the Yard, finding her way home easily through the labyrinth of paths, until she was safely back in her bed with the covers pulled up over her head.