This year's ghost story. Hope you enjoy.
A chapter every night at midnight, till Halloween.
The Perils of Sunshine
Gwendolyn sat on the edge of her bed squinting in the face of an unwelcome ray of sunlight that sliced through her half-closed curtains like a knife through butter, the herald of another sunny day. Gwendolyn was tired of the sun. All summer long it had shone as brightly as a Caribbean brochure, enticing hoards of pale-faced, lane-clogging tourists down from the city to lie on the sands of her usually deserted cove like corpulent seals. Since June they had disturbed her peace with their snow-cone wrappers, blaring noise (she refused to think of it as music) and children. So many children. Though it was now nearing the end of October, this rare, sunlit summer gave no hint of abating and Gwendolyn Sharp was getting desperate. How could she write in this situation?
She’d never intended to be a writer of ghost stories. She’d only written The Edge of the Lane as a lark, a bit of diversion from the weighty historical tomes she’d written for a decade. Admired by critics and a shallow pool of of dust-covered academia elite, these books were never going to shake the world. But they paid the bills, of which she had few, being, as she was, a woman of few wants. Also, resting quietly alongside the brainless blather of best-sellers that otherwise crowded her publisher’s catalog, her fastidiously researched books garnered some much desired respect for that publisher and therefore ensured their consistent, though rather tepid, enthusiasm each time she picked up her pen to write another.
But then, one particularly wet and windy winter when she was between books, she’d written a spine-tingler. Just for her own amusement. It had been an enjoyable exercise, a diversion from weightier pursuits. Looking back she could remember precisely when it had happened, the very moment when her life had turned like an owl’s head in a completely different direction. It had been Christmas, twenty years earlier. She’d invited her agent, Albert, to a holiday dinner and over dessert had told him of her diverting foray into the supernatural. She remembered laughing at the absurdity of it and gradually noticing the hungry look of interest that had flared in his beady, brown eye. “Let me see it”, he’d demanded when he’d polished off his third helping of trifle. She’d refused at first, but flushed with the good spirits of the season, she’d gone to her desk and handed it over. Albert had disappeared to her library, lit the fire in the grate, cracked the window to listen to the pouring rain pound against the sea, and began to read with the manuscript resting atop his capacious, waist-coated belly. Emerging hours later, he’d held the manuscript aloft and bellowed, “You’ve done it, Gwennie! You’ve actually done it, old girl!”
With the intention of preserving her hard-earned integrity, she’d insisted he shop the thriller under a pseudonym - a prescient move on her part that had saved her untold irritation these past two decades - and watched, utterly gobsmacked - as the book rose like a pea vine up the best seller list, quickly stretching its tendrils to every corner of the globe. As could only be expected, Albert soon insisted she write another. She would have protested of course, had it not been for the rather astronomical recompense brought to her door by a bonafide best-seller. She’d never known such riches. She’d gotten a new roof, a new car and new central heating. She’d visited Nepal, Peru and Prague. And, as soon became apparent, she had herself a brand-new career, or rather, Millicent Penfield had a brand-new career, for that was the name under which Gwendolyn wrote these commercial sensations. It was to Millicent besotted fans wrote their letters pleading for autographs and signed photos, not her. It was for Millicent readers searched, scouring the novels for clues to the woman who composed them. Millicent turned down every offer for interviews, photographs or public appearances, a move which, as Albert knew it would, only increased the fascination of her ravenous public. Of course it was Albert who answered every fan letter, turned down every request, and who, with enthusiastic delight, managed to fashion a fully-formed persona, albeit an eccentric one, out of what was, in fact, a phantom. Albert Pepperidge had made Millicent Penfield the queen of the supernatural thriller and was quite proud to have done so, while Gwendolyn Sharp remained happily, and firmly, grounded in the here and now.
At first it had been so deliciously easy. She’d employed all the usual tricks: the old mansion, the shifty-eyed caretaker, the dark and stormy night. Then she’d ventured out a bit. Animals that could talk, paintings that came alive, shape-shifters, chimeras - the possibilities had seemed endless. But earlier this year, quite suddenly and without warning, they did end. She hadn’t entertained a single idea in over seven months that hadn’t seem overused, trite, or frankly ridiculous. And this blue-skied, sunlit, unending summer - so applauded by the masses - had certainly not helped matters one bit. Without access to her once secluded, usually rainy, cove how could she work out her plots and pacing? Happy families had been tucked into every corner of her valued privacy for months, all lured here by this brightly irritating weather. How could she be expected to turn out a dark story on a sunny day? Her book was way overdue, she hadn’t one solitary promising idea, and now she’d been summoned to Albert’s office for a face to face meeting about the situation. It was all such a bother. Millicent Penfield, once so benevolent, so prolific, had gradually transformed into a nagging, irritating, harpy and Gwendolyn now feared she rather hated her.
She stood up, took a deep breath, crossed the room and firmly closed the sun-welcoming curtain with a jerk. She stretched. The thought of breakfast made her queasy, so she headed straight for a hot shower and then, standing in front of her closet, she decided to wear red. A blood-red suit that would clash dramatically with her red hair to create an effect that she knew from experience was a bit intimidating. Though she seriously doubted it would wield the slightest power over Albert. He was rather impervious to intimidation. But as she was leaving, an assessment of her reflection in the entry hall mirror proved satisfactory. She practiced a smile. A nonchalant toss of the head. Not bad, as long as no one noticed the faint blue colour underneath her eyes, two brush strokes of betrayal that would surely, if seen, let Albert know she wasn’t sleeping. He knew, and she knew he knew, she always slept well when she was writing well. She grabbed a pair of dark sunglasses and threw an ebony shawl over her shoulder and left, slamming the heavy door behind her. The glass was still rattling as she crawled inside her green Rover and pointed its nose down the coast road to the train station five miles away.