Monday, November 12, 2012

In Business


Wooden heeled boots clicked harshly over cobble stones. The figure pulled her shawl tighter across her chest as she searched the shop front signs. Dusks’ misty fingers began to swirl as the streets emptied. Lights glowed in windows. She halted suddenly as the gas lanterns lining the street flickered uncertainly. Beyond the throw of the light was the threshold of the shop she had walked all day to find.  The newly painted banner above the shop front proudly announced that Goodale and Sons provided all services to ease loved ones into eternal slumber. Phoebe poised at the curb, but shrank back against the wall when the shop door opened.  She clutched the pendant at her throat, stroking it to gain confidence. 

A tall red haired woman unlocked a large chain to release some of the shops wares on display. Wisps escaped from the tightly wound bun as she wiped her brow. She deftly lifted a small iron cage from the pavement and brought it inside the shop. Returning quickly she retrieved  a wooden stand advertising more products available inside. A young lad shadowed the woman, picking up lose items and ducked into the shop, keeping the door open for her as she struggled with the last items.

Pheobes heart hammered, considering the option of turning on her heel and leaving. Twisting the end of her shawl, she took a step sidwards and gasped as she collided with a solid chest. Gnarled fingers grasped her arms to steady her balance.

“Yer right there Ma’am?” A fine mustache sweeping upwards and joining genteelly into a clipped beard conflicted with the disheveled and shabby presentation of the tall man she had collided with. Pheobe scuttled away from him as a slow smile flickered across his face. He emerged fully from the shadows and pushed the battered top hat from his forehead.

Chewing thoughtfully on a wad of tobacco, he spat noisily onto the stones; all the time carefully scrutinizing the trembling woman before him before finally speaking. “Yer don’t want ta be going in there Ma’am. Dealers with the dead. Lessin’ yer one of them believers.” A huge gob of black manducated tobacco landed near her left boot. 

Regaining her composure, Pheobe took a small step towards him, lifting her chin to meet his gaze. “Excuse me, Sir. I’ve travelled these past hours to get here on a matter of urgency.” 

His lip curled. “Its always urgent. The only force the dead need to contend with is the weight of their souls before the Almighty.”

“Pardon Sir. I need to speak with Mrs Goodale before she closes the door.”

“If’n you are after quality products for your passed loved ones, yer may be best to find your way into Whitechappel. Don’t be wastin yer time with these charlatans.” 

“I think I’ll be the judge of that. Please step aside so I may pass. Good day to you Sir.”

 “Give Emma my best. She’ll know who it is. Tell her - ” he smiled. “Never mind, I’ll be telling her myself soon enough.” Tipping his hat theatrically, the man shrunk back into the shadows.

Phoebe hurried over to the shopfront, gingerly twisted the knob of the door and pushed her way into the gloomy interior. The tiny bell above the door announced her arrival.

Emma Goodale bent over a sheaf of papers, transcribing a column of numbers into a thick leather bound book. The young boy straightened small dolls dressed in black lace. He sat some of them on their accompanying coffins and shyly smiled up at Phoebe.  A flicker of a frown on Emmas’ face was quickly replaced by a bright smile as she welcomed Phoebe in. Emma took her round spectacles away from her eyes and put her pen into the ink bottle beside the papers. Phoebe noticed that the glasses had pressed lines into the woman’s heartshaped face.

 “Come in. You’ve just caught me before I closed up for the evening. What can I assist you with? We have a wide array of mourning paraphernalia and every thing you need for your grieving rituals.”

Phoebe stood on the threshold gripping her shawl. Her eyes, once accustomed to the low light raced from one surface to the next. “Its m-my father.” She stared at the iron cages at the foot of a stone weeping angel.

“Newly departed or soon to be expected to be so?“ Emma swept around the counter and rattled one of the cages. These mortsafes are a very popular product and guaranteed to keep our loved ones where they are put.”

A shudder shook Pheobes body. “I should think that its too late for that.”

Emma dropped the cage and straightened. “How unfortunate for you.”  Her blue eyes bore into Phoebes. “What exactly did you have in mind?” 

Gripping the pendant, Phoebe flushed. “Your husband’s name was recommended to my family, for situations such as the one we face. I was told you would believe us. You’d be ready to listen and believe us.”

Emma pulled her bodice straight and strode over to the door. She twisted the lock and turned to face Phoebe. “What else were you told?”

“I am looking to employ your alternate services. I hoped your husband may be here to speak with.”

“Of course.” Emma beckoned the lad over. “William, please ask Mr Goodale to step into the shopfront.”  In his excitement, the boy knocked one of the tiny coffins from the bench, sending a stylized skeleton scuttling across the floor.  William stared at the mess with a down turned mouth and looked imploringly at Emma.  She huffed a dramatic sigh and shoed him away before he scooted into the back rooms.  Turning back to Pheobe, she asked. “Where is your chaperone, Miss - ?”

“Phoebe Williamson. I’m nearly 21.”

“Which means you are 18.” Emma smiled.  “I’m not here to drag you through the streets for being unaccompanied Miss Williamson. Though I must say I am a little shocked at your pluckiness. You need to understand that conversations can be delicate and not often received in the way it was mean - under these circumstances. I did notice you with a gentlemen before.”
Phoebe shook her head and flickered her eyes toward the street. “I bumped into a man just before I came in. He knew your shop. He had a message, but he said he’d come tell you himself.”
Emma’s lips flattened. “Did he? Shabby top hat? Chewed tobacco? I hope you ignored him.”
Flattening the front of her bodice, Phoebe nodded. “His advice was most unwelcome.”
“Please, where are my manners?  Take a seat.”  Emma pulled a mourning veil from a chair and set it on the counter. She motioned to the seat. Phoebe nodded and sat down, but gasped as she realized the solid figure of a man was standing beside the chair.
Milton coughed. “Forgive me. I have a very light step.” His solemn face bore the traces of burden grief could only etch. Phoebe hesitantly offered her gloved hand. “Pleased to meet you Mr Goodale.”  Milton captured it, squeezing  it delicately and inspected it. “White kid, possibly Eastern Suffolk, but they aren’t yours.Far too loose.” He continued to hold her hand and stared at her. “and you aren't from Suffolk either are you?”
Pheobe grimaced and pulled her hand away. Milton frowned and reached inside his vest to retrieve his snuff box.  He continued to regard her with an unwavering stare as he tapped the lid. Emma laid a hand on her shoulder. “Forgive my husbands abrupt manner.”
Nodding Pheobe laid her hands on her lap. “Its perfectly alright, I’ve heard, well - ”
She glanced at each face before her before she took a loud breath. “Ghosts. My father who has recently passed. He’s a ghost and won’t leave the household alone.” She bit her lip and held her breath.
“Its alright Miss” grinning, William piped up appearing at her elbow, “I ain’t afraid of no ghosts; hey, guv?”
Emma frowned at the boy and pointed toward the back door. “Off with you little scamp.” She turned back to Phoebe and leant on the shoulder of her husband. Her eyes softened as she smiled gently. “Now start from the beginning. How can Goodale Ghostbusters help you?”

**************************
This marks the first draft of the first chapter from a Novella I am working on, based on a steampunk ghostbusters group. Each week, as I interview the creators about their characters, I will build their world and adventures in ghostbusting. 

The first story was *meant* to be about Milton. However, his character is extremely shy, quirky and I need to build some trust with him before he will reveal more about him to me. 

These stories will be loaded up as first drafts over the next few months, however, they will be pulled down to be edited and collated into the Novella for publishing and launch mid next year. ( links and info will follow, I can guarantee that!) 

2 comments:

Dr. kold_kadavr_flatliner, MD said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Pat Jourdan said...

Annie, we are reading together at the Short Story Conference in Vienna, so I thought it only good manners to say hello.
Just off to construct my piece about ending stories, which is quite an exploration.