Reader, Writer, Merciless Reviewer and Incurable Romantic
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I haven't written anything creative in weeks. BookLikes has pissed me off, and the world is going to hell in a handbasket, and Forgotten Magic has just languished. I know where it's going, and I just haven't been able to find the enthusiasm for it.
What prompted me today to pick up another old book idea is beyond my understanding. I'm not sure where I'm going with it, but so far this afternoon I've written 1532 words.
There's a history, however, that maybe needs to be explained.
I wrote my first adult novel when I was 15. It's not very good. I don't think I had any idea at all what a character arc was, and I didn't know a whole lot about plotting, but it did have a beginning, middle, and end. And a murder mystery. And a romance. And some sex. The writing style -- the voice, if you will -- is recognizably mine. Yes, I still have it, or at least most of it. A few odd pages are missing. The total is about 115,000 words.
There were certain elements of the story that continued to appeal to me through the years, but I never really had enough ambition to try to rework it into something reasonably coherent. I knew it would need major editing, a virtual overhaul from start to finish. But there were those few elements that held some promise.
I've come to recognize that those elements I'm most attracted to are the gothic ones. A rural, isolated setting. An abandoned house. A death that's not quite explained. People who aren't quite what they seem to be.
So this afternoon, for whatever reason, I picked up some of those idea, along with the original title that I always kind of liked, and started to put . . . something . . . together.
A Party of Ghosts
The circumstances of my departure from Tamarack Lake were common knowledge. The reasons for my return were far less obvious, and I intended to keep them to myself as long as possible. In fact, if I had had my way, no one would ever have known I'd come back and no one would ever know I'd left again . . . for good.
One radio station after another warned of the blizzard heading for northern Wisconsin. The first flurries began shortly after noon that Saturday of Thanksgiving week-end, but the temperature remained well below freezing and a strong, gusty breeze out of the west kept the road swept clear and dry as I made my way steadily north. The back roads carried far less traffic and allowed me to drive slower, with far less urgency and anxiety than if I'd taken the major highways. All of this was familiar territory, so familiar I felt as if I could have driven with my eyes closed.
My eyes hardly blinked, however. Despite my reluctance to return to the tiny community where I'd been born, raised, and lived almost every day of the first fifteen years of my life, I couldn't resist the flow of memories. As small as Tamarack Lake was, there were other wide spots on the road that didn't even merit a name on the map, clusters of four or five houses, maybe a gas station and a little country store or a church with a tiny cemetery. I didn't need roadside signs to tell me when I passed through Woodkey Junction, Corinth Chapel, Lomax Corners. Some places had changed. Argo Springs now boasted a flashy RV park, mostly vacant this time of the year, and it looked like the old wooden church at Varseyville had suffered a fire and not been repaired. Most of these minuscule places, however, appeared to have been frozen in time for two decades.
I could have sped through them, but I didn't. There were few signs of life, though I did see Christmas lights already strung across the fronts of a few houses, and a battered old pick-up truck was waiting to turn out of a driveway after I passed. The few cars I saw had their headlights on as the flurries grew heavier and the cloud cover brought darkness earlier.
That darkness couldn't come too soon. The closer I got to Tamarack Lake, the more I wanted nightfall. It was an irrational desire, but still a very real one. I knew no one would take note of my vehicle as anything out of the ordinary, and it was even less likely that anyone in town would recognize me as the driver. But though I reached the edge of town – Tamarack Lake had no outskirts as such – long before sunset, the leading edge of the blizzard had arrived and obscured anyone's vision almost as completely as dark would have.
I paid more attention driving through town than I had on the country roads. The pavement was still dry, not slick, but I knew people would be hurrying to get to shelter before the body of the storm hit. To all intents and purposes, I was one of them. I knew ahead of time that a new shopping center had been built at the far end of town where I could have stocked up on supplies, but I had done my shopping hours ago, so I sped past the bright lights of Tamarack Centre and entered the deepening gloom of the countryside once again.
My SUV with its New Jersey license plates had never been on these roads, and I had never actually driven on them, but those ancient memories guided my hands as I steered unerringly down one twisting road after another. Where the woods closed in, the snow and wind lessened, but the dark intensified. A right turn, a right turn, then a left. Past the long row of mailboxes on the right, past the gated driveway to the left. Around a curve, down a hill. There were no lights here, no holiday decorations. Now and then I caught a glimpse of a lake through the trees, the water steely grey like the sky, but rough with whitecaps. I drove by instinct.
In broad daylight, the driveway might have been mistaken for a side road, but now it was all but invisible. I slowed and put on my blinker out of habit, though I hadn't seen a single car or truck since leaving the main road through town. Then I turned, and the crunch of gravel under the tires altered my entire perception. More twists and turns, and twice I saw shadows at the edge of the headlight beams that might have been deer in the woods that crowded close upon the driveway.
Then the trees opened up and I drove into the fading light.
Once, years ago, there had been a sign welcoming guests to the Timbercrest Lodge, but all that remained now were two broken upright posts, one maybe five feet high, the other twice that. Just beyond the sign, the gravel expanded into a crude parking lot large enough to accommodate maybe a dozen cars. And at the far edge of the parking area, a flagstone path led to the main lodge building.
I parked but did not turn off the engine. I knew it would be bitter cold walking to the lodge, and I was naturally reluctant to leave the comfort of the car. More important at that moment, however, was my need to make a first visual inspection.
The dashboard clock read 3:30, so sunset and full dark were still more than an hour away even with the storm clouds. The front elevation of the two-story log building faced the lake, a wide veranda on the ground floor sheltered by the balcony of the second floor. All the windows were dark, soulless, but from what I could tell in the illumination from the headlights, none of the glass had been broken. The white-painted wicker furniture with its bright cushions was gone, but that was expected. Also missing were the terra cotta planters from which zinnias and marigolds and petunias and pansies had spilled all summer.
Other than that, the place didn't seem to have changed in twenty years.
I cut the engine, plunging the vista before me into a grey fog of overcast, wind, and snow. Slowly, as my eyes adjusted to the weaker light, I made out the shadowy bulk of the building against the slightly lighter sky behind it. The woods that had been cleared to build the lodge had not begun to encroach on the clearing, at least not yet.
With the keys in my hand, I took a deep breath and braced myself for the blast of cold. I knew it would cut through me, through the heavy parka I had worn even while driving in a heated car, through the heavy wool slacks and calf-high boots. Without a hat, my hair took the full force of the wind, long strands blowing up and around, into my face and away from it. I blinked the icy flakes of snow from my eyes, then tucked my head down and slammed the car door shut. There was no reason to lock it, not yet.
Another deep breath, involuntarily pulling frigid air into my lungs. I took the first step on the gravel, feeling the uneven stones through the soles of my boots. I had forgotten my gloves, so I shoved my hands into my pockets, only to have the keys catch on the edge and almost get jerked from my fingers. Clutching at the cold metal, I leaned into the wind and picked up my pace, onto the flagstones where snow was filling in the spaces between them, then up the half dozen wide wooden steps to the porch. By then my fingers were nearly numb from the cold, my eyes nearly blinded by the wind and snow.
But I managed to fit the right key into the lock and turn it with an audible click. The heavy door swung inward, and I followed it into the much deeper darkness. There was no warmth here, only a shelter from the wind, a respite from the snow. I pushed the door closed, shutting out the weather, though the sound of the wind in the pines and around the corners of the building still hummed in my ears.
I stood in the dark and the cold and the almost silence long enough to recover from that brief assault. Tensed muscles relaxed a little, and the heart I hadn't known was racing gradually slowed. I switched the icy keys from my right hand to my left and brushed the tangled hair from my face so I could see without obstruction.
Despite the lack of bright light, I could tell nothing had changed. Nothing of substance anyway. The great gathering room with its massive stone fireplace and hand-built furniture and terrifying bearskin rug was exactly the same as it had been on the night I killed my sister.