Another week gone by and a week closer to THE LAST KNIGHT hitting the virtual bookshelves.
The nerves are mounting, as is the feeling that I’m never going to be ready in time, but so is the excitement. In 37 days I will be a published author – even if I am self-published. Strangely enough though I am feeling less and less concerned with the ‘self-published’ part. Sure there is a certain amount stigma still attached to the self-publishing route, and I am taking a big gamble, but I’m also making myself responsible for my own success, and that feels pretty good!
I promised a teaser or taster every week between now and the release date, so here is the next one. This is the opening scene to the book – a scene I wrote over three years ago now. So much has changed about the novel, the plot and the characters since then, and this scene itself has probably been re-written and edited a dozen times, but it is still where it all began, when I first put down on paper the idea of a modern character tortured by images, visions and dreams of a past that was not her own.
I walked slowly, my fingers trailing along the white wall as though the physical connection could keep me grounded. My free hand clutched a little shrub sprouting red flowers. It was a gift I knew wouldn’t be appreciated, but I would deliver it anyway. My trainers squeaked on the tiled floor as security cameras clicked and whirled in the corners, tracking my progress along the corridor. The astringent smell of bleach scratched at the back of my throat, but I fought back a cough.
Snedham Mental Hospital. God, how I hated the place.
A distant babble of raised voices shattered the silence and my feet faltered. I froze, trying to make out the words. Only one voice, pleading and begging for help, stood out, but the pitiful sound made my heart ache. Only a moment later the voices died away and silence crept back, somehow louder than the shouting.
“Miss Page?” The orderly escorting me stopped a few feet ahead and looked back.
Shaking myself, I started forward again, feet dragging as we drew towards door at the end of the hall. My stomach churned, making bile rise in my mouth. Wrestling a crocodile was a more enticing prospect than taking those last few steps.
“Here you are, Miss Page.” The orderly stopped outside the door. “You can go straight in.”
I hesitated, staring at the plain white wood. There was no lock, but a small, square observation window sat at eye level. I didn’t look through it as I took ten deep breaths before pushing open the door. A blast of warmth hit me, bringing a stale, musty smell with it, the smell of old sweat and dust.
“Who is it? Who’s there?”
A stranger sat in the armchair beside the window. Blonde hair hung lank and greasy around her face, and even though her blue eyes were wide open I knew she wasn’t really seeing me. Another deep breath steadied the trembling in my legs, and I was able to take a few more steps into the room.
“It’s me, Mum. It’s Cara.”
My voice cracked, but I refused to cry. The one and only time I’d given in to the tears she had looked at me so blankly it broke my heart. The fact my own mother couldn’t, or wouldn’t, comfort me was too much for me to cope with. I’d been twelve years old at the time.
“Cara?” She frowned. “I know that name.”
Two steps took me across the tiny room, with its narrow, single bed, and I sank to my knees beside her chair, my fingers stroking her forearm. I couldn’t hug her, not when she would sit there as still and immobile as a statue.
“Yes, Mum, it’s me. Your daughter.”
I knew it wouldn’t help. It didn’t matter how many times I told her who I was; she still looked at me like she’d never seen me before. That was the hardest part; this woman, who’d given birth to me, didn’t even recognise me.
She blinked and looked away. “It’s cold. Why is it always so cold?”
The room was swelteringly hot, and she sat right beside the radiator. At least, her body was by the radiator, her mind was somewhere else entirely. She’d been somewhere else for the last five years. I sometimes wondered what she saw. What had that small, sterile room become for her? I privately hoped it was somewhere beautiful, somewhere she could see the sky.
“I brought you a new plant,” I told her, placing the little green shrub in its yellow pot on the window ledge. “You need to remember to water it – or it’ll die like all the others.”
“I think I’d like the roast pheasant for supper tonight,” she ordered, not even glancing at the plant. “Please instruct the kitchens.”
“Sure, Mum, I’ll tell them.” Of course, I wouldn’t. She would get the same food as the rest of the residents at Snedham, but it was easier to go along with her fantasies. Why pheasant I didn’t know, she’d always been a vegetarian.
“I can’t stay long, Mum.” A ball of guilt felt like a lead weight in my stomach. I hadn’t even been there ten minutes. Was that really all the time I could spare my own mother? I shook it off; I couldn’t stay, it was too hard. “I’ve got homework and things to do. But I’ll come see you next week.”
She didn’t seem to hear me. Her face was turned towards the window, but I knew that she was seeing something completely different. I reached out and tucked a strand of hair behind her ear. It had once been long and honey blonde like my own, now it hung limp and flat around her face.
“It’s my birthday, Mum,” I whispered, tears burning my eyes. I’d promised myself I wouldn’t do this, but the words slipped out. “I’m seventeen today. Can’t you at least say ‘Happy Birthday’?”
Nothing. She didn’t even look my way. Sobs clawed at my throat and I pushed back to my feet, rocking on my heels. Looking down at the stranger in my mother’s body, I wanted to scream and rage. I wanted to shake her until her teeth rattled; anything to get a reaction out of her. It wasn’t fair. I remembered the vibrant, beautiful woman she’d been once, and for her own sake, as much as mine, I wanted that woman back.
Instead, closing my eyes, I bent down and pressed my lips against the top of her head.
“I’ll see you soon,” I mumbled against her hair.
When the white door closed behind me I pressed my back against the wall. Sinking down till my butt hit the floor, I drew my knees up to my chin. Iron bands wrapped around my chest and hot tears rolled down my cheeks. I hated it. Hated how visiting made me feel, but the guilt that ate away at me when I didn’t was far worse. I dreamt sometimes of her coming home, normal and sane, but the doctors told me that was never going to happen. Mental illness wasn’t something they could cure, and the meds never seemed to work.
My mother would never kiss me goodnight again. She’d never ask me how my day was. She’d never giggle with my dad about some inane thing that only made sense to them, or sing along to the 80’s pop music she used to love so much. My mother was a ghost, a phantom, barely even real.
With my face pressed into my knees, I let the tears fall.
Chapter One, THE LAST KNIGHT
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