Tuesday, October 10, 2017

October Frights! and a Book Excerpt

Hello! Welcome to the October Frights Blog Hop. You can check out the other blogs on the Hop via the link at the bottom of this post. I really enjoyed this last year and I'm happy to be a part of it again. Life has been happening and I'm behind schedule on everything, so to start off, here's the first chapter of my horror comedy novel, Ambulatory Cadavers!

Chapter One: In Which Alice Meets a Strange Young Man of Questionable Occupation

Alice did not want to get married. Not to the squint-eyed, flamboyant, and disagreeable Earl of Chornby with his squeaky voice. However, as the carriage pulled up to Hope Hall, and her own hope extinguished, she thought she might consider the proposal seriously. She did not want to stay at Hope Hall for longer than a minute.
“You’ll stay here until you’ve properly considered your ways and repented,” Lady Crawft told her as the phaeton lurched to a stop. “I can’t believe you told the Earl ‘no.’ It’s appalling. Why, it’s criminal!”
“But Mama!” Alice protested. “I didn’t refuse him. I told him I would consider his offer and reply within the year.”
“That’s not what he said. He said you told him you wouldn’t marry him in a thousand years.”
“The Earl exaggerates,” Alice said.
“Nonsense,” Lady Crawft snapped as the footman opened the phaeton’s door. “You will conjure up a yes or you will stay here forever.”
The footman helped Lady Crawft and Alice down.
Hope Hall loomed over them, an extravagant affair constructed in complete disregard for any moral principles involving moderation or humility. It looked like a bank cross-bred with Michelangelo’s private sculpture collection. Huge Doric pillars spanned the forty-foot-wide front stair. Alice’s uncle, the Duke of Hopenheim, hid among the pillars, a sour look on his face as if he were waiting to be struck.
“Christopher!” Lady Cawft exclaimed. The Duke winced. “You look much worse than last time I saw you, are you getting enough air?” Lady Crawft hauled Alice up to the top of the steps where pleasantries were exchanged at double speed. Uncle H led them inside where more pleasantries were exchanged with Alice’s aloof cousin, Lyra. Lyra was always stunning with her auburn hair curling away from her high brow and her dark eyes, which glinted with a coldness the Devil himself would have found terrifying.
Alice wanted to turn, leap into the phaeton and flee.
Instead, Jeebie, the butler, escorted her to her room.
“Yes, yes,” said Lady Crawft, “take her away, I must apprise my brother of the situation.” Which of course meant telling him Alice had refused an Earl and must be talked into changing her mind, which was Uncle H’s specialty. He was the most influential Member of Parliament, infamous for bringing his staunchest opponents around to his point of view in a matter of minutes. Most of them, anyway.
Once Jeebie had deposited her in her room, she bolted the door and opened her trunk to dig out her copy of Poetry for the Cultured Mind’s Expansion and Refurbishment by E.A. Wandlund. She paused, thinking she heard a funny scratching sound from the wall near the walk-in armoire. Mice, she thought, how appropriate. Her skin crawled and she fled to the chaise by the window with her collection of dry poetry.
She always sat there on her visits to the Hall. She would wrap the gauzy curtains around herself so she could see neither the room nor the garden outside, but the sun would glow golden through the pale yellow curtains and illuminate her book.
It couldn’t have been more than half a heartbeat later that Lady Crawft banged on the door. Alice jumped out of her skin.
“Alice!” Lady Crawft demanded. “Open the door.”
Alice dove out of her curtain shroud and looked about the room for a mode of escape. There was only one door, but the room afforded a ridiculous number of other options. She normally tried not to look around when she stayed here, it was too horrible. Now its many gloomy nooks and crannies seemed delightful.
There was a massive vanity and a washstand with a bowl big enough to bathe a dog in. Perhaps she could hide there. Or under the bed. One could hide a regiment under that bed. In fact, Alice had always been convinced that a there was a regiment under the bed, a dead regiment in open coffins. There was the armoire, but Lyra had always delighted in pulling Alice into the dark stuffy confines and telling her ghost stories about the woman in white who perished in the forest but refused to rest.
“Alice,” Lady Crawft repeated, “open this door at once, I must speak with you on the subject of your marriage.”
Alice darted into the armoire. It was bare. She hadn’t unpacked, which meant that as soon as Lady Crawft opened it, Alice would be exposed. And it sounded as if Lady Crawft was breaking down the bedroom door at that very moment.
Alice’s back pressed against the back of the armoire. Again she heard the mice in the wall; their frantic shuffling mirroring her heart.
“Alice! Open. This. Door. Now!” Alice splayed her hands against the back of the armoire and squeezed her eyes shut. Her finger pressed a knot. The armoire back flipped open, dumping her into a secret passage.
Landing on her derriere in a cloud of dust, she thought, So this was how Lyra snuck into my room to imitate dead soldiers under my bed. Her nose twitched. She sneezed.
“Alice?” Lady Crawft asked.
Alice felt around for the secret door and pushed it closed. Her mother’s demands for immediate matrimony were muted. She stood in the narrow passage and inched along, trailing her hands along each wall. The dark was terrifying. She couldn’t see a thing, but she was so very tired of hearing the tedious reasons for her insalubrious marriage enumerated. She came to another door. She opened it and peered in. It appeared to be the interior of Lyra’s wardrobe. No one else would wear such immodestly adorned gowns, especially not Uncle Hopenheim.
Lyra was not very high on Alice’s list of favorable alternatives to coercion so she closed the door quietly and kept moving down the passage. A light flickered somewhere ahead. Behind her came the distant sounds of Lady Crawft beating on her door.
Alice quickened her pace and fell face-first down a very narrow flight of stairs. She tumbled with a cry of horror into a tiny space. Regrettably, the space was already occupied.
“Ow!” yelped a voice.
Alice gasped wordlessly in shock and pain, her limbs tangling with more limbs that were certainly not hers.
“You’re crushing my arm,” a voice said in her ear. “And most of my other body parts as well.” Alice nearly screamed, scrambling off the invisible person and bashing into the wall rather violently; violently enough to give her a goose egg on the back of her head. Her heart sputtered and nearly died.
There was a scratch and a flare as a flint was struck, then a candle bloomed to life and Alice could see a young man with grey eyes that twinkled rather demonically, through a tangled mass of grey curls – although they seemed to be grey from dust and cobwebs rather than the natural cause of aging. His face was thin and his nose and ears stuck out rather comically. Alice sighed in relief – he wasn’t a dead soldier.
“Oh, hello,” he said, looking at her curiously. “Who are you?”
Alice turned red and tried to stand, but her ankle squealed in protest and she collapsed. “Oh, I’ve broken my ankle!” she exclaimed.
“Gosh,” said the young man, kneeling and setting down his candle. “You shouldn’t go around without a light, you know,” he admonished, taking her foot gently and examining it.
Alice thought she might faint. “You shouldn’t either,” she gasped, not sure why she said it. Lack of air seemed the most logical answer.
“I have a light, I just put it out because I thought one of those horrid Hopenheims was coming,” the young man explained. “Your ankle’s not broken. What are you doing in Hope Hall?”
“The other one.”
“What other Hall?”
“No, my other ankle is broken,” she said, holding it out. She wasn’t sure why; it certainly seemed unlikely he was a doctor. She just wanted someone — anyone — to tell her she was fine. The prospect of lying in bed in Hope Hall was far more terrifying than being alone in a secret passage with a complete stranger whilst being deprived of air.
“What are you doing in Hope Hall?” the young man repeated, looking at her other ankle.
“What are you doing? Who are you?” Alice asked.
“Ah, that would be top secret,” the young man said, winking. Alice was mortified.
“Did you just wink at me?” Alice asked.
“Yes,” he replied, apparently taken aback. “Does that offend you? Your other ankle is also not broken.”
“Yes, that offends me!” Alice said. “I mean, the winking, not the ankle. I mean…it’s very familiar.”
“Ankles are,” the young man nodded, picking up his candle and standing. Alice blushed. She didn’t like his being familiar with her ankles, nor remarking on his familiarity with ankles, hers or otherwise.
She also stood, wincing. It forced her into scandalous proximity with the strange young man. She stared up into the curved nostrils of his epic nose. Behind her were the stairs, up which she very nearly flew, but the strange young man opened a door on the other side of the tiny space and Alice’s curiosity rooted her in place. Where did the secret passages in Hope Hall lead? What was this young man dressed rather like a highwayman doing here? Surely burglars dressed in floppy hats, fingerless gloves and jackets, not greatcoats and scarves?
“Who are you?” Alice demanded. It wasn’t very polite, but she was certain that he wasn’t one of the servants, and so a little rudeness could be excused as he presumably didn’t belong in the house.
“Call me Creamey,” he said. “And you?”
“Alice — I…I mean, Miss Crawft,” she said. She really needed some air. The things one did when deprived were truly quite frightful.
Creamey stepped through the door. Alice thought again of fleeing back up the stairs to her room, but as Creamey vanished into the mysteries of Hope Hall, the candlelight went with him, plunging Alice once more into darkness.
Alice lurched through the door after him. Once back in the light, she proceeded more cautiously. Her left ankle still hurt some when she stepped on it. They emerged in another ridiculously narrow passage with a door at one end and steps going down at the other.
“I see, and your business?” Creamey asked, heading towards the steps.
“This is my cousin’s house.”
“Oh…” Creamey said, stopping at the top of the steps. He turned to her. “Um, ah, you won’t mention seeing me, will you?”
“I don’t see that I shouldn’t,” Alice said, much more bravely than she felt. It occurred to her a shocking number of knives could be concealed in a coat of such voluminous nature. Creamey grinned rather queasily.
“Look…I—” he was cut off by footsteps coming down the stairs behind them. The Duke of Hopenheim’s voice boomed down the passageways.
“Heaven help us all,” he was saying. “I can’t imagine that poet is still alive!” The poet in question was Alice’s father. “What he has to put up with… it makes my skin crawl and my eyes flood with sympathetic tears – and you know how unsympathetic I am.”
“Yes, Papa,” Lyra’s voice answered.
“Dammit,” Creamey said, grabbing Alice’s arm and running down the stairs. Alice bolted gladly. The last thing she wanted was to be caught by her cousin and uncle in secret passageways with a strange young man of questionable occupation.
Her ankle threatened to shatter on each step. They reached the bottom as the door in the passage above creaked open. Alice and Creamey sprinted down a long tunnel lined with alcoves, which held horrible things like, medieval torture devices, casks of vintage wine, a few coffins, some old needlepoint, and a statue of Uncle Hopenheim. The air was musty, and odors of mold drifted on the slight draft that stirred the cobwebs dangling from Uncle H’s graven image.
The passage opened up into an ancient cellar; or perhaps it was a dungeon. There was a barred door on one side and a regular door on the other. Straight across from the tunnel opening was a very old looking wooden door banded by strips of iron with large, wicked looking spikes. A collection of antique weaponry occupied the center of the stone cellar: cobweb-coated trunks and racks of rusted rifles, an old canon, poleaxes, and an assortment of bayonets and blunderbuss parts.
“Which way?” Creamey asked.
“I don’t know!” wailed Alice. “I’ve never been down here before.”
Creamey raced to the ordinary door. He peeked in and closed it. “Crypt,” he pronounced. Alice grabbed a rusty sword from the collection.
“Crypt?” she squeaked. Creamey raced to the barred door. It was locked. Alice followed him to the last door, which stood slightly ajar. The Duke’s voice boomed from the stairs.
“You understand the importance of the marriage, of course?”
“I suppose,” Lyra replied.
Alice frowned. Now they were both on to it… how miserable her stay was going to be. Especially if she got caught down here. She followed Creamey through the door. Creamey’s candle glinted on glass phials, beakers and tubes lined out on tables. There were horrible chains hanging from the ceiling and several metal cots lined in a row. A hulking boiler loomed in one corner and wires curled down the walls to connect with great awful gears and tubes and crank handles.
“God’s molars,” said Creamey. Alice gaped at him. “Pardon,” he amended. Then, looking around, he added, “but in all seriousness, God’s molars and eyeteeth!” There was no exit. They couldn’t go back out into the cellar: Hopenheim and Lyra would have reached the tunnel by now and would see their candle…
Creamey pointed at several large cabinets. He opened one, but it was full of bottles labeled with things like, ‘formaldehyde’ and ‘mandrake.’ There was even a brain floating in a large jar. Alice shuddered, looking away from the horrid, slimy things. Her stomach was already tight with fear, which was probably for the best, or she might have emptied it right there.
The next cabinet contained books with authors like Archimedes, Galen, Ocelot, and Paracelsus. Hopenheim and Lyra’s voices were getting closer.
Creamey dashed over to an iron maiden propped up in the corner. He pushed it open. It must have been put to regular use, the joints well oiled, because it didn’t make a sound. He closed himself in, extinguishing his candle.
Alice was about to protest when the door flew open.

Get the book: https://www.amazon.com/dp/B01LX8TJDL/ref=cm_sw_r_cp_apa_hpDnybN02H2Z3

And hop for more horror!