so i met with the writers’ group this week. presented the first set of posts from the blog. the consensus is that the first person works. i seem to have all the fixings for a coming of age novel. yay! god damn first person. you know i hate it. you know it’s the most uncomfortable way for me to write. i thought i’d be okay with the first person if they suggested i do memoir . . . thought i could live with that. but nobody really suggested memoir, they all seemed like they thought fiction would work, novel, maybe like bridget jones or sophie kinsella . . . but a novel nonetheless. oy! so this sucks. who the hell could’ve predicted i’d write my first novel in the first person?! certainly not i.
and yes, before we get into it, i must apologize for blogging under the influence. this is what happens when you lose yourself in your thoughts as you’re pouring. i’ve got a glass of spirits with just a touch of mix. and still, i’m in freaking pain. sometimes i wish for heavy duty painkillers. need to straighten out my medicare still.
but back to my coming of age novel. OY! biographical of course, but it seems like every few years i reinvent myself, come of age again and again. it’s hard to know what to focus on. and a novel needs focus. yes. i can’t just meander. the thing about a novel is characters arc, change, grow. so that last summer, after graduation before toronto, seems most logical to use for fodder. people seem to fixate on it when i mention it, seem to want to know more. lord knows there’s tons of stuff to draw on. but i wonder about the arc, how the character changes during the course of that summer . . . and i know i did . . . but maybe it was just that i got the fear under control, that i actually, despite all the opposition, i actually left small town nb and moved to toronto to live with a strange family. i actually went through with it, followed through, when there was every opportunity and encouragement to change my mind, to go a different way. maybe that’s the arc, the resolve the character develops, to face the fear head on in order to give herself every opportunity for a better life. jeeze, thinking of myself as the character already . . . i guess i’m on my way, ready or not.
So anyway, the one thing that shows that character development, from fear and indecision to resolution and determination, is the nightmare. you remember the one. my sisters told it as a ghost story at their girlfriend sleepovers in high school. this nightmare was legend in my circle because nobody had ever had such a heavy duty recurrent dream. i remember it vividly still. who couldn’t? i even tried to write a short story that incorporated it, though i’m not sure it works in this capacity . . . i think it will work in a coming of age novel . . . anyway, special treat tonight as i swing open the vault and share said short story based on the recurrent nightmare of that last summer. comments welcome. both on the story, the possibility of coming of age novel, my inherent drunkeness, whatever . . .
By Kellie Underhill
Laura sits in back wedged between two friends, while Sue navigates the blue Rabbit through sharp turns and neck-snapping potholes. A warm breeze rushes through the open windows, scenting the air with the sweet fragrance of apple blossoms. Laura’s hair whips around her head in a mess of stinging tentacles, striking her eyes and cheeks. The girls giggle at something Sue yells from the front seat. Laura doesn’t laugh.
Then she hears the voice.
The dream always changes. The first time, Laura asked if anyone else heard the voice, but they ignored her. When she hears it now, she screams. It begins with the voice. The nightmare stays the same.
A man interrupts normal dreams and lures her into the nightmare. His voice booms. She can’t hide from it or escape.
Laura fidgets in the plush chair. Still half-asleep, her co-workers float around the conference room like lost souls, filling coffee mugs and gathering muffins. She can’t eat. She feels like a tightrope walker working without a net, her nerves stretched too tight might snap at any moment crashing her into the concrete below. She hopes to muster enough courage to present her idea, but butterflies churn her stomach. The president stands and calls the meeting to order.
Then she hears the voice.
The voice drones on and on, reminding her of singsong chanting during religious services. The man might speak Latin or another foreign tongue, but the rhythm of the words is as familiar and sacred to Laura as the Lord’s Prayer.
She never quite hears the words. She tries, but like an old song on the tip of her tongue they elude her. If she could just grasp one syllable, the rest would flood her memory.
Laura’s family gathers at her mother’s house to celebrate Christmas. She smells the turkey roasting in the oven. Her sisters’ sing carols as they set the table. She feels so safe here.
“Mom, how come we don’t do this anymore?” Laura asks, as she selects silverware from a tray. She can’t hear her mother’s reply.
Then she hears the voice.
Laura only knows the words terrify her. Two sentences. One complete thought. Repeated hypnotically. Never a pause for breath. Never a break in pace. Like a broken record.
It mocks her with its tedious honesty. She fears the words, but the unknown speaker terrifies her. She believes she might die by seeing him.
Laura recognises the nightmare because of the voice, yet she can’t wake up. She remains its prisoner until completion.
When she hears the voice, her normal dreams fade. Normal dreams disappear into air, so flimsy. Only the nightmare feels solid and real.
She stands at the end of a long narrow corridor. A hallway in an ancient castle might look like this she imagines, but she never visited a castle before. Dampness from the stone corridor creeps right inside, and her bones stiffen and ache.
Torches light the way; casting slow dancing shadows on the wall, which seem to laugh at her. The voice becomes louder here, in its home.
She observes each mundane detail. She can’t stop. She acts out the motions, a powerless puppet trapped in a familiar play.
She never notices the other woman at first, but she always appears. She calls her The Lady in Black when she tells friends about the nightmare. She tells everyone she meets and asks for advice to help end her torment, but nobody seems to understand. They sigh and stare through her in disturbed silence.
She faces Laura, close to six feet tall and willowy, with shiny blue-black hair falling to her waist. Her deep burgundy lips stand out, inviting and ripe, against her flawless porcelain skin. The Lady’s exotic almond-shaped eyes, dark emerald flecked with bits of gold, electrify with energy. They demand complete attention like metal drawn to a magnet, and Laura can’t look away. She wears a long flowing evening gown of soft ebony chiffon. Yards of the inky wispy material fall to the floor in a train. She stands like a statuette. She doesn’t breathe. She doesn’t blink. She doesn’t smile.
They stare at each other and still the voice echoes throughout the corridor. Laura wishes she understood the words while at the same time dreading comprehension. She senses the importance and fears it.
One moment they face each other and the next The Lady moves away from her. She floats down the corridor without taking a step. No rustle of her dress. Silence. Except for the voice.
Laura can’t scream though her terror escalates. She knows what will come. She remembers every detail but to make any sound breaks the rules. The nightmare must reach its conclusion in the same way each time.
The Lady in Black always leads the way. Laura tries to end it here. She wills herself to wake up. She orders her legs to remain still. She demands her voice to scream. But she follows The Lady like a zombie in a trance. They march single-file in a methodical train to the monotonous rhythm of the voice. She can’t stop the procession. She no longer owns her body. Only her mind remains her own.
The corridor turns left and still she follows. Around the corner she plods, heart pummelling her chest. The Lady vanishes.
Just a few more steps and she’ll stand before the door. No place to go, only through it. She must decide whether to open it or not. The voice deafens her. The man must stand on the other side. Of course she can’t know this for certain, Laura never opens the door.
Terror washes over her in razor-sharp waves. The monstrous door stretches the width of the corridor and disappears into the ceiling. The ancient wood looms solid and heavy, dwarfing her. Its wrought iron handle freezes the blood in her veins. A shiny copper plaque rests level with her eyes. Laura runs her fingers over the engraved words. Two lines. Two paralysing lines —
Laura Louise Wheeler
1966 – 1991
She can’t absorb any more. Now her screams ring out, real and loud.
She wakes. Her hair and nightgown, soaked with sweat, cling to her trembling body. She turns on every light in the house and still she can’t escape the nightmare.
Too terrified to sleep, she sits alone listening to the house creak. She fiddles with the TV and radio. She paces. She creeps into her mother’s room and sits on the edge of her bed watching her peaceful slumber.
When her exhausted body betrays her, she sleeps. Each time, the voice interrupts her dreams and whisks her away to the corridor, The Lady, and the door. If only she could hear the words and understand perhaps the nightmare would fade.
At last, Laura decides. She will go through the door and confront the man. She fears this more than anything, but she feels determined. She will sleep, enter the nightmare and open the door.
“Mom, how come we don’t do this anymore?” Laura asks, as she selects silverware from a tray.
Tears well in her mother’s eyes.
“We miss you Laura,” she whispers.
Then she hears the words.
Mood: painfully intoxicated
Drinking: godiva chocolate liqueur and absolut vodka with a splash of milk
Listening To: the sex and the city friday night marathon on bravo
Hair: i have hair?