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Above and Below, chap 2

by kmerignac 

Posted: 04 September 2003
Word Count: 2859
Summary: This is what I think I'd like to put as chap 2, although I was playing with it being chap 1 initially. It's a piece I've already submitted under another name, but have changed it somewhat since, so it's for those who haven't read it and those who'd like to compare! It introduces the young heroine, and if anyone thinks it's better as a chap 1 then let me know. Thanks for all your support so far, and once again honest comments only please!

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Jo ran down the staircase, her heart racing, and the sound of her feet knocking on the floorboards loud in her ears. She could hear him starting down behind her and she stopped to look, her heart in her throat, to see him looming high above her. Sunshine was pouring in through the small window behind him, silhouetting his tall, wiry frame and casting heavy shadows over his face and features. For a moment the figure hung above her, threatening and formidable, then it stepped out of the darkness and down into the light - she could feel hysteria threatening and had to fight to keep it at bay, then he was throwing himself at her and she spun around, almost stumbling on the steps, in an attempt to escape.
She smiled. Her brother’s already blotchy teenage complexion had turned a horrid puce colour and his eyes had been so full of hate that the overall impression had been one of madness. She could hear his footsteps echoing on the steps behind her as she ran for the door, and then she was screaming out into the sun and down onto the grass, her irate brother hot on her heels.
She was fourteen years old, and had spent most of that time struggling with the heat and smells of the City. Fourteen years of captivity. Fourteen long years of waiting for this moment, and of not even knowing that moments like these could exist. They’d left the City for the country two months ago, a relatively short time when compared with the number of years she’d spent in London, and yet she’d never felt more at home or quite so alive as she did now.
Tall for her age, and lanky too, she had mousy hair that always seemed to hang in rat’s tails on her shoulders no matter what she tried to do with it. Kids at school had always given her a hard time and she’d never really been a part of what you might call the in-crowd, but living here could make up for all that. She was happy here. Happier than she could ever remember being in London. On the day of the move, when the van had pulled up in front of their new home, she’d been overwhelmed by a sense of belonging. A sense of coming home.
Her brother was finding things that much more difficult. Shaun had left a safe circle of friends and admirers back in London and seemed to be at an age where adolescent timidity got in the way of forging new friendships; having to start all over was proving hard work. As much as Jo loved their new home, Shaun hated it, and it was probably going to take a while for him to get used to the idea that he was here for good. Maybe he’d come to consider it home one day. But she wouldn’t swear to it.
She paused to look at her brother, but her gaze settled on the house behind him. Who’d have thought that with the money they’d got from their pokey little flat they’d have been able to afford a place quite as fantastic as this? Their flat in London had been about twenty years old, and had already been showing signs of decrepitude. This place had been built in the late eighteenth century and still looked incredible. Wings had been added almost a hundred years later giving the house a kind of strange, although by no means ugly, appearance, and the ensemble stood on top of a small hill, offering a breathtaking view of most of the surrounding countryside. Its garden was green and lush with small flowerbeds dotted here and there, and a thick carpet of grass dropped away from its terrace and down to a small river.
A movement caught her eye away to the left and she became aware of the home’s gardener, Dorfmann, who was standing in one of the flowerbeds near the terrace watching her, his expression grim and thick with disapproval. She acknowledged this and dismissed it just as quickly, then turned her attention to her brother who was still standing in the doorway undecided as to whether he should continue his chase or not. Jo giggled - she couldn’t help it… well that probably wasn’t entirely true… but she was having such a good time. Shaun glared down at her, his face distorted with hate, and then all of a sudden he was down the steps and coming for her, moving more quickly than she would’ve thought possible. She spun on her heels, screaming her delight, and ran on down the slope.
When she came to the copse of trees at the bottom of the slope she slowed, anticipating the damp mud she knew she'd find in its leafy shade, and having entered the semi-darkness she stood still for a moment to let her eyes adjust to the new light. Then she moved on, picking her way over the damp ground to move closer to the river on the other side. She looked up. She could already see the makeshift bridge her dad had erected when they’d moved in; it was supposed to have been a temporary affair, but had already been around long enough for the term to no longer seem appropriate. In actual fact the bridge was little more than a few old planks and hardly what you might call solid, but it did give them access to the little path on the other side of the river which meant they could use it as a shortcut for getting to the nearby village.
She hesitated. The river was deep here, and for that reason out of bounds - not an incredibly good place for an out and out fight with her brother. She wondered briefly if she should turn back, then she heard Shaun's heavy breathing just behind the trees.
What to do? She’d get into trouble whether she turned back now or not because her dad had forbidden her to come down this far on her own. And Shaun was going to tell on her no matter what she did. So, all things considered, it was just a question of how angry she wanted her dad to be. If she left now he wouldn’t have that much to be cross about. She hadn’t actually approached the water. Yet. But if she moved out onto the bridge she’d probably be grounded for months.
To turn back now, though, would mean losing face. And she couldn’t do that. Shaun would think she was a complete idiot… She’d come this far; she’d have to go the whole hog.
Anyway, she hadn’t enjoyed herself so much in ages.
She grinned, sheepishly, under the cover of the trees and then chewed at her lip, nervously. She‘d pushed Shaun to his limits, and now that their confrontation was imminent she felt a bit scared. What if he hit her? She did what she could to shake the thought from her mind and strode out onto the bridge. After all… in for a penny, in for a pound.
She could feel the warmth of the sun on her back, beginning to heat through her layers of clothes and down onto her skin. Her exertion had left her breathless and short, rasping noises were breaking from her lungs and out into the surrounding silence, their strength receding as her heart recuperated until finally another sound took over, that of the water as it trickled by beneath her feet. She looked down at it - the river could well have been at its deepest here. It was dark, black almost, and its surface flashed in the sunshine glinting bright sparks of light that caught the eye. A small twig was floating off to the left, rocking in the current, to and fro.
She relaxed a little. The twig began to float out of sight and she moved closer to the edge to watch it go. The heat of the sun as it licked at her skin was making her drowsy and she wondered what it would be like to be down in the water, floating in the river’s warm depths gently to and fro. The trickling sound was growing louder in her head, and had even begun to form intricate melodies and soft lullabies in her mind… and then there were what sounded like voices. Songs even. Faint. Difficult to make out. She began to move closer in an attempt to hear more, and then Shaun was crashing out from behind the trees and into her intimacy, making her jump.
'You bitch!’ he screamed, and she stared at him, stupidly. For a moment she couldn’t quite remember why he was there. Or why he should be so cross. She felt her feet wobble and when she looked down her heart flopped over in her chest - her feet were poking out over the edge of the bridge, her toes already mid-air. She shuffled back, nervous and disorientated, then looked up again. Her brother’s face was red, and fine pearls of sweat were sticking to his brow. His hair was hanging limp, plastered to the sides of his hot face, and his fists were clenched into tight little balls by his thighs. She could feel herself blushing. The soft heat of the sun felt uncomfortable on her warm cheeks.
‘Sorry,’ she said.
He looked at her, incredulous, and she knew she was going to have to do better. She took a deep breath and tried to snap herself out of her stupor.
'Really I am… It was a stupid thing to say, and not even true. I made the whole thing up. I’ve never even spoken to her. Honest.'
They were arguing about Nikki, his most recent love interest: a pretty girl, with the intellect of a sponge. Shaun stared back at his sister, apparently doubting her sincerity, and inspecting her the way he might a new species of beetle, but she thought he looked a bit calmer… maybe.
'I hate you.’
Flat. A statement. Not a reproach. He unclenched his fists and then stuffed them down into the pockets of his jacket.
‘You’re a bitch,’ he said. ‘I hate you.’
His face had assumed its usual sulky expression, but she didn’t trust herself to say anymore.
'What is it with you?’
Then, as an afterthought: ‘Why can't you just leave me alone?'
He turned to go back to the house, back to his bedroom no doubt, his sanctuary, grumbling under his breath about how unfair life was, and Jo watched him go. She felt uncomfortable, and guilty. Something moved and she caught it with the corner of her eye. She glanced round but saw nothing and supposed it to be a small animal or insect dashing into hiding. When she turned back Shaun was disappearing into the trees.
The sun was still high in the sky but a cold wind had sprung up and she could feel gooseflesh prickling the tops of her arms. She pulled her cardigan more tightly about her and let her mind drift back to what had just happened. She looked down at the water, and shivered. Flecks of light were shimmering off its surface, just as they’d always done, and the only sound she could hear now was that of the water rolling gently by. Just as it had always done. No music, no voices. No mystery. She turned to follow Shaun back to the house and as she did so something warm brushed against the back of her legs. She flinched immediately, twinges of fear springing up in her stomach, bright and alive. She turned to look. Nothing there. All of a sudden she wanted to get off the bridge more than anything in the world, but before the signal from her brain had time to reach her feet she was pushed from behind and the surface of the water was rushing closer. Her arms flayed out from her sides in a ditch attempt to grab one of the overhanging branches and break her fall, but every branch her fingers met just slipped on by, as elusive as sand. She opened her mouth to scream into the silence, her cry echoing through the trees, knowing that Shaun had left just minutes ago and couldn’t have gone far, but then she remembered their argument and she began to panic; maybe her brother would decide he didn’t want to help her. Maybe he really did hate her.
The icy water engulfed her. The sudden change in temperature took her breath away and she could feel adrenalin pumping through her body as it coped with the cold. She prepared herself for a rough landing on the riverbed, but seconds passed and still it didn’t come, she just plunged, deeper and deeper, colder and colder, the sound of the water rushing past her, roaring loud in her ears. Her pulse accelerated as the depth increased - how could it possibly make sense? It couldn’t be this deep. Then her feet came into contact with the river floor, and everything seemed to stop: the sound of the water rushing past her was replaced by a gloopy silence, and for a moment she sat floating in the water, weightless, held aloft. As the pull of the surface reclaimed control of her body and began to lift her up out of the depths and towards the sun she opened her eyes and looked up. Soft ripples were glittering on the river’s surface high above. She kicked at the water with her feet and flapped at it with her arms to rise more quickly and a head appeared above her, peering down into the depths, its form distorted by ripples - the shaky image of a gaping mouth iterating words she couldn’t hear. Shaun? He looked daft. She wanted to laugh. She wasn’t in the least frightened anymore. She felt fine.
Tiny bubbles were floating in the depths between her and her brother, silver droplets sparkling in the sun as she coasted like a bird in a clear summer sky. The water embraced her, enfolded and protected her, and music drifted into her mind, rising up from the bed. She looked down to where weed was swaying and fish were darting to and fro, undisturbed by her presence, and saw a mirror. Huge, and filled with a bright dazzling light. Almost… She peered at it, her brain refusing to accept the information her eyes were delivering, then she lashed out with her feet in an attempt to manoeuvre her body around to get closer but as she did so something grabbed at her, gripping her arm and pulling her backwards through the water, scaring her witless. With her panic came a need to breathe and she actually tried to scream - the icy water swept into her open mouth making her choke, violently and painfully, and her chest felt as thought it would collapse under the pressure. Her head felt as though it didn’t belong to her body anymore, and her vision was fading. And then she couldn’t choke any more. The water stopped its aggressive invasion… and she was floating again…
…and consciousness was slipping away…


Someone shaking her… speaking her name…
Had to open her eyes.
Her lids, heavy…
Hazy images, then Shaun in soft focus. Leaning over her. Pale.
She blinked. His shoulders slumped.
'For God's sake!’ he said, and there was exhaustion in his voice. ‘You scared the living daylights out of me. I didn't think I'd ever get you out.’
Her throat felt raw, as though she’d eaten a handful of gravel. She didn’t want to speak. She reached to touch his hand instead. He flinched.
'God'struth, Jo, you're freezing! Are you sure you're all right?… I should phone a bloody doctor shouldn’t I.'
She took a deep breath before mustering up the courage to speak. She might be feeling dopey, but she knew that getting a doctor involved would destroy any chance she thought she still had of their parents not finding out.
'I'm fine.’
It came out shaky and broken, and he looked doubtful. She swallowed hard, and tried again.
'Really,' she said. ‘I’m fine.’
She pulled her feet up underneath her and tried to stand; her head swam with the effort, but once on her feet she didn’t fall. Shaun offered his arm for support and she seized it, gratefully.
'Can’t we just go home?' she said, looking up at him.
Her throat was still gritty, and she felt weak and sick, but didn’t think there was anything seriously wrong with her. She paused to get her balance on the bank and then moved off towards the trees. Shaun followed close behind, concern warping his face.
As she reached the trees, she turned to look at the river. Its surface shone in the sun, winking softly at her in the filtered light. It looked just as it always had.
Shaun approached her. He placed an arm about her shoulders, and they turned to walk into the shade of the trees.

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Comments by other Members

bjlangley at 15:53 on 04 September 2003  Report this post
Hi Kate, I prefered the beginning of this chapter to the beginning of the first. This started at an incredible pace, we wanted to know what she was running from. The chase is realistic, reminds me of running from my own siblings as a child.
The end of the chapter is really intriguing, and we share Jo's confusion, and want to make sense of it.

Account Closed at 22:46 on 04 September 2003  Report this post
Hi there, I thought this was fantastic - though I haven't read your other chapter at the moment, so can't make comparison comments. But I was hooked into the chase from line one, and then it was great getting deeper and deeper into Jo's head and her confusion. I thought the relationship between brother and sister was very realistic too.

The only thing that slowed me down (and it's a silly niggle, I know) is that I wasn't sure whether feet do "knock" on the flooring as you've got in the first line. Isn't there another word for it, but at the moment it escapes me? Maybe just take out "knocking" all together - the sentence works without it!

Anne B

stephanieE at 12:34 on 05 September 2003  Report this post
Ah-ha! This is 'The Chase' right? I do like this piece, as it has lots of energy, plenty of interesting possibilities and a big chunk of drama too... What I'm struggling with, is how on earth this relates to poor Gavin losing it on Hammersmith station platform? (OK, I know it's not Hammersmith, I;ve just got that station stuck in my head).

I see you've re-written too - here are a couple of typo thingies:

the bridge was little more than a few old planks and hardly what you might call solid, but it did give them access to the little path repetition of little (even if in different senses!) jars a bit

in a ditch attempt missing a 'last'?

I think if this is the core of your story, then you should start with this, otherwise your readers are going to be asking 'Huh?' as they try to connect to Gavin (who isn't their Dad or anything is he?). That's my view, but see what others think.

kmerignac at 17:31 on 11 September 2003  Report this post
Thanks for your optimism about this one, and I think it's going to have to replace the other! It actually started out ch 1 and a few people suggested changing which is why all of your comments are so useful, and I'm secretly quite pleased that my initial reaction may well have been the best!

Anne B,
Sorry I haven't got back to you sooner but I've been away... Thanks for your enthusiasm! It's fantastic and it's so good when people describe having exactly the same reaction as the one you're aiming for when writing. A real sensation of achievement!
I take on board what you say about knocking and think that will have to go!
Thanks again, and if you manage to read the other then your opinion would be great (although it's not exactly the same style - there are two parts to this which slowly come together as the story progresses).

Steph E,
Yes, you're quite right, it is! Glad you recognised it, that means it stayed in your mind a bit!! And ha-ha, as far as the relation with Gavin goes it's something you won't know immediately! With a bit of luck that will keep a reader going, if only to find out (of course it could freeze them out, but it's a risk I'm taking!) But I think you're absolutely right about starting with this, especially as it is the core story, and no, it's not her dad!! My mind is well and truely made up on that one - this is now ch 1!!

Thanks again everyone,

Hilary Custance at 08:56 on 25 September 2003  Report this post
Kate, yes, go with this as chapter 1. Though I like your original Chapter 1, that was more a mid-book chapter, this has drama and intrigue. Plenty of shivers in there. I was a little uncertain about the 'hatred' between brother and sister. Did you mean real nasty hatred or did you mean ordinary brother/sister rivalry. The text took me from one view to the other and left me uncertain.

On to next chapter now. Cheers, Hilary

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