Writing – first chapter draft of Orb Garden (working title)

I’ve been writing a story that I like, and while I’m not sure what to do with it, I wanted to share it.

But it turns out that finding websites to post/share original fiction is really tricky, and I’m not sure about permissions/terms of use – do websites have ownership over everything posted there?
And there’s issues like useability of the site, if it’s easy to make/format posts, etc.

It’s all a bit confusing and complicated, so I’m deciding to post it here instead. Wordpress’s terms of service aren’t too terrible, and I like how formatting and stuff works.

So, without further ado – a draft of the first chapter of a story I think will be called ‘The Orb Garden’.

A car, a torch, a death

Gwen was late.

Again.

Lily pulled her jacket tighter around her, wishing she’d worn pants instead of a dress today. Her sheer black tights and dress did nothing against the freezing bite of the wind, and the warmth of her jacket and boots didn’t exactly make up for shivering legs.

She blew into her hands – she’d forgotten gloves as well, and she barely felt her hot breath against her numb fingertips.

It hadn’t been so bad an hour ago. When she’d stepped out of the library to wait in the car park for her cousin to pick her up, the sun had been shining warm enough to keep the wind at bay.
But now dark clouds had pulled across the sky, shrouding the sun and its warmth and casting a chilly shadow over the city. The granite bricks that cladded the library no longer sparkled in the sunlight, and Aberdeen became distinctly grey and grim.

Lily stood in the car park as the city grew greyer and darker, and blew futilely into her hands, and wished for the thousandth time that Gwen owned a mobile phone.

The rumble of a truck’s engine pulled her out of her brooding, and she looked up to see Gwen’s old landrover pulling into the car park, swinging around and rolling to a halt next to Lily. She hauled the passenger door open and hopped inside, letting out a cry of relief at the burst of warm air that hit her. She tucked her bag in next to her feet and closed the door, and the car rumbled to life, pulling out of the car park and rumbling down the street.

“Sorry I’m so late,” Gwen said. She looked more exhausted than sorry, long red braid disheveled, and – were those blood splatters on her flannel? Lily’s cousin looked a mess.
“One of the cows gave birth,” she explained, “and it was twins. Messy, I won’t go into it, we had to put the mother down. Don’s got a couple of potty calves now.”

“Cute,” Lily said. “The calves, not the mum dying. Yikes.”

“Yeah, calving’s gonna be a nightmare this season. Hooray for Spring. Anyway, that’s why I was late. How was the library?”

“Boring,” Lily mumbled. “I was mostly just shelving stuff. A lady came in asking about recipe books, but her accent was awful, so I kept asking her to repeat stuff. She just got annoyed with me and asked if she could speak to someone else. So then I had to get Vera, and she got annoyed at me too, because I can’t do my job, and I’m the worst library assistant ever, and I’m awful, awful, awful.”

Gwen laughed at that, smiling just a tiny bit. “You’re not awful,” she said. “You’re just terrible with accents. You’ll get used to them, though. Promise.”

“You said that months ago,” Lily grumbled. “And I’m still just as bad with the Highlander accents as I was when I got here. They all think I’m some stupid English girl who should go back to London. I stick out like a sore thumb.”

“Don’t say that,” Gwen said. “There’s loads of English folks who live up here, anyway. You feel like you stick out, and everyone’s judging you, but they’re not, promise. They know you’re an English girl, but they don’t think you’re stupid.”

Gwen glanced at Lily, chewing her lip.

“That lady was just rude,” she continued. “She should have been patient with you – we’re always talking to tourists and Southerners, she should know to be patient. I mean, she’ll have English family. And you know most folks are patient. You should ask Don, he loves it when people can’t understand his Doric.”

“I know,” Lily said – she’d met Don several times, and his thick accent always left her head spinning. And he seemed to take particular joy in striking up conversations with her that she was sure he knew she couldn’t keep up with. It exasperated her, but Don’s eyes always twinkled mischievously, and he always gave her bone-crushing hugs and handfuls of jellybeans whenever he saw her. Gwen said he was really fond of her.

“Anyway, don’t let it get you down,” Gwen continued. “There’s good days, and there’s bad days. Today just wasn’t a good day, yeah? Tomorrow’s a new day.”

Tomorrow’s a new day. That was Gwen’s favourite phrase, which Lily supposed made sense given Gwen’s usual attitude.
She had an extraordinary ability to battle on, barging through life with her head down. It was how she’d survived this long. If Gwen ever stopped long enough to dwell on things, it’d probably kill her.

Lily wasn’t like Gwen, though. She’d tried the barreling-through-life thing. And it was probably the reason she was stuck living with Gwen now.

Not that she didn’t love her cousin to death, or didn’t like living with her in her homey cottage, or didn’t appreciate Gwen letting her stay at her home for free, giving her lifts everywhere because she couldn’t drive, helping her get the job at the library so she had something to do.

Lily just felt stuck. Like Gwen’s house was a sort of limbo, her purgatory until she could figure everything out; what went wrong, how to fix it, how to get herself back on her own feet and independent and doing what she wanted – no, needed – to do.

And it was going to be a while until she figured all that out.

Which left her feeling pretty helpless, and hopeless, and frustrated.

And nothing, not even Gwen’s encouraging words and life mottos, could really help her with that.

Gwen was quiet now, tapping her long white fingers on the steering wheel in time with a song on the radio.

In another life, Gwen might have been a musician. She’d always been talented, with a strong, clear voice, and fingers that attuned themselves easily to just about any instrument she touched. Her cello phase had been Lily’s favourite.
But she was a farmhand now, and would remain so until the mortgage was paid. And even then there were other bills. Music was not a stable career.

Lily wondered how Gwen did it, sometimes. The barreling thing.

She sometimes felt like if she’d had Gwen’s life – if she’d been ostracised by her family, worked all through her teen years to save up for a deposit on a house, and moved out at nineteen to escape said family, and then continued backbreaking work every day to keep up with bills and costs and stresses that no twenty four year old should have to be burdened with – she’d have broken down much earlier than when she did.

She rested her head against the window, staring at the passing trees, black silhouettes blurring against a cold twilight sky.

She wondered what would happen if she pulled the car door open, fell out onto the road. She’d bounce and roll like a tumbleweed. Maybe she’d roll in the opposite direction, follow the cars south, roll all the way to England.

She shook her head, clearing the daydream. Even if she could roll back to London, there was nothing left there for her. She’d just end up in her parents’ house instead, doing exactly what she was doing at Gwen’s – sitting in the house going stir crazy.

The landrover pulled into the driveway of the cottage, the loud change in texture from the asphalt of the road to the driveway’s granite gravel breaking Lily out of her brooding.

She hopped out of the car, following Gwen into the front door of the cottage.

Gwen’s cottage was a pretty little thing, a small whitewashed two-storey house with Tudor-esque and neo-Gothic sensibilities, and a thatched roof. A well nearby in the forest provided water, but the electricity was mercifully provided by mains power.
Inside it was mostly brick and wood, with exposed beams dark against the white-painted walls. The real charm were the windows, arched Gothic beauties that earned the house’s “neo-Gothic” label and added several thousand pounds onto the mortgage. Lily’s mother would have called it ‘rustic’.

The back door led out onto a small garden which Gwen maintained painstakingly – rose bushes in front of the windows, beds of heather and daisies and now daffodils as they emerged for spring. A large, gnarled cherry tree grew in the bottom of the garden, with a concrete birdbath next to it and a little bird feeder hanging from one of its branches. The branches were pink with clouds of blossoms, a stark contrast to the deep green of the pine forest that the garden backed onto, separated by the flimsy rusted fence.

Lily picked the mail up off the floor, flipping through the envelopes as Gwen turned on the kitchen light and began washing the dishes from the morning.

“You’ve got a letter from your twin sister,” she said.

Gwen groaned. “Ugh. What does it say?”

Lily prised open the envelope, unfolding the paper and squinting at the words. “She says its your birthday soon, so you should go and visit so you two can spend it together,” she paraphrased. “She also thinks you should start talking to your parents again.”

Gwen snorted. “I’ll start talking to them when they stop telling me I’m just confused. Josie’s nuts if she thinks I’m going to put up with them. I mean, I can barely put up with her, she’s got to stop using the wrong name.”

Lily shrugged, setting the letter down on the counter. “That’s the worst of it, anyway,” she said. “The rest of it looks alright.”

“Thanks, Lily.”

Lily flipped through the rest of the mail. It was all bills and spam, nothing interesting. She sighed and dropped the bills on the counter with Josie’s letter, and the junk mail into the bin.

An envelope she’d missed caught her eye as she sorted between bills and junk mail. Her eyes widened.

“Aunt June!” she said, and Gwen’s eyebrows lifted. She wiped off her hands and peered at the letter over Lily’s shoulder while she read it.

“She’s adopted another ex-racing greyhound?” Lily groaned. “She’s got to have at least eight, now.”

“Ten, actually. And can you blame her?” Gwen said, pointing at the photo pinned to the paper. “How gorgeous. She’s right, he does look like a Toby, doesn’t he?”

“Ooh, she’s got a new girl under her wing, too. Part siren? She’s got interesting hair.”

The two girls pored excitedly over the letter, which not only recounted Aunt June’s stories and adventures in her Armadale home on the Isle of Skye, but usually also came with important advice.

“She’s been talking to selkies again,” Lily complained. “This is all ocean-based, but we’re inland, we can’t use this.”

“But it’s also moon-based, which works for us,” Gwen pointed out. “See, this spell involves seawater, but we could switch it for well water without too much difference. The important part is that we perform it under a full moon.”

Aunt June was a witch. And for years she’d been teaching her nieces about magic, recognising a strong affinity for it in the two girls.

Gwen had a particular affinity for fire, which was how she’d kept the landrover warm, despite it being too old to have a working air conditioning system, and how she kept the heating bills down for the house so she could afford the mortgage. This was a stark contrast to Aunt June, who’d always connected strongly with water.

Lily wasn’t sure what her affinity was yet, but she did have a knack for illusions. That skill had come in very handy while she was still in London, and she missed using it.

“Speaking of, it’s a full moon tonight,” Gwen said. “I’ve got to re-ward the house. You have any crystals that need charging?”

Lily shook her head. “I’ll do dinner while you do the wards,” she said. “Let me get changed, though.”

Gwen nodded, and Lily retreated upstairs, where she’d carved out a little space for herself in the spare room Gwen had given her.

It was never going to be truly hers – the house was Gwen’s, through and through. But the quilt on the bed was hers, as were the wards and charms hanging from the window, and the half-melted candles on the dresser. Several empty tea mugs were scattered around the room along with books pulled out of her bookshelf. She’d have to bring those downstairs.

She took off her jacket, boots, dress and tights, and pulled her black hair out of its tight bun. The dark waves reached her waist when released, and the dyed locks of red hair at the front fell across her face.

She pulled on pink pyjama pants covered in cartoon cats, a black thermal shirt, black dressing gown, thick socks, and sheepskin boots.

She glanced in the mirror, glimpsing brown eyes blinking tiredly. She was a short, chubby thing, and with all her layers she looked like a sleepy fluffball, which amounted pretty well to how she felt.
She yawned, picked up the mugs, and went back downstairs to cook dinner.

After dinner, after helping Gwen put up new wards and charms, Lily retreated back upstairs. Her room was next to the upstairs bathroom, a tiny carpeted room that barely fit a claw-footed tub, sink, toilet and chair. Lily liked it for the large arch window set next to the tub, though.

She had no fear of onlookers while she bathed, since the window looked out over the garden and forest. Their nearest neighbour was miles away, and she didn’t think anyone would be tramping through the woods in the middle of the night.

Plus, the house was warded. Privacy was a big part of the spell, and the charms kept the windows shrouded, even while the curtains were open. Gwen did not suffer eavesdroppers or peeping toms.

Lily slipped into the bathroom, piling her pyjamas onto the chair with her dressing gown on top. She lit candles – the only light in the bathroom was a tiny flourescent-white bulb in the corner that struggled to light the whole room, and besides, she liked the candlelight.

The tub filled, and she climbed into it with a sigh.

With the candles lit, the bathroom was really pretty charming. A year ago, she would have hopped out, run to grab her camera, and photographed it. Maybe written a script for a bath-themed short. Or even used it as a centrepiece in a music video – there’d been plenty of indie bands in London who’d have let her have full creative lease so long as they got a professional-looking video at the end for cheap to promote themselves with.

Not now, though.
Her arms felt too heavy.
Something in her didn’t have the strength to haul herself out of the bath, or brave the cold to run to grab her camera. It probably didn’t have enough battery, anyway. She couldn’t remember the last time she’d used it.

Lily curled up in the bath. When had doing things she loved become so difficult?
Something inside her had broken. The bit that involved motivation, energy. It didn’t work properly. So that bumming around the house on days off became every bit as exhausting as working at the library all day. So that the thought of grabbing her SLR or videocamera had become borderline terrifying. So that the prospect of undertaking a project – even a small personal one, just to pass time and keep herself busy and active while she was at Gwen’s – just seemed too hard and ultimately pointless.

It wasn’t pointless, though – any old project could be added to her film reel, really, could contribute to getting back into media work and back on her creative feet. Knowing that, and yet feeling unable to actually create anything, was stressing her out. And the inactivity stressed her out, too, made her restless.
Feeling each day slip away from her, days that she could have spent filming or photographing or editing or even just scripting, settled heavy in her chest, awakening a vicious storm of anxiety about wasting time.

It was horrible. It made her feel even more trapped. And it made it really hard to enjoy anything, even relaxing in the bath.

Lily sat up and stared out the window. It was dark outside, but the full moon cast a faint glow over the garden, and staring into the darkness helped her empty her brain, let go of her whirling thoughts for a moment.

The moon was bright, Lily realised. She could see all the details in the garden, even the bird feeder in the cherry tree. Everything seemed to be lit up. Even the forest, usually pitch dark, was filled with points of scattered light. Filtered moonlight through the trees, and perhaps even fireflies.

Lily squinted at the window.

There were more than just fireflies out there.

She was quite sure she could distinctly make out pairs of bright, glowing green eyes.

The sight made her skin crawl, and she felt herself sink down into the bath. The wards, she reminded herself. They can’t see you.

That reminder didn’t help at all. The eyes began to move. Eerie, fluid movements, like the owners were floating.

A bright flash of light cut the darkness, pure white streaking through the forest in a jolt that made Lily yelp and duck into the bath.

She huddled there, heart pounding. What was that? She’d never seen anything like it. A ghost?

She lay there for a bit longer, terrified to even glance out the window again. A horrible thought entered her head – maybe it had flown up to the house, and was staring into the bathroom. She shuddered.

Pull yourself together, Lily told herself. You don’t even know what it was.

A new thought entered her head. You need to find out.

She slid out of the bath, too spooked to look behind her at the window. She didn’t bother changing, just dragging her dressing gown on.

She ran downstairs, unlocking the back door and slipping out into the garden.

She snapped her fingers. One of the first tricks Aunt June had taught them was a handy torch trick – a small point of light at the fingertips which helped light the way if it was otherwise too dark to navigate. “For the night life,” she’d chortled, and at first neither young Gwen nor Lily had understood what she’d meant.

Now, the ball of light rolled in a very shaky hand. Lily hadn’t taken into account how cold it would be outside in the early Spring night, but now she wasn’t sure if she was shaking from cold, or from fear.

She directed the torch around the garden, and found nothing. A bird skittered under a heather bush, and light reflected off a fox’s eyes, but the garden was otherwise normal.

The glowing eyes were in the forest.

She could see them now, and it made the hair on the back of her neck stand up on end. But, as she realised with a thrill of horror, though she was much closer to the forest now, they appeared to be the same distance from her as they’d been from her when she was in the bathroom.

At least that means they won’t get too close, she consoled herself, climbing over the fence to step into the forest.

She cast the torch around, heart pounding wildly. She’d never been afraid in the forest before, but now every spindly trunk with their bottom fringe of broken-off dead branches made her skin crawl.

The light revealed nothing.

She could hear her breath, noisy gasping that shattered the heavy silence of the forest in a way that made her wish she could keep quiet.

She was still shivering too. The cold air formed foggy clouds in front of her face, keeping time with her panicked breathing.

She squinted suddenly at the fog in front of her.

There were two clouds of frosty breath.

Lily squeaked, stepping backwards. She tripped over a branch and landed squarely on her bottom, the light in her hand blinking out.

A large pair of glowing blue eyes hovered over her. They were blank, no pupils or irises, just pale globes of light. The owner breathed slowly, puffs of frozen air accompanying a deep, hoarse breath that sounded like a death rattle. Lily could also hear a faint metallic sound, like clinking chains.

Lily screamed.

The eyes drew back a little, and Lily suddenly remembered a self-defense spell Aunt June had taught them once. She shakily yelped an incantation and flicked her trembling hand at the creature.

A burst of flame streaked from her fingertips. She missed completely, the flame evaporating past the creature, but the flame did its job. The creature made an unearthly crying sound, and then the eyes fluidly drew back, retreating and disappearing into the forest.

Lily huddled in the leaf litter for a few moments, trying to catch her breath. She re-conjured her torch, and then burst into tears.

She cried, sniffed, wiped her nose. She grizzled for a little bit, inspecting a scrape on her elbow from when she fell.
Then she pulled herself up off the forest floor, and limped back to the house.

She was thoroughly relieved, now, that Gwen had restored the wards.

Something was out there, and she didn’t think it just wanted to spy on girls in the bath.

The next morning found Lily huddled at the kitchen table in her pyjamas, staring through the milk in her cereal. She’d barely slept, hiding in a ball under her blankets, terrified she’d peek out and stare straight into neon blue orbs, and she felt like she was about to either fall asleep in her cereal or just leave her body entirely. She was jittery and exhausted.

The door slammed, making Lily jump. She looked up, watching Gwen march across to the table.

She was wearing her work clothes – a flannel shirt over stained jeans and muddy boots. A heavy jacket was thrown over it for the still-cold weather, and her hair was pulled into a long braid. She tore off her beanie and scarf.

“They found Dougie dead this morning,” she said. Lily’s mouth fell open.

“What do you mean, dead?” she exclaimed, her voice coming out hysterical and high pitched.

Gwen shrugged. “Dead,” she said. “Departed. Passed away. Y’know.”

“How?”

“They don’t know,” Gwen said. She scrubbed her hand over her eyes, and Lily realised she was holding back tears. “He’s just… dead. Don found him, called emergency services, but the paramedics couldn’t do anything. They don’t know how he died. They think heart attack, but he’s – he was – only in his twenties, Lily. Something really awful happened.”

“Oh, Gwen,” Lily sighed.

Dougie was a tall Scot with arms like an organ-grinder’s and a beaming grin hidden under a bushy dark beard. He was good looking, and he knew it, with bright blue eyes and dark curly hair, and olive skin. His mother had had an affair with an Italian plumber, he said, and that was why he was so good at ‘dealing with people’s shit’. Then he’d laugh, a great belly-rumbling sound that made Lily smile.

He was full of himself, but he was excellent with machinery, so Gwen and Don put up with him.

“He didn’t show up for shearing, and Don was furious because we’ve only got this week to do it, and we’ve only contracted the shearers for that long. Don thought he’d been out at the pub, was maybe hungover. So he marched over to Dougie’s place to drag him out, but he was dead on the kitchen floor.”

She shuddered. “Don called my mobile, told me to get over, wouldn’t tell me why. Told me to send the shearers home. I got there and the ambulance had already arrived, but he was still on the floor.”

Gwen blinked hard. “He looked awful. So grey. He was a dickhead, but he didn’t deserve to die.”

“Oh Gwen, I’m so sorry,” Lily said, blinking back tears herself.

“He always helped out, didn’t he?” Gwen asked, her voice sounding thick. She sat down, wringing her hands. “Helped us with the garden, fixed the mower and the hot water – didn’t use my wrong name or anything…”

She sniffed, and Lily stood up, walking around the table to give her a hug. Gwen’s shoulders were stiff, holding back sobs.

“Was… there any sign of, I don’t know, foul play?” Lily asked softly, once Gwen’s shoulders had relaxed a little.

“Foul play?” Gwen asked. She stiffened again. “Murder?”
“I don’t know,” Lily said. “I just… something weird happened last night. It’d never happened before. And then Dougie turns up dead the next day. It could be coincidence, but…”

“What happened?” Gwen demanded.

Lily chewed her lip. “You’re going to think I’m being silly,” she said. “It sounds really stupid.”

“Lily, Dougie turned up dead this morning,” Gwen said sternly. “If you think you know something about how he died, you need to say so.”

“Okay, well,” Lily mumbled, pulling away. “It was really weird. And scary. There was a creepy figure in the woods.”

Gwen raised her eyebrow.

Lily frowned. “You do think I’m being silly!”

“Just get on with it,” Gwen snorted.

Lily pouted, but continued.

“So, I was in the bath, and I saw it from the window,” she said. “Just a white, glowing figure streaking through the woods. So I grabbed my dressing gown, went outside –”

“You followed it?” Gwen sputtered. Lily frowned again, and continued.

“I went outside, hopped over the fence,” she said. “And got, I don’t know, attacked?”

“By what?!”

“I don’t know!” Lily said. “It – all I could see was two eyes. Maybe it was the same as the white figure, I don’t know. But it had two huge, glowing blue eyes, and I threw a fireball at it, and it made this awful noise – it wasn’t like anything I’ve ever heard, not like a bird or anything. And it left me alone.”

“Jesus,” Gwen said shakily. “You should have woken me up.”

“Yeah, well, it didn’t kill me,” Lily said. “But… what if it went to Dougie’s?”

Gwen shuddered. “Well, I didn’t see any sign of anything weird at Dougie’s house,” she said. “But we might be able to go over and have a look. It’s not like there’s any evidence of anything else. What do you think it was?”

Lily shrugged. “I don’t know,” she said. “Maybe fairy, or ghost? It didn’t seem like anything from this world.”

“You’re thinking something magic, or supernatural,” Gwen said, pressing her hand thoughtfully over her mouth. “Well, the paramedics were stumped, because it looked like he just dropped dead. Everything in his body just… stopped. It was weird. They might find something in the autopsy, but just in case…”

She rested her elbows on the table, steepling her fingers. “We’ll check it out,” she said. “It might be nothing, and they might figure it out post-autopsy. But, Lily, even if there’s nothing strange to find, we need to be very careful.”
She fixed Lily with a stern stare. “Meddling with fairies is dangerous,” she said firmly. “We’re doing this for our own peace of mind, alright? Nothing else. We start digging, or trying to prove things to police, we could end up in serious trouble. Fairies don’t like us digging.”

Lily nodded. “Yeah, yeah, of course,” she said. “When do you want to go over to Dougie’s?”

“Later,” Gwen said. She sighed, standing up. “I need a bloody bath.”

“Watch out for weird glowy forest spirits.”

“Yeah, alright.”

Gwen pulled her jacket off, throwing it over the chair. Lily sat back down in front of the dregs of her cereal, watching her cousin leave the room and disappear up the stairs.

She stared back into her cereal, thinking hard.

She didn’t feel tired anymore.

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