|View from The Barrow Wake, By Brian Marshall
This week I went to a meeting of the Romantic Novelists' Association Marcher Chapter, where we discussed the workshop we held in the spring. Everyone thought it was so useful, we've agreed to hold another one as soon as possible. You can read about our previous workshop here. This is the extract from The Survivors' Club I submitted to the workshop, now it's been revised according to the advice I got on that day...
Eden’s determination died with the car’s engine. She knew she should jump straight out, and into her new life. Instead, she took a death-grip on the steering wheel and scowled at the Waterstones bag lying on her passenger seat.
What a waste of money.
Buying that book was supposed to change her life. It said so right there, on the cover. So why wasn’t it working?
You could at least make an effort.
Eden swore under her breath. Snatching up the bag, she wrestled her new book out and propped it up in front of her. This damned self-help manual was supposed to evict her mother’s nagging from her brain, not echo it.
The glossy dust-jacket of Why Are People Mean To Me? summed up Eden’s life in primary colours. A tiny human form cowered beneath a mob of Henry Moore-style giants. Recognising herself in that image had drawn Eden straight across the precinct, and into the shop.
She sighed, and slid her finger over the title.
I wish I knew.
The cover prompt on Why Are People Mean To Me? said it was because she hadn’t read the book yet.
Tom was always telling her it was paranoia.
Eden wondered who to believe.
The only thing she knew for certain was that wandering round the shops on the third Tuesday in January had been a bad idea. Everywhere, from Twitter to the news headlines, said this was the most depressing day of the year. With ten people ahead of her in the queue for every job, Eden could believe it. That was why investing £14.99 in Arianne Forrester’s new self-help book had felt like such a brilliant idea. Right up until the moment she handed over her debit card.
That was when she panicked. Paying for the book was the point of no return. Saying goodbye to fifteen pounds meant she’d have to act on its advice and instructions. If she didn’t, all that money would be wasted. She’d wanted to change her mind, drop the book and run. Pinned down by the shop assistant’s expression, she paid up. Feeling sick at the extravagance, she was pulled off course only once on the way home. She needed to stock up on one vital item. An overdose of chocolate always made things feel better... at least until the next time she got onto the scales.
She elbowed her way into the house, weighed down by bags. The front door slipped away from her, and slammed. The whole place shivered. She winced, waiting for Tom to start roaring.
With the central heating on full blast, the house was a tropical paradise. The effort of carrying the shopping while bundled up to face the arctic conditions outside made her breathless.
‘Tom! I’m home!’
She was already half-way to the kitchen. When he still didn’t answer, she stopped.
‘There’s chocolate cake!’
Her heart thumped, and not only with the effort of carrying her bags. She put them down. If mention of food didn’t get him on the move, he must be ill. That might explain why he’d shoved a couple of ten pound notes at her earlier, and told her to make a day of it in town.
Only the hum of the freezer disturbed the thick atmosphere. Tom was supposed to be working from home today. Whether he was sick or well, Eden knew the strain of checking his emails would have sent him back to bed with some snacks and the remote control. It would be her job to offer tea and sympathy. Gathering up her stuff again, she hauled it all through to the kitchen.
Then she stopped, staggered. The place was a complete mess.
Every utensil in the place had been dirtied in the process of making breakfast. The frying pan was blackened and crusty. Discarded wrappers of bacon and sausage flapped in warm currents of air. Blobs of ketchup and fruit sauce added splashes of colour to every horizontal surface. Trails of pancake batter linked everything together, like a work by Jackson Pollock.
Eden took a step, and felt the crunch of egg shell. Lifting her foot to prise off the debris, she found a bit of waffle lodged in the tread of her boots. Although that was grisly, the silence was wonderful. She let out a long, slow breath. Tom must have gone out.
With the house to herself, she flung off her outdoor clothes and danced through to the lounge. While he was away she could use his printer and copy out some recipes.
What he doesn’t know won’t set him off, she thought.
She was in for a shock. Tom’s computer and its associated junk usually took up half the dining table. Today, it wasn’t taking up any space at all.
Eden clapped her hands over her mouth. They must have been burgled. A million horrors ran through her mind. She raced around the house, pushing open doors and calling his name. If he was injured or unconscious he would never forgive her for wasting so much time.
On the other hand, if he was dead...
Her heart lurched, but she was unlucky. There was no sign of Tom’s body anywhere. The house was deserted.
Reaching their bedroom, she looked around. The wardrobe door was wide open and the place had been turned over, but it didn’t look like the work of vandals. Only Tom’s things had been targeted. All the drawers had been pulled out from his side of the dressing table.
Back downstairs, she checked the garage. His car was missing, too.
This was mad. He’d done some frightening things in his time, but this vanishing act was out of character. Where was he? Maybe he’d had a brainstorm. It happened. The media was full of stories about people walking out and never coming back.
If he’s done that, I might never see him again, she thought. Her pulse hammered. I’ve got to be careful. No jumping to conclusions. I’ve been wrong about plenty of things in the past.
Reaching the en-suite bathroom, she got another shock. There was an envelope stuck to the mirrored door of the medicine cabinet. She was all fingers and thumbs, and it was tricky to peel from the glass. Then it was difficult to tear open.
Maybe it was a sign the message inside didn’t want to be read. That couldn’t be good news.
She was wrong again. She read his note twice. Then she read it a third time, and smiled. At last! This was her get-out-of-jail free card. All her life she’d been told she could run, but couldn’t hide. Tom’s message turned all that on its head. He was gone– but in fourteen days, he would be back.
Eden made a snap decision. By that time, she would have stripped out all her stuff and escaped to the only place she’d ever been happy. The only place Tom would never follow her. She picked up Why Are People Mean To Me? and hugged it like a lucky charm.
Once she was back at Owl Farm, changing her life would be as easy as changing the locks.
I'm currently polishing up the first few pages of my current work in progress for our next workshop session. Its working title is The Barrow Wake, which doesn't tell anyone anything about my damaged hero, or the dangerous woman he meets at the place you can see in the photo above. So that's no good! I'm considering the title Lone Wolf instead. What do you think?