Chapter seven – a spider's path

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  • #1060
    Sophie Jonas-Hill
    Participant

    Hello all!

    This is something I am now working on again, after letting it sit for a year or so, just really after what impression of the MC this gives you all the usual observations and comments – and the spell check those non-dyslexics can give me!

    2014

    The guest house is down the side alley that runs up hill towards Market Street, standing shoulder to shoulder with it’s neighbours, a discrete sign by the door the only clue.
    Mark touches the four points of the door then stands each foot on a black tile until he hears footsteps coming. It’s the younger one, the daughter who signed him in yesterday; wrapped in an ivory wool cardigan over ivory leggings, glossy teak skin and a high, wide forehead taller with the quiff her black hair.
    ‘Oh, evening,’ she says, ‘everything’s all right? Need ideas for dinner?’
    ‘No–’ He glances over his shoulder. ‘I’m fine, look, sounds I bit odd but … could you not bother about my room, yeah?’
    The high forehead folds into a frown. ‘Is there a problem wiv’ it?’
    ‘No, really–’ He smiles. ‘Sorry. Look, I’m working on something, I’m a journalist, and–’
    ‘What, for a paper?’
    He reaches up and grasps the back of his neck. ‘You won’t … you’ll keep this to yourself, yeah?’
    The girl’s eyes widen; she takes a step closer to him. ‘Oh, yeah?’
    He lets his hand drop, lowers his voice. ‘I’m researching for a TV show, can’t say much else but–’
    ‘Oooh, any one famous?’ the Girl says.
    ‘It’s not that kind of a show.’ Her face falls. ‘I mean … I can’t tell you that much about it, obviously, but it’s … if it comes off, it’s gonna be huge.’
    ‘Yeah?’ The Girl raises an eyebrow.
    ‘Massive. But, thing is,’ and he lets his gaze fall, gives a little embaraced chuckle. ‘I’ve got all this research material I like to spread out. I won’t put it on the walls or nothing–’
    ‘Should hope so,’ she interjects but she’s smiling, ‘in’ on the secret.
    ‘Naw, wouldn’t dream of it, not in your lovely little room – but I’m gonna need to spread it out on the floor, because I can’t use the walls, and I need to leave it out, so that means …’
    ‘You don’t want our cleaner treadin’ on it all,’ she finishes.
    ‘Spot on,’ he says. ‘I got a system, you know? Need to keep on top of it all.’
    ‘Well,’ she says, ‘we do usually change the beds every day an’ that. Couldn’t you kind of leave us some room too–’
    ‘What if I leave the sheets an’ that outside the door? I’ll put the clean ones on me ‘self, hospital corners an’ everything, I promise.’
    ‘Hospital corners?’ a smile twitches across her lips.
    ‘Scout’s honour, I was in the army you know.’
    ‘Well, I suppose so.’
    ‘That’s great, thanks,’ he says. He’s a few steps up the stairs when he leans back and adds, ‘if it comes off, this place is gonna be news central for a while. You’ll be booked out.’
    The girl puts her hands to her mouth as if smothering a squeal of delight.

    Inside the room he leans on the door for the count of four, eyes closed, head back. It’s a white room; white woodwork, a picture of white flowers on a white wall, bare floor boards. He likes the whiteness, the simplicity, though it makes him feel uncomfortable when he imagines how he must look leaning against the door; dark and ragged, a scrap of something blown in by the wind. He counts to four, four times over, then he stands up and touches the square of the light switch, each corner in succession, then the bed, the side table, the rectangle of rug, the window.
    His case is inside the wardrobe, a soft black back-pack with back straps. He’s put his clothes into the chest of drawers – jeans, t-shirts, sweatshirts and under clothes; tooth brush and shaving things in the white bathroom with its glass box shower, arranged so they’re touching each corner of the basin.
    He takes off his trainers and leaves them by the bed side cabinet. The room smells of polish and bleach, the ones he brought with him and has hidden back in his bag, not wanting to cause offence. He takes off socks, jacket, jeans and lies down on the bed, head in the cleft between the two pillows. He rubs his face then peers at the white expanse of ceiling through the slit between fingers. He’s aware of his breathing, of the hum of the light and the far off ‘ha-ha-ha’ of the gulls.

    There’s a noise from outside, the echo of footsteps padding on floorboards. He’s not sure if he’s hearing it at first, a scratch in the pause between breaths, not there when he listens. Nothing, it was nothing – but then it comes again. He turns his head toward the door and lowers his hand from his eyes. A foot step, a scratch, a ‘tap-tap’ of claws on wood. He rolls onto his side, tension arcing up his spine as the sound comes again – a dry four-times-four sound outside the room. His hand reaches for something, but what? There’s nothing to get hold of in the neat little room with everything put away – scratch, scrabble scratch – and a breath, the wetness of a mouth closing.

    He jerks himself from the bed, strides to the door, pulls it open – and there’s nothing. Just the little corridor with a fading square of light on the beige carpet and the far below sounds of someone else’ evening.
    Back in the room and he sits on the floor, hooks his feet under the bed and begins to do sit-ups, hands behind his head. She comes back to him once he’s counted to thirty, the girl at the cafe. She’s strong, he thinks, nearly the same height as him unless she was wearing heels, was she wearing heels? Even so, there wouldn’t be much in it, and her arms too, legs; smooth and firm under her clothes.
    Fifty-three, fifty-four – he’s not meant to be thinking like that, it’s not what he’s here for. He lets his mind drift from her until he’s thinking of something he saw, can’t remember where, TV or the internet; something about flies? A special kind of fly, a clever one that’s learned how to cross a spider’s web, because spiders make webs with sticky strings and none-sticky strings so they can walk across them without getting trapped themselves, which is how they do it. They have all these silver threads making their webs, and only they know which are safe and which aren’t, apart from those smart flies – seventy-three, seventy-four – those flies that can tell which is which, they can walk in a spider’s path, and that’s me, that’s what I’m doing. I’m walking in a spider’s path.

    He collapses back against the floor, beached against the carpet. He’s back to Lorelei in the cafe; she’s slipped in again like smoke under the door. Those eyes of hers, there was something strange about them; blue like his, but too blue, contact lenses? People do that don’t they, they wear coloured ones to change their eyes? And her hair too; you could tell it wasn’t her natural colour. It didn’t look bad or nothing, it looked nice, as it happens, but what did it mean? Does it mean something?
    He rolls onto his front, suspended on his arms, his toes, holding the position until the sweat on his face collects and runs to the end of his nose. One – two – three – nice mouth though, good mouth. A mouth you’d like to see smile, a mouth you’d like to kiss, to put your finger in and – stop it! He pauses, arms straight again, holding his breath before letting it out as he drops to the floor.

    It don’t mean nothing, not in here mate. It is what it is.

    He presses his face to the floor, the smell of dust thick in his nose and mouth. The fear of the woods comes back to him, of finding himself twisted in trees and bramble, a fly missing its footing. What was that place, the house – what had she called it? The ghost house? There has to be a reason he’d gone there, it’s not a mistake, nothing’s a mistake; everything’s been leading here from the beginning and it must have been leading him there too. She’s in danger, she’s in danger, that’s why you’re here. That’s all you can think about, the danger, nothing else.
    He springs up from the floor as if the gust of his breath propelled him upwards. He’s hot, his legs feel shaky – should he eat? He doesn’t feel like eating. He goes into the tiny bathroom and sets the shower running, stripping off his t-shirt as the steam builds. The square of mirror above the basin shows him the scars down his side, their puckered white smiles grinning back at him. They were lucky, he knew it, had it on good authority, so he smiles back at them.

    How’s that lucky, mate? How’s getting cut up like that lucky?
    Simple. If he hadn’t cut me up so bad, I’d have gone down for longer, innit?
    Fucking lucky.

    He traces the largest one with his finger tip, counts the dots of the stitches.
    ‘Queen and country,’ he says to his reflection. ‘Queen and country.’

    #1071
    Squidge
    Participant

    I have so missed reading your writing! So good to see you here x

    Ooh… I like this. Love the ramblings of his mind and the nuggets he reveals. I think I only noticed one it’s instead of its towards the start, so don’t worry so much about the dyslexia…

    The first thing I picked up on are his speech/thought patterns. By which I mean he sounds quite formal when he’s talking to the landlord’s daughter, but towards the end, he’s dropped into ‘innit’, which seemed out of character for how he’s narrating his thoughts up to that point.

    The other thing was that I assumed that whole conversation with the girl was on the doorstep for some reason – it was only when I got to the bit when he turns from walking up the stairs I realised he’s actually gone into the house.

    In more general terms, this MC’s got a lot of issues – and history – which comes across very clearly. Look forward to reading more.

    #1075
    Sophie Jonas-Hill
    Participant

    Hi Squidge!

    Good point about moving him into the house, I have added ‘Once inside the door’ to make that clear, and I’ve had a bit of a tweak with his speech, but he is also trying to sound more respectable than he is, because (not a huge spoiler!) he’s putting on an act to her, but I’ve added in a bit more ‘innits!’

    Cheerz!

    #1077
    Squidge
    Participant

    I did wonder if there was an act involved… Not convinced you need lots more ‘innits’ unless he’s thinking them. Glad the thoughts were useful x

    #1079
    Sophie Jonas-Hill
    Participant

    Maybe just the one!;)

    #1096
    Elle
    Participant

    Hi Sophia,

    I enjoyed reading this and I like the way you get us into the MC’s head and show up how unhinged he is through his thoughts. I also like the subtle hint about OCD and the repeat of the four-pattern. I think you’ve suggested well that there is a lot more going about this MC that we don’t know yet.

    One thing that stuck out for me in the dialogue with the girl at the start is that they both use ‘yeah’ quite a bit an it came across as repetitive so maybe you could limit the use. There are also a lot of stage direction in that dialogue with hand’s and eye movement and maybe some of it could be trimmed. Furthermore, like Squidge I got confused and thought they were talking at the door first.

    The term “under clothes” struck me as odd and I’m not sure why he doesn’t call it underwear as it seems to be a contemporary setting.

    Don’t worry you’re not alone I need people to double check my writing for spelling mistakes so if I can pay it forward I noticed a couple of things:

    “to shoulder with it’s neighbours” — it should be “its neighbours” without the apostrophe

    “gives a little embaraced” — should be “embarrassed”

    I hope this helps!

    #1100
    Sophie Jonas-Hill
    Participant

    Under clothes, what was I thinking? It’s why you need a fresh pair of eyes, wood for the trees!

    Thank you 🙂

    #1377
    Daedalus
    Participant

    I really enjoy this Sophie. I thought it really came alive when we were inside the room and inside his head. Really compelling internal monologue, lots of info and hints at info contained within the that but none of it telegraphed. Just enough to intrigue and pull you in. You do this sort of ‘dark underbelly’ of society so well.

    I think the others have made all the points I would have about the first section. It didn’t quite hook me in the way the rest of it did, and feels a bit as though there’s some more streamlining and tightening to do generally. The one thing that pulled me up a little was not having much of a sense of how old the girl was, although that might well be raised before this chapter. She could have been anything between 13 and 18, in my head, and that made the scene a bit hard to pin down. Otherwise, really great stuff, looking forward to seeing more about the mysterious MC.

    #1422
    Sophie Jonas-Hill
    Participant

    Thank you Daedalus – I take your points, I have trimmed it down and I will look at hinting at the girl’s age,as it’s six chapters in, it’s not the start of a book so I hope it wouldn’t have to be handled in the same way, but thanks for reading as ever – and not sure what your observation says about me!

    #1425
    Daedalus
    Participant

    That you research meticulously and have a great imagination? 😄

    I thought that was probably the case with the girl’s age, inevitably there are going to be things that have already been covered with an excerpt that starts some way in. Enjoyed reading it, and look forward to seeing more

    #1714
    Raine
    Participant

    Just come to this after reading the first chapter (sorry, I mean’t to read a few days ago and got sidetracked). So this is the guy we meet in the woods? Ace! And I’m assuming we’ve seen a fair bit of him between then and now, so would have already encountered his OCD and the hints of military/prison/crime dribbled into the thoughts. I love the mystery about the way he sees his scars (and the fact of the scars themselves!). I love the contrast between the control he exerts on his surroundings and body, and the struggle he is fighting to control his thoughts – thats a really powerful combination, I think.

    Only seeing the opening scenes and then this, it’s hard to place him physically with respect to the wood & spooky house, and this ?town?. But I’m assuming that the two are nearby and the spooky house is part of the reason for him staying there, and for his secretiveness. Which is ace.

    My only real potentially useful thought was that, given that this is seven chapters in, it reads like quite an early scene for this character. More setting up character and mysteries than following on from some action, with some things already revealed & leading on to more action etc. I’m probably not explaining myself very well, and it’s possible that the chapters before this are mostly with Laura and not Mark so this *is* effectively an early scene for him. I just wondered if perhaps he needs to be moving forward (plotwise) more in this scene as the plot is well underway by now (chapters-wise)? I might be way off the mark though, as it all depends on what happens between the beginning and here!

    Honestly, I love these to bits you’ve shown us, and am so intrigued! Would love to see more!

    #1715
    Raine
    Participant

    Totally forgot to say – LOVE LOVE LOVE the image of the fly and the spider’s web. Him seeing himself as that fly is so sinister and foreshadowy and makes you really want to side with him in whatever dark shenanigans he is up to! 🙂

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