Once again I have no critique submissions, so today I am posting the beginning of another story, one that has been stewing in my mind for about twenty years. The idea came from a dream, but I won’t describe it – too much of a spoiler. I don’t know when I will be able to finish it, but if readers pound on my door demanding that I write more, maybe I will. 🙂
Don’t forget the critiquing guidelines. All you have to do is post a comment about the submission below. Don’t feel like you have to critique the whole piece. Even a short comment on one aspect can be helpful.
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Let the Ghosts Speak – by Bryan Davis
I have forgotten love. My chains have driven it from me. Loneliness has leeched it from my bones and left behind only regret.
It is daylight once again. Is it not strange how the dawning hours seem to shatter every illusion of the night? I am sane today. This time I am certain of it, though the hauntings of the night again tested my confidence. Therefore, while my mind is clear, I must take pen and ink, so kindly provided by my only friendly visitor, and begin this story. I cannot say how long this season of sanity will remain with me, so I will write quickly and continue during every day of clarity until I finish this memoir.
Although you might well be dead by now, dear Mother, I dedicate these recollections to you, for your lullabies echo from these bare walls. Perhaps you alone knew what love really is. The ghosts tell me that few remember.
I see a world of children who walk in darkness, their bony hands stained with blood not their own, the blood of the innocent. I have been led by such hands, the frail hands of schoolboys in this realm of shadows. Will the rest of the world learn from their schoolmasters?
Alas! Forgive me. I am getting far ahead of myself. A sane man begins his tale at the beginning, so I shall relate where this story of heartbreak has its origins, in Paris where I, Justin Trotter, sat in the one-room dormitory I shared with Marc Noel.
You would have approved, Mother. The room was austere and clean, only a bed and a desk for each of us, situated above a constabulary and within walking distance of university and the theatre.
As students with thespian hearts, we spent most of our time attending classes, studying, and rehearsing for our respective roles in whatever play the community theatre offered. Most days never veered from this routine, but plans for the upcoming evening had Marc chattering like a little boy. The masquerade ball in the old schoolhouse was upon us, and my countenance matched Marc’s as closely as black matches white.
All Hallow’s Eve they call it, a despicable holiday in my view, especially on that fateful day. With cold rain falling the past two nights, the streets had turned to mud, the slimy sort that brings horses to an untimely end. I stared out our second-story window at a two-horse carriage splashing through turbid water and imagined my own tumble in the mire and a painful journey to the physician, something I could ill afford. Yet, even that would be a pleasure compared to dressing up in whatever ghastly costume Marc had in mind for me. With his imagination, I doubted that I would survive the shame.
As I sat on my tattered seat pad, my knees under my desk and my quill poised over my study notes, Marc laughed. “You can’t back out now, Justin. My mother purchased your disguise, and refunds are not allowed. Besides, the music will be grand. The evening is guaranteed to be a real foot clapper.”
A foot sleeper was more like it, but I held my tongue. I jotted down something unimportant about the Renaissance era from the tedious history book on my desktop. I wanted to appear busy—disconnected from Marc’s make-believe world of romance, a world in which people lived happily ever after. I knew better.
“Give me a moment.” I dipped my quill again and set the point above the page. Maybe getting out held the antidote to my doldrums. The rain had kept us inside and sometimes at each other’s throats. The afternoon’s rehearsal had been canceled due to our director’s sudden illness, the wretched fever that had stricken so many who had reached her advanced age.
With dusk signaling evening’s closing curtain on our view of the town, nothing else held my interest, certainly not watching wet horses while writing uninspired notes. Maybe I needed a break from the monotony. Yet, before I agreed to go, I could use my pretended hesitance as leverage.
I kept my focus on the page and began writing. “Give me one good reason why I should go to this party.”
Marc lit a lantern and turned up the wick. “Francine will be there.” His voice was low and sultry, as if he were playing a scripted role.
My pen paused over a misshapen letter R. “What difference does that make? I am far from deserving a spot on her list of suitable suitors.”
“So little you know.” Marc plucked away my quill. “I keep telling her about my brilliant roommate.”
“Brilliant enough to stay home on a night like this.” I nodded at the droplets pecking at the window panes. “You don’t need my dismal face spoiling the night’s fun.”
“You’re an actor. You can put on any face you choose.” Marc patted me on the back. “Now, come and get dressed. I won’t take no for an answer.”
I rose, stuffed my hands into my empty pockets, and pulled the insides out. “Your mother would never approve of me courting Francine.”
“Now, don’t go speaking ill of my mother again. Ever since Papa died she’s trusted my judgment in these matters. Potential trumps poverty, and she knows I wouldn’t guide my own sister toward a scoundrel.”
Marc was right. I was hopelessly virtuous, but only because women scared me to death. “Is Francine going in costume?”
“Of course. She’s been looking forward to this for weeks.”
“Let me guess. Joan of Arc.”
Marc nodded. “In full military battledress, a copy she made of the museum piece.”
“Seamstress extraordinaire and war general. Definitely Francine. A study in contrasts.”
“It will take a strong man to tame her.” Marc thrust at me with a pretend sword. “Just stay at the safe end of her blade, if you know what I mean.”
“All too well.” I let my gaze drift back to the window, though the curtain of darkness had fallen. Marc knew of a past spat between Francine and me, a minor dispute about politics that ended in laughter. He did not know, however, about a more recent skirmish that left me fearful of reentering her presence.
That topic, dear Mother, I will address at the proper time when I hope to dispel any thought that Francine was nothing more than a hot-headed shrew. It was my own foolish tongue that invited the lashing I received.
“I’ll go on one condition,” I said. “If Francine spurns me, you’ll help me with an excuse to leave on socially acceptable terms.”
“Of course, of course. I’ll just say that you took a stroll in the library on the second floor. Everyone knows how bookish you are.”
“True, but I hope you will invent a better word. Bookish is not what I would call a masculine trait.”
“Adventurous, then.” Marc withdrew a dark blue cloak from a trunk next to his bed. “Have you seen the library? It is fabulous, filled with ancient books and maps, perfect for your escape.” He held the cloak up to my chest. “You’ll be a navy captain. I have a hat to go with it and a mask.”
I touched one of the cloak’s brass buttons. “So if Francine turns her heel, I can go on a voyage to the land of books.”
“Exactly.” Marc laid the cloak in my arms. “Get dressed. We have to be at the schoolhouse in half an hour.”
Categories: Critique Group