In Parts 1 and 2 of Let the Ghosts Speak, we saw the essential beginnings of a story as well as how to establish an emotional attachment between readers and the protagonist. Part 2 also began the revealing of the crisis event, which some call the inciting incident.
In today’s excerpt, we will see the crisis event complete, which will change the protagonist’s life in such a way as to force him out of his normal world and start him on a journey to a target, an object of desire.
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Let the Ghosts Speak – Part 3
Gasping, I shot to my feet. I stumbled back and fell against the opposite shelf. My heart raced. Tremors shook my body. Yet again lightning flashed, revealing a small book where the boy once sat.
I leaned over and picked up the dust-covered volume with trembling hands. Taking small steps to avoid tripping in the darkness, I walked toward my reading bench, my mind a blur. How could the boy disappear without a sound? No child could get up and run that quickly, could he? Perhaps the lightning pulses had disoriented my sense of time, and thunder masked the boy’s sounds.
Having convinced myself of that idea, I settled my nerves. The boy had to be around somewhere. I thought to call out to him, but not knowing his name gave me pause.
A glow appeared in the midst of the darkness, drawing closer. Perhaps Marc or Francine had arrived to escort me back to the party. I slid the book into my pocket, picked up my candelabrum, and walked toward the glow. With no new lightning strokes brightening my path, I was glad for the radiant guide.
As I neared the newcomer, five candles distinguished themselves, similar in arrangement to my own. The flames illuminated an unfamiliar man, thin and sporting a pointed beard. Dressed in what appeared to be a scholar’s robe from centuries past, he was obviously a party guest, though he wore no mask. Perhaps the first hour’s masquerade had ended.
When we came within a few steps of each other, I stopped and gave him a nod. “Greetings, friend. Will you do me the favor of allowing me to light my candles?”
“Of course.” He extended his candelabrum.
As I lit mine, I spoke in a nonchalant manner. “What brings you to this dusty book jungle?”
“I am looking for a boy. He seems to have run off.”
“I saw a boy, but he ran from me. I lost him in the darkness.” When I lit the final candle, I looked him in the eye. “Are you his father?”
“No, no. I am Michael, his teacher.”
“A reasonable synonym, though I prefer teacher.”
I studied his face, the counters of his nose and chin. He appeared to lack the typical lines of the local Parisians. “If you don’t mind me asking, where are you from?”
“I hail from Spain, but I have been in France for quite a long time.”
“Which explains your perfect French.”
“I certainly have had plenty of time to practice it.” Michael looked me over. “And I assume you’re an Englishman, a military man of some sort.”
“From London, sir, but the uniform is merely a disguise for the festivities. My name is Justin.” I slid the book from my pocket and set it under the light—an old Latin primer. Had the boy been sitting on it the entire time? “When he ran away, he left this book behind. Do you recognize it?”
Michael took the primer. “Yes, this is Jean’s.”
I gave him a disarming laugh. “He feared that you would beat him if you knew he lost it.”
“Beat him? Nonsense. I have never laid a hand on that boy.” Michael’s brow bent. “If Jean had it with him before he ran, why did he fear punishment for losing it?”
“I think he was sitting on it. He didn’t realize it was underneath him.”
“That would be odd. It is not like him to be absentminded.” Michael looked past me. “Which way did he go?”
“I don’t know. I reached for him to guide him downstairs, and he was gone in a flash. I was quite startled, but boys can be quick, I suppose.”
Michael gazed at me in a quizzical manner for a moment before nodding. “Ah. I understand now.”
“Your confusion. Jean is, indeed, quick to disappear, especially under the cover of darkness. You are not the first to be startled by his antics.”
I lifted my candelabrum. “I’ll be glad to help you search for him.”
Michael shook his head. “It would be better if you stay away from him.”
“Stay away? Why?”
“Well, he has quite a violent streak.”
I laughed. “He’s just a boy.”
“An unpredictable boy. I am thankful that you escaped unharmed.”
“Escaped unharmed?” I gave him a doubtful stare. “He’s no older than seven. What could he possibly—”
“I have already said too much.” He patted my shoulder. “Perhaps you should get back to your festivities while I look for Jean.”
“My festivities? Aren’t you also one of the guests?”
“I am a guest, to be sure, but that is neither here nor there. The people on the ground floor are the reason I am looking for Jean. He is likely to give them a fright … or worse.”
“Is he …” I searched for the right words. “Mentally unstable?”
Michael cleared his throat. “He is … recovering … I hope.”
“If he is unstable, then why are you here in this abandoned school?”
He smiled. “Perhaps it is not as abandoned as you assume.”
“Then is it … an asylum?”
“In a manner of speaking.” He nodded toward the spiral staircase. “I suggest that you go. Now. Leave Jean to me. Your presence here will serve only to agitate him.”
I looked at the stairs. As before, the darkness below seemed terrifying. Apparently Marc and Francine had not yet succeeded in mollifying Madame Noel. “I prefer to stay. I am more comfortable with books than I am with people.”
“As you wish.” Michael patted my shoulder again. “But if you see Jean, stay away from him and call out to me. I am the only one who is able to handle him.” He walked in the direction I had seen Jean.
I sat on the bench, set the candelabrum down, and picked up Hamlet. As I stared blankly at the pages and listened to the violin downstairs, the mysteries here stirred in my mind. What an odd place to house an asylum, especially since Monsieur Haussmann planned to destroy it. Did Michael know of the plans? And how could that boy be harmful to anyone?
Mother, the confusion raised reminders of what we discovered in the attic. Father looked like a stranger. Blood dripped from his hands, a man who had never harmed a fly. I will never forget his face, a mask of rage as you screamed for me to run. Although I wanted to know the identity of the woman who hung from the rafters, I ran.
If such a man as my father could do harm, then maybe a boy could devise a harmful scheme. A prank, perhaps? A trip line that causes a stumble? Who could tell what evils a lunatic boy might conceive?
Then it dawned on me. Could it be that Jean was the victim, and Michael, the unassuming teacher, was actually a predator? Was his story a lie? Had I betrayed Jean by giving his approximate whereabouts to a vindictive schoolmaster? Certainly I owed it to Jean to find out.
I dropped the book, snatched the candelabrum, and walked toward the area where I had met Jean. Again a breeze threatened to snuff the flames, so I cupped my hand in front of the candles and hurried on.
After meandering around various shelves, I found the open window and shut it, stifling the breeze. I held the candelabrum high. Nothing but shelves and books met my view, certainly no sign of Jean or Michael.
I turned toward the voice. A woman holding a lantern walked toward me, my costume’s hat in her other hand. As my eyes adjusted to her lantern’s brighter glow, she came into focus. Francine had finally come for me, still dressed in her Joan of Arc costume, though now without a mask. “Francine, I’m so glad you’re here.”
She walked to a point just out of reach and stopped, her expression blank, unreadable. “My name is Joan.”
I narrowed my eyes. For some reason, she looked paler than usual. “If the masquerade game is still going on, why did you remove your mask?”
“Mask?” She tilted her head. “Why would I wear a mask?”
“Ah. Right. No one can see you while you’re up here.”
She gave me the hat, her expression hardening. “Captain, you should go now.”
I put the hat on. “So your mother’s anger has subsided?”
She blinked, as if confused. “My mother is no longer with us.”
“Did she fall ill?”
“No, she is not ill.” She curled her arm around mine. “Come. I will lead you out.”
I resisted her pull. “Francine … I mean, Joan. I saw a boy here. Scared. Crying. He feared his schoolmaster. I am concerned for his safety.”
She shook her head. “Michael is not a danger to Jean.”
“You know them?” I nodded. “Of course you know them. You know everyone here. Then why is Jean so frightened of Michael?”
“It is a ruse, I assure you.” She pulled again. “Come. You must leave at once.”
This time I walked with her, matching her hurried gait. “Where is Marc … I mean, the Bishop? Is he behaving himself tonight?”
“No better than usual.” She halted near the spiral staircase and squinted at me. “Have you seen him?”
“Not since I came up here.”
“Good. I told him to stay out of sight.” She lifted the lantern and let the glow seep into every crevice in the walls and bookshelves. “I will search for Jean. If he is here, my lantern will find him.”
A woman’s scream pierced the air, coming from the first floor. Another followed, along with a third, then silence. Even the violin hushed.
Francine set a hand on my back. “Go. Hurry.”
With candelabrum still in hand, I ran down the spiraling steps. When I reached bottom, I found perhaps forty party guests gathered in a semicircle around Marc near a far back corner of the assembly room. He stood on a chair with a knife in hand, sawing on a taut rope, his cassock sleeve swaying with the effort. A woman dressed in a jester’s costume dangled limply at the rope’s end, a noose around her neck.
I dropped the candelabrum. Madame Noel?
Categories: Story Development