Parts 1, 2, and 3 of Let the Ghosts Speak brought the story to the crisis event, which some call the inciting incident. Because of this incident, the protagonist’s normal world will never be the same. He will now have to embark on a physical/emotional/spiritual journey.
In today’s excerpt, we will see how he reacts to the crisis. Will he immediately create a goal and march resolutely toward it? Will he instead be numbed and in a quandary? Let’s see what happens.
If you have any comments, questions, or suggestions, please post them.
Let the Ghosts Speak – Part 4
When the rope severed, Marc and another man guided the woman to the floor. Then Marc straightened and waved an arm, shouting, “Get back, everyone. Give her room.”
As the guests pulled away, I walked stiff-legged toward the scene. Murmurs and whispers buzzed in my ears.
“Is she dead?”
“Did anyone see what happened?”
“She excused herself to get fresh air. At a window, I think.”
When I arrived, I pushed through the guests and broke into the inner circle. Madame Noel lay on the floor with Marc’s helper kneeling next to her, apparently conducting an examination.
I grasped Marc’s arm. “Is she …” I couldn’t speak the word.
Marc’s respirations were quick and shallow. “I don’t know, Justin. Dr. Cousineau will tell us.”
The doctor, dressed as a gendarme, looked up at us and whispered, “She is dead. Her neck is intact. I assume she strangled to death.”
The word spread across the room like a fanned wildfire.
“Suicide?” a man called from the crowd.
“Murder?” a woman asked.
Marc stood on tiptoes and scanned the room. “Has anyone seen—”
Footsteps clattered from the staircase. Francine appeared at the bottom, holding a lit candelabrum. She ran to us and pushed through the crowd. When she saw her mother’s corpse, she backed into Marc’s arms, gasping, “Marc? Marc? She is alive. Tell me she’s alive.”
“Sister …” He took her candelabrum, handed it to a nearby woman, and wrapped Francine in his arms. “She is dead.”
“No, no, no!” Francine buried her face in Marc’s cassock and let out a wordless wail.
While others wept with her, Dr. Cousineau rose and looked into the crowd. “Who found Madame Noel?”
One of the cat sisters raised her hand. “I came back here to check on her. She said she wasn’t feeling well.”
The doctor pointed at the chair. “Was this here?”
She shook her head. “Marc dragged it over.”
“Then suicide seems unlikely. We should call an inspector.”
A woman dressed as a pirate said, “If we have a murderer in the building, shouldn’t we leave? One of us could be the next victim.”
“One of us could also be the murderer. No one leaves until an inspector arrives.”
“No one can leave,” Marc said. “The bridge over the brook washed out, and the Seine is flooding. Travel is unsafe, so we won’t be seeing an inspector anytime soon.”
“Then we will conduct an investigation ourselves.” Dr. Cousineau scanned the room. “Did anyone see anything peculiar? A stranger in our midst, perhaps?”
The cat sister pointed at me. “He’s the only person I don’t know. He insulted Jacqueline, so she told him to leave. I thought he was gone, but here he is.”
“Now, Sabina,” Dr. Cousineau said, “let’s not jump to conclusions. I’m sure the storm prevented his departure.” He turned toward me with an inquisitive though friendly expression. “Where have you been, young man?”
“Upstairs. Reading.” My voice trembled. I had no control over the tremors. “Marc’s suggestion.”
“It’s true,” Marc said. “Francine and I told him to go there.”
“And I was there the entire time. I ran down when I heard the screams.”
Still holding Francine with one arm, Marc grasped my wrist. “Did you see anyone up there? A stranger?”
“Marc, everyone here is a stranger to me, but I did see two people, a man and a boy. Michael and Jean.”
“What does the man look like?”
I ran my hand along an imagined beard. “He has a beard that tapered to a point. Dressed in a scholar’s robes. He claimed to be the boy’s schoolmaster.”
Marc shook his head. “He doesn’t sound familiar.”
“Francine knows him.” I pointed. “Ask her.”
She brushed tears from her cheeks, her voice fractured by sobs. “I don’t … know of any guest named … Michael. And no children … are here.”
“But you were up there with me just a moment ago. We were together at the top of the staircase when we heard the screams.”
“Justin …” Francine took a deep breath, settling her spasms. “Justin, I went up there to bring you back to the party. When I heard the first scream, I was at the far side of the library. I had to run through a maze of bookshelves before I could get to the stairs.”
As I gazed at her, confusion swirled. How could she lie without a hint of guilt? And why? While upstairs, she had been mysterious, even macabre when she said, My mother is no longer with us. Francine knew Madame Noel was dead. Could she have committed the murder? If so, why did she retreat upstairs and tell me about her mother’s death? Nothing made sense.
“Justin,” Marc said, breaking into my dark reverie, “you appear to be spellbound. Were you going to say something else?”
“I … uh …” I shook my head. “Nothing at the moment. Apparently my memory is failing. I feel as if I have taken a blow to the head.”
“As we all feel, I’m sure.” Marc stared at me as did everyone else in the room. Their eyes felt like daggers, pointed fingers. I had to find the killer as quickly as possible.
I looked at the ceiling. The rope appeared to run through a gap between two broken boards. “The murderer must have fastened the rope to something in the library. Some of us should go up there and search for clues.”
“I will go,” Dr. Cousineau said.
“And I.” Marc retrieved Francine’s candelabrum and cast his gaze on the gathering. “The three of us will go upstairs to see what we can learn. Everyone else stay together. No one is to go anywhere without escort.”
After kissing Francine, Marc strode ahead while I followed and the doctor trailed. As we ascended the stairs, the candles cast a familiar glow. I should have picked up my own candelabrum, but since we planned to stay together, my mistake likely didn’t matter.
When we reached the library, Marc lifted the candelabrum high. Light poured into the gaps between the shelves, though not as brightly or with as much depth as the lantern had.
I stared at the candelabrum. Francine had it with her when she descended the stairs. Yet, when I met her here, she was carrying a lantern, the one she claimed she could use to find Jean, which meant that it was still somewhere in the library. Why would Francine switch from one to the other?
Categories: Story Development