The Howarth Haunting: Chapter 7

In a smaller dining room, Sir John and Marie dined together. Lady Howarth had started to explain why she wouldn’t join them, then when she couldn’t think of a reason, had just waved her hands dismissively. The table was covered with silverware and in the center was a large soup tureen that the maid had brought. The room was a pale green with more portraits of Howarths. It seemed there had been a lot of them painted over the ages.

“So tomorrow the priest will come again, now he has the real ghost in his sights,” said Sir John, eating a huge bowl of soup with rustic abandon. “It looks like we may have cracked our first case, Mrs Jennings!”

“I’m not so sure,” said Marie as she took a small spoonful of her soup. “Something is not right.”

“How do you mean?” he said. “It all seems cut and dried.” He spilled some soup on his cravat and started fussing with it.

“It makes no sense though for this ‘peasant boy’ to haunt the mansion for so long. He was treated well, and respected even. And…” Marie hesitated, “I just…”

“…Have a feeling?” said Sir John, smiling. “Well your feelings have proved useful so far. I’ll tell you what, tomorrow before the exorcism I’ll use the Thanatograph. That will allow ghost voices to be amplified so maybe we can hear the voice of the phantom and find out more.”

“And I’d like to see that painting again,” said Marie. Sir John spat soup across the table.

“You can’t do that!” he said. “Lady Howarth was quite forthright on that matter as I recall.”

“Then during the exorcism,” said Marie, “I can go and look.”

“But that would be…” started Sir John.

“Maid,” whispered Marie as the maid came for the tureen. The Jenningses smiled at the maid as she took the soup away.

The Constabulary! “The Constabulary!”

“I trust all was pleasant?” she said.

“Very much so,” said Sir John. “Thank you Miss, er, Copsey.”

When the maid had left, Sir John turned back to his wife.

“…Breaking and entering!” he exclaimed. The maid was just going through the door and jumped a little.

“It’s not,” said Marie. “We are entered already and I will break nothing.”

“I don’t like it,” said Sir John, his voice rising. “There could be trouble. You could get caught. Lady Howarth would be furious. She might call…”

“Maid!” whispered Marie as Miss Copsey brought the main course.

“Here’s your fish, sir… madam,” said the maid.

“Thank you, very much obliged,” said Sir John, a little irritably.

“Is everything well?” said the maid, looking concerned.

“It’s fine, thank you,” said Marie, softly and Miss Copsey left.

“…The constabulary!” blurted Sir John loudly, and the retreating maid jumped and looked back quickly. Marie smiled at her and she scuttled out.

“It will be fine, mon cher,” said Marie. “You help the priest and I will see what I can find. Nothing untoward will happen; I am sure of it.”

Sir John started to gingerly eat the fine trout on his plate, his appetite vanishing.

Image thanks to thegraphicsfairy.com

The Howarth Haunting: Chapter 6

Lady Howarth and the Jennings  stood in the corridor to the west of the empty room. The wood paneling they had seen in the foyer extended along its length along with the theme of artworks. The corridor looked like a gallery or a museum, and one for very fine objects.

“Now let me make this very clear,” said Lady Howarth. “There will be no going in rooms. There will be no touching of objects or any movement of anything. This is the most private part of the mansion and we are not sight seeing. You may make use of your… devices… to identify the source of that strange sound, and that is all.”

Sir John swallowed hard. “Thank you Lady Howarth,” he said. We shall begin by using the Ectoscopic Glasses again. If you could be so good as to stand behind me a little way to avoid interference.”

Sir John donned the heavy brass goggles again which spared him from seeing the glare that Lady Howarth shot at him. He started to wander down the corridor looking around.

Careful Man 3“Careful Man!”

“Nothing so far, nothing here,” he muttered as he went. Suddenly, he turned to look at a painting and his head shot backwards, banging into the opposite wall. Marie winced at the crashing sound.

“Careful man,” shouted Lady Howarth.

“Good God it’s lit up like Crystal Palace,” said Sir John. He took the goggles off and looked at the painting, as Marie and Lady Howarth came to join him. “What is this, what is its significance?”

Lady Howarth stopped in front of the painting.

“Oh this,” she said. “Hmmm…”

Marie caught up with them both and looked at the painting, her face fell.

“Two young men?” said Sir John. “Who are they Lady Howarth?”

“Well this is the first thing you’ve found that makes any sense,” she said. “This is my father Edward and his companion Robert as young men before they left for the navy. The companion was the son of a servant who died, leaving him an orphan. My grandfather, gentleman that he was, decided to treat the boy as his own. When they achieved majority, they were shipped off to the navy. It was my grandfather’s belief that a spell in the navy would straighten out any defects in a boy’s character. My father entered as an officer of course, and the companion at the lower ranks. They were at sea for a number of years and returned when my grandfather died. They returned together, my father inheriting the house. They had left as boys but returned as men. Naturally the servant boy had gained men’s habits too, and had taken to drinking and gambling. He showed no respect for my dead grandfather: went to the local tavern by all accounts. In a week he was dead. Buried locally I believe. Presumably, his is the apparition causing problems. Typical, needy and greedy to the end.”

“Fascinating,” said Sir John.

“And the boy who died,” said Marie, recognising the face she had seen twice as a phantasm, “ee is the one on the left?”

“Heavens, no,” said Lady Howarth. “That’s Lord Edward Howarth. That’s my father.”

The Howarth Haunting: Chapter 5

Inside the empty room all was quiet. From outside was a sound of a key in the lock and the voice of Sir John speaking.

“Yes, Lady Howarth, we slept very well. Well, Mrs Jennings did at least. I spent most of the night awake to er, ensure we were unmolested. In the end it was not necessary, but I prefer to take precautions in these situations.”

There was a rattle in the lock again.

“Seems a little stiff. I must warn you Lady Howarth, before we go in, that the Thaumograph is a sensitive yet subtle device. It’s like a seismograph except the pendulum is disturbed only by supernatural activity, not geological. When we review the marks the needles make we don’t expect to see anything too dramatic. If we are lucky we may see some vague indication of activity: a slight deviation from a straight line for example.”

The door swung open and Sir John, Marie, and Lady Howarth walked in. The Thaumograph was lying on its side in the centre of the room. The black canvas that made up its body was in disarray and the mechanical body had been disassembled and laid on the floor.

“How unusual!” said Sir John. “This room was locked all night?”

“Indeed it would have been,” said Lady Howarth. “And I dislike your inference. My staff are beyond reproach. They have been in the family for decades.”

“Well on a positive note we have evidence of some supernatural activity,” said Sir John.

“I knew that already,” bellowed Lady Howarth. “I brought you here to rid me of it, not to tell me about it.”

thaumagraph 4“How Unusual!”

“What is over there?” said Marie pointing west, in the direction that the apparition had indicated last night.

“That,” said Lady Howarth, “is the private family area. That area is not a cause of concern, and is consequently off limits.”

“I think maybe we should have a look in there,” said Marie.

“Are you deaf as well as French? That wing was built to be the family sanctuary from…” said Lady Howarth, waving her hand to indicate the world at large. “It will not be violated.”

“I think maybe we’d better leave it,” said Sir John, who was hearing Marie quietly count to ten in French. “We have no evidence…”

“I just ‘ave a feeling mon cher. Call it woman’s intuition,” said Marie.

Sir John turned to look at Lady Howarth and was about to speak as Marie looked down and whispered under her breath, “Parle à moi, mon petit.” There were 3 loud knocks from the western wall.

 

“What the devil is that?” said Lady Howarth. “What did you do?”

“I did nothing,” said Marie. There were 3 more knocks.

“What is that noise?” said Lady Howarth and left the room, calling out, “What’s going on there?”

“Now we ‘ave evidence?” said Marie.

“Indeed,” said Sir John, looking a little perturbed. “Indeed we do.”

The Howarth Haunting: Chapter 4

“Why don’t you try to sleep,” said Marie to Sir John, as they both sat in the four poster bed.

“I can sleep perfectly well if I want to,” replied Sir John staring wide eyed into the room. “I just simply want to make sure that you are safe.”

He went to pat her shoulders and tapped her pillow absently.

“I don’t think we ‘ave anything to fear here, mon cher,” said Marie.

“Well I have this just in case,” said Sir John. “It’s a daguerreographic device. I can capture the image of anything that appears, as evidence. It has this lightning flash which will render the room as bright as day if necessary.” He indicated vaguely to his bedside table as he stared intently into the room.

“Well, if we need to watch for something, why don’t we take it in turns,” said Marie. “Then at least we get some sleep.”

“Marvellous idea, Mrs Jennings,” said Sir John. “Perhaps you can take first turn.”

I'm Blind!“I’m Blind!”

Several hours later, the candle by the bed had burnt down and the room was plunged into darkness. Marie was sleeping curled up in the bed and Sir John was sleeping sitting up. A thin rivulet of saliva ran down his chin and he was snoring gently.  On the ceiling of the room, an area seemed to light up and drift down. It hovered at the foot of the bed and expanded, getting brighter and finding form. The shape that had once been dust, and before that a young man, rested at the end of the bed. Sir John started to stir as the light grew in intensity. His eyes began to move and he opened them up.

“Good God!” he exclaimed and reached for the bedside table. The noise woke up Marie just in time to watch her husband pick up the the cumbersome device and press a button. There was an explosion of light.

“I’m blind, I’m blind,” said Sir John, who dropped the device and waved his arms around.

“Shh, mon cher, it’s just the lightning flash,” said Marie holding her husband. “It will pass.” She looked at the apparition at the foot of the bed, tilting her head quizzically.

The apparition, still with a tear on its cheek, raised an arm to point to its right. Marie nodded at it, and it faded away. Sir John had calmed down by then and looked around.

“What the blazes was that?” he said.

“There was nothing, it was just a dream perhaps,” said Marie. 

“The daguerreograph!” said Sir John. “We may see something there.”

They looked into the box and saw a close up picture of Sir John’s startled face.

 

The Howarth Haunting: Chapter 3

Continuing our repeat of The Howarth Haunting…

—-

Sir John and Marie sat in the large lobby of the mansion with the bags they had brought from London. The Jennings’ instruments and devices were in four large suitcases and their clothes and personal effects were in one. An art gallery worth of portraits from all ages glared down at them from the dark wooden walls and a large stuffed moose regarded them suspiciously.

“I’ll send for the carriage presently,” said the ageing butler.

“Thank you, er Smyth, whichever tavern in the village you recommend,” said Sir John, and looked around the room. “Impressive selection of artwork. Who’s that imperious looking chap on the end.”

“That’s the first Lord Howarth, who built the original Grimley Hall. It was somewhat smaller than the current incarnation.”

Marie looked around the room, trying to find a likeness of the apparition she had seen. The pictures were mostly of men, and mostly older men. Only one seemed to be more youthful, but he didn’t look like the boy at all.

“Oo is this younger man,” said Marie. “All the others seem much older.”

“That is Lord Charles Howarth, who died in … uncertain circumstances … in the northern wing,” said Smyth, looking meaningfully at Sir John.

“In the room we are currently…” started Sir John, finishing by waving his hand.

“The very same, sir. He was found dead in that room after a night of cards with friends. He had seemingly lost a large sum of money. Nothing was proven, so no charges were brought. I believe the local priest was trying to exorcise his spirit when he was forced to leave by some unpleasantness.”

Stay? Here?“Stay? Here?”

“I see,” said Sir John. “Oh, and what of this chap here – he looks a rum sort, there must a few stories about him.”

“That,” announced Lady Howarth, appearing from the top of the stairs, “is my father. He built four factories, increased the family fortune by tenfold and extended the house to its current form. He was a true Howarth, full of vigour and strength. And certainly not rum. Why are you leaving Jennings? Your job is far from complete.”

“Yes, indeed,” said Sir John, “but we have set up specialist instrumentation in the room and will return in the morning to get the results. I expect we will have some answers then.”

“There is no need to leave, we have room for you here. Smyth can arrange everything,” replied Lady Howarth.

“Stay?” said Sir John, with a slight waver in his voice. “Here?”

“Yes, I see no problem with that. Put them in the north wing, Smyth, there is a vacant room there as I recall,” said Lady Howarth.

“The bedroom directly below the haunted room?” said Smyth. “The room that once was Lord Charles’ bedroom?”

“Yes…” said Lady Howarth. “Yes, I believe it was.”

“Well, Lady Howarth,” said Sir John, forcing a smile, “we are most grateful for your hospitality.”

 

The Howarth Haunting: Chapter 2

Continuing our re-run….

——–

“And this is the room where the most activity has occurred,” said the middle-aged Lady Howarth as she led Sir John and Marie into a large empty room on the second floor of the mansion. “The furniture was removed after…” she continued when Sir John interrupted her.

“No, Lady Howarth, I insist you tell me no more. Objectivity is the key to good science. If we hear more we may be somehow prejudiced.”

Lady Howarth looked at Sir John and made a face like she was chewing lemons. “As you wish,” she said. Marie walked by the fireplace and ran a finger over the dusty mantelpiece.

“No one ‘as cleaned here for a while,” she said and knelt down by the fireplace.

“The servants won’t come in, haven’t done for years,” said Lady Howarth. “You’re French?”

“Oui,” said Marie.

“I went there once,” said Lady Howarth and put a handkerchief over her mouth and nose.

“First, I will examine the room using these Ectoscopic Glasses. These allow me to see the traces and the nature of any spectral apparitions.” Sir John donned a bulky pair of brass and chrome goggles. He tipped forward from the weight at first, then steadied himself and moved around the room. Lady Howarth watched with a bemused look on her face and, as she was doing so, Marie put her hand in the fireplace and scooped up some ashes.

ocus-pocus-sepia2“‘Ocus Pocus”

“I think I detect something,” said Sir John pacing around the room. Marie started walking around edge of the room and when no-one was looking she dropped a little ash in each corner.

“Yes!” proclaimed Sir John. “A definite trace left behind. Something very old and potentially evil… there!” He pointed in front of himself and pulled off the goggles to discover he was pointing at Lady Howarth. Her lips were very thin.

“Perhaps if you wait outside,” he said. “I think maybe your presence is affecting the aura.”

She left wordlessly and closed the door with a tut.

“I think maybe this isn’t the ideal device,” Sir John said to Marie. “I’m going to get the Thaumograph. If I set it running overnight we can capture any supernatural activity.”

He left Marie and she moved to the middle of the room. She put her palm flat in front of her face and blew the last few ashes into the air.

“‘Ocus, pocus,” she said.

The sun was already lighting the dust in the room, stirred up by the movement of the three people. But now the dust seemed to congeal in front of Marie. At first it looked like a funnel shape, as if the wind had caught it. But then it grew more form and the image of a teenaged boy formed. A dust tear ran down his face.

“Tell me,” said Marie gently. Just then, there was a crash as Sir John came through the door, holding a contraption of metal and black material on a tall tripod. The dust image dissipated in front of Marie at the sound of the noise. Sir John dragged the object into the centre of the room.

“Now,” he said triumphantly. “Now we shall get answers.”

 

The Howarth Haunting: Chapter 1

Dear Readers, as faithfully promised at the weekend, we are travelling back in time, not just to the Victorian Era, but to the very start of the Jennings and Jennings stories. We present, or re-present…The Howarth Haunting

All was quiet in the drawing room at Southampton Row when Sir John Jennings burst in, brandishing The Times.

“Well it’s in, my dear! The advert is in! Shall I read it to you?”

His wife looked at him warmly and said gently in her French accent, “I have heard it, peut etre?”

“Perhaps not the final wording. I think I had the polished article in the end. Ahem… ‘Jennings and Jennings, Paranormal Investigators, available for hire in the Home Counties. Are you plagued by supernatural goings on or troubled by fantastical events? We can help, using the most modern scientific advances, to rid you of even the most ancient of terrors. 3 pence an hour, double on Sunday.’”

“Very good, mon cher,” said Marie Jennings, working on some crochet. “Now, I suppose we wait.”

“Indeed,” said Sir John, pacing around the room. “Anytime now we may get a card or a telegram or may even a contact on the new telephonic device.” He indicated a large brass object with a mouthpiece and a listening horn.

“The Queen has one you know!” he added.

“You may have mentioned that,” said Marie.

“Yes, sorry dear, to be such a bore. It’s just so exciting to finally put all of these ideas into action. The years of tinkering, inventing. There was a time when only you believed in me, I fancy, when you were the only one who understood my fascinations.”

Victorian phone 3 (1)“Your Majesty?”

He was interrupted by a buzzing noise coming from the telephonic device.

“What should I do?” he said, turning white.

“Perhaps you should answer it?” said his wife.

Sir John grabbed at the listening horn and put it to his ear and moved to the mouthpiece.

“Your Majesty?” he said, then quickly, “No, no, sorry I just thought… No, no I wasn’t expecting her to… Please stay on the line. Who are we? We are investigators of the paranormal, madam. We use scientific breakthroughs, many of them of my own invention and fashioning to uncover the truth and shed some light on the darkest of domains.”

He winked at his wife as he said this and she smiled indulgently.

“Experience? Well some of our work is of a theoretical nature at this juncture…. Yes, but I’m confident we can… Well let’s say no result, no fee, how’s that? Yes, good… and the nature of the er, event? Oh, a haunting…Oh yes, that shouldn’t present any problem. But surely a priest could be called… Oh, you did… Ran screaming from the building, I see… No, not at all… and the address? Grimley Hall, Woesbury. Well that sounds like a… like a place. You’re about half a day away I think. Tomorrow? Say at lunch? Good.”

Sir John put down the phone.

“Well Mrs Jennings, we have our first case”

Marie smiled up at him and noticed that his hand was only shaking a little.

 

Letter To The Editor

Dear Mr Michael

It has come to my attention that there has been, how may I put this delicately, a certain reduction in communication from The Benthic Times. Whilst not wishing to give offence, it would seem that the author’s attention is, perhaps, elsewhere. I’m writing to ask whether it is too much of an inference to assume that there is perhaps a hiatus of sorts, induced by the author’s focus on his forthcoming novel?

Yours

Alfred Botheritall

aa-closed<PHOTO FROM ARCHIVES – INSERT WITTY COMMENT HERE>

Dear Mr Botheritall

My dear sir, good heavens no! Nothing could be further from the truth. Whilst it would seem to the casual observer that there is less activity than before, I can assure you that the writer’s and editor’s attention is directed wholeheartedly to this “weblog”. To demonstrate this fact we will be reminding readers of just how pleasant our serialised stories are by repeating, in its entirety, the first ever Jennings and Jennings story, the famous Howarth Haunting, commencing this coming Tuesday. Does that, sir, sound like the actions of a man distracted by other events?

Yours &tc &tc

Paul Michael

 

 

 

How To Talk to Imaginary People

Great Marley Ghost MonoIn order to converse with fictional characters, consume more gravy.

Dear Readers

Firstly I would like to apologise for the protracted absence of posts on this august organ. Why it seems that it has been fully two weeks now since we last made communication. I can reassure you that all is well, that Mr Michael is hard at work on the forthcoming Paris Awakening novel and that the persistent rumours concerning a euphonium, a junior minister, a Welsh male voice choir and Lord Hollingbury are unfortunately true.

Anyway, we recently had the pleasure of discussing the matter of writing with a non-writing acquaintance. The conversation went along these lines:

“Dear chap, I don’t know how you do it! How do you work out, from all possible paths, what will happen in the story?”

“Why thats simplicity itself,” I countered. “I simply let the characters decide what they will do.”

“Good grief man!” he exclaimed, knocking over  a perfectly good brandy. “How can that be achieved?”

“My dear friend, I let them talk amongst themselves,” I said. At this he waved his arms and his voluminous mustache wobbled.

“You see, sir, you are a genius, I couldn’t conceive of doing such a thing.”

“I disagree,” I said, “I’ll wager you can, and let me explain how….”

This, in a nutshell, is the advice I gave my friend. It is a series of exercises which can be carried out in ones own mind, but I find that such exercises are better written out. Somehow writing brings extra depth and magic.

  1. Imagine two friends that you know well and who know each other. Imagine they are having a conversation.
  2. Next, imagine two friends that you know well, but are not mutually acquainted. Imagine them meeting and the conversation they may have.
  3. This time, imagine a friend you know meeting a fictional character, either one of your own devising or from a popular novel. As before, imagine how the conversation would occur.
  4. And finally, substitute the real world friend for another fictional character, and imagine how they would converse.

And voila! You know have two fully fledge imaginary people talking in your head. If you’ve enjoyed this parlour trick, be sure to tell your friends. And have a most pleasant Sunday.

 

Half Plan, Half Pants It

The_sleep_of_reason_produces_monsters_LACMA_63.11.43A Planner attempts Pantsing (or vice versa)

Dear Readers (and especially those of you who are Writers)

I am sure you are all aware of that great debate that has raged, seemingly for centuries now, and which divides father from son, mother from daughter and znarks from kithniks (in the planetary system of Ryzold Veta). This is not some theological disagreement such the Great Schism of 1054, nor political rift such as communism against capitalism. No, I refer to the twin camps of plotters and pantsers.

I shall not go over the debate in detail as a mere handful of seconds with a reliable “search engine” will reveal the crux of the matter. No, instead I will offer my tuppence worth based on my own writing experience. The “excessively loquacious and hence did not peruse” version is – why not do both?

Let me explain my position to those of you not too shocked to continue. You see, I truly believe the best bit of writing advice I ever heard was from Chuck Wendig who said something akin to “there is no such thing as plot, there is just characters doing things”. I have to say I most heartily agree, and for my characters to do things, I have to know who they are and what they are thinking. Thus begins the first phase of my writing, which will look rather like pantsing (the writing technique, not the “hilarious” pranking technique).

You see, I find something magical happens when I write a scene. Not, I must hastily add, that I am possessed with magnificent talent, but characters that are in my mind come to life of their own accord. Rather then put words into their mouths, I put them in a situation and listen. Remarkable things happen then; Miss Henderson quite literally fought her way from being a minor to major character. It was, in her words, a coop of tat. Rather than bonding joyfully with Marie (in a purely platonic way), The Nouveaumancer mercilessly bated Sir John, who then rather wonderfully bit back.

As so many of my stories are mysteries of one sort or another, I’ve learnt the best place for me to start is to present the evidence to my characters, let them have a conversation and if I’m lucky, they may start to try to solve the conundrum. That sets the mood, the tone, and turns the shadowy characters in my mind into functioning “people”.

And then, we get to a point. The characters are off investigating, but most likely, other things are happening in the story of which they are blissfully unaware. The whole world they are in is a vast complex machine with many moving parts and at the center of that machine is a cold, impersonal creature that will throw obstacles in their way, hurt them, and even dispose of them. Yes, dear readers, pay no attention to the man behind the curtain, for it is I. And since I know what is happening to all the dramatis personae, I feel I have to sketch out what will happen to bring the story to its cataclysmic end. This is usually just a line or so per 500 words. No great detail, no computer software (well notepad maybe), but enough so I know what’s happening in my world. I wouldn’t call it detailed planning, but I’m far from winging it. And as always, it’s not the notes, but the thinking that counts.

The story then follows “more-or-less” the path I ascribe to it, albeit with some amendments along the way. Maybe a scene I thought would take 1000 words is wrapped up in 10. Mayhap my characters linger somewhere longer than I expected. I can, after all, only follow their whims and demands. But in the end, we arrive where I knew, about a third of the way through, where we would be.

And that’s it, dear Readers, Writers, and Arithmeticians. That is my part-pantsing, part-planning approach. I hope I haven’t broken too many hearts or shattered too many illusions. All I can say is that it works for me.

And if you can take one more shock this evening, I am also perfectly ambivalent to this product as well.

marmite

That’s the kind of monster I am…