Well, November has rolled around and I’ve found myself signing up to National Novel Writing Month, with the hopeful objective of managing to pound out a fifty thousand word novel by the 30th. Fun!
My NaNo profile is here, but I intend to post my work in progress as it’s written – perhaps daily, perhaps less frequently if chapter breaks make it better to wait a little. It’s certainly not my best prose – my inner editor is seething at, well, pretty much everything about it! – but the demands of speed mean that I’ll have to settle for it being a bit rubbish and go about fixing it up in December. ;)
So… here we are. Canorus, for your reading pleasure!
I shivered. All of a sudden, I felt colder than I ought to be.
The winter weather didn’t help – grey skies matching the grey of the city – but I’d dressed warmly, with two shirts and a woollen jumper making it hard for me to articulate my arms under a down jacket. Rugged up like this, I certainly shouldn’t have been feeling the cold; my recent exertion even had me sweating under all the layers. And yet I still felt a chill pass through me.
I was nervous, I supposed. Wasn’t it natural to be nervous about meeting a ghost? Not that “ghost” was the polite term, anyway. The pedestrian lights changed to green and I made my way across the scramble crossing, weaving from side to side around fellow pedestrians who weren’t interested in matching my pace. I’d cut it fine, of course; there were only ten minutes before my scheduled meeting with Sylvia, and I still had three blocks to cover.
It wasn’t my best plan, but I’d left things late enough that my research presentation needed something drastic, something showy. My classmates could spend all the time they liked trawling the library and the internet, but I doubted that any of them would be able to produce anything as compelling as an interview with an eyewitness. My pace quickened as I reached the final block and caught sight of the office we’d agreed upon as a rendezvous. It wouldn’t do to keep a lady waiting, after all, even if she’d been out of commission since before I was born. My stride quickened into a slow run, drawing a few glances from the people I passed. I noticed a few large, golden eyes tracking me, and shivered. The fairies unnerved me.
Of course I knew that only the most harmless of them were allowed to run wild in public; most if not all known fairies were tracked down by the government and very closely monitored. But there was still something about their shapes, their gait, and their strange piercing gazes that troubled me – as if they knew something I ought to, but didn’t.
The building loomed in front of me, covered in garish neon advertising and tattered old posters. I didn’t bother waiting for the lift – the stairs would get me there just as fast and without giving me time to stand around and maybe lose my nerve. The door pushed open and the stairwell drew me in; I took the steps two at a time, running uphill like a madman. In the end, my frantic effort ended up distracting me too thoroughly, and I didn’t realise I’d overshot my destination until I saw the “7” on the landing. I laughed nervously and turned around, jolting down the stairs until I reached the sixth floor. Focus! I thought, and snarled. If I wasn’t even able to pay attention to the stairs I was climbing then it wouldn’t put in me in good stead to pay attention when I was interviewing Sylvia.
This floor of the office was empty, of course – likely between tenants – but I still looked around before knocking on the door of the corner office. These days it paid to remain aware of your surroundings. Still, I didn’t notice anybody, and a friendly “Come in, dear” tugged my attention back in front of me. Swallowing and reminding myself that I really needed this interview to avoid failing, I gripped the doorknob, turned it, and pushed the door open.
Sylvia was, as usual, perfectly composed, hair in a neat bun and hands sitting primly on the desk in front of her. The blinds were shut, and the room was only lit by a lone, pale fluorescent tube, so she almost looked like she was genuinely sitting there. She had clearly noticed my frantic state, as she graced me with an indulgent smile.
“Sit down and catch your breath, Stephen. There’s no need for you to go rushing around.” There weren’t any chairs directly in front of the desk she had occupied, so I shifted one from the facing wall, feeling painfully self-conscious as I did. Why did she always make me feel like I had two left feet?
Age was an obvious factor, of course. It’s always natural to feel less adept than someone who’s been around longer than you, and Sylvia had more years on me than anyone I’d ever met. This was why I’d gone to her in the first place, after all, but it still struck home from time to time that she’d been dead longer than I’d been alive. At times like these I really envied my parents, who’d at least had their childhoods spared from the supernatural disruptions of the last two decades.
A delicate cough brought me back to the moment. I apologised to Sylvia and she gave me the same smile as before; subtle and understanding.
“So, Stephen,” she began, “I presume that you have had enough time to give my proposal some thought. Given that you have returned, would it be safe to say that you wish to proceed?”
I nodded. “You’ve lived through the most fascinating events of the interwar years, and your account of them is something I genuinely want. I’m happy to meet the price you’ve offered.”
Her smile returned, but with an edge of condescension. “If you are willing to proceed then I ought not to quibble. I’ll see you at eight o’clock tomorrow evening.” She winked. “Make yourself handsome.”
“I’ll be sure to,” I replied, restraining the urge to roll my eyes. “And your part of the bargain?”
“Well, since I have your agreement, we can proceed right away. What is it you wish to know?”
Nerves still shook me, but now a feeling of triumph suffused them – I finally felt that all the tit-for-tat I’d exchanged with this memory of the past had been worthwhile. I gave Sylvia a smile of my own and fished my notebook out of my pack.
“Many things, Sylvia. But let’s start with… let’s say February, nineteen thirty-one.”
Heading home, it was all I could do to keep from jumping wildly with excitement. Everything had gone perfectly. Sylvia had probably had an exceptional memory in life – some theories pointed to that as a reason for people returning as echoes in the first place – but even by the standards of the remembered dead, her ability to recall specific and relevant details was astonishing. With the notes I’d taken, I would probably be able to paint a better picture of life in her time than even the most eminent and best-researched historian.
There had been a price, naturally, but it was one I was glad enough to pay. Sylvia may not have been truly alive, but her loneliness and nostalgia were real enough, or she would not have been able to furnish me with the vivid detail I had sought. As such, her desires ran in directions I felt happy enough to indulge.
What harm could come from offering a dance to a ghost more than sixty years dead?