Today I am excited to feature author Abby Richards on my blog.
Here is an excerpt from her novel, Blackened Cottage.
If it were not for little Eddie, I fear I would lose my mind.
Father has not spoken once since you left us. In truth, he barely glances in my direction and, if he comes near, which thankfully is a rare thing indeed, a frightful tension accompanies him and I have to fight the urge to flee the room.
I am confined to the new house for the foreseeable period and I do not know why. I just know that Father’s brief note carried a warning tone that could be dangerous to ignore.
We are hidden away in the countryside far from anyone, in a hideous place rather aptly called Blackened Cottage, for its outer walls are painted entirely black. Sadly, the cottage is about as welcoming as the Reaper’s smile. Inside, the walls are the colour of jaundiced skin. A cloying odour of rancid milk permeates the air, and dust muffles every surface as if the building has not been lived in for one hundred years.
For me, the floorboards are the cottage’s one redeeming feature. They are finest oak, beautiful when shaved of dust. You would admire them Mama.
Downstairs there is a study that I have never entered, a small, dank kitchen and a medium-sized living room with a bricked in fireplace. A narrow staircase leads upstairs to just two bedrooms so Father sleeps in the study. I gave the bigger bedroom to Eddie. He needs it more than me.
Father’s silence does not merely estrange me, it scares me. Though Eddie says nothing, I know it disturbs him too. Occasionally, I catch Father staring at his reflection with a strange intensity. His eyes seem darker these days, and my spine prickles when he enters the room. Mostly he keeps to his study, for which I am glad.
I spend my days tutoring Eddie in Mathematics and English. He is a good pupil. He works hard and asks a lot of questions. Fortunately, he has ceased asking about Father. It is almost as if Eddie has accepted our new reality far more readily than I.
Loneliness burns my chest, but I cannot leave – not while Eddie is so young. We celebrated his eighth birthday yesterday. Just he and I. I made him a puzzle. It was his only present. Either Father forgot or he no longer cares, but I dare not approach him to ask.
Oh Mama, I cannot believe you have been gone a year. Would that you could return and take us away from all of this.
Father’s footsteps are on the landing! I must hide this. ‘Til tomorrow Mama,
I hide my letter just as Father’s footsteps pause outside my door. My heart drums even though I am almost certain he will not enter my room. The floorboards creak once, twice, thrice. He is moving away. I let out a sigh and unclench my fists. He has never hurt me or Eddie, but I can feel his soul darkening. His mind slipping.
Eddie is in the garden but it is getting dark so I gently open my door and tiptoe down the staircase. Every board creaks and gives a little underfoot. I wonder how long it will be before a step gives way. A tiny part of me hopes that when that day comes, Father will be the one who crashes through the floor. Things would be so much easier if he were not around.
Immediately I feel guilty for the thought and bite my lip until it stings.
I creep past Father’s study. As usual, the door is firmly shut.
With bare feet and strumming heart, I hastily exit the living room. In this house, I cannot walk slowly.
Eddie is play-fighting with Jack. Jack is his imaginary friend.
Jack is also eight years old. He has carrot-orange hair and freckles. He wears an old-fashioned sailor uniform. Eddie says Jack wears the same thing every day.
“Time for supper, Eddie.”
“Can Jack come too? Please, please, please?”
I search his delicate, innocent face. His brown hair flops down over his right eye. He always reminds me of a puppy. Unconditionally loving. My heart twinges. I brave a smile.
“Jack can most certainly join you – as long as he minds his table manners.”
“Yes!” Eddie exclaims, “Come Jack, you can sit next to me.”
Not for the first time, I glimpse a form beside Eddie as he hurries into the cottage. I shake my head, certain I am imagining things.
Following quickly, I leave the garden with its dark cords of ivy and enter the kitchen.
I decide to explore the garden tomorrow in the daylight when Eddie takes his afternoon nap. Eddie tells me it is far bigger than it first appears.
My Dearest Lisbeth,
Times are hard. I miss you and Eddie dearly. I am sorry for leaving you with that soulless man, but you are strong, kind and good and I am hopeful that your loving spirit will ferry you through the loneliness that you speak of.
With regards to your Father, do you remember what I told you before I left? DO NOT TRUST HIM. If he is electing not to converse with you this is a good thing. Believe me. He is a dire man. His soul dissolves by the day; I could feel it then, and now, so can you. Be careful. Trust your instincts.
I will write again shortly. All my love,
Victorian England, 1875
When her mother leaves Blackened Cottage, Lisbeth grows increasingly terrified for herself and her little brother Eddie. Desperate, she befriends a disfigured girl, but when her father finds out he imprisons her in the cottage and invites his lecherous friend to court her.
Lisbeth discovers that her father has sent Eddie away and escapes to find him. Pursued by the two men, she embarks on a dangerous journey and captures the eye of a psychopath who seeks to possess her body, mind and soul.
As Lisbeth flees, she is shocked to discover how little she remembers about her life, and unprepared for the terrifying truths she must face.
Abby Richards is an English Teacher and lives in Bedfordshire. She started writing novels in 2002 and in October 2012 took a sabbatical to take a full-time course leading to an MA in Creative Writing at Nottingham Trent University.
You can find out more about Abby on her blog.