I thought it would be fun to share the first chapter of Grave Alice with you. I'd love to hear what you think. :)
I awoke to the sound of laughter, distant, disturbing, uncertain if it was real or a figment of my disquiet subconscious. So many sensations assaulted me all at once: pain, fear, confusion.
Where am I? What happened to me?
Muted hues of gold and shadow danced behind my eyelids, sunlight warming my right cheek. It was daytime, that was all I understood other than the pain. My head, my neck, my face; all were plagued by a throbbing, an unending ache. What confused me more was the lack of pain in my legs, back, and arms. Not only could I not feel any pain—I couldn’t feel anything at all.
Nor could I move; not a muscle, not a toe. Threads of panic wove tight knots within as I tried in vain to force my body to comply. Only my tongue, thick and swollen behind my teeth, and my eyes rolling in their sockets, appeared under my control. Everything else was as though dead, leaving me to deliberate the perverse notion of whether the rest of me was intact at all.
I took inventory of myself, recalling the essentials as to ensure I was not simply in the midst of a terrible dream from which I had not yet awakened.
I am Alice Winters of Chicago, Illinois, born September 12, 1870. My parents are George and Madeleine Winters. I just turned eighteen…
All of this information came easily to me, lucidly. I was most certainly awake. This was not a dream at all.
I sensed someone walk into the room, their footsteps light upon the floor. A woman, I thought. There was something about the way she walked. Delicately. As not to disrupt.
I willed my eyes to open, compelling them. Only one obeyed, my right, and minimally at that. Through the narrow slit, I could vaguely discern the stark-white blanket covering my body, my listless form outlined beneath, my breasts, legs, and feet resembling a bumpy landscape covered in snow. Though blurred and tinted slightly red, the world appeared as though underwater. Every so often, movement swam by, a figure floating amongst the waves of incomprehension.
Dry and stinging, it took several attempts for my right eyelid to remain open long enough to absorb anything appreciable about my surroundings. I took stock from right to left, then back again. The room itself was completely unfamiliar. On my right stood a stocky buffet made of dark wood, its top littered with metal racks holding clear vials filled with contents of varying shades: the darkest red, a bright green, and a silver substance so thick it looked to be liquid metal.
An open window ushered in the sound of chattering birds and squirrels as a gentle wind disturbed the long white drapes hanging loosely on either side. Indistinct perfumes wafted in, tickling my nose; a blend of grass, pine, and flowers lingered on the breeze like ghosts. I inhaled them, gathered them into my lungs as though I might never again breathe their essence, as though it was the last taste of summer I might savour upon my tongue. It reminded me of my youth, of times as a small child running through overgrown meadows, cheeks pinched pink by a warm, mid-afternoon sun, my long auburn hair trailing behind me like fire.
Reluctantly, I pulled my attention to my immediate surroundings. I needed to figure out where I was and what had happened to me. My gaze slid from left to right, then back again, taking in as much as I could before I was forced to rest my eye due to a sharp, stabbing pain originating behind the socket. When the pain subsided, I tried again. This time, I saw so much more. In the far left corner, sitting stock-still as though patiently awaiting its next passenger, sat an aged, wooden rocking chair with a patchwork quilt draped over the back. Behind it, ivory paper lined the walls, chocolate-colored crown molding framing the room like a picture. There were tiny, blue emblems spaced precisely throughout the wallpaper, but my eyesight was still too poor to properly distinguish them. A time-worn sepia portrait of a lovely woman in a stylish, Victorian dress decorated the far wall, a coquettish smile adorning her dainty mouth while a yawning lace parasol rested on her shoulder. The space resembled a bedroom, and if not for the odd assortment of vials upon the buffet and the tall pole holding a bag of fluid at my bedside, I might have thought myself to be inside a comely hotel suite.
Utilizing my limited senses, I concentrated on my hearing, closing my eye as to focus on anomalous sounds within and outside the room. Wheels rolled on wooden floors whilst footsteps sounded on stairs amid the hum of quiet conversation. I held my breath, listening, eavesdropping on the world on the other side of the door. It was busy, but oddly subdued.
The woman stood before the bureau, unaware of my gaze as she cleaned and tinkered with the area. Atop her head, nestled neatly amid an upswept chignon of chestnut brown hair, was a nurse’s cap. Reality set in, akin to the aftermath of a furious inferno, ash drifting as burnt feathers, landing like snow upon scorched soil.
This is a hospital.
It was then that I noticed yet another odour, one I hadn’t sensed previous. Perhaps the feral aromas of nature had distracted me, yet upon reflection, I suspect that something deep inside me had tried to protect me from it. While the room smelled clean, disinfected even, it was marked with something else, a peculiar scent that loitered beneath the sanitation; something tangy, coppery.
Like a dark instinct, I knew it was mine. I was broken, my body a stranger I was unsure I wanted to acquaint myself with. The lithe, limber young form I’d known for so many years was gone, virtually indistinguishable, and I a wanderer lost inside its ravaged realm.
A storm of emotions bombarded me then, so many I could not even separate them by name. Fear does not adequately brand the agonizing burn that exploded inside, the volcanic eruption of terror. I fought against the panic and utter shock that attempted to rip itself from within; freeing itself as would a ravenous, caged beast. My heartbeat thudded furiously in my ears. Hot, angry blood pulsed through my veins, surging, writhing, struggling to calm the tempest building inside. I wanted to strike out, hit something, punch someone until they felt as I did. Or just to feel. To feel sensation, even pain, where only deadness now resided. I wanted to scream, cry, be consoled. I wanted to stand up and run out of the room. But there was nothing. Incompliance. I was a prisoner of myself, tied up, held captive by invisible irons.
What had happened to me? When I searched my memories, trying to summon the last vision before this moment, nothing would emerge. Fleeting emotions, terrifying and intense, arrived in their place. I willed myself to feel them, perhaps then the rest would follow.
Not everything, just flashes, glimpses, terrifying images played before my mind’s eye. Echoes of screams, shattering glass, the sense of tumbling and rolling over and over—the sky, the ground, the sky—eventually converging into one.
Smoke. Blood. Blackness.
I winced, not realizing the pain it would induce, my entire face felt on fire with the slightest movement. A scream rose into my throat, pulled from the depths of my soul, but dissipated into a wet, pathetic gurgle as it attempted to move beyond my lips.
The nurse spun about, her hand over her mouth. “Oh! Miss Winters! You’re awake!” She moved to my side, her face becoming clearer. She was younger than I had assumed, not much older than myself. Nineteen? Twenty, perhaps?
For a moment I had a surge of regret, a longing for a future I somehow realized I would not likely see. I felt Death stalking me, sensing the long reach of his morbid desire to steal me away from this world. While I didn’t know what had happened to me, something deep and dark inside of me told me unequivocally that my nightmare had only just begun.