Thursday, 24 April 2014

A to Z Challenge 2014 - Ghosts - U is For Urgency, Peter Underwood, Uley

A to Z Challenge 2014 - Ghosts
This post is
suitable for all
So, into the 20's already with the A to Z and today is U. I'm discussing getting a sense of urgency into a piece, plus I'm talking about one of my favourite paranormal investigators and author, Peter Underwood, plus Uley is my haunted location. Also, Part 21 of The Burning Web - how will Tris prove Margaret's existence to Xander?



U is for Urgency
So, we've wound up the tension in our writing, we're nearing the climax of the story, and there's something else that often goes with that tension: a sense of urgency. When people get excited, the pace of what they are doing increases, they become more insistent and push faster and further. This goes for ghost stories as well, where, as the story reaches its xenith the supernatural occurrences may become more frequent, more dramatic, and also the reactions of the characters can become more extreme.

The build of pace is very clear in Stephen King's Rose Red (which I've mentioned before). The tension in this piece is actually quite high throughout, since the sinister reputation of the house and the fact that those involved all accept the supernatural means there is already that taut atmosphere between them. Thus King uses the pace of the story to increase the urgency around the main party of paranormal investigators and hooks his watcher. The ghostly activity increases both in drama and impact upon the investigators until the big revelation that they are trapped in the house, which then sky-rockets the urgency in the situation until the final confrontation between ghosts and mortals. King is a master manipulator of atmosphere and pace.
by Sophie Duncan


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The sun was up, but still low in the sky, leaving Tris peering at his phone screen in the grey light. His laptop was on its side next to his crossed legs, battery dead and now useless and gathering dew from the long grass by the pond. Instead, he was tapping at his phone, a smaller interface and less easy to handle, since his fingers were stiff and he couldn't really feel them. Yet, Tris was determined to find evidence of Margaret and Kenneth. He was now sure of what he was seeing and he had to show Xander. His husband had to believe in the ghosts. Xander had to know the pain of the house that Margaret had revealed to Tris.

He'd been following link after link all night, trying to find more than mere names on deeds and he knew he was close, but his fingers weren't working properly and he was shaking so much he could barely see the small screen. Still, he kept on digging and, at last, with one final click, he hit pay dirt. It was a scan of a newspaper on a dead end amateur website about poisoners with hardly any labels and no explanatory text and what drew Tris in was the faded and distorted drawing. Undoubtedly, the image looking back out at him was Margaret Berwick and, hastily, he zoomed in and began to scan the decaying text.

He was so engrossed in the article that he did not know he had company until a hand came heavily down on his shoulder. He jumped and almost dropped his phone from his numb hands, so he was glaring at the interruption when he turned his head and squinted up. He knew it was Xander, there was no-one else around, not who could touch him, anyway, and he quickly turned back to his phone.
"Tris, what the hell are you doing out here?" Xander demanded, fingers digging into Tris' shoulder. "You're freezing."

"Only place I could get a signal," Tris replied, shrugging off the touch and carrying on reading.

"For what, it's barely light? How long have you been out here?"

Tris didn't reply, the clipping was proving far too interesting.

"Come inside," Xander took firmer hold of him this time and tried to urge him to his feet.

"No!" Tris pulled away violently. "You don't understand."

"I understand, Tris," Xander began, condescension heavy in his tone, which made Tris angry.

"No you don't!" he snarled back, working his way to his knees and away from Xander. "You haven't seen what I've seen. I saw her die!"

"Wha-?" Xander began, but Tris wasn't interested in the 'doctor knows best' attitude anymore, he was angry at it.

"She showed me," he carried on, waving the phone at Xander. "And it's all here," he looked back at it and began to read, "'Dr and Mrs Kenneth Berwick were found dead last night by their housekeeper. Fifteen years his junior, Mrs Berwick, nee Margaret Merigale, it is assumed, was poisoned by her husband, who then took the same vile concoction himself. There was evidence that Mrs Berwick was fleeing from her husband when she died, but she only reached the foot of the stairwell in the main hall.' You see, I saw it all, just like they say. He chased her into the hall," Tris babbled at his husband, gasping in a breath between words.

"No Tris, you're having an episode," Xander said, words clipped. "You need to come inside and calm down."

Tris growled when Xander tried to approach him again, grabbed his stick and struggled to his feet. He would not be bullied into forgetting what he had seen.

"He killed her, Xan," he spoke slowly and firmly, "and she's still here."

His husband reached out a hand, palm open, to him, but Tris backed off and turned away, staggering sideways and sticking the support in the damp ground as his leg threatened not to hold him.

He came to a halt unwillingly, wanting to run, but unable to do so, and he closed his eyes and swore. He opened them again quickly, though, knowing the threat of being locked down was behind him. However, Xander dropped from his attention when Tris found himself looking at the pond. Standing where the dirty statue should have been, Abdi, his personal demon, glowered back at him. His anger spiked: it wasn't fair, not the shooting, not the guilt, not the disaster his life was becoming and he had to let it out at someone.

"What do you want?!" he demanded, half afraid, half angry at the accusation in front of him.

There was no more running away, denying what he was seeing, and he struggled up to the edge of the pond, not caring what Xander thought anymore.

"Leave me alone," he begged this time, but there was no response, just that wide, defiant stare.

Tris was almost in the pond when he felt it, the wash of cold air falling over him and he swayed wildly. Yet, he held himself upright and the world in front of him changed. The scene grew lighter, a bright midday sun, and the pond in front of him was no longer choked with weeds. There was a man standing a little way round the pond to his right, just looking at the cherubic statue as it spewed an arc of water over lily pads, and smoking a cigarette. He was wearing a shirt and tie and a sleeveless cardigan over corduroy slacks and his hair was slicked back away from his face. A dread creeping up his spine, Tris began to suspect this man's identity: Michael Kernod's father.

With that knowledge, Tris knew what was coming and he did not want to see another death. Yet, he was paralysed, the chill holding him, and he could only watch as the man smoked his last cigarette.

"William, I told you not to smoke those filthy things here!" a harpie shriek came from behind them both and Tris found himself turning in time with William Kernod.

He therefore witnessed a middle-aged woman running down the shallow slope to the pond, brandishing a gnarled old branch above her head. Her face was a picture of absolute rage, Tris could see nothing else there, and she swiped viciously at William with her makeshift weapon. The man just grunted as the rough club hit him across the temple and he was spun around by the force of the hit. Tris' heart entered his throat as his saw William pitch forward into the pond. He landed face first and his wife, for Tris knew that was who she was, stalked to the edge of the water and just watched the air bubbles escaping either side of his unconscious head.

Another murder would have been a bad enough sight, but Tris' nightmare was not over, because a pair of legs were visible at William's head. Tris looked up and Abdi was in his vision. Yet, the boy was not looking at him, he was staring at the murderess and the intensity of that attention gave Tris the ability to turn again. At first, he was only looking at the steel victory in Mrs Kernod, but then he felt her, a familiar touch on his psyche. As the killer threw her weapon into the pond, Margaret formed out of the air immediately behind her, hand on the woman's shoulder. She was dressed no differently to when Tris had last seen her, her pale face was just as he remembered, only now, the look on her profile froze every ounce of compassion for her that he possessed.

Margaret's eyes were wide, glistening with triumph and her smile made Tris feel sick. There was nothing sweet, or innocent about that look and, when Mrs Kernod giggled wildly, Tris took a step back from both women. He gasped in a disbelieving breath as the living woman turned to the phantom in her own time and grinned. Margaret looked back at her with something Tris could only liken to pride.

Disgust held Tris now, and he could only watch, sickness rising up his throat, but that was nothing to the horror that gripped him when Margaret turned and looked directly at him. He took another step away from her, but her smile warped suddenly into a snarl and before he could do more than cringe, Margaret flew at him.

The chill blanket around him convulsed and Tris tensed, his senses swamping with blackness. He thought he was going to fall, but the weakness evaporated in another heartbeat, chased away by a rage that reached right to his own frustrations and whipped them outwards in an unstoppable tide. Xander chose that moment to reach for him again, and, as Tris felt the urgent hand on his arm, all the pain and fury ripped out of him. He screamed both his own and Margaret's wrath and he swung the ready weapon in his hand.

The world faded back into the present and Tris watched, disconnected from his own action, as the stick smacked Xander across the face and head. They spun round with the momentum and Xander flailed past him, mirroring the path of William Kernod. Margaret's rage flared in another triumph as Xander hurtled into the water, but, unlike Mrs Kernod, Tris' anger did not follow it. Abdi was gone, but the horror of what was happening cut through Margaret's almost overwhelming fury and he broke away. Dropping his own club, Tris staggered towards the pond and leapt in. His bare feet sunk into soft mud and muck and weeds caught around his chest, but the pond revealed itself to be shallow, only four feet or so deep.

However, Xander had landed face down and, just like William, the swipe had left him unconscious. Tris' stomach did somersaults at what he had done and, desperately, he fought his way through the tangle of plant life towards his husband.

"Xan!" he called urgently, but there was no response.

The weed wrapped itself around him, tying him to the water with tough, sinuous fibres, and Tris struggled, his feet slipping in the slime at the bottom. He wasn't strong enough and he snarled at his own weakness: he would not be stopped. Balling up all his strength, Tris leant forward and put his whole body weight behind his movements. The plants felt like they were ripping around him, but, inch by inch, Tris forced his way forward. His relief was so great when his fingers touched Xander's leg that he sobbed the emotion out.

Tris wrapped his digits in the trouser leg he found and hauled Xander towards him. As soon as he could, he grabbed Xander's torso and fell backwards to pull his husband over onto his back. He was half swimming then, half struggling to get his feet back under him, but at least Xander's face was clear of the water and he choked out a breath. As Tris was trying to stand and lift Xander up further, his husband's dark eyes fluttered open. Xander struggled then, hitting out and coughing and, to Tris' dismay, trying to get away.

"No, no," he tried to calm his husband, but a fist contacted with his chest, knocking all the air out of him and, horrified, Tris let go, falling away again.

His back hit stone and Tris collapsed uselessly against the statue's base. Xander was never going to forgive him, there had been fear in that fight, and he sagged into the water, not wanting to look at the accusation from the man he loved.

"Oh my god!"

Tris looked up in shock as the exclamation came from his husband's mouth. Xander was half standing in the water, a look of utter terror on his face and one glance at the bank told Tris why: Margaret was standing there, eyes blazing, face demonic in its hatred of his husband.

"Go away!" he bellowed, defensive anger rising out of him as he realised what this creature wanted. "You can't have him!"

He pushed himself up and away from the statue, wading madly through the water until he was in front of Xander.

"I won't kill for you!" he screamed. "Get out of here!"

Margaret bared her teeth at him, the innocent young woman nonexistent, and the monster in front of him sent waves of fear through Tris. Yet, he would not give in. He snarled back, his words all used up, but his new, defiant fury only just beginning. The cold wall ran over him, making him shake, but his skin was tingling with the power of it, and he put it all behind his intent. It was Margaret's turn to scream and her rage washed through Tris as she slowly faded from sight.

As soon as the last vestiges of the maddened ghost were gone, all strength drained out of Tris and he fell backwards. He had never been so grateful when an arm caught him, even if both he and Xander then staggered backwards through the water together. They came to a crumpled, panting halt propped up against the statue's pillar and when Tris looked into his husband's eyes, he almost cried, because he saw belief. He wanted to grab Xander properly into a hug, but he could barely move he was so tired, so he just looked.

Xander gazed back in some kind of shock, gasping air and coughing. Slowly Tris realised there was blood oozing over his husband's scalp and down his temple. Xander winced when he reached up to check the source of the wound and wobbled alarmingly.

"We get out of this pond and I'm calling an ambulance," Tris took charge, because the gash his stick had made looked deep.

Xander just nodded mutely, and, gathering all the strength he had left, Tris started their journey to the bank.

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Author Info: Peter Underwood
Peter Underwood is the only author I'm featuring in my A to Z, who is a non-fiction author. He is a leading light in the world of paranormal investigation, being Life President of the Ghost Club Society and a member of the Society for Psychical Research among other prestigious investigative societies, and he has written numerous books on the ghosts and hauntings of Great Britain.

Peter Underwood was one of the first authors whose books I read on ghosts and hauntings and, ever since, I have lapped them up. In his gazetteers of different hauntings, he has a short, episodic style, dealing with locations in a straightforward, easy to read manner. He recounts the legends of a place and discusses the nature of the haunting. His books are great for reading in snippets, or, if you're visiting an area, for giving you the stepping off point to do your own ghost investigations :). Just a few of his books that I can recommend are: Ghosts of Kent, This Haunted Isle, and if you're interested in finding ghosts, Ghosts and How To See Them. Even if you don't fancy ghost hunting, all his books are a fascinating read :).

British Hauntings: Owlpen Manor, Uley
Owlpen Manor (isn't that a great name?), near Uley, in Gloucestershire, is a grade I listed Tudor manor house. Apart from being a truly beautiful building, it is also haunted. It was owned by an American woman during WWII, and she took in a group of evacuees, children from 'the smoke'. Greeting them at breakfast the day after they'd arrived, she was surprised to be asked why she wasn't wearing the pretty clothes she had had on the night before. She had not, in fact, met the children the night before, and, on further questioning, it became clear that the woman they had seen had been wearing clothes from hundreds of years before, in fact, that woman, was Margaret of Anjou, mother to Prince Edward. She had stayed at the manor before the Battle of Tewkesbury in 1471, after which she had been imprisoned and her son killed.

I'd love to hear your own spooky stories, add them to the blog comments. :)

A few of us discovered that we all had supernatural themes for the AtoZ so we got together and did a mini list. If you also have a supernatural theme (ghosts, monsters, witches, spells etc), please feel free to add yourself to the list.

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34 comments:

  1. I have never read any books about ghosts that weren't fictional. I'm curious now. Might like them as much as I like books about serial killers (which is a lot.)

    ~Patricia Lynne~
    Story Dam
    Patricia Lynne, YA Author

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    1. Peter Underwood has a way of presenting facts that is really interesting, and yeah, if you like those kinds of serial killer collection books (I have quite a lot of those as well, maybe that's the subject for next year's A to Z) you should like the style of the reference ghost books.

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  2. That manor is gorgeous. Pretty setting too. Once the kids heard about the ghost I bet they didn't sleep as well!

    Shelley Munro A-Z

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    1. I expect the ghost was involved in a lot of dares after they found out she existed ;P

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  3. urgency and tension and secrets, oh my! all wonderful parts of a great read! i'm working on a short murder mystery and trying to incorporate all three of these things - secrets are great for the other two things!
    can't believe we're almost thru the alphabet!

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    1. I know, we're so far through, it's U already! I am looking forward to Z, though, because, although it's been a fun month, I'm a bit knackered ;P

      Good luck with your murder mystery - I'm a big fan of Agatha Christie, she could present all the facts all the way through and still leave me guessing who dun it by the end :)

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  4. Reading non-fiction accounts of ghost investigation sounds interesting, and quite possible very creepy, depending what he writes about. :) And Owlpen Manor is a very cool name.

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    1. I love reading about local spooks when I go on holiday. Wherever I go in the UK (and sometimes in other countries), I always head into the local tourist information office, or touristy book shops and look for the locally written books of folk lore and ghosts, there's nearly always one, even the big book stores usually have a local section with a ghost book or two in it :)

      I have managed to creep myself out reading about ghosts in old farmhouses while staying in a holiday cottage of similar setting though o.O

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  5. You are right, Owlpen is a really great name :)

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  6. Hi, interesting posts! Have you ever read any of Edgar Allen Poe's fiction? He was one of the original writers of suspense. "The Fall of the House of Usher", The Telltale Heart, The Cask of Amontillado, are all excellent suspense stories. Just hopping around visiting as many other bloggers as possible. Best wishes to you. If you would like a change of pace, come visit me at Blabbin' Grammy http://rubyndub.blogspot.com (Number in the 740's on the blog challenge list.

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    1. Hi there - yes, I have read Poe - he was my author under P because I agree with you, he has a way with the macabre and suspense.

      Thanks for popping by.

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  7. Lots of factors work into building an excellent ghost story, but they all combine to create that sense of urgency that drives up to finding out more and more. Great post today. Rose Red is an excellent explanation piece.

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    1. Rose red has so many great examples of the horror genre techniques in it :)

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  8. I haven't read that King novel, but I'll keep a look out for it now. What a glorious place Owlpen Manor is! I don't think there's anything so magical as British manor houses and palaces. Even their grounds are magnificent. Thanks for the post!

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    1. Rose Red isn't actually a novel, King wrote the screenplay directly - I would like to see how it would translate into a novel, though.

      We do have everything from stone-build castles through Tudor beamed houses to Gothic Victorian splendour to choose from in Britain and they can be magnificent. I do know of a few monstrosities built by people who had too much money and not enough taste though! ;P

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  9. Shit! Xander might be toast when this whole thing is over. Jeez, I hope not.

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    1. At least there'll be no more fighting over whether Margaret is real, or not.

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  10. Love that Owlpen Manor story! (The name sounds like something out of Harry Potter.)

    Making a note of Peter Underwood's books - they sound fascinating.

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    1. It does sound like a Harry Potter reference :)

      Underwood's books are worth a read :)

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  11. I never read Stephen King's Rose Red, but I have the movie and still like watching it from time to time. Maybe you know this, but Rose Red was loosely based on the Winchester House. I've always wanted to do research about it. :)

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    1. Yes, I had heard about the Winchester House before I saw Rose Red - I would love to visit there :) I don't think there is a book version of Rose Red (if there is someone needs to point me at it) - I think it was just a screen play, wasn't it?

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  12. Owlpen Manor is a great name, and what a creepy story to go with it!

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    1. It did sound like the ghost wanted to make the kids feel at home, though. :)

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  13. I am going to have to check out Peter Underwood!

    Thanks for the name.

    --
    Timothy S. Brannan
    The Other Side, April Blog Challenge: The A to Z of Witches

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  14. I've read a book about ghosts and Peter Underwood was one of the main features in it. The last story was so creepy. The poor woman must have felt chills when the children had questions. I really thought this story with Tris was exciting.

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    1. He's a big name in the British Paranormal Investigation scene - he must be in his late 80's or 90's by now.

      I wonder if the house owner already knew about the ghost! ;P

      I'm glad you're finding Tris' story engaging :D

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  15. I want to go to Owlpen Manor soooo badly!

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  16. I really admire you for the way you have designed your posts for the A to Z. There must have been so much work involved. As I write this, I wonder if I told you this already, but I guess that would be OK. I have never heard of Underwood, but I imagine he must have a very interesting life. And the manor house is gorgeous.

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    1. Thank you :) I wanted to get all the aspects of my minor obsession with ghosts and writing into each post, which meant I did make quite a bit of work for myself, but it's been a lot of fun.

      When I read his books, it is clear that Underwood knows so many people and has spent his life in the pursuit of something that fascinates him. If I can say that about my life at his age, then I think I'll be a happy person :)

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  17. Well I didn't see that coming! I do love surprises. :)
    Owlpen Manor is truly a magnificent building, and what a caring ghost she was to welcome the children.

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    1. :D

      That's what I thought about the ghost too :)

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Thanks for stopping by - I'd love to hear from you. :)