A Winter Storm #WeeklyWritingChallenge

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Harper went to draw the curtains at the living room’s floor to ceiling windows of her three bedroom top floor London apartment. She stopped and looked out. Normally she could see much of London’s high end business streets, fancy apartment blocks and Big Ben on the skyline.

Tonight though, a snowstorm had hit the city and it was really coming down now. The large, heavy white flakes were sticking to everything, even things that were normally warm. The wind was gale force, gusting at 30-40 miles, creating a white blindness against the darkness and the noise it was making was louder then the London traffic jams far below.

Clutching the curtain, Harper said aloud, ‘I’ve only seen snow like this on TV in those snowed-in romantic movies. Well, it doesn’t look ‘lovely’ to me.’

She closed the curtain on the scene and as she did so she heard Big Ben strike the hour. Frowning, Harper opened the curtains and tried to look out but she could barely see anything. She listened hard but heard nothing then the howling wind.

I thought they were still repairing things, the bell and clock haven’t worked in months. How can Ben chime then? Maybe, I miss heard it? Harper thought.

Closing the curtains finally, she turned away and back to the tidy open living room. The fake fire was going in the wall, the warmth coming off it making everything cosy. The other walls were decorated with framed photos of family and friends, Harper and her husband, Hugo, at there wedding five years ago, on their honeymoon, other holidays and celebrations. The larger frames were decorate with sprigs or small garlands of real green ivy and red berries.

There was a medium size Christmas tree, shinning in the corner next to the fireplace. The red and gold colours of all the decorations and lights give a magical feeling. Other Christmas decorations hung about or were on display from shelves, adding to theme. On and around the glass coffee table were stack boxes of presents, rolls of colourful wrapping paper, bows, ribbon, labels, sticky table and scissors.

Harper went back to the red bean bag chair next to the coffee table, where she had been curled up in before. There was a fresh cup of herbal tea on the table and the TV which was turned down low showed Christmas music videos.

Sipping her tea, Harper looked at her list and decided what presents to wrap next. Not for the first time she wish Hugo was here. She looked up at the photos and his smiling face. He had gone to Germany a few days ago on a business trip and had been due back tonight but the snowstorm had grounded all the planes coming to London and Hugo had phoned hours ago to say he was spending the night in a hotel.

Harper turned the volume up on the TV as a classic Christmas song came on; I’m dreaming of a white Christmas. She hummed along as she started wrapping again. Soon she had drink her tea, sing along to more songs, found enjoyment in wrapping the presents again and Hugo had slipped from her mind.

It grew super late before Harper realised but she had finished the bow on the last present. Yawning, she put everything away and turned off the TV. Hugo had phoned to say goodnight two hours ago down a static line which was then cut off. Harper had held the phone in sadness for a few moments then decided nothing could be done and carried on with her task.

Big Ben chimed midnight.

Harper stopped, her fingers had been reaching to turn the fireplace off. She listened, counting the tolling bell sound. Reaching twelve, she turned the fire off then the Christmas tree lights and went to the window. Moving the curtain she looked out but the snowstorm was still swirling and she could barely see the lights of the neighbouring buildings.

‘Maybe, they have finished working on the clock tower?’ she said aloud.

Dropping the curtain, Harper went to bed and slept well. All that present wrapping had exhausted her.

The next day, Harper found that the snowstorm had almost brought London to a stop. All the roads were blocked by cars and buses not going anywhere as the roads were covered. Pavements were crowed by people trying to go to work or the shops but they didn’t seem to be getting anywhere either. The snow lay thick on roof tops and didn’t seem to be melting.

Harper phoned in work and told her secretary, who always seemed to be in the office no matter what, that she wasn’t going to even try and come in and would work from home. Then she added that if the snow started again, her secretary was to go home, no excuses! Then setting herself up in the study which was the third bedroom, Harper worked the day away.

In the afternoon, the snow started falling again. Light at first but then as the sky darkened heavier. Harper phoned and texted her husband a few times but got no response. She had no idea if he was coming home or not. Harper ate dinner late, setting the table for one and having a glass of red wine to calm herself. She watched the snow falling and the twinkling Christmas at the windows of other apartments.

Big Ben chimed seven o’clock.

Harper lowered her wine glass from her lips and picked up her phone. She did an internet search and found that her thought before had been right; the bell had been stopped from chiming expect for special events, whilst repairs were done to the tower. So, she shouldn’t be hearing it. What was that bell chime then? A local church bell?

Whatever, it doesn’t matter, Harper thought and she had some more wine.

Afterwards, she took the rest of the bottle and sat before the TV to watch some movies. No word came from Hugo and every hour, Harper heard a bell ring. It turned midnight again and sleepily, Harper went to bed.

Laying there, she couldn’t get the idea of Big Ben sounding out of her head though. There was no other sound like it and Harper had lived in and around London all her life, so she knew all the noises well enough. Perhaps, she thought, before sleep claimed her, someone put it on in the spirit of Christmas? 

Next morning, Harper found Hugo asleep on the sofa, still dressed from travelling and suitcase next to him.

‘Hugo?’ Harper called and touched his shoulder.

He stirred and woke up.

‘What time did you get in?’ she asked.

‘Couple of hours ago. Didn’t want to wake you, you looked so peaceful,’ Hugo replied, his voice rough with tiredness.

‘I’m up now, so why don’t you go to bed for bit?’

Hugo nodded and taking his suitcase went into their bedroom. Harper straightened the sofa then had breakfast. Afterwards, despite the food delivery three days ago, Harper decided to go to the shops. It wasn’t snowing, but there was frozen piles on the streets and it was freezing.

Setting out, Harper thought about walking to see Big Ben but it would be too long a walk.

What do you hope to prove anyway? That you’re not hearing things? 

Harper shook her head and walked to a local shops. She got everything to make Hugo his favourite – lamb chops and sticky toffee pudding for after. Then she brought the maps up on her phone and looked to see if there where any churches or chapels close by. They didn’t seem to be any.

Walking home, Harper told herself it was only a ringing church bell after all. Back home, she busied herself with tidying up, checking work emails and her phone. When Hugo got up, they had a late lunch and talked.

Harper decided to bring up the bell, ‘Last night I heard Big Ben ringing. Do you think they put it back on?’

‘I thought it was taking them years to do the work?’ Hugo said, ‘it’s Christmas though, so maybe they have?’

‘I want to go and see it,’ Harper said.

‘The bell? I didn’t think you could…The clock and tower are covered in scaffolding, so there’s nothing to see.’

‘It doesn’t matter,’ Harper muttered.

She collected the plates and went into the kitchen.

That night in bed, listening every hour, Harper heard the bell sound. She couldn’t sleep. Hugo felt too warm next to her and his breathing, plus snoring, too loud. Harper got up, thinking she would get a cup of herbal tea.

Standing by the window, sipping tea, Harper watched fine snow drifting down and the dim lights of the city.

Big Ben chimed three AM.

Maybe, it’s all in my head, Harper thought, I’m so use to hearing Ben that my mind is just filling in the sound? Unless…bells have ghosts. Is that even possible? Have I been hearing the ghost of Big Ben?  

Harper laughed, finished her tea and went back to bed.

The idea of Big Ben’s ghost didn’t want to leave her though. So, the next day, her and Hugo walked to the Houses of Parliament. Hugo had been right; scaffolding ran from floor to almost the top of the tower, hiding the clock who’s hands were stopped. There were a few notices around explaining to visitors what was happening.

‘It says here the work will be complete in twenty-twenty-one and Big Ben will only strike on special occasions, like New Year,’ Hugo read aloud.

‘So, it’s not Ben I’m hearing?’ Harper spoke.

‘Looks that way.’

Harper sighed and looked up – a long way up – at the clock face. Above a dark grey sky was threatening more snow and Harper thought she could feel water drops on her face.

‘Feel better now?’ Hugo asked.

‘I don’t know,’ Harper responded.

She touched her forehead but didn’t feel hot or unwell.

I feel….unsettled, Harper decided.

‘Pub lunch?’ Hugo asked.

Harper nodded and let him led her away.

She didn’t hear the bell chime again after that.

 

(Inspired by; https://secretkeeper.net/2018/12/03/weekly-writing-challenge-170/ with thanks).

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The Tolling Bell #WeeklyWritingChallenge

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Ivan didn’t want to go into the abbey bell tower, he had a bad feeling about it tonight. Looking up at the slowly tumbling down walls, the shadows seemed thicker then normal. Ivan tugged on the edge of his father’s red Captain of the guards cloak and tried to explain with hand gestures and tongue clicking that he was afraid and didn’t want to do the night’s signalling.

His father, who held a deep disappointment that his only son was a mute, ignored the young teenage and began climbing the steps that lead into the abbey. His heavy boot steps rang out on worn stones, breaking a doomed silence that had long settled here.

Ivan trailed afterwards, knowing that even if father would listen, there was no choice. Clutching the flicking metal lantern in one hand and a heavy wicker basket in the other, Ivan fixed his eyes on the floor and ignored everything else around him as dust clouds stirred. They reached the bell tower’s spiral staircase and started the long climb upwards.

Years ago, the abbey had been home to monks, who one winter had all gone on a pilgrimage and never returned without a clue to their whereabouts. The village that had been constructed around the abbey  died of the abandonment. Now, it was a tiny out post for a handful of the King’s guards, tasked with signalling incoming threats to the close by farming villages which served the King’s castle.

Ivan had never wanted to be in the King’s service. He had liked looking after the animals and the crops his mother had owned, which now belonged to his sisters’ families. His father though had decided to find Ivan a place within the guards and thus the boy had become the night time bell signal ringer.

‘Here we are,’ father’s voice declared as they reached the small room under the bell, ‘I’ll get you a fire going.’

Ivan nodded and placed the basket and lantern on a little wobbly table. He then lit two more lanterns which were placed on stone window sills across from one another. Now, everyone could see someone was up here. Ivan peered down and saw flickers of light below; guards on watch.

‘Have a goodnight,’ father said and turned away.

Ivan glanced at the fire which was starting to grow around two logs in the small fire place then watched his father leaving. He listened as the boot steps faded and the night settle once more. Ivan still felt uneasy, something tonight felt different but he didn’t know how to explain it. Perhaps, it was just the pressing hand of Winter? There had been no threats for months, so why would there be any now? Especially, with the harvest over.

Going to the long twist of rough rope in the centre of the room, Ivan checked it over and give it a few gentle tugs. He felt the bell swing above, making soft sounds. It had taken him ages to practise how to make the bell sound without getting hurt by the rope because it was heavy and the movement powerful. It was second nature now.

Collecting the lantern, Ivan slipped through a small door and climbed another spiral staircase into the actual bell tower. The chill of wind slapped his face and he realised how cold it was becoming. Wrapping his cloak tighter, he hurriedly checked the bell, making sure the rope was tight and nothing was in the way to stop the swinging movement. Then he headed back down again to wait out the night.

At the table, he went through the basket that the elderly cook, had put together for him. There was half a loaf of hard bread, a lump of cheese, two apples, salted dried deer strips, a small sweet bun and two bottles of weak beer. Ivan smiled, the women in the camp took pity on him, even though he didn’t like it, he enjoyed the benefits.

Ivan kept the fire going, careful to use only the wood he needed. He also made the food and beer last through the night. He kept himself awake by telling himself stories, thinking about the different lives he could have had and watching the dots of lights below moving as the guards walked the abbey’s edges.

There was a shouting from below and Ivan hurried to the nearest window. Far below was a gathering of lights and movement but he could hardly make anything out. Listening hard, he heard a horn blowing and he realised his gut feelings had been right. Scrambling over, he yanked the bell rope and let the clanking chime of metal on metal ring out repeatedly.

The noise of the bell meant he could hear anything else but it wasn’t Ivan’s job to figure out who or what was attack where, only that they were and people had to know. Ivan felt the bell rope going up and down in his hands, the slight sting of burns starting but he carried on ringing as fast and hard as he could. Panic seized him, the idea that he should be fleeing came and went. The bell rang out and out still for what seemed like forever.

Ivan collapsed. His hands bloodied, his body shaking, his ears deafened. He watched the rope moving by itself until it stopped, the bell notes fading. He felt the floor vibrating underneath him but he wasn’t sure of the cause. He curled up, letting sleep take him away.

He awoke in his own straw bed, rough wool blankets draped across him. Someone had bandaged his hands but they did not feel like his own, they were numb and crippled. Ivan rolled over and tried to recall what had happened. When nothing came to him, he got up and went to the window, a few black cloak guards and women walked by about their business.

Ivan wondered around the camp then out and around the abbey. There he spotted his father and most of the guards, they were inspecting small, green bodies on the ground and as Ivan got closer he saw they were goblins.

‘Ah, there you are boy!’ his father called, then patted Ivan on the back before spreading his arms out to indicate the scene before them, ‘this is thanks to you. The attack was stopped and the rest scared off.’

Ivan nodded and nudged a small bow in the grass. He touched his head, it hurt just as badly as his hands did and when he looked he saw red dots coming through the grey cloth strips. He wanted to have a drink and lay down again. There were things to do though and his father decided if he was up then he was well enough to help out.

They worked until it grew dark then returned to the run down house where they had stew and wine by the fire. Finally, Ivan crawled back into bed and dozed there, hoping his father wouldn’t awake him to send him back into the bell tower. He slept fitfully, thoughts filled with bells and goblins.

 

(Inspired by; https://secretkeeper.net/2018/11/12/weekly-writing-challenge-167/ with thanks).

 

 

 

Here We Stand (Part 2)

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I peered through the arched doorway and saw the stone spiral steps leading downwards but also upwards. I squeezed inside and found it was a tight fit between the staircase column and opposite wall. Going downwards, I felt the rough wall with my hand and listened to my hiking bag scrapping along behind me.

It took me a moment to realise the steps had ended. I shuffled on, hoping to find a light switch or to see another source. The air was cold, almost crypt like, but I could smell no rotting bodies, it was just the scent of dampness still. My hand flew into an empty gap and I stopped. There was a hole in the wall.

Deciding there was nothing else for it, I swung off my hiking bag and put it down. My shoulders and back burned whilst a cold air rushed under my t-shirt and danced on my sweaty skin. I rubbed my back and listened to the dripping of water somewhere close by. Fumbling with straps, zips and buckle clips, I opened a side pocket and pulled out a glow stick.

Dim green light filled my vision as I cracked and shook the stick about. I blinked, refocused and took in my surroundings. Large flagstones covered in dirt lined the floor and just above my head was the ceiling. The doorway next to me led into a bathroom. The dripping water was coming from a sink beside a toilet.

Grabbing my hiking bag, I walked sideward then let the straps go as I inspected the sink. It was hard to tell what colour it had been as rust had now taken over. I shone the glow stick close to the water and watched as a red coloured drop ran passed. I turned the tap. It was stuck fast, but after a few tugs, it come loose and iron stained water rushed forth.

The sound blasted around me, unlocking the silence that had been weighing against my ears. I stole some glances over my shoulder, but could see nothing forming out of the shadows that had claimed their space back. I turned and waited for the water to change colour. When nothing happened after a few second, I placed the glow stick down and saw a shard of mirror had been left against the sink.

Cupping my hands, I put them under the water then took a careful sip. It tasted like old soil in which veg had rotted, but it was strangely sweet. Shrugging I had some more then went back for a few more handfuls. The water filled my empty belly and left a tangy, metallic taste in my mouth.

Picking up the glow stick, I bent and tried to catch my reflection in the mirror shard. I could just see the growing beard on my face and my long ragged hair drooping on my too thin cheeks. Standing up, I patted my stomach through my damp baggy t-shirt and carried on.

There was nothing else down here. Or if there was it had long been sealed up.

Returning to the staircase, the full weight of my hiking bag on again pulling me down, I trudged upstairs. There were more steps going up, but finally I found myself in a decrepit bell tower. The wooden floorboards looked okay, but there was a trap door in the centre that had been under the bell. Looking up into the roof, I could not really tell where the bell had once been attached too. There was no doubt in my mind though that it had been taken away to be used somewhere else or melted down.

The tower was open on all three sides, so cold and now rain could come in. I went to the nearest opening and looked out. In the fast building evening light, I could see the tops of trees and houses. A fire was burning a few miles to my left. I could see the smoke rising and perhaps a flicker of orange. It was hard to tell if it was a beacon or some vandals.

The rain peppered my skin, making me feel more refreshed as I went to the next opening. This one looked over more trees and houses. Chimneys reached to the cloudy, gunmetal grey sky, their bricks darkened by the rain. Was that the railway station? Maybe not, but it looked big enough. My thoughts darted back to last night when I had slept fitfully in a storage room.

Stepping away, I went to the third opening. This one looked out on a small graveyard. The headstones stuck up through the tall grass as if demanding still to be seen. A few trees grew on the edge then spread to create woodland. Most of the trees had to be evergreen because all the others were slowly surrounding to autumn. I could see no further as evening settled in.

Not giving into dropping my hiking bag, I went back downstairs. Coming into the church’s altar again, I looked round and tried to decide where the best place to sleep was.

 

To Be Continued…