Monday, 2 March 2009

SHORT STORY: The girl in the barn

...This remains a WIP... it’s a reworked version of a story I’ve posted previously... I continue to tinker with it (lol)...!

I blow a bubble of cloudy O on the window. Follow it with another, and another. Then, with my stubby, half-chewed finger, I trail my initials through the mist formed by my mouth. The door slams. Mother enters the car. ‘Indigo,’ she clucks, ‘why aren’t you wearing your seatbelt?’ she says, casting a nervous glance in the front mirror. I struggle with the strap. Tug – tug – tug. At last, it extends. I press the buckle in, and it lodges with a click. Mum gives me a fleeting look before revving up the car. The engine sputters in the icy cold. Reluctantly, it springs to life. We are on our way to see Aunt Mavis and Uncle Jock.

There is a purpose to our visit today but I can’t remember what it is. We have visited their home many times before, often during the holidays. Their cottage sits nestled like an ostrich egg on a large farm in the Cotswolds. I am looking forward to exploring the stretch of land that surrounds. It is a grand dwelling and rumours a great deal of wealth. Aunt Mavis and Uncle Jock don’t have any children. Too busy making their millions, my mother often TUTS. Sometimes I imagine I am adopted by them. The things I would do with all that money (I’m sure I’d have a huge allowance). I’d have my room painted a carroty orange with lots of polka-dot cushions. I’d have a large beanbag positioned by the window where I’d sit for endless hours reading. I’d learn how to play the guitar and with all that money maybe I’d even own one. And I just know that I’d travel to the ends of the earth. In Geography we learnt about a place called Papua New Guinea and I want to go and see the pygmies of that land. I’d like to taste the snake soups of Malaysia and ride the elephants in Sri Lanka. Unconsciously, I doodle on the steamed window: India – Japan – Russia – Kenya... If only I were adopted by Aunt Mavis and Uncle Jock.

When we arrive, Aunt Mavis and Uncle Jock meet us at the door. Aunt Mavis is looking immaculate, perfectly coiffed like Nicole Kidman in that perfume commercial. Although well presented, Uncle Jock – short and stout – looks awkward standing beside my aunt. He is dressed in a mustard coloured jumper with a cigar dangling from his lips. Greetings and kisses are exchanged. Mother and Aunt Mavis head off to the kitchen while Uncle Jock mutters something about going for a walk. I decide I will explore the woodland around. ‘Don’t go too far,’ Mother says, disappearing down the hallway behind my aunt. I watch until they are gone before making my way back out into the crisp afternoon.

I embark on a new route: winding my way round behind the stables and vanish behind a veil of woody area. The trees look solemn as I stroll between them. Their bare barks are bleak and barren. With each breath I exhale, a conical cloud rises as it hits the freezing atmosphere. Even underfoot, the ground is glazed with ice. There is no plan in my mind as to where I am going. I simply walk – ambling along a sodden path.

It takes me by surprise when I stumble on a disused barn at the far side of a clearing. Non-descript, it resembles a shack. Even at this distance, I can tell that large chunks of the flat timber are rotten through – dead wood. My size-fives break a twig, surprising a black bird. It swoops off a branch and flies away. I watch until it becomes a black prick against the November sky. Averting my eyes back to level ground, I walk around the rectangular structure. I am quiet. A strange feeling overcomes me and I sense that I am intruding. On what, I do not know. That is, until I hear a sound.

It is a whining sound. Like the whimpering noise cats make when they are sick, or suffering. I stop. Listen hard. Perhaps, I have imagined it. But: it comes again. I lean against the wooden wall, as if seeking some sort of camouflage. I wonder if I should make my escape. No: my curiosity gets the better of me. I am now at the rear end of the barn, and I move closer to the wide window, and crouch low. I take a deep breath, trembling slightly: a mixture of cold, excitement, and fear. I count to ten before edging my body upwards. My eyes hover halfway and peep through the dust streaked panes. I blink, widen my eyes, and press my face against the window – flattening my nose. I see nothing, only the outline shadow of a pile of hay and a scattering of disused farming equipment. As I extend myself fully a wave of disappointment drifts through me. There is no mystery here. In that moment of contemplation, in the stillness that envelops, I hear a strained, soft moan. Following the direction of the breathy whimper, I move past the window and notice a loose panel – no longer overlapping – revealing a slit-hole.

I see two figures. First, I see the fresh, freckled face of a girl. Not much older than me. Fifteen? Sixteen? I cannot see her eyes, but her clenched fists tell me she is frightened. Her red curls are sprawled in a tangle on a bed of hay. She lies still, pinned down by a fleshy mass. His back – a blanket of grey wiry hairs – faces me. I recognise the thinning patch on his head. He is still wearing the mustard jumper he greeted me and my mother with. My chest tightens. I cannot think what to do. Transfixed: I watch the rhythm of his bulge move back and forth. With each thrust a moan escapes; a cry of pleasure and power. I will the girl to kick herself free and run. She doesn’t. She remains as silent as I am.

By Catherine Mark-Beasant


Cynthia said...

Incredible, Cath, you have such a mastery of observation, adding in the details that put the me, and
the other readers right there
inside the narrator's head and
in this case seeing through her
eyes, this terrible scene she
is witnessing.

kenflett said...

a rich story, a wonder with words, you are.

Michelle said...

That was unexpected!!

You certainly have the gift of pulling the reader in in.

Lilly Jones said...

Hi Cath,

Well done. This was lovely. Each new piece you write has its own flair.

- Lil

John said...

The understated final line is heartbreaking.


I like the subtle way you built up the tension, and the care you have taken with your words,

shiting the flow and style between paragraphs.

John said...

Whoops - that was meant to read "shifting"

(* ahem*)

Khaled KEM said...

Very well written Catherine.

It shows how a talented writer you are? Making the decision exploring the land surrounding the house...and making a wild discovery.

I also see how you are describing the little details here and there.

Anonymous said...

shit girl wonderful change of tact.... it's like reading song of songs.... intoxicating! and that last line.... oh my!

Caroline Kent said...

great work!

CathM said...

@Cynthia: Yes, a part of what I try to capture in many of my short stories is the ‘ugly’ in our world and the fact that sometimes we are powerless to change our circumstance or the events that happen to us. Thanks for commenting!

@Ken: ‘a wonder with words, you are’ – that made my heart sing. Thanks for visiting again!

@Michelle: I do like exploring the ‘unexpected’ in terms of craft. I’m glad you enjoyed the story. Thank you for your kind words!

@Lilly J: Thank you, sis!

@John: Such generous thoughts – thank you!

@Khaled: Sometimes hard to make those ‘detail’ decisions... but I'm glad you thought the piece worked well!

@Paul: You have a way with words (chuckle)... thank you!

@Caroline K: Lovely to have you stop by, read the story, and leave a comment... thanks!

lissa said...

it's sad and a bit disturbing, especially since it's set during modern times, at least by the mention of cars and seatbelts, I do like the first person perspective, though I do wonder about the freckled face girl, how frighten she must be feeling, like you said, the ugliness of the world is all around us, you painted a strong picture of that


I am still amazed at your willingness and ability to share your work so publicly. How very generous you are.

Rogue said...

A wonderfully crafted peice here Cath.A sort of ying and yang; The beauty of the Cotswalds, and the beasts that prowl within. Excellent first person narrative. It's always a treat reading your work Cath.

rebecca said...


I was here before but could not finish reading this gem because I was at work. But now that I am home and have all the time in the world....what a gem indeed!

There are so many good descriptions here.... "Indigo," she clucks (clucks? I like that!); their cottage sits nestled like an ostrich egg (nice); rumours a great deal of wealth (love how you use the word "rumours" here); my mother often TUTS (perfect! says it all); until it becomes a black prick in the November sky (wow)...

Your command of prose is so strong. You have a unique way of telling stories and they are all very well and tightly written. And the ending was unexpected, which makes it even more perfect for me. Well done.

I love coming here....

Strawberry Girl said...

I am continually amazed at the way you are able to draw a reader in and suprise them. It is amazing how you firmly established the naievette and innocence of this girl and then the stark revelation of uglyness. Plus the hint of uglyness from the yellow suit... amazing writing. Thanks for sharing it.

CathM said...

@Lissa: Thank you, friend... I always look forward to your comments... especially as you are such a prolific storyteller :)

@Teri Rees Wang: OoooHhhh – Teri... I think my reasons are more selfish (lol)... in that as a writer I need an audience... and I do so value my blogging readership. Thank you for stopping by, reading and commenting....

@Rogue: Thank you – thank you – thank you... by the way, have you been to the Cotswolds? You talk like you know it... indeed it is a beautiful part of the country...

@Rebecca: I’m glad you love coming here... I do so enjoy reading your comments especially as I do very much admire your work as a writer :)

@Strawberry Girl: Your insight is spot on. Thank you for commenting. ps I do keep popping into your blog space expecting a short story to be posted up... I look forward to your next one...

Ponderer said...

Wow Cath, you do know how to keep a reader to the final word. Super piece! Cheryl