As I prepare to release the second book in the Sin-Eater Collective I’ve found myself looking back fondly on the creation of my debut novella which was released in March 2020.
I had absolutely no idea what I was doing, or where the journey would take me. What it did was reinforce in my mind the only career I want is that of a professional author. It might take a decade or two to get there. It may never happen, but I’ll never give up trying and I’ll always look back at Confession with a warm smile for the role it played in getting me moving.
After the success of last weeks free giveaway which saw the novella reach the Number 2 spot in the Top 100 Free Occult Horror Best Seller’s List on Amazon I thought I’d revisit a post I made here in February 2020. Back then I shared a snippet of the first chapter, but I decide tonight to share the whole first chapter.
Being so early in my career I can afford to take a gamble here and there. Confession was a complete gamble from start to finish. Anyway, here’s Chapter 1 of Confession for your reading pleasure.
According to the movies, the day of a funeral is supposed to be grey and overcast—a formal dress-code for a solemn occasion. On the day Janice Maria Carter was laid to her eternal rest, the sky was an uninterrupted expanse of sapphire blue. The Australian sun beat down relentlessly on the black-dressed mourners, and birds sang songs sounding utterly free and joyous.
Emily Lee sat demurely on the centre seat in the front row of mourners. Her ankles neatly crossed and tucked under the hard-plastic chair. Beside her, on her left, was Gabriella Rodriguez, her partner for the past two years and to her right, Gordon Wallace, the beak-nosed family lawyer with the clammy hands and high-pitched voice.
“Janice Carter was more than what was reported in the media,” Father Eugene said, his clipped upper-crust English accent unchanged despite more than thirty years in Australia. “She was a loving friend to so many of us, a caring and devoted Grandmother to Emily, and a philanthropist who spent her final years raising money for many worthwhile causes. She will be sadly missed.”
Emily dipped her head. Using a beautiful lace-edged handkerchief, she dabbed at her dry eyes hidden behind full lensed black sunglasses.
Dear God, get a move on, Father.
Gabriella reached across and squeezed Emily’s hand. Emily turned her head, giving Gabriella a well-practised smile, dripping in sad melancholy, and trapped Gabriella’s hand beneath her own. She patted Gabriella’s sun-warmed skin and turned her attention back to the Priest droning on about her Grandmother’s apparently infinite perfections.
“Shouldn’t you be paying attention, Emmie?”
Emily’s eyes flicked to the area behind her Grandmother’s coffin.
Standing on the other side of the grave was a pale image of her Grandmother. She looked as though she was standing underwater. Emily squinted at the figure as it wavered in and out of focus.
“Not a disappointing turnout, at all,” Janice said as she observed the hundreds of mourners huddled together in a symphony of grief. “Fake as press-on nails, of course. Most only came to see what, if anything, they’ll get from the estate. Oh look, Moira’s dragged herself out into the sunlight without exploding into a pile of ashes.”
Emily glanced over her shoulder. Sitting a couple of seats to her right was her Great-Aunt Moira. Dressed in a gaudy looking hot pink and white striped suit, she wore a black fascinator with a blood-red feather pinned to her tightly permed grey hair. Her pale skin was as lined as a map of the Sydney underground and around her neck hung pebble-sized crystals while her ears sagged beneath the weight of her large diamond solitaires.
Great-Aunt Moira looked up and caught Emily staring at her. With an imperious pointing of her finger, she indicated for Emily to return her attention forward and look at her Grandmother’s coffin.
“Mutton dressed as fairy-floss,” Janice said with a throaty laugh. “Have to give her credit for her honesty. She’s dressed like a clown. Still, he’s not faking it like someone we both know.”
Emily stared at the wavering image of her Grandmother. Her voice was unmistakable; throaty and deep. Her body drifted in and out of focus, as though shining through an old movie projector.
“If you’ll all lower your heads in prayer for our dearly departed Janice,” Father Eugene’s voice cut through into Emily’s consciousness.
Emily quickly looked down, studying her ankle-length black skirt. She fingered the cashmere material, and her shoulders relaxed a little as the funeral began to draw to an end.
A gust of wind, soft and coy, danced through the assembled mourners. It did little to cool everyone down from the harsh summer heat, causing barely a shiver as it caressed the mourner’s sweating skin. Emily glanced up as the coffin began to be lowered into the ground.
Janice rematerialised out of thin air. Emily shook her head, but her Grandmother was much clearer now. Substantial enough for Emily to wonder momentarily if the coffin was empty.
“Did you believe you’d get away with it, Emmie?” Janice said. “Burying me in the dirt as though I was another dead pet you didn’t bother to feed.”
The wind slid amongst the mourners, slowly gathering speed. Smirking as she opened her mouth, Janice’s pearl white teeth glinted dangerously in the morning sun. With a deep inhale, the breeze was sucked away from the mourners. Emily’s mouth dropped open as her Grandmother began to grow with the influx of air.
Emily pulled her elbows in tight to her sides, as tremors rattled through her body. Pushing her body into the back of the chair, she reached for Gabriella’s hand, grabbing it so tightly she heard Gabriella gasp in pain. Emily swallowed against the dryness in her throat as beads of sweat sprouted along her upper lip and hairline.
Inch by inch, Janice ballooned until she was tall enough to block the sun from Emily’s line of sight. Janice’s hooded blue eyes sparkled, and her rounded face grew more prominent. She blinked slowly, ponderously, never breaking her focused gaze from Emily’s face.
Janice’s voice echoed across the cemetery, startling birds into flight. As she screamed forth the accusation, the air she’d been inhaling tore from her body in a violent gale.
Emily turned her head away from the wind. The scene behind her was chaotic. People screamed, grabbing the chairs in front of them tightly to stop themselves from being blown across the grounds of the cemetery. Trees bent against the force of the unnatural wind while mourners panicked as those standing at the rear were blown off their feet.
Great Aunt Moira’s fascinator was torn from her head. It soared through the air, slamming into a nearby Willow tree with such violent force the feather embedded itself deep into its trunk. Father Eugene hit into a Eucalyptus, slumping against the trunk with a large red knot appearing on his forehead.
Emily turned her head forward as Gabriella squeezed her hand. The bitter wind roared furiously across the mahogany coffin. The coffin rocked in its harness although it was secured enough not to tumble to the ground.
“Do you believe you’ll get away with this?”
Janice resembled a statue of a great and mighty warrior as she continued to expand. Her silver hair tore from the neat chignon she had always worn it in, twirling in the air around her head. The emerald green silk scarf around her neck became caught in the wind, rising up to frame her head.
Nausea rolled through Emily as her Grandmother flickered briefly before morphing into a vast emerald Cobra, her scarf becoming its full hood flared in warning. Venom dripped from its sharp fangs burning circles in the grass. The serpent hissed, spitting venom towards Emily before exploding into a cloud of acrid toxic-green smoke.
In less time than it took to blink, Janice reappeared, crouched low on the top of her highly polished mahogany coffin. Emily pressed herself further back into her chair as her Grandmother’s phantom faced her, screaming in an inhuman rage that turned Emily’s blood to ice.
The putrid-sweet stench of decay blanketed the wind, leaving family and mourners gagging. For the first time all day, real tears pricked at Emily’s eyes as the smell relentlessly forced its way into her nose and mouth. Emily screamed as her chest tightened pain radiating from her heart and lungs.
“Murderous little bitch.”
Emily opened and closed her mouth, unable to make a sound. Her heart raced, and clammy sweat dribbled down her spine. Her stomach churned as her throat closed over, dry and arid. Pins and needles scratched beneath the surface of her skin as she blinked rapidly.
“You will pay,” her Grandmother screamed. “I’ll make sure of it.”
Janice launched herself directly at Emily. Her long red nails stretching into razor-sharp talons. As she flew through the air, another torrent of roaring wind slammed into Emily’s chest.
Emily began shaking uncontrollably. The wind raced beneath the hard-plastic chair, lifting it from the ground. Emily clenched her fingers tightly around her seat. Squeezing her eyes tightly shut, she whimpered as the chair flew high into the air. The screams of the assembled mourner’s barely reached her, but she heard Gabriella scream her name.
Emily sent out a silent prayer for help. Her Grandmother’s mocking laughter rang in her ears, almost drowning out the hurriedly muttered Our Father.
“There are no atheists in a foxhole,” Janice said with genuine humour in her voice. “Our Father, who art in heaven, hallowed be thy name… oh fuck, I don’t want to die, what comes next,” Janice chanted, in a fair imitation of Emily’s panicked thoughts, between gut-wrenching laughter. “It’s going to take more than a half-remembered pray to save your arse, Emmie.”
Emily’s chair flew back on the phantom’s wind slamming into a gravestone far behind the mourners. The force of the impact snapped the granite headstone in two. Emily groaned, rolling onto her face in the dry grass.
Pain radiated up her back, and she grimaced at the sting of grazed flesh. With a groan she rolled over, blinking at the hot summer sun and the now weirdly calm January morning.
“Emily,” Gabriella screamed.
Emily lifted her head and felt an involuntary smile flitter across her lips as Gabriella raced through the mess to reach her. Everyone else, except Father Eugene, who was hot on Gabriella’s heels, stood around looking dazed and confused.
Emily forced herself to her feet with a deep, pain-filled, groan. Starting in a circle at the outer edges of Emily’s eyes, darkness flooded her vision. As she lost control of her body, Emily reached out a hand towards Gabriella.
Ice stabbed painfully through her skin, carving itself deep into the bone as her Grandmother’s ghost grabbed her hand. Emily felt the colour drain from her face. She gasped against the pain, trying in vain to lock her mind against the agony of the ice-fire spreading throughout her body in ripples. Emily focused on Gabriella, who had frozen in mid-stride. As time stood still, Emily glanced towards her Grandmother’s hooded eyes and fought to stop her lower lip from trembling.
Emily stretched her neck from side to side, enjoying the satisfying crunching sound as the bones in her neck cracked. Placing her hands against the small of her back, she gently bent forward stretching out the muscles she’d hurt when she’d slammed into the headstone earlier. The soothing scent of citrus wafted through the kitchen, riding along with the steam rising from the sink as it drifted towards the ceiling.
“How are you?”
Emily sighed as the tension of the day flowed from her body at the sound of Gabriella’s smoky voice. Gabriella rested her hands against Emily’s shoulders. Emily sighed as she leaned back, the top of her head resting snuggly beneath Gabriella’s chin.
“Tired,” Emily said softly. “Today was exhausting.”
“Funerals always are, hon,” Gabriella said. “Today wasn’t what you’d call a usual funeral either. Are you sure you don’t need to go to the hospital? You took a nasty spill.”
Emily shook her head as she pushed the memory of her Grandmother’s visit at the funeral from her mind. Gabriella squeezed Emily’s shoulders and stepped away, picked up the blue gingham tea towel and began drying a crystal wine glass.
“Are you staying tonight?”
“No,” Gabriella said. “I’m flying to Canberra first thing. I’ll be back tomorrow night though. I can stay then if you still want me to.”
Emily tossed the sponge into the sink and grabbed Gabriella, pulling her in close.
“Of course, I want you to,” Emily said. “I want us to move in together.”
“Here?” Gabriella asked, glancing around the kitchen, which was larger than her entire apartment.
“For now,” Emily said, tightening her hold around Gabriella’s waist. “We can sell it once the estate goes through probate and move anywhere you want.”
The crisp ringing of the doorbell interrupted further discussion. As Emily walked to the front door, a cupboard in the kitchen banged shut, and she knew Gabriella was putting away the wine glasses.
The front door of Emily’s home, Âmes Perdue, was made from ornately engraved Australian buloke. Centred in the golden-brown timber was a stained-glass panel of multi-coloured squares. The red, green, gold and warm ivory tiles made up an illustration of diamonds and interlaced hearts. The soft golden light from the front porch shone through, painting a beautiful design on the hardwood floors.
“Father Eugene,” Emily said flatly. “How lovely of you to visit. Unannounced.”
“Hello, Emily,” Father Eugene said as he took off his black hat and held it in his hands in front of him. “I wanted to call in and see how you were doing after the events at the funeral this morning?”
“I’m excellent, Father,” she said, flashing him a pasted-on smile. “Do come in and have a cup of coffee.”
Father Eugene, nodding his head at the offer, entered the house. Shrugging out of his black floor-length coat, he hung it on the coat rack near the door. A band-aid stretching across his forehead caught Emily’s eye.
“I hope you didn’t get too hurt today, Father?” she said as she indicated the wound.
“No, Emily,” he said with a self-conscious laugh. “After fifty-odd years playing soccer, a bang to the head is barely noticeable.”
Emily led Father Eugene down the corridor and into the kitchen. Gabriella stood by the kitchen table. Slung over her arm was her black canvas backpack.
“You’re not going on my account, I hope,” Father Eugene said as he tipped his head in Gabriella’s direction.
“She’s heading to Canberra on the early flight,” Emily said before Gabriella could respond. “Interviewing another government fat cat. Good night, darling.”
Emily crossed the room and kissed Gabriella fiercely. As the kiss stretched on, Emily held Gabriella tightly. Emily smirked as she noticed the flash of blush tinging Gabriella’s coffee-coloured skin. Raising her eyes to look directly at Father Eugene, Emily met the Priest’s wide-set grey eyes and raised her eyebrows.
“Have a great trip, Gabriella,” Father Eugene said as they broke apart. “I’ll definitely keep an eye out for your new article. Your feature on Prime Minister Alexander was an interesting read.”
“Thank you, Father,” Gabriella said.
Gabriella leaned in and gave Emily a quick peck on the cheek before leaving the kitchen. Emily reached for the kettle and shoved it under the running tap filling it with water. The sound of the front door slamming shut was mimicked by the click of the kettle being turned on.
“I hope you didn’t put on your display for my benefit,” Father Eugene said to Emily as he took a seat at the round wooden table.
Emily arranged two mugs on the kitchen bench, filing them with instant coffee granules and heaped teaspoons of sugar. As the kettle began to scream, Emily jumped, knocking one of the mugs into the sink and breaking its handle into several pieces.
Emily clenched her teeth together and narrowed her eyes, squinting into the darkness beyond the window. Janice stood in front of the window waving at her Granddaughter and pointing towards a tin of sugar cookies on the bench, indicating she should take them to Father Eugene.
“Is everything alright, Emily?” Father Eugene asked.
“Yes, Father,” she said through forced laughter. “I wasn’t paying attention.” Emily laughed much too loudly as she continued to glare through the window.
With a final jab of her finger, Janice Carter disappeared. A gust of wind pushing up against the glass panes of the window was the only indication she’d been and gone. Emily looked down, closing her eyes for a second. With a deep breath and a shake of her head, Emily straightened her back and reached for another mug.
“Sorry, Father,” she said. “Was that one teaspoon, of sugar, or two?”
Emily stood beneath the hot shower, letting the water ease the aches and pains she was developing across her back. It amazed her how everyone had been so quick to blame the rancid-smelling windstorm as a fluke of nature this morning. She’d even heard people claim the stench came from an abattoir, despite the nearest one being more than a hundred kilometres away. Only Great-Aunt Moira had blamed her sister, Janice, but that was more out of spite than any belief in ghosts and the afterlife.
The grazed skin across her shoulders and lower back stung sharply as the hot water slid across it. Tilting her face back into the stream of hot water, she closed her eyes and enjoyed the sensation of it running through her long blonde hair.
“Coming up next,” a man’s deep voice boomed from the bedroom next door. “Three people have been arrested for the arson attack on a Sydney nursing home which left 12 people dead and a further 15 injured. More information after this commercial break.”
Emily reached blindly to turn the water off. Quickly wrapping her body in a fluffy green towel, she ran into the bedroom. The television was blaring—a random commercial selling sets of discounted steak knives which would never be dulled by use.
Emily ran across the carpeted floor, leaving behind wet footprints in the deep pile, and turned the TV off. As the room plunged into silent darkness, Emily looked around, but the room was empty. Crouching down she peered under the bed seeing nothing but a handful of dust bunnies. Standing up, she surveyed the room again and, with a shrug of her shoulders, returned to the bathroom to get ready for bed.
Sitting on a plush velvet-covered stool, Emily smiled at her reflection as she noticed how the navy-blue satin pyjamas set off her dark blonde hair. Emily switched off and unplugged the hairdryer before standing up and using her hands to smooth out the wrinkles in her long pyjama pants.
“The colour suits you,” a young male voice said from behind the door. “Do you remember my navy-blue and black soccer shirt? It was my favourite.”
Emily swallowed hard, unable to stop the high-pitched yelp which escaped her. She rolled her shoulders as she started towards the door; her knees buckling slightly. Taking another reluctant step forward, she reached out slowly. Emily caught the side of the door with her fingers slamming it shut with a crashing blow.
The space behind the door and the mirror hanging from it were empty. Emily cleared her throat with a nervous, high-pitched laugh. Closing her eyes, she pinched the bridge of her nose, shaking her head with a snort.
Emily opened her eyes, lifted her head and took a step towards the door. Her scream echoed off the subway tiled walls, and she stumbled back several steps until she was pressed against the bathroom sink.
Floating in the bathroom mirror hung the badly burned face of a young boy. His dark brown hair was gone, remaining intact in only a couple of places the flames hadn’t been able to reach. His once ice-blue eyes were clouded and streaked with thin orange lines. His skin glowed with trapped fire, thick scars continuing to spread across his face even as she watched.
The boy in the mirror smiled, his lips pulling back, tearing the skin and scars around his mouth and cheeks. Flames and blackened, boiling, blood dribbled from his destroy tear ducts.
“It’s nice to see you again, Emmie,” he said. “Grandmother told me how to find you.”
“Marcus,” Emily stuttered as she struggled to calm her breathing. “This isn’t real. You’ve been dead fourteen years.”
“Has it been that long, already?” The boy said. “TimeTime flies when you’re floating in eternity. How have you been Sis? Burned any more family members to death?”
“We cross now to the Sydney Police Centre,” said the newsreader’s voice from the bedroom, “for an update on the arrest of the alleged Sydney Nursing Home arsonists. What can you tell us, Deborah…”?
Emily grabbed behind her, reaching for her damp bath towel and threw it over the mirror before yanking the door open. The door slammed into the wall with such force, its ornate handle smashed a rough hole into the white and green subway tiles.
Emily ran towards the TV, stumbling as she realised it was turned off. She searched the room again and bit the inside of her cheek as she found there was no one else there. With a shuddering breath, she sat on the edge of King-Sized bed.
Her hands trembled as she reached across for the glass of water sitting on the bedside table. The water sloshed over the lip of the glass, splashing her pants with wet spots as she raised the glass to her mouth and took a sip. Emily coughed violently as the water seemed to stick in her throat. With an effort, she replaced the water glass on the bedside table, pulled her legs up, and slid under the covers.
The sooner I get some sleep, the better. It’s just my mind playing tricks on me, that’s all.
With a deep, calming, breath, Emily reached across and turned out the lights. Lying in the dark bedroom, she counted her breaths and stared at the ceiling. Shadows danced across the white plaster as the trees outside her window moved in the southerly breeze outside. As her eyelids began to flutter and her breathing finally steadied, she rolled onto her side and dozed off.
It began as an acrid tickle in her throat. A soft teasing caress at the base of her nostrils. On the cusp of sleep, smoke brought Emily back to full awareness, instantly. Flinging the covers off the bed, she tripped as her feet tangled in the crisp white sheets. The crackling sound of flames chewing mercilessly through wood roared through Emily’s ears. Smoke curled into the bedroom through the gap between the floor and door, twisting and turning its way up the white-painted woodwork.
Emily raced across the bedroom, slammed up the sash windows and stuck her head out.
“FIRE!” she screamed. “Help me. The house is on fire.”
Emily turned and ran across the bedroom. Grabbing the door handle, she twisted it, flinging open the door.
The hall beyond the bedroom lay peaceful and still; bathed in the soft night greys of moonlight and shadow. The rhythmic ticking of the grandfather clock was a familiar sound. Moonlight flooded in, through a wall of grand panelled windows, laying down a silver path across the polished wooden floorboards.
Emily’s heart pounded in her chest as she took a deep calming breath. The scents of furniture polish and fresh flowers filled her with a sense of peace. A small sob escaped her as she recognised the familiar smells. Emily sighed in relief, there was no hint of smoke, burnt wood, or singed carpeting.
It was only a nightmare.
With a nervous laugh, Emily returned to the bedroom, closing the door behind her. As she climbed into her bed, she pulled the covers up, tucking them tightly around her neck in the same way she used to as a small child and had feared vampires may appear in the night. With one final sweep of the bedroom, Emily closed her eyes and drifted into a night of shallow, interrupted sleep.