Saturday, August 01, 2009

More on when a story doesn't work

Getting back to my revamp of a proposal after traveling to the RWA national conference.

In Chapter two I introduce Merrit's paranormal abilities and set up the plot point of Von Swaim's desire to control Merrit's talent. When doing a proposal its important to suck the reader in but you don't want to reveal to much too soon.

Chapter Two
“Cheeky sort wasn’t he,” the Earl said.
“Indeed!” the Countess exclaimed. “I always heard the Americans were rather forward.” Merritt folded her hands primly and kept her eyes upon her lap, as she well knew her mother’s mood.
“Accosting young girls on the street.”
“I hardly think he was accosting me.” Merritt boldly spoke out. “I consider it more as being polite.”
“Obviously they have no idea of propriety,” the Countess continued.
“Now Evelyn,” her father interrupted. “The young man was just trying to drum up business for the show is all. I’m sure any insult you imagined was entirely unintentional.”
“Imagined?” her mother gasped.
Merritt turned her head toward the window as her father winked at her. He had cleverly taken her mother’s mind off the cowboy and onto herself. It was no wonder he was such a success. He knew how to handle people. He knew what they were thinking and how to get them to come to his way of thinking. It was a gift that served him well, especially in Parliament. However when it came to his daughter the gift was useless. If only they would not worry so. If only they would just leave her alone. She had never hurt anyone and she certainly had never injured herself. If only she could just be what she was meant to be instead of what her parents and all of proper English society expected her to be. It just wasn’t fair. Not fair at all.
Harry moved the carriage along at a quick pace to make up for the delay. Merritt watched the streets as they passed. The snow from earlier in the day was nearly melted but a few patches remained on the shaded side of the street. What was left had turned into muddy brown water that trickled down the curbs and into the sewers below and eventually dumped into the Thames.
The streets were busy. The population of London had grown rapidly in the past few years, especially on the east side, which had become the haven for the poor. On the west side, where her family resided, people went about the everyday business of life. Tradesmen and solicitors, bankers and lawyers, governesses with their charges, all picked their way through the puddles on the street, rode their horses or were driven in a wide assortment of vehicles. Heavy wagons filled to the top with kegs and casks, boxes and bags stopped along the way to fill orders for the merchants. All in all a normal day in London, except for the fact that a herd of buffalo accompanied by cowboys and Indians had just passed by.
Another normal day for the normal people. What would it be like to be perfectly normal? Merritt could not even begin to imagine.
The carriage came to a stop. “We’re here sir,” Harry called down.
Merritt looked up at the tall building with the same feeling of dread that had been her constant companion since her parents informed her of their decision. A small sign hung over the door. Institute of Paranormal Research. Dr. Edmond Von Swaim.
They exited the carriage. Merritt gathered her skirts and reluctantly followed her parents up the steps with Rose and Jerry close on her heels. Did they think she would actually dash off down the street?
If only I could…But she could not. Any normal person would. But any normal person would not be here in the first place. She was not normal. She was paranormal. Or so her parents thought. They had latched onto the word as soon as they understood its meaning. They felt it explained her spells perfectly yet they wanted to be sure. They needed a diagnosis because with a diagnosis there could be a cure. It all made so much sense when they explained it to her. But now…that the time was nigh…it made no sense at all.
The door swung open before the Earl could lift his hand to knock. Her mother hesitated on the step before her as if she were suddenly afraid.
Imagine how I feel…Merritt knew they wanted to help her. They wanted what was best for her. They also wanted to protect the family from the whispering that went on when someone in their circle had experiences that were considered…objectionable. It would solve all their problems if Merritt had an illness that they could put a name too.
If only they would listen…if only they would ask…if only she were braver and stronger. If only she had been the one to die instead of her brother Christopher. If only…
The Earl took the Countess’s arm and led her inside. Merritt, always the dutiful daughter, had no choice but to follow. A butler, who stood a full head taller than her father, held the door open. His face was impassive, but Merritt could feel his eyes upon her. She marched straight ahead as her father looked upward and around, his eyes calculating the wealth of the Institute as one might inventory the jewels upon the neck of a dowager countess.
The foyer was a full three stories high. Before them was a grand staircase with a hall beside it that led back to a closed door. To the left was a closed door and to the right a sitting room. The fire was not lit, nor the lamps, and the heavy velvet drapes were drawn closed against the light of day. It all seemed very desolate and lonely even though the wood was well polished and the furnishings rich with ornate carvings and plush fabrics.
The sound of a clock ticking was overpowering in the sudden quiet when the door was closed behind them. To Merritt the sound was frighteningly omnipotent. She could not help but look upward to the source and saw a huge pendulum swinging directly over the door. The clockworks were above, on the third story behind a walkway that crossed from one side to the other. She could not see them clearly in the dim light but they seemed immense and complicated. Why would anyone need or want a clock that big?
A middle-aged woman dressed in a simple gray dress and white apron and wearing a white cap came down the impressive staircase and dropped a curtsey to her father.
“Dr. Von Swaim awaits you in the upper parlor,” she said. She spoke with a heavy accent, possibly German since it was known that Von Swaim was of German descent. “Your servants may await you in there.”
Her father started to protest then thought better of it. Merritt wondered if the overbearing presence of the butler had anything to do with his hesitancy. He motioned Rose and Jerry into the parlor. Jerry made it clear by his stance that he was not happy about the situation. Rose simply sat down on a sofa and let out a long suffering sigh.
“For privacy sir,” the woman said when they were settled. “Doctor Von Swaim has also canceled all of his appointments for this afternoon so you need not worry about anyone disturbing you during your visit.”
“Very well,” her father said. “Lead on.”
Merritt took a firm grasp on the railing as she followed her parents up the grand staircase. As she watched her feet climb the stairs her insides felt as if she were descending into a deep dark pit. Her parents had insisted on enough doctors in her lifetime to dread any thought of any type of an exam, especially one that was as mysterious to her as this. What exactly did a paranormal exam involve?
For once her mother kept her chatter to a minimum. She always used it as a mask but in this situation there was no place for it. There was no hiding the fear or intimidation that any of them felt.
The light was brighter on the second floor. Gas lamps lit the hallways and the curtains were open on the opposite ends of the building to let in the light of day. The woman led them across the landing from the staircase and opened a set of double doors.
Bookcases, two stories high, filled the walls on either side. French doors covered the back wall and opened invitingly to a balcony that overlooked a courtyard. Merritt could hear water bubbling below and imagined it must contain a fountain of some sort. Deep burgundy curtains hung beside the windows that flanked the French doors. An ornate birdcage made of brass stood upon a stand next to the window and a bright yellow canary piped a few notes when they were shown into the room. A large sofa also covered in burgundy sat along the wall on the right with wing chairs on either side. End tables flanked the sofa and were covered with an assortment of gewgaws made of brass and glass. Some seemed to be spinning; it would take closer examination to be certain.
The left side of the room contained a huge desk with two small chairs before it. The desk held a smaller collection of gewgaws and a large crystal prism that seemed to Merritt to be as long as her arm. There was a door built into the wall directly behind the desk and she could not help but wonder where it led. Into the bowels of hell?
“The Doctor will be with you presently,” the woman said and closed the double doors behind her as she bowed her way from the room.
“You think they would have offered tea,” her mother said as she sat down in one of the wing chairs.
“We are not here for a social visit,” the Earl reminded her.
“Well, yes, I realize that,” the Countess replied. “Still it would be the hospitable thing to do, considering.”
Merritt let mother’s words pass over her without a response. Her father turned his back on both of them and perused the collection of books that filled the shelf behind the chair. Merritt walked to the balcony to see if there really was a fountain beyond.
A large telescope sat on the balcony aimed upwards at the sky. A stool was beside it with a sextant lying upon it. The instrument of the sea seemed strangely out of place in such an enclosed area. The courtyard was enclosed on the sides with a high brick wall and another building stood behind it. Dr. Von Swaim must have use of both buildings as a door from it opened into the courtyard also. The back of it was plain and tall with small windows that were covered with iron grates and shuttered from the inside. A chill went down her spine as she looked it over. What was the purpose of closing off the lovely courtyard from view? And why the grates? Were they meant to keep people in or people out?
The courtyard was, as she first surmised before her inspection of the building beyond, quite lovely. A large fountain with a replica of the earth done in metals was the centerpiece and water spurted from the top and coated the sides before falling into the stone basin beneath. Japanese maples with tightly budded leaves graced the centers of four uniform triangles that formed the corners of the gardens and neat boxwoods hedged the sides with benches placed before them. A brick walk surrounded the fountain and freshly tilled earth between the two begged for plantings of colorful flowers. It was a heady contradiction to the heavy and overpowering massiveness of everything she had seen inside the institute.
She heard her father’s harrumph of impatience and turned to see what caused it. The canary peeped inquisitively as she stepped inside so she paused beside its cage.
“I imagine you wish you could fly away,” she said softly to the bird. It hopped from its perch high in the cage to another that was closer to her face. Its dark eyes blinked several times as it examined her.
“Such a pretty cage,” Merritt said. “But it is still a cage, no matter how pretty it is.” She turned her head and looked at the building behind the courtyard.
Still a cage…
The canary jumped from the bar with a loud chirp as the pressure of the room changed with the opening of the door. Merritt felt a cold breeze swirl over her face and the few tendrils of her hair that had escaped the careful attentions of her maid tickled her cheek when she looked into the room.
She recognized Dr. Edmond Von Swaim. (Describe here) How could she not? He currently was the darling of the social circuit and was often mentioned in the gossip columns of the newspaper. Merritt had been present at a few of the functions he attended, as he was a must-have on any guest list. He usually performed feats of hypnotism or other sorts of trickery at the parties that were expounded on at great length in the columns the next day. He had impressed her parents enough that after a few discreet inquiries, they had decided to take Dr. Von Swaim into their confidence regarding Merritt and her “spells.”
His answer? She must be examined immediately before her spells worsened or she did harm to herself. They were exactly the words her mother most feared, since she had been dreading the prospect for these many years.
Maybe he will have an answer…or even a cure…It was too much to hope for. Merritt watched as her father shook hands with Dr. Von Swaim, and her mother greeted him warmly.
Why do I feel such a sense of dread?
Usually she had a vision or warning sign if something bad was about to happen. In this instance there had been no warning yet she still had the feeling that something was horribly wrong. Perhaps the canary had the same concerns. It piped mightily, as if in warning, as Dr. Von Swaim approached her with his arms open wide. Did he actually mean to embrace her?
“My dear Merritt,” he said with a welcoming smile on his broad and ruddy face. His voice held just the slightest accent of his German origins.
Merritt held out her gloved hand so that he might take it, but also to keep him from encroaching upon her. He took her hand, clasped it between his two palms and gave it a firm squeeze. It seemed on the surface to be comforting but then again something about it disturbed her. Perhaps it was in the way he evaluated her. She looked into the deep-set blue eyes beneath the heavy blonde brows. There was no mistaking it. His demeanor was kind and friendly but he was calculating her worth, just as her father had when they arrived at the institute.
“Your parents have expressed their deep concern over your condition,” he said as Merritt carefully pulled her hand free.
“They trouble themselves over nothing,” Merritt said. “I have strange dreams, nothing more.”
“Nonsense,” the Countess said. “Who has dreams in the middle of the day? When they are often wide awake?”
“Come my dear,” Von Swaim said. “Sit and tell me of your dreams.” He stepped back and extended his arm, just stopping short of touching her back as if he would propel her forward.
Merritt suppressed a heavy sigh as she made her way to the sofa. There were no other options and there certainly was no escape. The only thing to do was get it over with as quickly as possible. She sat down and Von Swaim joined her. Her parents took position in the wing chairs on either side. Von Swaim sat forward, placing his body between Merritt and her father. It also placed his body between Merritt and the door.
“It would help me to know more of what you experience,” Von Swaim said. “Tell me of your dreams.”
It seemed too personal…too revealing…however he was a doctor. It was his intent to help her or so she hoped. If he could make the dreams, the visions, the spells, go away…Merritt looked at him hopefully.
“They are more like visions than dreams,” she explained. “I simply see things.”
“What type of things?”
She thought carefully of what she should say. It was all so confusing. Should she tell this man her deepest darkest secrets? Or would the basics be enough? It certainly would not hurt to share the things she told her parents. It wasn’t as if they had not already told him what they knew about her spells.
“Sometimes I see Papa at work talking with his friends…”
“About subjects that she should have no knowledge of,” the Earl interjected.
“Do you mean policy discussions? Von Swaim asked.
“Do you bring home notes or letters that she would have access too?”
“I wouldn’t do that,” Merritt said. “I would never look at Papa’s personal papers.”
“You do read the daily,” her mother said. “That’s enough to feed anyone’s imagination.”
“She speaks of things during her spells that she has no way of knowing. How someone will vote, or who will side with whom. It is almost as if she knows the outcome before it happens.”
Indeed,” Von Swaim said. “Very curious. Is she usually right about the things she sees?”
“Almost always,” her father said.
If only they knew…
“Any other instances? Anything besides parliament?” Von Swaim studied her intently, his eyes moving over her face and down enough to make her feel uncomfortable.
Merritt shifted her body so that he was not so close, and not so oppressive. She shrugged. “There have been a few other things.”
“She saw poor Mrs. Poole drop dead,” her mother said. “Our butler’s mother,” she went on to explain.
“No, I did not see her drop dead,” Merritt interjected. “I simply saw her lying on the floor. Then I asked Poole if he had seen her lately.”
“And when he did she was dead.”
“Yes. She was.”
“Quite dead,” her father volunteered. As if anyone could be any deader than dead.
“Fascinating!” Von Swaim jumped up from the sofa and strode across the room as if he could not contain himself.
Merritt looked at the man in disbelief. Poor Poole had lost his mother and Dr. Von Swaim was looking at her as if she had just given him a fortune in jewels.
“Is there anything else?”
Merritt twisted her hands in her lap. She knew what was coming before her mother even said it.
“We have noticed things moving about sometimes,” the Countess said timidly. Merritt could not blame her for being timid. It would be difficult to believe unless one had actually witnessed it. Small objects did have a habit of falling off of surfaces or in one instance flying across a room when she was in the midst of one of her more troublesome spells.”
“Excellent,” Von Swaim exclaimed. He came back to the sofa and knelt in front of Merritt before grasping her hands. “You must allow me to hypnotize you.”
She felt trapped once again. Pinned against the sofa with no chance of escape. She did manage to free her hands from his grasp yet he remained on the floor before her, practically kneeling on her skirts.
“Do you think it would help, Dr. Von Swaim?” her father asked.
“The subconscious mind holds much danger for those not familiar with its workings,” Von Swaim said as he finally rose to his feet. “Imagine Merritt’s mind as a battlefield with her subconscious at war with her consciousness. It seems to me that at the present time her subconscious is winning the battle. If I do not find out the cause I am afraid that Merritt’s consciousness may eventually be lost to you forever.”
“Oh my!” Her mother gasped. “Merritt lost?”
“The sanitariums are full of such cases.”
“That is unacceptable.” The Earl jumped to his feet while her mother held her handkerchief to her face to hide her distress.
Merritt was skeptical about his comments. There was no war going on in her mind. She just had dreams. Very vivid, very real dreams. She always knew whom she was and where she was when she awakened. It seemed as if Dr. Von Swaim had made a more accurate diagnosis of her parent’s fears and was using it to achieve his own ends.
“If you believe hypnotism will help, then by all means proceed,” her father said.
“Are you certain you will be able to hypnotize me?” She had seen performances of such things before but always felt as if there was collusion involved on the part of all parties.
“I have found that the stronger paranormal activity lends itself to susceptibility in these cases,” Von Swaim replied. He held a hand out to help her rise from the sofa and she had no choice but to take it. “Come my dear,” he said and led her to a gilt chair placed before his desk. “Please stay where you are so there will be no distractions,” he instructed her parents who had begun to follow.
They sat down together on the couch and smiled encouragement to Merritt. She smiled reassuringly in their direction and was pleased to see her father take her mother’s hand into his. There was nothing to fear. Her father would not let any harm come to her.
Merritt sat down with her back to the window while Von Swaim opened a desk drawer and removed an object. The light caught it as he carried it around the desk. It was a crystal, cut in the shape of a large diamond and suspended from a chain.
He sat down opposite her and dangled the crystal from the chain in front of her. “I want you to concentrate,” he said. “Concentrate on the crystal. Concentrate on the light. Watch it carefully.”
The crystal twisted back and forth, slowly winding then unwinding on the chain. Merritt watched the light from the lamps and the sun dance through the different angles of the cuts, each one casting a different color around it as if it was alive with its own aura. She heard the canary chirp once, heard the fountain cascading behind her, and heard the soft breathing of her parents. As watched the crystal spin up and down the chain she felt as if the walls of the room were falling away. The fountain became distant and then she heard the giant clock with the pendulum swinging back and forth.
The noise moved inside her head and became an echo of her heartbeat. Tick…thump….tock…thump-thump.
She was no longer in the room inside the institute. She was no longer with Dr. Von Swaim and her parents. She was standing in the middle of a circle. The ground beneath her was hard packed earth that was scarred with the imprint of many types of hoof prints. A light shone directly on her, blinding her. She lifted a hand to shield her eyes from it and the light faded.
Someone was with her. “Trust me,” a voice said. “You’ve got to trust me.” The voice seemed vaguely familiar and she searched the area inside the light until she saw a silhouette. Her forehead furrowed as she tried to put a name to the face that was hidden beneath the shadow of a wide-brimmed hat.
“Don’t move,” the voice said. “Trust me. I will never hurt you.” Then he raised a gun in his hand and shot her.
Merritt screamed. She felt her body spinning and then she landed beside the desk. Her hands gripped the sides of the chair as if she were on a boat in huge swells that threatened to break over her head.
As she caught her breath she looked at Dr. Von Swaim for an answer to what she had said or done while under the effects of his hypnosis. But Von Swaim was not looking at her. He looked beyond her. Merritt turned in her seat and saw the birdcage. It was no longer beautiful. It was twisted and ruined with the bars broken and pulled apart.
The canary sat upon the rail of the balcony with its beak wide open as it sang a sweet song to the clear blue sky above. It turned and looked directly at Merritt before it extended its wings and flew away.
“My word!” her father said.
Her mother simply cried.

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