the 7 1/2 deaths of evelyn hardcastle
In my Masterclass writing class Neil Gaiman suggests as an exercise that we write something while imitating another author’s writing style. On occasion I attempt this when writing announcements for Thanatopsis, our book club. In the following as you will see we read Stuart Turton’s book The 71/2 deaths of Eveylyn Hardcastle. I’m not sure how successful I was. Incidentally, the person responsible for sending announcements, putting together reading lists and taking care of other Club miscellany has been called “The Girl” since the Club’s founding in 1984. When I volunteered to undertake those responsibilities a few years ago I adopted that title.
Tree limbs lash the air, the screaming gale wielding them like whips. Steel clouds shading to black in the west stream overhead, distant lightening stabbing the ground amid a low, delayed, continuous grumble. The storm is not here yet.
But it’s coming.
Fear, a heavy, icy blanket, drapes itself over my shoulders, weighing me down and freezing my limbs into immobility. I shouldn’t be here.
Before me on a slight rise, a house droops in decay. Brown it must once have been judging from bits of stain clinging forlorn to the gray siding. A single dim lantern glows behind vaulting windows, its subdued light concealing more than illuminating the room within the glass. On crumbling concrete, I’ve halted my ascent up the cracked, broken drive toward the structure sagging in mourning for its lost youth and vigor.
I must continue.
I ransack a shattered memory for any shard that might explain my presence, my terror and my compulsion. Flickers of light entrance me only to wink away when I reach for them before I even manage a glimpse. I’m here, now, but how I came here or what my purpose, hides behind a curtain as black as the approaching tempest. A curtain that also obscures my name.
Unable to contain the force that drives my limbs against all my power of resistance, I plant a foot then another convulsing like a rusty, broken automaton up the steps to the weather-beaten, faded front door. The universe splits white as the Gods arc from heaven to earth shaking its foundation and loosing a torrent on my unprotected head, icy streams flowing under my clothing along shuddering limbs and torso.
A woman, wide-eyed and trembling, cracks the door peering at the apparition dripping ponds on her doorstep. After a heartbeat she flings it wide. “Kevin!” she exclaims and gestures me within. “Inside with you this instant. You’ll catch your death out there.”
Kevin. I roll the name, but it doesn’t fit easily on my tongue. It’s not me, though the woman believes it to be. My fear does not flag at the sight of the woman, middle-aged, trim and pretty, but she is not the source of the dread crushing my lungs and slamming my heart against its cage. That lies beyond the threshold in the dimly lighted room.
She grabs my naked arm, her hand warm on my pallid, clammy flesh. Unable to resist the woman’s insistence and still driven by an unseen force I stumble inside the doorway and puddle in the entry. In the gloom, hardly relieved by the sole, dingy, yellow lamp, sagging, torn couches resting on threadbare, unravelling carpet face the towering rain-streamed windows.
The woman speaks. But a thunderous explosion envelopes her words and rumbles them away in booming echoes. On one of the couches, I glimpse an open laptop and its baleful, blue white glare is a knife in my eyes. I flinch from redoubled fear at the sight of my terror’s source. Not willing to leave me be, the woman clinches my arm, forces my gaze on the machine and speaks again, urging and insistent. “The book club notice.” Her voice rises on her own wings of fear. “You have to send the notice!”
Suspended between duty’s irresistible force and horror’s immoveable object, my limbs rattle like the writhing storm-thrashed trees without. Inch by inch, duty overpowers fear and I approach, then take up the machine. My fingers dance across its accursed keys as if each threatens to burn my flesh to bone. I type:
Tuesday March 31st
Host: Virtual on Zoom. See log in link below.
Book: The 7 and ½ Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle by Stuart Turton.
I hit enter and my missive flies—electronic packets fleeing to their destinations. Fear, having failed to obstruct my goal, collapses in a smoldering ash heap, leaving me spent and hollow. In tandem, as if its fury was gathered in terror’s service, the storm falters and passes and a single ray of light limns the now smiling woman in a golden halo. My consciousness flickers, its entire force having been expended in this one task. But before blackness descends an odd inner voice etches a curious salutation on my mind.
Ever diligent in my duties, I remain,
your humble servant,