The Gateway is no place for a teenage girl - Please R & R, synopsis included
| This is the first chapter of a completed YA novel I've writen. What I really need is some feedback, so, the more feedback I get the more chapters you get. Assuming you like it that is.
All Creaole wants is to be normal, it is her dream to go to school and be considered average. But Creaole is not normal. She lives in the Gateway, a passage between life and death, her only friend sometimes tries to kill her, and school is a vague dream that she uses to try and stop herself from going crazy.
Until her sixteenth birthday when her father grants her wish and Creaole is thrown into the deep end of modern life as a British teenager. Too clever for some and too naïve for others, singled out by teachers and bullied by another new girl, Creaole learns she cannot catch a ball and that being normal is not all it’s cracked up to be. But however hard she tries Creaole is not ordinary, she is stained by her life in the Gateway in more ways than one, as she tries to juggle boys and new friends with the secrets she knows, her past starts to catch up with her.
One ~ A story and a chat with a doorway
‘Once upon a time there was a little girl. She lived with her mother and her father in a little pink cottage with a thatched roof.’ Creaole was sitting cross-legged on the floor, her audience arranged around her in an appropriately respectful semi-circle. In one hand she held a slightly dog-eared leaflet, an advertisement for a school in England. Creaole held the pamphlet up so her audience could see the picture of the mother and father waving goodbye to their daughter as she headed off to school.
The room Creaole and her audience were arranged around was hard to make out in the gloom, but on careful inspection it was not really a room at all – more like the penniless love-child of a ballroom and a cavern. The little ball hanging around Creaole’s neck was the only illumination, forcing her audience to lean forward to get a better view of the leaflet, and giving Creaole a better view of them. They were not human; the grey and black of their skin shifted under the light. Creaole was the only human here, and she was more accustomed to the fluid dark forms of the Shadows than the pale hue of her own skin.
‘They have a dog!’ one of them called out as they spied the small golden Labrador sitting obediently by the waving parent’s feet. ‘Is it called Shin?’ Sniggers ran through the audience. Maybe they were not that obedient, but at least they were sitting properly.
‘Shh … yes, they had a dog, but it was old and had no teeth. It was called Gordon.’
‘Now you’re just making it up!’ someone else interrupted, and Creaole glared across the dimly lit room.
‘She’s making the whole story up, idiot,’ Shin interrupted for her. ‘If you don’t want to listen then just go back to work.’
‘Woof woof, suck up Shin, suck up Shin, woof woof, suck up Shin.’
Around her, Creaole’s audience began to fall to pieces before her eyes as the entire group apart from Shin started joining in the chant. ‘Suck up Shin, woof woof,’ echoed around the cavern where the Shadows had been arranged so agreeably only moments before.
One by one her audience jumped to their feet, their definition fading as they merged into the shadowy background. Their almost humanlike forms melted into the darkness as they transformed into something similar but fundamentally different.
Creaole grabbed Shin’s hand as he started to stand. She could feel him morphing under her grip, matching the others, his black shadow skin like elastic, stretching away from her as she tried to draw him back.
‘It’s okay, Shin, I only wanted to tell you anyway,’ Creaole whispered across to where his head might be, but it was hard to tell with the Shadows. Their forms were so fluid that his head could be two metres above her by now. Around them the Shadows danced with the echoes that bounced back and forth across the cavern. Creaole’s fingers finally closed around nothing as Shin’s hand slid from her grip, leaving her hand floating aimlessly.
Shrieks and screams joined in the chanting as Shin hunted down the other Shadows in the darkness. Creaole folded the dog-eared school leaflet in two and slipped it back into the front pocket of the heavily doctored man’s silk shirt she was wearing. She was glad they were leaving her out of it for now, but there was only one way to calm them down and return her best friend Shin to her side.
She reached up and plucked a decorative pin from her hair. The grubby black bird’s nest that sat on Creaole’s head sank down a little as she removed the fine gold fastening. Her hair was so matted as to be quite a sturdy hiding place and there were a number of useful bits and pieces stored up there – extra food, her spare light ball, emergency ribbons, all tucked amongst the dark frizz – but the elegant gold hat pin that she pulled out was arguably the most important.
With a little flourish Creaole waved the pin in the air. It was slightly longer than the length of her hand, one end was a decorative figure-of-eight frame woven in gold. The end loop was inlaid with a green gem the size of Creaole’s thumbnail. It was old, so there was a good chance that it was an emerald, but Creaole did not really care. Provided it did the job that needed to be done, she would have happily carried around a rusty nail.
The emerald glinted in the glow of the light around her neck as she brought it round in front of her. The silence that descended washed through her unruly audience as each Shadow saw the pin sparkling in the dark. ‘Woof woof’ echoed back twice more until complete silence reigned throughout the cavern.
‘That’s better.’ Creaole was unashamedly smug as she poked the pin back in place amidst her hair. Around the room thirteen bright white eyes flashed into being, round and sparkling like diamonds in the shadows. The eyes focused on Creaole and began to float down – some in pairs and some individually, because not all Shadows were as human-looking as Shin – back towards where they had been arrayed minutes before. ‘Now, I am telling a story here, which I believe I was asked to do, so either leave me in silence or stay in silence, but silence is imperative.’
A shadowy hand shot into the air, the light shimmering on the rounded dusky form of its arm.
‘Will you use the pin after you’ve finished?’
‘That depends on how quiet you are.’ Creaole glanced over the unblinking white eyes of her audience. ‘Any other questions?’
Creaole finished the story with a flourish and was met with expectant silence. Thirteen eyes stared at her unblinking, waiting for what had been promised if they behaved. Creaole sighed, wondering how entertaining them now included feeding them too.
This time Creaole pulled the pin from her hair with considerably less enthusiasm, but she knew it was never good to leave a clutch of irritated Shadows at your back. The group she had read to were the good ones – if it could be said that there was such a thing as a good demon. Usually they did not seek Creaole out when she made her way through the Gateway maze, and she wanted to keep it that way. She held out one hand, gritted her teeth and jabbed the pin into the end of her middle finger and thumb. She winced, licked a small drop of blood from the end of the pin and jammed it back in her hair. Around her the Shadows were silent as they fed on the waves of Creaole’s pain that washed over them. Creaole watched vigilantly, her eyes darting between the Shadow’s silhouettes as she made sure none of them were about to get carried away and attack her. It did not happen often, but it had happened enough to make her wary.
‘Shin?’ Creaole asked without moving her gaze from the others, leaving her hand held out so the other Shadows could get the most of it. He did not answer, which did not surprise her.
With a sigh and a roll of her eyes she finally pulled her hand back to her, licking the small jewels of blood from the ends of her fingers. A groan echoed round the little cavern as she drew her hand back , breaking the magic they fed from. She ignored them.
‘Are you coming?’ She peered over her shoulder, searching for Shin. He blended into his surroundings, his shadowy skin the perfect camouflage in this place, but after almost fifteen years Creaole was used to that, and her eyes settled quickly on his silent scowling face.
‘Whatever, then,’ she continued with a small roll of her eyes. ‘I’m going. You can stay if you want.’ She gave a little wave with her uninjured hand and headed out of the cavern.
Creaole made her way through the Gateway, with care. The passageways were not designed to be navigated easily; in fact it was fair to say it was designed with the complete opposite in mind. The cavern Creaole had used as a space to tell her story in was just one of the many dead ends that littered the place. She made her way through, doing most of her running in the rooms that looked like rooms, and walking through the rooms that almost looked like rooms. The crawling was generally done in the caves, glass rooms, forests, marshes, fire pits and other novelty additions that a person who wanted to navigate the Gateway had to cross.
‘Are we going to see Keikei?’ Shin’s voice slid through the darkness from behind her. A smile tweaked the edge of Creole’s mouth. She had known he would not leave her alone.
‘The final door.’ Behind her, Shin gave an audible sigh.
Creaole was leading them to the end of the Gateway maze, to the place Gateway was here to protect and hide. The final door was a place that technically she had been told never to go to, but what was the point in knowing where something was if you did not go there?
‘Really, just for shits and giggles? Because if Darm gets back we’ll be dead, mostly me,’ said Shin from behind her, not bothering to keep his disapproval from his tone.
Creaole did not miss a step as she jumped over a seemingly normal piece of hallway. Behind her Shin made the same jump and beneath him the ground flickered and disappeared, revealing the emptiness that would have engulfed anyone who did not know better.
‘Well, you’re immortal, so it won’t be mostly you, will it? But Darm’s only been gone two days, there’s no way he’ll be back yet.’
Creaole skidded to a walk partway down what appeared to be an impossibly long hallway. Shin slowed beside her, giving the doors that lined the hall a disparaging glance. Striped pink paper edged in gold lined the hall, and sets of three doors repeated down each wall, each covered with ornate floral carvings. The dishevelled fifteen-year-old girl and the teenage-sized Shadow that stopped in its midst looked very out of place, with Creaole’s dark nest of hair only part of the reason. She was wearing a shirt cinched round her waist with a belt whose end dangled to her knees. The extra holes she had punched in were uneven and off-centre. The shirt, like the belt, had been a man’s and was several sizes too large for Creaole. The extra material was bunched at her back, the sleeves cut off unevenly near her shoulders. Her trousers were of the same style, far too big, and heavily modified. Shin was human-shaped, but his skin was black and grey. Shadows seemed to run over him: the perfect camouflage for the eternal grey twilight of the rest of the house, but not this hallway.
Creaole came to a stop opposite a set of three doors. They appeared exactly the same as the dozen or so sets of three she had passed without a second glance. But Creaole knew these were different.
‘We’re here. Can’t we just go back now?’ said Shin, his voice echoing eerily behind them.
‘Hellooooo?’ Creaole called, ignoring Shin’s plea completely as she shuffled forwards to examine the door frames more closely. She wondered if somehow she had made a mistake and stopped in front of the wrong set of three. She peered more closely at the frame, giving it a little poke of encouragement. She had been here enough times that she was almost certain this was the place, but usually the final guardian came out for a chat.
‘It’s me, Creaole,’ she added in a conspiratorial whisper, just in case he was not sure, and gave one of the carved flowers an encouraging nudge with her finger.
‘I’m not supposed to talk to you.’ A little whisper wound out from part of the frame near her head. Creaole squinted as she finally found the tiny little carved mouse that had spoken to her.
‘Idiot,’ Shin groaned under his breath, his face falling as Creaole’s split into a grin.
‘Well, you’re talking to me now,’ said Creaole. She was met with more silence. ‘Come on, you’ve spoken to me already.’
‘The boss says you’re not supposed to know where the exit is.’ The whisper came from the door on the left this time and Creaole sidestepped over to a tiny bee pictured pollenating a beautifully carved flower.
‘Massive pushover,’ Shin added, again under his breath. Creaole elbowed him, her elbow sinking into his rib cage as his elastic form gave way slightly.
‘I already know where the door is though, and it’s not like I’m ever going to go through,’ Creaole shuddered at the thought. ‘So what’s the harm?’
A sigh echoed through the air and the door frames began to stretch away from the wall. Well, the decorative carving did, leaving three plain door frames behind. The three frames of carving merged, one frame shrinking and fattening into the legs, another stretching into overly long arms, and one bending into a square to form a head, like a picture frame with no picture. Two eyes blinked into existence in the empty space of the head frame and focused on Creaole. Like the Shadows from earlier, this guardian was vaguely human-shaped, he stood on two legs and had arms and eyes, but that was where the similarities ended.
‘You must never pick a door,’ his voice rumbled as his mouth opened in the decorated frame that outlined his head. It seemed impossible that so many teeth could fit in that space.
‘Of course I won’t,’ began Creaole. ‘I really don’t see why we can’t even talk.’
The guardian of the final door made a gesture that may have been a shrug, but it was hard to tell without shoulders.
‘Humans want immortality.’ The rest of his answer was cut short as a figure stepped through one of the frameless doors.
‘Creaole.’ Darm did not shout as he stepped into the hallway, his appearance even more out of place than Creaole and Shin. Beside her, Shin cursed under his breath.
‘I told you so,’ he hissed.
‘I missed you,’ Creaole tried in her sweetest voice as Darm stepped towards her. Behind him his ruffled grey wings flustered, the only visible sign of his anger. His face was a blank mask, literally. The same leathery black skin that covered his body stretched up over his face, obscuring his eyes and mouth. His voice came from nowhere but still seemed to boom down the hall, making the bones in her chest rumble.
‘How many times do I have to tell you not to come here?’
Darm turned to Shin, his featureless face showing his fury clearly enough.
‘I’ll see you later, Creaole.’ And in the blink of an eye Shin was gone. The only way to tell he had ever been there was the whoosh that filled the spot he had occupied. Creaole bristled, annoyed at Shin for being able to do what she could not, and for leaving her. She turned back to Darm, annoyed with him for arriving back so quickly, and for sending her friend away.
‘You cannot know the way through the maze, you cannot meet me and you cannot talk to these dammed Shadows,’ he ranted through lips that weren’t there. Creaole faced him across the ornate hallway in irritable silence.
‘As for you,’ Darm’s blank leathery head turned towards the guardian of the last door, his dirty grey wings flustering behind him as he did, ‘how many times do you have to be told?’
‘It wasn’t his fault. I tricked him into talking to me.’ The frame guardian met Creaole’s gaze over Darm’s shoulder. It was impossible to say if he smiled, but Creaole liked to hope that was what she saw in the unfamiliar features.
‘How many times do I have to tell you not to talk to them?’ Darm grumbled as he turned back to her. ‘And it is not human, so it is not he, it is an it.’
Creaole bristled, hands snaking to her hips.
‘You can tell me as many times as you like, but if you don’t want me to talk to them then why don’t you let me go to school in the human world?’ She smiled with just a little spite, knowing that he had walked right into that one. ‘I could make human friends there.’
Darm did not respond to her baiting. He reached for Creaole and she allowed herself to be pulled towards his seven-foot form, although the result would have been the same if she had struggled. He wrapped them both in the embrace of his battered grey wings and then with a whoosh of air they disappeared from the hallway.
Grass poked between Creaole’s toes as they arrived on a darkened lawn. The sky was overhead, or what appeared to be the sky. There was no moon or clouds, just stars lining the darkness giving the impression of space, but in the Gateway those small pinpricks of light would never be replaced by the sun. The Gateway was bathed in endless twilight that smothered all colour, staining everything grey.
They appeared to be outside. Ornate stone steps led up to an equally ornate doorway behind them, the first door, where no doubt Shin was lurking, waiting for Creaole to return. Opposite them was another door, this one very different from the one where Shin waited. It was a massive twelve-foot-high arch of aged oak, hardly decorated at all. The wood of the frame looked as if two giant trees had been plucked from the ground and squared to make them. It appeared quite out of place opposite the ornate mansion. The most peculiar thing about the arched doorway was that if you stared at it for long enough spectral walls began to swim into focus either side of it, trees beginning to take on the guise of brick, stone and wood, as if the mansion and the gardens Creaole and Darm now stood within were just another room in a larger building.
Darm released Creaole and turned away from both doors. He led the way around the edge of the mansion across the grey lawn. The outer wall of the Gateway sank in and out of focus on the periphery of Creaole’s vision.
They arrived at a little concrete shed, its corrugated iron roof brushed by the boughs of silver birch trees. It was oddly out of place in the formal old-fashioned-style lawns, not just because of the modern materials. The rest of the trees that lined the periphery of the lawn were massive ancient trees of beech, oak and twisted hawthorn and they dwarfed the birches in size and age.
Darm pushed the door open and held it for Creaole. She had stopped on the grass and was glaring at him, arms folded across her chest. ‘You can’t just keep ignoring me when I ask. I got to the final door without your permission. I got to the Knowledge Keeper without your permission. Keep me locked in here long enough and I’ll get out without your permission too.’
‘Don’t you remember what happened last time?’ Darm asked, his voice low and level and infuriating. Creaole blushed, furious with him for bringing that up.
‘Well, if you’d listened to me then that wouldn’t have happened,’ Creaole argued bitterly.
‘And if you had listened to me I would not have had to mark you with the Shadow brand.’
Creaole turned her back on Darm and the hut and stalked back towards the main entrance of the mansion. She kept her head high as she padded barefoot through the grass, but on the backs of her thighs the rutted scar tissue of the Shadow brand itched against the grubby canvas of her trousers. She stormed up the stairs to the main doors, pushing them open and diving into the darkness.
‘You weren’t hungry then?’ Shin’s disembodied voice greeted her first as her eyes strained against the darkness of the first door.
‘Don’t, Shin,’ Creaole snapped back as Shin’s silhouette emerged from the shadows. Behind Creaole the door clicked shut, sealing her back inside the mansion. She glared at it over her shoulder, her eyes cast in shadow, then stormed away. Shin just shrugged and fell in behind her as she headed off into one of the many halls that led from the first door.
‘Are we actually going to see Keikei this time?’ Shin ventured when he thought she might have had enough time to calm down. Creaole sighed and slowed her pace as she finally realised the bag slung over her shoulder was empty. She had no book to return and exchange for a new one.
‘Sure, I can do some reading in there.’ There was no chance she was going back to the hut to collect her finished book.
‘Creaole,’ Shin tried, then cringed as he watched tension harden her shoulders.
‘Don’t you start.’ Creaole’s tone was clipped and harsh.
‘But you know it’s not good for you to read in the library. Darm has a point on this one.’
Creaole spun round, tears brimming at the edges of her eyes as she fought to hold them back.
‘Just stay here then.’ She twisted back round and sprinted off into the darkness.
Shin watched as the grey light of the Gateway wrapped around her, but Shin did not need eyes to track Creaole. For his Shadow eyes, Creaole’s soul burned like an eternal light, visible through walls and across the whole length of the Gateway.
Chapters 2, 3 and 4 up