03 September 2015

Excerpt Thursday: CHARLIE AND THE GRANDMOTHERS by Katy Towell

This week, we're pleased to welcome author KATY TOWELL with her latest middle-grade novel, CHARLIE AND THE GRANDMOTHERS, set in turn of the century Victorian England. The author will offer one free copy of the novel to a lucky visitor.  Be sure to leave your email address in the comments of today's post  or Sunday's author interview. Winner(s) are contacted privately by email. Here's the blurb.

Charlie and Georgie Oughtt have been sent to visit their grandmother Pearl, and this troubles Charlie for three reasons. The first is that he's an exceptionally nervous twelve-year-old boy, and he worries about everything. The second is that the other children in his neighborhood who pay visits to their grandmothers never seem to return. And the third is that Charlie and Georgie don't have any grandmothers. It turns out a visit to grandmother’s house has never been so frightening…

**An Excerpt from Charlie and the Grandmothers**

February came, and a colder, darker February Charlie could not recall. He already loathed the month as it was. His worst dreams plagued him relentlessly on the snowy nights of February. And now the sun had begun to set as early as noon while the snow fell so heavily that one had to bat the stuff out of the way in order to see where one was going. As usual, nobody found this as alarming as Charlie.
“The days are always shorter in winter,” reasoned Mother.
“All this gorgeous snow and not one friend around to throw a ball of it at,” Georgie harrumphed.
Charlie shook his head impatiently after the umpteenth round of this and swore to himself he’d give up while wondering why he bothered at all. But he knew very well why he bothered. He bothered because he believed in every one of his bones that some evil lurked in those snowy black nights, and if he closed his eyes too long, it would come in and snatch away all that he loved. In truth, he had always felt so, but everyone told him not to let his imagination run away with him. Now that the night came so unnaturally early, and what with all the kids he knew drifting away, Charlie couldn’t be satisfied that all his years of fearful expectation were the product of his nervous fancy.
So, night after night he waited, hunched over his favorite encyclopedia volume with a candle and a mug of hot black coffee to keep him awake. Morning after morning, Mother would find him shivering under his blankets and would have to promise him that whatever threat he had perceived was now long gone with the morning sun.
But then came the darkest night of them all.
It was a distinct and almost tangible darkness that made the hair stand up on Charlie’s neck. It jolted him from his reading and compelled him to peek through his curtains where he saw, to his great alarm, nothing. No street lamps, no wandering beam from the distant lighthouse. The moon had turned black, and while he watched, the very stars went out. Soon after, the noise he usually took for granted long into the night was silenced all at once. No carts rolling on cobblestones, no chatter from late shift dock workers, no sea gulls screeching. It was as if some great awful being were cupping its hands over the world to snuff it out. Then Charlie’s lamp sputtered and died, leaving him in blackness with a thundering heart.
What if it’s me? he thought. What if I’ve gotten myself so frightened that all my senses are short-circuiting? Maybe everything is completely fine out there, and I’ve just gone deaf and blind. Oh dear. That isn’t any better at all!
Charlie’s senses were not on the fritz, it turned out, a fact soon proven when he heard the sound of voices coming from his mother’s room next door. Charlie slipped out of bed and, after stumbling about in the darkness, found the wall and pressed his ear to it.
“Yes,” he heard Mother murmur. “That… would be… lovely. Pearl. I… always… loved… that farm… of pearls…”
Farm of pearls? She must be dreaming, Charlie thought. But then he heard a sound that made his breath catch in his throat. It was another voice. A strange, whispering voice only just audible to the sort of person who makes a practice of listening for strange voices.
See the world, the worldy worldy world,” it hissed in a childish way.
“They should… experience… the world. Shouldn’t… keep them here... all the… time…” Mother yawned.
 “Sleep now. Sleepy sleepy sleep!”
“I… have been… so very tired…”
“Happy! So happy! No need for kiddies!”
Charlie ran to the curtain that divided his half of the room from his sister’s, slipping on the rug in the process. He scrambled to his feet again, ignoring the pain in his undoubtedly bruised knee and hissed, “Georgie! Georgie, wake up! Someone’s in Mother’s room!”
He fumbled for the curtain and pulled it back. In the darkness so absolute, he couldn’t see his sister, but there was no mistaking her snoring. Georgie could have slept through a hurricane, and trying to wake her up always proved a waste of time. But there wasn’t any time to waste, and Charlie knew he couldn’t bury himself in his blankets now.
“Mother!” he shouted, and after much clattering and stumbling and knocking over of things, he made his way to their mother’s room and threw open her door.
When he looked inside, however, he saw no one in the room but Mother. The terrible darkness had lifted. All was illuminated by the hazy glow of the moon now. Through the sheer curtains on Mother’s window, the street lamps kept their usual watch. It seemed then as if all Charlie witnessed before had happened days ago, his memory of it disintegrating like the horror of nightmares by morning.
“Charlie?” Mother mumbled groggily, half sitting. “What’s going on? Are you all right? What’s happened?”
“Nothing,” Charlie said, feeling like a fool. “It was just a bad dream.”
Nevertheless, when Charlie returned to his own room, he peeked out his window once more, just to be sure. He saw a policeman idly pacing the boardwalk. A seagull was decimating a crab. A stray cat perched atop a barrel and cleaned its paws. All under the flames of street lamps that dotted the night’s fog like ghost lights. Everything was as it should be.
And yet something caught Charlie’s eye. Standing but a few yards from the apartment house was a very old woman in a dusty, tattered dress, her shaggy hair draping her hunched shoulders. She leaned on a wooden cart full of junk and was accompanied on either side by a pair of what Charlie supposed were small children, though their clothes and hats were so oversized that he couldn’t see their faces. They could’ve been trained monkeys for all he knew.
Charlie was still puzzling over this when he noticed that the old woman was staring right at him. There could be no mistake about it. Their eyes met, and she grinned, showing teeth as gray as her hair. Charlie gasped and pulled his curtains closed.
It’s just some old rag-and-bone woman, he told himself. Isn’t there anything in the world I’m not afraid of?

About the Author

Katy Towell is the creator of the Childrin R Skary website and animated shorts ("The Mockingbird Song," "Ida's Luck," "The Little Girl Who Was Forgotten By Absolutely Everyone (Even The Postman)"). She is also a graphic designer, writer, and illustrator in Portland with dreams of one day being the scary old lady in the house about which all the neighborhood children tell ghost stories.

Connect with Katy at:
Website: scary.com  
Twitter: @katytowell