Ivy’s Tangle is pretty much done (minus any useful feedback from my remaining beta readers). Hopefully, none of them will find a giant hole in the plot, requiring substantial rewriting. I thought I’d post the first chapter on here, since people read this blog (I’m not sure why) and nobody has read the story on Wattpad in weeks. I’m also going to pull the chapters from Wattpad. It doesn’t appear to be worthwhile for me, and more people borrow my books from the kindle lending library than read them on Wattpad. Enjoy.
Chapter 1 – Ms. Mopat
Perhaps my story began on the day I was born (or long before that) but I’ll start on the first day of last summer. I suppose I should mention that my name is Jack. I’m an ordinary fourteen-year-old. Maybe smarter than average, but below average in almost every other way–I figure it all balances out. My mother and father separated before I was born. I spent the years since being passed back and forth between them. Both were very successful at their jobs, and they moved around a lot. For me it meant seventeen schools in nine years. Needless to say, I didn’t have any friends. At summer’s end, I’d begin again when I started high school… at school number eighteen. When my parents wrote to tell me I’d be living with my grandmother, they used words like stability and consistency, but I understood. The real reason was neither wanted me. You might think I’d be all teary, being a boy whose parents are nothing more than polite strangers, but I was used to it. I’ve had a lot of nannies, daycare, and assorted minders over the years. I even had one year of boarding school–military school! Having to move again and going live with my grandmother wasn’t a big shock.
Like I said, I don’t come from a tightknit family, and I’d only met my grandmother three times in my whole life. She’s my mother’s mother, and my other grandparents are all dead. I’d met none of them.
The week before school ended, I received an envelope containing instructions and airline tickets. Having done a fair bit of solo travelling over the last fourteen years, I was a pro. A taxi picked me up at school and after a couple flights (and another longer taxi ride) I arrived at Glastonbury Manor.
That’s what the sign at the end of Gran’s driveway says. Gran runs a boarding house, and she’s been at it for over fifty years. I’d never seen the house before and was suitably impressed by its massiveness when the taxi brought me down the long tree-lined drive. Gran’s house is built from dark grey granite and stands three stories tall with dormers running along the slate roof, lighting what I figured must be the world’s biggest attic. The lawns and gardens at the front of the house were perfectly manicured and ended sharply at the forest’s edge. We’d driven through a good half-hour of forest before arriving at Gran’s, and I’d seen no sign of other residences, or even side roads, for most of that time. Glastonbury Manor’s driveway started where the road ended.
“You really gonna live here kid?” the taxi driver asked from the front seat.
“Apparently,” I said. “This is my grandmother’s house.”
“She must be loaded.” He pulled the cab up in front of the wide stone steps.
“I guess so.”
I hopped out, looking at the front doors as the cabbie unloaded my suitcases and dropped them beside me.
“Good luck kid,” was all he said before he drove off, leaving me standing at the threshold of the next stage of my young life.
With all of my worldly possessions sitting on the front steps, I considered ringing the bell or making use of one of the big, polished-brass knockers on the front doors. I only considered it briefly; no one eagerly awaited my arrival, and I’d spent most of a night and a day in taxis, on planes, and waiting at airports–sitting. I wasn’t hungry, or tired, had no need of a washroom, and I wasn’t keen to see my grandmother. It didn’t look like rain, and, nobody would drive a zillion miles out into the country to steal my stuff. I decided to investigate the property. The forest called out to me. It begged for exploration. Gran’s spooky-looking house also begged to be explored, but that was better left for a rainy day. I walked back up the drive to the point it ran parallel with the forest. The trees grew right up to the edge of the gravel and stopped. Somebody had trimmed the forest like wall at the edge of the property. I swear it looked like an invisible fence held back the vegetation. Even the branches high-up were cut; most appeared to have been pruned in the distant past, but a few showed signs of more recent trimming. Not a single bud of new growth crossed the invisible boundary. Weird.
I didn’t plan on taking a long hike and getting myself lost. I’m not an idiot. Although I was, up to that point, a city boy. My plan was to go a short way in and have a look around, keeping the open lawns and gardens in view. As long as I could see Gran’s grass, it’d be impossible to get lost. Getting into the woods was harder than you’d think; the edge was as dense as any ancient hedgerow. I pushed forward, eyes closed, as the branches grabbed and scratched at me. A few steps in, something tore my right pant leg open with a loud ripping sound and tripped me. I’m not a clumsy guy, but the next thing I knew I was tumbling and sliding downhill. When I came to a stop, a few bruises later, I opened my eyes and took a first good look at the forest.
The forest was dense, twisted, and gloomy. It wasn’t middle-of-the-night dark, but only a small fraction of the sunshine penetrated the canopy. I sat up, rubbing the side of my head, one of the many spots I’d banged on ground or root during my tumble. I sat in the bottom of a long ditch; thankfully not filled with water. Standing up, I couldn’t see over the edge. Even as I determined to climb back out the way I’d fallen, I realised I didn’t know which way that was. Too many old leaves and too much brush covered the forest floor for me to tell. Since there were two possible choices, I took the fifty-fifty bet and climbed up the side I thought I’d fallen down. I figured at the top, I’d be able to see the driveway–even if I picked wrong. I had only taken a few steps into the forest.
At the upper edge I peered into the surrounding vegetation, seeing no sign of a brighter patch or the driveway in that direction. Down I went again and scrambled up the opposite side of the ditch. The driveway wasn’t visible on that side either. It didn’t seem possible. Gran’s driveway was light-grey gravel, which should have shone through a crack in the undergrowth. I couldn’t make out a thing. The driveway couldn’t be more than a few steps away, and I forced down a growing feeling of panic. I wasn’t lost; I’d hardly gone anywhere.
That’s when I heard something. Nothing too ominous at first–just a rustling in the dry leaves. Probably, squirrels out hunting for nuts. I heard the noise again. It sounded closer and maybe heavy for a squirrel. Raccoon? It was early for them, but also dark in there. Then the rustling sounds came from two directions. Both sounded closer. After a few seconds of silence I exhaled a sigh of relief. That was before sound of movement came again–this time from even closer–and from a third direction. I couldn’t see ten feet into the forest, and I took unconscious steps back away from ditch… and the sounds. Louder, faster, crunching came from at least three different directions in front of me. Whatever they were, they were close now, and definitely bigger than squirrels. Half a second before I was sure the unknown creatures would burst into view, something grabbed me by my shirt collar, dragging me backwards away from the ditch and the frightening sounds.
I may have kicked and screamed a little.
I didn’t know what had a hold of my shirt. It dragged me through the scratchy branches and back onto Gran’s driveway. My kicking and screaming had no effect. I was hoisted upright until I got my feet back under me. With the sudden release of my collar, I spun about in the now dazzlingly bright sunshine. I wasn’t sure what to expect. I certainly didn’t expect to see a pretty, raven-haired woman in a French maid’s uniform. She nodded before turning, and without saying a word, strode away up the driveway towards the house. For a moment, I stood still, at a loss. I turned back towards the forest. It looked the same as it had before; a bunch of trees and bushes. By the time I faced the house again, the woman was halfway there. I had to run to catch up with her at the front steps.
That’s how I met Ms. Mopat, my grandmother’s maid, cook, and one hundred percent of the regular staff at Glastonbury Manor.