“During Precarious3 Festival, working with the Aspire program, writer Kate Story provided a structured peer mentorship group to 7 aspiring youth writers. One of them, Emma Spencer, has generously agreed to put her writing online for your entertainment. Kate says, “I love this piece. From the wonderful first sentence, a vivid world of change and fragility is established. Emma is building a rich parallel-historical world packed full of family drama, class politics, the supernatural, and intense sensuality. Pearly is a sweet main character. I for one can’t wait to find out what happens next!” Kate Story – Precarious3 Artistic Director
“I am so grateful to have been part of this creative writing experience in partnership with the Precarious3 Festival. It’s such a privilege to watch young adults with vastly different experiences and interests create and share stories with each other. Sharing your work with the world is a very vulnerable thing, and my hat goes off to everyone in this awesome group for bravely giving and receiving feedback about their writing each week. Reading the different styles and plots each week was incredibly fun, and we all appreciate Kate Story so much for guiding us through the process! Can’t wait to do this again soon.” Jane Garant – Aspire Staff
The Old House on Winslow Road
by Emma Spencer, 2021
On the walk by the beach, where stones were sharp and the water was cold, sun rays beamed through the clouds. Down a little further ran an old beaten path. Old cobblestone stairs led to a road above, and down that road lay a little town known as Winslow.
Pearly Ferland barely knew anything of the world. Her family was poor. Her father was in jail for theft; her mother was a seamstress. Every now and then, young Pearly would walk down by the beach to gather stones and shells for her collections.
One day, everything changed. The walks by the beach ended; everything grew wet and cold. Fall was upon them.
Pearly’s mother got sick from the cold.
“I am worried about you, Mother. You barely ever eat. Won’t you eat the soup and bread I made you?”
Jenna Ferland smiled at her daughter. “My child,” she said, “why do you have such concern? I will eat if it will make you happy. I will be alright; no need to worry, dear.”
“Mother, I have concern because I cannot provide for you. I cannot help you as you need.” Pearly stared out the window at the dim evening light. “If Father were here, he would know what to do.”
Jenna stirred from her seat and kissed her daughter on the cheek. “I know you miss your father. As do I.” She sat at the kitchen table, and picked at the dinner her daughter had prepared for her.
“You know, dear,” she looked up, “you would make an excellent baker. And seamstress. The work you have done is very fine.” Jenna pointed at a large woollen purple cloak hanging up on the wall.
“I am only still learning,” Pearly whispered. “How do you expect anyone to offer me a job if I am only learning?”
“My dear Pearly, there is no need for that. You make excellent work.”
Pearly looked at her mother. She had a point. Her mother was the best seamstress around. She had been taught by the old woman in the old house on Winslow Road. And then, she’d passed on to Pearly everything she knew. “Do not forget, Pearly, what I have taught you.”
The next day Pearly set out to the old woman’s house. She wore her best clothing: her dress she had pieced together out of velvet and linen scraps, her woollen cloak, her white lace bonnet. She also took two baskets, one containing her sewing samples, the other carrying her muffins and baked bread, wrapped up in cloth to keep warm.
On her way through town, she passed women in long, colorful dresses made from velvets and silks, their cloaks almost sweeping the ground as they walked. The men wore knee-length breeches over stockings, with long tail coats cut high over the breeches, collars turned up and ruffled cravats at their necks.
Pearly wished she could wear nicer clothing, but at the same time she liked her lighter and simpler dresses. She didn’t care much for upper class fashion.
Pearly neared Winslow Road. The road was named before the town was founded. It was an old run-down road now, with only one rickety house. This was the home of the old woman. She was reputed to be very mean, but an excellent seamstress.
Pearly’s heart beat faster, but she knew she must go on. As the old house loomed near, she started to panic. She stopped and paused for a moment, remembering the words of her mother the previous night. No need to worry, dear. As she walked up to the house, she lifted her dress so as not to step on the hem. Catching her breath, Pearly climbed the stairs and knocked on the door, and waited.
Finally, the door opened. Pearly gazed upon an old woman in a long black dress lined with lace. She held a cane in her left hand, and an emerald green bonnet covered her silvered, white hair. “Well, what do you want? Who are you and why are you here? I haven’t got all day, so speak up!”
Pearly was stunned and stuttered her words, “W-well…I…um…”
“Get on with it, girl!”
Pearly was frightened but managed to answer, “Please. I am looking for work to pay for my mother’s health.”
The old woman stared at Pearly and then at her baskets. “What do you have there?”
“I have my sewing work, and baked goods.” She lifted up a cloth to reveal the bread and muffins. She opened the other basket, showing sewn linen garments embroidered with beautiful patterns.
The old woman finally smiled. “My apologies for being so harsh and cold. What is your name, dear?”
“My name is Pearly…” Pearly managed. “Pearly Ferland.”
“Pearly Ferland… I believe I taught your mother, when she was young.”
“My mother told me that.” Pearly dared to ask, “Did you know her well?”
“I did, yes. How is she? It’s been so long since I’ve seen or heard from her.”
Pearly looked down to hide the sadness in her eyes. “She’s sick. I don’t know what’s wrong with her. She barely eats.”
It was getting dark fast. The wind picked up, blowing leaves onto the old road. Pearly started to shiver.
“Come inside, dear,” the woman said. “It’s freezing outside. Let’s talk about your mother.”
“Thank you, Mrs…?
“My name is Veronica Millard.”
Pearly stepped into the old wooden house. Her first impression was of lanterns, dimly lighting the space. The house reminded her of her own, very dull, dimly lit. This house was bigger, however. And it had an eerie feel to it.
On her left she saw a living room, dimly lit with old, worn-out furniture, but the fire in the fireplace gave the room a welcoming feel. The warmth from the fire gently swept through the room, as if a light breeze had picked it up.
On the right lay the kitchen, with very little except for a table and chairs, a countertop and an island. Straight ahead were stairs leading to the second floor.
“Follow me, dear.”
Just then came a loud bang from outside. Pearly gasped and jumped.
Veronica looked down at Pearly cowering at the bottom of the stairs. “Come now, dear,” she said. “It was nothing but the wind slamming the shutters against the house. It’s an old house. No need to be frightened.”
Pearly crept up onto the stairs. It was dark. The wind howled through small cracks in the wooden house, giving Pearly a sense that she and Veronica were not alone.
When they reached the top landing, Pearly saw three bedrooms, all identical: one bed in each; a dresser; a single window with two flowy white curtains fluttering over each one.
One room in particular caught Pearly’s eye. It was bigger than the other two, and the window was open just a crack.
Wind started to whisper through the small crack, almost as if it was whispering to Pearly.
Pearly stood transfixed, facing the room, hearing the small whispering of the wind, wondering if someone was actually in the room. The curtains danced as the wind picked up, revealing a small wooden chest on the floor.
The wind picked up even more. Words were now becoming clear.
Pearly could hear someone whispering, a voice like that of a small child. “Open it, open it!”
Pearly was just about to set foot into the room, when…
“No one is allowed in that room, young lady!”
The window slammed shut. Everything stood still. The wind died down, the curtains stopped moving. Even the chest disappeared.
Pearly jumped and turned around.
“I’m sorry Mrs. Millard. I got distracted.”
Pearly walked to where Veronica beckoned from one of the other rooms, giving one last glance at the bedroom. Yes, the chest had disappeared. Everything stood still as if nothing had happened.
Pearly didn’t bother to ask Veronica anything about the room. She knew she would get cold, hard answers such as “it’s nothing” or “it’s none of your business.”
Pearly joined Mrs. Millard. A table, big enough to seat four people, sat in the center of the room, one chair at each end. A matching set of plates, knives and forks were laid out neatly on top of a white table cloth.
Pearly sat down, placed her baskets on the table, and took out the bread and muffins and grabbing a plate for each. There were six blueberry muffins and loaf of white bread. She also placed her seamstress work in the middle of the table.
“Now, Pearly, shall we begin talking about your mother? And do you mind if I take a muffin and a slice of bread?”
“I do not mind at all, Mrs. Millard. I brought them for you.”
“Please, call me Veronica.”
Veronica seized a knife and sliced off a piece of bread; she took a bite, chewing vigorously. She also took a muffin, at the same time examining the work Pearly had laid out for inspection.
“This is very well done,” Veronica pointed to the neatly sewn flowers. “And your bread and muffins are absolutely delicious.”
Pearly smiled. She was proud of the work she’d done.
“Thank you… Veronica.”
“You’re quite welcome, dear. Now go on then, tell me what is wrong with your mother.”
“Well, she’s a bit sluggish. And she gets cold very easily.”
“Has she lost weight at all?” Veronica asked.
Pearly saw concern in Veronica’s eyes and was nervous to answer. She sifted through her thoughts.
“Tell me the truth, dear.”
Pearly sighed. She knew she couldn’t lie. Her mother was her whole world; she’d been there through everything, even when Father went to jail.
Memories started to form in her mind from that day. Herself, pleading for her father to stay; her mother hugging her, telling her it would be alright. One last kiss on her forehead before her father was taken away. I’ll come back to you, Pearly!
Tears started to form in her eyes; she had to look away from Veronica.
“I was only a little girl when my father went to jail.” Pearly started. “I haven’t seen him in 10 years at least.”
“Why did he go to jail?” Veronica asked curiously.
“Theft.” Pearly paused. “We’re a poor family, in a town of riches. He stole bread trying to feed us that night. I told him I should’ve gone instead. Now, my mother is sick, I can’t care for her, I don’t even know what’s wrong with her. I can’t lose both my mother and father, and yes, she’s lost weight.”
Pearly felt the tears running down her cheeks. Outside darkness had descended, bringing an added eeriness to the room. She felt Veronica’s eyes on her. She grabbed a handkerchief from her pocket and wiped her tears away.
“There is no need to be worried, dear,” the woman said. “I’ll visit your mother tomorrow and see how she is for myself.”
Pearly looked up at Veronica. The look on the old woman’s face reassured her.
“You think she’ll be alright, then?”
“Let’s hope so. But for now, I would like you to spend the night. It’s far too dangerous to be walking the streets at this time.”
Pearly felt a tightness in her chest. She’d never been away from her mother for more than a few hours in a day. She’d only just met Veronica, and already she’d asked her to spend the night.
Her thoughts wandered. She was twenty years old, she thought to herself. It was time to start making a life for herself, instead of clinging to her mother. She felt that the bond between them had to be loosened.
She looked out the window and saw how dark and eerie it was outside, especially with the moon dipping in out from behind the clouds.
Pearly looked up at Veronica, still patiently waiting for an answer.
“Alright, I’ll spend the night.”
“Wonderful! We’ll have much fun!”
It was Just a Dream
Veronica led Pearly into one of the bedrooms.
“Here we are. This is your room for tonight.”
Her room was between Veronica’s and the room where she had heard the child’s voice.
Pearly walked over to the bed, and ran her hand over the sheets made of silk that were lined with lace. Pearly was in awe; she’d never felt anything so soft and smooth. “These are stunning!”
“I made them myself. I will teach you if you would like.”
Pearly was amazed. She couldn’t believe Veronica had made the magical things, emerald green silk with lace white as snow. “Yes, please, I would love that. When can we start?” Pearly asked eagerly.
“Someday soon. But for now, you should get some sleep. Goodnight, Pearly.”
Pearly crawled into the soft bed, still amazed how soft the sheets were.
That night, Pearly dreamt of her father returning home. When he opened the door, her mother screamed with joy, running into his arms crying. Pearly was watching from the living room as they embraced, when she noticed a small child standing next to her father.
She couldn’t make out what the child looked like. It was dark and blurred; or maybe she didn’t pay proper attention, overcome by the excitement in the room.
When she opened her mouth to ask what the child’s name was, everything collapsed around her. The walls crumbled to the floor. Her mother and father were waving goodbye to her with tears in their eyes.
Everything was black. It was just her and the child now, or so she thought. As the image became clearer, she noticed that there were two children, a boy and a girl, dressed all in white with hair the color of honey. The little girl was wearing a night gown, and her braid draped over her shoulder. She was tiny, knee-high; the boy was a bit taller and also wore a night gown, with shorter hair. They were each holding a candle. They spoke simultaneously.
“We are here, we are watching you. If you leave, we will follow you”
The air became thick and cold. Their faces split open like cracks in a porcelain doll. Blood poured out, and they began to scream, ear-piercing screams, the whole of their pale bodies now covered in their own blood.
“Help us! Help us!” they shrieked, lunging towards Pearly.
Pearly awoke, screaming as she shot straight out of bed.
Veronica came running as fast as she could. “Pearly, my dear child, it’s alright. Tell me what happened.”
Pearly looked around the room frantically. The sun was up and the birds were chirping.
“It’s nothing.” She gasped for air. “It was only just a dream.”
…. To be continued….