Susanna Callaghan

Susanna Callaghan
Born in London I moved around the south for a while and then wandered up north, coming to prefer wilder countryside and living near the sea. I’ve been fortunate to run my own business, exploring various artistic and creative ways of working.

Strangely, although I first started writing stories around age thirteen, I dropped it once I started studying for exams, going to university and looking for a ‘proper job’. Since then, I somehow believed that I couldn’t be a real writer, or become a published author, or I would already be one. As if you’re just born with the talent, or you aren’t. When the illogic of this sunk in, I finally decided to return to my dream and work to make it come true.

I have always wanted to write fiction, but only started intensively practising writing and editing skills from 2016. Encouraged by having three short stories accepted and published in anthologies in 2018, I have since been working on my first full length novel.

I know I still have so much to learn about writing, editing and making good choices in this new world. The good news, and the discovery I have made is that I, and anyone else, can learn, practice and become a good writer and there are now a variety of avenues to get work published and find an audience.

This is a wonderful thing, because I firmly believe that, for our health and happiness, all humans have a deep need to express ourselves creatively, in one way or another.
Award Category Finalist
Award Submission Title
Time to Die
Logline
Sixteen year old Julie wants love and adventure, but the attractive stranger can’t even remember his name. As she tries to help him, they uncover a 50 year old crime and realise there’s no way to stop the research without someone dying.
My Submission
CHAPTER 1

The village fell into a deep silence at night. Commuters stayed in town for the gym or a drink, but once they came home they settled in front of their TVs and went to bed early. Julie liked to watch the lights blink out in the scattered houses up and down the hill and when nothing but a faint necklace of street lights marked the loop of the lanes, the stars reached down to touch the fields.

Looking out of her bedroom window, the bushes in the front garden were dark and still. The light at the crossroads reached as far as the cottage opposite, a little way along the lane to her right and part way up the hill opposite, but to the left the lane leading to Ken’s house and the dead end was inky black.

Julie loved gazing up at the night sky and making out the constellations, but she sometimes wished she lived closer to school and some of her friends in town.

Tonight she flipped between frustration and boredom. One more day to the Easter holidays and Mum was going to London for a couple of days; but what use was that, when Dawn was flying to Paris for a week? It wouldn’t be much fun going into town on her own and worse if she ran into Darren and his mates. She shuddered. Seriously - Do all teenage boys have acne and act like kids?

A car passed the cottage, its headlights sweeping an arc of light across her bedroom wall. Julie listened for the engine sound to change as it slowed for the bend and accelerated up the hill, but it continued down the lane. The driver would have to turn round and come back in a minute.

Julie thought about phoning Dawn, but knew she’d have her clothes all over the bed and would want to go over – for the umpteenth time - what to take to impress the guys in Paris.
Maybe later.

Another car, driving slowly in the same direction. This time Julie watched it pause and continue down to the end of the lane. Weird. The other car hadn’t come back either.

“Mum!”

Leaning over the top of the stairs she could see the back of Mum’s head, hair mussed and fluffy, as she bent over her sketches in the little pool of light from her desk lamp.

“Mum? Two cars just drove past. They went down towards the dead end.”

“Mmhmm. Going home.”

Julie came down the stairs and switched on the main light. “Mum, it’s a lot later than that.”

Wrapping her arms round Mum’s shoulders in a quick hug, she pulled two pencils out of her tangled hair and smoothed it down. Another car drove by.

“That’s three now, and they’re all going down the end of the lane towards Ken’s house.”

“Well maybe he has visitors. Julie, I really have to finish this.”

The last car hadn’t gone down the lane; she could still hear the motor idling outside. Tiptoeing to the window, Julie twitched the edge of the curtain back. The driver was leaning across the inside of the car, and seemed to be peering at their gate.

“I’m just going outside for a moment.”

Racing to the front door, she paused, put the latch on and pulled it to behind her. An elderly man had got out of the car and was now peering at the house over the road. He turned as he heard her coming.

“Hello. Can I help you? Are you lost?”

“Yes. I am looking for Woodside. It must be near here?”

Ken’s house.

“You’re nearly there. It’s straight ahead, down the end of the lane on the right.”

The old man looked at her with pale, watery eyes. “Very kind, thank you.” With a little bow, he climbed back into his ancient black Ford and drove off slowly.
Julie watched him go and then, realising he could see her standing there, she went back inside.

In the lounge Mum was immersed in her work, oblivious. The kitchen clock’s tick was loud in the silence. She thought about getting Mum a coffee, then quietly closed the living room door and stood a while in the hall, thinking.

Going back up to her room Julie left the light off and looked down towards the end of the lane. It wasn’t far to Ken’s house; the porch light was a dim glow behind high laurel hedges, but she could see nothing else from here.

She made up her mind.

It was a cold night, typical for April, even though the day had been quite warm, so she slipped on a jacket before tiptoeing back downstairs. Leaving the door on the latch, she quickly crossed the front lawn and climbed over the low wall. The gate was temperamental and squeaky. Not that Mum would worry, Julie had said she was popping out, and anyway, their village was boringly safe.

Walking briskly to the bend in the road, she paused to look up the hill, to where it looped into the main part of the village, back past home and ahead down the lane. She walked on beside the laurel hedge.

“Just going for a little walk with my dog; which I really wish I had right now. A dog would be the perfect cover.”

She decided to walk past Ken’s house to the end of the lane, where a footpath crossed the fields. Too dark to be heading out there, but if anyone saw her she could claim to be coming home from a walk. Two cars were in the lane and two were parked through the double wrought iron gates on the tarmac drive. The porch light was on and light seeped round closed curtains in the room to the left of the hall, but the house was otherwise dark. One of the visitors had left the gate ajar.

Julie continued to the stile at the end of the lane. The moon was bright, on its way to full, and she paused to enjoy the woolly cloud-shapes in the fields. The sheep had settled down for the night and she didn’t want to hang around in case she set them off bleating.

“The first sign of adventure in years. Dawn will think I’m pathetic if I tell her all I saw was parked cars.”

Back at the gate, the porch light had been switched off. Realising that must mean no one else was coming, she slipped through the gate, past the cars, using them as cover, and stopped below the window.

Men’s and at least one woman’s voice, but she couldn’t make out what they were saying. Their voices were loud, but they were talking over the top of each other. Then someone opened the door to the hall.

“Gerhard –“ Ken’s voice.

“Gerald. I told you, I prefer Gerald. I’m just going to the bathroom.” The speaker closed the door. Inching sideways, to look through the glass sidelight next to the front door, she saw the old man crossing the hall. Ducking back, Julie waited until she heard him go back into the room.

Moving past the front door, Julie saw a table, topped by a dim lamp, but nothing else of interest in the square hallway. That was all she’d seen several years ago, when she’d dared to knock on the door selling school raffle tickets. One glimpse of brown walls, threadbare carpet and sparse furniture, while Ken shouted at her.

“Can you not read the sign on the gate? No tradesmen. No hawkers or circulars. No visitors. I don’t care what you are touting. You are trespassing. Get off my land.”

Julie shivered. This was a bad idea, but since she was here, it would only take a moment to peek through the window on the other side of the hall.

The curtains were open, and peering cautiously over the sill, she could see the room was unoccupied and that it was a library or study. The light was off, and it was hard to make out much in the faint moonlight. A desk, filing cabinets, bookcases, piles of boxes or books on the floor. Julie stood on her toes, to try and see further into the room. Strange shadows moved on the back wall and she held her breath, until she realised they were cast by the waving laurels behind her.

Tall, pale objects stood against the back wall. As hard as she looked, she couldn’t make out what they were, especially with the shadows playing over them. They looked about six or seven feet high, maybe three feet wide, roughly cylindrical. They were a bit like cocoons, or the Egyptian mummies she’d seen on a school trip to the British Museum. Julie was right up against the glass now, peering into the gloom trying to make out more detail. A sudden flicker drew her attention to the object on the left hand end, pale oval points, moving and focusing. Eyes staring towards the window. Straight at her.

Heart racing, Julie jumped backwards, turned and ran down the drive, bumping into one of the cars, before she got out through the gate, down the lane and home.

Someone watched her go.

CHAPTER TWO

Slamming and locking the front door, Julie leaned against it, one hand on her pounding chest, and waited for her breathing to slow. She turned and looked through the half moon of glass above the door. All quiet in the lane, no-one had followed her; she closed her eyes and breathed a sigh of relief.

The living room door opened and Julie gasped.

“OhmyGod, Mum.”

“Sorry, did I startle you? What are you doing standing out here in the dark, anyway?”

Julie took a deep breath.

“I came to ask if you’d like a coffee?”

“In your coat?”

“I just went for a walk down the lane.”

“At this time of night? Are you smoking again?”

“No!”

Mum touched Julie’s cheek and hands and frowned.

“You feel icy. Come into the kitchen and get warm. I’ll put the kettle on.”
Sitting at the solid pine table in their cosy farmhouse kitchen, warming her hands on her mug, everything seemed normal and safe, but Julie couldn’t get that nightmare moment out of her mind. Whoever, or whatever, was in that room had seen her, had locked gazes with her and she could only hope it hadn’t seen her clearly in the dark. No one seemed to have followed her, but she was still half holding her breath and expecting a knock at the door.

“I had enough of studying and I wanted to clear my head, so I just went for a walk down the lane, as far as Ken’s house, and…”

“You wanted to know what’s going on. You know what he’s like; don’t aggravate him, especially not after last week.”

“That’s not fair. When that delivery truck turned up, you wanted to know what was in it as much as I did.”

“Being curious and going down there to snoop are two very different things.”

“Ken snoops into our business. He’s always walking by and peering into our garden. He does it with the neighbours too. He’s always lurking just the other side of his hedge when anyone passes by. Anyway I’ve got just as much right to go for a walk down the lane –“

“It’s not a good idea at night.”

“He never has any visitors and now, suddenly four cars turn up at night? Mum, I saw something horrible in the front room…”

“What do you mean? You didn’t go right up to the house, did you?”

“The gate was ajar, so I just went over to shut it, and then I guess I just took a little peek...”

“It’s none of your business. What are you thinking, snooping around his house at night? He’d have every right to be angry, if he caught you acting like a common thief.”

“Mum! You were curious yourself, when that delivery van turned up...”

“I shouldn’t have encouraged you. If we gossip and snoop we’re only proving he’s right to be secretive and antagonistic to everyone.”

“But Mum, they could be doing something illegal. Strange deliveries, meeting after dark. Whatever was delivered, it looks like big silk cocoons, in the front room and something opened its eyes and looked right at me. Maybe he has someone prisoner, maybe they’ve kidnapped someone, or maybe they’re dealing drugs – they were like big cylinders – maybe some kind of storage system for drugs...”

“Stop, stop. This isn’t a Nancy Drew mystery. You always let your imagination run riot; I just wish you spent as much time and energy on your studies.”

“Mum!”

“No, Mum anything. You’re always imagining things and making things up – last week you thought he was a drug smuggler, as if they’d be delivered by van to his door! And those ‘devil worshippers’ last summer at the standing stones? Well might you blush!”

“Well they were acting strange.”

“Yes, dreadful! A Christian group, for goodness sake! You made me walk all the way up there and we ended up having to listen to guitar and toast marshmallows.”
They both laughed. Maybe Mum had a point. Could she have imagined something in the low light and flickering shadows? Julie reached for her mug and the hot, sweet tea warmed her all the way down.

“Julie, if you want me to treat you like a grown up, you should start acting like one. You can’t go sneaking round people’s houses at night. How can I leave you alone, when I don’t know what trouble you’ll get into?”

“Mum, it’s 1992, not the Dark Ages.”

“Promise me you’ll stay away from Ken’s, while I’m in London.”

“Well, you could always take me with you.”

“You have school tomorrow, remember? And besides who’s going to feed the chickens? This is what I mean. You’ve got to become more responsible.”

“I’m going to bed.”

“Come here.”

Mum opened her arms for a hug, but Julie pretended not to see and went upstairs.
Later, she heard a car revving up and driving past and away down the lane. She was asleep before the others left.

CHAPTER 3

Ken sat back and watched his former colleagues as they sat uncomfortably on mismatched chairs, processing his news. Their faces were a little more creased, but their expressions and behaviour were much the same as the last time they’d sat round a table together, over 50 years ago.

How quickly everyone fell back into their familiar roles and patterns! Maria’s face was impassive, but he knew he could rely on her, as long as he gave her what she wanted. Norbert and Wolfgang should be fine. They were unimaginative, but they were solid, competent scientists and they remained one hundred percent true to their shared ideology. Give them strong direction and they’d fall in line.

‘Gerald’ was more of a problem. As an idealistic and brilliant young scientist, he had imagined possibilities and made them real, but he was beset by unfortunate ‘ethical principles’ and difficult to keep on track. Over the intervening time he seemed to have convinced himself that he was the English gentleman he pretended to be. He’d probably assumed the moral high ground as well, but since he’d come tonight, he was still a scientist at heart. Handled carefully he should come in line too.

Sitting straighter in his high-backed armchair, Ken leaned forward.

“We must act now. As I say, the Quellen may have been damaged in transit, I cannot be sure that they retain their integrity.”

“Why did you move them, without contacting us first? We could have planned this better together.”

“I told you, Wolfey. After the Wall came down, I had to wait for things to settle and our enemies were watching very carefully throughout the whole process of unification. It took me time to track you all down and in the end I couldn’t wait, I had to move them swiftly.”

“Nonsense. The Cold War is over. It should not have been a problem to wait and plan things properly.”

Gerald shoved back his chair, stood up and leaned over the table.

“Sit down, Gerald. We are all here now and it is good to see you all again.”

Ken touched the coffee jug. It was still hot, so he offered refills and passed around the biscuits, covering the chipped edge of the plate with a thumb.

“Let’s not argue over past history; it is all irrelevant now. We have the Quellen; all that matters is that we now continue our research!”

“How can we do this?” Norbert asked “We have lost the technology, we no longer have the financial backing or resources.”

“First we must recharge the Quellen. Then we can resolve the challenges. We must work together to complete our research. Look at us – we’re running out of time!”

“How seriously are they damaged?” Norbert asked.

“One of the Quellen has damage to the locks, but I believe it is still sealed sufficiently and the rest seem to be intact. We must try to recharge them, then we can…”

“You keep saying that, but how?” Wolfgang said

“Same method; we must try either using two batteries or we must effect a quick switch. I have been working on a way this can be done; but there is only one way to find out.”

“Hmm. It might work; but how will we find test subjects for our ongoing research? We no longer have a ready pool of volunteers.” Wolfgang said.

“One can always find people. We must choose carefully, but it can be done.”

“Thank you, Maria. There are always eager young people, keen to volunteer for a good scientific cause. And if we are successful, we will change the world!”

Ken leaned back smiling.

“Pfui! It’s been 50 years - haven’t you had time enough to get over these delusions? Those were different times, the world has changed; I have changed and I am no longer sure this is a good purpose.”

“Gerald. Have you really lost the vision? We have already proved this can work; we have enjoyed the benefits of success. Do you want to stop short now? This is our life’s purpose and we all swore to complete it, whatever it takes!”

“I have made a new life and I am content. I have a wife, children and grandchildren to think about. Haven’t any of you?”

Gerald saw that Wolfgang was nodding slightly, but Ken would not relent.

“So what are you saying?”

“I do not know. I thought this was long over; now I must think what to do about the Quellen. We should not act rashly. Enough for tonight! I am leaving and I will be in contact when I have had time to think.”

Gerald looked at each of his former colleagues and held up a hand when Ken would speak again.

“Good night.” He turned and left.

Ken started after him, but Maria stayed his arm. “He will come round.”

“Let us hope. If not, we’ll have to deal with him.”

Comments

SusannaC Mon, 09/21/2020 - 18:14

Congratulations to all ebook and writing award finalists; it's a great achievement to get to this stage! A wonderful stepping stone on the way to publishing happiness and success!