Chapter 1

Written by: Anna Zhigareva

The old man’s rubber boots squelched in the snow as they made their way through the buffeting gusts towards a tiny stone-building, a speck of light coming from its only Hall-facing window. 


“Come inside before you catch a chill, eh?” The old man’s voice was roughened by age, but not unkind. 


A wave of hot air hit Damon from the little fireplace in the corner of the living room as he inched into the tiny hut. The old man had squelched right in, vanishing to some dark corner of the hut, water running down the rubber as he trod over the moth-eaten rugs. He reappeared carrying a mug of hot tea and a pair of slippers.


“Now, sit by the fire.” He handed Damon the mug of tea and slippers, and proceeded to shake off the rubber boots. His own slippers snuggly on his feet, the old man lowered himself slowly into one of the aged leather armchairs by the fire. “Bella,” the name slipped through his lips with ease, as though he often said it. 


You’re not the first to meet her, Damon recalled.


“What happened in 1873?” Damon ventured, ignoring the clock on the wall saying it was already midnight.


“Ah, that’s quite a story,” the old man replied, staring into the fire as it cracked the logs inside the iron chamber.


Damon’s gaze involuntarily flicked to the window which faced the grand Hall, or at least its grand silhouette, which one could just make out through the snow and darkness. The attic window flickered with light, as if someone had lit a candle there and forgotten to blow it out. 


But why would someone be up there, alone in a deserted house?


“Tell me,” Damon insisted, his mind unable to forget the retreating footsteps in the snow.


The old man seemed to dawdle a moment. He sighed, inspected the crack in the leather of his armchair, sighed again, and then began.


“A great family used to live in this Hall.” By chance, or perhaps because the story took him back to when he was a child being told it, the old man’s voice took on a lighter, smoother tone. “They were called the McGonaghs. Had five children, all as dark-haired and pale-skinned as each other. The family was popular for its winter Ball, the hunting outings, and the musical talent of the Madame of the house, Elizabeth McGonagh. But one winter-”.


Before he could continue, a light knock sounded at the door. Damon shot his host a startled look, trying to suppress the pain of his burnt tongue, but it was as if the old man had frozen in his seat. Not in fear or surprise; rather, it seemed as if he had been expecting someone, his limbs now frozen in anticipation. Only his lips and tongue moved as his eyes met Damon’s.


“Perhaps it shouldn’t be me telling the story after all,” he murmured as the wooden door creaked open.


Oh what a great way to lead into the next chapter - through a creaking door. Well described surroundings and just enough back story to whet the appetite. I think this is a terrific example of how a serial should open, leaving readers urging the next writer to 'hurry up.' Nice vocab throughout, Anna, and lots of mystery. Congratulations.
Love your characterisation of the old caretaker, Anna. Great chapter.