Chapter 4

Written by: Ant Gavin Smits

Agatha steamed through her front door and down the long chilly hallway. The Edwardian villa she shared showed its age; little varnish remained on the bruised and battered decorative skirtings and trim. She marched into the sunlit conservatory that someone with poor taste had tacked onto the rear of their rental some years earlier, in full dudgeon. “Scarlet,” she hissed, shrugging off her coat and laying it carelessly across an armchair. “I’ve found another one.”

Scarlet looked up from her keyboard. Her eyes briefly took in her flatmate’s scowl through bold orange frames; the glasses provided a strong focal point on an unremarkable face.

“Really? Another drugged-up child on prescription medicine lawfully administered?” Scarlet’s question didn’t even hold a hint of interest; she’d already looked back at her spreadsheet. 

“I met him on the bus, a young boy, beaten up. His name is Thomas. You should have seen his arms,” Agatha rattled it all off. “And then his stepmother whipped him, upstairs, while I was at his house, talking to his Dad. While I was there, Scarlet,” she spat, emphasising it in case her financial planner friend needed convincing.

Scarlet had been making notes on a pad. She laid the pen down and turned her head. Agatha hadn’t come to sit at the table; she’d stopped on the circular rug. In the exact centre, Scarlet observed, with interest.

“If you’re going to take up arms,” said Scarlet, “and I guess you are, get some evidence this time. This child may have injuries, but will he go with you to report it?”

Agatha looked unsure for a moment. “He said he wouldn’t say anything. Thomas said the school had sent someone round a week ago and nothing came of it. Except trouble for him. We could wait. They won’t get away with it forever. But I want it stopped now, Scarlet. I can’t let it go. You know that.” She pulled out a chair opposite her friend, feet breaking the room’s silence as they scraped the linoleum.

Scarlet reached out a thin arm and rested her much younger hand on Agatha’s dark fingers. “You’ll need proof,” she said, practically. “How old is the boy?”

“He said he was ten,” Agatha said. “Though his father said he just makes up stories. He told me about several siblings that apparently don’t exist. But the beatings are real enough.”

Scarlet shrugged. “Use the spycam I got for the Taylor business – if you think he’s clever enough to put it somewhere that will capture them doing it. Do you know how to find him again?

“I do,” she said, smiling for the first time since returning home. “He said he takes the same bus every day.”

Resolve strengthened in her mind. Agatha was not going to be dismissed at Social Services again for another unwarranted intrusion into the lives of others, Ms Rathbone? She was only trying to help, after all. Doing her civic duty.

“Tomorrow,” she said firmly. “I’ll catch that bus again.”




This is the sort of chapter that either 'makes it' or not. Where there is a fair amount of dialogue as well as thought input by two characters speaking, the writer has to nudge the plot along while keeping the reader interested and looking forward to finding out what happens next. Ant has done this here. We see the scene set in an Edwardian Villa and as the chapter progresses we note that one character has been writing and the other reporting about a child being abused. So, in a short chapter we readers not only get involved in the two women's surroundings and their attitudes but we want to know a little more about the boy and can these women seek out the boy and help him. Interesting chapter. I enjoyed reading it and liked the way it left me wanting to know more. Nice chapter, Ant.
Two things I noticed here and forgot to mention them. Both are important issues that I have fallen foul of myself. At the top end, Scarlet looks up from a keyboard but three paragraphs later, she is making notes in a pad (she laid the pen down) In the fourth paragraph Agatha says she met the boy on the bus and in the same paragraph she is in the boys house with the father while the boy is whipped. It would be better to split the information, showing that Agatha maybe went home with the boy to talk to father. As it is I thought this a tiny bit confusing. Continuity is a big problem that we tend to forget but details like this should be part of our revision before we submit. This is a good chapter Ant.
Thanks Ray. Insightful as always. Your thoughts are welcomed.
Ray ... thinking about your points:
Was she writing or using a keyboard? I imagined both, a pad at the side of her keyboard on which she was making notes about changes needed. Maybe I'm showing my age! But that is the way I work myself. With a word limit of only five hundred words, a lot is left for the reader to imagine, yet I should have found a way to mentioon both notepad and laptop in the same sentence so it didn't seem I went for lunch while writing the piece and afterward returned forgetting what Scarlet was doing. As for the commentary about Agatha's experiences on the bus, she did say "while I was his house" .. I could have added the word 'later', to that, but I did think it was clear enough. Just shows the advantages of more pairs of eyes - a good plug for the editor's role!

Thanks Ray. You deserve some tea for that.
I think you would be much better writing in the 1000 word serial if you have the time. Your descriptive and character work is nicely detailed and deserves more room to flow.
Interesting chapter, Ant. I liked the way you took the time to describe the place and the characters.
The points Ray make are great. I find it is always helpful to have someone look at my work with a fresh set of eyes.
Your description of the villa, the chair scraping on the floor are great. It is always helpful to a reader to be able to see where people are interacting and how. With a pure piece of dialogue it is impossible to do that. Tone of voice and pauses do give insight to character but where someone is and his/her surroundings are always keys to understanding a character. Loved the chapter and your wonderful descriptions. The dialogue was also well managed...just goes to the edge of being too long and you pull back. Good control.