The next chapter of Beneath the Surface I post on Wattpad will be Chapter 23. This is still less than a third of the novel, but Christopher’s adventure in The Underplane is well underway. I’m aiming to have the complete draft novel posted for your ongoing feedback within the first week or two of December. Another 45,000 words (give or take) to go!
Meanwhile, I would like to present to you my latest chapter, just completed this morning. Bells are ringing throughout the village of Onehill, though Christopher — or Cee as his new friends call him — has yet to know what they signify. Christopher is eating breakfast with Ria and the children, and recalling…
Chapter 23: The church by the sea
I want to tell you about another time I heard bells.
On that day, I’d no idea where Dad was taking me and I knew better than to ask. All I knew was it took us a long time to get there. Hours spent in silence and bitter cold in Dad’s old Ford Falcon. The heater had packed up long before we’d ever owned it.
We arrived at a tiny church by the sea. It sat on a sandy strip opposite some shops and looked more like an abandoned portable classroom. Ferny branches hugged it, keeping it close and protecting it. When we left the car and made towards it, I could hear the rush of the sea somewhere out of sight. A sound, I thought, that had been going non-stop forever — before all things to do with humanity. Before that even. And would continue to go on forever. Way beyond us.
It almost suggested that the church, as piddling as it looked, was connected to greater things.
I kicked at a pine cone and Dad tsked at me without looking up. But the pointy things were everywhere, just begging for it. More of them were piled up in the church’s lopsided gutters above us as we entered. Someone wasn’t doing their job and clearing them out.
And that was when I heard the bells. But they didn’t ring out all over the land like the Onehill bells. They dinged in a shrill, plasticky way. They came from a cassette player sitting on a trestle table just inside the door. The player looked like something left behind by a handyman; it was paint-spattered and the slot in the front where the cassettes went was held together with a rubber band.
People sat on rows of wooden benches. We stood sidelong to them and they turned and faced us. No one waved or nodded. I knew a few by sight — aunts and uncles I’d met once or twice. There were about fifteen in all.
I sat where Dad pointed, in the front row. Everyone behind us. Except for a lone man dressed in what looked like layers of green and white curtain lining. He jumped up from a chair as we sat own and hurried over and clacked off the bells. They went off mid-ding.
Except for some sniffs, and creaks from benches.
Before us was a long wooden box. It was on a metal wheelie stand and in front of a colored glass window showing a bleeding man who was doubled-over, carrying a massive cross on his back. The wood of the box was glossy, I couldn’t stop gazing into its soft reflection. It looked as if it could be warm to touch. The lid was bolted down with shiny bronze knobs and Mum’s photo was on top of it, in a little frame.
I knew Mum must be in that box. I didn’t want to know, but that picture made sure I didn’t forget it. Though I couldn’t sense her with my radar illness. She was long gone.
With only the box to look at, I concentrated instead on thinking about the time she’d spent propped up against a stack of pillows in a hospital bed in our family room, gazing through the bay window and into our garden. She’d been dying for months but living every moment, with her family. That was what her illness had taught her, she’d said. Live every moment.
Not so, me. Born ill, everything just was the way it was.
The man in curtains told us he was Scottish, in case we hadn’t guessed. He laughed loudly, like that was an amazing joke. But the only thing funny was his accent, as if he was always on the verge of cracking another joke, but then thinking the better of it. Thank God.
He told us he’d become a priest a long, long time ago and had been sent here. Across the sea. We were his family now. He raised his arms as he said that last bit. As if to a great crowd.
I twisted around and checked out this ‘family’, half-expecting to see a gang at the back, cheerily waving. But there was only us few bunched up the front.
And then it struck me. Dad was returning Mum to the town where she’d grown up. She would be buried in this place she’d left years ago. A place of happier times, maybe? Or not — she’d run away as a teenager (something she’d told me, but Dad didn’t know I knew).
I wished she could have stayed with us. We could have buried her in our back garden. That was not as silly as you might think. Who was to say anyone would have found out? (And maybe she would have appeared in The Underplane? Met my new friends?)
I’d never been to that church before or any other and I’d no idea why the priest included me in his so-called family. Same went with the rest. I bet they weren’t regulars either.
A lonely man.
And now, as I ate breakfast in a village in The Underplane with my new-found friends, remembering these things and thinking about lonely men, I wondered if Dad missed me.
Was he out wandering the streets of Acity, searching for me?
I let the thought go, stopped eating and sat back. The others munched on. Maybe my stomach was smaller than theirs? But honest to God, I couldn’t have eaten anymore.
One last thing, back to remembering the church by the sea. There were two things that most bothered me, and I don’t know which was worst: the priest at the end taking the photo of mum and shoving it in a trouser pocket deep beneath all of his layers, or two black-suited strangers turning up and, without a word to anybody, wheeling the wooden box away with Mum in it.
If you would like to check out my progress on Beneath the Surface (and the earlier chapters too), my Wattpad page is here.