A blog by Nikki Dudley about the gaps in everyday life...


Saturday, 16 July 2011

SNEAK PREVIEW: Second novel, Semblance

Hi all,

Here are the first two chapters of my second novel, Semblance. It is a sequel to my debut novel, Ellipsis. However, I want it to also be a stand-alone novel so hopefully I have included all the details that are needed for this to happen.

Anyway, most importantly, I hope people enjoy it! If you have any comments, do let me know. I'd love to hear whatever you have to say.


p.s.: Apologies for any formatting issues - blogger has it's own rules!



Chapter 1 / 0.5 days


As if losing Daniel wasn’t enough. Yet, we cold’ve could’ve moved on. We could have pretended we were all okay. But now Thom is hurt and he might even die. It feels so wrong to write that.

Why am I writing anything at all? That’s why I think things have changed, as though somewhere inside of me, I know I will need to look back at these notes one day and remember the moment when our family changed forever.

The waiting room is cold. The tea in his hands has hardly helped at all. It is tepid at best and stone cold at worst.

10:45 pm. He’s been in and out of this room for three hours, taking time to check on Thom, take a piss and talk to Mum in the corridor. He has been alone for most of the time, wondering if Thom will pull through.

A stab wound to the stomach – that’s a lot of blood lost. And beyond that, his cousin seems to have suffered something so traumatic that he can’t even begin to understand it. What led Thom to do it? And can they ever bring him back?

It isn’t unexpected, he supposes. Daniel throwing himself in front of that train six weeks ago shocked them all. Richard hasn’t even had time to think about it properly, and now Thom has hurt himself, leaving him to pick up Mum. How can his family be in such ruins?

Suddenly, Richard is not alone anymore. A man comes in and introduces himself as Michael. He doesn’t even knock. He just walks in as if it’s a decent time to disturb someone’s thoughts. Richard has never met the guy before. He is a sensible looking man with an uncomfortable fuzz of stubble. Richard guesses he hasn’t allowed himself not to shave in a very long time.

He explains he is Alice’s brother. Richard asks him who Alice is and he says, “Sarah”.

So, he has been right not to trust her. She had been staying in their house for the last four weeks or so, with Thom defending her more and more as time went on, and now he is being told she lied about her name, she has been ill for a long time, she is sorry for lying to them all.

And most of all, Thom is missing.

Who the hell cares about that strange woman or what she decides to call herself if Thom is missing? She is only important if she was involved with the stabbing, which isn’t bloody unlikely.

Michael seems genuinely concerned. He says he can’t find Alice either. Maybe they’re together? He asks Richard, as though he might know.

“Look, I don’t have a clue. I need to find Thom.” He shrugs off Michael’s questions. What a waste of time it is standing in this dark room with the brother of that liar.

Yet as Richard reaches the door, there’s a knock. He opens it and sees a policeman standing there.

“Richard Mansen?” he says, reading from his notepad.

“Yes,” he agrees, still pulling his jacket on. It’s cold outside and Richard guesses that if everyone still can’t find the injured Thom in the hospital, he must’ve made a run for it.

“I’m sorry but I need to look for Thom,” he pushes past the officer.

“Mr Mansen, that’s our job,” the man tells him, almost sulkily.

Richard turns back to him. “Well, you’re not doing that too well are you?”

He continues down the corridor, wondering where to start.

He supposes he shouldn’t have been so dismissive of the policeman but since Daniel’s death, he’s found himself a little more suspicious of them in general. They’d taken ages to follow up after his death and even then, they just said something like ‘open and shut case’. Daniel was just some suicidal loser to them.

Although, it is clear now that it wasn’t ‘open and shut’. There is a reason that Thom decided to turn a knife into himself in that room with Sarah, or Alice, if that’s the name she wants to go by these days. He’d suggested as much to Thom when they’d last seen him and argued about the strange way he was acting. Now he is missing and Richard will never get to apologise for asking him to leave.

Losing his brother and cousin in the space of six weeks – what a pile of shit. And now he has to be some kind of detective, does he?

He looks around the floor that Thom was on but finds nothing. There are a few nurses rushing around, clearly panicked that they have lost one of their patients. Richard ignores them and moves on. He goes downstairs in the lift, which seems to take forever with patients transferring in and out, and finally arrives in the lobby.

Outside, he walks up and down in front of the entrance, pacing. Nothing. He walks around the drop off bays, avoiding the ambulances pulling in. Nothing. He walks between the cars in the car park and only finds Michael again. He is cradling the woman he calls Alice, the one who Thom trusted more than perhaps he trusted Richard before he disappeared.

He wonders if she could’ve tried to kill Thom. Is she crying out of guilt or loss? Whatever happened before, seeing her being heaved upwards by her brother makes him sure that she has no idea where Thom is now. He quickly turns away and pulls his collar up before they can recognise him, walking back towards the hospital.

It is only when he stands in the entrance watching an ambulance pull up without sirens or lights that he realises. In his mind, he believes that Thom is already dead.

Chapter 2 Yellow bruises

I have no idea about you when I leave the hospital.

Thom is gone and this is all I am thinking about, struggling towards the car, leaning on Michael. I am cold, so cold I can’t feel my fingers anymore. Even the bandages make no difference.

I guess you hardly exist yet. In the days and weeks to come, you will start to grow and I’ll realise that I have to be sane again. It shouldn’t be as easy as that but when the Doctor tells me the news one month later, it feels that easy. Sanity – yes. Madness – no.

In the car driving back from the hospital, Michael asks me whether I love Thom. I look across at him, tears still burning my eyes, whispering, “I never told him.”

It isn’t a yes but it answers the question.

Michael doesn’t ask me about Thom after this journey. He only brings him up when he has too, usually when I do. Generally, he tries to blank out the man who nearly broke his nose, who accused him of being a rapist because of my lie, who was on the verge of killing his sister in that bed sit. He doesn’t think I deserved to die, yet he is wrong. I don’t say it though. I never want to tell him about Daniel and how his eyes stared straight through me when I pushed him in front of that train.

“Michael, can I stay with you for a while?” I ask him as he stops at the lights.

He smiles, sleepily. “Ali, don’t be stupid,” he scolds me playfully, squeezing my knee. I have an urge to tell him to call me ‘Sarah’ again but I realise it will never work. He will always call me Alice or Ali. I can’t reinvent myself, even though I believed I could whilst I stayed at the Mansen house.

“Michael, I’m sorry about everything,” I say quietly.

“What are you sorry for?” He glances over but has to look back at the road quickly.

“For what happened with Thom. Your nose. The horrible incident today.”

“Look, I’m just glad you didn’t get hurt…” Michael’s voice wavers.

I don’t deserve this unconditional love at all. He should feel angry at me, for the past two years – about Mum, the times in the hospital, how I lied to him and ran away from him, how I put my obsessions with Thom and Daniel first.

“I should’ve been the one,” I admit, biting my lip.

“What?” Michael nearly drops his hands for a moment but remembers he’s supposed to be driving and instantly grabs the wheel tight again. “What are you talking about?”

“I should’ve gotten hurt, not Thom.” I start sobbing again. I cry myself to sleep for about two weeks after I lose Thom. This is only the beginning.

Michael pulls over to the kerb and stops the car. He turns to me, his features seemingly bursting out of his face as though he no longer has control of them. His eyes are bulging, his mouth hanging open, his cheeks flushed with red. The bruises around his face are only slightly yellow now and you can barely see them unless you know what happened. Yet, I can see them. And possibly I will never be able to see his face without them.

Although, his yellow bruises also remind me of the moment we found each other again. Amidst all the madness and confusion, we were together again, as brother and sister. I think it’s that moment that seals it. My new colour will be yellow. I will try to keep away from red – the colour that made me follow Daniel and push him to his death.

It’s worth a try anyway.

“Don’t you ever say that…” he takes my bandaged hands and squeezes them, adding “okay?”

I bite my lip at the pain but don’t say anything. I stare into his face through the blistering of tears and feel myself nodding, although I don’t agree.

“You are my sister and I love you, Ali. We can take care of each other now,” he reassures me. He kisses my damaged hands like a rejected suitor. I pull them away from him, clasping them together weakly in my lap.

“I don’t know what’s going to happen,” I moan.

The windows are misting up from the heat and the tears in this tiny space. What I mean to say is ‘I don’t know what to do with the rest of my life’. No Mum, no Thom, no memories. I have lost myself in the obsession and madness. How can I build something out of the shards of the human I once was?

“We’ll sort something out,” Michael looks towards the windshield as rain starts to plummet onto it, and then faces me again, “together.” What a beautiful word. Together. I had believed Thom and I would be together only a short time ago and now I am alone and Thom is lost in the infinite possibilities of London or maybe the UK, the world, or death even…

But I am not alone really. There is Michael. And there is you.


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