Wednesday, October 26, 2011

The Serialists

The story that began as a two-year serialized fiction piece will be releasing later this week as BOUND BY DRAGONSFYRE.

Stay tuned for more info!

Sunday, July 6, 2008

Poetry Train Monday - 56 - A Third Excerpt From My Culloden Story

Here's my final installment of my Culloden story. It takes place after these two excerpts posted previously on the Poetry Train:

Culloden excerpt 1
Culloden excerpt 2

I've modelled Jock MacKeigan on Scottish actor Robert Carlyle, and Emma MacBean on English actress Emma Samms.

Near Drumossie Moor, in the hills outside Inverness, April 1746

He could tell by the way they snuck glances at him. Lady MacBean felt it was time to leave the cavern. But what to do about him?

His leg was useless. Not that it wouldn’t heal with time. But several more patrols had come looking for them. They must steal away now or never.

Perhaps she could spare a few days’ provisions. By that time he would have some strength returned to him. Stumbling upon the MacBeans had bought him some valuable time. That was more than he could have hoped for a few days ago.

He would need a crutch to lean on. Fashioning one would give him something to do while he waited. He must trust that whatever the Almighty’s reason to see him through thus far would continue to help him. It gave Jock a strange confidence, considering what he was facing.

The young boy Davey joined him on the edge of the pallet. “Mistress wants to know if ye have need of anything,” he asked. The boy’s face was unusually guarded. If Jock had doubted Lady MacBean’s intentions, Davey’s expression removed any misconceptions.

“I would at that. Fetch me a stick so I can make something to help me hobble about.”

Davey was off like a volley of muskets and out of the cave. A bit like talking to a ghost, it seemed.

Jock moved his leg gingerly, growing stiff from sitting in the same position for hours. The pain ignited from his ankle to his hip, up his spine, hammering Jock’s head so that he shut his eyes against it.

How could he let them go, five women with just an old man, a youth and a boy to protect them? Jock felt a shudder erupt as images flared through his mind. The soldiers - if they fell upon them - he shook his head to chase the horrors away, but they lurked uneasily.

Jock’s fingers played with the fringed edge of the wrap that covered his leg, keeping it warm against the damp of the cave. He thought of Lieutenant-Colonel Montford, of Miss MacBean and her engagement to the officer of his regiment. He could hear Montford barking orders even now, his voice deep and resonant, booming through the clamour of musket fire and the cries of other officers.

Her intended was a good man as officers went. Decisive and practical. Not one to tolerate any loafing, sloppiness or unreadiness. That is why Jock and the others pressed on through the night march to Nairn. Montford’s regiment was a fit one, not like some that were plagued with desertions, the men unfed, bitter and without a shred of confidence in the prince’s generals.

Such incredible folly that had been. Tiring them to the breaking point before such a battle. The original orders for a surprise attack on the English encampment would have made all the difference. Jock still didn’t understand why the march had gone so badly, why they’d been halted so often that the grey light of daybreak came before they’d reached Nairn.

But he vividly remembered the moment it was called off. The English drums rolled the general call to arms in the distance. A weary messenger appeared from the head of the column and Montford bent low in the saddle, his ear close to the panting youth. It seemed a very long while after he’d finished speaking before Montford straightened to send him on his way.

The Scots Royal turned in the road and headed back to camp, every man silent with his own thoughts or simply pure fatigue. Even then, they’d all sensed it. The late change in orders boded ill for victory.

Not a man on that march could have forseen what awaited them. Not even the lieutenant-colonel, not even in that suspended moment when he must have been sorely tempted to disregard orders. To fall upon the English as they were turned out of their bedrolls. To pursue the only reasonable course of action.

As Jock was doing now.

The lady must take her daughter and the servants and flee for their lives. He must warn her son just how dangerous it would be for them.

He could see Miss MacBean watching him even as she made to appear engrossed in collecting up the meagre belongings scattered throughout the cave.

Miss MacBean would become Montford’s wife, if Montford survived as Jock had done.

And if Jock was made to stay in hiding much longer with her, his greatest threat would no longer be the English soldiers.

It would be the way she stood in her thin frock, trying not to shiver in the cold. The stocking she wore beneath her skirts, stained with his blood although she’d washed it in the icy stream with her gentle fingers. The blue eyes blazing with her father’s courage, reaching into him so he could bear the pain.

Jock had survived the worst of what the English could dish out. But he had nothing left to resist Miss MacBean.


(This scene comes a bit later, but I'm telescoping the storyline for the Poetry Train.)

Jock lay very still on his side, pressing himself as closely into the wall of the cave as he could. He heard someone moving not too far from the entrance.

Three days had passed since the MacBeans and their servants left the cave, three days of more patrols and Jock barely escaping detection. Yesterday a soldier actually pushed his way partially past the brush which Thomas had wedged securely behind them to better conceal Jock.

“Oh, mercy,” the soldier had grunted.

“What is it, Marks?”

“I’m bloody stuck! Come get me out!”

Jock had heard laughter from several men. If he’d had to take on that many he’d have been done for.

“How’d ye manage this, then?”

“Shut yer gob and give the old heave-ho, eh? And be quick about it, I can’t catch my breath.”

Were they back to check the cave again? The screen rustled ominously.

Whoever it was knew exactly what he was about. Several blows to the edge of the screen frame and it came free from the rock wall.

Jock opened and closed his fingers around the handle of his dirk. Felt the weight of it, knew just what he would do to the first one that came upon him. If they didn’t miss him completely in the gloom.

He would wait, still and silent. He’d gone over this many times in those three days. First, watch and wait. If detection was certain, the first man would be down with a slit throat before he could call to his fellows. Several good-sized stones were at hand to take down a man or two. From there, well it would depend on who was left, wouldn’t it?

Someone was definitely entering the cave. Jock’s ears strained to hear how many there were. He couldn’t turn his head to look without giving himself away.

Cautious steps, quiet as a cat. Not the usual blundering infantryman. Jock waited to hear any others approaching but there seemed to be only one.

He took a deep, calming breath. There was a chance, then. Only one. He could dispatch one easily enough. He resheathed his dirk, needing both hands free.

The soldier neared. Jock could see a slight form in the dimness, heard his quickened breathing. The fellow didn’t call to anyone. Strange.

Steps scratched in the dirt as the man turned. Jock lunged like a coiled snake.

His arms wrapped tightly about the lad’s calves, tugging hard to bring him down with a grunt. Before the soldier could regain his senses, Jock rolled forward, crawling up by handfuls of clothing till he had the man by the collar. Twisting sharply, Jock rammed him against the cavern wall.

A sure motion down to retrieve his dirk, a swift arc upwards and the blade pressed in warning against the man’s throat.

In the second it took to size up his foe, Jock heard his name whispered frantically. A chill went up his neck.

His fingers clutched thinner cloth than a redcoat.

“It’s me. It’s me. Emma! It’s Emma.”

Jock relaxed his grip, pulling the dirk away from her neck, hoping he’d not already drawn blood.

She panted with fear. Jock pulled her to face him, shaking with relief he’d not discovered her too late. “What are you doing here?” he fairly shouted.

“I couldn’t leave you behind.”

“I nearly killed you!”

“I had a horrid row with my mother. I snuck away.”

“What - have you lost your mind, girl? Had a row with your mother? What are you talking about?”

“I didn’t think it was right to leave you here on your own,” she choked out, her voice tight with tears she fought to keep back. “Mother was furious with me. She said things. She...struck me. She’s never struck me since I was a wee bairn.”

Jock felt as though the cave was closing in on him, pressing the breath from his lungs. “Where are the rest of them?” he asked, trying to sort his swirling thoughts.

“I don’t know.”

Jock squeezed her shoulders as though he could press some answers from them. “Where were you heading, then?”

He felt her stiffen against his roughness. “We were heading north. I think it was north.”

“Where, north?”

“Away from the patrols!”

Jock pushed her away from him in frustration. “She’ll probably send someone after you.”

“She won’t.”

“Your brother, likely. And he’ll be lucky to make it this far. I’ll bet you weren’t giving any thought to that when you were stealing away. Were you?”

“She won’t have anything more to do with me, I don’t think. Nor will Murray.”

“What are you talking about? Will ye no make any sense at all?”

“We shouldn’t have left you here," she said. "My Douglas wouldn’t approve.”

No wonder Lady MacBean had lost patience with her. “Look. I’m sorry to have to be the one to say it. But...” Jock took a very deep breath. “There’s not many of us made it off that field.”

She lay very still beside him.

“I was separated from most of my regiment," he said. "I don't know the lieutenant-colonel's position at the end. Once the fighting stopped. What I can tell ye is this. No wounded were taken from the moor. The English swept over us with bayonets and...there’s not many of us still livin' who fought that day.”

Emma said nothing, only lay there beside him in silence.

“I don’t know what ye were thinkin’ when ye left yer mother like that. Ye’ve no idea how lucky ye are to have got here at all. I’ve had four patrols come since ye left. I thought ye were another one.”

“Then I must help you get to someplace safe.” Her voice was full of hurt feelings and stubbornness. Jock reached for her in the dim light, pulling her to rest her head on his shoulder.

“We must wait till the soldiers stop paying us so many visits.” Jock sighed. She curled against him. How warm she felt after the hard dampness of the past few lonely days.

He should be as outraged as Lady MacBean at Emma’s thoughtless risk taking. And he did rather feel like throttling her.

How could he admit to himself how it terrified him, that she’d nearly died under his own blade? How it made his heart swell almost painfully with joy that she'd done something so foolish as to come back for him.

- Copyright - Julia Smith - 2008

Photo of Robert Carlyle by Brian Pendreigh

Sunday, June 29, 2008

Poetry Train Monday - 55 - Excerpt From My Culloden Story

Here's a second excerpt from my Culloden story. This takes place shortly after this excerpt:

Culloden excerpt 1

Jock MacKeigan is lucky to be alive. He's somehow managed to survive the Battle of Culloden and made his way into the hills, where he's found by Emma MacBean and her family. He's gravely injured, however, and needs his broken leg set and multiple stab wounds stitched up. We join the story as Emma's mother finishes the first gruesome task in the safety of their cavern hideout.

I've modelled Jock MacKeigan after Scottish actor Robert Carlyle, and Emma MacBean after English actress Emma Samms.


Near Drumossie Moor, in the hills outside Inverness, April 1746

Mother pulled, groaning herself with the effort of righting bones in a swollen cage of damaged muscle. Jock screamed again, a sound so laden with suffering that Emma shook to hear it. She held tight to him, focusing intently on his good eye which stayed squeezed shut. God help him. God help him.

Then suddenly it was over. Mother straightened. Jock sagged against Emma.

“Get the plank, Thomas,” Mother said, her voice breathless. “We’ll lash it to the leg. Enid, fetch me the linen.”

Murray knelt beside Emma. “How is he?”

She slipped the leather from Jock’s mouth. He let his head fall forward onto her breast and she cradled him protectively.

Jock tried to speak.

“Hush, now,” Emma said, a bit of her mother’s no-arguments tone entering her voice.

Jock pulled away from her and fell back onto the pallet. Emma saw a bright new stain at his shoulder. Then noticed a red smear on her own frock.

Murray stood. “I’ll tell her,” he said, moving quickly across the cave.

Emma sat on her hip, reached quickly under her skirts and took hold of her right stocking. Pulling it off, she folded it down and pressed it against Jock’s shoulder. He gazed at her, smiling a distant smile that made her slightly uneasy.

“You’ll be fine, Jock. Just keep on! You’ve come so far already,” she said, unhappy with how quickly the stocking was reddening.

Mother returned, lifting Emma’s hands away. “Just keep holding it like that, Emma. We’ll get his leg trussed up and then we’ll stop that shoulder from giving him any more troubles.”

Emma glanced back at Jock, who’d closed his eye and seemed so awfully pale. She felt a stab of dread. His lid fluttered open, his unfocused gaze roaming before his good eye found her.

Her heart surged with relief even as her fingers slickened with his blood. The stocking soaked through, but she held it there anyway as Mother had bid her.

“Talk to me,” the clansman said again, smiling a faint smile.

“I’m so glad you found us, Jock. So very glad. I want to hear all about you. How you came to be in the Scots Royal. Murray recognized your colours. My future husband is in the Scots Royal.”

Pain registered on his face as the linen strips were tightened about his leg, securing the plank.

“Future husband...” he whispered.

“Douglas Montford.”

Jock’s expression changed. He sized her up now and she could feel him retreat from her. “Lieutenant-Colonel Montford,” he said, verifying.


Mother and Enid joined her. Emma removed the stocking and Mother peered closer at his wounds. Reaching out carefully, she touched a spot here or there until Jock twitched.

“Wash him down, Enid,” Mother said. “We’ll get started once we can see what’s what. Tell me, young sir,” she addressed her patient. “Do you remember how you came by these?”

Jock nodded weakly. “English bayonet, Madam.”

Emma felt queasy.

“You’re an extremely lucky man, Mr. MacKeigan,” Mother explained. “That steel missed your lungs and heart both.”

“Just stubborn, I imagine,” he smiled, swallowing dryly.

“Shall I fetch the ladle, Mother?” Emma asked.

“Well, he’s kept the rest of it down, even after all that. But see if you can get Thomas to part with more whisky. There’s more to be done and though you’re a brave man, Mr. MacKeigan, you’ll do as I ask and take another dram.”

His smile got wider. “A man knows when he’s beat, Madam.”

“From the looks of you, I’d like to see the man could do that,” Mother said.

“I’m at your mercy, ladies,” he said softly. “That should be answer enough.”

“Come now, Emma,” Mother said. “Fetch the flask and let’s patch him up.”

Emma rose and saw how Jock’s gaze followed her every move. As she turned to find Thomas she knew tonight would be just as sleepless as last night had been.

Best get the whisky. There was more agony to inflict before the clansman got his rest.


The MacBean’s daughter wiped the stale sweat from his face.

“All over now,” she said.

The mother rose and stepped away with the servant, murmuring in the background.

“You must rest,” the young lady said. Her fingertips brushed away the sticky strands of hair from his forehead.

“Don’t leave me,” he said suddenly.

“Hush, now. We’ve no more to do, Mr. MacKeigan. All over now.”

His vision was blurry and he shook his head to clear it.

“Lay down! You musn’t try to get up.” Her voice was conspiritorial, as though she tried to guard him from detection.

But Jock had taken too much whisky, had gone through too much to let sense get between himself and what he desired. He craned his head, blinking hard until her face took shape before him.

Such a sweet thing. Look at the way she gazed down at him. Had God truly chosen him above other men, sending an angel to watch over him?

“Why to me?” he whispered.

The angel hovered closer. Jock shook his head back and forth, unwilling to accept it. “What do you want of me?”

“Mr. MacKeigan,” she said, laying her hand on his good arm.

Jock felt a cool calmness settle over him. The MacBean’s daughter. Yes. All stitched up now. He could rest then, couldn’t he?

“You musn’t try to speak,” she cautioned. “Close your eyes. Hush. Time to rest.”

Those lovely fingertips stroked his forehead. Jock let his eyelid droop, his chin dropping onto his chest.

Twisted limbs blown off by cannon fire.

Unearthly shrieks.

Howls of frustration as men begged for the order to charge.

Jock started awake.

Two blue eyes gazed into his, steadied him, stopped him from leaping off the pallet away from the guns. Two firm hands pressed him down though his heart beat like a drummer calling the advance.

“You’re safe, Mr. MacKeigan. You’re here with all of us. The soldiers can’t get to us.”

Jock panted for breath, listening carefully just to be sure.

MacBean’s daughter again took his face in her hands. He was forced to look into those eyes.

“I’ll stay with you. Now lay back. You must get some rest.”

Jock nodded and sagged back on the pallet.

Had he...had he really seen an angel just then? No...the whisky. Hadn’t slept...marched all night...Lieutenant-Colonel Montford called the men back to the field. No time to rest. God, he was tired.

“You’ll take first watch over him, Emma. He seems to settle with you.”

“Yes, Mother.”

A plaid pulled up over him and he sighed. He remembered now. The MacBean’s daughter tended him. That’s where he was. Safe to sleep. All over now.

Cpoyright - Julia Smith - 2008

Sunday, June 15, 2008

Poetry Train Monday - 53 - An Excerpt From My Gamekeeper Story

Here's another excerpt, this one from my Scottish gamekeeper story. This excerpt precedes the one I posted previously:

Scottish gamekeeper excerpt 2

This story is set in Scotland in the early 1820's. Lady Jocelyne Moncrieffe hides from her dangerous nephew in the highlands. Guthrie Carmichael, her gamekeeper, takes her to stay with his family, only to discover his sister - who raised her brothers from the age of twelve - is gravely ill. I've modelled Jocelyne after Neve Campbell, while Guthrie is modelled after Sean Bean.


In this murky gloom, Jean’s pale wasting body sent his thoughts back to the cell on the far side of town, to that day twenty-seven years past, when he’d run from his father’s bony grasp.

Guthrie’s stomach lurched and his chest suddenly hollowed, filled by a sickening weight that pressed on him.

His father had asked for them, for his children, for he’d known he hadn’t much time left. And as it turned out, he’d lasted only another four days.

Jean had taken them to the prison, had carried three-year-old Guthrie past the gargoyle faces hovering over the entrance and had pulled him, unwilling, through the dark passages, following the warden with his great jangling keys that had opened their father’s cell door.

The other boys were quiet and compliant, somehow sensing the serious nature of this visit. They followed Jean to the prison without any trouble, had filed past the monstrous stone faces without a shiver or complaint. It was only Guthrie who’d pulled back on Jean’s hand, afraid to go in, afraid of the stone walls and the timbered doors four inches thick. It had been Jean’s father as well, hadn’t it, dying there, and perhaps she too had been afraid to go in. Had wished for a hand to hold that wasn’t Guthrie’s tiny resisting one.

Jean tried to go to Father, struggling to rise on his filthy cot. But Guthrie clung to her, his arms and legs clamping around her body in a desperate grip. He wailed piteously, the pitch of it rising as she attempted to go near Father again.

Motioning Alastair to approach in her stead, Jean stood impatiently with the others, hiking Guthrie’s weight up when he began to sag down her undeveloped hips. And Guthrie, afraid of being set down, clamped on all the tighter, choking her neck in his desperation.

In the dim light through the rusted grating over the window, Guthrie saw Craig’s little face staring over at Father. Eyes round as boiled eggs and little fingers pulling absently at his lips.

Behind him, Guthrie heard low whispering as Alastair spoke with Father. Guthrie didn’t like Father's wheezy breath, the coughing. He didn't want to speak to this father. He wanted his old father, the laughing father. He longed to be scooped up and tossed into the air by strong hands, embraced by arms alive and filled with love. But all Guthrie felt in that dark cell was clutching, fearful desperation.

Father’s tone deepened, thickened. Not only babies cried, but men could, as well. Guthrie went very still from the shock of it, laying his cheek against Jean’s shoulder, relaxing his grip on her. She’d rocked him back and forth, turning to urge Lewis to go to Father next, and then Taggart.

Sniffles permeated the cell. Father spoke to each boy, his voice trembling. Craig grabbed onto Jean’s skirts, and Guthrie tensed once more as Jean reached down to take Craig by the shoulder, to nudge him gently forward. Guthrie whimpered as she took a step towards the cot.

“Hush now!” she hissed in his ear. Guthrie stilled abruptly. He pressed his face into Jean’s neck. Craig cried quietly at Father’s soft words.

Jean began to kneel, bringing Guthrie down to where Father could touch him. Guthrie didn’t remember much of what happened then.

Now in Jean’s room, he felt that same horror building in his chest, overflowing his gut. It never failed him with these memories. Perhaps his distress showed on his face, for wasn’t Lady Moncrieffe awake now, peering at him through the dark, her eyes glinting with concern?

Jerking her head to look at Jean, his mistress rose from her chair and attended to his sister. A few cursory checks and it was clear that Jean was sleeping undisturbed by any bad turn.

Rising, she asked, “Have you come to sit with her awhile?”

He couldn’t answer. Couldn’t speak. Only locked his gaze on hers.

“What is it, Mr. Carmichael?”

For some reason he couldn’t understand, that question, her voice, the expression in her eyes - a furious yearning rolled like a wave through his body, and Guthrie blinked at the tears burning his eyes and choking his throat.

Footsteps crept into the room behind him and Lady Moncrieffe glanced over his shoulder.

“D’ye need some sleep, then, or is Guthrie taking the watch?” Craig asked softly.

“I believe he was intending to give me some rest, but he looks much more tired than I am,” Lady Moncrieffe spoke up.

“I’ll take the next watch with her,” Craig said, heading past the others for the chair.

Before he really knew how it happened, Guthrie stood outside the door of the worn-out house, Lady Moncrieffe closing it behind them. He stared at her, watching her pull one of Jean’s threadbare shawls tighter about her shoulders.

“You looked as though you could use some air,” she said. A slender but determined arm slipped through his. She led him forward, their path easy to find in the grey dawn.

Where was she taking them? he wondered. She didn’t know the area at all.

Not far, it seemed. She stopped at a shelf of black basalt rock creeping up beside the path. When he continued to stand, as if bewildered, she all but pushed him down so that he sat on the ledge.

Her giggling roused him from his stupor.

“Was I this lively when I was the sleepwalker?” she asked, smiling.

He smiled back, though his stomach churned like rapids foaming over rocks. He remembered another doorway, a grander door than his sister’s. A door much like the one that kept the Inverness prison locked tight against the daylight.

His lady had turned in that doorway. Had kissed him and said, “I’ll be waiting.”

“What is it, Mr. Carmichael?” she asked again, her voice tinged with longing.

He looked at her, his heart beating at the sight of her. The faint grey light cast a bluish tint to her skin.

“Ye really don’t recall it, then? What ye did when I found ye wandering around in the night?”

He watched her recoil, as if his very words were noxious.

“No.” Her eyelids fluttered and her lips pressed together, as if she feared words that had already been spoken and too late to change them.

“I ought to tell ye, then. Should have done, before...” But he lost his way, in her brown eyes so filled with dread.

Her fingers closed around his arm. “Don’t feel” Her voice trailed off and she turned her head, staring at the rock ledge and waiting for the blow to land. Guthrie felt her nearness, as if those inches didn't separate them. And suddenly they didn’t.

He pressed her against his body, covering her lips with his mouth.

All the moments of his life led to this one. Guthrie's senses screamed back to life with the taste of her. Opening his eyes, he found Lady Moncrieffe returning his gaze with naked fear. He released her.

“That’s something ye wouldna remember.” His words tumbled into the morning only to hang there, idiotic and humiliating to them both. Guthrie sat, staring at his feet. Wishing he’d never got up from his bed, had not lit the candle, not entered Jean’s room to find Lady Moncrieffe watching over his sister.

But angels could be swift with righteous anger. This one swung her slender arm with all the force of her injured pride. Her hand struck his face with a loud crack. Guthrie’s cheek flared with pain.

“You forget yourself, sir!”

“No. But I wish I could.”

“What was the meaning of that? Tell me plainly!”

“Ye said ye didna remember what ye did or said when I found ye sleepwalking. So I just showed ye.”

His mistress trembled with outrage. Her cheeks flushed and her eyes darkened with anger.

“When I brought ye back to Kinnoull,” he went on, “the second time - ye never woke. And we walked back, the whole way. Ye spoke with me and I answered ye. Ye took me by the arm and walked with me, up to the castle door. As if we were sweet on each other. And then ye turned, and ye did to me what I just did to ye.”

His mistress looked at him in raw dismay. Guthrie dropped his gaze, unwilling to see her at such a loss.

“What more is there?” Her voice thickened with shame.

Without raising his head, he replied, “Ye said to me, ‘I’ll be waiting.’ And then ye went into the castle. And I stood there, wondering if ye meant fer me to follow.”

He peered at her, but she could not meet that look. She shut her eyes against the sight of him.

“And I wished that ye did mean fer me to follow," he said. "But I knew ye were dreaming. That ye thought I were someone else - yer husband, I figured. In yer dream, ye were trying to meet up with someone. That’s who I figured it were. Who else would ye be kissin’?”

“Not my lover, surely!”

Guthrie’s heart squeezed painfully. “I told ye - I knew ye didna mean me. But it didna stop me from standing there in an empty doorway, wondering what it would be like if ye had meant me.”

Copyright - Julia Smith - 2008

Monday, April 21, 2008

Poetry Train Monday - 46 - The Penitent

Before I went to Ryerson for film, I'd already been writing screenplays. During first year, when I heard that we'd eventually be doing a special project with the theatre department in third year, I knew what story I would use.

I developed a scene from the full-length screenplay treatment to use as a short film. I wanted it to feel as if it had been plucked from a full-length screenplay, however. And I was very pleased with how it turned out.

It was a joy to work with trained actors from Ryerson's theatre school. I was lucky because my husband went to The New School of Drama in Toronto, and my sister was a veteran of high school and community theatre. So I had a pair of actors I could count on, while using non-actors for everything else. Meaning my friends and co-workers from the theatre where I worked. Luckily, most of my friends there were creative types and willing to expand their skill level through acting in a couple of my films.

But for The Pentitent I got a taste of the talent search. The film students got to meet the acting students in a huge group meeting, then we submitted requests for whom we'd like for our roles. We had to pick 1st, 2nd and 3rd - and lucky me, I got all my first choices!

For the scary step father, Luther, I got Ted Ludzik. For Kate I got Linda Ballantyne. And for Arlen I got Andrew Croft, whom I can't find on the net other than through an academic theatre group from Toronto called Handmade Performance.

Here is the script for my third year film, with the addition of stills which I photographed off my TV. Keep in mind that Blogger won't allow center spacing - everything here is aligned left, but all dialogue should appear in the center.


Luther drags Arlen along the tunneled path to the door, opening it. Arlen struggles, trying desperately to stay outside. But Luther yanks him along with no trouble.


Luther dumps Arlen onto the hay-covered floor. He pulls his coat off, heading across the small space to grab a strap from a peg on a post.


Take your coat off.

Arlen gets as far as hands and knees, wiping the blood from his nose. Luther strides over to him, yanks the coat from Arlen and kicks him down again. Arlen covers his head with his hands as the blows begin.


Kate cracks an egg into a bowl and stirs the mixture. She hears Arlen’s cries from outside and stops mixing.


Luther holds nothing back as he rains the blows on Arlen. Though seventeen, Arlen cries like a terrified child.


Kate tries to carry on with the cooking, but puts her bowl down as her son’s cries fill her ears. She pulls her rosary out from beneath her shawl and prays.


Arlen puts a hand back to shield himself. Luther stops just long enough to kneel beside Arlen, forcing the boy’s hand away. He swings the strap again and Arlen’s cries are filled with hopelessness.


Kate flees the cabin.


Kate arrives at the shed door, taking in the scene between her husband and son. She runs forward.


Luther, no!

Kate flings herself at Luther, but he easily tosses her aside. He continues the beating, so Kate hurls herself between Arlen and the strap. When it strikes her, Luther pulls back, as if suddenly realizing she’s there.




What has he done?

Luther tosses the strap aside, lunging for Arlen. He picks Arlen up by the front of his shirt, shaking him back and forth.


Tell her. Tell her!


Wolves got into the food.

Luther throws Arlen down into the hay and backs away from them, gaining his feet.


He didn’t secure the food store! The wolves got everything. Meat. Grain. Everything.

Kate looks at her son. Arlen hangs his head, shivering and crying. Luther stoops and retrieves his coat, putting it on.


I’m going to head out. See if I can get anything. Deer. Rabbit, maybe.

He exits the shed. Kate looks at Arlen, then reaches for him, but he pulls away from her.


Why would you..? Why didn’t he do it?


When we got back from the traplines, the storm… It was already blowing, and he… He went for the animals. The snow was blowing. I couldn’t see. My hands were freezing.

Kate takes one of his hands in hers. She sees an ugly red welt on it. Arlen moves closer to her, but Kate bursts into tears.



She dashes after her husband. Arlen huddles on the floor of the shed. After a few moments, he rises painfully to his feet. He picks up the strap and carries it back to the peg, where he hangs it.

He makes his way to his coat and puts it on, then leaves the shed.

Copyright - Julia Smith - 1994

Monday, February 11, 2008

Poetry Train Monday - 36 - Excerpt From My Scottish Gamekeeper Story

In honor of Valentine's Day this week, my offering for the Poetry Train is an excerpt from the very first manuscript I wrote. I figured some romantic tension might be just the thing.

To introduce you to the characters, this is the story of Guthrie Carmichael, a gamekeeper on a Scottish castle estate in 1822. Because I cast all my characters, which makes it easier for me to write them, Guthrie looks like English actor Sean Bean, whom you may know from the Richard Sharpe series or as Boromir from The Lord of the Rings films.

Guthrie is employed by Jocelyne, Lady Moncrieffe who recently lost her husband the earl and is trying to sort out who legally inherits the earldom. Jocelyne looks like actress Neve Campbell from Party of Five and Scream.

Jocelyne's nephew has arrived and seems rather eager to take over the reins, but a new development suddenly puts her life in danger. She flees to Guthrie's modest highland home until another innocent's life hangs in the balance. As we pick up the story, the two of them stay at the home of the Duke and Duchess of Knoxworth as they travel south to stop her nephew.

Jocelyne lived with the family of her servant in the highlands, and now Guthrie must pretend to be her cousin and act the gentleman to stay with the Knoxworths. Accompanying them is Guthrie's best friend Ronald Lundy, the coachman back at the castle, the one who sent word that they must return. Lundy poses as Guthrie's servant, which makes for awkwardness between the two friends.

Excerpt from my Scottish Gamekeeper Story

Lundy woke him in time to dress for dinner. Guthrie shaved at the mirrored wash stand in his room, then freshened up before climbing into his fancy new rigging.

He reddened in discomfort that his friend should shine his shoes even as he plunged his limbs into this foreign territory. There were fawn-colored trousers, a white linen shirt with tiny pearl buttons that took an age to do up. Then a striped satin waistcoat, gold and tan, and a chocolate brown cravat. Lundy struggled to tie it at his friend’s throat amidst more snickering. Overtop of all this, a burgundy evening jacket ending smartly at the waist in front, and sporting medium-length tails behind.

Then Lundy fussed over his hair like a maid. Splashing hair tonic onto his palms, Lundy ran his hands through Guthrie’s wayward hair, smoothing it down, parting it to the side with a comb, and arranged it till he was bang up.

“How do they get it to go all in curls?” Lundy muttered.

Launched off to the dining hall, Lundy gave him instructions on how to address the servants in the event that he should get lost.

Dinner was nearly enjoyable. He knew by now to encourage the duchess to begin a story as a means of buying time, so he’d not be at risk of exposing his own inadequacies of manner. He remembered to lag behind everyone else, never to be the first to reach for a utensil or a glass, so he could copy their movements without showing too much of a delay about it.

He took pains to ignore the meal itself - no matter how mysterious the dish was, whether or not he could identify the substance as meat, fish or fowl. All of it hid beneath equally curious sauces and jellies. He transformed any shock that came over his face into an unexpected delight at the talents of their cook. And though he’d rather have washed everything down with a great jar of ale, the wine was an acceptable alternative.

It seemed no time at all before Lady Moncrieffe had slipped her arm through his, and they were bidding their goodnights to the Duke and Duchess of Knoxworth. Turning from the dining hall, they strolled down the corridor and headed up the staircase, under the playful gaze of the cherubim tumbling from the gallery ceiling.

“Indeed, Mr. Carmichael,” his mistress said. “I’ve never seen the duchess so taken with anyone, aside from the duke himself, that is.”

Guthrie chuckled, embarrassed.

“You’re doing a remarkable turn,” she continued. “Even I’m beginning to think we’re related.”

“Lundy must have known best, after all,” said Guthrie.

“I’ve learned my lesson,” she said. “Never underestimate a man from Moray.”

Guthrie looked at her. She walked beside him, sparkling in colored gemstones at her throat, her wrist, within the loops of her dark hair. She’d flashed him such a smile, those lips sliding back down to hide her teeth. Those lips -

He took a deep breath.

“Ye slept well last night, then?” he stammered.

They were nearing her door. “Yes, thank you. I knew that I would.”

She stopped, and they lingered, their arms still entwined.

“Ye looked so peaceful,” he whispered. “I couldna think what might drive ye from that peace.”

Her gaze took him in. Those brown eyes seemed to grow larger and larger, till there was nothing but her eyes, nothing but himself looking into them.

“Ye’ve got a maid to see to ye?” His voice was throaty with the need of her.

“I’m to ring for her - ”

Don’t.” He lurched forward, jerked the doorhandle and pushed wide the door. With a sure hand, he grasped her forearm, tugging her into the room with him.

“Secure that,” he said, nodding his head toward the door even as he strode across the room for the one that led into his own.

His mistress, startled into silence, walked to the door and locked it. Guthrie swiftly made his way through the connecting doors and burst in on Lundy, who sat lounging by the fire. Before Lundy could open his mouth, Guthrie said, “I’m with her ladyship. Got everything ye need?”

Lundy raised a dish of clean-picked bones with one hand, hidden till now by his chair. His other hand nursed a steaming cup of tea.

Guthrie grinned and nodded. His friend raised the tea cup in salute, settling back in the chair. Turning, Guthrie looked at the door that led to his mistress.

What was he doing? He should tell Lundy.

Lundy would talk him out of it. ‘Ye daft ignoramus,’ he’d say. ‘Those sparkish clothes aren’t yers and don’t be gettin’ used to them. Ye’re lucky for a position at Kinnoull. Even if the new laird’s a murderin’ bastard...’

Guthrie stood at the threshold of his lady’s chamber. He spied her, sitting on the edge of the bed, head bent, her hands in her lap.


But his hand pushed open the door. She turned to look at him, her face a confusion of relief and uncertainty. Guthrie crossed the floor to stand before his mistress – until the scent of her, the warmth of her pushed him to his knees. He sank willingly to the floor before he lost himself to the force of her.

“Mr. Carmichael,” she said, alarmed.

“Ye have no maid to help ye. So I shall do it.” His fingers wrapped around the heel of one slipper, easing it from her foot. Her breath drew sharply. The other slipper, gone. He held those silky feet in his hands, that gossamer feel of the stockings as he slid his palms along her calves, along the pale whiteness of her thighs beneath those rustling skirts. She trembled.

The tips of his fingers found the garters holding them in place. With a mere tug, they gave in to him. He slid the silk loose, her skin even softer. She made sounds that stirred him with furious intention.

He looked up past the tumble of her petticoats, her evening frock cascading every which way. Her eyes closed, her mouth open in a suspended oh. When he stopped, her lashes fluttered open. Her gaze travelled drunkenly downwards, till she found him looking at her. A surge of power coursed through him.

She was his. Whatever he desired, she would give it to him.

“Milady,” he said, “when we get ourselves back to the castle, whatever happens with it, wherever ye may end up, I shall serve ye. Not because ye’re my mistress. Because I love ye.”

She looked at him as though he’d struck her. Every nerve in his body prickled with that admission. He loved her. It was simple.

The great, divine comedy of it made him want to roar - with laughter, with sobbing, with rage that it should be so. He would risk everything, every ridiculous dream of a life where he would be his own man. He would be nothing if he was asked to trade his lady for that.

“God help me,” he said. “But I must have ye.” And he bent his head, touching his lips to the inside of her knee, his forehead brushing the tousled creamy satin of her gown.

Her fingers found their way into his hair, squeezing rough handfulls of it. Suddenly she tugged at him, so he was forced to look at her.

“You shall not have me.” Her brown eyes were blazing, daring him to contest her.

“I must.” He brought his hands up to cover hers, pulling them free, turning the palms so that he buried his face in her grasp.

“You don’t want me,” she persisted, her breathing growing heavier.

“I do want ye,” he said, pressing her palms to his lips, grasping her wrists and pulling her face closer to his.

Lady Moncrieffe’s expression darkened, her anger swift, so that she yanked her arms free of him. “You can’t even see me, for this!” She held the glittering bracelet poised between them like an accusation.

Guthrie grabbed at her arm and held her fast. He could see that it was a little too tight, that she bit back a comment. He unfastened the clasp and freed the bracelet from her wrist.

He let her go, meeting her gaze as she gasped at his rude treatment. Dropping the bracelet on one of the stockings beside him on the carpet, he rose to his feet. He circled around the bed, climbing upon it to kneel behind her and unclasp the necklace in silence. Grasping her shoulders, he leaned forward, tossing the string of jewels past her legs, to land next to the bracelet on the silky nest.

His lips nuzzled her ear as he whispered, “I am yer servant, and there’s nothing to be done about it. I shall help ye to undress. I’m yer servant, because I love ye. I shall undress ye, to love ye. Ye’re my lady.”

Burying his face into the curve of her neck, Guthrie’s heartbeat quickened as he heard her sigh. He set to work on the colored strands of jewels entwined in her hair. As the tresses loosened, a dizzying aroma of spices wafted from the coils and braids that his fingers set free. Bending his head to plunge his face into the soft thickness of her dark hair, he groaned his pleasure as she whispered, “Guthrie.”

He slid off the bed to kneel once more before his love. For a breathless moment he stayed immobile at her feet, looking up at an image so beautiful it threatened to choke him. He swallowed against it as his hands moved of their own accord. He took hold of her foot and kissed it, rubbing his face along the curve of her instep.
His hands skimmed the elegance of her legs, his lips brushing the contours of her knee. Her hands lunged for his hair once more, holding him in place.

Guthrie slipped his hands around to her bottom, and the shock released him from her grip. He rose, swept her legs up with one arm and eased her onto the bed. Her gaze locked with his, full of the anchoring steadiness which saved him so many months ago in the Tower Room.

Her features were gravely serious.

“You are truly mine, then?” she said, her voice thick with desire.

Guthrie swallowed. “Aye,” he said.

She seemed to take in his features like a map reader, the ridge of his eyebrows telling her one thing, the slope of his cheeks another. When she was done surveying him, she looked deeply into his eyes.

“I have never had anything of my own before,” she said. Her voice was awed and delighted at once.

Guthrie didn’t know what to say to that.

He pulled her close to him, burying his face in those dark tangles. And when she sought out his lips, her kisses were the reprieve he sought. For he had never given himself to anyone before, and he didn’t know whether he would regret it when he put his feet back on the duke’s floor and made his way back to his room in the morning.

Copyright - Julia Smith - 2008

Monday, October 8, 2007

Poetry Train Monday - 22 - Third Gardener Story Installment

Happy Thanksgiving, Canadian bloggers! Hope you had a delicious turkey dinner yesterday, or will be having one today. My husband and I had a wonderful time at my cousin's last night.

For this week's Poetry Train, I'm picking up the story of Robbie and Helen, not long after we left them out on the snowy grounds of an English country house.

Cheltenham, England - Winter of 1844

Trailing behind the younger laundry maids on her way back to the servants’ entrance, Helen didn’t notice the man on horseback following behind her until the horse gave a shrill whinny.

She turned and saw Mr. Zackary Chase pulling the horse back into a walk, though it obviously strained to bound ahead. Helen looked toward the two girls, heads together chatting as they neared the great house. Behind her, the little stone laundry seemed just as far.

Her heart thumped with alarm.

Another part of her saw the fine way he sat his mount, the way his blue eyes twinkled as he looked down at her. He didn’t seem anything like the man she’d been warned against so often.

“Good afternoon,” he said, touching the brim of his hat in greeting.

Helen blushed. Mr. Chase dismounted as she bobbed quickly in a curtsey.
He held the horse steady by the reins, though for a moment the animal side-stepped and swished its tail as though frustrated.

“She gets jealous when I stop to talk,” Mr. Chase said, his voice filled with the promise of laughter.

Helen smiled, unable to stop herself.

“Do you ride?” he asked, his eyes inviting her to move closer.

She shook her head, looking at the shining golden mare with pale blonde mane and tail, at the way it pulled playfully against the reins in Chase’s hands.

“I’ve nearly grown up on a horse,” he said. “I ride every day. Weather permitting.”

Helen was certain she was not to speak to her betters unless answering a question, yet he just stood there, waiting for her to say something.

“I suppose we ought to introduce ourselves,” he said, suppressing a grin. “I'm Zackary Chase. You've heard of my father, of course - Brigadier-General Josiah Chase, retired. Late of the 13th, Madras. India.”

The young gentleman was coming closer, the now docile mare following behind. “Until I went to school, of course,” he continued, his gloved hand reaching for hers. Helen had to fight the urge to snatch it away from him. What could he be thinking?

“Then I returned to England,” he said, bringing her hand to his lips. He held it tenderly in both of his, the soft grey doeskin caressing her like velvet. His blue eyes filled with confusion. “But where are your gloves?”

Helen couldn’t bear it any longer. She pulled against his grip until he allowed her to slip free. “I don’t have any, sir,” she replied, her tone flustered.

“Sir...” he echoed, and he cocked his head slightly.

“You’ve mistaken me, surely. My name is Helen Slaunwhite. I’m the new laundry maid.” Her words seemed to hang there between them. A raven’s irritated caw punctuated the silence.

Then he laughed. A marvelous, infectious laugh that smoothed the furrow from Helen’s brow. “I’m afraid I did take you for someone else,” he said, eyes alight with amusement. “I was certain you were a visitor from the neighboring estate. I feared you’d become seperated from your party somehow and got lost.”

“Oh, no, sir,” she said, feeling her cheeks grow hot. “Just dawdlin’ behind, is all.” The way his eyes took her in - the flush on her cheeks spread into her chest, making her stomach flutter.

Mr. Chase stroked the mare’s face with affection. “Would you like to meet Miss Slaunwhite?” he asked the horse, whose ears pricked forward.

The master's son looked at Helen and flicked his head toward the mare. “Come and meet Madhu.” Helen took a step forward, hardly believing a beautiful, regal animal such as this really existed.

“This is Miss Slaunwhite,” he said to the mare, nodding encouragement as Helen stretched out her hand. “Let her find your scent, first,” he advised Helen. “That’s it.”

Helen began to softly stroke the darker brown muzzle when Madhu shook her head and blew sharply through her nose. Helen swallowed the squeal that lodged in her throat.
A chuckle erupted beside her. Helen smiled at her own foolishness and resumed stroking the mare’s golden face.

“That’s it,” Mr. Chase assured. “She’s lovely, isn’t she?”

“Oh, yes,” Helen whispered.

Suddenly she felt him standing very near, his face brushing her ear. “I was talking about you.”

Helen’s breath caught in her throat. She twisted away, but he was already swinging up into the saddle and Madhu was tossing her head, impatient to be off.

Mr. Chase again touched the brim of his hat. “It’s been a pleasure meeting you,” he said, his face serious. Then he turned Madhu, cantering off in a spray of snow and a sweep of that glorious blonde tail.

Helen stood and watched him disappear into the trees. She was humming inside with a secret joy. It radiated outward, leaving her trembling with the force of it.

Slowly she walked back toward the house and the servants’ entrance. When she’d left the flat back in town, she’d simply had no idea how much would be left behind. At home, Helen Slaunwhite was little more than a problem to be solved - a mouth to feed, a back to clothe. But here, at Ashbury Downs, Helen Slaunwhite was fussed over, worried about, talked to, smiled upon.

It made her feel like someone who mattered.


(the next scene does not follow directly afterward, but for the Poetry Train I'm telescoping them to stay with the storyline)

Robbie pushed through the bracken, snapping twigs in his wake. He was looking for picturesque branches laden with bright red berries.

Sollows needed them for several large floral arrangements requested by Mrs. Chase for her dinner party tomorrow.
He spied a number of them. Rosehips they looked to be, but they'd do. Pulling out his pocketknife, he cut the branch with practised ease, taking care with the thorns. When he had several, he closed up the knife and dropped it in his pocket.

A laugh floated through the trees. Rob looked up from tying the branches into a bundle.

The wind stirred the tree tops, and for a moment Rob thought he surely imagined it.
But there it came again. Crystalline laughter that floated on the breeze.

He peered between the trees, looking for its source. To the west he could make out two people and a golden horse. Only one man owned an animal with such unmistakable coloring. Young Mr. Chase at his favorite sport again.

Rob bent to his work, fighting the urge to see which poor maid was at the young gentleman’s mercy. It was one thing to know it was a common occurrence. But after those excruciating moments spent witnessing poor Lucy’s torment - well, it was hard to look her in the face, was all.

He turned back to the rosehips. Again that laughter rippled past him and he left his work to weave through the trees for a closer look.

The horse tossed its head and whinnied. Chase helped the maid into the saddle, murmuring some encouragement or other.

Robbie’s breath felt knocked from his chest. It was Helen.

It couldn't be - he’d sent word. Through Lucy. Stay away from Zachary Chase he’d said. Lucy had assured him she’d told Helen the other night.

He stared down at the rosehips. Sollows waited for him. Must he court trouble for himself again on account of the new laundry maid? Rob looked to see Chase leaning close against the horse, Helen’s head bent low as she listened to the young master weave his lies.

How quickly Chase had walked out on Lucy once he was done with her. Rob remembered how it felt to look into Helen’s hazel eyes, gazing on him through the conservatory glass that same afternoon. He couldn’t bear to think of the pain that would fill those eyes if Chase got his hands on her.

Dashing back for the bundled branches, Robbie made for the clearing and for Helen.

The horse raised its head. Chase turned. All Robbie saw was Helen and the glow on her face.

“Ah. Flynn, is it?” Chase said.

Robbie took his hat off and nodded, glancing quickly to Helen. Uncertainty clouded her features. Then her expression changed and Rob suddenly felt his swollen lip as if it had grown to cover his head.

“Gardening out here in the wood?” Chase asked, his tone conversational.

Rob raised the rosehip bundle. “Your mother’s dinner party, sir.”

“Ah,” Chase smiled, turning to Helen. “I knew there was some sort of gloom hanging over tomorrow.”

“Has she hurt herself?” Robbie said, nodding up at Helen.

Chase turned back to Robbie, his smile gone.

“A laundry maid should ride the master’s horse, sir?” Rob wondered pointedly.

“Oh, I’m not hurt,” Helen protested, blushing.

“And I am not master here. That would be my father,” Chase said. “And then my brother, in his turn. I am but a guest in this house.”

“You shouldn’t trouble Mr. Chase, miss,” Rob tried again, looking up at Helen and hoping she’d sense his urgency. To her credit, she did seem uncomfortable sitting up there where she had no business being.

“She’s no trouble,” said Chase.

Rob looked towards the house, wondering how he could get Helen away from Chase without losing his livelihood into the bargain. “I could accompany Miss Slaunwhite, sir, if ye’re done with her,” Robbie offered.

“Oh, I’m not done with her,” Chase answered, smiling and leaning into the horse with a hand absently stroking its neck.

“If ye please, sir," Helen said, her voice flustered. "Might be best if I go with Mr. Flynn.”

“Best for whom?” Chase asked, his tone warm and inviting.

Rob saw the glow return to Helen’s face. He flared just as quickly with outrage, marvelling how she was so easily charmed. Why should he stick his neck out for her? If Chase was who she wanted, she’d soon have him.

“I’ll be off, then,” Rob said, unable to look at Helen. He slapped his hat back on and turned.

Chase’s hand grabbed Rob’s shoulder and yanked him to a stop.

“One moment,” Chase admonished.

Rob bristled at such treatment before Helen. It took everything he had not to shrug Chase off.

“As it happens, I feel like a brisk ride just now,” Chase said.

Rob turned to see the young gentleman wrap his hands around her waist, helping her down from the horse. Helen kept her eyes averted, yet Rob could almost feel how much she’d thrilled to Chase’s touch.

“I confess I would like you to walk the little miss across the grounds,” Chase ordered.

“No trouble at all, sir,” Rob said, fighting to keep the edge out of his voice.

Chase stepped up into the stirrup and swung his leg effortlessly over the horse’s back. Catching up the reins in one hand, he turned the suddenly spirited animal in a circle, holding the horse back while he gazed down at Helen.

He smiled a dazzling smile and bounded away in a blur of gold.

Robbie stood with Helen in silence for several moments. He didn’t know if he wanted to shake her or shield her with his embrace. When Helen looked up to meet his gaze, a shiver crawled over his skin.

It felt the same as someone passing over his grave. The urge to shake her grew stronger. Anything to stop this hollowing out of his heart.

Copyright 2007 Julia Smith

You can find out what happens a bit later in the story here.