Landscape designer Jonas Laurence arrives at the cheerless and fog enswathed Hillcomb Hall, home to the Earl of Stanley and his family, to renovate their crumbling gardens. With a great storm crashing all around, his time is at the mercy of the house’s odd and mysterious occupants.
Captivated by the hauntingly attractive portrait of Lord Stanley’s ancestor, which constantly seems to watch and taunt him, Jonas’s dreams become weird and distressing. And his waking moments are consumed by the strange stories and weird atmosphere of the manor estate.
Ghostly visits in the night leave Jonas no choice but to accept his attraction to the otherworldly spirit from the painting. But is this affaire de coeur real?
Or is it all just a trick of the mind, a sinister game being played by the inhabitants of Hillcomb Hall?
Hillcomb Hall appeared to be a great medieval monstrosity of a thing, Jonas noted as the car got further up the long and winding entry road cutting across the estate. It was, of course, only a century or two old but it had been constructed with the obvious intent of being commanding. The Hall was surrounded by a great forest of trees, ranging in type and size, and although they did not come very close to the house, they succeeded in helping to block out much of the sunlight. The driveway, crushed shell wet from the torrent, which made a discomforting slippery kind of noise under the car’s tires, was cut through a cove of tightly packed ancient trunks. From the plans he had seen, Jonas knew that behind the house was a swath of open ground that led down to a lake. But looking at it from the front, the whole property appeared hemmed in, cloistered away from the rest of the world, and deeply shadowed like some decrepit castle from a storybook. Though the rain had finally broken, and it was only yet mid-afternoon, the house sat in what resembled a cloud of night. A great blanket of fog clung close to the ground and the house almost seemed to float in his vision.
It was a forlorn and sad-making scene and reminded Jonas of the depth of loneliness he had been feeling of late.
“Damn creepy,” muttered Donaldson louder than he had intended. “Beg pardon, sir.”
Jonas inclined his head at the chauffeur and thought he couldn’t have put it more succinctly if he tried. Damned creepy, indeed, and daunting besides. How in the world, he wondered, was he supposed to design a garden that gave any life or joy of light to such a dreary pile as this?
About the Author
Joshua Ian can easily be captured by a witty turn of phrase or a low-bottomed electronic bassline. If you manage to combine the two, then you have his heart forever. He lives in New York City and writes mostly historical, speculative, and sci-fi/fantasy fiction but he does love a good mystery.
He watches too many movies, eats too much dark chocolate, and falls into way too many Wikipedia rabbit holes- but it’s all in the name of research (or so he tells himself). One day he plans to travel the world – to see what each country has to offer in the way of movie theatres and dark chocolate, naturally.
Fifteen years ago, teenage Laurie Henshaw came to live at Webber’s Farm with his elderly uncle and settled in to the farming life. Now, age thirty-two, he has a stroke in the middle of working on the farm. As he recovers, he has to come to terms with the fact that some of his new limitations are permanent and he’s never going to be as active as he used to be. Will he be able to accept the helping hands his friends extend to him?
With twenty successful years in the City behind him, Phil McManus is hiding in the country after his boyfriend set him up to take the fall for an insider trading deal at his London stockbroking firm. There’s not enough evidence to prosecute anyone, but not enough to clear him either. He can’t bear the idea of continuing his old stagnating life in the city, or going back to his job now everyone knows he’s gay.
Thrown together in a small country village, can Phil and Laurie forge a new life that suits the two of them and the makeshift family that gathers round them? Or are they too tied up in their own shortcomings to recognise what they have?
A 1970s historical gay romance peripheral to the Lost in Time universe. Stand alone, not paranormal. #OwnVoices for chronic disability. Set on Webber’s Farm, fifty years after Inheritance of Shadows.
We have a special deleted scene exclusive for our blog which you can read here
“He’s going to be a handful,” Patsy Walker said to her friend Sally Beelock as she filled the tea-pot. “You’ll have trouble with him.”
Sally pulled a face. “You don’t need to tell me that,” she said. “He’s already talking about coming home and the stupid idiot can’t even stand up without help yet.”
“He’s improving though, yes?” Patsy asked.
“Yes, definitely. And it’s only been a week. They say that he needs to keep trying to move everything, his arm, his fingers, his leg, and the more he does that the more it’ll help.” She sighed. “They don’t know if it’ll all come back properly, but they say there’s a good chance.”
Patsy passed her a mug of tea and sat down opposite her at the kitchen table where she could see in to the shop. There weren’t any customers at the moment, but the early autumn day was warm and she had the outside door propped open as usual, which meant the bell wouldn’t ring if anyone came in.
“How are you managing?” she asked Sally. “It must have been a shock. He’s only what, thirty?”
“Thirty-three,” Sally said absently. “Yes. I thought it was curtains for him to be honest, Pat. Jimmy came down to get me at Carsters once the ambulance had gone. He didn’t tell me much, just said I should get into the hospital. Apparently he was unconscious, pretty much.”
Patsy patted her hand. “Well, he’s going to be fine, love. You’ll see. Look at Roger Chedzoy. He had a stroke four years ago and you’d never really know to look at him now.”
“He’s sixty-three though,” Sally said. “I mean, there’s never a good age, is there? But Laurie’s so young.”
Patsy nodded. “And that means he’s got more fight in him and he’ll get over it quickly. You’ll see.”
Phil found his feet turning up the lane toward Webber’s Farm a couple of days after his meeting with Laurie Henshaw almost without thought. He had got in to the habit of walking regularly early on in his sojourn in the cottage. Some days he took sandwiches in the knapsack he’d bought and just went up the footpath at the top of the lane and headed off into the winter woods. It was quiet and peaceful and he found that if he could get in to a swinging rhythm, one foot in front of the other, the swirl of anger and betrayal that seemed to accompany him like a cloud quieted, gradually draining down in to the earth as he walked.
Today though, rather than his feet taking him up the hill in to the burgeoning spring, they took him down toward the farm. Henshaw…Laurie…had grabbed his interest in a way that nobody had for months. The man had been on his last legs sitting in the Post Office and his frustration with himself had been obvious. Phil had enjoyed coaxing a smile out of him. Sitting in the farmhouse kitchen with the quiet warmth of the Rayburn at his back, he’d spoken more about his personal life to a complete stranger than he had opened up to anyone since that awful day when Adrian had got him out of the police station.
It would only be neighbourly to pop in and see if he was all right. That’s what people did in the country, didn’t they? Phil had been here months now, apart from a brief visit to Aunt Mary over Christmas and New Year, and if he was going to be here much longer he should probably make an effort to get to know people properly.
That made him pause for thought. Was he going to be here much longer?
He didn’t know.
He walked through the farmyard cautiously. He knew enough to go to the back door, not the front. The two sheepdogs who had cursorily examined him earlier in the week shot out of the open porch and circled round, barking and wagging cheerfully. No need to knock, then. He did, regardless. And called out “Anyone home?”
“In here,” Laurie’s voice answered, distantly. “Come in, whoever you are!”
He stepped in to the porch, past a downstairs bathroom and through the scullery with its stone-flagged floor, and pushed the door into the kitchen fully open.
Laurie was washing up. His stick was hooked on the drainer and he was resting against the sink with one hip. He turned as Phil came in, propping the final plate on the pile beside the soapy water and reaching for the tea-towel flung over his shoulder to dry his hands.
“Mr McManus! Phil, I mean,” he corrected himself, “what can I do for you?”
Phil paused. He hadn’t got this far in his head. He had just…walked.
“Erm. I was just passing?” he tried. His voice lifted at the end, in a question.
“You were?” Laurie looked at him, one side of his mouth twisted up in a little smile. Or was that the side affected by the stroke? He didn’t know. Didn’t matter, anyway.
“Yes. I was.” He made his voice firmer. “Sally is at my place this morning, so I thought you might let me hide here.”
“Only if you’ll let me retreat to your place when she’s cross with me,” Laurie replied. “Although that will probably mean I have to move in, at least for the moment.” He pulled a face.
“Have you upset her?”
“No. Yes. Sort of….” He turned toward the Rayburn and dragged the kettle on to the hotplate. “She wasn’t very happy about me over-doing it the other day. Patsy told tales on me.”
“Ah. Yes, I can see that. She obviously cares about you a great deal. She talks about you all the time when she comes up to do the cottage.” He paused. “Have you been together long?”
Laurie choked and dropped one of the tea-cups he was moving from the drainer to the table. He fumbled for it and at the same time Phil stooped to catch it. They both missed and it smashed on the stone floor into a thousand tiny pieces. “Shit!” Laurie said, trying stifle his coughing. “That was one of the good ones, too.”
He bent to pick up the pieces, still choking and Phil said, “Stop it, you bloody fool, let me. It’s everywhere.” He put his hands on Laurie’s shoulders and pushed him upward from his bent position and then back and down, in to one of the kitchen chairs. Laurie’s leg gave as he sat and he made the final descent with an unglamorous wobble.
He was still coughing. “Sally!” he got out, around between coughs. “Bloody hell!”
“Where’s the dustpan?” Phil asked, ignoring him.
Laurie gestured to the cupboard under the sink. “Under there.”
It was the work of moments to sweep it all up, on his knees at Laurie’s feet. Thankfully it had been empty. He rested back on his heels with with full dustpan. “Where does it go?”
“Put it in one of the flower-pots on the window-sill,” Laurie said, gesturing. “I’ll stick in the bottom of a pot for drainage when I plant the new ones up.”
Phil nodded and got to his feet. He lurched as he did so and steadied himself on Laurie’s knee as he rose. Warm, he thought. The man smelled nice. A mixture of soap and fresh air and woodsmoke. “Ooops,” he said, pushing himself upright. “Sorry.”
Laurie grinned at him as they briefly made eye contact. Something flickered in his eyes. “Not a problem,” he said. He pointed at the window-sill behind the sink. “Knock those dead chives in the middle pot out the window in to the yard.” He grinned again, but it was a different sort of smile this time, with slightly too many teeth. “I can’t really balance to water them properly at the moment anyway.”
Phil opened the window and emptied the dead plants outside ad then tipped the pieces of crockery in as instructed. He replaced the dustpan under the sink and stood up and leaned against it, crossing his arms. “Doesn’t Sally help with that sort of thing?” he asked, looking down at the other man.
“No. Yes. Sometimes.” Laurie wouldn’t meet his eye and started to stand. “Sit down, let me get a new cup.”
Phil put his hand back on his shoulder and gently but firmly pushed him back down on to the chair. “What do you mean?” he asked, in a voice that matched his grip, “No-yes-sometimes covers all the wickets.” He removed his hand and turned round to collect another cup and saucer, moving past Laurie to put it on the table beside him and then reaching to pull the kettle off the Rayburn and put both tea-leaves and the boiling water in the teapot.
He brought the teapot over and put it on the cork table-mat in the middle of the table before opening the pantry door and rummaging in the fridge for the milk-jug. Laurie sat and let him, watching him slightly warily.
As Phil sat down and folded his arms again, waiting for the tea to brew, Laurie muttered, “I told her not to do it.”
“You told her not to do it?” Phil repeated. “Ah, I see.” And he did, in a way. He wouldn’t be in Laurie’s shoes for anything.
Laurie worked his thumb over and over one of the whorls of wood in the table-top. It was smoothed from long use. “I hate it, Phil,” he said in a low voice. “I hate not being able to do all the simple things. It makes me feel useless, having them all run round after me.”
“You’d rather let the plants die than accept help?”
Laurie bit his lip and continued to worry at the knot in the table. “It sounds daft when you put it like that,” he said.
Phil didn’t say anything.
“Okay, I know it’s daft.” He looked up and met Phil’s eyes, his own anguished. “But I hate it,” he said, vehemently. “I hate it, Phil.”
About The Author
Writer of queer, paranormal, historical, romantic suspense. Lives in the South West of England with Mr AL, two children, a badly behaved dachshund, a terrifying cat and some hens.
Likes gardening but doesn’t really have time or energy. Not musical. Doesn’t much like telly. Non-binary. Chronically disabled. Has tedious fits.
Benjamin Schnell is the possessor of secrets he wishes he could bury beneath the rich Nolichucky river flat dirt he farms alongside his dear friend, Conall. But secrets lead to lies, lead to more secrets, and all eventually come home to roost in a bed of distrust, even on the 1779 Appalachian frontier.
After Ben is injured, he realizes there are odd things happening around him that others cannot see. Corner shadows take human shapes, lightning bugs dance in broad daylight, and the farm’s strange owner, Master Gow, returns with an offer Conall cannot refuse if Ben is to live. But making a deal with Master Gow will take them deep into the mountains to where a haunted king reigns and Fire balances Water in a delicate natural friendship.
Ben must learn self-acceptance and trust if he and Conall are going to survive because there can be no secrets in the mountains, only truth.
Another rich tale from the Appalachian Elementals world focusing on complex families containing rich LGBTQIA+ characters.
I open my eyes to whitewashed walls and sunlight streaming through large open windows covered by gauzy curtains. This is a quiet space reminiscent of my youth. The window is wide to the afternoon air, my pillow is soft, my bed comfortable with sweetgrass, and I rest beneath the lightest of patchworks. And my shirt ‘tis cotton. Heaven. Yes, I am certain I have reached the hereafter. Perhaps I can see Mutti again and—
“Get back here ye’ fool!” I turn my head in time to see Alexandria pause before a window. Her face is flushed, and her hands are in fists at her sides. “Get back here wit’ mah pie!”
“Come get it, you flightless baggage!”
My thoughts of Heaven erode when Alexandria launches into a long line of Scots-Gaelic curses of the likes I have not heard since I left the mine. This is not the Alexandria I know and respect, not the voice of a proper lady at all. She hisses as she threatens to cut off his twiddle-diddles with her kitchen knife, cook them in the pottage, and feed them back to him.
“Return Lexy’s hard work, boy.” This is Master Gow’s voice, but ‘tis also not, higher in tone but equally powerful, and I wonder if he has a sister. “And the crust best not be broke!”
“But… ow!” I am unable to see what occurs next, but a man crosses in front of the window with a pie in his hands and something or someone I cannot see is dragging him. “Ow! King Dane, please! I am sorry, Lexy, real sorry!”
King? This woman who I suspect is related to Master Gow is named King Dane? Whatever… My cough returns, deep and fluidic, but ‘tis clearly not to be my death so I look for something to spit into.
“There’s a bucket of sawdust at your bedside, Benjamin.” Master Gow’s sister speaks from just outside the window. “I’ll be there shortly to talk with you.” Her voice turns away. “Go cut two days of wood for the main kitchen,” she tells the man who is still apologizing to Alexandria.
“But I got hides to scrape and…”
“Do it! Then scrape them hides.”
“Ow! Yes, King Dane.”
I crawl deep beneath my quilt when their voices fade. Where am I? At this point, I have no clue, but I believe I am alive. The table beside my bed is laden with bottles, jars, a fleam and cup, but there is also a mug so I sit up, examining the contents, water, before I drink.
I startle when the door to the apartment swings open. “Ah brought ye soup an’ tea.” Ceardach deposits a tray onto my lap. There’s also buttered bread on the tray, along with bacon, eggs, and a bowl of beans.
“Thank ye, but I need to…”
“Of course.” Ceardach pulls the tray away. “Th’ pot’s under th’ bed.”
I hesitate, but my need is too great so I swallow my pride, thankful when he moves to stand in the doorway with his back to me.
“Ye need tae drink more.” Ceardach returns to my side when I am abed and pushes the pot under the bed after he examines the contents. “An’ ye best get over bein’ bashful right quick. Someone will use it against ye.” He drops the tray onto my lap, “Eat.” pulls his pipe and pouch and begins filling the bowl, watching as I take up my spoon. The food has most certainly been made under Alexandria’s watch. I can tell by the seasonings, and… I am nearing famished.
“Slow an’ steady. Let one bite settle afore th’ next.” Ceardach lights his pipe so quickly I see nothing but a flash. The outside din continually grows while I eat, but Ceardach pays it no heed. I hear hammers striking anvils, a proliferation of swearing, wood being split and stacked, the sounds of a wider community. The smells coming through the door would be enough to turn my stomach if I was not so hungry. Baking bread, multiple privies, wood, ash, dirt, burning wood, herbs, and… I smell iron and sulfur, but none of it quells my appetite to the point I cease eating.
“Am I in a town?” I shovel more into my mouth.
“Of sorts. Ye will grow accustomed tae it all.” Ceardach blows out a billow of white smoke that rings his head then drifts away. “Yer cough an’ congestion will fade in time.”
I nod and bite into my bread. My appetite must be part of my recovery, a drive for nourishment so I might heal quickly. There is another bed I have ignored until now, unmade, with blankets folded neatly at the foot. “Where am I?”
“In the kingdom.” He points to my water. “Drink.”
I am obedient, but he tells me to empty the mug before he will speak further. “Good, now—” Ceardach raises his head. “Ah, here’s yer answer.”
I attempt to sort through all I see, but ‘tis difficult. Is this Master Gow or—
“Stop gawkin’. ‘Twill get you slapped ‘round here.”
“If not hit or cut,” adds Ceardach. “Sit, Dane. Ah will step out but stay close.”
“Aye, Ceardach, thank you.”
I see a woman’s face, a man’s work cap atop her head. “You’re still under my protection. That hasn’t changed, but the rest…” She wears trousers and a calf-length smith’s apron over a man’s red check work shirt with rolled sleeves. “You’re starin’ even longer than Conall did.” She pulls a tobacco twist from her apron pocket and bites off a piece. “Are you as tongue-tied too?”
“I…” This woman bears the same tattows as Master Gow. “No, sir, I mean, miss, I mean…”
“You’ll address me as King Dane ‘til I tell you elsewise.” My spit bucket slides across the floor to her feet. “How will you address me?”
“Say it, Benjamin.” She spits into the bucket. “‘Tis important you know my station ‘round here.”
“Yes, King Dane.” But this is a woman. How does she warrant the title of king?
“And you never disobey your king, right, Benjamin?”
“Yes… King Dane?”
“Smart man. ‘Tis why I chose you, but I made Conall in the process, an excellent deal I am pleased we could accommodate.” King Dane seems amused by my gaping mouth. “Calm yourself. I hear your heart poundin’ from here.”
About The Author
Born and raised in the foothills of the Appalachian Mountains, Science Fiction and Fantasy author Jeanne G’Fellers’ early memories include watching the original Star Trek series with their father and reading the books their librarian mother brought home. Jeanne’s writing influences include Anne McCaffrey, Ursula K. LeGuin, Octavia Butler, Isaac Asimov, and Frank Herbert.
Jeanne lives in Northeast Tennessee with their spouse and five crazy felines. Their home is tucked against a small woodland where they regularly see deer, turkeys, raccoons, and experience the magic of the natural world.