Title: Tall Chimneys
Author: Allie Cresswell
Genre: Women’s Fiction
Release Date: December 12, 2017
Considered a troublesome burden, Evelyn Talbot is banished by her family to their remote country house. Tall Chimneys is hidden in a damp and gloomy hollow. It is outmoded and inconvenient but Evelyn is determined to save it from the fate of so many stately homes at the time – abandonment or demolition.
Occasional echoes of tumult in the wider world reach their sequestered backwater – the strident cries of political extremists, a furore of royal scandal, rumblings of the European war machine. But their isolated spot seems largely untouched. At times life is hard – little more than survival. At times it feels enchanted, almost outside of time itself. The woman and the house shore each other up – until love comes calling, threatening to pull them asunder.
Her desertion will spell its demise, but saving Tall Chimneys could mean sacrificing her hope for happiness, even sacrificing herself.
A century later, a distant relative crosses the globe to find the house of his ancestors. What he finds in the strange depression of the moor could change the course of his life forever.
One woman, one house, one hundred years.
One of the most terrifying experiences a parent can have is when a child goes missing. Imagine the panic, the sheer terror, the mind in over-drive thinking of all the dreadful possibilities. In this extract Awan, aged five, has disappeared somewhere in the gardens and woodlands which surround Tall Chimneys. It is winter, dusk has come early and the search parties are struggling to make progress in the darkness. Some instinct takes Evelyn, Awan’s mother, to a disused Gatehouse which stands at the top of the forested drive.
Lost Child Found
The gatehouse door was never locked, but an accumulation of leaves inside the little portico which sheltered it lay undisturbed. It yielded at my push. The scullery was dark and full of cobwebs; they caught stickily to my hair as I passed. I put my hand in the sink – it was dry – there was no indication anyone had been there for a drink of water. In the main room dust lay over the table – I wiped my hand across the old, scarred surface and it came away furred. The clock which we kept on the mantel was silent – long unwound. The air was chill and un-breathed. I stood for a long time drawing it into my panicked chest, deriving some unnamed comfort from it, as I always had done. The safe embrace of the walls around me, the familiar furniture and little bits of domestic paraphernalia which I could see in my mind’s eye as clear as if it was bright morning, gave me succour. I fell into the chair by the cold fire, the same chair where I had collapsed with Awan in my arms when she was less than an hour old. I needed John, needed him more than I had ever needed him before and, heaven knew, my need of him on those other occasions had been dire enough. My soul sent out a sort of cry – I don’t think I voiced it – it was more spiritual than a mere shout.
I rose from the chair and half stumbled across the room towards the door, my confidence in my surroundings gone. The sole of my boot hit the edge of a raised floor-slab and I fell against the corner of the dresser, jarring my hip and setting the crockery a-jingle on the shelves. As I steadied myself I felt, on my hair and cheek, the slightest possible brush of something, a falling mote dislodged from the wooden ceiling boards which formed the floor of the room above. All my senses tuned themselves to the room upstairs. My ears homed in, my skin was alive to any breath of air or vibration. My eyes, despite the utter darkness turned up.
Then I heard it. Hardly a sound at all, less than a whisper, the slightest slide of one material against another and the tiniest noise that lips make when they part, the susurration of a drawn breath.
Outside, the men of the village must have called their search off. I could hear voices calling farewell, dogs being urged into vehicles. I cursed them, as though their noise could cause whatever was upstairs to disappear into thin air.
Treading carefully, I crossed the room and put my foot on the bottom stair. All my old assurance in the room had returned to me. I reached out and found the banister under my hand, smooth and solid. I mounted the stairs, avoiding the creak in the middle of the third, the loose board on the sixth, the slightly proud nail-head in the next-to-top. Outside the engines of the cars and trucks coughed into life. Lights pierced the darkness. There was the sound of maneuvering as they reversed off the grass and turned in the road to head home. Suddenly the lights of one vehicle shone straight in through the uncurtained window. It lit up the room and traveled across the space, illuminating John’s skeletal easels and half-finished canvasses, his table of paints, the divan, covered with a heap of bedding, a small child.
She stood in the middle of the room like a marble statue, white and petrified, I saw her only briefly while the light remained. Lit up from behind, I must have looked to her like a dark, advancing monster. She could only have seen my silhouette, briefly, before the car’s lights slid away and the total blackness of the room engulfed us both again.
Awan started to scream.
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Allie Cresswell was born in Stockport, UK and began writing fiction as soon as she could hold a pencil.
She did a BA in English Literature at Birmingham University and an MA at Queen Mary College, London.
She has been a print-buyer, a pub landlady, a book-keeper, run a B & B and a group of boutique holiday cottages. Nowadays Allie writes full time having retired from teaching literature to lifelong learners.
She has two grown-up children, one granddaughter and two grandsons, is married to Tim and lives in Cumbria, NW England.
Tall Chimneys is the sixth of her novels to be published.
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