WORDYSOD : Michael Lawrence                                    www.wordysod.com

A Writer's Website                                                                                                


Demelza Drake and the Knight Visitor was intended to be the first of several mystery-adventures for Demelza at the former railway station. I wrote eight chapters before submitting it to several publishers. They all complimented me on the writing, the setting, the voice and character of Demelza, but… no thanks, not for us. The last editor to see it clinched the deal for me with: 'I don't think children are interested in knights these days.' She might have been right about that, but if such thinking had always been imposed by publishers there would never have been stories and novels by E. Nesbit, C.S. Lewis, Washington Irving, Lewis Carroll, Robert Louis Stevenson, Rider Haggard and the many others that so enthralled me as a boy. After all, until I came across them I didn't know that I would love to read about psammeads and flying carpets, Mad Hatters, lands beyond wardrobes, dastardly pirates, adventures in Africa and so on. I'm sorry not to have been commissioned to write at least one Demelza book, as I've rarely felt so at ease with a character and would like to have explored the world she finds herself in – and to have introduced Sir Ranulph to the world. The actual Sir Ranulph (his suit of armour anyway) has stood at the foot of my stairs for sixteen years now. He hasn't yet raised his visor in my presence, but I can't help thinking that he might, at any time.


I should have known it wasn't going to be an ordinary house move from the dead body on the toilet. But before I get to that...

     Melia, my mother, had arranged for movers to deliver our furniture and personal effects to our new 'home' the day after we left the house we'd lived in since she and my father dragged me all the way to England. After the men took everything away we sat on the floor of our empty house eating Chinese takeout off our knees while watching The Nightmare Before Christmas yet again on my laptop. We spent the night on the floor too, in sleeping bags. Sad way to say goodbye to a house you've lived in for so long.

     Melia had booked us in to a B&B near our destination for the night of the day we drove down. The idea was that we'd look the place over before the movers got there, decide where everything should go, and move ourselves in when it was all neatly in place. One thing I hadn't given much thought to until we were well on our way was that the railroad – rail-way – station was out in the country. I'm a city girl. I'd never lived anywhere that wasn't thick with buildings and traffic, with shops and supermarkets and so on just a few steps away. According to the Internet, the nearest town to the station was five miles away, and it was a little market town that looked too quiet to support life as we know it. I couldn't even guess what people did there all day to stop themselves ripping out their fingernails with boredom.

     We reached the station close to dusk, later than expected partly because there'd been a lot of last farewells to get through (friends, neighbours, neighbours' cats, and so on) and partly because it was even farther away than it looked on the map. All we had to go on was the snap that came with the lawyer's letter, so we weren't totally prepared for the reality of what we drove up to. As Melia jerked her eight-year-old Honda to a halt in the station yard two hearts crash through the floor in tandem. Ours wasn't the only car there, but the other four looked like they'd been petrol-bombed about thirty years ago. As well as these wrecks there was a teetering tower of old tyres, a bunch of rusty oil drums, a mountain of broken wooden crates, and piles of unassorted trash.     

     'Holy cesspits,' I muttered.

     We got out of the car and shuffled through a little gate (half off its hinges) to a cracked platform that ran the length of the station and some way beyond it at either end.

     'So the photo didn't lie,' Melia said.

     'It did,' I said. 'It made it look better than this.'

     The station wasn't just one building, it was several adjoining ones of different heights and styles. Not one part of it seemed to match another, or to have been built at the same time. Walls crawled with dead ivy and there were tall chimneys on some of the roofs. One of the chimneys was broken in half, like it had been swatted by a giant hand. I went to the edge of the platform and stared down at the tracks. There was only one pair and they were rusty and thick with weeds and grass. There was no platform on the other side, just fields. Long, wide, black fields with nothing in them. No crops, no livestock, nothing. Way across, perched on the ultra-flat horizon, stood a farmhouse that looked like its only ambition was to fall down, slowly.     

     'According to the solicitor, parts of it are better inside,' Melia said. She wasn't laughing now.

     'Parts?' I said. 'I can't wait to find them.'

     The keys, on a single keyring, had been sent by the lawyer: the solicitor. There were eight in all, of mixed shapes and sizes, like the buildings whose locks they were supposed to fit. Melia tried five keys before one fitted the first door. The door creaked back. A stink of something unpleasant made us pause, but we pushed it wider. It was pitch dark inside. Melia groped for a switch. Click. A bare, very dim bulb flickered. There wasn't much to see in such light, but we couldn't miss the toilet – or what was sitting on it.

     A human figure.

     In a uniform.

     The face under the skewed peaked cap was missing an eye and its nose. The rest of the face looked like it had been gnawed by rats.

     I'm not sure which of us closed the door, but it was definitely Melia who led the charge to the car. It wasn't until we'd jumped in that we realized she was in the passenger seat and I was behind the wheel. Not much use really as I couldn't drive, so we got out and switched seats. Then she ground the gears, hit reverse, then an empty oil drum, did a U-turn (deafening squeal of tyres), and drove us away with our heads thrown back at the neck. It wasn't until we were well clear of the station that we let out a scream in perfect mother-daughter unison.

     The move to our new home was not starting well.

This idea came to me during a visit to the Fitzwilliam Museum in Cambridge. I was in the Armoury, standing alone, and thought I heard a slight sound behind me. I turned round and there was an imposing suit of armour that looked as if it might move at any moment. It didn't move – and presumably hadn't – but I wondered what my reaction would have been if the visor had been raised and a face had looked out from the helmet. From there, the story began to spin itself, about a Michigan-born girl (Demelza) and her English mother, living in England and obliged to move to deregulated railway station on the other side of the country. The place turnes out to be not only in a terrible condition but chock-a-block with rubbish, detritis and the numerous tatty mementoes of the barely-known relative who bequeathed it to Demelza's mum. Among all of the junk and the oddities is a rusty old suit of armour which, Demelza discovers one day, has someone inside it - sometimes. The first time the vizor lifts the occupant is a rather startled lad. His name his Ranulph and he's a fourteenth century squire. Later, when Demelza looks inside the visor herself, the suit of armour is empty, but Ranulph does appear again, and again, and again, and each time he's a bit older and more experienced in life, until in the end, he's quite old, divorced, injured from a terrible battle. Then he stops appearing altogether, which, Demelza realises, means that he died. What she doesn't know - and needs to learn - is why he appeared only to her. Is there some connection between him and her that carried over all these centuries?