BY: A H SCOTT
What if everything you believed, and even the life you led, was a lie? This is what twenty-four-year-old heiress Charlotte Demerayes has to face in the early 1900s. Innocent and naïve, Charlotte comes of age rapidly when her evil and hateful mother indentures her as a slave in another country, only to have her wicked plans foiled by Charlotte’s adoring father. Sailing on the high seas toward a new life, Charlotte encounters romance for the first time, and even more duplicity, only to land in a country that is a throwback to the Renaissance era. Here she learns the truth of the Fanaman Curse and her own nobility, as she struggles to adapt to a world of secrets, trickery of the mind, hatred, and the supernatural, devised by her mother, the Mistress of Fanaman. But how can she survive the Fanaman Curse?
TAYLOR JONES SAYS: In Fanaman Curse by A. H. Scott, Charlotte Demerayes is a naïve and sheltered young heiress, verbally and mentally abused by her mother. While her father adores her, her mother is determined to make Charlotte’s life a living hell. The woman finally decides to send Charlotte away, selling her into slavery in a foreign country. But things don’t go as she planned, thanks to her father’s intervention. Still, when Charlotte reaches her destination, she finds out that everything she thought was true in her life is a lie. She also discovers that her life is in serious danger.
Fanaman Curse gives you a good look at life in the early twentieth century with few of our modern conveniences when the only way to get from one country to another was by boat. The author did her research, giving the story a feeling of authenticity that you don’t often find in debut novels.
REGAN MURPHY SAYS: Fanaman Curse by A. H. Scott is the story of a naïve and abused young woman who discovers that everything she knows about herself is a lie. Our heroine, Charlotte Demerayes is a young heiress who is loved by her father and hated by her mother. While her father tries to protect her, her domineering mother succeeds in sending her away from Fanaman mansion on the east coast of the US to indentured servitude in Spain. Or at least that’s the plan. But fate, and her father, intervene, and Charlotte is sent on a quest for a truth that will change her life and her image of herself forever, if she survives that long.
Scott has crafted a complicated story of lies, betrayal, domestic abuse, and what some people will do for vengeance, power, and control. Set in the early 1900s, it takes you back to a time when life may have been simpler, but it certainly wasn’t any less dangerous.
Fanaman Mansion stood high atop the hills and cliffs of Montauk Peninsula, the wetlands of the Sound of Block Island, and the rolling fields of Grist Mill. Its massive walls concealed the secrets within that overshadowed death, deceit, sinister trickery of mind and heart. Murders and ghosts dogged the steps of man and child, begging one to run far, far away. Yet Charlotte Demerayes stayed, and so did the others. They were all prisoners of the Mistress, the true master of the house and the Curse of Fanaman.
Seven-year-old Charlotte sat in her bath, thinking about the fun she and her brother Matthew used to have in their adjoined nursery. That was before Fanaman’s curse destroyed her dreams, before everything changed, before he died. The nursery was pleasant then. The walls were starched white. White curtains flowed from ceiling to floor, blanketing the windows and the doors leading out to the veranda.
All of the toys in the nursery belonged to Matthew. This Charlotte had never minded as long as she was allowed to play with him.
The nursery sat lonely, isolated, and quiet now.
The fate of Charlotte’s life pivoted on the things she believed to be true and the lies she was forced to accept as truths, dealt out by the cunning and odious hands of her mother, the Mistress of Fanaman.
“Is someone there?” Charlotte’s small voice cried out as a shadow moved about in the nursery, but refused to speak. “Who’s there? Mary is that you? I’m almost finished bathing, Mary.” Charlotte grabbed her towel from the floor. “M–mother is that you?” Silence was pregnant in its response. Charlotte stepped from the bath with caution and covered her slight body with the towel. “Who’s there?”
Fear staggered her mind. Why would Mistress come to this part of the mansion? She never came to these rooms after Matthew’s accidental death.
Charlotte stopped and sniffed the air. “What’s that smell? It’s sweet. I don’t remember that fragrance, but I do. It’s familiar.” A whiff of chamomile and ginger surrounded the outer rooms. She hurried and dressed. “Who is here?” Feeling queasy she toddled through the doorway of the nursery that connected to her bedroom just as her bedroom door closed softly. The fragrance was strongest in her bedroom. “Aw.” She cried out loud in pain and grabbed her mid-section. Tears rolled down her face. If I can just make it to my bed, I know I will feel better, she thought.
Charlotte just about doubled over before she reached her bed. Her cries became louder.
She whimpered, “I can’t throw up here.” Her right hand was placed across her stomach and the left one covered her mouth. “Why is my head hurting so? Who brought those into my room?” She was in excruciating pain. Fresh flowers were placed circumspectly on her bureau. Once again strange movements surrounded her.
A soft knock was heard at her bedroom door.
“Miss Charlotte, are you all right? Child, I heard you whimpering down the hallway.” Alexander, the head butler entered the room before Charlotte answered. He sniffed the air. “Child what are you doing?”
Charlotte was too weak to speak. Her body shook in terror. She did not understand what was happening to her.
Where did those flowers come? We don’t grow chamomile. They had to have come from Aunt Nadine’s garden. But she lives more than twenty miles away. Besides, she wouldn’t try to frighten me. Did mother bring them?
Alexander’s eyes scoured the room. “What were you doing? That smell is nauseating. No wonder you look so ill.” He covered his nostrils and mouth with his handkerchief. “Phew–this room needs to be aired out a bit.” He grabbed the flowers from the bureau and opened the French doors. He tossed them over the veranda to the sea below.
A crisp breeze flowed through the room. Charlotte took in a deep breath. She uncurled her body from the fetal position on her bed.
“This is better, you see. Now, child, what is going on?” Alexander said. “Why are you so frantic?” He lifted her head with his hand and looked into her face.
“I’m feeling better now.” Charlotte took in another deep breath. Alexander wiped his forehead with his handkerchief and stuffed it back into his vest. “Someone was here. I think it was mother. But, she wouldn’t speak to me.” Charlotte’s body shuddered.
Mistress played many crude tricks in the manor and held Charlotte accountable for her cruelty. Charlotte had witnessed her mother doing these strange things. Mistress would break a vase or smash something, only to guilt Charlotte into believing that she was the one who broke it. Charlotte was accused of stealing Matthew’s rattle, his hairbrush, as well as other items that belonged to him from the nursery, only to later have those items found by the servants on Mistress’s mantel in her bedroom or in her desk drawer in the parlor. Whatever went amiss, Charlotte was at fault.
Alexander sat down on the edge of her bed. “Your mother is not home.”
Charlotte’s body quaked. “What was that?”
A thump of a crash broke the silence in the room. A screeched sound was heard accompanied with screams that echoed. The fragrance of the same flowers became stronger once more.
Where did those flowers come from? Alexander wondered.
“That noise, can’t you hear it?” Charlotte cried.
Screams and screeching sounds echoed through the walls of her bedroom.
“What is that smell?” Charlotte shuffled her body toward her closed bedroom door. “Do you smell it, Alexy?” She leaned heavily on her door and opened it with caution. “It’s smoke, Alexy. You have to smell it. Don’t tell me that this isn’t real.”
“I only smell flowers.” Alexander absentmindedly replied.
Charlotte sniffed the air outside of her bedroom. “It is smoke, Alexy.” She pleaded glancing back and forth down the hallway. “Don’t you smell it?”
“I smell the flowers, Miss Char.”
Charlotte began to cough. “No. No, Alexy, that smell. It smells like the first dew after the hay has been harvested in the pastures when papa is burning some of it for luck.”
“I didn’t smell anything when I came up the side stairwell.” He spoke condescendingly.
Charlotte rushed out into the lightly dimmed hallway.
“It is fire! Alexy, look–look, Alexy, I can’t be imaging this. Can I? Someone’s screaming.” She ran toward the Conservatory.
“Wait, Miss Char.”
“Who’s there?” Charlotte called out. Shadows moved in and about her. She had never noticed this before. The smell of smoke got stronger. The shadows moved ahead of her as though luring her. “Help me, whoever you are.” She reached outward. Something unnatural was in the shadows–white and translucent. It floated about and begged her to follow.
Charlotte was not sure if the screams she heard came were from within the conservatory or from outside of the house. The screams vibrated from wall to wall when she tried to open the doors to the conservatory. Gagging from the smoke, she tried to call for help. A figure inside the conservatory crawled about the floor. Charlotte strained her eyes to see who was there. Without warning, from the corner of her eye, she saw another figure. It was the Lady in White. She was backed against the window and on fire. Just then something or someone came out of the room and pushed Charlotte down. It held her to the floor. It had escaped the flames. Charlotte fought, but the hold got tighter.
“Miss Charlotte,” Alexander called. His voice sounded strained as though he was a distance from the conservatory. Charlotte gasped for air. She was unable to answer him. She tossed her small body to and fro under the weight of her attacker.
Piercing nails clawed Charlotte’s skin. She fought the presence that tried to take control. It scratched deep wells into her flesh. Charlotte felt as though she was trapped in one of her nightly nightmares. Without warning, she stopped fighting. She had learned from those nightmares to let the demons wash over her. She forced the lower extremities of her body to go limp. This always betrayed the demons to their own greed.
When her opponent lessened its death-grip, the opportunity came. Charlotte transferred her strength into her arms and fought hard for her life, tossing the figure away. As always, the figure vanished as though never there. Hysterical laughter from within the conservatory filled Charlotte’s ears. Only the sight of her father lunging into the conservatory eased her mind.
Demerayes, puppet lord and master of Fanaman, tried to calm the Lady in White. Each time he approached her, she withdrew farther back into the flames as they licked the conservatory. Pleading, he crouched down on his knees, but the Lady in White withdrew even more so.
He tried to stop her from backing out of the French doors and onto the parapet. “It is all right, dear. Come this way,” he begged. “All is well. Just step this way.” Demerayes held out his arms in her direction. Fire ignited the once beautiful white drapes that flowed some thirty feet high from ceiling to floor. It was as though the Lady in White did not understand or heed Demerayes warnings. Wind from beyond the conservatory ignited the embers on the Lady in White’s dressing gown. The embers exploded, dancing upon the material made flesh, engulfing her from head to feet with the beauty and torment of flames.
A sound of glass breaking and a loud scream was heard. It lasted as though heard by thousands of ears for millennia of years. The scream crescendoed then lessened, followed by hallows of silence. Demerayes was not able to catch the Lady in White before her deathly plunge.
Chamomile and Ginger Ignite
Some seventeen years had passed since the night of the fire when Charlotte witnessed the death of the Lady in White–or so she thought.
“What was that? Is someone there?” Charlotte stood outside on the pulpit, watching the lights from across the bay play off of the water, when she heard a noise coming from the inside of her bedroom.
“Mary?” she called out. A figure moved about in the room, never answering. “Moth–mother is that you?” Her heart skipped a beat. “Who’s there?”
She looked toward the opened French doors leading to her bedroom. A moment of déjà vu crossed her mind. My life rings as the no-named wife of George Fortescue Maximillion de Winter of Rebecca, she thought. Nothing is as it seems. A door squeaked closed. A familiar fragrance flowed out from her room. Charlotte tasted the air. She walked toward the opened French doors and peered into the room. I’ve inhaled this fragrance once before, long ago. A small glow from her table lamp cast a ghostly silhouette on the wall. Her body shuddered in the warm night, even though she was wearing cotton pajamas. I think I was seven, perhaps, nearing eight the first time I smelled this combination of chamomile and ginger. That was the same time I lost my doll Daphne.
She stepped into her room. “Strange how a simple fragrance and a noise can bring back memories long forgotten.” Her eyes wandered across the span of her room. She looked toward the adjoining nursery door where she and her younger brother Matthew used to have fun times, playing together there.
That was before he died, before everything changed.
Who brought this into my room? Everyone knows I’m allergic to these. Her hands shook when they neared the bouquet of fresh flowers lying on the top of her bureau. She gathered them up and tossed them over the pulpit wall and out to the sea. Closing the doors to the warm night air, she noticed the stars overhead, glittering in the waters below. A haunting tune played in her head, but she was not able to capture the words. Where have I heard this tune? She picked up her doll Daphne from the bed and hummed the tune louder.
“I remember when I lost you. Father found you in the washroom, lying in a basket. I suppose one of the servants had picked you up with my laundry.” She caressed the doll’s hair. “I thought for sure Mistress had taken you from me out of spite.” Charlotte swayed back and forth to the tune she hummed and held the doll close to her chest. “Mistress hates the dolls Father brings me back from all of his travels. She would send me off to the asylum if she thought I was so concerned about a doll at my age.” Charlotte smooth out Daphne’s dress and laid her on the bed. She turned off the bedroom lamps and crawled into bed. She could not get the macabre tune out of her head. She fought the sleep that would eventually come. The tune disturbed her waking hours and night terrors.
Alexander, the head butler had told Charlotte that when she was a child her mother used to sing this song to her, but Charlotte never recalled seeing the Mistress of Fanaman ever coming to her room after Matthew’s death.
Charlotte eyes became heavy with sleep. Matthew’s death haunted her by day and in her dreams at night. Mistress alluded to Charlotte that she was at some fault and caused of the death of her brother, even though the authorities cited his death was an accident.
As she slept, her mind flowed from one nightmare to another. She tried to pull the pieces together. Every night her body and soul fought the demons of the day. She twisted and turned fiercely throughout the night as the sea roared below her bedroom. She never saw who came toward her in her dreams.
Hands outstretched dripped icicles of red matter. It punctured the ground, leaving blankets of bloody footprints that went nowhere–they led to nowhere. Yet they were everywhere. The sound of geese, screaming far off in the distance, released Charlotte from her entrapment.
Unaware of what fresh terror awaited her, like all other nights, Charlotte would awaken in a cold sweat–not remembering what happened, only to fall back into a slumber to be awakened many hours later. This was constant.
It was as though she drowned in the sea below as sleep overtook her once again. Something kept holding her down. She fought her way to freedom and struggled to climb up Heaven Door. There, amongst her dreams and nightmares, was the Lady in White.
“Beware,” the night air squawked.
Charlotte tried to call out to the Lady in White. She ran down the steps of Heaven Door to help the Lady in White. But the lady never saw or heard Charlotte’s cries. Veiled silence covered the lady like a cloak as she plunged headfirst into the black abyss, and then nothing–the geese were silent. Charlotte’s screams froze. The sea became quiet as a new day’s dawn.
© 2015 by A. H. Scott