Monday, May 12, 2014

Ghosts in Darling Harbour

Below is an excerpt from my new paranormal novel. It's not the first chapter but instead a chapter midway through that takes place in Sydney.

The characters in it are:

Loretta Hollows-An American expat married to an Aussie restaurant owner.

Mia Hollows-Loretta's seven-year-old daughter.

Brenda Hollows-Loretta's mother-in-law.

The story takes place in the near future. Life after death has been accepted as fact and people easily talk to their dead friends and relatives via the Internet.  

Note: In the novel, EB=earthbound spirit.  OS=Spirit who has crossed over to the Other Side.  

In the backseat of a chauffeured car, Loretta looks out the window while Mia chatters away with her grandmother who sits in the front seat with the driver. Despite the mild winter chill, Mia is wearing her favorite yellow sandals with sparkles. She had insisted and Loretta decided not to fight her on it. They'd be spending most of the day indoors, anyway.  

Loretta has taken the day off from helping her husband at the restaurant, and with her mother-in-law, she's taking Mia to Darling Harbour.  

In the past, Loretta has always taken the train to Wynyard station; then gone from there. Now they have money, though, so William offered to hire a driver. Loretta was fine with this, though she feels a bit guilty about not doing what's more environmentally responsible.

She will be giving her daughter a little taste of public transportation, not that it helps with the environment, necessarily. But children tend to like those things. They're being dropped off at Circular Quay; then they're going to take the ferry from there. This way they can see the Opera House.

"Did you hear," Brenda says, "that Darling Harbour has a place where you can pay to talk to deceased strangers?"

The driver inserts himself into the conversation by shaking his head and sighing. 

"Can we do that?" Mia asks.

"I don't think so, Mia." Loretta says. "It's not on our pass." They've purchased the Merlin Pass, which, for a single price, gets them into the aquarium, Wildlife Sydney, and the wax museum. Besides you have Zachary and Hayden. You know some people have no spirits to talk to."

"That's like Jayne in my class. She get sad, because we all have spirits and she doesn't."

"Exactly," Loretta says.

"So, she could go to this place in Darling Harbour. I should tell her about it," Mia says.  

"That would be nice of you," Loretta says.

"I wonder how much it costs," Brenda says.  

"I bet it's not cheap," the driver says.

Loretta is tempted to say, "Neither is hiring you as a driver." She gives a little laugh.

"What's so funny?" Mia asks.

"Just thinking about something."  

"Thinking about what?"

Loretta tries to change the subject. "I think the last time we were in Sydney you were five. Or were you four?"

"Five," Mia says. "It was just before we went to America to see Grandma."

"You're quite talkative," the driver comments.  He doesn't say it in an insulting way which is good, because otherwise Loretta would be tempted to hit him. She doesn't like having violent thoughts.

"It's been about that long since I've been here as well," Brenda says.

"No," Mia says. "Remember you and Grandpa went to that concert at the Opera House last winter."

"Oh!  I forgot about that."

"You might have Alzheimer's," Mia says. "It makes you forget things.  Marsha's grandma has it."

The adults, in the car, all crack up a bit.

"You might end up forgetting about me, so it's not that funny,"

"You're right," Loretta says. "It's not a funny disease.  It's really sad. But Mia, I think Grandma’s okay."

"For now," Brenda adds.

"Everyone forgets things sometimes," the driver says. "Don't you?"

"Yes," Mia says.  "But I'm very young.  People my age don't get Alzheimer's, so I'm not worried about it."

Mia continues to talk about various things. Loretta half listens as she looks out the window. She chides herself for not coming into the city more. When she first moved here to be with William, they visited Sydney almost every weekend.  After awhile, the visits turned monthly. The time between visits kept stretching and by the time Mia was in their lives, they were going less than yearly.
Life is short.  You have to make the best of it.

It takes almost a minute for Loretta to realize that philosophy doesn't quite apply anymore. She grins. So yeah. Who needs to worry anymore? If worse comes to worse (which won't be that bad) she'll be an EB for awhile and roam Sydney. She can go to the attractions for free. Spirits don't need a Merlin pass.

                                                                     * * *

After the driver drops them off, they trot up the steps of the Opera House.

They have a few minutes before they need to go to the wharf to catch the 10:55 ferry. Loretta had wanted to go earlier, but Mia’s a late sleeper.

"Did you know that the person who designed the Opera House wasn't Australian?" Mia asks Loretta.

"Yeah, I think I heard that," Loretta replies. Sometimes she doesn't know if she should play dumb with her daughter so Mia can feel smart, or if doing that will turn Mia into a know-it-all.

"He never got to see it," Brenda adds to the conversation.  

"I know," Mia says with dramatic flair. "Isn't it tragic?"

They reach the top of the steps. Mia does a twirl; then says, "Let's take a photo!"

"Good idea," Brenda says.

Loretta looks around. A lot of other people are snapping pictures. Several of them hold their tablets and iPhones up with their spirit-friends smiling from the screen. This way the spirits can be in the photo as well.  

Brenda takes out her mobile and Loretta takes out her camera. They take turns photographing each other with Mia.

"Now I'll take a picture of you two!" Mia says. Loretta and her mother-in-law put their arms around each other. Mia takes a picture with her mother's camera, then with her grandmother's iPhone.  

"We better get going," Loretta says. "We don't want to miss the ferry."

                                                                 * * *

On the way to the wharf, they pass a chocolate cafe. Loretta loves a cup of healthy herbal tea, but sometimes it's nice to splurge and have a hot chocolate or Cappuccino.  

Maybe it wouldn't hurt if they went on a later ferry.

Should they stop?

Loretta can't decide, but she does slow down a bit.  

She'll leave it up to Mia. If Mia suggests they stop, Loretta won't say no. If Mia doesn't ask, Loretta will take it to mean it isn't meant to be.

To her disappointment, Mia says nothing except, "Mummy hurry, we're going to be late!"

Loretta picks up the pace. Mia runs ahead.

"Don't go too far ahead," Loretta calls out.

They get to Circular Quay and search for the correct ferry.

It's crowded and there's no place to sit.

Mia doesn't seem to mind. She dances as they wait for the ferry to arrive.

Finally it does and they board.

They find seats inside and give Mia the seat near the window.

As they pass the giant clown mouth of Luna Park, Mia announces. "That's going to be my place when I die. I'm going to hang out there."

"Really," Brenda says.  "Did you just decide that?"

"No, I've had it planned for months." Mia says. Loretta wonders if it's true.

"You know we can also go there when you're alive. Someday."

"Really?" Mia says. "Today?"

"Probably not," Loretta says. Yes, they have more money now, but there's no need to throw a huge amount away in a single day.   

When they stop at McMahon's point, Loretta looks at the lovely homes. She wonders what it would be like to live right there on the harbor.  

Probably wonderful.

Maybe the restaurant will keep going well, and someday—

She has to admit she doesn't hate the idea. Although then they'll probably need to move the restaurant.  Otherwise, it will be too much of a commute for William.

Loretta looks at Mia looking out the window. "Do you like it here?"

"Yes," Mia says. "It's heavenly."

                                                                   * * *

When they get off the ferry at Darling Harbour, they go to the aquarium first. Loretta's a bit hungry, probably from seeing the chocolate and then having to forgo it. She figures she can wait a short while to see the fish and sharks first.  

Two hours later, they're still in the aquarium. Loretta is starving and exhausted...also embarrassed because Brenda, who is in her seventies, has more stamina. She keeps busy taking photos of Mia looking at all the animals.  

Mia hasn't slowed down a bit. Her legs are full of energy; so is her mouth.

Their favorite exhibits are the leafy sea dragons and sharks; though by the time they get to the tunnel with the sharks, Loretta longs for her bed. Helping her husband at the restaurant is less tiring than this. 

She can't believe they still have Wildlife Sydney and the wax museum left to see.

Before they go into the indoor wildlife park, Loretta insists on getting something to eat.  Neither Brenda nor Mia argue against this plan.  

They look around for a place to eat and Loretta’s very pleased to see another chocolate cafe. This time Loretta doesn't leave it up to fate and her daughter to suggest eating there. She says she'd like to eat there and then hopes Brenda and her daughter don't have healthier plans.

"Yes!" Mia says jumping up and down. "Chocolate for lunch! Chocolate for lunch! I have the best Mummy in the world!"

Brenda and Loretta look at each other and laugh.  

In the cafe, they share a waffle sundae and each get a macaron—salted caramel for Loretta, chocolate banana for Mia, and pistachio for Brenda.  

The food's overpriced, and they've eaten way too much sugar in one sitting, but Loretta refuses to regret it.  She'll dance a little harder next week.

                                                                    * * *

On the walk back to Wildlife Sydney, they pass the attraction Brenda had spoken about in the car.  It's called Ouija Board.  There's a long line of people outside, most of them teenagers, but a few adults are there as well.   

Haunting new age music plays in the area. There's an informational sign posted near the line.  Brenda stops to read. Loretta reads over her shoulder.

Ouija Board was started for those of us who long to join in the fantastic new development of communicative connections between the living and spirit world, but don't yet have adequate opportunities. For a minimal fee, we will connect you to EB's and OS's who will be strangers at first, but very likely will become your friends.  

Loretta looks at the prices. It's $35 for a twenty minute chat and a hundred dollars for an hour. It's ludicrous Talk about taking advantage. It makes her awfully glad they haven't exploited their restaurant patrons.  Yes, they're making money now, but it's only because the twins have made their restaurant more popular. They haven't raised menu prices and they don’t charge any admission fees.
They do sell merchandise. Is that exploiting?  But a lot of restaurants sell merchandise. Loretta doesn't think it's a bad thing.  But it’s bad to exploit people's need to meet friends—whether dead or alive.

She wonders where all these teenagers are getting the money for this.

"Mummy, can we go." Mia says, looking bored. "My feet are getting cold."

Loretta bites the urge to comment on Mia's choice to wear sandals.

"We'll go when Grandma's ready," Loretta says.

"I'm ready." Brenda says.

They continue their journey to Wildlife Sydney.

By the time they get to the Southern Cassowary, Loretta crashes from her chocolate high.  Mia slows down a bit as well. While at the aquarium she stopped to study and lecture about each animal, here she rushes through everything.

They get through the whole building in less than twenty minutes. It's a shame because there's a lot to see.

The good thing is the pass gives them unlimited admission for the year, so they can come back and savor it a bit.

With that in mind, Loretta wonders if they should simply skip the wax museum and do it another day.  But then she wonders, what if they don't come back in a year?  It's not like they have an impressive track record when it comes to visiting the city.

She decides to leave it up to her daughter and mother-in-law.

She asks. They leave it up to her.

Should they go or not go?

It takes them about five minutes to decide what to do.

They decide to go, which is a mistake. The attraction's packed. It's always crowded, but it just so happens they ended up visiting at 3:00 which is when the museum holds their CHAT WITH THE WAX! You don't literally chat with the wax figure. You chat to the spirit depicted by the wax figure. And you don't really chat; it's not like a personal conversation. A crowd gathers by a large computer screen as the spirit talks about his or her life.  

Today they're featuring Victor Chang, a heroic heart surgeon, who was tragically murdered.  

Loretta sees it all from afar. It's too crowded to hear or see much. Plus, now Mia has begun to get cranky.

They walk to the ferry wharf. Mia complains about her feet and her stomach hurting. "You shouldn't have let me eat chocolate for lunch. That's not good parenting."

Loretta takes her medicine. She deserves it. But then she dishes out some of her own. "And you shouldn't have worn sandals."

"You're right," Mia says.

Brenda smiles at both of them. "I'm partly to blame as well. I could have stopped both of you from making these horrific mistakes and I didn't."

"So true," Loretta says. "You're a horrible mother-in-law."

"And a horrible grandma!" Mia adds.

They get to the wharf and find they just missed the ferry. They'll have to wait twenty-minutes and there's no where to sit.

They all stand. Mia leans on Loretta and closes her eyes. Loretta has a hard time dealing with the extra weight.  She's close to collapsing.   

On Amazon!