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WIP - The Secret Lives of Melissa Powell

Work in progress - my new novel "The Secret Lives of Melissa Powell". Excerpt from first draft.

The Secret Lives of Melissa Powell

Carmilla Voiez

Wanda arrived at the inmate’s door with a bundle of letters. The absence of her mentor, and the associated unease Dawson always brought with them towards cell D41, should have given Wanda all the confidence she needed to initiate contact, so why wouldn’t her hands stop sweating? Why did she feel like a thief in the night, sneaking around another person’s house?

The heavy aroma of bleach couldn’t mask the animal stench of sweat and other bodily excretions. Behind her the iron stairs groaned and clanged beneath dozens of tired, bored, listless footsteps. A woman’s sobs echoed across the landing: a mother, perhaps, missing her children, or a daughter receiving news of a parent’s poor health. Life outside the prison walls didn’t stop just because a family member was locked away, warehoused, stored to protect all those good citizens yet to be caught for their own transgressions.

The steel door to the cell was not locked and the child-priestess, who was no longer a child, was inside. Wanda didn’t stop to knock. She didn’t pause outside for the obligatory thirty seconds to ensure the occupant was dressed. In spite of the unannounced arrival and the furious groan of hinges desperate for oil, the prisoner was not startled. She sat cross-legged as usual on the prison mattress. Melissa Powell faced a wall covered in photographs and postcards. A hundred and more vivid landscapes, some famous – the Pyramid of Khufu and the Taj Mahal in hues of saffron; others anonymous – verdant forest scenes, wooden cottages in hickory or gingerbread shades and others built from blocks of graphite or sandstone; iridescent waterfalls; and one, a steep river bank, which looked familiar to Wanda although she couldn’t quite place it.

Wanda positioned herself half way between the sagging mattress and photo-studded wall, holding out letters like an offering. The lineless face remained blank. Wide eyes appeared unfocused. Melissa hadn’t been staring at the wall; she was lost deep in reverie and hadn’t noticed Wanda’s intrusion into the room.

A Formica desk waited beneath the criss-cross-barred window. Wanda could have, should have, left the letters there for Melissa to find when she finished her meditation. However, the urge to speak with the prisoner held her within that cramped space. Ignoring protocol and numerous guards’ warnings, Wanda sat on the bunk beside the prisoner. Keys rattled on her belt, the underarms of her grey shirt dampened and her heart quickened.

She stared at Infamy’s profile, noticing its soft mouth, slight underbite and elfin ears that rose in delicate points amidst the pale stubble of Melissa’s roughly shaved head. Eyelids didn’t flutter but the pronounced domes of the prisoner’s eyes shone with moisture.

Wanda didn’t know how long the Witch of Witchwood would have remained that way if she, inexperienced guard and tempter of fates, hadn’t touched the bony shoulder. One spell was broken and another began as Melissa Powell turned to stare into Wanda’s light-brown eyes. For a moment Wanda floated in the deep aquamarine of those irises, until she was expelled by a sharp, accusing exclamation.

“Jones! What do you want?”

Wanda blinked and wondered what the hell she was doing. Her cheeks flushed shamefully and she looked down at her lap. There, gripped between whitening knuckles, she noticed torn envelopes. “I brought your post.”

Melissa laughed. Wanda shivered. Beyond the mesmerising eyes, tufts of blonde hair glowed like a halo around the doll face.

Wanda stood up. Clanging keys broke the silence. Mail fell onto the cell floor like autumn leaves. She needed to get out of there before she completely humiliated herself and further isolated herself from already distrustful colleagues. Dawson would hear of this when she returned from holiday. The dreadful anticipation of her only ally’s disapproval, anger even, shook Wanda until her eyes felt hot and raw and pain flickered behind them.

Melissa extended a pale hand a gripped the prison guard’s wrist. “Stay,” she commanded.

Wanda sank back to the mattress. Migraine vanished, fears subsided and she felt unnaturally calm.

“Which is your favourite?” Melissa asked, motioning with her head towards the wall of worlds.

Wanda’s eyes settled on a photograph of a waterfall plunging between silver birch trees to a pool the colour of Melissa’s eyes. Crystal clear water reflected light in a myriad of rainbows. “That one.”

“Take it off the wall. Bring it to me.”

Wanda did as she was told. Without entertaining the idea of refusal, she placed the photo in the open palms of the prisoner.

Cupped in the woman’s hands the scene came alive. Slowly at first the water moved, drops of cool spray bounced out of the glossy paper onto Wanda’s face. She smelled flowers and ozone and heard the whisper-roar of water.

Melissa passed the image to Wanda. The guard held it securely between forefinger and thumb and watched, entranced, as fish leapt up stream and birds settled on tree branches.

The logical part of Wanda’s brain flexed its muscles and reminded her that this was a hallucination, but Melissa’s breath against her cheek felt like a gentle spring breeze and completed the realness of the scene.

The dull pain of Melissa’s hand hitting Wanda squarely between the shoulder blades propelled the guard forward, and she was there in the sunlit glade, paddling in cool water.

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