Last weekend I was part-way through Elizabeth’s short story challenge when I was struck down by a surprise health problem. All’s well now, I’m glad to report, but after three days of blood tests is it any wonder my story brain turned to vampires and werewolves?
Better late than never. Here are the prompt words, and my attempt:
A scandalous family secret is uncovered during the reading of a will, using the words
Eternity Teeth Grasp Poison
Land Cocoon Blankly Haunt
Capture Booze Casket Faint
Bluster Shake Nerve Awful
Were There’s a Will
Annabel McCallan-Whyte stared blankly at her rapacious baby brother. She understood all the words he used, but for a moment or two there she’d failed to grasp his meaning. The sheer nerve of him made her shake with rage. Grandpa was barely in his casket, and Jonathan was already peddling his unique brand of poison.
“A private golf club? Conference facilities? A helipad? Luxury housing? It’s beyond awful. Grandpa would haunt you.”
Jonathan shrugged, but his eyes slid away from hers.
“Come on, sis,” he wheedled. “This place is huge. What else would you do with a hundred acres of prime development land?”
“Give it to the village,” she shot back. “That’s what Grandpa wanted. Use the house for a community center, like they’ve been doing for years.”
Jonathan shrugged again. “So buy or build them one from your half of what this place is worth.”
Luckily the door opened before she could brain him with a priceless Benvenuto Cellini candlestick. She knew old Mr. McLeish, who’d been Grandpa’s lawyer for as long as anyone could remember, but the curly-haired, smooth-faced young guy with him was a stranger. Probably born in the twenty-first century, or at least the very end of the twentieth.
The new kid wore a sweatshirt, a slouchy hat and a broad smile, none of which seemed remotely appropriate given the seriousness of the occasion. Mr. McLeish didn’t seem to mind, but she sent the young man a stern glare. He winked at her.
“Who’s that?” Jonathan glowered at the boy, his face dark with suspicion.
“All in good time, Mr. McCallan-Whyte.” The lawyer shuffled to his usual place at the end of the dining table and set a slim file on the polished walnut. The mystery kid helped him settle into his seat, and then parked himself in Grandpa’s carved chair at the head of the table, where he slouched, entirely at ease.
It was too much to bear. Annabel almost reached for the candlestick again, but something in the boy’s expression made her think better of it. She knew she’d never met him before, but there was something terribly familiar about the way his cheeks dimpled, as though he was enjoying a private joke at their expense.
“No sense in making a meal of this.” The boy smirked.
Mr. McLeish shot him a quelling glance. “The formalities must be observed, Mr. Whyte.” He pronounced the name with careful precision.
Jonathan lumbered to his feet. Mr. McLeish silenced him with a look. Mr. Whyte tapped his hands on his denim-clad thighs in another gesture that looked odd on his gangly skater-boy body.
Grandpa’s lawyer cleared his throat.
“Mr. and Miss. McCallan-Whyte, this is your cousin Mr. Callum Whyte, of the Canadian branch of the family. It is my duty to inform you that my client, your grandfather, the late Mr. Hamish McCallan-Whyte, left his entire estate to your cousin.”
“What?” Jonathan’s fat hands clenched into fists. He thumped them onto the dining-table and leaned on them, almost stuttering in his rush to get the words out. “Do you seriously expect us to believe that?”
“No.” Callum Whyte spoke for the first time: low, calm, and faintly transatlantic. “I expect you to tell the rest of the world you do, though.”
“Not a chance.” Jonathan harrumphed. All bluster, no brains.
“I might,” she said. “It depends what you plan to do with the estate.”
“Nothing, Parkin,” Callum Whyte said. “The staff keep their jobs, you keep your cottage, the villagers use the place the way they always did.”
She closed her eyes in relief. “Then I’ll definitely…”
Parkin? There was only one person in the world who used that nickname, a Northern English word for gingerbread that he said was the same color as her hair.
Her voice came out in a kind of strangled squeak. “Grandpa?”
It couldn’t be, but it was. She leaped out of her chair and ran round the table. He opened his arms just in time to catch her in a rib-squeezing hug. He even smelled right, enveloping her in a reassuring cocoon of vetiver cologne, oolong tea, and warm wool. “Sorry to worry you, Parkin,” he mumbled against her hair. “I can’t keep the same persona for eternity. People would notice.”
Jonathan mopped his brow with his Hermes handkerchief.
“The staff get jobs; the village gets a multi-million pound playground; she gets a house on the loch…” He swallowed hard, as though he might lose Mrs. Ross’s excellent lunch, which would have been a shocking waste of fine food. “What do I get?”
Callum Whyte—grandpa!—stared down the length of the table until her brother started to squirm.
“Behave yourself, and I won’t call in your debts, Jonty,” he said softly. “How many times did I tell you not to borrow against your inheritance?”
“And if I refuse?”
Her brother looked as though he might faint. He stumbled to the sideboard, poured himself a glass of Grandpa’s finest booze, and chugged it.
Grandpa smiled. It was a very wide smile, showing a perfect set of very white, very sharp, very long canines.
“That would be unwise.” He ran his tongue over his lips. It was long, rough, and very pink. “I’d hate you to suffer the same fate as Great-Uncle Hugh. They never did capture the creature that got its teeth into him.”