The Fourth Wall – An Out of Ashes Short Story

Leading up to the release of my debut novel, OUT OF ASHES, this autumn (date pending) I’ll be sharing teasers both on here and my social media.

Trigger and content warning: This book contains both adult content and potentially triggering content. On page sex, violence, death, alcoholism, abuse, suicide. Mentions of sexual assault.

You can read a teaser short story below set before the beginning of the main book or you can download the ebook here or add it to your favourites on Wattpad

Disclaimer – All art and editing for this short story is done by me. The full book will be edited by a professional, and the official cover will be revealed closer to the publication date.

I hope you enjoy this brief insight into Clair.

CLAIR

I dream of burning skies and raging waves crashing against unforgiving rocks. They roil within me, but I lock them away, for no good can come of their freedom. It would mean sacrificing my own.

It’s barely six, and my body is already close to toppling over. My feet ache, and my hands sting from the constant damp then dryness as well as the vegetable juice irritating my cracked skin. If it weren’t for my cousin’s violin practice, I think I might feign illness and stay in bed.

Her music floats into the kitchen, and I find myself swaying to the soothing melody. I dabbled in the violin occasionally, but when my cousin got impatient with my slow progress, she insisted on solo classes, and the tutor didn’t have the time to teach me. 

The cook’s assistant is sick with an unseasonal influenza, so I’m cooking on top of caring for my ailing uncle. Lucky me. Steam from the stew I’ve been preparing drifts under my nose, and I check the clock. Almost six and time for supper. The cook pulls several bread rolls from the stove and leaves them to cool on the central table, along with the roast dinner for the family.

My uncle needs more specific nutrition, so I fill the stew with vegetables, potatoes, lentils, and diced beef to make it easier to digest. His age and illness drain his energy, and the easier I can make it for him, the better. 

I assist the cook in serving the family in the dining room, my uncle shuffling into the chair at the head of the table. Edward, his eldest son, takes a seat next to him along with his wife and four adolescent children, two boys and twin girls. Elise, the eldest sister, sits opposite him with her husband and two girls. 

Pushing my serving trolley towards my uncle, I nod to Elise. She is the only one who gave me the time of day, but being several years older with her own family, she has little time for me now. She returns the gesture before a chair slaps on the floor, her youngest giggling as she bounces on it. 

The sound judders through me, and I drop the bread I was about to place on my uncle’s side plate. My uncle places a hand around mine as if he knows the horror that attacks my mind sometimes. The furniture tumbling over, the flames engulfing my home, the frigid air hitting me as I fled.

“It’s all right, Clair,” he says as I pick up the fallen bread roll and place it on one of the lower shelves of the trolley. 

“Apologies,” I say hurriedly to Edward more than my uncle as he glares at me.

“Clumsy witch,” Edward mutters, and Elise clears her throat in some semblance of my defence. Fat lot of good it does.

“How many times do I have to tell you?” my uncle says, wheezing through his voice. “We do not speak like that in this house, especially about family.”

Edward’s glare blazes at me as he scoffs and curls his upper lip. “Isn’t it time she left us, Father? Having a witch in our house has done us no favours. Besides, she’s old enough to marry and has her trust fund for her husband. I have little doubt there would be men-.”

“No,” Uncle says. He told me of the promise he made to my father to raise me as his own should anything happen to him. “Not unless she wishes it, and she is family and welcome here as long as she wants.”

Although I call him Uncle, he and my father were distantly related. My father’s great grandfather travelled the world and married a French witch who didn’t take the Knightflame name. My mother was a Starfall, another founding family, and when my father sought out his English kin, my uncle welcomed him into the family. Not long after, he met my mother, and they fell in love. The rest… is a much longer story.

My uncle sighs. Edward hasn’t brought that up for a while, so I was probably due the reminder of how my kind is considered lower class citizens. And I am yet to find a man to prove he might marry me for more than my money.

Once everyone is served, the cook stays in the dining room should the family want something more, while I eat alone in the kitchen. My uncle has always allowed me to dine with the family, but Edward takes every opportunity to belittle me, and I have no patience for him today.

I eat a portion of the stew I cooked for my uncle and set the kettle to boil. As I drop the tea leaves into my cup, a rush of icy wind makes me shudder.

“This stupid L key,” an ethereal female voice says from above me. 

I launch to my feet, heart in my throat as I stare up. The ceiling ripples with odd light, and I squint to get a better look. “Hello? Are you all right?” I call out, musing over what magic someone might be having trouble with. It is not uncommon for spells to go awry. 

“What?” the voice asks. 

I frown and cross my arms, craning my neck as green eyes come into view, framed by deep brown hair. “Are you watching me?”

The eyes widen and pink lips part as the woman gapes for a moment. “Holy fudge,” she says, leaning closer and almost passing through the light, but she remains an image on the ceiling.

“I beg your pardon?” I shriek. “If you do not leave this instant, I’ll…” I scramble for the secret pouch of protection dust I keep in my pocket. I may not have magic, but I know a very feisty witch who helps me with discrete items. I toss the dust upwards, but nothing happens save for it falling back in my eyes. 

“Blazing fires,” I curse, blinking through the sting.

“Clair?” the woman says. “Is that you?”

“Yes,” I say. “Who are you?”

She spills what I suspect are curses, but I’ve never heard such language. “You can actually hear me?”

“Yes,” I say, losing my patience over the mystery woman. “Now tell me who you are and why you’re stuck in the kitchen ceiling.”

She chuckles and covers her mouth with her hand. “Oh my God,” she screams. “You’re actually talking to me.”

“Obviously,” I say, still utterly confused as to who she is and why she’s hovering in the ceiling like some spectre. “Are you trapped somewhere between worlds?” I ask. It’s the only thing that comes to mind, though I’ve never heard of my kind conversing with a spectre, only sensing them and maybe some emotions if they’re strong.

“No,” she says. “I’m your writer.”

“My what?”

“Your writer. I wrote you and this world you’re in.”

“Poppycock,” I huff, glowering at the smiling woman, but I take in her features once more. She has my blue-reen eyes with flecks of gold, my wavy dark hair with an auburn tint to some strands. Her skin is the same pale tone as mine, her cheeks with a natural blemish.

“It’s true,” she says. “I can prove it.”

Rapid tapping sounds come from beyond the woman, and I reach for the kettle on the stove without meaning to. 

“What is this?” I shriek, my hand gripping the handle and pouring the hot water over my tea leaves. My muscles fight the action to no avail.

“I just made you do that,” the woman says. “I wrote it, and you did it.”

“God,” I breathe, staring at my tea, my limbs now my own again.

“I suppose I am like the god of your world.” Her chuckle echoes about the kitchen, and I look up.

“What’s your name?” 

“Emilia,” she says.

I smile at the unfamiliar name. “It’s pretty,” I say.

“Thank you. So is your name.”

I laugh. “Glad you think so, since I assume you named me.”

“I did.” Silence lingers a moment before she continues. “I’m sorry.”

My lips purse at that. “What for?”

“For your story, both past and future.”

Another moment of silence passes as I took that in and pondered what in all things windy and wavy she could mean. “You wrote my story?” I ask.

“Yes. In a way, it’s mine too.”

“Are you a witch like me?”

A snort of laughter came from the rippling light, her image fading and coming back into view. “No, but I’ve been called a word that rhymes with it.”

I laugh and shrug. “So how are our stories the same?”

“You’ll find out soon enough. And maybe we’ll meet again when you can forgive me for it.”

“I—” 

The image fades, and the light winks out. My insides turn to ice at Emilia’s words. 

“When you can forgive me for it.”

I want it over already. 

A scream comes from the dining room, and I run to find Elise leaning over my fallen uncle. His limbs shake, and his unseeing gaze darts around as if chasing something the rest of us cannot see.

“Call for the doctor,” Elise shouts to the cook still by the edge of the room. 

She nods and hurries out as the others stare down wide-eyed.

“I know a healer,” I say and turn to leave.

“No.” Edward’s voice halts me. “I’ll not have magic in this house.”

I spin to face him, panic making my breaths shallow. “He could die.”

“So he’ll die,” Edward says as if talking about the chances of rain. 

I stumble back, clutching my chest as dread consumes me. Something in me knows this is just the beginning and that another loss is about to break me all over again.

THANK YOU FOR READING

Here’s the blurb for the main story.

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