One of the projects I have been working on is a story I started as part of NaNoWriMo 2018 and have been working to perfect ever since. It’s nearly finished after I had to do some backtrack editing to put in new ideas to reach the HEA ending I was aiming for. My target release for this work is still about six months away but that is because the main story starts and ends around Halloween. To keep it relevant I want to release it around August/
In the mean time, I have not openly posted much of my writing work. This was originally planned as a one-shot short where I was going to do a short story a season. Since I like this idea and the characters so much however, it changed into something else.
Before you read, there are some important things you need to be aware of. This preview:
- is in its unedited format.
- has only been beta read by one person. Mistakes may be found.
- is still a work-in-progress.
- is subject to change.
The prologue is set ten years before the main events of the book, so treat this a sneak preview to what will be set up in the main contents of the book.
So, with great excitement, I present to you the prologue for What Are You Scared Of?
“CLARA? ARE YOU OKAY, SWEETIE?”
The living room had suddenly become devoid of all childish giggling and playfulness, the sound of excited little stomps on the soft carpet disappearing from his hearing. Mason had finished fishing out both a pair of military-style boots for him and a ruffled and customized pair of sneakers for his daughter from the cupboard by the door.
“Shoosh daddy, I’m casting a spell.”
Mason popped his head around the wall to peer into the living room, watching his daughter wave her arms randomly around in the air, doing exactly what she said she was doing. The small wand that he had carved out of a branch that had fallen off the tree in the backyard was tightly gripped in her small hands. He had made sure to smooth it down, coat it with a protective layer to stop her from getting splinters and blunt both ends. She was a little disappointed it wasn’t longer like the wands used in Harry Potter, but he had told a little white lie that it would grow up with her. He was sure he wouldn’t have to have that conversation in the future but was fully prepared to face the consequence to bursting that particular bubble.
He was pretty proud of his shoddy creation, mostly because of the determination Clara had on her face as she mouthed words silently, a couple of puffs here and there as she breathed between. When she was practicing the week before, she had told him that only other Halloween monsters could hear her spells and as daddy was one of the good guys, he wouldn’t hear them either. But he made her promise not to cast any spells on him which she cheekily agreed to. He was sure she was trying to magically make him not put vegetables on her plate for dinner the last couple of days.
Shifting back out of sight and taking his phone out of his pocket, Mason loaded an app which he knew could control the television. He never really used it but he had the perfect use for it today. Without a word, he pressed the option to turn the television on, the sound filling the room instantly. He tried his best not to chuckle as he prepared his next line.
“Clara, did you turn the television on?” He peeked his head back round to catch her jaw hanging open in shock and surprise. Mason stifled a laugh.
“No, no, no,” she exclaimed with a mixture of excitement and curiosity. “I was trying to call a… a…” She struggled with the words. “A wolf famidilar!” she finished, jumping in a circle eagerly.
“Well, I think you need some more practice sweetie.” Mason took a moment to think about her mispronounced words, scanning through the Potter movies in his head trying to work out what she may have meant. The first word was clearly wolf. The second word he wasn’t so sure, muttering her innocent attempt of the word over to himself.
“Fami-family-famidi-famil-familar…” he rubbed his thumb and forefinger along his jawline, the sharp scrap of his beard poking the soft skin in the crook of the two fingers. His eyebrows raised, and his lips curved into a warm smile. Familiar. That’s the word she meant. She may not have said it correctly, but the fact Clara attempted made his heart swell in his chest, proud that she was trying, even if she didn’t get it quite right.
Making his way into the living room, the burnet took a seat on the sofa and beckoned the young girl over to him. Clara bounced across the floor towards him and he caught her. She flashed a toothy grin at him. “I can’t wait to go trick or treating daddy.”
“Do you remember what to say after each visit?” Mason asked.
“Thank you,” she drawled with a wide smile to compliment.
“That’s my girl.” He gave her a kiss on the forehead before he picked up the black witch’s hat from the coffee table and placed it on her head. “Go get your shoes on and we’ll head out.” Clara squealed excitedly in response as she dropped down from his lap and raced towards the door where he had dropped their footwear, keeping hold of her hat as she ran to ensure it didn’t fall off. “Be careful!” he called after her, a small laugh escaping shortly after.
Mason grabbed the small orange lantern bucket from the kitchen counter and handed it to Clara. She stared at it as if she was imagining the amount of candy she could possibly fill into the small space, beaming excitedly. Making sure her shoes were on tight before he did his own, he grabbed his jacket and the over-the-shoulder duffel bag packed with her coat and some water before unlocking the door. “Remember,” he spoke, looking down at his daughter practically vibrating at his feet. “Don’t wander off too far,” he requested, smiling warmly.
“I won’t, daddy.”
It had been three years since his split from his wife when she left him for another man. A man with money. More money. He accepted that they had married young, perhaps even too soon, committing to the prospect shortly after she became pregnant with Clara. It felt like the right thing to do at the time and they both had their families’ blessing. A small but meaningful ceremony among close family and friends. They looked happy, they were happy. At least that’s what he thought.
Shortly after they bought the house, he had found she was having an affair and quickly everything fell apart. Mason took the revelation of his wife’s infidelity hard, and she had no intention of trying to make things work. What did surprise him was that she didn’t put up a fight for Clara and he was allowed to take full custody of his daughter without any arguments or court battles. So he pulled himself together, worked hard to make ends meet and be the best dad that he could be for Clara. She was worth the pain and disappointment during the times he wasn’t sure he could manage on his own. Her smile alone was enough to make every tough moment and decision worth fighting through.
She was, literally, his world.
Stepping out in the night air, Mason was surprised it wasn’t as cold as he anticipated. The winter season was definitely around the corner, the changing colors and loss of leaves on trees being a clear indication. Still, he slung the bag over his shoulder, locked the door and dropped the keys into his pocket. The pumpkin that the two of them carved out the night before sat next to the door, the battery-operated LED candle doing it’s best to make it look the part it was created to play. Clara had picked the template from a website online and Mason had done his best to match it. In all his twenty-six years he still hadn’t mastered cutting faces into fruits.
Clara’s eyes were wide with anticipation as she watched a couple of other costume wearers pass the front of the house. She skipped down a couple of stairs and towards the sidewalk, looking in all directions, calling out what she saw. “There’s a vampire! And there’s Iron Man, and-and-and skellies and ghosties!” One of the skeleton-clad kids who had noticed her staring waved at her and gave a little jig and she applauded with a giggly clap. “Look, daddy, the skelly is dancing for me!”
They walked down the street together, stopping at a couple of doors as they did so. Mrs Dathers who lived a few doors down was over the moon to see Clara. She would watch the young girl on occasions when Mason had to go into the office. Working in web and software design meant he could work through team chats online and only visit the office for those big presentations. It also meant he could take his daughter to and from school and be with her at home, only working in his own time, which worked out well for him.
“My, Clarissa!” Mrs Dathers always used Clara’s full name.”Don’t you make a pretty witch?” she cooed as she put a couple of candy pieces into lantern pot that Clara carried.
“Witches aren’t meant to be pretty,” Clara responded as she scrunched her face up trying to make a scary face. She just looked adorably comical.
“You’re an exception.” The older woman dropped in an extra couple of treats as Clara thanked her. Mason mouthed the same gratitude silently before they set off to visit another house.
The street was filled with families, parents with their kids all dressed up and enjoying the atmosphere from the seasonal holiday. He greeted a few familiar faces and Clara interacted with some friends she knew from school. Some houses were more decorated than others, more than just the simple skull lanterns and carved pumpkin he had put together. Everyone had a different investment in the holiday. For him, it was just a fun day to spend with his daughter.
There was a sudden scream from Clara and Mason’s heart jumped into his throat as his daughter clung at his leg for dear life. “Daddy, what’s that?” she blubbered, her finger pointing out at someone’s front yard. Mason scanned the area, his eyes following the direction her finger wavered in, looking to see what had frightened her so much. Then he saw it. In one of the windows at the front of the house, there was what looked like a glowing monster mask, lit up only so slightly by a small light behind it to make it appear sinister as it peered out. He could understand why it had terrified her; it looked like something straight out of The Walking Dead or something else featuring zombies and the undead.
Quickly, Mason picked his daughter up and she threw her head into his neck, sniffling as he gently patted her back, walking to the next street of houses away from the upsetting object. “It’s okay sweetie, it’s gone now.”
Clara sniffed, looking over Mason’s shoulder as if checking to be sure he was telling the truth. Bless her childish innocence. I wish she never had to grow up. She wiped her tears on the sleeve of her outfit before looking at Mason. “Daddy, weren’t you scared?”
“Daddy’s not scared of anything pumpkin,” he said as he stopped and put her down on the path, kneeling in front of her as he used his thumbs to wipe the remaining tears from her cheeks. “You know I’ll always protect you.” He gave her his biggest smile and he was gratefully rewarded with her Clara sharing a toothy grin.
“I love you, Daddy.”
“I love you too. Now, you ready to show more people how bad you are?” Clara gave him another puffy expression of evil and angry as her pretty features could obtain before marching to the next house Mason directed them to. Pressing the doorbell, the two of them waited for an answer.
There was a sound of a young boy behind the door making a sound that Mason guessed to be a howl. So he wasn’t surprised when the door opened to see a young boy, about the same age as Clara, behind it. He was in normal clothes except his upper half had some manufactured fluffy material to represent fur. He had a mask on but he could easily see the boy’s face behind the plastic snout.
“My wolf famidilar!” Clara squealed and the boy tilted his head back at her.
He really needed to teach her the correct pronunciation at some point.
“I’m not a wolf, I’m a werewolf!” He raised his fake claws above his head to emphasize. Clara didn’t agree.
“No, you’re a wolf!”
“Werewolf! I bite people.”
“Can I pet you?”
Mason chuckled as someone else came into view behind the boy. He looked up to be greeted by a handsome smile of a young man looking back at him. Tall, about 6 foot, light fluffy brown hair pushed up off his forehead, a little stubble surrounding that bright smile and shaping his jaw. Their eyes caught for a moment, Mason’s own steel grey locking onto the warm blue orbs that quickly moved down to look at the two kids bickering, the man’s smile widening to show a perfect row of teeth underneath. Then just as quick they were back looking at Mason.
“I’m sorry. He’s been excited all evening to get out.”
Both men looked back at the scene that was playing on the doorstep, Clara now gently rubbing the other boy behind the ears on the mask and the boy panting like a dog. She giggled to him bemused.
“We ran out of candy sooner than expected. Some kids took more than their fair share.” The man’s eyes were apologetic, looking guilty that he had nothing to give Clara even though the guy owed Mason and his daughter absolutely nothing.
“It’s fine. It’s not like she’s doing too bad,” Mason responded, eyes darting to see her little bucket about half full of candy. “Don’t sweat it. I think she got a treat from this visit,” he reassured, offering his own smile to back it up. He stood for another minute, switching between watching the children fuss over each other and swapping an awkward glance or smile to the young man in the doorway.
Turning to leave, Mason gestured for Clara to follow and as he did so, he heard Clara’s next set of words: “Let’s go wolfie.” Without any question, both kids hoped down the stairs hand in hand before breaking on the bottom step and running the short distance to the sidewalk.
“Clara, I don’t think-”
Mason was interrupted before he could finish. “It’s cool, you don’t mind if we tag along?” He turned to see the other man putting on a light jacket, a boy’s coat under his arm, locking the door to the house and stepping beside Mason. “If that’s alright with you that is? Be a shame to split them up.” Suddenly Mason was presented with a hand to shake. “I’m Ethan Dunsford.”
“Mason Pitcher,” he responded before taking Ethan’s hand and giving it a friendly shake. Both of them walked down to the side walked and followed the two children who pranced ahead. Ethan walked with his hands in his jacket, a warm smile curved on his lips.
“Oh, I should have said! That’s Jackson, my younger brother.” Ethan nodded at the wolf-boy. Mason could see a slight resemblance in hair color and texture, but as the boy’s mask covered most of his face, he couldn’t get more than that.
It was Mason’s turn. “That’s Clarisa, my daughter,” he offered as he beckoned to the kids to come back and directed them to their first house visit together. The two men stood at the sidewalk as they watched the two kids greet the young couple that answered the door, fussing over them and passing out treats.
“They make quite the team,” Ethan said after the third house they visited. He beamed a charming smile, folding his arms as Mason pushed his hands into his pockets, nodding in silent agreement.
“They could take over the neighborhood,” he chuckled in response. Even though their encounter was random and orchestrated unintentionally, Mason found the whole experience heartwarming. Seeing Clara take some of the treats out of her bucket and pass them over to Jackson gave him a warm, proud, fuzzy feeling in his chest, taking it as a visible acknowledgment that he had brought her up well, regardless of his situation as a single parent.
“What adorable little kids,” one woman commented as Jackson held his hands above his head howling and Clara posed with her wand poised outside her front porch. She looked over them to Ethan and Mason, smiling warmly at them. “You two must be so proud. It’s nice to see young gay fathers with kids.”
Young gay fathers?
The two men looked at each other, mirroring the same surprised expression on each other’s face, followed by jumbled statements as they tried to find the words.
“I mean he’s not-”
They tripped over each other’s words as they tried to explain. The woman instantly apologized for her assumption, flustered as she passed each child a chocolate skull before saying goodbye and closing the door in a flustered rush. Mason wasn’t sure who was more embarrassed; the two of them or the woman who assumed Ethan and him we’re a couple.
“Daddy, what’s wrong?” Mason looked to see his daughter and her new friend looking up at them with a confused look. From beside him he heard the captured snorts and turned to see Ethan trying his best not to laugh, his upper body bouncing as he stifled the sounds of sniggering. Was he laughing at the situation?
“Well that was awkward,” Ethan finally spoke as he bent down to help Jackson open the skull lollipop before offering the same to Clara, her face lighting up instantly. “It’d be a compliment if it was true.”
Compliment? He isn’t upset by it?
Ethan stood up straight again, ushering the kids to walk in front before he looked at Mason who was still blushing from the moment. “You’ve gone absolutely red. Don’t mind me saying but it’s kind of adorable.”
There were enough clues for Mason to guess that there was a chance Ethan was into guys. Either that he was just super comfortable in his sexuality, not that Mason minded. He scrubbed the back of his neck, a little speechless, unsure what to say. Since his split from his wife, he had a handful of encounters but never held a stable relationship with another woman, worried about how it may affect his daughter having a new motherly role. That and most women Mason met just so happened not to be ready to have children, never mind a man who already had one.
He had never dated a man before. He had kissed one before when he was in school. But that was really just a silly game of truth or dare to impress a girl. Nothing came of it and he didn’t pursue that road. Yet his mind now directed his thoughts down that path, even only for a few seconds, with Ethan in mind.
There was a nudge in his side, hard enough to snap him out of his thoughts. “Hey, Mason, you in there?”
“What? Jeez, yeah, sorry. Spaced out there,” Mason responded to Ethan’s concern, a quick flash of a smile to help reassure the other man. He beckoned for Clara to come over. “I think that’s enough treats darling. Want to take a walk to see the street performances?”
“Can Jackson come?” she asked childishly.
“That’s for his big brother to decide sweetie,” he answered her before switching his gaze to Ethan, catching those blue eyes hooked on him.
“Yeah, I think it’ll be fun. What do you think Jackson?”
“I want to go-aaarrRRROOOOOOOOOOOOO,” the younger brother responded, dragging out the howl as he raised his head to the night sky.
“I guess that’s a yes.” Ethan smiled at Mason, but that smile quickly disappeared. “That’s alright with you, isn’t it? We aren’t intruding on anything?”
“No, you’re good. They’re having fun. Might as well let it last a little while longer.”
The group walked towards one of the busier spots of the night where people mingled and huddle around to watch a group of street performers dressed up doing songs and dances which were to be based on the city’s local history if Mason recalled from the flyer he got through the door a few days prior. Clara and Jackson slid through the crowd so they could be at the front, Mason calling to her to not stray far from them.
They watched in silence, the crowd applauding and interacting with the performances. It was Ethan who was the first to break the silence.
“Hey. I’m sorry if that comment early made you uncomfortable.”
Mason shook his head. “It’s fine. I can see why she would have thought that.”
“I didn’t mean what she said.”
Ethan shoved his hands into his pockets and rocked on the balls of his feet. “I meant the comment about you being adorable. I know we’ve just met and we know nothing about each other apart from stuff we’ve talked about today. I just didn’t want you to feel awkward by me calling you adorable.”
Mason noticed the soft red glow on Ethan’s cheeks as he looked ahead watching the performers. He could tell the young man was doing his best not to look Mason in the eye. “It’s fine,” he said, just as the crowd roared in trepidation. “I appreciate your concern but it’s fine, really.” Mason turned to look back at the performers, trying to see what was going on as more cries came out. It seemed like someone had come out dressed in a particularly scary costume and was performing some stunts to surprise and shock the crowd. “So Ethan, what do you do for a living?” he asked, forcing the change in subject.
“College. Business and Accounting. Got a knack for numbers. Seems to run in the family.” He stumbled in small steps trying to lean on his toes to see more of the performance. “What about you?”
Mason told him about his career in web and software engineering which caught Ethan’s interest, asking a number of questions about the job and his role. Soon, the performance was forgotten about as they engaged in idle conversation about their jobs, their hobbies and what was good to watch on television. The conversation flowed as if they had known each other for longer than the couple of hours they had been hanging out. Mason hadn’t realized the smile that had crept onto his face as he listened and responded with attention and care. Ethan was a bright young man and he held himself well for his age, a clear ambition set out, knowing where he wanted to be. Mason admired the man for that. It reminded him of when he was fresh out of high-school and sure that he wanted to work with computers and websites.
“Ethan! Ethan! Ethan!”
Jackson’s voice pieced both men’s ears and they turned to see the young boy pushing his way through legs to get back to where they were. His mask was in his hand and for the first time, Mason getting a full view of the boy’s face. A face full of panic.
“What’s wrong Jackson?” Ethan asked as he bent down on one knee to address him. But Jackson looked to Mason instead, and Mason’s heart dropped in fear. “I can’t find Clara,” he said, tears starting to fill the young boy’s eyes.
The sound of the crowd and performance faded in his ears, the sound of his heart beating furiously from anxiety booming in its place. It was every parent’s nightmare. His eyes started darting around as he tried to look for his daughter, scanning the crowd as best he could. He trembled slightly as fear crept into him, his mind thinking worst possible outcomes.
“What do you mean Jackson? Where did she go? Can you tell me what happened?” Ethan asked all the right questions but Mason was too overwrought to pay full attention to Jackson’s answers. And as he felt his vision start to spin, he felt a hand reach for his, the touch grounding him for a moment, long enough to look down and see Ethan’s hand in his. “Mason, it’s okay. We’ll find her. I promise.”
Mason’s breath hitched as he wanted to answer Ethan but felt his mind wanting to call out Clara’s name instead. The hand that held his squeezed gently, once again grounding him for a moment as he looked back to Ethan who had now stood up to face him.
“Jackson says Clara became scared of one of the performances and tried to come back to you. It’s possible she may have got lost in the crowd but I’m sure she hasn’t gone far.”
“We have to find her,” Mason stuttered the only response he could formulate before he started to call out her name. “Clara? Clara, sweetie, where are you?” People started to turn their attention to the shouting man. He could see the look of sympathy from some who had their own children, probably empathizing his situation. A couple looked in disgust at Ethan still with a hold of his hand but that wasn’t important to Mason right now. Shifting his way through the sea of bodies, Mason continued to call out, doing his best listen out for his daughter calling back to him over the noise of the entertainment. He heard Ethan shouting behind him and he instantly appreciated the man’s help.
What if she’s hurt?
“I can’t think like that,” he mumbled before calling Clara’s name again.
What if she’s been taken?
What if she’s run away?
“No, no, no, no…”
His mind was working against him, the anxiety tightening his chest and he could swear he felt like it was going to implode. Every single fear he ever had was surfacing all at once, fighting to cripple him as he continued to look and listen, his eyes darting around quickly, looking at every young face he could see.
And there it was. Clara’s voice.
“Clara, sweetie, it’s Daddy. Where are you?”
“Daddy!” There was her voice again. Just off to his right towards a queue of people standing at a burger van. “Daddy, I can’t find you!” He could hear her tears through the crackling of her voice, scared and terrified.
“Daddy’s coming. Don’t move.” He let his hand slip out from Ethan’s as he broke into a jog, moving quickly and apologizing to people as he went past. Approaching the van he saw someone waving to him, a young blond woman with a yellow t-shirt on grabbing his attention. He could just see her as she leaned up over the crowd, beckoning him in her direction.
“She’s over here.”
When Mason got to the woman, Clara ran towards him and clung to his leg, tears now freely running down her damped face as she wailed, calling Daddy and apologizing over and over. He placed his hand on her head, running it hand through her hair to comfort her as the woman who she was standing with walked over, holding Clara’s witches hat and candy bucket. The word STAFF was written on her shirt.
“I found her cowering by the stage. She got scared by one of the performers and lost in the crowd. Bless her heart, she was terrified. I’m glad she’s okay now.”
“Me too. I…” Masons tumbled for words. “I don’t know what to say except thank you.” Mason took the bucket and hat from the woman as Clara continued to sob at his feet. The woman smiled and walked back to the festival gathering, leaving Mason to handle the rest of the situation. He kneeled down, placing the items next to him and cradled Clara’s head in his hands, running his thumbs over her face to dry the tears again.
“Sweetie I was so worried about you!”
“I’m… sorry… Daddy,” Clara sniveled, sniffling between words. “I tried to find you b-but I could-couldn’t.” She started wailing even harder now.
Mason pulled the young girl into a hug, patting her back in a soothing manner. “There, there, it’s okay. You’re safe now,” he told her softly just as Ethan and Jackson approached. He heard the younger brother call out to Clara and run up to her, throwing his arms around both him and Clara. She nuzzled her head harder against Mason, apologizing once again.
“Is she okay?” Ethan asked as he stood over the three of them, his expression perturbed. Mason looked up and met the man’s emotional eyes and mutely nodded, his lips curving into a soft appreciative smile.
Once Clara had calmed down, Mason hooked the small bucket around his arm, grabbed the witches hat and picked the young girl up, carrying her in his arms. She looked exhausted after the ordeal and laid with her head on his shoulder, her eyes closed.
“Thanks…” Mason offered as he made his way home, Ethan following beside him holding Jackson’s hand. “Thanks for helping me.”
“Hey man, it’s cool. I get it. I’d be just as frantic if Jackson disappeared like that. I’m just glad she’s okay.”
“I think she just needs to sleep now. She’ll be okay in the morning.”
Ethan nodded before stopping with Jackson beside him. “We need to be heading this way. It was cool hanging out with you guys though. Thanks for having us.”
“Thank you,” Jackson added, a tired yet wide smile dominating his young features.
“And again, sorry for before.”
Before. The comment where Ethan had called him adorable. Mason took a moment to think about that. From what he recalled from their earlier conversation, the kid was nineteen years old, six years his junior. He was also, importantly, male. Yet tonight, Mason had connected to Ethan in a way he wasn’t able to do with the women he dated. Ethan took interest in him and sounded like he actually cared, even though they were still just two strangers who met through their kids. And the man’s support during Clara’s short disappearance had stamped a fond impression on Mason. There was a possibility that Ethan liked him, liked him in a romantic kind of way. Or a sexual way. Or both. Or whatever. And there was an opportunity to maybe explore that. Maybe if they became friends? Or if they went on a date?
Maybe I should ask him to dinner?
That thought surprised him, more than the other considerations. He had no real experience with dating a man. What was it like? Was it like dating a woman, with candlelight and champagne? Or was it like going to a ball game with one of your friends?
“Daddy?” The voice of his daughter brought him out of his thoughts. “I’m cold.” She looked at him from where she lay on his shoulder.
“Sorry sweetie, we’ll be home shortly.” He turned to look at Ethan. This is it. What are you going to do? “I should get her home.”
“Sure. Take care. Again, nice meeting you.” Ethan turned and headed up the sidewalk, back turned, his little brother’s hand in his. Mason watched for a few seconds, the voice in his head yelling in its locked confinement for him to call the man back. Do it, what are you waiting for?
“Daddy?” Clara’s tired voice once again took precedence as he turned to look at her.
“Let’s go home sweetheart.”
As Mason turned to cross the street, he didn’t notice the eyes of Ethan looking at him, hoping for a chance that walked away into the night.
I hope you enjoyed the read. If you have a WordPress account, please feel free to leave a comment. If not, you can leave a comment below or send me a mention on my Twitter account. I’d love to hear what you thought!
And thanks so much for taking the time to read! I hope you are as excited for this now as I am!