This post was originally published at Novelicious.com and is now at WritingTipsOasis.com. WritingTipsOasis.com acquired Novelicious.com in June 2022.
The eighteeth entry of our Top 20 Undiscovered Shortlist is Knockin on Heaven's Door by Jill Steeples.
Remember your favourite entry because you'll get the chance to vote after all twenty excerpts have been posted!
Over to Jill Steeples…
KNOCKIN' ON HEAVEN'S DOOR (BLURB)
As a top notch PA, Alice Fletcher is used to dealing with problems, but on her way home from work one day she’s landed with a dilemma that tests her super organisational skills to the full.
A car has crashed off the road and a man emerges from the wreckage. It’s only when Alice is driving him home that she realises the man is Jimmy Mack, the nation’s favourite TV presenter. The second surprise of the day is that he’s dead.
Alice is the chosen one, the one to help Jimmy get to the other side. The only trouble is she hasn’t the first idea of where to start in re-housing homeless ghosts.
But Jimmy isn’t the only man demanding Alice’s attention. When her colleague Damon leaves work to set up his own business she has no excuses for turning down his frequent requests for a date. But how can Alice’s relationship with Damon blossom with an uninvited house-guest on the scene, the ghost of Jimmy Mack? And with Donna Diamond, the reality TV star, announcing she’s carrying Jimmy’s baby, Alice is the only one who can clear his name.
With Alice spending so much time with Jimmy, her relationship with Damon flounders. But where does her heart really belong? In this world with Damon or on the other side with Jimmy?
READ THE FIRST 3000 WORDS OF KNOCKIN' ON HEAVEN'S DOOR OVER THE CUT
Knockin' on Heaven's Door by Jill Steeples
I’m not superstitious. Not really. I mean I wouldn’t walk underneath a ladder or anything like that because that would be silly. And if I see a magpie then naturally I’d do a little scout around the area to see if I can find his mate and if not I’ll chirp, ‘Good Morning, Mr. Magpie, how are you and your family today?’, but that’s just normal stuff. The sort of thing everyone does, right? And it wasn’t as if Friday 13th held any trepidation for me whatsoever because it’s just a day like any other day. Or at least I thought it was. That was until that strange afternoon. The afternoon of Friday 13th March when the events that unfolded were to change my life and my loves forever.
‘You still here?’ Damon Mitchell was standing in the doorway to my office, one arm thrown casually over his head in a pose designed for maximum “check me out” impact. I glanced away, feeling a colour tinge my cheeks, before sneaking another look. Muscles. Now just where had he been hiding those? Clearly his more usual dress of expensive Italian tailoring did a great job at disguising those beauties. Today though, the white shorts and cobalt blue baseball shirt left little to the imagination. My eyes remained fixed on his smiling face, although the temptation to linger elsewhere was hard to ignore.
‘Almost done,’ I said breezily, picking up the management reports from my desk and popping them in the drawer below, locking the cabinet shut with my key.
When I looked up, Damon was bent over, stretching his hamstrings, looking up at me from beneath his floppy fringe. Did he really have to do that in my office? Breathe, I told myself. Slowly. One. Two. Three.
‘We’re still a player short, Alice. Why don’t you come along? You never know, you might enjoy yourself.’
‘Believe me, I know,’ I laughed, lightly. I had no desire to be getting hot and sweaty in front of Damon. No, retaining a dignified distance at all times was definitely the way to go with the likes of ace sportsmen like Damon. I pushed my chair beneath my desk, before reaching for my jacket from the coat stand. ‘Ball games are not my thing. But you have a great time. You can tell me all about it on Monday.’
‘Ah well, at least I tried. You have a good weekend, Alice.’
‘Yeah, you too, Damon.’
It wasn’t just that I’m not the athletic type with no competitive spirit whatsoever. And with an abhorrent dislike of any physical activity. As PA, to Simon Ibottson, CEO of Merron Enterprises, I’d always stayed a respectful distance away from the chummy camaraderie that existed on the sales, marketing and finance floors. I couldn’t really be seen to be indulging in the late night drinking sessions even if I’d wanted to. Instead, I tried to hold onto a professional and friendly demeanour at all times.
Wistfully, my gaze followed Damon’s departing figure as he waltzed down the corridor and he rewarded me by turning around and giving me the biggest wink and smile. He was just a bit too full of himself, that guy. And despite myself, I liked it.
‘Night, Alice!’ he called.
Outside, still smiling, I climbed into my car, deciding because of the uncharacteristically warm weather to pull down the lid. The first time that year. It was one of those glorious spring days that tantalises with the promise of summer and the prospect of a whole weekend ahead with nothing to do was bliss. I ran my hands through my hair, feeling the week’s stresses melt away. A couple of glossy magazines, a pile of soppy rom-com dvds, a box of tissues, a family bag of maltesers and a couple of bottles of Sauvignon Blanc. There, my weekend was now satisfyingly chock-a-bloc.
I took the back roads home, a journey I could have done with my eyes shut, although I decided against that option because of the high danger factor. I loved that drive, my eyes always picking out something new along the country lanes that wound their way through the villages. The picturesque backdrop of green tended fields, stone buildings and colourful bulbs popping their heads up greeting the lengthening days only heightened my sense of well-being. With the CD player turned up high, the wind blowing through my hair, I tapped my fingers on the steering wheel, doo-wopping along to The Red Hot Chilli Peppers.
It was only as I rounded the sharp bend before the road opened up into beckoning countryside that I became aware of something. Something odd. A sense of dread rose in my chest. Where was everyone? It was a Friday afternoon and there wasn’t a soul around. Despite me being buffeted by the wind there was a noticeable stillness that lent an eerie quality to the surroundings.
Shivering, I drove on and that’s when my foot took on a life force of its own, involuntarily slamming down onto the brake as I wrestled with the steering wheel, guiding the car into a small cut-away at the side of a large field. My breath quickening, I climbed out and standing on tiptoes, gazed over the hedgerow at the scene in front of me. Oh my good God! I hadn’t imagined it, after all. A car, silver, large was upended, its wheels still spinning, the side panels crushed, its windows shattered. On the ground twenty feet away from the car was a solitary figure crumpled on the floor. Please God no. I didn’t do blood or infirmity or disaster. Anxiously, I looked around desperate for someone to join me, preferably a paramedic type, but there wasn’t a soul in sight. It was up to me to go over, to face whatever horrors were awaiting me, but my feet felt welded to the ground. Surely no one could have crawled out of that car alive. Reaching inside my jacket for my mobile, I started to walk, before quickly breaking into a run, looking ahead and trying at the same time to find my phone. Damn! Where was the bloody thing?
Within moments I was beside the wreckage and almost wept with relief to find that the bundle on the floor was in fact a man, alive and if not exactly kicking, looking remarkably unscathed, as he sat on the floor, his arms hugging his knees.
‘Thank goodness, are you all right?’ I bent down to meet his eyes, my hand reaching out to touch his shoulder as if to check he was in one piece.
‘Hi.’ He smiled lightly, his piercing grey eyes observing me thoughtfully. He held out his hand in friendly greeting as if we’d just been introduced at some social occasion.
‘My phone!’ I needed my bloody phone. ‘I think I’ve left it in my car.’ Keep calm, I scolded myself as I pointed to the main road. ‘I’ll just run and fetch it, ring for an ambulance.’
‘No! Don’t.’ He spoke with an authority that stopped me in mid-flight.
‘But you need to be checked over. You look, um….’ Awful. He looked worse than awful, but I could hardly tell him that. ‘A bit peaky to me.’ My hands touched his face. ‘You’re probably in shock.’
He emitted a hollow laugh.
‘Shock? Yeah, I am a bit.’ He shook his head, bemused. ‘But really I’m okay.’ His expression softened. ‘Besides, the emergency services, they’ve been.’
‘What? And just left you here? No. They wouldn’t do that.’
‘No.’ He eased himself up to a standing position, his long body uncurling. ‘The accident, it happened earlier. The police and ambulance came and sorted everything. It’s fine. All fine.’ He brushed himself down distractedly. ‘They gave me the all clear. There’s nothing to worry about. I just came back to have a look. To see what happened.’ He let out a long slow whistle. ‘Can’t believe the state of the car.’
‘Me neither.’ I turned to look at the mangled mess. The accident had happened earlier? I felt certain I’d missed it by only a matter of minutes. I must have imagined those wheels spinning. Still, this guy looked pretty shook up. And what was he going to do next? He couldn’t just hang around here in the middle of a field, reliving the awful incident over in his mind. A light wind was whipping across the hedges, taunting my goose bumps. It wouldn’t do him any good stuck in the freezing cold after the trauma he’d just been through. One thing was for certain though, his car wasn’t going anywhere but the salvage yard.
‘Is someone coming to pick you up?’
He tilted his head, looking at me puzzled.
‘They’ll have to take the car away. Examine it, I guess.’ His hand caressed the misshapen metal of the bonnet.
‘No, I meant you, is someone coming to collect you? To take you home?’
‘Um, oh… I don’t know.’ He gave a funny little laugh. ‘No, I don’t think so.’
Really it was shocking the way the state of the country was going. This guy was clearly in a bad way. Okay so he had no broken bones, but anyone with an inch of compassion could tell that he was in deep shock, his dark eyes were hollow, his skin was grey and the hairs on his arms were standing on end. What were the emergency services thinking, leaving the poor man in this condition? He should be in hospital being checked over or at least at home tucked up in bed.
‘Look, come with me,’ I said, offering my arm, ‘let’s go to my car and then we’ll decide what to do.’
‘Will you take me home?’ he asked, his voice lifting.
‘Of course, I will.’ I patted his arm gently. ‘Gosh, you’re freezing.’ I shivered in sympathy. Goodness knows how long he’d been here. ‘Come on, I’ve got a blanket in the car. Do you think I should ring someone? Tell them what’s happened. That you’re okay.’
‘No, there’s no-one,’ he said matter-of-factly. ‘I, um,’ he faltered, shaking his head again as if trying to make sense of it all, putting on a brave face for my benefit. My heart tugged at his vulnerability. ‘Could we go to yours, maybe?’ he added.
What could I say? For whatever reason, he couldn’t face going home yet. For the moment it seemed he wanted only the comfort of a stranger.
‘Yes, yes, of course.’ We walked together away from the crash scene. ‘I only live down the road, it won’t take us long and I think we could both do with a nice cup of tea. Then we can think about having you looked over, seeing a doctor or something.’
‘Tea sounds good,’ he said, in barely more than a whisper.
It wasn’t until I’d put him in the passenger seat and tucked a blanket around his frozen limbs, pulling closed the lid of the car that the second really freaky thing of the day occurred to me. Manoeuvring the car out of the lay-by, I glanced across at the man whose name I didn’t know yet with a stirring of recognition. And then I looked at him again examining the defined jaw line, the set of his mouth which made him look as though he was permanently smiling and the deep set grey eyes which when they focused on you made you feel that you were at the centre of his universe. It was the eyes that were the clincher. I’d gazed into them on many an occasion. With a jolt of recognition, I gasped. James McArthur, Mr Daytime television himself, affectionately known as Jimmy Mack to his adoring public was sitting in my car. Oh my gawd! The realisation turned me into a gibbering quivering wreck. Being a master in stating the bleeding obvious, I said, not-so-casually,
‘You’re Jimmy Mack, aren’t you? Off the telly?’ Talk about losing all coolness and credibility in the space of a few seconds.
He turned his gaze on me, smiled and nodded.
‘What’s your name, then?’ he asked, as if it had only just occurred to him that I might have one.
‘Alice. Alice Fletcher.’ Now it was me shaking my head. I couldn’t help imagining what everyone would say when I told them I’d acted as a guardian angel to probably the most recognisable man in the public eye and we were planning on sharing a cup of tea together. How amazing was that? Maybe I’d even get to appear on his show. “Meet Alice Fletcher, the heroine who rescued our very own Jimmy Mack from his car wreckage.” That was exactly the sort of sensationalism his show went in for.
Back at my flat, I clucked around him like a mother hen. Made him a cup of tea, put him on the sofa with a duvet wrapped around him and generally watched over him. I was desperate to contact someone, anyone to let them know what had happened, but he wasn’t having any of it. Maybe he was on his way to somewhere he shouldn’t have been, I mused, wondering about the private side to this very public man.
Probably once he’d had a rallying cup of tea, gathered his thoughts a little, I’d be able to get more sense out of him, but for the time being he wasn’t the most forthcoming of house guests.
‘I think I might just close my eyes for a moment.’ He put down his empty mug on the wicker coffee table and settled back in his seat, stretching his arms above his head. ‘Is that okay?’
‘Yes, you go ahead. I’ve got plenty to be getting on with here. Just give me a shout if you need anything.’
A little thrill of excitement ran through me. Was Jimmy Mack really sitting on my sofa? Or was I part of some elaborate TV prank? He looked real enough to me. As his eyes flickered close, I studied his familiar features closer. The contours of his face, the strong turn of his jaw, the wide lips smiling even in rest; it was like looking at a member of my family. Weirdly, it seemed perfectly natural that he should be sitting there. But then again… What if something happened to him? A ripple of unease rose in my throat. What if he fell into some sort of delayed coma? Or ended up dead in my living room? That would take some explaining. Before I’d even had chance to grab a couple of autographs off him as well. Desperation bubbled up in me. Celebrity or not, I had to get him out of my flat pdq so that the responsibility of looking after the nation’s favourite presenter could be offloaded onto someone else.
For the moment though, he wasn’t going anywhere. He looked right at home on my squidgy sofa, his head resting on his arm. I wandered into the kitchen, placing the dirty cups into the dishwasher. I threw some washing into the washing machine. Skimmed the pile of paperwork waiting patiently on the side. Checked my emails. Then I read my horoscope in the local newspaper.
“A chance encounter could bring unexpected results. Keep an open mind and go with the flow, you never know where it might lead you!”
Ha, I laughed out loud. Well I couldn’t do much else in the circumstances!
No, all I could do was wait. I drummed my fingertips on the worktop, frequently gazing over at my guest looking for any signs of life. And then I waited some more.
At 8.00 o’clock with no sign of my visitor rousing, I made another cup of tea and a lot more noise in the process. I flung open cupboard doors, banged mugs down on the surfaces and hummed loudly. It was no good; a more direct approach was required.
‘Jimmy?’ I leant over him, whispering in his ear. ‘Jimmy,’ I said, gently shaking his shoulder, ‘would you like another cup of tea?’
He murmured something unintelligible, which, after that amount of time, was an almighty relief I have to say.
‘Good,’ I said, sharply. ‘Then perhaps you’d like a little something to eat. Might make you feel a bit better.’ Then perhaps you’ll vacate my sofa and leave me alone to my weekend of domestic bliss, I kept to myself. ‘I’ll put the telly on, shall I? We can catch the news.’
I zapped the remote at the telly, popped into the kitchen to fetch the mugs of tea and came back into the living room. That’s when I received the third and most spectacularly freaky shock of the day. So much so that I screamed, dropping the mugs to the floor, the contents spraying my cream leather sofa and gardenia walls. That woke him, once and for all.
‘Jesus Christ! What is it?’ He leapt up from the sofa, marginally escaping the spouting hot liquid.
‘You. It’s you.’ I looked from him to the screen. ‘On the telly.’ I pointed at the box in the corner of the room for good measure just in case he had any doubt as to what I was freaking out about.
We were standing a hair’s breath away from each other and I felt a surge of emotion rise within me, the air in the room suddenly electrified.
‘You!’ I repeated, my mouth gaping open like a befuddled goldfish.
‘Oh… yes,’ he said, having the grace to look a little sheepish, ‘perhaps I should have mentioned it.’
I sank down onto the sofa in the place recently vacated by Jimmy, my head falling into my hands. Maybe there’d been some kind of mistake.
‘You’re ….you’re…’ I gulped, no it couldn’t be. ‘You’re…..dead?’ I faltered, looking up into his eyes, which seemed much greyer and deeper than before.
He shrugged, an apologetic smile forming on lips.
‘Yep, I am.’
No mistake then.