A mysterious filmmaker approaches the Penny Dreadful with a proposal to turn Montgomery Flinch’s sinister stories into motion pictures. With Monty installed as the star of his production, filming begins but is plagued by a series of strange and frightening events. Penny is drawn into the mystery, but soon finds herself trapped in a nightmare penned by her own hand.
About the Author
Christopher Edge grew up in Manchester, England, where he spent most of his childhood in the local library dreaming up stories, but now lives in Gloucestershire where he spends most of his time in the local library dreaming up stories. Before becoming a writer, he worked as an English teacher, editor, and publisherany job that let him keep a book close to hand.
Read an Excerpt
Shadows of the Silver Screen
By Christopher Edge
ALBERT WHITMAN & CompanyCopyright © 2013 Christopher Edge
All rights reserved.
The corridor was shrouded with shadows, its dark walls flickering with an almost-spectral impermanence. The only light cast on the scene came from a glowing candelabra gripped in the hand of a woman in white. With a shudder, she stepped toward the corridor's end, the silent swish of her long gown gliding noiselessly across the floor. There, a door stood slightly ajar; the open crack an invitation for the darkness to creep in.
A low murmur of music seeped through the frame, an organ thrum that filled the ominous silence. Black hair cascaded over the woman's shoulders, framing her deathly white features. With her free hand, she reached for the door handle, her fingers trembling as if in fear of what she would find within.
As the organ music swelled in warning, a dark shadow fell across the woman's back. She turned in horror, her mouth gaping wide in a silent scream. This was echoed immediately by a shrill chorus of shrieks as the face of a man loomed large. His gnarled hands reached out with murderous intent and the candelabra fell to the floor, its last flash of light silhouetting the two figures locked in a deadly embrace before darkness fell across the scene. The music rose to a swirling crescendo and the words FIN filled the screen.
Leaping up onto the raised stage in front of the screen, a frock-coated showman brandished a bullhorn, his bushy whiskers almost as untamed as the riotous red of his coattails.
"That's all, ladies and gents," he called out, his voice booming through the tent. "Make your way to the exits, please!"
As the curtains across the exits were pulled back, letting the evening sunlight stream into the tent, the audience rose from their seats, the air of entrancement that had been cast by the cavalcade of moving pictures slowly fading into memory. An excited babble of voices battled to be heard as their owners shuffled toward the light, every set of eyes as wide as saucers at the marvels they had seen.
"Here, I leapt out of my seat when I saw that feller spring up. What a horror!"
"I know, I thought he was going to strangle me himself!"
"A most remarkable performance—one could've almost believed it was real."
Near the rear of the tent, a young girl in a stylish tailor-made suit slowly rose to her feet. Her long dark hair brushed past the collar of her jacket, its light-green serge perfectly matched to the color of her eyes. Next to the girl, the lanky figure of a boy was already standing, his own jacket of a decidedly more threadbare design.
"So what did you think, Penny?" The boy scratched his scruffy mop of blond hair in wonder, a broad grin of excitement spread across his face. "Wasn't that the most terrifying thing you ever have seen?"
Raising an eyebrow in surprise at her friend's enthusiasm, Penelope shook her head.
"I'd hardly call such a hackneyed collection of scenes terrifying, Alfie," she replied scornfully. "Haunted castles, witches' cauldrons, mad monks, and swooning women—the makers of this moving picture show have just stolen ingredients from every gothic tale ever told and thrown them together onto the screen with no regard for the plot. If I printed a story like this in the pages of the Penny Dreadful, Montgomery Flinch's name would be mud."
As the orphan heiress of the Penny Dreadful, Penelope Tredwell had transformed the fortunes of this once fourth-rate literary magazine, turning it into a bestselling sensation. Published in its pages behind the pseudonym Montgomery Flinch, her tales of terror had entranced more than a million readers and made Montgomery Flinch into one of the most celebrated authors of the age. Only a few people knew the real identity of the renowned Master of the Macabre, and as the printer's assistant on the magazine and Penelope's very best friend, Alfie was one of them.
"All right, so maybe the story wasn't up to much," Alfie conceded as the two of them trailed the tail end of the crowd toward the exit. "But what does that matter when you feel as though you are really there? The picture's the thing! I heard that at a show over at Hampton Court Fair, half the crowd fainted when they saw a ghost train rushing towards them out of the screen. These filmmakers can make you believe that anything is real."
A crush of picture-goers still milled around the exit to the tent, seemingly reluctant to leave in case the wonders they had seen on screen sprang into life again. Their gleeful voices mingled with the cries of the fairground hawkers outside.
"Ladies and gentlemen, step this way please for the fright of your life. Don't be afraid to experience the phantasmagoria of fear!"
Digging his elbows into the jostling crowd, Alfie barged a path for them through the throng. Penelope quickly followed behind him, rapping the knuckles of a scruffily dressed boy as his fingers snaked opportunistically toward her purse. Then the two of them emerged from the shadow of the tent, blinking in the sunshine that still warmed the sky even as evening slowly slipped toward night.
Before them the summer fair was in full swing, a state of perpetual bustle and noise spilling across the fields of High Barnet. Crowds of people surged between the attractions, all in search of the ultimate thrill. Nearby, a volley of shrieks erupted from the swirling gallopers of the merry-go-round, the riders whooping as their carved steeds rose and fell at dizzying speeds. With a clang, steam swing boats swung back and forth, a gaggle of young urchins lurking nearby in case loose change fell from the pockets of those on board. And beyond the Razzle Dazzle, helter-skelter, and switchback rides, yet more novelties filled the fairground, all eager to separate the crowds from their money: circus booths, boxing shows, fortune-tellers, and menageries of exotic beasts. The warm air hung heavy with the heady scent of spiced nuts and pickled whelks.
As Alfie tugged on Penelope's arm to pull her into the heart of the fray, she glanced back at the fairground cinematograph show, its grand facade screening the interior of the tent from view. Carved angels twined around ornate golden columns, while a backdrop of luridly painted scenes hinted at what waited within. In the center of this elaborate frontage a towering organ pumped out a queasy tune of welcome as a new stream of visitors hurried up the steps, their eyes wide in anticipation. The sign above the entrance read:
The Electric Cinematograph Picture Company Presents A PHANTASMAGORIA OF FEAR
Penelope frowned. Was this all that people wanted from their stories nowadays—a second-hand fright in the dark?
Turning, Alfie saw Penelope still staring back at the ornate facade. "We can line up again if you want to see the show a second time," he told her. "I wouldn't half mind watching it again."
"I really don't want to sit through that nonsense again," Penelope replied. "I'm just surprised that so many do."
"But all the fairs have got moving pictures now, they're ever so popular. I even heard that they're thinking of opening a cinematograph show on Shaftesbury Avenue itself."
Penelope shuddered at the thought of such a shameless novelty springing up among the glittering theatres of London's West End. Her thoughts crept back to the pages of the Penny Dreadful. She had to show that stories still mattered, much more than mere spectacle. The next issue of the magazine would have to cast this passing fancy into the shade. She would show her readers what fear really meant.
Penelope looked up at Alfie, her pretty green eyes sparkling with resolve. "We need to catch the next train home."
Alfie's face fell. "But we've only been here a couple of hours," he grumbled. "The fair stays open until late."
Penelope shook her head firmly. "I need to start work on the August edition of the Penny Dreadful right away. This new story I'm planning from the pen of Montgomery Flinch needs to be something big; an epic tale of terror that will have the nation scurrying beneath their bedclothes in fright."
Alfie sighed. He'd hoped that by bringing Penelope along to the fair, they could both escape the long shadow of the Penny Dreadful for just one evening. But now a reminder of the printer's proofs piled up on his desk awaiting his return crept into his brain.
"Just one more ride on the velocipedes?" he ventured hopefully, knowing the answer even before he asked.
"We really need to be getting back," Penelope replied. "Else Mr. Wigram will start to worry."
At the mention of Penelope's guardian, Alfie immediately nodded his agreement. He didn't want to get on the wrong side of the stern-faced lawyer, who was also his employer on the Penny Dreadful.
"You're right," he said. "Let's go."
They set off through the fair, heading across the tramped-down field for the railway station that lay just beyond the far line of trees. Screams and shouts of excitement followed their every step as they weaved their way through the crowds. The noise of a dozen fairground organs competed for attention as they squeezed past a row of brightly painted booths, ignoring the hawkers' cajoles and ducking behind a wheezing generator.
Gradually leaving the hubbub behind, Penelope and Alfie followed a ragged line of fairgoers traipsing down the path that led toward the station. Immediately in front of them, a swaying couple leaned against each other for support, their senses dulled by the day's entertainment.
Alfie glanced toward Penelope. "So what's this new story of yours going to be about, then?" he asked with a smile. "Are any mad monks or haunted castles going to make an appearance?"
Penelope grinned. "I think I'll leave that kind of story to the cinematograph show," she replied. "The power of the printed word can find more subtle ways to shock." Behind her smile, the beginnings of a story were already starting to take shape in her mind.CHAPTER 2
"It's quite intolerable. I can't go on like this!"
His face flushed, the man drew himself to his feet, towering over Penelope's desk in the cramped office of the Penny Dreadful.
Penelope looked up from the papers scattered in front of her, fixing a weary smile to her face. She glanced across at her guardian, Mr. Wigram, who was seated at his desk at the rear of the office, sunshine slanting in through a high window and falling across his face. With his silvery hair blanched almost white by the light, Mr. Wigram blinked hard and then frowned, his own annoyance written across his features.
"I can't go anywhere—speak to anyone—without that blasted Montgomery Flinch getting in the way. They follow me, you know!" the man exclaimed, reaching into his jacket pocket for a handkerchief. "Some have even stooped to sneaking up on me in the sanctuary of my own club, thrusting their grubby scraps of paper into my hand for me to sign. It's got to stop."
As he paused to wipe the sweat from his brow, Penelope saw a chance to put an end to his rant.
"Monty, you knew perfectly well what you were getting into when you signed the agreement. As the public face of Montgomery Flinch, it's only to be expected that some of our avid readers will wish to share their enjoyment of his stories with you. You need to attend to their inquiries with the courtesy and grace your position demands."
"But the questions they ask," Monty moaned. He slumped back down into his chair as quickly as he had risen from it only moments before. "'Mr. Flinch, what was the secret of the Withered Man?' 'Mr. Flinch, how many times did the Dread Mare rise?' 'Mr. Flinch, where exactly did The Tale of the Shattered Heart take place?'"
Monty gripped the arms of his chair in a flash of anger. "How am I supposed to know!" he hissed, his knuckles whitening as he stared back at Penelope. "I didn't write the damn things!"
At that moment, Alfie emerged from the back office, carrying an armful of galley proofs. Sensing the air of tension that filled the room, he glanced from Penelope to Monty. The actor's usually jovial face was clouded with fury, his eyes flashing darkly beneath bristling eyebrows. Alfie tiptoed to his chair, slid the proofs onto his desk, and then settled back to watch the show.
Penelope frowned, a slow worm of worry burrowing into her brain. This wasn't one of Monty's usual weekly moans that could be soothed with a few words of praise or the promise of a raise to his contract. This was a full-blown actor's tantrum and would need careful handling. She couldn't risk even a hint of Montgomery Flinch's true identity reaching the ears of anybody who wasn't in this room.
"Mr. Maples—" Wigram started to speak, but Penelope raised her palm to show she had the situation in hand.
"I'm sorry, Monty, but the contract you signed with the Penny Dreadful was an exclusive one that allows us to retain the sole rights to your superb theatrical services," she began, her tone of voice a soothing mix of flattery and threat. "The generous weekly fee that we pay you is to reflect the fact that playing the part of Montgomery Flinch is a full-time role."
"Full-time would be fine," Monty replied with a groan, "but this part is taking over every second of my life. The author tours, public readings, book signings, and after-dinner talks. If I'm not careful, I'll forget who I really am. Monty Maples, the finest actor of his generation snuffed out at the hands of Montgomery Flinch." He held his head in his hands, his mournful eyes fixing Penelope with a beseeching stare. "I need a break."
Penelope sighed. Monty was no use to her like this. In his present mood, the actor was a walking stick of dynamite waiting to explode. All it needed was for someone to ask for his signature at an inopportune time. A rash response from Monty could bring Montgomery Flinch's carefully crafted reputation crashing down in ruins.
Maybe it would be best to allow him a short vacation—a trip to a spa town perhaps—to restore his good spirits. The Penny Dreadful could afford to pick up the bill. She reached for her desk diary. They would have to cancel Montgomery Flinch's scheduled engagements first, concoct some story about the author retreating to the country to work in solitude on his latest tale. A faint smile crept across Penelope's lips. With Monty out of the way for a while, it might even give her some time to write it.
"If you wanted a holiday, Monty," she said, "then you only needed to ask."
The actor's eyes widened in surprise at Penelope's unexpected reply; then he sprang forward from his chair to seize her by the hand.
"Thank you, my dear, sweet girl!" Monty declared, a broad grin clearing the clouds from his brow. "I knew you would understand. I'll only be away for a mere month and then I'll return to play the part of Montgomery Flinch with aplomb."
Wincing, Penelope tried to retrieve her fingers from Monty's grasp.
"Wait a second, what do you mean a month?" she replied in a flustered tone. "I was proposing a week's vacation—a trip to Bath, perhaps, to sample the restorative waters there. The costs of this will be paid by the Penny Dreadful but of course deducted from your future fees."
Now it was Monty's turn to wince.
"But I need longer than a week," he said. "The tour of the provinces is scheduled to last for the whole of August."
As soon as the sentence had slipped from his lips, Monty clasped his hand to his mouth, suddenly realizing that he had said too much.
"What tour of the provinces?" Penelope demanded.
A look of guilt momentarily flashed across Monty's face. Then he threw back his shoulders as if casting off a weight, his appearance taking on a determined air as he met Penelope's gaze.
"That's what I've been trying to tell you. I need a break from the role of Montgomery Flinch," he announced. "I'm an actor. I want to sing, to dance, to astound an audience with the full range of my theatrical skills, but instead I find myself reading these same macabre tales night after night. It's enough to drive a man to drink."
Monty clasped his hand to his chest as though the strain was almost too much to bear. Reaching into his jacket pocket, he drew out a plain postcard, bearing the familiar stamp of the telegraph office.
"When I received this telegram from an old actor friend of mine, I knew it was the answer to my prayers. He has invited me to appear in his production of The Pirates of Penzance, playing the leading role of the pirate king. It's just the tonic I need—far more soothing for the soul than any week away in a spa town. Once the tour is completed, I will return refreshed and ready to light up literary London again."
The corners of his mouth creased into what Monty hoped was a winning smile. "Besides, surely a month's leave can be arranged. It is the summer after all."
Excerpted from Shadows of the Silver Screen by Christopher Edge. Copyright © 2013 Christopher Edge. Excerpted by permission of ALBERT WHITMAN & Company.
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