This version of The Cottage on The Border is the third edition. Book 1 in The Jenna Kroon Series was first published by two small Indie publishers and this one is self-pubbed. The next two books in the series are going to be brought out by 13th Sign Publishing
Not just publishing-wise this book has made a long journey. The writing of it also took me a couple of years. The original story came to me in a dream so I knew the story arc but to flesh it out took me a long while. At some 124K it’s not a short novel and it’s content is gritty, black, at places hallucinatory and downright horrible. My editor insisted I wrote the epilogue in order to give readers some leeway, easen the stomach pain, flatten the goosebumps.
The book is not autobiographical, in no way whatsoever, although every writer uses images and shards of memories and bits of old stories to compose her work. I had some readers inform about my own mental sanity after reading the book. What can I say? I’ve encountered folk with serious personality disorders from close by. You learn to cope as you go and if you can, you incorporate stuff you’ve seen in your stories. That’s how I deal with it. But again, these are 100% fictive characters! I can’t stress that enough. And yes, thank you. I’m okay. In my own way.
So first the Blurb and then Chapter 1. The rest can -for now – found on all the Amazons and soon hopefully via Smashwords.
Jenna’s earliest memory is of her mother’s feet dangling in dust motes, as a three year old left orphaned while her mother’s corpse hung from a beam. Her mother committed suicide, that’s how she escaped and freed herself. When her own life falls apart Jenna’s earliest memory becomes her anchor, she too wants to be free.
Vincent Van Son is Jenna’s adopted brother, her psychiatrist, perhaps her only friend. He takes her to the Cottage for recovery, determined to rescue his sister from herself after her failed suicide attempt. The cottage on the border is at Oud Land, and is the location of many dark secrets.
Jenna’s close call with death leaves her open to the psychic world, and in this cottage in the onset of a misty winter, Jenna hears them, the voices of the past, memories of what happened on the border. It becomes a journey to herself. She has to listen, to witness, she has no choice. Their stories are her story, and it is a long heritage of murder, deceit, ethnic discourse and betrayal.
Perspective returns to the introspective prima ballerina, she has learned the truth of her family, of this cottage of psychic confessions. She alone emerges from the rubble of six decades of troubled family history, a lone phoenix.
The Cottage at The Border is a tale of murder, mystery, intrigue, familial despair, heartbreak, and spiritual resurrection.
“Happy families are all alike; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.” ~ Leo Tolstoy
Prior To You
Oud Land, Zeeland, The Netherlands, 1 May 2000
“Prior to you, father, prior to this, there was silence and to silence we now return.”
Jenna said it out loud. Her words echoed in the empty room. It was real, it was done, really done, all of it. Both of them were dead and buried – father and son – in graves alongside each other with only the wind whispering ‘agony’. But she was alive, strange and wrong as it may seem. Her pain buried for good in this godforsaken place on the Belgian border.
Jenna’s eyes took in the familiar view from the window, the cattle grazing lazily, the meadow laced with a budding corn field. The May sun reflecting on the red rooftops at the end of her estate. It was a matter of hours before she would hand the keys to the next owners. A sigh escaped her flat bosom. From his basket in the corner, Mauritius replied with an even bigger dog’s sigh. A smile stole over the young woman’s delicate features. They were such a team.
Suddenly, the silhouette of her grandfather loomed up, a wide-legged, weather-beaten farmer scanning his lands. He turned to face her and waved, cap in hand, his grey hair ruffled by the soft breeze. An index finger crooked from arthritis pointed to the V-tailed swallow that skimmed deftly over his head. She nodded, showing she understood. A swallow flying low meant rain tomorrow. She had farmer’s blood too. But when she blinked, Grandpa was gone. What a dreamer she was, born with the gift! It had brought her so much but in the end left her without bloodlines.
“Grandpa Onno.” She had to pronounce his name one last time now he had come to take leave of her. She had expected him. After all, Grandpa Onno was the reason for her downfall and her resurrection. She, Jenna Kroon de Coligny and he, Onno Brenner, were the string to which all the others were attached. He had shown her how to prevent history from repeating itself. No more killings, no more suicides. All the family stones turned upside down. And she alone emerged from the rubble of six decades of troubled family history, a lone phoenix.
The black, Bakelite phone started to ring its old-fashioned, staccato bell in the hallway: pring, pring. It shook Jenna from her musings. Startled, she ran to it, her bare feet dancing over the cool black-and-white tiles. ‘Must be Vincent, telling me when he’s coming to pick me up’.
“She said yes!” Vincent’s elated voice sang in her ears. ‘Couldn’t wait to tell you. Margot and I are getting married in the autumn, as soon as I’ve got my PhD.’
“Oh, that’s wonderful news, Vince. Congratulations.” A warm rush of happiness spread through Jenna’s body.
“And I want my little sister to be my witness.” He sounded resolute.
“Well of course, brother, I’d be outraged if you hadn’t asked.”
So everything was going to be alright?
“Can’t wait to see you this afternoon, Jen. All done in the cottage?”
“Yes, all done. I’ll be glad to leave it behind. Can’t wait to return to Amsterdam and start a new phase in my life!”
“So proud of you, sissy. You’re such a survivor, but, um … you know what I want to ask, don’t you?”
Ha, the shrink’s head was popping up again.
“I have been eating, doctor, don’t you worry.” She made it sound light-hearted. Through the open door her eyes darted to the apple on the window sill, her 10 o’clock snack. It was still a battle, always would be, but she was getting there. “Almost fifty kilos this morning.”
“Hallelujah!” her foster brother cheered. “That’s my girl. Listen, I’m leaving the hospital after lunch. Marge is sorry she can’t come along, but we’ll lock the cottage together, OK? It’s been a long ride since we landed there.”
“Indeed it has.”
“By the way, Jen, I checked your apartment on the Brouwersgracht. It’s all furnished and ready for you. Mozzi sent you a huge bunch of flowers. The card reads, ‘For Jenna KdC, my talented star dancer. Welcome back to the show, Mr Mozzi.” Jenna’s breath caught. Would she be able to dance again and fulfil the boss’s high expectations of her? She would certainly have to train long hours to get back to the top. As always, her brother sensed her hesitation.
“After all you went through, you’ll do perfectly fine, Jen. Not a single doubt about that. Now give Mauritius a pat on the head from me and I’ll see you in a couple of hours.”
“OK, I will. Drive carefully.”
Jenna replaced the receiver on its hook. Slowly she made her way back to the small living room and took up her position at the window. She felt her mood drop like a pool around her feet. She stood, immobilised on the worn-out carpet, feeling empty and drained. She had no idea why she felt sad when the news was all happy. Everything was going to be OK. She owed it to herself. She simply had to dismiss Vincent’s call for now and concentrate on cleaning this place. The new owners would arrive at 3 o’ clock. Five hours left. There was still so much to do. But she sank down on the one remaining chair, the apple in her lap. Letting the waves roll in one more time.
Six months ago…
1 November 1999
All was still. A low fog was hanging over the meadow, covering the grass and the cream-coloured cows. For brief periods the veil floated upwards and their bulky shapes became visible in the diffuse morning light. They stood in that typical cow mode, impervious to the human mind, just stolid watching. The next moment they were gone again, absorbed by the mist. The grey shards drew closer and enveloped the girl’s thin white nightdress, glued strings around her alabaster body, spinning webs around her hair, her arms, her legs. She welcomed them, opened her arms, felt dressed in filigree again. She was back on stage. Adieu downfall! If only her legs would stop shaking.
She was waiting for the day to break, ready for that which would change everything, but nothing happened. No sunrise was scheduled for that autumnal Monday. Somewhere in her thin structure she knew the reason but it kept escaping in the mist. A dark force was rising, pushing the light away, refusing to wait in the wings any longer. It was omnipresent, clouding her head as it hovered over the straight row of chorus line dancers, all focused intently on the rising curtain. They knew exactly what to do, the steps, ten-thousand times rehearsed, so intricate, in time, not one step out of line, fast, smooth and wonderful. The trampling feet swayed forwards, backwards, until one stumbled … it had to be her! There was a hissing in her ear, something about a doom-or-glory type of person, expected for 2,000 years, feared, bespoken, that ‘thing’ in our sub-consciousness, sub-human, sub, sub, which we repress, we are so good at repressing, pressing it down to where it is forgotten, until next time. She was holding her breath—can’t say we haven’t been warned—and then she fell. Warned? Mr Mozzi made it simple, she was ill, too thin, that was all. It could have happened to anyone. She only had to eat, to eat more, more, more.
Before her eyes, the filtered scene was changing. The silhouettes of the horned beasts loomed up, moving closer to the fence. They rested their dewy eyes on her. A fraction later, the air was split in two by the high shriek of an invisible chainsaw. Abruptly, it stopped again. The cows fled, their galloping hooves throwing up sods of wet mud. Jenna shivered, fear enveloped her like a grey, wet blanket weighing her down. The fog had become so thick that she was lost in time and place. From the other side of the veiled wall, Vincent was calling her name.
“Jenna, Jennaa!” His alarmed voice was overruled by another roar from the chainsaw. This time, the machine stopped at nothing. It sank its grinding teeth into the bark of the tree, slicing straight through the rings of years into the soft core. The tree snapped and collapsed with a whisking sigh. Its remains were cursed roughly by a coarse voice:
“Damnit, John Brenner, the bloody thing’s right across the path, you should’ve let it come down the other way, fuckin’ tree.”
To Jenna it felt as if the dying tree transferred high-voltage pain to her legs; they were cut off. Catch me earth. But her soundless whisper was lost on the dark morning. Vince caught her, in a coat that smelled of the old days. Her mouth formed the words, ‘you’re destroying the webs,’ but she still made no sound.
“Jenna, for heaven’s sake, what are you doing out here in your nightie? Have you gone completely—?” He picked her up, his butterfly girl, while she fought him with all she had left. Stop caring for me! Until the words blurted out at last:
“Why don’t you say it, you damned shrink, say it, berserk, crazy, nuts, out of your mind? What a lousy coward you are, Vince, afraid to say the word. You know what? You haven’t changed a bit. You’re still the world’s biggest coward.”
Coward or not, Vincent was running fast with her in his arms. She hated him, she hated his strength. He wasn’t supposed to be the fighter, she was, she was, she was!
“Stop acting tough, Jen, you’ve had your share of that. This is madness. You’re just out of hospital, catching a cold like this, you’re thin as a rake, really weigh noth—“ His sentence was cut short by the chainsaw starting up again. The machine was slicing up the last reserves in Jenna’s head, until relief came as the next tree gave in. With her frame bobbing against his chest, Vince flashed past curtained pathways, until he kicked open the door to the cottage. He dropped her in an armchair, coat and all, ready to dash out again.
“Going to see what’s happening. What an infernal noise! You stay right there, Jenna, right there.”
She managed to stick out her tongue. If I had two legs and my head was in place, I’d get up and swing an axe myself. I might even chop off your head, Vince. But for the moment she couldn’t move a limb. In fits and starts, the hell-raising noise rattled at the latticed windows. When it stopped, Jenna fell into a trance-like state with blobs of thoughts and figures moving out of reach. There were footsteps on the tiled floor of the hallway; they brought a draught to her face, followed by a cough that was tapping cold fingers on her forehead. Her eyes opened like mechanical doll’s eyes, open-shut, open again, she tried to focus on a pair of black-ringed eyes in a mass of dark curls. Why, it was Vince again. Her automatic eyes followed him as he slumped down in another armchair.
“What is it?” Her voice had a metallic ring just like her mouth, his eyes, everything. She fought around the rings in an attempt to focus on Vincent’s moving lips.
“Don’t know, very rude sort of guys.”
She watched him get up from the worn-out arm chair to get to his rucksack which was standing against the wall.
“I must have a record of the website where I booked this cottage. Somewhere in Belgium. Ah, here it is Jacklin Fraser, Mechelen; no phone number, only an email address, strange.”
“What’s going on, Vince?” The rust in her voice was settling.
“Two guys out there: locals, clearly, with those accents. I asked them what they were doing. They refused to answer at first, just kept on sawing. I couldn’t really see them through the mist. When they had chopped down another tree, one of them came in my direction and shouted, ‘Get the hell out of here!’ so I asked as politely as I could, ‘Are you the owners?’ One of them shouted, ‘Nope, but that doesn’t mean you’re supposed to be here.’ So I asked if they had a right to be there and they said they were related to the first owner.”
“Did you tell him we just rented the place?” The words sounded so sane to Jenna’s own ears.
“I did, but the guy repeated that he couldn’t care less and that we had no business staying here. Then his mate got angry; it was quite frightening how he was wielding that saw near me. I was glad the other one told him to stop fooling around.’”
“Who are they? Why do they want us to leave?”
“Don’t know. The first one, who was the tallest, threatened that they would take down all the trees around the house just to make us leave and if we didn’t, he said they would use other means.” Vince rubbed his temples with his middle fingers.
“Do you think we can stay here?”
“I told them we won’t just leave; that you must recover first and that I’d like to get in touch with the owner. When I said so, the guy with the chainsaw got sarcastic. He sneered: “The owner, my ass; he’s dead and buried right here, and that’s why the two of you have to get out of here. The place is haunted like hell,” Vincent’s voice faltered for a moment, “It doesn’t sound very agreeable here, Jen, we’ve probably arrived in some sort of stinking feud. Pretty bad luck, considering the circumstances.”
“They’re silent now.”
Weak rays of light filtered through the curtains that covered the top half of the windows. The clock on the chimney chimed eight. A heavy diesel engine started outside. It roared like a pack of lions and the tyres screeched loudly as the truck sped off.
“They’re gone.” They said it at the same time; a wan memory of times long gone.
“Let’s hope they stay away until we got hold of the owner. We’ll have to find an Internet café, probably quite a hassle in this godforsaken place.” Jenna’s hackles were rising fast as Vincent became Mr “Doctor-in-control” again. She was so angry with herself for needing him.
“I’m putting you to bed for a while, Jen, you need to get some sleep. After a nap and a good breakfast, we’ll sort this out.” Things were only becoming worse. She would like to kill him.
“Why, dear God?” She cried in the silence of the mouldy-smelling bedroom. But for now she lacked the power to fight Vincent van Son. The smug shit-head was right back in her life.
Before she knew it, Jenna was sleeping like a baby, to awake aeons later with the smell of toasted bread in her nostrils.