First draft of "Phantom Highwayman"
Progress Bar from Writertopia
I wrote this piece back in 2006 for the contest that I entered "The Gingerbread Girl" in. Inspiration was found in the archetype of the phantom hitchhiker story and Loreena McKennitt's treatment of "The Highwayman" by Alfred Noyes (on her album The Book of Secrets).
740 words and most of what is missing is description. Which is odd considering vivid description is what the poem is noted for. But it was a flash fiction contest and I wanted to keep the dialogue. I unabashedly love characters talking.
So first step, some research into the poem. Turns out Alfred Noyes was inspired by a real place with real bandit issues and the village has a couple of websites. I learned that this area is close by Windsor Palace thanks to another blog London underfoot. This point is a good one because now with expanded word count, my unnamed Yankee jock has a reason to be in the woods. He's supposed to meet up with his tour group at Windsor and got lost. What else am I getting from this research? Specifics of the area to anchor the encounter into reality. It is also good distraction from the current political WTF! that makes me glad my blood pressure is good so I don't stroke out.
Second step is to turn this encounter into a story with something to say. This encounter tickles my subversive fancy, but "The Gingerbread Girl" is stronger because of the questions the ghost raises for my narrator. What theme words with a phantom hitchhiker? Unfinished business, love never dies, you should always use the buddy system when traveling?
I'm rather partial to the "love never dies" them (romantic softie that I am) and it gives me a chance to work in Bess. Hmm, where were suicides buried in the 18th century England? I think I know, but I don't know if my hunch is based on historical fact. I also don't know if it will be a pertinent detail but I want to know, especially since one source for the unquiet dead is suicides.
My poor Yankee jock just became Al, who won't forget his trip to Merry Old England. With luck, readers won't either. And yes, I think I am being rather obvious with my shout-outs, but I still like it.
An answer to the suicide burial: at crossroads with a stake through the heart. The last one in London was in June 1823. They finally changed the law to inter them at graveyards but without Last Rites or other forms of a funeral and all worldly possessions still went to the Crown. Source: Victorian Suicide. Oh Bess, I'd haunt the place too.