Two days ago I posted the first chapter of White Wash, the currently unfinished sequel to my currently unpublished next novel, Black Spot. What follows below was originally the first chapter of White Wash until I realised it wasn’t working. It wasn’t working, I believe, because this series of books is Livia Black’s story, not Sebastian White’s story. I hope you agree that I’ve made the right decision.
white wash n a coordinated attempt to hide unpleasant facts
Sebastian White doesn’t dream. He sleeps, he wakes, but he doesn’t dream. That wasn’t always true. He used to dream. Normal dreams. Running. Falling. Being unable to ride a bike. Being naked in public. Being unable to see the faces of the people he was dreaming about.
But something changed seven weeks ago. Something inside his brain changed and now he’s either not dreaming or he’s unable to remember any of the things he is dreaming about. He’s a psychiatrist so he knows it’s more likely that he just isn’t remembering. But in paranoid moments an irrational and confused portion of his brain makes him wonder if there’s something deeper to such a sudden alteration.
One thing he’s certain of – the décor isn’t helping. White. Everywhere. Every wall, every ceiling, every piece of furniture, every knick knack devoid of personal meaning, even the carpet. Before he arrived, he was told he wouldn’t need to bring a thing. They were mostly right. Apart from his clothes, his toiletries, his reference books and his electronic devices, he left everything else he owns in his apartment in Seattle and so far he hasn’t needed them. Wanted them, maybe – to bring a splash of colour and familiarity to these unfamiliar surroundings – but needed them, no.
His phone on the bedside table starts playing a gentle tune, meant to wake him subtly, but he’s been awake for a while. He always wakes up before his alarm now. Not before while he was living in Seattle. Then he would resist waking up with everything in him. Then sleep was an indulgence. Now it is utilitarian. He sleeps only because he has to.
He throws the sheets back and swings his feet to the floor, grabbing the shorts and t-shirt already laid out on the end of the bed in his left hand then scooping up socks and his runners in his right. He changes in the bathroom – twice the size a bathroom needs to be – and thinks about smoothing his hair down as he catches a glimpse of himself in the big silver mirror. Instead he heads back to the bedroom and grabs a baseball cap to hide his unruly waves. He wears his hair short but it’s unruly sometimes anyway.
Sebastian goes into the hallway and emerges into the lounge room at the open end. It halts him every time. Because it is exactly as he heard it described before he ever saw this place. Hard, cold, white interiors. Big empty spaces. White furniture. White lights. Modern. No soul. It’s also damn hard to keep clean. He’s spent a lot of the past three weeks since he moved in vacuuming, dusting, sweeping and wiping down benches. Now when he’s not sleeping or showering, he confines himself to the kitchen and leaves the other rooms closed off. The kitchen is as soulless as the rest of the house but at least he can keep to a minimum the amount of cleaning required.
He doesn’t stretch before he heads out the front door. He likes the transition between barely moving and suddenly running to hit all his muscles like a shock. And he also likes knowing he can run fast without notice, without having to prepare his body. There are times when a skill like that can come in handy. Living in a big city taught him that lesson.
It’s overcast this morning. Summer is starting to fade into autumn but not enough to call it cold or even cool yet. The day will turn pleasant later. But now it’s the perfect temperature for running.
Deciding he will skirt the edges today, Sebastian proceeds to the perimeter of the town to run around it and head for the highest point. The highest point isn’t that high – maybe two or three storeys – but every other structure in town is a single level dwelling, apart from the eight-storey glass tower in its geographic heart.
From what he’s been able to glean, Doveton used to be like any other small town. Families who could trace their lineage back hundreds of years right in this very location. Farms bordering the edges and raising everything from cows and sheep to corn and wheat. A community where everybody knew everybody else. A community where everybody pitched in and helped out. People proud to call themselves locals.
But a decade or so ago, the farms started being less profitable than they had been. People were laid off and had to leave town to look for work elsewhere. And because the farms were struggling, the businesses in town that supplied them started to struggle, too. It was like a neatly lined up set of dominoes. One fell, then the next, all the way through to the last local standing. For sale signs went up one after the other. Perhaps more strangely, they came down quickly, too.
A pharmaceutical company named Evergy started buying up all the property they could get their hands on. Initially, the locals thought that Evergy might be their saviours – pharmaceutical companies need a lot of farmed products for research – but eventually it became clear that wouldn’t be the case. Instead, Evergy razed the entire town, then set about constructing their headquarters and surrounding it with rows and rows of identical flat-roofed, rendered brick, white houses. Those who held out eventually gave in and sold up, too. This wasn’t their town anymore.
None of it had been hard to find out. Of course, there was no Doveton library, no local newspaper, no one left who had been here to see all of it happen. But it was all on the internet like a living time capsule. The websites aren’t maintained anymore but they are still there for anyone who wanted to read them. And Sebastian had little else to do since he arrived.
He was supposed to have started his new job with Evergy three weeks ago but the project he was hired to work on, which he still doesn’t know anything about, has gone on temporary hiatus – their words, not his. They told him to be patient – are still telling him to be patient – and that they will let him know when the project is back up and running. In the meantime, they suggested, he should settle in to his new place.
Settling in was always an unlikely prospect. He knew that the moment he saw the house. He still hasn’t managed it. The house is unsettling. The town is unsettling. And their refusal to tell him anything is unsettling. Particularly because he really only wants to know one thing.
Where is Livia Black?