Amanda's Circus

Ava’s Story

Highcliffe castle 2












When Ava is sent on a frightening photographic assignment to Highcliffe Castle the two faces of the building baffle and intrigue her. When she meets the mysterious stonemason, Dermot, she discovers that he knows far too much about her  past. Trapped together, she becomes both fascinated and terrified by him. But Dermot is in control of their surroundings and seems determined to keep her with him. Ava cannot escape from Dermot or from discovering more about her past.


highcliffe-castle new



The Cherrywood Box

a novel

by Amanda Oosthuizen

Chapter 1


Ava, Highcliffe Castle, Friday 22nd October

The castle is a shock of crumbling, grey stone. I stall the car a metre from the walls and wind down the window. Spires like ridged fingers point to the darkening sky. I shoot the castle in silhouette, with its menacing iron-grey stone back lit by red-rimmed clouds. Through the camera I scour for details because first impressions are true like memories: a yellow lichen plasters the gashed stone on a gargoyle’s grimace; a canopy of intricate stonework laced with ivy frames an arched door, gaping black. All is silent except for a sea breeze that barely shakes the pines.

The journey in Friday traffic reminded me of those trips with Louis, down to Bournemouth to water-ski and a one-time attempt at horse riding in the New Forest. One of my mistakes. Tonight, I braked for a pony and as I avoided its back, I saw something large at the side of the road and caught a glimpse of antlers.

A chip-chipping sounds from another part of the castle. I drive as far as I can towards it, steering amongst overgrown rhododendrons and tussocky lawns until the gravel ends and I have to stop. It’s just another job; I won’t be here for long.

My stomach groans. Yesterday, all I had in the flat was a packet of chicken noodles and some grated parmesan and even that reminded me of the one Sunday I spent with Louis’ family. They looked surprised when I kissed cheeks and shook hands with everybody but it had been so long since I’d been in the company of an English family. That was a meal I should have savoured on many levels. It was too soon, too quick. I should have realised.

Ahead is a wedge of sea and a great expanse of sky. Between two pines is a sheltered, flat piece of ground; I reverse into it, backing into a rhododendron bush as I cut the engine. I wind up the car window. I don’t lock up. I recall the stories of quick getaways my father told of the wartime Bosnia that I remember only in vicious snatches. And after the war, after the eternal clear-up of debris, the deconstruction of barriers and exclusion zones, Bosnia has become a land of beauty and tragedy where we start each day with coffee and a cigarette and we don’t know whether to raise our hopes or not.

On the lawn are neat piles of ancient, pitted stone. A fenced compound secures a supply of bright, new rock. Barely within earshot the gentle chip-chip of metal on stone continues, occasionally echoing amongst the towers and chimneys but no voices, no machinery or clanking girders, engines or hammering, just the intermittent chipping noise.

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One Comment to "Ava’s Story"

  1. lulu says:

    hi there i really love this story. can you post some more?

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About writing, trickery and a little music