Over the last few weeks I have shared excerpts from my novels about Thomas Radwinter who traces his family history, and then later investigates other people’s stories, and not just genealogical ones, but mysteries in their everyday lives. I’m now sharing excerpts from my other novels. This excerpt is from my latest novel, ‘Lucky Portbraddon’:
There was a severed dog’s head stuck on the gatepost.
There’d been a few seconds pause in the driving snow and in those few seconds, lit by their headlights, Ismène glimpsed the wolf-like creature, maw gaping, tongue lolling, teeth bared in one final gory snarl. Then the blizzard obliterated the stone beast and everything else in a seething maelstrom.
“Oh my god, James, I thought for a moment it was a real dog’s head -”
But he was saying something else about the road, about nearly being there and then they were sliding sideways down a steep incline. He was fighting to keep control and Ismène was shouting ‘jesusohjesusohjesus,’ bracing herself against the seat.
The car stalled and stopped and there was only the sound of the CD playing.
“There’s a pond,” and James pointed down the slope into a dizzying maze of swirling clumps of snow dancing in the headlights.
Ismène tried to be calm. She was tired and a little nervous about meeting James’s family at their grandmother’s house, Slake Hall; she was not at all sure that Christmas was the best time to be introduced to all her lover’s relations… And she was seriously spooked by the grotesque sight she’d seen as they turned into the drive.
“Well, be careful, James, it’s too cold for a swim.”
“Obviously I’ll be bloody careful!” James snapped.
Don’t get stroppy with me, it’s not my bloody fault, but she said nothing. He tried to start the car and it lurched a couple of feet further down the slope.
Trying not to panic, she asked how big the pond was but he didn’t reply. He started the car, slamming it roughly into reverse and hit the accelerator. The wheels spun, the engine raced and they slithered towards the invisible pond and Ismène shrieked.
“Oh for God’s sake!” James shouted, as frightened as she was. “Instead of screaming get out and push the fucking car.”
Why don’t you, you’re bigger and stronger than me? Her two hundred quid boots weren’t designed to wade through snowdrifts but she looked for her coat then realised… it was in the boot. This was a nightmare.
“Let’s get our coats and walk.”
“Are you mad?” He was afraid, but bloody hell, so was she!
It struck her that six weeks was not a long time to really know someone; she and James might seem like soul mates but actually…
“James, I can’t push the car. I’m not strong enough and it’s treacherous out there… the car could go right over me.”
“So we’ll just fucking sit here, will we?”
“Don’t get angry with me, darling, this is really dangerous…”
He apologised and gave a tight, scared smile and tried to restart the car more gently. The engine turned over and caught but as he released the brake, trying to hold it on the clutch, the back end slewed and they slid sideways.
The car tipped, righted itself with a bump and stalled.
“We’ll walk, leave the car and walk,” James said, his voice thick with fear. “I’ll get the coats. Stay here.”
Beyond the windows, misted with condensation the snow seemed solid, a physical, malevolent entity driven by the wind. A freezing Siberian blast, howled in as he opened the door bringing the blizzard streaming in.
If only Ismène had dressed in something warmer, something other than silky black trousers and a thin cashmere sweater. She’d dressed to meet James’s family; she knew nothing about them and had imagined stepping from the car straight into the house.
James wrenched her door open; he shouted that the boot was stuck, he was going to… The car moved, the wind shrieked and James disappeared.
Ismène tumbled out into the biting wind; flecks of ice stung like sand and she was almost blind. James was on the ground, struggling in the deep snow and, holding onto the door, she grabbed his hand. The car shifted again and they both fell.
James was shouting something but the wind swallowed his words. On hands and feet they slipped and scrambled up the bank. Creeping along the main roads, Ismène had described it as a white-out, now it was a grey-out, the light leaving what had been the day.
James pulled her upright and for a moment they clung together. He started to say something, but there was a sudden tremendous buffeting gust and they tumbled into a drift. She floundered in the snow, blinded and lost, screaming his name. Her mouth was full of snow but she knew he must have slid down towards the pond! The pond!
Afterwards she wondered how she’d had the courage, but it was pure instinct. She stumbled after him, past the mound that was the car, its door open, the light on.
He was lying face down, arms outstretched above his head as if he’d been trying to save himself as he slithered down the bank. Only his top half was visible, his legs were under the smashed ice of the water.
She grasped him under the arms and tried to heave him out but she only succeeded in nearly toppling herself in. Shouting his name she tried to rouse him; he thrashed his legs as if trying to swim and she heaved again and pulled him a foot from the water.
Later she couldn’t remember how long she’d struggled, it seemed like one long recurring nightmare…
In this bitter cold and in their light clothes there was a real danger of something serious happening, something as serious as… death. Hysteria took hold and she began to giggle uncontrollably – something as serious as death! She was shaking with laughter and James seemed to be laughing too but of course he wasn’t, he was shivering with cold.
Ismène shouted at him, hitting his shoulders, trying to wake him to make more effort to help himself. She struggled and pulled, moving him by mere inches.
“James, I can’t do this! I’m going to the house to get help!”
She didn’t know how far away it was but she began to crawl up towards the road. She glanced back and James was gone. She slithered down and straight into the water; it was only knee deep and warm and he was floating face down. She grabbed him, adrenalin kicking in and she heaved him onto his back and hauled him up the bank.
She began to cry… She couldn’t leave him, he was unconscious, he’d die, freeze or drown… But if she stayed she’d die too. She lost track of time… a few minutes… hours? It was completely dark now…
In a rage she began to hit him, thumping him with her fists, yelling at him. This is ridiculous! I don’t want to die! It’s Christmas!
“Help!! Someone!! Help!!” she screamed.
She pulled at James again and moved him a few inches but she could no longer feel her hands and feet, her limbs seemed strange attachments no longer belonging to her. Her thoughts were slowing and she couldn’t think of what to do. She tried to be logical, snow piling thickly on her shoulders and head… soon she’d be invisible. The light from the car veiled in snow was fading… Someone passing wouldn’t even see them, see the small mounds in the snow.
If I stay here I’m going to die. James is going to die anyway, but I’ll die with him… If only I can get to the house …
Tears began to trickle, warm, then cold, then icy…
She pulled at James again; if she could just get him out of the water, wedge him safely somehow… but it was hopeless. Ismène stood and immediately fell over, got to her feet and screamed for help… then sunk back to James who had slipped again.
They’d met on a night out with mutual friends… Instant attraction, instant relationship, instant love? Did she love James? No, actually, but maybe one day…
She was very weak now and becoming sleepy. She tried to take James beneath the arms with the blocks of wood she knew were her hands… She pulled him but could no longer tell whether she was shifting him. The ice on the surface of the pond was covered with snow falling relentlessly in feathery lumps.
Ismène yelled again but her voice was tiny… There was a rabbit in a clown’s costume. But it was a dream, a delusion… A dog wandered around looking for its head, glasses perched on the end of its curly tail.
People were singing… People… There were people.
“Help! Help me!!”
And there were snowmen walking across the pond, they were playing music or maybe they were just singing ‘Last Christmas’… It would be her last Christmas….
Ismène was hallucinating, and she knew it. She bent her face to James but couldn’t feel his skin against hers, her cheeks and nose and mouth numb. Was he unconscious? Was he dead? How could it happen so quickly?
Oh for fuck’s sake if I’m going to die let me die now, don’t drag out this misery! She shouted, or maybe the words were only in her head. If she slid into the water… She was no longer cold, there was no pain… James slipped an inch and somehow she dragged him back.
The snowmen were back, walking through the night towards her, still singing…
One of the snowmen was bending down, brushing snow from her face, lifting her into his arms… But it wasn’t a snowman, it was Orson Welles.
Then more people were with her and lifting her and carrying her up to a warm car. She tried to say something about James, tell them about James, but her voice was frozen in her throat.
Here is a link to ‘Lucky Portbraddon’:
… and here is a link to my other e-books: