Thursday, 29 October 2015

Excerpt from my new book due to be published in summer 2016. More time travel and historical drama. This time set in 1897 in Mingo County, West Viginia.


 THE fatality happened, as car crashes often do, swiftly and savagely with no hope of reprieve. One moment Marianne was pulling down the sun visor to check her lipstick in the vanity mirror and the next she was crawling free of the wreckage, knowing Sean was dead because her husband’s open eyes had pupils as wide and black as the Kewpie doll’s tied to the dash.

The spinning tyre of the front offside nearly scraped her own eye out as she blundered past it. Marianne spat blood from her bitten tongue and winced at the pain in her right knee, then stared stupidly at her fingers which shook and jittered like palsied claws. The stink of gasoline reached her and she scrabbled across the dirt track, smelling the heat of the engine, her guts clenched with fear. What just happened here? Sean never even cried out, nor shouted a warning. She saw the Cherokee had hit a Maple, and trees were deadly when it came to who was boss twixt wood and metal. The car’s front end was smashed into a Rottweiler snarl, the innards of the engine pushed up against the splintered windscreen smothered with her husband’s blood. With the illogical way of miracles, Marianne had escaped with barely a scratch. She started to hyperventilate, so tried to calm her breathing, but even as her head swam and her stomach rejected her breakfast, she thought crazily…where’s my handbag?

 ‘Sean?’ She got to her feet slowly as an arthritic pensioner. ‘Sean!’

 He didn’t respond, of course, because the impact had broken his neck and crushed his lungs. Marianne trotted to the driver’s side and tried to open the door. It was frozen shut. Through the window, she reached in to touch him, her heart out of synch with her logic. His arm was warm and muscular, just as it always was and he felt asleep, not dead, and she was sure, so sure, she could feel a pulse at his wrist.

Running to the passenger side, she rooted wildly for her bag, but the body of it was squashed beneath the caved footwell, and only the strap poked out. She twisted and pulled until she was able to free it, then frantically dialled 911 on her cell. There was no signal. ‘Goddamn West Virginia,’ she yelled, shaking the phone, the tears starting. ‘Fucking redneck backwoods!’ Marianne held the mobile over her head but it was useless. She stared around at the soaring wilderness of Mingo County and cursed her husband’s Irish ancestry right down to the failed potato crop that precipitated thrice Great Grandpa Delaney’s migration to these parts. ‘Bringing me out here,’she sobbed. ‘And for what? Been driving for days and it all looks the same and we could be home in England but for you and your stupid ancestral goose chase!’ Marianne clutched the cell phone to her breasts and cried even harder. Snot ran from her nose and her mascara, which was supposed to be waterproof and cost forty dollars in Williamson, hung in clumps from her eyelashes. Slowly, she rallied. She knew they were somewhere between Matewan and Red Jacket but Sean had insisted on what he’d called the ‘scenic route’, the almost deserted road that ran north of their destination, the famous Hatfield Trail. Not content with that, he’d driven off the tarmac onto a winding dirt track that had led them God knows where. She’d been too busy pratting around with her make up to take any notice other than a perfunctory ‘get a flat and you’re on your own’ to Sean as he pulled off the main road. She stared at the trail then back up at the timbered rise in front of her. She didn’t know how many miles she’d have to limp to reach a house, but the climb through the trees seemed a more feasible option and she’d surely get a signal up there. Another rummage in the Cherokee produced a full water bottle and the small first aid kit she knew held painkillers. She quaffed down a couple of paracetamol, then stuffed both items into her bag. It was exactly twelve noon as she set off beneath a blazing sun and azure sky, and the shade of the trees felt blessed even though the terrain was rougher than she’d first thought and halfway up the rise she realised the summit was further than it looked. Forty minutes later she stood atop the ridge and took out her phone. No signal.

 ‘You piece of unmitigating shit!’

 She shook it, checked the battery, made sure the settings were sound but still the signal failed. In disgust she tucked it into her bra and descended back towards the trail. Halfway down she folded into a heap of tears, calling out her husband’s name over and over until it became nonsensical to her. Gasping and hiccupping she suddenly became aware of a crippling headache, and the atmosphere around her felt thick with moisture and airless as a vacuum. He’s gone, she thought wildly. Killed himself and me too. I’m dead and in hell, I know it! Her jeans were ripped at the knee and for the first time she saw a flap of skin had been torn from her kneecap revealing the bone beneath. Marianne pulled out the first aid kit and broke open a bandage. She doused her knee with antibacterial gel, hissing as the fluid bit. Then she folded the flap of skin back and bandaged it as tightly as she could. How still it was up here. Not a sound or even bird song. She was sitting in the lee of a rock cleft, and the odour emanating from it was damp and rank. It felt unnatural, and creepy…and the air? The air seemed to shimmer and undulate as though it were moving or shifting. It was a horrible sensation, akin to motion sickness.

 Marianne closed her eyes and breathed deeply. Shock? When she opened them again, the view into the valley was back to normal. Down and down she went, a stumbling weeping mess. As the ground levelled out, she gazed around her, shaking her head and muttering beneath her breath. ‘The fuck is this?’ She’d fetched up on a trail, but not the same one she’d left. It was narrower, and more overgrown and no sign of the Cherokee. But she’d gone straight up and down that rise. She’d even backtracked through the crushed undergrowth made by her own feet!

 Desperately, Marianne cast about. ‘Sean!’ she wailed. Then louder, ‘SEAN!’ Her voice echoed around the valley, and something rustled behind her. She swung round, clutching her stomach, sure it was a bear or cougar. They roamed free here, didn’t they? For the first time in her life she wished she owned a gun. There was nothing for it but to follow the meandering trail and hope she found help before the sun sank. With agonising slowness she limped forwards, swallowing two more painkillers and trying to ignore the ache in her tongue, knee and heart.

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