Excerpt from Sun Bleached Winter
So it’s coming to that time of year when we all start to settle down for the holidays. But not for me. At the time of writing, my first novel is
only about 48 hours from release now on sale, and I’m too excited to settle down. In a way, that’s a good thing, since there’s lots of work to be doing as my publisher and myself prepare for the release — and the endless workload (finding reviewers, doing interviews, pestering people on Twitter) that will follow — and I’m going to need all the energy I can get. Unfortunately, being busy means I don’t have time for a proper blog post this week (I was going to do a Writing Craft post on how to write good opening hooks, but that will have to wait), so I’ve decided to both take the easy way out and treat you all to something special at the same time.
Here’s a 1000 word excerpt taken right out of Sun Bleached Winter for your enjoyment. This is the opening of the book — the entirety of the prologue. Hopefully it does its job and whets your appetites for the rest of the 40,000 words that follow. If it does, don’t forget to head on over to Damnation Books this Saturday or leave a comment to show your support. For a fledgling writer such as myself, it’s greatly appreciated.
If they see me, I’m dead. What meager possessions I have left will be taken, and I’ll be discarded on the side of the path, shot like an animal. That much is certain.
I’m lying prone in the shadow of a fallen log, hoping that the armed men in the clearing ahead don’t see me. As they come closer, I catch snatches of their conversation. They argue over the bag of supplies their leader carries in his left hand. Then they laugh when their conversation turns to the person they took it from, reminiscing about murdering a man as if it were just day-to-day business.
I watch them come closer, wondering if any of them will spot the small lump by the log in the shadowy twilight and have the initiative to investigate. All three of them are armed with rifles that hang casually over their shoulders. If they saw me, it would only take them seconds to raise their weapons and fire. I have no doubt that they are experienced hunters. If their bullet doesn’t kill me, I’ll be left, paralyzed and bleeding, in the snow to die. My hand slowly moves to my belt and I grasp the hilt of the survival knife tucked into it, but I know it won’t be enough to save me.
I can only hope that the coming darkness is enough to hide me. It’s easy to stay out of sight at this time of the day – the blackening sky above blankets the entire world in shadow and this, combined with the endless expanse of ashy snow and dead trees around me seems to reduce everything to abstract shapes and unknowns. As long as I don’t move, I should be safe. If the men stay away, if nobody comes close enough to make me out, I should be just another random piece of debris on the side of the road.
They’re getting closer now, only meters away. I can just discern their faces – savage and bestial- on the very edge of my vision. Their skin pales with sickness and their eyes are bloodshot with fatigue. They’re desperate, broken men. They’re fighting to stay alive, and I know from experience that they’ll think nothing of killing me just to stave off their own inevitable deaths a while longer.
Their voices break the silence of the falling night like a death knell.
“What a waste. How are we meant to last the week on half a can of soup? Not to mention that everything in that first aid kit we got’s expired.”
“Don’t worry, stop screwing around and keep your eyes open. We’ll find someone soon. We always do. Just make sure you aim properly this time and we’ll be just fine.”
I have to stop myself shaking from the cold, and maybe from fear as well. This isn’t the first time I’ve come close to death in the months past, but it’s an experience that you never really grow accustomed to.
The men are passing me now, their heavy footfalls making crunching noises on the snow. Any second now, they’ll find me and then it’s all over. The leader’s gaze begins to linger on the edges of the road. He’s checking for anyone like me who’s stupid enough to think the darkness alone is enough to conceal them. Somehow, I’m certain that he’ll find me. All it will take is a shiver of fear, an involuntary spasm for him to glimpse or a single, drawn out breath, lingering on the air, for him to hear. My heart is beating loudly in my ears. I’m going to slip up; I’m deathly still, but it’s cold and I can’t stay still for much longer. I’m about to die.
The gunman’s boot presses into the snow, inches away from my nose. It stops for a second. I hear its owner take a deep, sighing breath and stop to stretch. I hear him yawn and then I listen to his deep breathing as he scans the trail one last time for anyone hidden. He coughs, and in spite of myself, I flinch from the sound. The boot swivels on the spot to face me, as if somehow it’s witnessed my tiny movement, and there it lingers, staring at me, daring me to move again. I curse myself silently. Don’t see me! Please don’t see me!
“Screw it, nobody’s here,” his gruff voice says bitterly. “We’d better find some place to camp for the night before we freeze to death out here. Nobody’s stupid enough to be out in this cold, and if they are, they’re just as hungry as we are.”
The footfalls recede into the distance, and relief surges through me as I watch the men slowly become silhouettes, then disappear into the darkness. I’m still alive. For now.
I wait until the only thing I can hear is the wind, to be sure that I’m alone once again. Still not quite sure that a bullet won’t fly out from the shroud and splatter my brain matter all over the ground the moment I move, I stand up. I take a second to make sure I still have what I came out here for, what I risked my life to retrieve. I swing my backpack around to my chest and tear it open, fishing out what’s inside: a blank, leather-bound book, a journal of some kind, just waiting to be written in, and a black fountain pen. I went through a lot to get them, but it’s worth it.
I’ll start writing everything down tonight. As soon I get back to shelter.
I carefully zip up the backpack and return it to its place on my shoulder. I shudder from the cold. It’s freezing. I shouldn’t be out during the night, not if I want to stay alive. I take a moment to orient myself and determine which way leads back to the safe house I’ve decided to hole up in for tonight. It’s only forty minutes away. If I’m lucky, I can make it back in time. I grab the edges of my coat, pull it tighter around myself to block out the cold, and set off at a run into the blackness.
Sun Bleached Winter will be available in print and digital formats from Saturday, December 1st.