OK, enough introductory rumination on inspiration for now; time to get to the sharp end of things. Here, without further ado but with much trepidation, is the exclusive first look at my new novel Dark Energies. It’s part first chapter, part prologue.
It’s quite terrifying putting work on public display for the first time and I’d be delighted to get any feedback from you lovely people out there. If you’d care to leave any views, thoughts, opinions in the comments box waaaay down there at the bottom of the post, that would be utterly splendid! Thank you.
Edward Stretton somehow knew that neither he, nor anyone else, would ever see his wife again.
Replacing the bottle-green handset slowly in its cradle, he ran his hand once again over the empty space on the sideboard. A hazy rectangle of dark walnut stood out feather-edged against the paler sun-lightened surface surrounding it, the only remaining indication of what no longer stood there. A light residue of polish coated his fingertips as they stroked rhythmically back and forth across the absence, as if he were stroking the hair of a child recently woken from a nightmare. He paused and inspected the powdery white coating for a second, his mind a thousand miles away, before wiping his fingers on the sleeve of his suit jacket and picking up the receiver once more.
He placed a slender forefinger in the clear plastic dial and turned it until it stopped against the curved metal fingerpiece, before removing it and hearing the clicking of the dial as it ratcheted back to its starting position. Repeating the exercise, he dialled a further two digits, then abruptly changed his mind and placed the receiver back down in the cradle once more. For a full minute he stood motionless, save for the renewed to-and-fro sweep of his hand across the dark patch on the gleaming surface.
The first call had come shortly after three-thirty that afternoon. A single square of white light had illuminated in the two thin rows of buttons adorning the black plastic console in front of him on the desk. Settling back into the padded leather of the chair, his back to the windows facing out over the rumble and bustle of Piccadilly Circus, he had answered in his customary jocular manner, prepared to field what would undoubtedly reveal itself be yet another pitch from yet another ambitious young advertising executive starting out on the path to his future. The same overly-familiar tone of address, the same routine patter honed over innumerable previous pitches, the same keenness to succeed that they all shared; despite the frequency with which Edward received such calls, he couldn’t help but admire these youngsters. They reminded him, inevitably, of a younger version of himself. Lifting the receiver, he smiled a smile which coalesced gradually into a thin hard line as he listened to the sombre inflections of the clipped voice at the other end of the crackling line. The russet touch of a fortnight recently spent constructing sandcastles on the South Coast leached from his face as the voice delivered its unexpected and unwelcome message. At the conclusion of the call barely five minutes later, he snatched his coat and hat from the coat-stand nestled behind the door and walked briskly from the office and out through the vestibule without a word. Emerging onto a street light by the low golden light of a late autumn afternoon, the air heavy with exhaust fumes from the snarling traffic, his composure finally gave and he broke into a run toward the nearest tube station.
Now, two hours later, beside another telephone, still without answers and no closer to any form of explanation, he gradually let his fingers come to rest in the space where, for the past eleven years, a wedding photograph had stood. With the sombre inevitability of a condemned man approaching the gallows, he turned from the aborted phone call to face the living room. From the far corner, an over-sized rectangular television in a matching walnut cabinet flickered mute images, the volume knob turned down to zero. On the screen, a small brown bear in a blue duffel-coat clambered with difficulty into the back of a taxi with his newly-found cardboard cut-out family, en-route to a life of benignly catastrophic adventures. He watched in silence for several seconds, his glazed eyes registering little beyond the jerky movements as the bear manhandled a battered brown suitcase into the back seat.
Some unanticipated neural connection snapped him from his stupor and, with a renewed sense of purpose, he strode across the living room and yanked open the door to the hallway. Kettle drum footfalls resounded up the stairs two at a time, reverberating through the wafer-thin walls and filling the house with distant thunder. In seven strides he reached the landing, his heart pounding with exertion and foreboding. He crossed the bedroom at a jog and threw back the veneered plywood sliding door to the wardrobe. Plastic casters rattled in their warped metal runners and the door hit the end-board with enough force to dislodge it from its fixings.
The empty hangers retained the ghosts of the clothes so recently removed from them. His face fell as hope dissipated, a numb fear seeping in to fill the vacuum it left in its wake. More absences which served to make the former presence all the more apparent. He rushed to the dresser, pulling open drawer after drawer with trembling hands, revealing only further emptiness. Even the books were gone, dark spaces in-between his own books still standing on the shelves showing where their colourful spines had been. Futility drained the sudden injection of energy from Edward’s body and he sank down heavily on the bed. He surveyed the forlorn scene once more, then hauled himself with unbearable weariness to his feet and trudged from the bedroom. Crossing the threshold, one hand absently brushed the space on the back of the door where a dressing gown should have hung.
The television was still silent as he passed through the living room, head bowed, eyes fixed to the pattern of amber and green swirls on the carpet. Black and white linoleum tiles took the place of shag pile. A discordant clatter echoed in the silence as he retrieved a still-damp tumbler from amongst the crockery stacked in a haphazard pile on the draining board beside the sink. In a cupboard beside the gas cooker he found a bottle of cheap brandy; cooking quality but it would do. He half-filled the tumbler, pulled one of four ladder-backed chairs from around the family-sized kitchen table and lowered himself down onto it. Draining half the tumbler in one draught, he laid his head on his arms and, for the first time in many years, wept. His shoulders convulsed spastically as sobs sputtered out of him; hot salty tears made tracks through the dark hair of his forearms and pooled on the scratched tabletop.
From the cushioned depths of a burgundy velour armchair opposite the television an eight-year-old girl clutched a stuffed rabbit to her face, pale green eyes peering from between the comfort of its ears as she watched her father through the open doorway. The rabbit’s head grew damp as her own tears soaked into its synthetic fur in time with her father’s laments.
Soooo… there you have it. Thoughts? Good? Bad? Indifferent? Feedback from potential readers is the most important validation for any writer in my opinion, particularly in the Golden Age of Self-Publishing, so I’d be genuinely keen to hear what you think.
Until next time…