We have something a little different for this week’s Thirsty for Thursday. Every Thursday we introduce you to a book or series we at Gollancz Dark Fantasy think you’ll be Thirsty for, and this week we have James Dawson‘s HOLLOW PIKE from our sister imprint, Indigo. HOLLOW PIKE is a dark and twisted tale of murder, romance and something a little more sinister. Something wicked this way comes…
We have 10 copies of HOLLOW PIKE to giveaway. Simply email email@example.com with the subject line HOLLOW PIKE, including your postal details, read the extract and answer the following question: Which animal does Lis’s mum nearly hit with the car? Send your answers to us by midnight on Tuesday 4th December 2012.
Lis knew she was dreaming, although this brought little comfort as the blood ran over her face. It rushed up her nostrils and caught in the back of her throat. The metallic taste choked her, panic creeping in.
This was not the first time she’d knelt in the red stream. She had encountered this nightmare many times in recent weeks and each time the vision became more realistic, more visceral.
Sometimes, the focus of the dream was her long, wet hair matted to her face. Sometimes it was the freezing rain and howling wind. Sometimes it was the frenzied screams far away in the distance. On this particular visit, Lis was very aware of the pebbles, so cold and round and perfect under her hands. They scraped her skin but somehow she knew that the blood rushing over her body was not hers.
In a twisted way, she was starting to enjoy these nightly terrors. Every dream brought a new piece of the jigsaw puzzle, although she remained far from seeing the picture on the box. In reality, she had never seen her dream brook or the forest it trickled through, or maybe she had… a distant childhood memory, eroded by time.
The desperate screaming grew closer, coming in loud, distorted blasts as her head dipped in and out of the water.
She became aware of her own panting and groaning. How much farther could she crawl?
Every movement felt laboured and slow. Even adrenalin could not counter the exhaustion in her arms and the water may as well have been treacle. She fought to keep going regardless of the pain in her bleeding knees. Her sodden clothes clung to her body, pulling her back.
Far overhead, owls circled the charcoal trees. They were there for her, she knew that much, although she couldn’t be certain why. She had no time to worry about that now; she had to get away.
But she knew what was coming. The dream always ended the same way. Sure enough, she recognised the icy hand now reaching into her hair. Such was the grip that it was impossible for Lis to turn and face her assailant. Not once had she set eyes upon her attacker. She let out a howl before her face was plunged into the inky water.
There was no moonlight to illuminate the stream and Lis was submerged in blackness. Air bubbles rippled against her cheek as the vice-like grip pushed her deeper; all the way to the bed of the stream.
Lis tried to relax. She knew she would wake up any second now. Her chest seemed to shrink inwards and she tried to inhale oxygen that wasn’t there, her lips parting uselessly. This was the end.
Lis’s eyes snapped open. She always felt she should spring upright and pull sweat-soaked sheets from her body, just like in the films. But she was safe, curled up under her duvet; cosy in her familiar old bedroom.
She reached for her mobile. No texts and the clock display read 2.14 a.m. She rolled over to try to get back to sleep, knowing that it was utterly pointless.
For today was the day she moved to Hollow Pike.
Opening her eyes, Lis immediately recognised the Yorkshire Dales. The twisting, turning country lanes had caused her sleeping head to bang against the window as her mother followed the snaking road to Hollow Pike.
‘Wakey-wakey, love,’ her mother said. ‘We’re almost there.’
Lis blinked and hoisted herself upright in the seat, her new outfit now more than a little crumpled. All her old hoodies and trainers had been left in Wales. She’d wanted new clothes for a new start. ‘How much further?’ she croaked.
‘Oh, not far at all. You can see Pike Copse from here.’
Leaning forwards, Lis squinted towards the horizon and saw the furry blanket of trees covering the hills ahead. Her mum was taking the back way into town. ‘How come we’re going this way?’
‘There are roadworks, love. I can’t be bothered with temporary traffic lights; we’ll be there all year. I’ve never been this way, but Sarah says it’s a short cut.’
Lis bit her tongue to stop herself saying anything sarcastic about her mother’s dubious history with short cuts, the incident in Tenerife where they’d nearly driven over the edge of a cliff being a particularly terrifying memory. Instead she rolled her eyes and turned back to the road. The tiny silver Corsa passed onto an ancient bridge that vanished into the looming trees ahead, and she wound down the window to get a better look.
Staring down at the rushing, chattering stream beneath, Lis felt a sudden shiver ripple down her spine as she recalled her dream. She quickly did what she always did with that unwelcome memory and pushed it to the back of her mind, focusing on thoughts of anything else: what it would be like living with Sarah, whether her mum was right and her new clothes did look ‘a bit much’ (Lis had aimed for ‘pretty but chic’ with some new skirts and cute tops), whether anyone at Gwynedd Community College would even notice that she’d gone.
Of course Bronwyn Evans would notice. She was the reason Lis was moving in the first place. Her old school had refused to acknowledge any ‘real bullying’ was taking place, so her mum had cooked up the plan to move her up north with Sarah. Lis had jumped at the chance. Her mum was so busy with her new fiancee (soon to be husband number three), that Lis sort-of wondered if she’d even be missed. Lis had dreamed of living with her big sister ever since Sarah had moved to Hollow Pike years ago to care for Gran. Really, in Lis’s mind, this suited everyone.
Within moments it was as if the car had driven from day into night. Inside the copse, only long diagonal fingers of light pierced the leaves and Lis peered into the gloom to see where the road led. The wood closed up behind them, sealing them inside its damp foliage. It felt like being swallowed by some huge, green whale; Lis shuddered at the thought.
As she looked more closely at her surroundings, she realised that the copse was very much alive. Every surface was covered in moss or lichen, and the birds . . . the birds were deafening. The density of the trees caused the radio to lose reception so only an eerie hiss filled the car, and for a moment Lis felt that it was the sound of the forest itself – growing, moving, breathing.
Her mum squeezed the brakes as the road became narrower. Broken branches hung perilously close to the car and it seemed as if the darkness itself were edging nearer, becoming more intense as they advanced through Pike Copse.
‘Mum . . .’ Lis didn’t really have anything to say, but hoped that fishing for chitchat would lighten the suddenly sinister atmosphere.
‘I know, love. Sarah and her short cuts, eh?’ Deborah smiled a thin smile.
Instantly regretting giving her mother an opportunity to criticise her sister, Lis turned off the radio static and reached into her mum’s box of cassettes. For once, the thought of Deborah attempting to sing along to hits of the seventies was a comforting one.
Without warning, her mum slammed on the brakes. Lis’s forehead smacked into the dashboard. ‘Ow!’ she yelped.
‘Mum, what are you d—’
‘Bloody animal!’ her mum exclaimed.
Lis sat up to look at whatever had caused her mum to brake so sharply. In the centre of the road stood a single, black and white magpie, playing chicken with their car. It simply waited, watching them with beady black eyes, alight with intelligence.
Deborah pressed on the horn, a short blast, but the bird didn’t move a muscle, didn’t even flinch. Instead it seemed to peer even more intently at Lis.
‘What’s it doing?’ Lis murmured.
‘Do I look like an animal psychologist?’
Her mum edged the car forward, but the magpie stood its ground, blocking entry to Hollow Pike. There was no way they could drive around it.
‘Will you shoo it away please, Elisabeth? It’ll be dark at this rate.’
Lis dutifully unclipped her seatbelt and opened the door. Swinging her legs out, she stepped into freezing water. She recoiled and looked down. The car had come to a halt in a shallow, trickling stream.
‘Careful, love, don’t ruin your shoes.’
As soon as she was out of the car, the magpie, bigger than she’d anticipated, took one final look at her and darted for the safety of the trees. But Lis barely noticed. She was struggling to breathe as she looked around, taking in the full scene for the first time. Everything seemed so familiar: the water, the thick, earthy air. This was her dream – the stream, the blood, the darkness.
Tears started to prick her eyes and Lis told herself to get a grip. This couldn’t be the forest she so often saw in her dreams because she’d never been here before. And, when you got down to it, all forests and streams looked pretty much alike. She was just upset by the creepy, staring bird and the move and her mum and, oh, everything today – the sooner she got to Sarah’s, the better. She drew a steadying breath.
‘Elisabeth, are you going to get back in the car or not?’
Lis dragged herself out of her stupor, tiptoed through the glacier-cold brook and clambered into the passenger seat.
‘Bad luck, that is,’ her mother said as Lis slammed the passenger door.
‘Seeing one magpie. What is it they say? One for sorrow.’
The rest of the journey passed quickly. Her sister was right: avoiding the roadworks saw them driving down the hillside that led directly to Sarah’s new home in no time. And there it was – cut into the landscape like some sleek, modern sculpture – her sister’s dream house. Max, Lis’s brother-in- law, had recently completed work on the building, nicknamed ‘The Cube’ and Lis could see how it had earned that title. It was as if a giant had carelessly abandoned a block of glass and wood at the edge of the copse. Lis thought it was nothing short of stunning – and she got to live there.
As the car finally pulled into the driveway, Lis was sure that she could still hear the whispering of the branches in the wind and, if she really strained, the busy little stream making its way towards the river. She shook her head firmly; she had to get over herself, she wasn’t a baby any more. Who makes such a drama out of a few bad dreams?
Sasha, the lumbering family setter galloped to meet the car. Lis flung herself out and allowed the shaggy russet beast to jump up at her chest.
‘Sashey!’ she cried in a munchkin voice. ‘How’s my doggy dog?’
‘Elisabeth! Don’t get all dirty!’ her mother put in.
A new voice interrupted from above, warm and affectionate but with an air of exasperation. ‘Leave her alone, Mother! You’re always nagging!’
They both looked up to see a tall, striking blonde standing on a balcony that ran all the way around the first floor. Sarah, twelve years older than Lis, was her half-sister from their mum’s first marriage, but Lis couldn’t possibly have loved her more if they’d had the same dad.
‘Leave all your stuff in the car,’ Sarah instructed. ‘Max is on his way down to lend a hand. Come on up, you two, the kettle’s on!’
Lis ran up the wooden stairs to greet her sister. Sarah wrapped her up in a bear hug and the pair tossed greetings at each other – Sarah actually complimenting Lis on her chic new clothes – until Deborah arrived and received a similar embrace.
Sarah invited them inside and, looking around the huge kitchen, Lis could feel warmth and love radiating from every beam and tile Max had installed. Huge windows filled the whole house with heavenly light. Everything was clean and modern, but in no way cold or minimalist; if anything the space was cluttered, filled with the beautiful furniture that her sister had collected and restored, not to mention a scattered selection of baby toys.
‘Lis? Do you want to come and see your new room?’ Sarah asked. ‘I hope you don’t mind, I’ve put some pieces in there. If you don’t like them, I can find somewhere else for them.’
Lis resisted the urge to bounce up and down. Her sister restored vintage furniture for a living, so this promised to be good. ‘Yes please!’
Sarah grabbed Lis’s hand and pulled her through the lounge and upstairs to the next level, where two of the bedrooms were. One was in use as a study and the other was evidently Lis’s room.
Lis gasped. It was like walking into a magazine spread. Sarah had installed a massive white sleigh bed next to French windows leading onto the back terrace. Other exquisite choices included a mirror and chaise longue – no doubt lovingly crafted in the basement workshop.
‘Sarah, I love, love, love!’ Lis beamed and gave her sister a second massive hug. ‘It’s like a princess room or something!’ It was as if her sister had read her mind across county borders, sensing her wish to move away from her childlike, poster-filled life in Bangor, and step into a glamorous, sophisticated new skin here in Yorkshire.
‘I’m glad you like it. You have no idea how long it took us to get that bloody bed through the door. We’d need a chainsaw to get it out!’
Lis laughed and crossed to the glass doors. The terrace was beautiful: Parisian-style table and chairs and a little fish pond. She could already see herself reading a book with a huge cup of hot chocolate beside her, and chatting with Sarah in a way she could never chat with her mum. She felt a million miles and a hundred years away from the Elisabeth London who’d spent last summer caring about best friends, Bangor and… Bronwyn. This was more than she could have ever hoped for. She’d miss Mum, sure, but this was worth it.
‘Mum’s making the tea; I’ll go give her a hand. And then I want to know all the Bangor gossip!’ Sarah said.
‘I’ll be down in a sec.’ Lis sat on the chaise longue, tenderly stroking the gorgeous upholstery. Her shoulders relaxed and Lis realised how tense she’d been – whether it was the weird incident on the way, or the worry that somehow this new chapter of her life wouldn’t be what she’d hoped, she didn’t know. She breathed out, closed her eyes and counted to five. It was fine… Bangor was all in the past and she was safe now. Safe from Bronwyn Evans. Free from the taunts, jibes and whispers. She stood, ready to go and join her family.
As she turned she saw another lone magpie hop across the terrace and come to a standstill before her bedroom windows. For a second she wondered if it was the one from the copse. Oh, come on, she told herself, how many magpies must there be in this town? It cocked its black head, staring straight at her with shiny onyx eyes – there was something awfully familiar about it… Curious, she pressed a hand to the glass and it was enough to send the bird into retreat.
The magpie flew away, but she couldn’t so easily forget what her mother had said: One for sorrow.