Saturday, 17 June 2017

Ascent - opening chapter

Because I'm so nice, here's the opening chapter for Ascent as a present to you. Of course, I'm  not that nice so if you want to read more, the links are at the end of the sample. As always with my stuff, all honest reviews are more than welcome on Amazon or wherever you fancy.


Kelly Brown crashed to the polished floor, the impact shoving all the breath from her lungs and turning her vision into a white sheet of pain for a moment. Unable to cry out, she slid to a stop against a stone pillar. Directly above, the open space of the stairwell glared down. A great stream of sunlight shining through the wall of windows at the building’s front made the reception of Greenham Place feel like a sauna. Kelly lay utterly still, staring at the lift doors, incapable of breathing in more than tiny puffs of air, praying she hadn’t broken any bones.
A voice inside that could have spoken from an old memory said: the bomb went off.
At once, denial gave a furious argument back. If the bomb had detonated, she wouldn’t be here. The building wouldn’t be here. The whole city of Willington and the surrounding countryside would be nothing but a burned hole in the earth along with the open spaces and towns of the entire county. She was on solid ground; she could see the lift doors and she was all too aware of the hurt from the impact on the rock hard floor. Therefore, the bomb hadn’t exploded and she wasn’t dead.
Kelly took a shuddering breath and a weak laugh fell out of her mouth. When you struggled to convince yourself you really were still alive, things couldn’t get any more messed up.
If the bomb didn’t go off, then what the hell was that light and what sent you flying through the air?
Ignoring the questions, Kelly eased herself into a sitting position. While her body, from feet to forehead, was nothing but aches, she was pretty sure no bones had broken or been sprained. Biting back a groan, she stood and turned in a slow circle. The foyer of Greenham Place was deserted. Silence crushed her ears—the silence of an empty building sleeping in the middle of the night even though darkness was still a little way off.
She craned her neck. Although plenty of sunlight lit the ground floor, a subtle gloom lurked in the corners and around the massive reception desk to the side of the entrance. The murk couldn’t be called shadows. Not yet. But something wasn’t right; something—
“No lights,” Kelly whispered and scanned the ceiling that opened for the stairwell. All the lights were off. So was the heating. The constant soft breath of the warm air circulating back and forth should have been audible since there were no voices or the tap of heels to cover it. Listening harder didn’t help because there was simply nothing to hear.
What pushed you through the air? The voice asked it again, and again, Kelly blanked the question. She rested a hand on the pillar, doing all she could to breathe slowly. Sweat worked its way down her back; she’d been wearing her fleece while at work in the library a few minutes’ walk from Greenham Place—the building cool thanks to the October afternoon and an old heating system. Now, in the unbroken stream of sunlight cooking the floor and the entire entrance, Kelly’s body temperature had risen to uncomfortable levels. She told herself it came from the trapped heat and not from any fear or panic over what had happened only moments ago—the fire alarm braying into life, the panicked shouts from her colleagues all standing around a computer to watch the video uploaded to Facebook seconds before. On screen, the lone Korean man stood by a van out in the countryside while a high fence, barbed wire bordering it, ran into the distance. And the man’s tearful, ranting confession in poor English of what he and several others had set in motion.
I sorry, so sorry. Not meant this, I not meant this. Clear your army. Run your city. The bomb goes off. Run. Run. Please run.
Then the man’s terrified shrieks as another van sped towards him, bearing down as he ran, the view spinning, dancing as his arms waved madly. Immediately after, a hollow pop of small explosions chased him before the view spun over and over to give a quick shot of the giant lifeless miles of fields and woodland around the base.
 RAF Lakenheath. The road encircling it, and the huge sheet of sky, grey through most of the autumn; trees beginning to bloom, hedgerows full of spiky bushes, all the green and brown of the land caught in the view of the phone in the seconds before the screaming man had somehow managed to upload the clip while he sprinted from the approaching van and what could only be gunshots.
Remembering, Kelly wiped at her damp face with a hand and crossed towards the automatic doors that opened to the pavement. Whatever had been going on out near Lakenheath, it had either been some joke or stunt aimed at going viral, or the police and army had dealt with it. No way had it actually happened. No way.
No way. This isn’t what happened in Los Angeles. This isn’t last June.
Last June on the other side of the world. Kelly shivered, thoughts of the previous summer similar in feel to the memory of being at school and seeing the images of New York that seemed dated to her childish eye, the impact of the second plane and the explosion like something out of a film. The memory and those images taken to new, impossible levels last summer. 6/13, they’d called it. The end of the world by any other name, only four months later, the world didn’t realise it had ended and was still shuffling along while a global stalemate and the frantic efforts of the diplomats and an American President with her finger hovering over the button (and not hammering on it) were the only reason everyone in the world remained alive.
Most of these thoughts lost in the immediacy of her confusion and fear, Kelly reached the doors. Her foot, still moving, struck the glass. The doors remained closed.
She tapped the entrance before waving a hand still sore from the crash to the hard floor at the sensor above the doors. It stared back, black and blind.
Faraway but coming closer fast, realisation bore down on Kelly. At the last second, her mind tried to shove up a wall, blocking it. The awareness landed and came with only a dull fear.
Not one single person walked on the pavement outside Greenham Place and not one vehicle drove along the main road that cut through the centre of Willington. Separated by the thick glass and the motionless doors, Kelly gazed at the road she’d sprinted over minutes before while the world was filled with screams and the thunder of people sprinting away from the shops and businesses as if the buildings were on fire or had already been claimed by the bomb. And hadn’t she wondered in a broken, confused manner about the lack of any siren? Hadn’t she legged it from the back of the library, dashed down the alley between the old building and restaurant at its side, hit a great throng of milling people and wondered why there was no terrible wail of a siren like there always was in films about a nuclear attack? Had she done that or had it all been outside her head? Had—
Kelly came back to herself. She’d been tapping on the glass for at least a minute without hearing or feeling the warm glass on her too hot hand. And still, Greenham Road was completely empty of people or traffic. Four thirty on a Friday afternoon and this section of Willington, filled with shops, takeaways, a fucking Tesco fifty feet away looked like Christmas Night when even the pubs had closed and turned Willington’s centre into a sleeping animal.
Kelly’s fear, blanketed by confusion since she’d felt the massive shove at her back a second after she’d sprinted to the entrance, pushed its way back to full life. It claimed her body as the pain from crashing to the floor had. From toes to skull, she grew as cold as stepping from her warm car to the bright but frozen sun of a January morning.
It wasn’t right. Nothing was right.
A gentle ding touched the air.
Already naming the cause of the sound, Kelly turned to face the now open lift. The mirrors around its sides, the wall of buttons marking each of the ten floors, the gleam of the metal railing encircling the lift’s interior were all invisible. Black swallowed them, and looking into the lift was like staring into a hole in the earth, peering straight down into a secret space where daylight never reached.
Kelly told herself to not say a word, to not move or make a sound. The heat of the glass warmed her back, head and neck, and it took another second for her to realise she’d backed up, stepping as far from the mouth of the lift as she could.
A faint whisper of anger brushed by and Kelly seized on it. What the hell was this shit? Scared of an open lift and the lack of light inside it? There were no lights on anywhere so why the hell would the lift be any different?
Before she could stop herself, Kelly pushed away from the glass of the main doors, took three quick steps and spoke as loudly as she dared.
At once, the lift doors slammed closed. They didn’t glide shut. Impossibly, they snapped together as if weighted down.
Her body a spinning wave of hot and cold, Kelly threw herself back to the doors,
(the doors they closed like a mouth like a fucking mouth)
smashed her head on the glass, and did not register the impact because of the noise.
Noise right behind her.
Kelly spun to see the main road through Willington’s centre no longer empty but as full of life as it should be on a normal day, and her sprinting thoughts couldn’t come close to making sense of the outside being deserted one moment and populated the next.
Afterwards, she’d play it all back and see and hear more than she would have thought her mind had any chance of taking in over those few seconds. She’d see the glint of sunlight as it fell on the side window of a passing white van, the long shadow cast by four businesses—a jewellers, a recruitment office, a travel agent and an empty unit last used as a takeaway—staining the centre of Greenham Road because the sun shone from exactly the right angle to cast that shadow; the group of schoolkids, still in their red blazers, walking close together towards the bus stop outside the Tesco; the cast to the late afternoon light that came only in the days before the clocks changed and the days were abruptly much shorter.
All that taken in over no more than two seconds. All that and the growl of an approaching bus, the steady throb of traffic stuck at the lights further down Greenham Road where it met Park Road; the occasional gust of cool wind skittering along the streets, dancing through litter and over all the walking bodies.
All that and the man barely five feet from the doors to Willington’s main Council offices, standing there on the pavement, mobile to his ear, his face, kind of good-looking in an older guy way, in profile to Kelly, and the spinning black shape raining towards him, screaming like a missile towards the man’s head.
The falling office chair struck his skull. Blood exploded, turning the window between his falling, crushed body and Kelly into a sheet of red; red littered with chunks and lumps of head, of his fucking brain, oh Jesus, oh my God.
Hand over her mouth, Kelly sprinted from the entrance, running without thought to the left of the lifts. She passed through a set of open doors and another reception desk, fumbled for the smooth surface and missed.
Kelly dropped to the soft carpet.
A few moments later, a door to the right of the lift eased open. Beyond, a short corridor led to stairs and a curving wall of windows letting clear sunlight inside and turn the steps into smooth, white sheets.
Unseen and unheard, a man crept out into Greenham Place’s silent reception. 


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