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Cold in the Earth

Cold in the Earth

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Published by WilliamMorrowBooks
Witness Impulse
Witness Impulse

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Published by: WilliamMorrowBooks on Oct 02, 2013
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11/26/2013

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PrologueCold, cold, cold. It was the extreme discomfort which penetrated her conscious mind at last and shefound she was shivering so violently that her teeth chattered together; her hands were numb, her feetwere wet and stinging painfully. Her eyes shot open and she gasped.It was night and the sky was very clear and black, etched with the brilliant points of a million stars. Overthe dark bulk of the house there was a full moon, bone-white against the darkness. The branches of thetrees and the leaves of the privet hedges, silver-edged with hoar-frost, glittered in the steely, unearthlylight.She was standing in one of the narrow, overgrown blind alleys of the old maze. She had been dreaming
about it, hadn’t she, and here she was. Both feet were muddy and one was bleeding from
a gash on theinstep; the little gold ankle bracelet she always wore was missing too. The jacket of her thick, flannelette
men’s pyjamas had a tear in one arm and there was a long scratch on the skin below; she must have
forced herself through gaps in the hedging. Sleep-walking when she was troubled was a childhood habit,now, she had believed, outgrown. But then of course she had been troubled over these last weeks, verytroubled.Tremors of shock as well as cold shook her as she looked about her in the sick confusion which alwaysfollowed a rude awakening. Everything felt hazy and unreal to her still. Shaking her head as if to clear it,she turned uncertainly to orientate herself towards the entrance gate.It was as she struggled to locate it that she hear
d the click of the gate’s latch. She tensed; who else couldbe about, here in the dead of night? That had been part of her unease, the suspicion that she’d been
spied on, followed unseen . . .Through the sparse, scrubby privet bushes at the end of the long alley came
 –
something. It wasswathed in black and its head was a silver bull mask with sharp, sweeping horns that glinted in themoonlight. It capered towards her, tossing its head as it came. A figure of nightmare.She shrank back into the corner of the blind alley, her heart beating so frantically that she thought itmight leap from her chest. She could make no sense of this . . .
It wasn’t real, was it? She was still dreaming, in that hideous, persistent way which had been another of 
her sleep-curses all her life, when you knew you were asleep but still were helpless to rouse yourself from the night terror which had you in its grip. And she was terrified now, in that state of dream-paralysis when your legs feel too heavy to run away and there is no point in trying to scream becauseyour voice is frozen in your throat.It had stopped capering. It was cantering, lowering its head. She was trapped; even if she could forcemovement upon her leaden limbs the hedges here grew densely, a solid barrier on three sides thatseemed almost to be closing round her. She could hear the animal snorts and the heavy breath as itgathered speed.
 
Once the horror happened, the shock would wake her as usual and she would fling herself upright inbed, gasping and sobbing and soaked in sweat. Please God, make it soon! She was actively willing thefinal charge when it came.It was only when one of the pointed silver horns, razor-sharp, pierced her through to the heart withexquisite agony that she understood this was no dream, for the brief moment before she fell into thesleep that knows no waking.1The hens, newly released from overnight protective custody, were picking their way down the henhouseladder with a sort of dreamy deliberateness, blinking in the watery sunshine of a January morning whichwas surprisingly mild even for this mild south-west corner of Scotland. The sound of their reflectivecrooning filled the damp air, punctuated by an occasional squawk of indignation as some giddy youngthing jostled the dowagers in her unseemly haste.
Watching them, the woman’s hazel eyes warmed in amusement as they tittuped fussily out across the
sodden grass under the old grey-lichened apple trees, sharp yellow beaks stabbing hopefully for wormdelicacies or beetle treats. The woman was tall, only a couple of inches under six feet, with a boyish,
athletic build; she was wearing blue workman’s overalls and gumboots and her hair, chestnut
-brownwith only the first traces of grey showing, was cut in a short, practical style. Her count
rywoman’s
complexion showed tell-tale signs of exposure to the elements though her hands were curiously smoothand well kept: nicely shaped hands, large and capable, with neatly manicured nails.
‘Off you go, chookie chookies!’
 She shooed the laggards out of the little hut, checked with swift efficiency for night-laid eggs which sheput into the bowl she had brought, then set it down outside while she fetched the pail with the morningmash from its place of concealment behind the henhouse. It was never wise to provoke the frenzy of shoving, flapping, bullying and shrieking which the sight of this induced until the hens were safely out of 
the hut’s confined space.
 She liked hens. She liked their plump, red-brown, compactly feathered bodies on those improbably slimlegs; she liked their clockwork movements and the comfortable sounds they made and their silly socialsquabbles. She liked the rusty throat-clearing of Clinton the rooster
 –
so-called from his ruthlesspredation on the younger, fluffier members of his entourage
 –
before he produced his crow. And therehe went now, shaking his magnificent red comb and stretching out his plump neck.Tipping the mash into the trough, she watched the mayhem for a second or two, then with the emptypail over her arm collected the bowl of eggs and went through the wicket gate in the dry-stone wallenclosing the old orchard towards the farmhouse. It sat nestled into one of the green Galloway hills,built out of the local stone so that it looked almost like an astonishingly convenient geological formation
rather than the work of human hands. In the style of a child’s drawing it had a window on either side of 
 
the door on the ground floor, three windows above and a grey slate roof which was glinting now in themorning sun, crowning the house with silver.The sound of a quad-
bike’s engine made her turn and across the valley on the hillside opposite she could
see her husband Bill taking a trailer of feed out to the pregnant ewes which were bundling along behindhim as fast as their woolly bulk permitted, the collie Meg rushing round importantly at their heelsalthough in fact no herding was needed. Bill stopped the bike and jumped off, a big man, solidly built,though he had kept himself fit and still looked too young to have just celebrated his forty-third birthday.There was a thick ground-
mist which suggested that the sunshine wouldn’t last for long, but it gave an
unearthly beauty to the landscape where the shoulders of the soft hills seemed draped in glisteninggauze and the tops of bare trees emerged spikily from a swirling lake of vapour. She allowed herself amoment to admire the place she had known and loved all her life
 –
 
‘God’s private backyard’, as her
father described this tranquil corner of Scotland, bypassed by the busy world.
‘Mum! Mum!’ Her reverie was broken by Catriona’s agitated shout from the farmhouse door. ‘Hurry up!We’re going to be late!’ A conscientious eleven
-year-old, Cat lived in a state of permanent terror thatshe might make herself conspicuous by some appalling transgression like being a couple of minutes latefor school.
‘Just coming,’ her mother called over her shoulder. ‘Round up Cammie, will you?’ Cameron would no
doubt have to be prised away from his GameBoy; at nine, his mind was untroubled by any tediousconsiderations of duty.Putting two fingers to the corners of her mouth, she emitted an ear-splitting whistle which echoedacross the valley. Bill looked up; she waved goodbye and as he sketched a salute in response, turned andplodded back to the house. She wiped her boots on the hedgehog scrubber by the mud-room door, then
went in to pull them off and stack them on the wire shelf which ran along one wall. Cammie’s boots
were, of course, lying on the tiled floor; she tidied them automatically as she passed, padding in herthick woolly socks through to the kitchen.Cammie was sitting in the sagging armchair beside the elderly Aga, the inevitable GameBoy in his hands.
Cat was trying without success to pull it away from him; she had her father’s fair hai
r but was slim andlong-legged, while Cammie, big-boned, tall for his age and already a star in the local mini-rugby team,
certainly took his build from the paternal line although he had dark hair and eyes like his mother’s.
 
‘Geroff!’ he was complaining, shrugging Cat away. ‘I’m just finishing this one game, so chill, OK?’
 
‘We’ll be late! Mum, make him—’
 
‘Cat, it’ll be quicker to let him finish. Cammie, see you’re at the front door, ready, in three minutes oryou don’t see that thing again for twenty
-four h
ours.’
 
‘Sure, sure,’ he grumbled, getting up and walking towards the cloakroom, still clicking, while his sister
sighed dramatically.

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