From The Storm
From The Storm is Adrian J. Walker’s first novel. You can buy it on Amazon in paperback or for your Kindle.
Here’s a sample.
– Prologue –
The French Alps, 1978.
The man’s eyes opened to a silent, white world. Pure, unbroken light flared before his eyes, obliterating all shape and shadow. He blinked once. His breaths were slow and shallow. There was no feeling, no thought, no memory. Just silence and the bright light swaddling him like a newborn child.
As the flare subsided, the man’s vision adjusted, and the world became two pale halves separated by a single, crippled line. To the right of the line, the space was dark and dense; to the left, the space was light and filled with shadows moving. They floated slowly from left to right, towards the dividing line, the upturned horizon with which they softly joined.
All was quiet. Silence upon silence upon silence. The man lay still, his face cold, watching the snow fall upon the ground where he lay, feeling it fall upon his hair and brow. For a while, there was nothing but this world. Nothing but this cold, white world and his empty mind. Only the soft falling of the snow into empty silence. Only peace.
But then a slow tide of reality began to sweep across him, trickling thoughts back into the empty pools of his mind. Noise tore through the silence like a blade through thick canvas; an engine stuck on full throttle, a woman’s screams. This silence, this emptiness, this peace was not the world at all…the world was terror. The world was pain.
The man gasped a lungful of frozen air. Every muscle tensed, every nerve ignited and from his leg there was a sickening sound of bone and flesh moving away from one another. His body convulsed and a scream rose in his throat, but before it could escape he retched and vomited into the snow. He fell down into the sickly mess, mouth agape, what was left of the scream now nothing but a trembling, animal whimper.
He reached down, his fingers touching the wet fabric of his trousers, and beneath them hard, sharp bone. He retched again, spitting bile, and then lay catching his breath, his brain hammering with blood and the urgent sound of the spinning engine behind him.
As the shock of pain left him, the man’s breathing slowed. Eventually, he lifted himself up on his elbow, flinching, shivering, and turned to look across his shoulder. He was a long way from the car, a hundred feet at least, and the impact had thrown him up onto a hill by the side of the road. The car itself was lodged between two rocks, its front end had been crushed violently and its back wheels were raised into the air. Broken glass from the windshield was strewn across the road, oil and petrol staining the virgin snow. Beyond the devastation was only the empty, white stillness of the mountains. They stood firm and distant, looking back with neither malice nor pity.
Smoke rose from the engine where a fire had started. She was still inside, he could see her struggling with the door, banging on the window. But she could not see him. He shivered, a snarl wrinkling his face, fury rising in his blood. Her palms on the window, her face, black and wet, the smoke, his own voice in his throat, growling, howling…an explosion…
What was white became black.
Down the slope behind the car, another man came running, shouting, stopping short of the burning wreckage. He crouched down by the body of a woman, brushing the hair from her damp, sooty brow.
“Madame? Are you alive? My God…you’re pregnant..Madame? Are you injured? Hurt? Madame? Can you hear me? Madame?”
The woman groaned as she felt an arm around her waist, lifting her from the cold ground.
– Chapter 1 –
The French Alps, 2048.
The storm had come out of nowhere. Within the space of an hour the cool Alpine peace had turned into fierce cold and bitter winds. Light was fading fast and the low sun seemed to retreat ever quicker from the black mass of cloud engulfing the sky. I dropped my pack at the side of the track and caught my breath. Before me was an endless sprawl of mountains, countless darkening peaks smothered by drift and shadow. The world had splintered into black and white and I had no idea where I was.
Everything that they said would happen, happened. Ice melted, seas rose. Animals migrated, perished, thrived. Ecosystems vanished. Economies crashed, economies boomed. People became poorer, people became richer. Nations fought, many were wiped from the map. War, flood, earthquake, hurricane, drought and famine. Doom and gloom; it all happened, just as they said.
What they did not predict was how little we would care. The world faced those first fifty years of the century like a smoker faces cancer; meeting warning with denial, confirmation with abandon. The planet changed, life changed, people died. Those who did not, as always, wept and went on their way. Now people are used to the heat in February, the baking, charged skies of August, the drowned beaches, the sodden ground.
People are used the fact that you cannot go skiing in the Alps any more. Because there is no snow in the Alps any more.
Everybody knows that.
The soft and powdery drifts that had once filled the mountains with sport were long gone, replaced with wet, barren hillsides like northern moors. Skiing and snowboarding now impossible, I had decided to try ice climbing. I was headed for the stubborn peaks of the higher mountains, where the only snow that still fell froze into hard plates around their summits. Yet here, halfway up what should have been a damp and misty valley, I watched in morbid wonder as thick snow smothered the earth against all odds. The night swarmed against the horizon as the dim sun fell. I moved on.
I zipped my jacket up to my chin and pulled on a hat from my pack. I made a mental inventory of what I was carrying. My passport, wallet, a water bladder, a couple of energy bars, a first aid kit, head torch, map and some clothes for my rest days.
The track was becoming engulfed like everything else in rising drifts as the storm’s ferocity grew. It ran around the side of a mountain. On my left a sharp slope fell to the valley below; to my right was a steep wall rising to the summit. I walked close to this wall to shelter from the wind. Thin whips of cold air tore at my face like frozen shoelaces, lashing me, punishing me. I deserved the pain. I had walked too far that day, twice as far as I had intended. I had chosen a route that kept close to villages and small towns to stay in, but I had already passed the place I was due to spend the night. There was a hostel there, a shop, electricity and a population of quiet people that would have no doubt let me get on with whatever it was I was doing. But the skies had been clear when I reached it and I had decided to press on towards the next village, thirty miles up into the hills.
The village never appeared. Afternoon came and went and I slipped quietly into a state of physical numbness, mental oblivion and, finally, denial: it was not late; I was not lost; I was not beginning to feel ill…
But of course I was. About ten miles before stopping, just as the weather began to turn, I had started to feel a dull ache in my throat. A heat had risen in my temples, stabbing my eyelids when I blinked, but my body was cold. The symptoms were easy to put down to fatigue, altitude and the drop in temperature, but as I trudged alone through the deepening snow, I knew that they were because of something far worse.
I walked for a mile, two miles, three, feeling the conditions worsen inside and outside of my body. It seemed as if the storm and my sickness were working against me. They seemed to grow together in some grim union, a symbiosis, two predators bonded in their conspiracy to hunt me down and tear me from the mountain. We see ourselves in everything; faces in clouds, evil in the wind, blame in a snowstorm. To be pummeled abused and judged by a universe that is at least aware of our presence is somehow easier to cope with than the alternative.
Finally I stopped and dropped my pack again to catch my breath. My pulse was racing, my head was dizzy, my gut nauseous. I stood, bent double, breathing painful, shallow breaths.
There was an overhang in the wall ahead which formed a small cave in the rock. I edged towards it and huddled underneath, clutching my knees to my chest. Outside was all white devastation. The wind was now a howling blizzard and I knew the relief I felt in my temporary shelter would be bitterly short. I needed to find out where I was. I flicked on my head torch and fumbled in my pocket for the map. It flapped violently in the wind as I peered at it in the dim light, trying to determine my rough location based on a thirty mile semi-circle north of the little village. There was nothing resembling a road or track like the one I was on. I scanned the invisible arc and felt a slow chill creep up my already freezing spine. My blind arrogance had sent me thirty miles in the wrong direction. The reason that I had missed the second village was that it lay further down in the safety of the valley. The rising snow, or my vacant state, meant that I had missed a subtle fork in the track and drifted further and further away from anything that resembled civilisation.
I cursed into the freezing gale and shook the map open to widen its area. I traced a thirty mile radius around my lonely position and tried to find a sign of life. But there was nothing. Nothing that looked anything like a hotel or campsite, in fact nothing to suggest there was life out here at all. So much for the road less travelled: it was like that for a reason. The nearest place was still the second village, which meant retracing my steps down the track in the dark for thirty miles. I cursed again, stuffed the map in my pack and marched back out into the storm. It was almost completely dark and the snow was falling in thick, white streaks in front of me. The only reference point I had was the outline of distant peaks on the horizon. They were cruel and watchful, safe in their twilight as I faced my grueling hike. I turned away from them and began picking my way down the track.
There was a deep groan and, with a sudden terrifying crack, the world flipped. A section of the path beneath me seemed to have torn itself from the mountain. I fell, black sky and white mountain somersaulting over each other as I tumbled down a steep bank. Everything was silent aside from the tight gasps in my throat and the thuds I made as I hit the snow with my shoulders, knees and elbows. I felt oddly calm and aware, not hopeful for a safe landing but resigned to whatever happened next. During one rotation I caught sight of the track disappearing above and the reason for its sudden departure from the mountain became clear. It was not part of the mountain at all; I had stepped onto a gigantic wedge of fresh snow.
I have no idea how far I fell or for how long. I remember protecting my head and I may have yelled or screamed, but all I heard was the soft creak and shuffle of snow as I rolled through it and all I saw were the slow sweeps of sky as it span above me. Finally I came to rest beneath some trees where I lay still, hardly breathing. I felt my weight against the earth, gravity gripping me hard against the ground. For the first time in my life I sensed the odd reality of lying flat against the gigantic rock of Earth as it span wildly through space. My atoms seemed to disintegrate, my thoughts melted. Through half-closed eyes I made out a tiny yellow light moving way in the distance. Then all was dark and quiet and still.
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