I’m delighted to be bringing you an extract today from the new novel by Kelly Creighton, The Sleeping Season. But first let’s take a look at the blurb.
Someone going missing is not an event in their life but an indicator of a problem.
Detective Inspector Harriet Sloane is plagued by nightmares while someone from her past watches from a distance.
In East Belfast, local four-year-old River, vanishes from his room.
Sloane must put her own demons to bed and find the boy. Before it’s too late.
Bad dreams eat me up. This one came first:
I am fetching firewood with my father. I can smell the woodsmoked scent on my jumper, taste the wax from his Barbour coat. My three eldest siblings are teenagers again. Like spiders they drop from the dark well of that winter and crawl back into my memory. Tall, lanky and dressed in black, both boys have their backs to me as they sow stones into Lough Erne, while Coral shudders on a frost-stiffened margin of grass nearby.
Then we turn away and walk toward our holiday chalet until Coral screams. It is a needle piercing the air.
‘Someone’s in there,’ she shouts. ‘I can see them! Look!’
‘Stay where you are,’ says Father, letting the logs drop onto the grass.
‘I’m going in,’ says Brooks. He thunders into the lake.
‘Get out of there! Get out now,’ shouts Father.
Brooks is moving but only just. His feet are heavy as stone slabs, the water up to his knees, then further, to his shoulders; next, his head is gone. Brooks turns into a fly in a cup of tea. He is unable to hear how our father damns him up and down. He comes up for air, then he is trawling a man out from the iced mere, pointlessly trying to turn the body face up.
Addam takes a whiplash glance at Father, then wades in. But Brooks, instead of relinquishing a portion of this tragic find, shrugs him off, shouts, ‘I’ve got him, dicksplash, get out of the road!’
Father is angry at them both. I think he is angry at me too. He orders me to leave, then goes to meet Brooks who lowers the man to the ground with a thud. His blanched, giant water-swollen hands roll away from his lifeless person; his head turns away so I can’t see his face. Coral crouches beside him like she might go in for a pulse. It is now I notice his fingernails are missing.
‘Coral, come away,’ Father orders. He takes off his Barbour coat and throws it over the dead man’s head. ‘Get you all inside,’ he says, putting his hand squarely on Addam’s chest. ‘I’ll head next door and call local branch.’
‘What about an ambulance too, Daddy?’ I say.
‘Yes, a private ambulance too,’ he mutters, crouching beside me. He takes my hands inside one of his and rubs them tenderly like I’ve never seen him before or since. ‘Do you understand, Harry?’ he says. ‘It’s too late to help him now.’
Without understanding I nod.
‘He’s dead, H,’ Coral says.
‘Get inside. Now!’ Father shouts as if afraid to leave his children with this decaying, waterlogged stranger.
Charlotte is indoors. As is Mother, and Grandmother, who lives nearby and who we always gather like a stray sock, on our way through to the chalet. Before we had gone out, Charlotte, in her sultry possessiveness of Mother, had the old mortar and pestle out of the scullery and was grinding winterberries and leaves into a perfume as a gift for her; she is in the same position when we return. Grandmother is still dealing herself a game of solitaire in the kitchen; the string of Christmas lights Mother has threaded around the curtain rail throbs its rhythm of colours onto the plastic tablecloth as Grandmother snaps her cards face up.
‘What on God’s earth has happened to you?’ she asks Addam. Then she sees Brooks soaked entirely.
The smell of him is foul. Charlotte wrinkles her nose, then pinches it.
‘We found a body,’ says Coral. ‘It was floating in the lake – a man – and he’s dead.’
Charlotte jumps up and goes to Mother, burrowing her head into her armpit like a tick. Grandmother hands the boys fresh towels to dry off, but they are in no hurry to change. Brooks’s hair is plastered to his face and blacker than ever. With every jumpy movement his shoes squelch on the floor; the tiles pool with his brown water.
‘Could hardly get at him,’ Brooks says. He is shivering with shock and cold.
‘Weighed a tonne,’ says Addam.
Charlotte grasps at Mother until Mother dislodges her, tells her to take a seat.
‘Right,’ she says. Calmly she goes to stoke the fire, glad to be busy with her hands. ‘Girls, out you all go.’
‘But it’s nice and warm in here,’ I say, edging towards the hearth.
Flames are taking tiny jumps, like someone spitting into the air. I hear Father’s boots loosen the gravel outside.
‘Girls, out and let your brothers get changed,’ Mother says.
‘Could hardly get him,’ says Brooks. His eyes are intense, sparkling with worry.
The door opens and Father appears, carrying the logs we collected. He sets them beside the fire and updates us – there is no one at home next door and he will have to walk further. We know the score. Get out of the way.
Eventually the RUC officers come to the chalet where they fawn over my parents, delighted, it seems, to have Charles Sloane, the Chief Constable himself, order them about.
‘The body’s been in there ten to fourteen days,’ Father says to them in the kitchen. I watch from the living room. He knows how to talk to his inferiors and establish his authority. Then he asks a question which surprises me. Perhaps it is to demonstrate that he can be humble too. ‘Wouldn’t you say the same?’ he asks.
‘I don’t know, Chief. He’s in good nick.’
‘The water’s cold enough though,’ Father says. He spots me looking at him and edges the kitchen door closed with his foot.
Stridently I walk off, but I can’t resist returning to eavesdrop.
‘But the stones in Jamesy Lunney‘s pockets, Chief?’ an officer asks.
‘They just delay the find. Enough time and they resurface.’
Another voice comes through the door, another male. He sounds happily out of puff.
‘We’ve found Jamesy’s belongings, for all there was of them – that oul’ tatty sleeping bag, a bag of jumpers, jeans, all piled up. About a hundred yards from the house in that direction.’
‘They come back up where they go in.’
‘That’s right, Sir.’
Since I was a girl I’ve had this dream. Sometimes I still brood over it, over how many bodies there are lying on the floor of the lough, waiting.
But there are other bad dreams too. Dreams that come with knowledge and age. Dreams that come with the job. Dreams of people I have tried to save but couldn’t. Dreams of trying to save myself. Dreams of the things that are broken in people, things that you just can’t see for looking. Dreams of Jason Lucie. Our old bedroom. And a gun.
That one eats me up the most.
Publisher: Friday Press
Publication date: 27th March 2020
Print length: 278 pages
The Sleeping Season is available to buy:
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