Not only have I got a VIDEO TRAILER of the book, but I also have another chapter for a sneak peek, Amazon pre-order links for THE GIRL & HER REN, and Buy Now Buttons for SIGNED COPIES of all my paperbacks.
FIRST THE VIDEO TRAILER!
I’ve updated my website to include all my latest releases, including the upcoming THE BOY & HIS RIBBON.
If you’d like to order please CLICK HERE and scroll down to the book you’d like. If you have bulk orders or questions please don’t hesitate to contact me to work out a postage price.
Not Long Now!
3rd April is just around the corner
Amazon will be LIVE on the day and pre-order links are available on kobo, nook, ibooks, and googleplay!
Google Play: http://bit.ly/2p0pKQ3
CHAPTER TWO TEASER
If you missed Chapter One either head to my website page HERE or flick back to the previous newsletter! 🙂
* * * * * *
I’D KNOWN I might face death if I ran.
If not from a bullet, then starvation or exposure.
That was why I’d waited far longer than I should have. Why I’d lost weight that I needed and strength I couldn’t afford to lose. I’d been sold to the Mclarys two winters ago, and I should’ve been smarter.
I should’ve run the night they filled my mother’s fist with cash, stuffed me in a urine-soaked car, then shoved me in the barn with the rest of their kiddie prisoners and introduced me to my education the very next day.
The night I was sold was hazy, thanks to a strong cuff to the head when I’d dared to cry, and these days, I couldn’t remember my mother, which was fine because I never knew my father, either.
I only knew that we’d been made to call Mr. and Mrs Mclary Ma and Pop.
I’d obeyed out loud, but in my head, they were always the hated Mclarys. Just as hated as their blood relative currently foiling my escape plan.
I glowered at the baby girl, adding another level of intensity, doing my best to work up enough rage to kill her and be done with it.
Just like I didn’t know my father, I didn’t know how she’d ended up in my backpack. Had she crawled in by herself? Had another kid put her there? Had her mother even placed her inside for some reason?
The bag wasn’t mine. The scuffed-up thing belonged to Mr. Mclary who filled it with booze and thick sandwiches when it was harvesting time. It sat bold and dusty by the door, hanging out with its friends the musty jackets, broken umbrellas, and well-worn boots.
I scratched my head for the hundredth time, trying to figure out the riddle of why my carefully plotted escape had somehow ended up with an unwanted passenger.
A passenger that couldn’t walk or talk or even eat on her own.
Tears pricked at my scratchy eyes.
I should be miles away by now, but I still hadn’t solved this problem. I still didn’t know how I could run quietly and hide secretly with a baby who would, at any moment, start screaming.
Just because she’d been deathly quiet and serious since I’d found her didn’t mean she wouldn’t expose me and get me killed.
I cocked my head, studying her closer, hating her pink clean skin and glossy golden curls. Her cheeks were round and eyes bright. She was a mockery to every kid in the barn with sunken faces and withered bodies that looked like trees poisoned by petrol.
She was lucky. She’d been cared for. She’d slept in a bed with blankets and teddy bears and hugs.
My fists curled, reminding me all over again of my one missing finger on my left hand.
Would they miss her?
Would they search for her?
Would they even care?
I’d lived my life with one existence: where parents were cruel and beat their children, branded them with hot cattle irons, and fed them by trough and pail.
Up until a year ago, I’d believed that was how all kids were treated. That we were all vermin only fit to toil—Mrs Mclary’s words every night as we crawled exhausted into our mismatch of cots and pallets.
It wasn’t until the night Mr. Mclary cut off my pinkie for stealing some freshly baked apple pie that I saw a different story.
I’d tempted fate by sneaking back into the farmhouse—which was the very reason I had nine digits and not ten anymore. After passing out and coming to from the pain, I’d exhausted my search for a cleanish rag to replace the blood-soaked undershirt around my severed finger, and decided the farmhouse would have a tea towel I could borrow.
It was that or drip blood everywhere.
Mrs Mclary was screaming like a shot rabbit somewhere upstairs. She’d been as fat as a sow for months and I guessed her time to give birth had finally come. I’d seen enough animals and the grossness of new life to tune her out as I tiptoed toward the kitchen.
Only, in the raucous of babies arriving, someone had left the TV on and I became spellbound by its magic.
Moving pictures and colours and sounds. I’d seen the thing on before but had been chased out with a broom and starved with no dinner for sneaking a peek.
That night, though, I morphed into the shadows, holding my throbbing stump of a finger, and watched a show where the kids laughed and hugged their parents. Where healthy dinners were cooked with smiles and lovingly given to plump children at a table and not thrown in the dirt to be fought over before the pigs could eat our scraps.
Mr. Mclary constantly told us that we were the lucky ones. That the girls he dragged by their ponytails into the farmhouse after Mrs Mclary had gone to bed were the chosen angels bestowed an important job.
I never found out what that job was, but the girls all returned white as milk and shaking like baby lambs on a frosty morning.
In fact, having my finger cut off was my worst and best memory.
Having him grab my hand and snip off my pinkie with his fence cutters as if it was nothing more than a stray piece of wire had made me buckle and vomit in agony. The fever, thirst, and throb while watching that TV show had stolen my wits.
I was beyond stupid to stay inside the home where the devil lived.
But when he’d found me passed out from infection and blood loss in his sitting room the next morning, he’d taken me to the doctor.
On the ride over—in a truck filled with sloshing diesel for his tractor—he’d yelled at me not to die. That I still had a few years of use left and he’d paid too much to let me quit yet.
When we’d arrived at the hospital, he’d stuck his reeking face in mine and hissed at me not to say anything. My role was to be stupid—a mute. If I didn’t, he’d kill me, the doctor, and anyone else who helped me.
I’d obeyed and learned what kindness was that day.
The tale spun to the medical team was my clumsy ass had severed it with a columbine blade while cutting hay. My dirty face and knobby knees were used as Mclary’s evidence that I was a reckless, unruly child, and thanks to his reputation around town for being a good farmer, civil neighbour, and regular churchgoer, no one questioned him.
No one asked me how badly his lies stunk.
The infection was bad, according to the nurse, and after shivering on her table with teeth chattering and stomach heaving, she’d sewn me up, pricked me with an injection, and given me a look that made me want to spill everything.
I’d bit my lip, fear stronger than I’d ever felt welling in my chest.
I wanted to tell her.
I wanted so, so much to tell her.
But I kept my mouth shut and continued living Mclary’s lie.
In return, she’d told me I was so brave, kissed my forehead, and gave me a bag of jelly beans, a sticker with a gold star, and a little teddy bear that said Get Well Soon.
I’d hugged that bear harder than I’d hugged anything as I reluctantly climbed into the fumy truck and buckled in to return to hell.
The moment we were away from view, Mclary snatched the bear and jelly beans from my hands and tossed them from the moving vehicle.
I knew better than to cry.
He could take my teddy and candy, but he couldn’t take the kind smiles from the nurse or the gentle tutting of the doctor as they’d made my finger all better.
Not that I had a finger anymore, just a useless stump that itched sometimes and drove me mad.
I should’ve run that night.
I should’ve run a week later once I’d finished my antibiotics and no longer flashed with heat or sickness.
I should’ve run so many times.
The funny thing was that out of sixteen children at Mclary’s farm, the sea of faces constantly changed. When a girl or boy grew old enough to harbour a certain look in their eye or gave up the fight after years of struggle, a man in a suit would come, speak pretty words, touch trembling children, then both would vanish, never to be seen again.
A few days later, a fresh recruit would arrive, just as terrified as we’d all been, just as hopeful that a mistake had been made, only to learn the brutal truth that this wasn’t temporary.
This was our life, death, and never ending all in one.
My thoughts skittered over the past in spurts, never staying on one subject for long as the dawn crept to morning and morning slid to afternoon.
I didn’t touch the baby.
She didn’t cry or fuss as if she knew her fate was still fragile.
Halfway through our staring contest, she’d fallen asleep, curling up in my backpack with her tatty ribbon in a tiny fist and her head on my crumbling block of cheese.
My stomach rumbled. My mouth watered.
I hadn’t eaten since yesterday morning, but I was well-versed in withholding food from angry bellies. I had to ration myself if I stood any chance of surviving.
I knew that at least.
Mrs Mclary called me stupid. And I supposed she was right. I couldn’t read or write. I’d been hidden away in some dark and musty place with my mother until I was sold and brought here.
However, I knew how to talk and use big words, thanks to Mrs Mclary calling herself a well-read and intelligent woman who liked to decorate her vocabulary because this town was full of simpletons.
I got the gist of what she said some of the time, but most of the time, my brain soaked up the word, sank its baby teeth into it, and tore it apart until it made sense, then stored it away to be used later.
I forgot nothing.
I knew how many hammers Mr. Mclary hung in the tool shed and knew one had gone missing two weeks ago. I knew three of the four cows he had planned to slaughter were pregnant to his neighbour’s bull, and I knew Mrs Mclary skimmed money from the pig profits before telling her husband their tally.
All stuff that was useless.
The only thing I knew of value was my age because according to Mr. Mclary, I was the same age as his prized mare that was born ten years ago during a mighty lightning storm that cleaved their oldest apple tree in two.
Ten years old was practically a man.
Double digits and ready to conquer a new existence.
I might not have traditional schooling and only been taught how to work the land, how to skin game, or drive a tractor using a stick to compensate for my short legs, but I had a memory that rivalled everyone’s in the barn.
I might not know how to spell the months or seasons, but I knew the flavour of the sky when a storm was about to hit. I recognised the fragrance of summer compared to winter, and I remembered the passing of days so well that I could keep a mental tally even if I couldn’t count.
I also remembered the night my stowaway arrived into the world.
Mrs Mclary’s labour had been long and I’d been woken by a screech the evening after returning from the hospital, standing on my cot to peer out the barn’s only window as the farmhouse lit up and a car spun into the driveway.
I didn’t know why Mr. Mclary didn’t take his wife to the doctors, but eventually, the screams stopped and a thin wail pierced the night, sounding so young, so small.
My finger throbbed with its stitches and phantom itch as I listened to the baby’s arrival, my feverish mind tangling with pictures of sheep giving birth to lambs and sows giving birth to piglets until I collapsed back on my cot, convinced that the baby Mrs Mclary had delivered was part animal, part human.
I narrowed my eyes, inspecting the napping girl in front of me.
Her ears were cute like a human, not floppy like a cow. Her nose was tiny like a fairy, not shiny like a dog. Her skin was encased in a pink onesie, not downed with fur. She was as girly and as rosy as the well-cared for kids on that TV program, and it only fuelled my hate more.
* * * * *
Dusk stole the sharpness of the undergrowth, making shadows form and worries fester.
I’d been here too long.
And I still had no answer.
I’d left the baby an hour or so ago, slipping silently through the undergrowth to check out the river gurgling happily in the distance. I’d sat on its mossy banks for ages, staring at the ripples, imagining myself plucking her plump infant body from my backpack and shoving her beneath the surface.
Of the pressure I’d need to hold her under.
Of the ice I’d need to kill her and not falter.
And as try as I might, I reverted to the same conclusion I’d had this morning.
I couldn’t kill her.
Even though I wanted to.
And I couldn’t leave her to be eaten.
Even though I wanted to do that, too.
And I couldn’t take her back because even though she was loved by the devils who hurt me, she could never be permitted to grow up to be like them. She couldn’t be allowed to trade in lives or make money from unlucky kids like me.
I also couldn’t take her back because by now the Mclarys would’ve given up looking on their own estate and headed three farms down for the deer hunter dogs that could sniff out prey for miles.
The river wouldn’t be taking a life tonight, but it would be saving one.
A quiet scream cut through the trees and bracken, followed by a hushed cry. Unless I’d heard such a thing, I wouldn’t believe a scream could be quiet or a cry hushed.
But Baby Mclary managed it.
She also managed to haul my ass up and send me rocketing back to her to slap my hand over her gaping little mouth to shut her up.
The hounds would be on our tail.
I hated that I’d left it this long to remember that would be the next step of Mclary’s plan. We didn’t need any more bad luck on our side by her calling out to them.
“Shut up,” I hissed, my fingers gripping her pudgy cheeks.
Her blue eyes widened, glistening with tears and uncertain as a fawn’s.
“We need to leave.” I shook my head, cursing her for the thousandth time for making me a we.
I should be leaving. I should be running, swimming, hiding.
But because I couldn’t solve this problem, she’d have to come with me until I could.
She hiccupped behind my palm, a tentative tongue licking the salt from my skin. She squirmed a little, her two miniature hands reaching up to latch around my wrist, holding me tighter, slurping wildly as if starved for any nutrition.
Which she was.
So was I.
I was past the point of hunger, but I was used to such a condition.
She was a spoilt breast fed baby who didn’t understand the slicing pain in her chubby belly.
Tearing my hand away, I bared my teeth as her bottom lip wobbled and tears welled again.
Pointing sternly between her eyes, I snarled, “If you cry, I’m leaving you behind. You’re hungry? Well, so are many other creatures who will gladly eat you for supper.”
She blinked, wriggling deeper into the backpack and crushing my cheese.
“Oi!” My fingers dove into the bag, pushed her aside, and rescued the badly sat on cheese. “This is all we have; don’t you understand?”
She licked her lips, eyes wide on the unappetizing curdled mess.
I hugged it to my chest, possession and unwillingness to share rising in me. Feeding time in the barn meant the tentative bonds we might have with the other slave children were non-existent. We might trade holey blankets or borrow fourth-hand shoes, but food? No way. You fight for a scrap or you die.
There were no hand-outs.
Her fingers clutched at her blue ribbon, over and over again as her belly gurgled almost as loudly as mine. Her ugly face scrunched up with the beginnings of another scream.
My shoulders tensed. Violence bubbled. I honestly didn’t know what I’d do if she cried and didn’t shut up.
But as her lips spread and lungs inflated for noise, she tilted her head and looked right into my soul. She paused as if giving me a choice, a threat—a conniving weasel just like her mother and father.
And once again, I had no choice.
Tension slipped from my spine as I sank into realization that from here on out, I would have to share everything. My shelter. My food. My energy. My life. She wouldn’t thank me. She wouldn’t appreciate it. She would expect it just like every filly, calf, kitten, or puppy expected their parent to ensure its survival.
“I hate you,” I whispered as I looked through the trees for any sign of company. My ears twitched for any sound of baying hounds as my fingers tore open the plastic and pinched the warm, smelly cheese between them.
My mouth watered so much I almost drooled as I raised the morsel out of its bag. My legs shook to eat, knowing they had a long trek ahead of them.
But blue eyes never left my face, condemning me for even thinking about eating.
“I hate you,” I reminded her. “I’ll always hate you. So don’t you ever forget it.”
Ducking on my haunches, I shoved my hand in her face.
Instantly, a grimace twisted her lips in a strange sort of smile as her hands came up, latched once again around my wrist, and a tiny, wet mouth covered my fingertips.
She pulled back a second later, spitting and complaining, red fury painting her blotchy cheeks. She scowled at the cheese in my fingers then me, looking far older than her young age.
I scowled right back, fighting every instinct to eat what she’d refused. “This is all we have until we get somewhere safer.” I pushed it toward her mouth again before I could steal it. “Eat it. I won’t give you the chance again.”
She took a moment. An endless moment while she cocked her head this way and that like a sparrow, then finally swayed forward and licked the cheese from my hold.
Her fingers never stopped twirling her ribbon, hypnotizing me as she quickly lapped at the miniscule offering and sat back in silence.
I didn’t speak as I broke off another cube and placed it on my tongue. A moan of sheer delight escaped me as my body rushed to transform taste into energy and get me the hell away from here.
I wanted more.
I wanted the whole thing.
I wanted every can of beans and every bottle of water I’d been able to steal.
But even though it cost me, even though my hands shook with a brutal battle to seal the plastic and place it in the backpack with her, I managed.
Grabbing the sides of the canvas’s zipper, I looked her dead in the eye. “We’re going for a swim, so the dogs can’t smell us. You’re probably going to get wet and cold, and there’s nothing I can do about it, so don’t cry. You cry, and I’ll leave you for the bears.”
She blinked and stuck her thumb in her mouth with her ribbon dangling from her fist.
“Good.” I nodded. “Don’t…don’t be afraid.”
With a final look at her silky hair and innocent trust, I yanked up the zippers, drenched her in darkness, and swung her substantial weight onto my back.
She cried out as she thumped against my spine.
I stabbed her side with my elbow, striding fast toward the river. “Della Mclary, you make one more sound, and it will be your last.”
She fell quiet.
And I ran…for both our lives.