With dEaDINBURGH, book 1 now complete, feedback from the Beta-readers returned and re-writes finished, the book is with the editor. I’m unsure at this time as to whether dEaDINBURGH will be published through Paddy’s Daddy Publishing or another publisher as I’m currently speaking to some interested agents. Hopefully I can get the book out soon. This is the final excerpt I can preview before the books release. I’m hard at work on dEaDINBURGH Book 2 and a screenplay for Head Boy.
Hope you enjoy.
All text copyright Mark Wilson 2014
Alys’ mother threw a flurry of sharp punches, alternating between head and gut, gut and chest. Blocking each of them, he used her slight forward momentum against her, rolling her punch, extending the reach of it further than she’d intended. It caused her front foot to slide forward an inch bringing her in to elbow strike range. It was a good move, she’d taught it to him and she grunted her approval as she slid the foot forward as he’d predicted, but continued further than he had expected to sweep him off his feet and onto his rear-end with a crash as he lunged to make the elbow connect.
“Up, Boy.” She’d already assumed her ready stance.
Joey gave her a lop-sided grin, mostly to annoy her.
“Nice move, Mrs Shep….” He almost saw the kick that connected with his chest that time. There was no doubt about it, he was getting faster. The training, her training, was paying off. He really had to stop antagonising her by referring to her as Mrs though.
“Up…Boy.” She said once again.
She’d never once called him by his name in the three months he’d been allowed to stay in The Gardens. She spat out the word Boy like an insult. It was an insult in this place.
Rising to his full height, which was still a few inches short of Jennifer’s, he gave her the smile again. To hell with it, he thought.
“Ready, Mrs Shephard.” This time he managed to block and deflect twelve of her blows before he was knocked on his ass once again. He could swear that Jennifer broke a smile that time.
“We’re done today, Boy. Go back to your quarters.” She swished around and took off towards another training session with one of the younger children. Good luck to them. He thought.
“Thank you.” He called after her. Normally she ignored his ritual thank you at the end of their sessions. This time, she paused, turned slightly and gave him the sharpest of nods before resuming her walk.
High praise indeed.
Joey plonked himself onto the frost-covered grass, sitting with his wrists resting on bent knees and scanned The Gardens as his breath fogged the evening air. The greenhouses on the flat sections were busy with girls, collecting tomatoes, peppers and other produce. He could see women working metal in the Smith’s tent, prepping meals in the kitchen tent, doing drills in the training rings and scribbling away in the school enclosure. The few boys who lived there, seven of them, each younger than he and sons of women who’d been pregnant or new mothers when the men left, the boys were dragging hand-ploughs through a large section of field. None of them had spoken to him. They’d leave if he approached them. When he’d arrived, Joey had expected the boys to be pleased to see another male; if anything they seemed frightened of him in a way that not even the youngest of the girls were. They simply went about their duties and acted as though he didn’t exist.
Everyone in The Gardens had a role, a place in the structure. Everyone was important and equal; more or less. The women of The Gardens were a truly self-sufficient society, dependant on no-one and nothing but their own hard work.
Joey climbed the slope up to the fence-line that divided The Gardens from Princes Street and scanned along the long, once-busy centre of the city. Jock had described to him the city before the plague hit many times using words like, beautiful, striking and cosmopolitan. When asked about the people, he’d often used the phrase, streets full of busy fools. The streets were still full, but instead of teeming with workers, residents, tourists and shoppers rushing around, they were filled with an endless myriad of walking corpses in various states of decomposition.
It was a quiet evening, relatively speaking. The ever-present groan that vibrated dryly with the bottomless hunger that these creatures suffered with, was a little more muted today. None of them bothered to take a swipe at him through the fence as he walked the perimeter, checking the fence’s integrity. Those who noticed him at all merely followed him along with their dusty, frost-covered eyes as he moved. It wasn’t apathy, they always got a little slower in the cold weather. As he made his way along the fence shaking rails, pulling on posts, Joey reflected on his time in The Gardens.
After Jennifer’s initial refusal to allow him entry, not when he was conscious at any rate, Alys had been able to convince her mother to grant him access because of his help in treating and saving Stephanie. They’d had to agree that they would not spend any of their time together and that Joey must participate in their way of life fully. He’d spoken to Alys only a handful of times since, the pair of them sneaking out into the surrounding streets to swap stories and share survival skills. Whilst Joey had the advantage in survival strategies due to his years in the north, Alys was by far the more superior combatant. In the short spells they’d spent together they’d made good use of every moment, each absorbing knowledge and skills from the other.
He thought that she was currently out of The Gardens on a supply run in Stockbridge. Combat training, farming and security now filled his days. In addition to this, Alys had sold her mother on the benefits of having access to Joey’s Intel on the world outside The Gardens and the immediate area that the Rangers patrolled inside the inner-fence.
Jennifer had sat with him for hours at a time, fascinated at what had happened to and was happening in areas of the city she’d known as a child or in the days before The Gardens was founded. Forefront in her questions was security. She wanted to know as much as he would relay about the people beyond The Garden’s inner-fence. That was easy; most of them, whilst damaged, were good people, trying to survive another day. There were exceptions of course, the most notable being Bracha.
Jennifer had found it hard to believe that he and Jock hadn’t had any prior encounters with the man. His actions in tracking them and killing Jock seemed entirely too motivated by personal reasons. Joey had just about convinced her that he was just another wandering madman, albeit a hugely dangerous one.
Whenever they’d spoken about Bracha, an odd look had crossed her face. She’d asked many questions about the way he fought, how he’d conducted himself. The language he used. Jennifer never really explained what she had on her mind where Bracha was concerned, but had told Joey that from his descriptions, she could tell that Bracha had been a soldier. I was married to a soldier. It had slipped in conversation but she’d noticed Joey’s eyes light up at the prospect of information on Alys father and immediately shut down, resuming questioning him on the city.
Jennifer didn’t seem worried about Bracha turning up at the Gates to The Gardens. He had to admit, why should she be? No one person, no matter how clever, skilled or deranged was a serious threat to the women of The Gardens. As for his assertion that a cure existed in the Royal Infirmary grounds, Jennifer treated the notion with the same ridicule that Jock had. Joey omitted Jock’s warning of Somna and The Exalted. He didn’t doubt Jock’s account for a second, but how did you sell that tale to a stranger?
Joey, of course, had shown her the flash-drive that Jock had kept for him. She’d described to him exactly what it did and explained that without a working computer there was simply no way to determine what its contents were. As she’s handed it back, an uncharacteristic softness entered her features and tone, clearly sensing how disappointed he was in his inability to access the link to his mother.
“I’m sure you’ll see what’s on it one day, Boy.” Her face hardened again as she handed him the device.
“On your travels.”
It had been a clear and none too subtle hint that it was time for him to move on. He couldn’t help but agree. Having roamed the city for three years, he’d enjoyed his time in The Gardens, had picked up and passed on many useful skills and rested well. It was, however, time to go.
After completing his duties and chores under the ever-watchful eye of Jennifer’s people, he slipped into the small tent they’d allowed him to claim during his stay. Only once in the three months he’d been here had he left the tent between lights-out and sun-up. As he’d become predictable, the night time guards had been removed weeks before. Tonight would be the second time.
Slipping silently over the rails onto Princes Street, he looked over his shoulder, down at The Gardens to check that no-one had seen him go. All clear.
Moving between the sluggish corpses on the main city thoroughfare proved simple enough with only a few of the more warmly-dressed ones reaching out to him or half-heartedly snapping their jaws shut when he passed. Taking Hanover Street, he headed downhill, along Dundas Street and down on to Brandon Terrace where he spotted the clock at the intersection Alys had told him to use as a marker. Turning onto Inverlieth Row, Joey spotted a faded maroon-coloured number 27 Bus parked, two wheels up on the pavement. Inside a warm glow flickered.
The area leading to the bus had been relatively free of Ringed but a few shambled towards the bus, driven by the slope downwards as much as they were by the glow of the firelight. Joey sighed, drew his knives, Jock’s knives, and silenced the pair before tapping gently on the bus’ door.
Alice smiled through the fogged glass and pulled a lever to open the doors for him. The heat hit his face as he stepped onto the stairs to board.
“Any problems getting out?” Alys asked, shoving the lever in the opposite direction as soon as he stepped through the doors.
“None.” He said.
Looking around the bus, Joey noted the fire in the space where disabled passengers once parked their wheelchairs. Jock had taught him what the little blue and white sign had meant in the old world. The disabled of course had been amongst the first to fall to the plague, for obvious reasons. In his entire life, Joey had met only one person in a wheelchair; a lady by the name of Suzanne Dalgliesh. At least that had been her name in the Old Edinburgh. Here in the dead city, she went by the name, Suzy Wheels.
Suzy Wheels occupied a bungalow on Groathill Avenue; she had since before the plague. With its modified ramps, access points and lack of stairs for shuffling feet at the ends of dead legs to climb, Suzy’s home should have been one of the first invaded. Anyone who’d ever met Suzy Wheels did not need to ask why that didn’t happen. A former Tai Kwando Olympian, Suzanne had been in a traumatic accident two years prior to the plague hitting and wrecked her spine as well as her car.
She’d fought her way through eighteen painful months of physiotherapy and another six months in the gym, sculpting her upper body, building the functional muscle she needed and perfecting the technique required to fight from her chair. That had been her goal, re-enter the next Olympics, Rio 2016; the Olympics, mind, not the Paralympics, she’d say, and kick asses from a seated position. Joey could fight, but he had no doubt at all that the sixty-year old invalid could kick his ass all day long from the comfort of her modified wheelchair.
Taking a seat across from Alys who had resumed her place at the other side of the little fire, Joey picked out a potato that had been baking in the fire and began picking at it.
END OF EXCERPT