In the meantime I need some help!
Help me by picking a cover
I need to come up with a cover for Turner, so have been playing around with various ideas. A lighthouse features prominently in the novel, and I wanted to show it at its most creepy. The idea of a sunset combines the fading of light (hope) with ominous blood-like sunset colours, so I tried to come up with images that combined all those. Please have a look at the images below and then vote for your favourite cover (poll at the top right of the blog).
Option 1: the original cover from the Authonomy version of Turner. A ray of hope or a searchlight? (I can't currently track down the photographer, they seem to have removed their Web site - does anybody know who took this image?)
Option 2: dark red and ominous (based on a photo by Dendroica cerulea)
Option 3: fading sunset (also based on a photo by Dendroica cerulea)
Option 4: lighthouse up close (based on a photo by Claudia Castro)
Option 5: bands of orange (based on a photo by nophun201)
Option 6: ghostly night (based on a photo by Malcolm MacGregor)
Poll now closed - final results above
Help me by sending in material
I want to make a short video trailer to promote the novel, combining creepy photos (or possibly short video clips) with extracts from the promotional blurb or synopsis. I would incorporate some ominous Carpenteresque music that I will probably make myself. As such I invite people to send me pictures or clips that could be included! You would obviously be credited at the end of the trailer. The most suitable images might be slightly blurry for that nightmare aspect, and they needn't be in colour (sometimes black and white or sepia photos can have more atmosphere). Some ideas of things that could work well and would have a link to the novel:
- Crashing waves / sea / rocks / cliffs
- Tangled undergrowth and dark woods
- Old houses, maybe images that look like they are from the past (1920's-1960's).
- Restraining devices / chairs with straps
- Agricultural outbuildings and implements (including tools - scythes, shovels etc)
- Sacks and netting, or ropes
- Things washed up on the beach
- Interiors of a stately home or old-fashioned gentleman's study
- An old-style dark pub
Prologue to Turner
I'll include the current prologue to the novel as a taster - after all, it is almost Halloween! It also gives an idea of the setting, so could be a guide to some things that could make good photographs. It is quite long so feel free to copy it into a document for your smarthpone, iPad, laptop or e-book reader if that is more convenient.
Two Months Ago
Velocity. It was like flying three feet above the tarmac. Wind rushed against him, roared in his ears, and he let out a whoop of excitement. This was living: taking the turns in the road at high speed, every one a risk and a reward.
Rocketing down the next straight on his mountain bike, he tried to listen above the noise of the wind to hear if a car might be driving up to the hairpin bend ahead, hidden on the other side of the trees that separated lines of zigzagging road working their way down the steep hill.
He couldn't hear a car ... brake or not? Safety would dictate slowing down and staying in lane.
However, exhilaration dictated taking the bend at almost full speed, gambling that there wasn't a car coming the other way. He hadn't seen one for over half an hour. This really was an isolated stretch of coast.
The hairpin bend was just ahead now. The trees blurring past, a light-speed corridor of green, he didn't want it to end.
You only live once, he thought.
He tucked his elbows in and lowered his head, calculated the angle of the optimum racing line, gave the brakes the gentlest caress, drifted to the far right of the road into the oncoming traffic lane, and then threw all his weight to the left as the bike whooshed around the bend dangerously angled towards hard surface; stomach lurch when the tyres slipped a few inches on a patch of crunching loose gravel before biting back in, his room to manoeuvre reduced and the brown-green tree wall of the outer bend rushing scarily close; and then he was through, gradually drifting back into a long straight and sitting upright.
The imagined crash, ploughing into the front of an oncoming car, didn't happen, and Tom Stanley found that he was grinning so widely it felt like his face would split in two.
What a rush!
He felt so alive. He always did on these trips away from home on his beloved bike. Better than flying to one of the Balearic Islands for sex and drink and music; better than driving to France for cheese and duty free. This was exercise, and peace, and nature. The fortune he'd spent on the bike was worth it. And it was a fortune. Once while Tom was strapping his bike to the rack on his car he'd told a neighbour that the bike and kit had cost more than his (albeit second-hand) Toyota Avensis. The neighbour thought it was a joke.
It wasn't a joke.
Tom knew he could cover bigger distances with a touring bike rather than a mountain bike. Even when he locked out the suspension for hard pedalling sections his bike was still nowhere as efficient. But then he would miss out on the opportunity of going off-road when it presented: shortcuts downhill through woods, up banks, across streams, over rocks and logs. Thrills for the taking by those with the skill and strength to test themselves.
It was early afternoon and the green conifers whizzed past on either side, the sun flashing through their tips at the edges of his vision. This was one of the most wooded and isolated parts of Anglesey, and one of the few places in Wales he hadn't visited on his bike.
Tom needed these days by himself sometimes. Touring wasn't just a chance to get away from the pricks at work. It was also a release, a chance to stop being Tom Stanley for a while and be someone else. Or no-one. After each of these escapes he felt he was 'full' again, dynamo-charged, though he couldn't articulate what he had run out of.
Although it was a sunny day, the trees were so thick that there was deep shadow below them. Tom was keen to leave the woods and get back down towards the sea, to the last stretch of his journey. It would be nice to rest then; he had been cycling since eight o'clock that morning. Despite wearing the latest in lightweight Lycra – black cycling shorts and a yellow body-hugging top – he was still sweating copiously.
Then it was suddenly all there.
He realised that he wasn't hearing just the wind roaring in his ears as he sped along. It was the waves washing against the base of cliffs, one noise becoming another so subtly that it took him by surprise.
As the trees thinned out the road emerged onto a gorse-covered hill which fell away to the glittering sea, the only break for miles in the low cliffs. The shaded route he had come down swept up to Tom's right, making him feel vulnerably small.
He braked sharply to take in the amazing view, wheels crunching to a halt on loose stones. The sea was a carpet of white-flecked blue, too large to take in all at once.
He fumbled in his bum-bag for a map, opening it out while the sea breeze tugged at the corners.
If he read it correctly, he was closer than he'd thought. He had left Pen y Coed behind, and although the road followed the coast south for a while before running inland again, there would be a track somewhere before the headland, a track that would take him to his goal.
Eager to get going, Tom took a quick swig of water from his bottle, then put it back in its holder. He had some food in his rucksack but would save that for later. For now he wanted to cover ground.
Flicking expertly through the gears, Tom was soon whizzing along past mixed gorse and grassland, occasionally seeing a few sheep in huge fenced-off sections of the hills.
He rode right past the turn-off at first, and had to cycle back, while a seagull shrieked its alien call overhead as if marking the spot. There was a grey dry-mud track running away from the road, with grass growing in the middle. It wasn't signposted, and was almost impossible to spot if you were heading south in the Beaumaris direction because it ran north then east, and was shielded by gorse bushes.
He had been warned that it wasn't easy to find, and nor was the place it led to – but that was the appeal for Tom. When Mike Betts had talked about it a few weeks ago, he had nicknamed it 'the lost village'. Not because it really was lost or abandoned, like some of the ones in Cornwall, Mike had explained drunkenly, but because that was how you felt when you got there. If you got there. Mike had wanted to talk about something else, but Tom wouldn't let it drop. He was forced to buy Mike more drinks before he would reveal the location, and what to look out for.
Tom freewheeled down the track a few metres, then got off the bike, propping it against a rowan covered in unripe berries. Getting his bearings, he strode over to a clump of bushes, and tugged some of the branches to the side. They hid an old and faded, algae-greened sign. It was almost as if nature were conspiring to hide the place.
The sign simply read
as Mike had said.
As he let the branches fall back into place, vaguely annoyed that no-one seemed bothered to tend the sign, he spotted something glinting further back from the road in a shadowed dip, thick with tangled plantlife.
Curious, he descended carefully down the loose scree, using a large grey boulder for support; his hand pulled a chunk of moss free as he nearly lost his footing. But he made it down and stepped over a thorny tangle of brambles, careful of his bare shins.
Broken glass in a shattered window. That was what had caught his attention. The car rested at an angle, the bonnet crumpled where it had come to a final halt against an outcrop of lichen-covered rock. The tyres were cracked and perished to grey; rust attacked the frame in many places, lifting off the red paint like scabs.
The state of the small car suggested it had been there for some time. The number plates had been removed at some point, leaving gaps like missing teeth. Tom glanced back up to the track he had left. There were no obviously damaged shrubs, ripped branches, bared earth or any other marks of a car's passing, so the car had left the road on this final short journey a long time ago, and had sat here ever since while nature began the process of hiding the signs of this incursion. Abandoned by its owners to wait, alone, as it slowly crumbled into nothingness. It was somehow sad. A sense of abandonment overcame Tom, the same as he felt when he was hill-walking and came across the tumbled, roofless walls of what must have been a sheep-farmer's cottage, but was now only an overgrown home to ghosts and ticks.
A gust from the sea rustled the shrubs around him. He peered in through the broken window. The upholstery was faded. There were a few dead leaves on the seats and dashboard. The glove compartment hung open. Tom noticed that the seatbelt on the passenger side hung down and just ended. He reached in carefully, aware that the jagged glass edges might be old but they still looked sharp, and lifted the seatbelt. The edge was frayed, as if it had been sawn through with a sharp edge unsuited for the job. The lower part of the seatbelt lay on the floor somewhere in shadow. It was cooler in the car.
Maybe the car had come off the road and the passenger seatbelt had jammed. The passenger might have been cut free.
With an unexpected shudder he dropped the seatbelt and scrambled back up to his bike, wiping his fingers absent-mindedly on his cycle shorts.
The track curved down and back, around a headland, and he finally got his first glimpse of Stawl Island. It surprised him, as if it had been lying in wait, a dark eye amongst the glittering, choppy waters.
It was about six miles long, north to south, and three and a half miles across at the widest point. The southern end was mountainous, with marshy lowland areas and dense woods near the middle. Towards the north the land rose again to become steep cliffs topped by a lighthouse standing proud against the elements. Apart from one spot where the land lowered to a sandbar, the coastline was either cliffs or jagged rocky shoreline. There was no harbour, and the island was obviously unsuitable for boats.
Connecting the island to the mainland was a sandbar nearly half a mile long, which for some reason reminded him of grey-yellow pus oozing from an infected sore. He had seen that kind of peninsula only once before; as a child his parents had taken him to the Isles of Scilly in Cornwall. A sandbar connected St. Agnes and Gugh, two of the islands. Happy memories of that time ignited for a few seconds, then snuffed.
The past is past for a reason.
Although the map Tom had looked at called it Stawl Island, he couldn't help wondering if it was technically an island, since it had a tentative connection to the mainland. Mike had told him that it was only accessible like this sometimes; it was often cut off from the mainland completely, and not at times that were easy to predict (due to tides, currents, cliffs – "Shit like that", Mike had added authoritatively). That was probably another reason it seemed so lost – even when someone did see the dot of Stawl Island on a map of this sparsely-populated part of Anglesey and decided to visit it, they might find it inaccessible. The bad signage, and the fact that due to quirks of geography it was only visible once you followed the track round the headland, were just the final nails in the coffin of Stawl Island.
Well, the sandbar was visible now, so Tom freewheeled down, seagulls gliding overhead. The sun shone, and out at sea the scudding clouds cast dark shadows, as if there were giant prehistoric plesiosaurs just below the surface.
The sandbar was surprisingly firm and easy to cycle over. Perhaps it was rock underneath.
A few minutes after hitting the sandbar he was across. He felt as excited as a first-dater as he cycled along the basic road which ran roughly east across the island, to the village he'd glimpsed from up on the mainland hills. A side road curved off to the south and disappeared beneath the canopy of thick oak woods, but he ignored that. After that the road ran through damp-looking low ground, which appeared desolate apart from the occasional scattered patches of oak. A sharp wind blew across this lowland, carrying the call of distant seabirds. Tom loved the fact that the only sounds here were natural ones, rather than traffic and music and noise that were ever-present back home. The road was so flat he was able to whizz along in a high gear, head tucked low, until finally the road forked into the two roads of the village.
The main road carried on straight, passing a shop, and old-fashioned shabby houses with grey-rendered walls, before the road ended at a chapel and graveyard. The side road skirted some woods and passed a small mansion which overlooked the whole village. Tom remembered from the map that a track ran south from that building to an abandoned quarry in the mountain. However, the village was the end of the road.
It felt dead too. It just seemed so quiet.
Tom jumped off his bike at the junction and pushed it up the main street. On his right was a garage for repairing cars. A torn paper sign, which looked like it was from the 1950s, was pasted to the wall, saying "Griffiths Garage for SATISFACTION. Everything for the MOTORIST" in blue letters.
He nodded to a pair of older men sat on a bench in the forecourt, but they just stared at him. He felt they weren't the only eyes on him, but when he glanced at a house over the road the slight shift of yellowing lace could easily have been a stirring in the breeze.
He accepted that he might be a novelty to these drably-dressed yokels. Here he was in shining Lycra, brightening up their rural lives. They probably didn't see many outsiders, especially ones with such good legs.
He looked back at the two men. One of them had got up and was walking quickly down the side road as if on an urgent mission, head hunched forward and hands shoved into baggy jeans. He was soon out of sight around the corner. The other man wore a black hat with a round brim. He had a flattish, expressionless face, and was still staring at Tom. It unnerved him a bit, the man was so intense and ... unbothered by being overly rude. Maybe that was it.
"Nedden," the man said.
"Sorry, are you talking to me?" Tom asked.
"Arfilyn," the man added, his deep black eyes glinting.
Tom walked on, puzzled, but still interested in his surroundings. His bike was so light he could easily guide it with one hand.
He was tutting mentally at the grubby state of some of the houses, that people let things decay so much, when from the alley between two buildings stepped a dark-haired girl whose striking looks made him stop in his tracks. Her dark hair was unkempt and wild, and her skin was so pale in contrast it looked like porcelain. She was about seventeen years old (ten years younger than Tom, but old enough), and would obviously be a stunning woman very soon. She was wearing a long, plain skirt and faded beige blouse, clothes that looked as if they were hand-me-downs, but she was so attractive that the clothes seemed insignificant. It was hard to say what made her so beautiful – the contrasts of dark and light; beauty set off by drabness; the wildness in her eyes, which seemed to have more life than anything he had seen so far in the whole village.
He raised a hand and began to walk towards her, an unthinking, magnetic reflex. But when she saw him a strange expression crossed her face that made him drop his hand. It was almost like the shadow of a leer, and she darted back the way she had come, into the dark alley.
He looked around, wishing for a friendly face. There was a pub ahead. The name was in Welsh but the weathered sign included an image of a wrinkled and bearded old face snarling down at the road. It might not be the friendly face he wanted, but hopefully someone inside would be normal and could point him to a place to stay for the night. If not, he would be off and leave this dump behind. Tom had come in secret, so he could surprise Mike the next time he saw him by casually letting slip that he'd been here too – to the place that had spooked Mike. If he left almost straight away then there wasn't much to boast about.
A man stepped out of the pub doorway, dressed in scruffy workman's trousers and a jumper with patched elbows. When his deep-set eyes passed over Tom, his frowning bushy eyebrows parted and he grinned.
Great: another yokel who has never seen a man in Lycra.
"Sut hwyl gyfaill, ga i'ch helpu chi, y?" the man asked quickly.
"I'm sorry, I don't speak any Welsh." Tom had been in Wales for six years now, but had never got round to learning. Everyone he knew in Newtown spoke English anyway. He just knew enough to recognise the guttural 'ch' sounds and the general accent as being definitely Welsh.
"Ah, that's no problem, I guess you're a tourist, then? Lost your way? Or just another friendly visitor to Pentre Bychan?"
"Is that the island's Welsh name?"
"Diawl no. It's this lovely village, my friend." He grinned still, as if he had made a joke.
Maybe they know irony here – not a lost cause after all, Tom thought.
"Someone told me about this island, so I decided to visit. I love out-of-the-way places. I got the train as far as Holyhead, then cycled from there."
"Cycled, yeah?" The man looked at his bike.
"Well, yes. And I was thinking about staying here tonight, if there's anywhere I can get a room or something? It'd be nice to explore a bit before I get back, see what you've got here."
"Aye, see what we've got here." Still the inane grinning. The man scratched his scalp through thick, greying hair. "Tell you what. One of the houses in this road is empty. Used to be my Nain's, but she's gone now. Got her furniture in and everything. You could have that for a night if you wanted..."
Suddenly he slammed a fist against the wall, making Tom jump. The man inhaled deeply and a strange wheezing sound came from his throat. Through the fit he still watched Tom out of the corner of his eye. Just as quickly it passed, and the man banged his palm against his chest.
"Ah, these lungs, play me up sometimes."
"Are you all right? Maybe you should see a doctor?"
"No doctors for me, I'm fine." He grinned again, his mouth stretched and plastic. "Yes, fine. Do you fancy the house for the night then? No-one needs it, so – you know – just for a bit o' cash. I guess yer on your own, so's there'd be lots of room."
"Yes, just me. It's very kind of you but —"
"No, not kind, a favour to both of us! I'll show yer in a minute if you like. Tell yer what, I'm just going to tidy it up. Why don't you go in the tafarn and have a drink? I'll come and get you in a bit. You'll need to know it anyway if you're staying here, isn't it? You'll have a thirst on you, I bet."
Tom didn't really want to take a full house, but couldn't think of a sane-sounding reason to refuse; besides, the man was so overtly friendly it would perhaps be mean to do so. "Well, okay."
"Grêt! Here, you go in here," the man pushed open the door to the pub, and Tom only just caught the name from him, which sounded like 'Er Hen Theen'. "Make yourself at home."
The man almost shoved him through the door, leaving Tom's bike propped against the wall outside.
As Tom's eyes adjusted to the darkness, he noticed that the few people inside were looking at him morosely. It didn't feel as welcoming as he had hoped.
"Erm, I can come with you if you want..." Tom started to say to the man, "I don't even know your name..."
"Nage, just stay here, have a nice drink. And Osian's my name." Then to the rest of the people in the bar, "Mae'n saff, hogia, dydy'r Sais twp ddim yn dallt. Dw i am ddeud wrth yr arglwydd, os alla i." The man grinned at Tom, and the grin seemed somehow less than friendly. "You'll be fine mate, they'll look after yer. I'll be back soon, just wait. Enjoy." And he let the pub door swing shut with a bang, leaving Tom standing just within, feeling more conspicuous in cycle shorts than he'd ever done before.
The pub only had small, dirty windows, so even after his eyes started to adjust it was still gloomy. The decor was smoke-stained dark wood, and the notices (all in Welsh) were yellowed.
There were a few men sat at tables, one at the bar, and a tall thin man behind the bar, in a grey shirt that was open to near the waist, as if he were proud of his narrow, hairless chest.
Tom walked over to him. "Hi," he said warmly, hoping to get a friendly response.
"Hi," the barman replied without any trace of warmth. "What do you want?"
Tom looked at the worn and scratched taps. "Carlsberg?"
"I think it's off. We don't do that kind of drink."
Nevertheless, the barman grabbed a pint glass and held it under the tap that had a chipped Carlsberg logo above it. There was a bubbling squirt, like liquid shit, and something brown and cloudy spat into the glass, gobbing out in spurts until there were a few inches of murk in the bottom. He held it up. "Do you want it?" he asked, expressionless.
"No, thank you. I'll just have a gin and tonic."
"Well, a whisky and coke then." He was trying not to lose his patience.
The barman took a tumbler and poured a shot of whisky, then opened a bottle of black coke that had white marks where the glass had been scraped. He banged them on the bar in front of Tom. The whisky glass looked dirty but Tom kept that observation to himself and just poured the coke in.
"How much do I owe you?" he asked.
"Settle up later."
Tom sipped the drink without enthusiasm, and tried to engage the barman in conversation about the island, but the monosyllabic answers soon stopped that.
Then the only other man sat at the bar shuffled his stool closer to Tom. He had ginger hair and a frayed baseball cap which said 'Shell' on. He smelt of stale sweat. "Hello, you come here for the day, aye?"
"Yes, well, I might stay overnight."
"That's a good idea, yes, see the island's beauty – one of the jewels of the North, they say. Come on your own, then?"
The man shuffled his stool even closer, until he was practically leaning against Tom, and Tom felt intimidated by his strangeness and closeness. "Oh, you'll love us. We're friendly blokes here."
'Love us' seemed a strange choice of words.
"I haven't seen many women in the village. Only one girl in fact, who was she? Very pretty, black hair, pale face?"
The ginger man leaned closer, and the smell of sweat was overpowering. Tom had to make a conscious effort not to wrinkle his nose in disgust.
"Oh, Anne. She's lovely, a loving girl. We call her Brân Ddu."
"Near enough. She likes strangers. Sometimes."
"Cau dy geg, Wil!" snapped the barman suddenly and viciously, making Tom jump and the ginger man flinch back. It seemed like a reprimand.
"No need for grumpiness in front of a guest now, is there?" Wil retorted.
The room brightened and Tom glanced round. Two more men came in, closing the door quietly. They stayed near the door, speaking in Welsh and occasionally glancing Tom's way. He felt like every eye was surreptitiously on him.
When he turned to his drink again the barman looked away, but for a fraction of a second it seemed as if he had been nodding at Tom, indicating something to the others in the bar. The fact that he looked momentarily guilty when Tom nearly caught him seemed to confirm that something was wrong. The atmosphere was pregnant with expectation. But for what?
Tom stood up. Immediately there was a subtle – but noticeable – edging closer of the people sitting or standing near the door; a readiness. On the surface they looked nonchalant, but Tom really felt as if they were blocking his exit through the door.
He needed time to think, and didn't want to test his suspicion yet, in case it led to a confrontation. "Where are the toilets, please?" he asked his ginger-haired neighbour.
"Through those doors, then left," he said, pointing at a door in the opposite corner to the main pub doors.
On the other side of the door was a staircase going up, and a door on his left. Through there was a small room and two more doors; the left one said ‘Merched' and the right, ‘Dynion'. Tom knew the door of the men's toilets in his favourite Newtown pub, The Red Lion, said ‘Dynion', so went through the one on the right.
The toilets were as unpleasant as he'd expected. A smell of sour piss, and chipped tiles around the urinals. Tom moved quickly to the only toilet cubicle, locked the door, put the lid down, and sat on it.
What were the villagers planning? Or was he imagining it? His civilised self told him he was overreacting, but his instincts were screaming that there was a threat here. But what? Would they mug him? Or something worse?
When he was younger, someone once told him stories of an isolated moor where the army sent new recruits for survival training, where the recruits sometimes disappeared completely, just leaving their pitched tents and equipment behind. No sign of them was ever found. In another version, the soldiers were found – but dead, with their throats cut, in a church. That apocryphal tale usually blamed Satanists, though neither explained how a whole unit could be overpowered, except perhaps by a lot of people.
A lot of people in on something together.
As unlikely as the tales had seemed to him, the thought of them chilled him now.
Surely he couldn't be killed? To what end? People would find out, wouldn't they?
Then again, he had only mentioned to his mother where he was going this weekend. And if he disappeared, there would be no proof that he ever actually got here – he had travelled a long distance. If everyone in the village denied seeing him, no investigation would get anywhere. The only likely outcome would be that his elderly mother would come herself to investigate… It didn't bear thinking about.
He thought back to the rusting car, owners long gone after something happened.
Of course it was all stupid, he was a loony just for thinking of that. What would Mike say back in Newtown?
There was a noise outside the men's toilets. Whispers. Sounded like a few people. Tom froze. No-one came in, and the voices went quiet. He could feel himself panicking.
Climbing quietly up onto the toilet lid, he was able to examine the dirty window. It looked like it could be opened, but hadn't been for many years. Dead flies and moths lay on their backs all along the filth of the sill. The window was small, but a man might just fit through.
The window was on the side of the pub, and Tom could see there was a wide gap between the pub and the next building – a garage with an old petrol pump in the forecourt.
He could also see a building further away – some kind of junkyard with a chain-link fence, off the smaller southern road of the village.
There were a few men moving quickly there; the first people apart from Brandy to show any speed. They seemed to be dashing around, and Tom recognised the man who had said he could rent a house, apparently giving urgent instructions. He was reminded of a disturbed wasps' nest. A red pickup pulled out of the junkyard and halted by the men.
The driver jumped out – it was the man with ginger hair and the Shell baseball cap, Wil, who Tom had sat next to in the bar. Immediately he started to lift something heavy out of the back of the pickup, helped by two of the men. It looked like a large, flat, stained piece of wood, with things dangling in the corners, possibly handles? Or straps? Someone else grabbed a toolbox, and they all moved out of sight towards the back of the pub, heaving the wooden thing with them.
Time must be running out, Tom thought. There were only two choices. Run or stay. If he ran and it turned out he was just being paranoid; well, it was a minor embarrassment, which he would gladly suffer. If he ran and was right to do so, it could save his life. No contest.
He tried to open the window quietly, ignoring the dead insects. It seemed jammed.
Please don't be locked, please don't be locked.
In panic he used more force, hurting his hand in the process. He realised if he made a noise the people in the hallway might come in to investigate; they might also if he took too long.
The window finally moved, and he flushed the toilet, to give himself a few more seconds and hide the noise as the window was opened. He stuck his head out, and couldn't see anyone now. Perhaps they were at the back of the pub or inside it. The side of the building was in shade. Good – it could help to hide him. As the last of the flushing sounds died away he wormed his way out, bashing his hip bone badly. He tried to ignore the flash of pain and lower himself down.
He didn't fancy fleeing from the village on foot. He wouldn't get far before any pursuers caught up with him.
He was near the red pickup, but the engine wasn't running anymore. The keys might be in the ignition, but to find out he would have to step into full view of anyone at the back of the pub. Besides, he hadn't driven for years and could see himself smacking into a building or getting stuck in the ditch trying to drive it back to the road. No, his bike was better.
He edged along the wall and peeped round the corner. There it was, still leaning against the front wall of the pub. The only person in view was an old man in a spotted shirt and patched trousers limping towards the pub, grey hair combed back. Now was his chance.
Not bothered if he looked silly to some back-country pensioner, Tom crouched and hurried past, below the pub windows. The bike was right next to the main door. Heart pounding, he grabbed it, faced it out of the village and jumped on. He began to pedal immediately and felt slightly better once he began to move.
The old man smiled, creating more cracks in his dry, weather-beaten face, and beckoned to Tom, walking straight in front of the bike. Tom swerved but didn't stop. "Iwan! Iwan!" the old man shouted.
Other people appeared from the houses now, and, glancing back, he saw three men dashing out of the pub. A car door slammed and an engine revved into life. The pickup.
If he cycled out of the village and headed across the sandbar, he'd be caught in two minutes. He wouldn't even make it as far as the turn-off for the woods.
Someone appeared out of nowhere, and nearly knocked him off his bike. People were rushing over, yelling to each other in Welsh.
The plan had to change.
He swerved left at almost full speed and took the small lane that led to the old quarry. He might be able to lose the truck on that, and could certainly outrun anyone following on foot. Hopefully he could then head off-road past the woods and back to the sandbar. If he cycled like hell, and used every ounce of ability he'd built up over the years, he could maybe do it before they realised his intentions.
Tom was going so fast he almost didn't see a bald, fat man step out of the school grounds. Tom leaned the bike left and avoided him, but whizzed into the junkyard, slamming on the brakes just before he hit a rusty tractor-trailer, the bike's back wheel skidding until he faced the gate he'd just come through.
The fat man stood at the junkyard gate, and already others were running up.
Tom scanned the yard; there was a corrugated iron shack in one corner, and the rest was scrap metal, piles of tyres, and the rusting skeletons of lots of plateless cars – a surprising amount for such a small settlement. The whole yard was surrounded by a chain-link fence twelve feet high.
The small group at the gate made way for the red pickup, which crunched to a stop on loose gravel, the door opening immediately. The ginger-haired man leapt out, fingering his baseball cap agitatedly but smiling. "Hey, what are you running for, bach?" He walked forward slowly, but Tom saw the gate being closed behind him. As it clunked into place two men stayed by it, while others advanced slowly behind Ginger. "There's nothing to worry about," he said. "We aren't going to hurt you."
"Why are you chasing me then?" Tom yelled, and realised he was crying with fear.
"Just to get the money for your drink. You didn't pay!"
Tom wanted to believe him. He wanted to so much.
Ginger slipped a hand into a pocket, and kept it there. As if he was holding something. "Just going to talk."
Tom quickly cycled away from the gate. The men ran after him. He reached the pile of tyres, shouldered his bike and scrambled up. It was hard to keep his footing, but he didn't dare ditch the bike.
Come on you bastard! he urged himself silently. You've run with the bike before, so you can fucking climb!
The men were gaining as he got to the rubber peak, within three feet of the top of the chain-link. He threw the bike over and it crashed to the ground on the other side, wheels first, bounced once at an angle then clattered onto its side – he was glad he hadn't locked out the suspension. Then he clambered up and over, dangling by his hands before dropping the last five feet or so, just as the men reached the top of the tyre pile.
"Cachwr!" someone yelled.
Tom jumped on the bike and started back along the lane to the quarry track. The bike seemed undamaged. He risked a glance back. Most of the men were scrambling back down the tyre pile towards the pickup truck and junkyard gate – he'd definitely bought some time there. The two who dropped over the fence after him would soon be left behind, though they were running as best they could.
There were yells coming from many directions now.
Tom cycled past the last building on the right – the small mansion he'd seen earlier. It had a walled garden, and just as Tom passed he thought he glimpsed someone watching him from a window above the Doric columns of the porch.
It didn't matter; only the cycling mattered, getting in the rhythm, heart pumping in time with his legs, breathing in time with the revolutions of the wheels, every ounce of speed coming from the controlled rhythms of man and machine in harmony.
He went up a track away from the village. He was a good way along, passing woods on his right, when he heard the engine revving behind him. The truck was gaining, though thankfully not too fast – the roughness of the disused track saw to that. Still, he probably wouldn't make the quarry before the truck caught up.
Plan B (as if there was ever an A).
The grass by the track here wasn't too long to cycle over. He left the track on the right side and headed west. Instead of leaving the woods behind and carrying on, he could skirt them. It would take him back to the road, some distance from the village. The truck would either have to try and follow over even rougher country, or go back the way it had come and try to head him off.
Even better, they might assume he was going to hide in the woods, amongst the thick cover of bracken, bramble, oak and heather, and waste time looking for him there.
He was far from safe, but dared to hope.
His heart was racing as fast as the bike, and he allowed himself to doubt, just for a few seconds. What if it really was just a quiet village full of inbred bumpkins? What if they always went quiet when a stranger entered the pub? The men by the door in the pub could have been waiting for friends; the people whispering outside the toilet could have been secret lovers or having a private chat. Tom's mind seized on this, because it removed some of the fear, at least temporarily.
The coughing house-owner could have been looking for help to prepare the house; the old man could have just been calling a friend's name. Hell, he had snuck out of the pub without paying after acting strangely, and apparently running away after arranging to rent a house – it wasn't surprising their friends went after him for money or an explanation.
It wasn't surprising their friends helped out, and the more he ran the more annoyed they got. He could have just read too much into –
Blinding pain shot through him, and for seconds he couldn't move. He realised he was lying on his back staring up at a gloriously blue sky, floating like the clouds but with the pain; something was trickling into his ear, and a wheel was spinning nearby, whirring, whirring, round and round and round.
He lifted his head slightly, blinking hot sticky fluid from one eye. One of his arms wouldn't move, it was twisted behind him somehow. Funny, he didn't mind too much, if only he could focus his eyes properly, and if only the pain in his head would go. Once he made the spinning noise start again he could look at the clouds and float and float.
He squinted and blinked. It was his bike. With one foot on the wheel and his back to Tom was a large man in a bright red plastic raincoat with the hood up.
That was why the nice spinning had stopped. But why wasn't he on his bike still?
The man began to walk towards Tom. He walked with a limp, and something dangled from his right arm.
A big piece of wood.
The man pulled his hood down but Tom still couldn't see his face clearly, because of that nasty sticky stuff in his eye, but it seemed somehow wrong, more than just blurred.
"I want to fly again," Tom said, letting his head fall back.
"I want to float."
The big strange man was standing over him now, a smudge of red like a big balloon.
"You can float," said Tom dreamily as the man lifted his right arm.