Sleepwalk City - Read the first chapter free

Following on from last week's peek at the first chapter of Blood on the Motorway, I thought I’d give you a taste of the sequel, Sleepwalk City, so here’s the first chapter. In it, we meet a brand new character, Lydia, and find out her tale of the storm. Both Sleepwalk City and its predecessor, Blood on the Motorway, are on sale until the end of March, only 99p/99c each for the ebooks, available from Amazon UK, Amazon.com, iBooks, Kobo, and more. The print version of Sleepwalk City is only £9.99 from Amazon UK, and $15.99 from Amazon.com.

Chapter One

Given to the Rising

Lydia arched her back and tried to find a comfortable position. The hard plastic chair of Dublin Airport’s unglamorous food court resisted her efforts. A half-eaten Burger King super-sized meal lay on the equally hard plastic table in front of her, losing its appeal with every passing second, the cheese congealing on the cold chips.

She slipped off her shoe and worked her thumb over the sole of her foot.

This had been her reward for making it through the day, a plastic dinner in an airport fast-food outlet. Lonely, tired and missing her kids, she figured it was the least her company owed her for sending her all the way to Ireland for a meeting she hadn’t really needed to be at.

She bit into the burger, savouring both the taste and its accompanying guilt. The diet had stayed well and truly back in England. She’d enjoyed falling off the wagon for this trip, if nothing else. Nice dinners, cooked breakfasts, a hefty lunch, and now a burger. The full gamut of bad food behaviour.

Regretfully swallowing the last mouthful, she slipped her shoes back on and checked the board. Her flight listing had a gate number next to it, so she wheeled her little suitcase round, picked up the laptop bag she’d failed to open once in the last forty-eight hours and headed off to the endless run of travellators which separated her from her flight, and, finally, home.

The plane was going to be full. People were already herding themselves into an orderly queue, despite nobody staffing the gate to let them on-board, and yet the waiting room seats were full, too. She wished she could sneak out for a cheeky puff on her e-cig. At least two others were chuffing on their own. She chanced it. Nobody official looked fussed by this brazen flaunting of The Rules.

The seats by the gate were filled with businessmen staring at their laptops. Occasionally they looked up and around to check the world hadn’t moved on radically without them.

There were a few non-business types scattered about, including a Muslim family who had probably had a much harder time getting through customs. Even Lydia, with her Mediterranean tone and dark hair, often got more glances at her passport. She could only imagine what it was like trying to get through with a headscarf.

The children of the Muslim couple were careening in and out of the seats, while both parents stared at the boarding gate screen – willing time to move quicker, Lydia supposed. It was a look she recognised. She smiled at the kids as they tore past, and secretly hoped that when they got on board they weren’t sat anywhere near her.

She parked up her suitcase, dropping her laptop bag on top and pulling out her phone. She punched Dev’s name and waited for it ring.

‘Hey, love,’ her harassed-sounding husband answered. 

In the background, the bedlam of wild children echoed in her ear, including one high-pitched scream that would have chilled the blood of anyone who didn’t have their own little noise generators.

‘Hey,’ Lydia replied. ‘I’m just at my gate, how’s it going?’

‘Oh, you know,’ Dev chuckled. ‘You need me to come pick you up at the airport?’

‘Doesn’t Cassie have karate tonight?’

‘Balls, yes. You okay to taxi it?’

‘Yeah,’ she replied. ‘Company can pay for it.’

‘Good point. Okay, well, got to go; I’m cooking tea. Have a safe flight, honey.’

‘See you soon,’ she said. Dev had moved the phone away and started shouting at the children before the line cut out.

She shook her head and clicked the Facebook app to check out what she’d missed in the last forty-eight hours. Before she found anything interesting, the herd started moving through the gate. She pocketed the phone and picked up her bags.

Twenty minutes of tedious onward progress later, a disinterested steward pointed Lydia towards her seat. She hated flying, especially on the piece-of-crap budget airline which was all her company was willing to fork out for. She lived in constant fear she’d get stuck by the window, struggling not to lose her shit altogether on take-off and landing.

At least I’m on the aisle.

A rotund, profusely sweating businessman had commandeered both the armrest and half of her leg room, displaying his crown jewels to the world. She settled into her seat and tried to nudge him out of her space, but all she got in return was a greasy smile. Did he think she was flirting with him? 

She gave up the tussle. At least the flight was only forty-five minutes.

She toyed with the idea of opening her laptop and trying to clear some emails to take her mind off her creeping dread. But all the emails in the world couldn’t change the fact she was about to entrust her life to a company more famed for their budgetary creativity than their safety record, in an aircraft which predated her parents’ stereo system. She opted to fish out her phone and stick on a podcast, closing her eyes to try to block out the rest of the world. 

Her heart skipped a beat as the plane started to taxi, and when the pilot applied the throttle she had to swallow a cry of terror. The roar of the engines drowned out the sound of wittering coming from her headphones.

‘Not a fan of flying?’ the businessman asked, jovially, as she removed them. 

She flashed him a terse grimace that she hoped adequately conveyed the message of ‘Please kindly fuck off because you’re not making this any easier,’ which a mix of civility and terror were unable to let her vocalise.

Eventually the plane levelled out. Lydia had been gripping the one armrest she had access to so tightly it hurt to let go. She looked at the businessman, whose attention had moved away from her. He now invaded the space of a timid-looking boy in the window seat so he could look outside. The boy had the same approach to civility she had. His expression said he was going to completely ignore the invasion of his personal space in the hope it might magically go away. Lydia tried to relax.

‘We’re back over England,’ the businessman said to nobody in particular.

She closed her eyes again and tried to distract herself with work thoughts, running through the meeting that morning, trying to compose a narrative she could take back to her boss tomorrow without sounding like a complete idiot. It worked for a while, until a hushed ‘woah’ brought her back to her surroundings.

The businessman still craned to see out the window, but so too did the boy next to him. All around, people's faces pressed up against the windows, blocking the view so effectively she had no clue what they were staring at.

A strange light danced through the cabin and across the faces peering through the windows. Blue and green hues danced over the ceiling, whilst the cabin staff tried to hustle about without looking worried.

The fasten seatbelt sign came back on, which some people took to mean the opposite, exiting their seats to try and get a better look.

‘What’s going on?’ Lydia asked the sweaty, broad back of the businessman.

‘Sorry, love,’ he said, moving aside to let her look.

Outside was the strangest sight she’d ever seen. They were above the clouds, which had turned from their trademark fluffy whiteness into a dense, solid mass, throbbing with what looked like shifting veins of electrical energy. A cavalcade of colours came from the aurora, rising from the cloud like steam, blue and green and pink mists enveloped the plane. It was quite breath-taking.

‘What is it?’ Lydia asked. 

The businessman shrugged. The kid stared out of the window, the colour draining from his face.

A bolt of lightning arced up from the cloud, and there was a brief ‘ooh’ from some of her fellow passengers, until it arched in the air and slammed into the wing. 

The wing splintered and burst into flame. 

‘The ooh’s turned into screams and the plane lurched to the left. Inquisitive interest turned to panic around her before the lightning bolt had even faded from her retinas.

Another bolt hit, and the lights went out.

Lydia sat back in her seat, trying to wedge herself into safety. She put on her seatbelt as fast as her trembling hands would allow. 

The businessman tried to push past her to the aisle, before thinking better of it.

She couldn’t bring herself to look out the window again, but the lights outside were becoming more and more intense. The plane started to lurch downward and sideways. 

Tears streamed down her cheeks. She chanced a look outside, which did nothing to calm her. They were falling through the storm, electricity dancing around them. She looked down at her hands, gripping the armrest. Tiny arcs of light danced between her fingers.

The spin became more pronounced, the G-force starting to take hold. Lydia fought to hold down the contents of her stomach. Dampness spread between her legs.

The last bolt to hit blew a hole in the right side of the plane. The cabin depressurised. Screams of terror mingled with the whooshing air. Two people flew, screaming, out of the hole and into the night, plucked out by some unseen hand.

I am going to die.

My babies.

The businessman had passed out, an ugly smear of red running from his nose. The boy also had the same, and Lydia’s hand rose to her own face. 

Blood.

Her head pounded, and everything started to go dark. 

At least I won’t live to see what happens when we hit the ground.

Everything went black.

* * * * *

She sat bolt upright, struggling to breathe, clawing at her clothes and unsure of her surroundings, until it all came flooding back. She wasn’t at the crash site any more. That was, what, three months ago?

Three months since she’d woken, still strapped to a single aeroplane seat in the middle of a decimated forest. The sole survivor of flight 272 from Dublin to Leeds Bradford, which had come down in thick woodland not twenty miles from its intended destination.

Getting out of bed, she rubbed her mittened hands together. It was still bloody cold. She stretched, and threw off the thick blankets. Not a hideously uncomfortable bed as these things went, but she wished she’d managed to find a cottage which retained the heat from the previous night’s fire a little better. She’d not dared to have it lit for long, worried that light in the windows, and smoke from the chimney, would pique the interests of whatever unsavoury elements might be lurking in these parts. She was pretty deep into farmland here, but you never could tell.

If the last three months had taught her anything, it was that.

She went to the window and looked out at the frost-bitten dawn scene, the nightmare she’d lived through still at the front of her mind. When she’d woken that first morning, somehow unscathed amongst the death and wreckage, she’d had no idea that the carnage extended beyond the hundred or so of her fellow passengers. Their scattered corpses had been torn apart by the savage storm and the impact. To this day, she had no idea how she’d survived. None of the other bodies even resembled people, and yet there she had been, the only damage a deep but non-life-threatening cut along her arm, which had already stopped bleeding by the time she came to.

The smoke had still been rising from the wreckage when she woke, the air thick with the smell of fuel, so much so that she’d choked on it as she scrabbled out of her seat.

But her wonder at her own survival was nothing compared to her horror at what lay beyond. She’d waited for hours, sure that sirens and help wouldn’t be far away, that she shouldn’t leave the scene. She’d tried her phone, but it was dead. All the phones she could find were blank, useless boxes. She pictured Dev glued to the news, wondering what he was going to tell the children.

It was the thought of her children that had stirred her into action – that and the realisation in the fading light that nobody was coming to help her. She’d left the crash site and walked until she found a main road. She had followed the signs for Leeds through the night, in total and terrifying darkness, trying to block out the sounds of wildlife in the shadows.

When she’d come across the first car wreck, in the pre-dawn light, the corpses had had the same smear of red from their noses as her travelling companions, and she’d realised her crash had been only a small part of the puzzle. Her pace quickened until she finally found her way home.

Home.

Coming back to herself in the present, she pushed the thought down. One scab was enough to pick at. She walked downstairs and headed into the tiny kitchen. This must have been a holiday cottage once upon a time. It was well decorated and clean, but save for half a jar of coffee in the cupboard there were no signs anyone had lived here since the storm. She pulled her backpack up onto the counter, fished out a tin of children’s spaghetti hoops, and set it on the side.

She stared at it. The image of Cassie, her daughter, slurping at a bowl full of spaghetti hoops, stole into her mind.

So this is a morning for picking scabs?

When she’d finally made it home she’d not seen another living soul, so she’d known the odds of finding her family waiting with outstretched arms were slim, but none of her fears on that long walk could have prepared her for the sight of her husband’s corpse on the sofa, the bodies of both their children in his arms. The curtains were closed. Had little Nico been scared by the storm and got his dad to close the curtains, or had it been Cassie?

It had taken her a long time to leave the house. When she had, she was not the same Lydia who had entered. 

And now she was the Lydia staring at a tin of spaghetti hoops with a mix of anger and remorse. She wiped the tears from her eyes and opened the tin. She pulled out a fork from a drawer; tried the taps, but there was no water. The hob didn’t work.

The old systems are finally collapsing. 

Plunging the fork into the cold can, she began emptying her pack out onto the counter to check her belongings. A raincoat, sleeping bag, one thick jumper, and five pairs of woollen socks, as well as some knickers. She was down to five tins, which was a worry. Toiletries bag, a hairbrush, a kid’s book on wilderness survival she’d stolen from Nico’s room, some cigarettes, candles, and a tin opener. She examined the cottage’s own tin opener and found it to be superior to her own in its robustness, so she swapped them.

Lastly, she examined her weapons. She checked the magazine of the small pistol and her bow and arrow. She still had a pretty decent quiver of arrows, but there were only five bullets in the pistol’s magazine. She couldn’t shoot the bow worth a shit, so never seemed to lose her arrows to anything. She was getting better though.

She repacked the bag and slung it over her shoulder, put the gun in her waistband and pulled her jumper over it, and hung the bow and quiver from the strap of the bag. She caught sight of herself in the ornamental mirror by the front door and chuckled.

Pretty badass.

Outside the cottage the last of the snow still clung on, supplemented by the morning frost. At least she’d be able to see any footprints not her own, but the chill in the air went straight through her thick jumper.

Whatever had caused that storm, and she’d heard her share of rumours over the months, had it also broken the whole world? Were they set for some kind of eternal winter, as the Earth tried to rid itself of its human infestation? 

She hoped not.

Leaving the cottage, she hiked the bag up and appraised her options. Where to go today? She looked one way down the path, and the other, and decided to take the road not yet travelled.

* * * * *

If you've enjoyed this sample chapter, Sleepwalk City is on sale throughout March for only 99p/99c in ebook available from Amazon UK, Amazon.com, iBooks, Kobo, and more. The print version of Sleepwalk City is only £9.99 from Amazon UK, and $15.99 from Amazon.com.