Today I am delighted to be on the blog tour for Malcolm Parnell’s novel, A Brush With Death. For my stop I am able to share the prologue for the authors new novel, which I think is a great way to see if the book takes your fancy.
25 years ago
The boy pulled back the curtains and peered through his bedroom window. The view was to most eyes nothing spectacular, but for him it was magical. Straight ahead he could see across open farmland. Over to his left, separated from the farm by a meandering brook lay an area of marsh land. Mundane and of no practical value to some, to him it was a very special place, a place where all things were possible, a place where you might encounter lizards, snakes and all manner of creeping things. Rats and voles lived there and further on where the earth sloped upwards onto drier ground, foxes, rabbits and who knows what else roamed free. The boy watched his world unfold as light from the sun transformed the grass from a colourless mass to every shade of green. Each blade dancing as the lightest of breezes touched the tips bringing movement like the rolling sea.
Inside, the house was quiet. The only other occupant was his father and he had yet to awake, still clinging to the last vestiges of sleep. His day had not yet begun, but when it did the boy doubted it would involve snakes and lizards.
Water droplets fell like diamonds shimmering in the morning sun as the small net swung round in an arc and then hovered expectantly over the waiting glass jar. Peering into the net, the boy held his breath as he examined his prize. Scooped from its watery lair the great crested newt clambered up the sides of the net before falling back exposing its fiery belly. With a shout of triumph the boy plucked the newt from the net and dropped it into the jar. Holding it up to his face both boy and newt scrutinized each other, the captor and the captured caught in a moment of time, both bathed in the glow of the rising sun, one relishing it, the other, desperate to hide.
The stream gleamed and sparkled, bent and fragmented by stones and tree roots, it seemed to go forever twisting like a coil of rope through the meadows. Where he was standing was the widest point and the water was calmer here among the shallows, providing the perfect home for frogs and fish. The reed fringed banks giving way to a vast bed of water lilies that constantly nudged and swayed against his wellington boots. Further on, the banks grew more steeply and behind the blackthorn bush the
lichen covered bricks of the old bridge could just be seen. How long the bridge had spanned the stream no-one knew. Neither could anyone fathom the reason for it being there. No road ran across it and either side was overgrown with wild blackthorn and holly. Those of a fanciful nature suggested it was a bridge to another world, but there seemed nothing other worldly about its overgrown walls and wild flower covered floor, although it is true that if one wandered into the darkness beneath the arch a gap in the bricks could be found. The boy had once explored this further, but after negotiating the almost un-penetrable array of spikey leaves and thorns, he eventually came disappointedly into the
open air of the meadow which could have been accessed by the easier route of skirting the bridge further downstream.
The boy gave the newt one final look and lowered the jar into the water. He watched as the newt eager to be free, swam down into the depths and disappeared amongst the vegetation.
A sudden splash caught his attention and without turning his head he said, “You came then?”
From behind, a cheerful voice said, “’Course. I said I would, didn’t I?”
“I thought you were going to be dragged off shopping.”
“Nah, made a bit of a fuss. Mum chucked me out. So, Peter me lad, it’s you and me.”
The boy turned to greet his friend. John lived a few doors down from him and they had grown up together. People in the street saw it as a strange alliance as the boys were like chalk and cheese, both physically and in temperament. His friend was short and dark with a mercurial nature, subject to whims and flights of fancy. His attention span was short and he got bored easily which often led him into trouble as his need for thrills caused conflict with the elders. Peter, on the other hand was tall and willowy, prone to deep thought and consideration. He was a shy boy and considered by some to be easily led, but he had a sharp mind and inquisitive nature.
“Not caught anything then?” his friend asked surveying the now empty jam jar.
“I had a crested, just let it go.”
“Have you had a go for Billy?”
“No not yet.”
Billy was a fish, a bullhead, commonly known as a millers thumb. He inhabited a half-submerged rusty oil drum that lay on its side further downstream, here the brook flowed through a small coppice. As bullheads go he was big, at least the size of the boy’s hand and though often seen, was elusive, as the water was deeper there and once the bottom was disturbed, clouds of silt would obscure the view.
“Still, there’s plenty of time.”
The boys grinned. Today was the first day of the school holidays and the immediate future held six glorious weeks of climbing trees, hunting, fishing and exploring. New worlds would be discovered and the prospect was mouth-watering.
The next few hours were spent engrossed in the world of water. Taking turns, they pushed and prodded the fishing net through lily beds and rushes. Many fish were caught, including – to both boys delight – a small jack pike weighing around 1lb. By the middle of the afternoon they had wandered about half a mile upstream and had come to the spot where the blackthorn embraced the old bridge. Climbing out of the water, the boys scrambled through the thick thorns and holly roots before emerging, scratched and torn under the dark recesses of the bridge. Sitting on the moss covered stones they each produced packs of sandwiches and bottled water from their jacket pockets.
“This bridge is creepy.” His friend muttered, chewing on ham and tomato.
“Yeah it’s brill.” Peter answered also chewing on his lunch.
“It’s supposed to be haunted. Tommy Greenway says that a long time ago some kids disappeared from somewhere around here.”
Peter shrugged. He too had heard the story, but was unimpressed.
“Tommy Greenway’s a girlie. He’s scared of his own shadow.”
“Yeah, but, you’ve gotta admit it’s a funny place. For one thing there’s no sound. I don’t like it, I’m going back.”
“Don’t like it.” John got up to leave and turned his head. “You comin’?”
“No, not yet, I’ll catch you up.” Peter answered and watched his friend back track through the water until he reached the part where the brambles gave way to clear meadow. Soon John was out of sight.
Peter stopped chewing and tilted his head. It was true, it was quiet, the silence only punctuated by the occasional bickering of squabbling coots further upstream. But then, a sound could be heard, difficult to make out at first, a sort of scraping noise. The sound a knife makes when being honed to a sharp point across a sharpening stone. Peter quickly looked around, his eyes wide trying to penetrate the gloom. Then, terror struck as a shadow emerged from the walls of the bridge and moved towards him.
A Brush With Death is out now and available to purchase from Amazon.