Here are the first few pages of my novel You Yet Shall Die, available from Amazon in print or ebook formats.
Southeast England 2005
I am spending this fine June afternoon in my garden, planting out seedlings of beetroot, broccoli, carrots and swedes. Mother used to emphasize the importance of fresh vegetables for health and taught me how to grow them, and I am thankful to have retained this knowledge because I have a limited budget for food shopping. I only hope some of these new plants will survive, though things do not always grow well here in the North Kent marshland, where the weather can be cool and windy all year round.
After doing the gardening I give my three cats their evening meals, feeding Daisy separately because she requires a special renal diet, then brushing and combing her tortoiseshell coat in the places that she is getting too old to reach. Then, looking forward to a rest, I go to the kitchen to make some tea. My brother has recently reproached me for not taking more interest in current affairs so, while the kettle is coming to the boil, I listen to a news program about prime minister Tony Blair’s forthcoming speech to the European Parliament. The topic means little to me, so I switch off the radio before taking my tea and biscuits into the living room. I sink down into the sofa with Chester, purring loudly, curled up at my side and pick up my new library book, which is called The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Nighttime. I am just getting absorbed in the story when there is a knock on the door.
The sound makes my heart jump. I seldom have a visitor, and do not want to see one at the moment, especially as it may well be my landlady with another complaint about the cats.
But I dutifully get up to see who it is, and there is a strange young woman standing on the doorstep holding out her right hand and saying with a bright smile “Hello there Hilda Harper – found where you live at last! I’m Nicky. Your little sister.”
When she moves closer as if to embrace me, I shrink back. I stare at her for what seems a long time. She is short and slightly plump. Her rounded face has a child-like expression. Her blonde hair is cut in a short spiky style and has pink streaks. Her ears have been pierced, and she is wearing dangly earrings. Her floral sundress reveals the top of her bosom. Her high-heeled sandals are totally unsuitable for the country. The general effect is pretty but slightly artificial, and she reminds me of a doll.
I was once made to attend a course in social skills, but it did not prepare me for a situation of this kind. I ignore the woman’s proffered hand with its orange-painted nails, and eventually she withdraws it. The smile fades from her face as she says, “You did know about me, didn’t you?”
I reply, “I haven’t got a sister.”
“Oh yes you have,” she says, putting her hand on my arm in a way I find over-familiar. I do not like being touched. “Why don’t we sit down and have a chat.”
I can hardly refuse to let her come inside, reluctant though I am to do so, and I lead the way into the sitting room. On catching sight of the stranger, Orlando leaps down from his chair and out of the window, but his brother Chester continues to sleep on the sofa.
Nicky keeps up a continuous prattle, remarking on what a big cat Chester is, what a lonely spot I live in and what a lot of books I have. I do not respond. I can feel my heart beating uncomfortably fast, and a tightness in my chest, and hope I am not going to get one of my attacks in front of this stranger. I gesture her towards the battered sofa, and notice that she inspects it carefully and brushes off the cat hairs before sitting down as far away as possible from Chester. It would seem that she does not like animals. We look at each other in silence for a while. I have the vague impression that I have seen her somewhere before but cannot place the memory. At last I say, “I don’t understand what this is about.”
“Don’t you recognize me?” she asks. “From our father’s funeral?”