With exactly two months till Emergence’s official launch day I thought I’d give you a preview of the first chapter, just to get you geared up…
As he adjusted the black tie around his neck, John’s throat felt closed and his fingers stiff. He pulled at the knot and looked at his reflection. The face staring back didn’t seem familiar; it was lost within the dark surface that looked like a film of crude oil on top of still water. He was trapped behind a slick veil where there wasn’t much clarity and he didn’t feel real.
The blue-green pigmentation of his eyes appeared greyscale, lifeless and devoid of optimism, as if the cheerful colour had been washed out with every tear issued from the bottomless well of grief within himself. And yet the glossy sheen of the black coffin lid showed up the dark crescents beneath his eyes well, betraying his secret of sleepless, wine-guzzling nights. His skin had a sickly pallor. He doubted he’d ever look or feel normal again.
Black shadows pirouetted around him in the funeral parlour’s chapel of rest and the ceiling spotlight was caught next to his own reflection like a snared seraphim, peeking over his shoulder. He watched as his own hand reached out, shaking, moving in slow motion. There was no sound as he inched the lid open, increasing the unnerving silence of the room. And it was this silence, this cold, massive nothingness, that was worse than the coffin itself. The sheer lack of noise filled his head with the harsh intensity of neuralgia, numbing his face and further serving to displace his sense of identity, making him subconsciously question his capability to carry on, his want to continue.
He knew that once the coffin and all it was taking with it had disappeared behind burgundy velvet curtains this same unbearable level of quietude would return. Awkward conversations at the wake would follow, where nobody would know what to say to him because death offers no true opportunity for consolation, no words to sugar-coat the finality of a shortened life or, indeed, make allowances for genuine predictions of happier times ahead. Once all of the fish paste vol-au-vents and corned beef slices had been eaten and everyone had sloped off to resume the mostly undisturbed routines of their own lives, that’s when John knew the silence of oblivion would latch onto him with firm resolve and follow him home. To linger whenever he took a bath or tried to read the newspaper, whenever he cooked a meal or washed the dishes. And despite all his best efforts to drown this soundlessness out with the noise of the television or radio, it would remain ever present until he learned how to blot it out with a new routine, a new life established after the fallout from his old life had settled like cold ashes around his feet.
He couldn’t even begin to imagine when that day might be. And he couldn’t understand his own contribution to the quietness of the chapel of rest right now. His sense of mourning felt like it should have a sound all of its own. A weighty, palpable thing that he expected might be able to exist outside of his body, to be heard like the lonely cry of an orca in the deep dark. Lost. Alas, the unpredictability of grief surrendered him to horrific silence.
His head buzzed with thick nothingness and his chest ached with a feeling of complete ineptitude. The coffin lid was fully open and there inside, lying on a bed of silver satin, was Amy. His wife. Her ash blonde hair was neatly styled and she would have looked angel-serene had it not been for the absurdity of her makeup. Her cheeks were displaying more rouge than she’d have put on herself and her lips, also, were too red for the occasion. There was a time when the shade would have denoted passion, frivolity and playfulness, but in the wake of tragedy and the onset of misery it looked abhorrently wrong. The crudeness of it all made her look like a life-sized doll that a little girl – their little girl – had been playing dress-up with, and there was a waxy, unreal quality to Amy’s skin that suggested she’d never been alive – a denial that the little girl had ever been a part of her.
Amy was wearing her favourite blue dress, the one she’d worn on the evening of their wedding. To John, the soft billowy material retained no evidence of the happy moments of laughter, kissing and slow dancing. Now it was a dress that signified loss, heartache and end.
The mortician’s arrangement of his wife’s body – left hand laid across her stomach, right one on top, elbows tucked down by her sides – reminded John of the way she’d often held herself when she was pregnant. Three years ago. Caressing her belly and protectively holding it. Now, sadly, the child she’d given birth to wouldn’t get to play with her makeup or enjoy motherly embraces. Except, perhaps, in dreams. And deep down in the depths of John’s waking awareness he knew this was a dream, a crassly embellished re-enactment of one of the worst days of his life. He knew how it would pan out as well, because it was the same rendition each time. Still, he reached out and touched the back of Amy’s hand. And, still, his breath caught. She was cold and unwelcoming. No warmth or softness left in her pianist’s fingers. The slender, ivory digits which had stroked his skin and sought his affection during the best days of his life were nothing more than white corpse fingers.
His own fingers became tense and he flattened his palm against the back of her hand in an attempt to warm it. Death had taken her from him much too soon, but when she failed to react to the warmth of his touch he knew it had no plan to give her back. There was no hope her passing had been a case of mistaken identity that could be rectified and he knew he could win this fight of fate no more than she could. Not even for just one night, because his own subconscious was rallying against him, denying him any solace from the possible oblivion of sleep-induced fantasy. His most sadistic inner-self was determined to relive this day over and over. Again and again. With no deviation from the well-rehearsed script his subconscious had created.
Tears welled up in his already raw and puffy eyes. He wished for the umpteenth time it could be the other way round – he wished it was him lying in the coffin and that Amy was standing where he was, alive. He gripped her hand tight, afraid to let go, and told her through wet lips that he loved her. He hoped this time the dream would be different, that the story might change and she’d wake up and embrace him. But as he looked upon her face again he saw that it was the usual nightmare: her expression not quite right. A wry smile had crept to her plastic-red lips. A sneering smirk.
Recoiling, he snatched his hand away and watched as her eyes blinked open.
She looked at him, cold blue.
Her shiny mouth parted.
And with all the wispy coarseness of coal-dust she said, ‘John, it’s just you now.’
So there you have it, I hope you enjoyed Emergence’s opening.
Right from the start I wanted to convey John’s state of mind, to show how vulnerable and and lost he still feels three years after his wife’s death. He’s a very troubled character with serious flaws – an anti-hero perhaps – but he’s certainly likeable.
Next month I’ll be revealing another excerpt from the book – where John has a scary encounter – so be sure to keep an eye out!