Excerpt-At the Water’s Edge
16 pages. $19.95 (Trade Paperback)
Release date November 10, 2015
Scottish Highlands, January 14, 1945
“Oh God, make him pull over,” I said as the car slung around yet another curve in almost total darkness.
It had been nearly four hours since we’d left the naval base at Aultbea, and we’d been careening from checkpoint to checkpoint since. I truly believe those were the only times the driver used the brakes. At the last checkpoint, I was copiously sick, narrowly missing the guard’s boots. He didn’t even bother checking our papers, just lifted the red and white pole and waved us on with a look of disgust.
“Driver! Pull over,” said Ellis, who was sitting in the backseat be¬tween Hank and me.
“I’m afraid there is no ‘over,’ ” the driver said in a thick Highland accent, his R’s rolling magnificently. He came to a stop in the middle of the road.
It was true. If I stepped outside the car I would be ankle-deep in thorny vegetation and mud, not that it would have done any more to destroy my clothes and shoes. From head to toe I was steeped in sulfur and cordite and the stench of fear. My stockings were mere cobwebs stretched around my legs, and my scarlet nails were broken and peeling. I hadn’t had my hair done since the day before we’d sailed from the shipyard in Philadelphia. I had never been in such a state.
I leaned out the open door and gagged while Ellis rubbed my back.Wet snow collected on the top of my head.
I sat up again and pulled the door shut. “I’m sorry. I’m finished. Do you think you can take those things off the headlights? I think it would be better if I could see what’s coming.” I was referring to the slotted metal plates our one-eyed driver had clipped on before we’d left the base. They limited visibility to about three feet ahead of us.
“Can’t,” he called back cheerfully. “It’s the Blackout.” As he cranked up through the gears, my head lurched back and forth. I leaned over and cradled my face in my hands.
Ellis patted my shoulder. “We should be nearly there. Do you think fresh air would help?”
I sat up and let my head flop against the back of the torn leather seat. Ellis reached across and rolled the window down a crack. I turned toward the cold air and closed my eyes.
“Hank, can you please put out your cigarette?”
He didn’t answer, but a whoosh of frigid air let me know he had tossed it out the window.
“Thank you,” I said weakly.
Twenty minutes later, when the car finally came to a stop and the driver cut the engine, I was so desperate for solid ground I spilled out before the driver could get his own door open, never mind mine. I landed on my knees.
“Maddie!” Ellis said in alarm.
“I’m all right,” I said.
There was a fast-moving cloud cover under a nearly full moon, and by its light I first laid eyes on our unlikely destination.
I climbed to my feet and reeled away from the car, thinking I might be sick again. My legs propelled me toward the building, spinning ever faster. I crashed into the wall, then slid down until I was crouching against it.
In the distance, a sheep bleated.
To say that I wished I wasn’t there would be a ludicrous understatement, but I’d only ever had the illusion of choice:
We have to do this, Hank had said. It’s for Ellis.
To refuse would have been tantamount to betrayal, an act of calculated cruelty. And so, because of my husband’s war with his father and their insane obsession with a mythical monster, we’d crossed the Atlantic at the very same time a real madman, a real monster, was attempting to take over the world for his own reasons of ego and pride.
I would have given anything to go back two weeks, to the beginning of the New Year’s Eve party, and script the whole thing differently.
The siren was relentless, rising and falling, rising and falling, and after a few hours I grew numb to it, lulled into a stupor.
I lay on my side, watching Angus the entire time. He kept his head slightly down, listening carefully. Each time a plane roared overhead, he shouted over to me, telling me what it was. I didn’t know the difference between a Lockheed Lightning and a Bristol Blenheim, but decided that if Angus wasn’t outside shooting at it, it probably wasn’t going to drop a bomb on us. I grew so inured to the siren’s wail
I was startled when it finally went steady, shrieking solidly at its highest note.
When it tapered off and fell silent, Angus set his gun down.
“That’s that, I guess,” he said, climbing to his feet.
He made his way toward the back of the shelter and dropped out of sight to check on Meg. A few seconds later, he reappeared, folding his forearms on the edge of the bunk and resting his chin on them. His face was right in front of the clear plastic window of my mask, and I realized he’d never put his on. He hadn’t even brought it out. His arms had been full.
“You all right then?” he asked.
I started to kick my way free of the covers.
“Stay put,” he said. “Meg’s asleep.”
“We’re spending the night out here?” I asked, my voice muffled by rubber.
“Aye, what’s left of it. It will be easier to navigate by the light of day, and I don’t want to manhandle her again.”
He tapped the window of my mask. “You can take that off, you know.”
When I removed it, he took it from me and leaned over to put it back in its ridiculous red case.
“Are you warm enough up there?” he asked.
“Yes, but where will you sleep?”
“I’ll nip inside and get a quilt.”
“Why don’t you take the top bunk, and I’ll move down with Meg?”
“No. She’s curled up, and it would take some doing to rearrange her. We’ll stay as we are.”
“There’s enough room up here for both of us,” I said.
He popped back up. Our eyes met, and this time there was no separation at all, no plastic windows, green canisters, black rubber, or anything else that might have disguised my words. I had no idea how they’d come out of my mouth.
He smiled, and the skin beside his eyes crinkled.
“I’m sorry,” I said, aware that my cheeks were blazing.
He held two fingers to my lips, then slid his hand around until he was cupping my cheek.
I gasped and turned into his hand, pressing my face against it and closing my eyes. When I opened them again, he was staring right through me. His eyes were as penetrating and startling as the first time I’d seen him.
“Hush, m’eudail,” he said.