The next one…

Still early days and quite rough and ready, but here is a taster of the opening to the next novel.

The Anguish Pear
Chapter One

The unsteady farmer was dressed in the apparel of someone who had taken everything they owned, either off the battlefield’s dead or from their rigid hands. The most obvious military items were a slung rifle over a grey greatcoat and a khaki satchel hung low beneath one arm. Against the wind and blocking the snows path, the figure within was being obscured; carrying its own miniature drifts over pleats and crevices with pockets full of ice. There was a general sense that nothing was made to fit. The main garment had either come from a very short man or a tall man with a short coat. On the petite farmer it still draped to the heel and almost touched the floor.

Above the coat and half encased in the collar, a comforter scarf wound around the face below a pair of cracked, leather and brass aviator goggles that almost kept out the lash of the sharp shrapnel shards of frosted flakes. Perched on top of all this was a thick green woollen hat frozen as hard as its peak, which rested over the goggles. This completed the outer shell to a point where, if the farmer stayed still for long enough you saw only a statue, enamelled in hardening sleet, with nothing bar the faint wisps of exhausted breath to render a sign of life from within.

The farmer twisted with a violent shiver, raised a fingerless gloved thumb and ran it over the glass to clear her view. For the briefest of moments in the fading sunlight, she looked out clearly over her land and then closed both eyes.

‘It must be my land,’ she concluded to herself, somewhere inside the darkness. When she opened her eyes again, the view had almost disappeared.

Her family had farmed this region for at least five generations. She remembered in that moment that there had been an inscribed bible on the kitchen dresser. It had contained all their names with dates of birth scrawled down its inner cover. Scrawled at first, but with the legibility flowing through the family tree’s roots with increased ability as time had passed. 
As her arm went down again it brushed past the satchel and she thought about some of the bags contents. This included four inadequate death notices in the names of Sophie, her older brother Paul and their parents Edith and Ronald Dupuis.

In reality these were no more than a few pencil scribbled words and dates on tattered scraps of paper. All that remained of her loved ones and yet the documents looked less important than the receipts her father had kept for bags of grain and fertiliser. It was a sad thought, but these scraps proved that she was now the sole heir to what had been their land.

Sophie had another thought right there and then. It was a thought that had been with her ever since the death notices had arrived at her maternal grandmother’s cottage.

‘If I am still alive,’ she considered, ‘then maybe my brother and parents are still alive too?’

Today though, this thought was tainted and drained of hope, leaving her heart as empty as her stomach. Today was different because she had finally returned and there was only land now, if you could still call it that. It stretched as far as Sophie’s eyes could see, but through the regrouping white flakes on her goggles, that was not very far at all. She struggled to wipe away more and then gave up and pulled the goggles down.

A puff of steam escaped through the gap above her scarf as Sophie decreed, ‘Merde,’ and started to cough.

Sophie swore a lot of late, some days offensive language was the only thing to pass her lips as she struggled over the smashed landscape of post war France, heading for home.

Without the white filter of the frosted glass she could see the valley was completely covered in a film of snow, a sheet over a corpse with ridged ribs, flattened breasts and smashed knuckles as the only landmarks. It was not pure white when viewed in more detail. There were patches of fluid that floated above the snow like stains from scars beneath. Split barrels of fuel, other chemicals and effluence were seeping to the surface here and there in orange, blue and gold blemishes that caught the light of the setting sun.

In between these colours there were no more standing buildings, no trees left above the stump, no vehicles, telegraph lines or roads. There were only ripples and mounds where all these things had once stood and nothing left to harvest apart from the dead and their spent shells.


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