Thursday, 12 December 2019

Teasers and Prologues

I watch a lot of TV - probably more than I should since I got Netflix, but hey, it's winter and the sun sets ridiculously early, and I've got 91 episodes of Orange is the new Black to get through, amongst other things.

What do you think about teasers in TV programmes - in particular those that give a hint about what's to come? I'm talking about something shocking and unexpected in the pre-credits sequence that's going to happen much later in the show. After the opening credits you get a caption along the lines of "Three Days Earlier" so you know you'll be working up to what you saw before.

Personally, I've always liked this, and the literary equivalent is the Prologue. I used to feel that my books started rather slowly so I gave it a try in Class of '92, my last book, which opened with a dinosaur rampaging through Oxford. I think that got people's attention.

For my new book, I've decided to go down the same route and opened the book with a truly shocking opening in which two of the most beloved characters of the series find themselves in mortal peril.Those of you local to where the books are set may recognise the location - it's the roof of the Sainsbury car park in Bicester and the stairs leading down to the shop.

The good news is you don't have to wait until the end of the month to read the prologue as I'm releasing it as a teaser right here right now. Hopefully this will whet your appetite for the book's release on 29th December.

What's in the new book, without giving too much away? It's a book of two halves, really. In the first half, Josh and the team get involved in some new experiments travelling back within their own time streams. This gives us a chance to see the Time Bubble team again when they were young, as Josh faces off against his old enemy Dan in a legendary pub crawl. Later, things take a more serious turn when a new and far deadlier foe emerges, tying in with this prologue.

Enjoy!

Prologue

June 2025

Kaylee was crippled with fear in a way she never had been before. It was the kind of fear that people only felt at the very real prospect of imminent death, and it was consuming her whole body like a slug of poison coursing through her veins.

She was a lithe, fit woman in her mid-twenties but right now she felt as weak and helpless as a frail, old woman. Frantically she tried to suppress her body’s overwhelming reflex to be physically sick and to summon up the energy she needed to keep running from her assailant.

As she descended the stairs on the fire escape that led down to the ground below, the desire to throw up was too strong and she paused briefly, leaning over the metal bannister to projectile vomit over the side.

The staircase, behind the superstore, ran all the way from the top floor of the car park above to the entrance to the shop below. As the splatter of her semi-digested breakfast hit the floor some thirty feet below, she heard a woman’s voice further down the stairwell exclaiming, “Disgusting!”

That was all very well for her to say, thought Kaylee, but she hadn’t just seen her husband murdered in cold blood right in front of her.

Barely a minute ago, up on the roof, she had seen her beloved Charlie hit by a futuristic laser weapon that had made him briefly glow an incredibly bright blue before completely vanishing.

The unidentified, black-clad and masked assassin had then turned the weapon on Kaylee but the young woman had been nimble enough to just about scramble out of the way, leaving her abandoned Sainsbury’s trolley to be zapped into oblivion instead.

Despite being utterly traumatised at seeing the love of her life vaporised right in front of her, her survival instincts had kicked in and she had ducked behind a large, white Transit van that was pulling out of a parking space close to the sliding glass doors that led to the entrance.

From there she had managed to dive through the doors, despite a third thunderous laser blast shot taking out the van and presumably the unfortunate occupant within it.
Desperate to escape, she headed towards the lift doors, but she soon realised there was no escape that way.

A crude, handwritten note attached to the lift doors informed her it was out of order again, leaving her with a choice of the travelator or the stairs, a decision which needed to be made in a split second. She opted for the latter, figuring they were less open, making her a more difficult target for the assassin who she assumed would be coming after her. She could also see that there were people blocking the travelator with their trolleys – she would be a sitting duck.

As she burst through the doors and began to descend the stairwell, there was only one word in her mind and that was “why?”

Was this some random terror attack with some new type of weapon she had never seen or heard of before? Or was it a premeditated hit and, if so, why was whoever it was targeting her and Charlie? They were just a normal young couple doing their Saturday morning shopping. They didn’t have any enemies.

It had been the most ordinary of days until they had emerged onto the top floor of the car park. Charlie had been pushing the trolley and they had been chatting amiably about their plans for the weekend. Their friends Josh, Lauren and Hannah were coming around for dinner and they had just bought everything they needed, not just the food but also copious amounts of alcohol.

That dinner was never going to happen now, she thought, as she willed herself on, leaping down the stairs, three steps at a time. She was desperate for what she hoped would be the relative safety of the store: at least there were security guards there. Admittedly they were probably more used to dealing with shoplifters slipping bottles of vodka into their coat pockets than assassins with laser guns, but it was better than nothing.

These and countless other thoughts whirled through her head in the relatively short time it took to descend the stairs. This couldn’t just be some random terror attack. There had been other people around at the top of the car park, but the assassin had ignored them, focusing solely on her and Charlie.

There was no doubt it was the two of them the assassin had been after, and Kaylee knew that escaping through the doors had only given her a temporary respite. She felt a growing feeling of despair welling up inside her at the realisation that her chances of getting out of this alive were slim.

Part of her almost didn’t want to escape. Charlie was her whole life. Without him was it even worth surviving? Should she just give in and accept her fate, like a condemned prisoner at the gallows? But then she would never know the reason behind all of this, and she doubted that the assassin was going to give her the courtesy of an explanation before blowing her away into oblivion.

There was a tiny flicker of hope inside her that perhaps Charlie wasn’t dead. Perhaps the laser beam hadn’t been a weapon but instead had just transported him somewhere else. It was the stuff of science fiction, but after all the adventures with the Time Bubble a few years previously, her mind was open to all kinds of possibilities.

The only other comforting thought she had, and it was an extremely tenuous one, was that if the assassin did kill her, maybe she and Charlie would be together again somewhere. It was an odd thing to think of because she had never believed in any sort of deity, but the likelihood of impending doom had suddenly made the existence of some sort of afterlife an extremely appealing proposition.

By now she was halfway down the stairwell at the entrance to the middle level of the car park. As she swung around the corner towards the next flight of stairs, she almost knocked a mother with two young girls out of the way in her haste.

The woman gave her an extremely filthy look which suggested she was the one who had seen the contents of Kaylee’s stomach descending at high speed towards the ground floor moments before.

There was no time to apologise or issue a warning: what use would that be? If the assassin was only after Kaylee, these people would be safe, and if not, no one would be against the sort of weaponry the killer was toting.

Kaylee risked a quick glance back up the stairs but there no sign that she was being followed. Briefly she allowed herself a little hope that maybe she was going to get out of this alive after all.

Her hopes were swiftly quashed as she arrived at the bottom of the stairs and the assassin reappeared, right out of thin air directly in front of her. With a sinking feeling, she knew now that the game was up.

It was the first time Kaylee had got a proper look at her executioner, not that it gave her any clue as to the identity. The assassin was so heavily clad in black body armour and a mask that covered the whole face, bar the eyes, that she couldn’t even tell if it was male or female. Come to that, she couldn’t even be sure it was human – the armour was made of some strange-looking metallic material that made her wonder if it might not be some sort of robot or android. Could it be an alien, or something from the future?

“Why are you doing this?” cried Kaylee as the killer raised the weapon that had already killed her husband. They would be her final words as no reply was forthcoming.

There was a high-pitched whistling sound and then a single brilliant, bright blue laser bolt consumed her body, instantly annihilating her. Barely anything was left behind, just the single yellow flower that she had been wearing in her hair which was blown off her head by the blast. Other than that, there was nothing, not even a hint of smoke.

Beneath the mask, the assassin smiled, pulled a wand-like device out of a side pocket and pressed a button, before stepping forward and vanishing

Other than the small yellow flower fluttering slowly downwards towards the regurgitated bits of muesli and skimmed milk congealing on the floor, it was as if neither of them had ever been there.
To be continued... 

Many of you will recognise this location.
It's The Bridge of Sighs in Oxford which is featured in a key scene.

Vanishing Point will be released on 29th December 2019 and you can reserve your copy here: Vanishing Point

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