Excerpt: The Woman Who Didn’t Speak

In advance of the publication of The Woman Who Didn’t Speak on June 29, here is a short excerpt:

1

There was no light in the sky when Marjiana rose from bed. The red sun—which she had yet to grow used to in the fifteen years she had lived on this planet—remained hidden from sight behind the horizon. It did not feel like home this place. Not even after all this time living here, not to mention the extended journey to arrive at this destination. It was still a place she had come to, not a place she was from.

And also the place she would be spending her remaining days, however many they might be. For there was no leaving here, no matter how much they all might wish to.

That was a thought best not dwelt upon, especially not first thing in the morning, lest it cast a shadow over the rest of the day. There were shadows enough in this place without bringing more into this world. Life was hard enough as it was.

She did not turn on any lights in the house, preferring to move about by feel, and wanting to preserve their reserves of electricity for necessities and emergencies. A splash of cool water on her face after brushing her teeth was the only luxury she allowed herself. That and the coffee she set to boil atop a gas burner . It was not real coffee, but she had mostly forgotten the taste of the real thing. This was near enough, and even the supplies of it were dwindling.

Day by day all their supplies were dwindling. And what would remain when they were gone?

Another thought best put aside. There was a long day’s work ahead and Marjiana did not need to join those who had succumbed to the settler’s melancholy, remaining in their homes, leaving their fields to ruin, waiting for starvation or the elements to release them from their suffering. Not that it wasn’t tempting. But she had four mouths to feed—five if one counted Kjessel, and she supposed she had to. He was her husband, after all.

When the coffee was ready she drank it, savoring each drop, closing her eyes to listen to the stillness around her. Neither Kjessel nor any of her sons were awake, and none of them would be until after the sun rose. None of the neighbors were up and out in the fields either. The quiet—so strange, at first, after a lifetime spent on a planet with birds and insects, or on the vessel that had brought them here, where there had been a constant hum and hiss of systems at work—was now something she treasured above all else.

It was the one thing she would take from this failed world, if she could. Given there was no leaving here, it was her only solace.

She could hear someone stirring in one of the other rooms and, taking that as her signal, she rose from the kitchen table and went out to the fields to begin her day’s work.

2

Garuhj, the hetman, welcomed them all to the main square of the settlement, embracing many of the women and clenching the hands of the men, beaming from ear to ear. He had been elected hetman in the fifth year of the settlement, the first time the crops failed. They had failed twice more since then, to say nothing of the rhesus fevers, which had killed more than half of those in the settlement. Yet his beaming countenance remained unchanged.

Even now, as the crops began to show the first signs of the strange rot that no one could determine the cause of, Garuhj maintained his outward optimism. Marjiana suspected his own thoughts were not so positive, but the hetman was a politician above all, and versed in projecting confidence. She considered him a thing to be suffered, no different than the rot and the fevers, another of the burdens of this place to be endured.

Welcome Marjiana. Danjiel. Codij. Jeriem. I hope you are all well. Kjessel is not joining the celebration?”

Marjiana shook her head.

He’s not well,” Danjiel said, a little too quickly.

The hetman did not notice, his gaze already going beyond them to the next family of settlers he was to greet. In the celebration that followed, Garuhj gave his usual speech, marked by his typical platitudes and his claim that hope was necessary, in spite of all that had gone wrong.

When we set down on this day, thirteen years ago, it was to an uninhabitable rock. We knew there would be trials and tribulations, and no doubt there have been. Not all of us have survived them, and we would be remiss if we did not remember them. But we need to honor their memory and sacrifice by recognizing what we have achieved, which is so much.

Where once there was a barren windswept landscape, now there is soil, there is air and there is water. All the necessities we require to survive. Instead of looking at all those places where we have struggled and failed, we should look at what we have achieved, and recognize that we have it in us to survive here.”

Garuhj’s eyes flashed with emotion as he spoke. He truly believed. But the celebrations that followed were tepid, everyone only too aware of the failures of the colony. For they were in evidence all around them. The cloudless sky that promised no rain yet again. The thin soil they trod upon, from which little could grow, and which seemed to contain the germ of the rot that ate at what did.

Even the food at the celebration was a sign of failure, for it was taken from the ever-dwindling supplies the vessel that had brought them here had carried. Intended to tide them over during the first lean years after the terraforming was complete, they had been unused initially during those bountiful years, only to become absolutely necessary now.

As Marjiana and the boys prepared to take their leave of the celebration and begin the walk back to their home, about a kilometer from the central square of the settlement, Garuhj intercepted them, barely hiding his concern.

Leaving so soon?” he said. When no one replied, he added, “What’s this I hear about you not speaking anymore?”

Marjiana did not reply, shrugging and motioning her one hand slightly in dismissal in reply. The hetman blinked, unsure how to respond.

She started a month ago,” Danjiel said, flushing red under the hetman’s gaze.

What other symptoms does she have? Has the doctor seen her?”

Oh, she has no symptoms. She just chooses not to speak,” Danjeel said as Marjiana nodded.

Garuhj seemed unsure of himself. “I will ask the Fenon to come by.”

Marjiana frowned and shook her head, with a finality anyone might have understood.

Of course, I understand, but what about your sons?” the hetman stammered.

It’s no problem,” Jeriem, her youngest, said. “We understand her fine.”

Garuhj looked as though he wanted to say more, to argue that Jeriem could not possibly be telling the truth, but a look from Marjiana stopped him short. She led her sons back home, aware as she left the celebration that a number of those present had been watching her conversation with the hetman very closely.

The Woman Who Didn’t Speak is now available for preorder:
Buy the ebook

Advertisements

Excerpt: The Dane

n advance of the publication of The Dane on June 22, here is a short excerpt:

Nels bellied up to the bar, pushing past two young bucks. He shouted to Harold for a beer, slapping his hand on the table. “Goddamn Harry. Goddamn.”

“You’re hot as a poker,” Harold said, grinning as he filled a mug with lager. He handed it across the counter to Nels. “What’s got you fired up anyway?”

“Today is a red letter day, my friend. My wallet is full and I am going to drink my fill. That I guarantee.” He spoke with the faintest of Nordic accents, that the few Swedes in the area found unplaceable. They had never met a Dane from Slesvig, as he was quick to say.

“Good for you, Nels,” Harry said, reaching across to give him a slap on the shoulder.

Nels nodded his thanks and took a long pull on his beer, wiping the suds from his mustache. He was well known in Sunnynook, but then everyone was. It was a homesteaders town of about a couple hundred, bigger than most of the others in the area because it was on the railway and had a station house and an elevator. Farmers from thirty miles or more would bring their grain and cattle here to ship and sell.

That was what Nels had been doing as well, selling his cattle, to somebody down near Hanna. For a hell of price, as he kept thinking to himself, while he slapped the counter of the bar in rhythm to a song that only he could hear in his head. If harvest went off half as well as the cattle, well he’d be looking at his first great year here in the five since he’d settled.

He was a latecomer, compared to most everyone else. Most of the families had been settled here fifteen or twenty years. They’d built up their lands—or in the case of a good many, failed and buggered off somewhere else—and turned their sod shacks into sturdy houses. Nels was still working on that.

He was only one man himself, so he only needed one room, as he always said. And the cold of the Canadian prairie wasn’t so bad. No worse than his winters in Denmark. The damp there got into you worse, he told everyone. Went right to the bone and you couldn’t get it out, no matter what you did.

Not that he wouldn’t mind one of those catalog houses, ordered up and the plans and pieces sent in on the train. And if this year went like he thought it might…well, hell, he might be building next summer.

He finished off the last of his beer and waved at Harold for another, just as Wally Lindback tapped him on the shoulder. Nels turned to look him over and shook his hand. “What are you doing here, boy? Aren’t you too young to be in a place like this?”

“Dad would kill me if he found out,” Wally said, with an agreeable shrug.

Nels laughed. “I’ll spot you a beer.”

“Thanks,” Wally said. “Saves me asking. You seem flush tonight.”

“Been a hell of day, Wally. Hell of a day. Sold the cattle. Got a fine, fine price, I don’t mind telling you.”

“That’s great. And you got that crop coming too.”

“Still have ta get it off,” Nels said, though his grin said he thought that would be no problem. He waved the bartender over and ordered a beer for Wally and another for himself.

“Dad’s still broken up about his,” Wally said, a shadow passing across his face.

Nels frowned. “Yeah, that’s a hell of thing. That’s farming though. And he’s not the only one. Hail took a lot of good crops this year. Not mine for once though, not mine.”

Harold brought the two beer over and Nels passed one on to Wally, peeling off some bills to pay the tab. He raised his glass and Wally followed suit.

“Yeah,” Wally said, taking a sip of his beer while he looked past Nels at the others in the bar. “I wouldn’t maybe go telling everybody about your good fortune. They’re liable to get jealous.”

“Oh folks here are good,” Nels said, unconcerned. “Most are good farmers like your dad. They understand that some years will be good, some bad. You learn to roll with what life gives you. Can’t do otherwise.”

“Yeah,” Wally said, taking another drink. “Yeah.” But he did not appear to believe it.

The Dane is now available for preorder:
Buy the ebook