“Folk horror meets ancient gods in a remote snowbound Peak District town where several murders take place.” Today, we have an excerpt from Daniel Church‘s The Hollows, which was published this week by Angry Robot Books. Here’s the synopsis:
In a lonely village in the Peak District, during the onset of a once-in-a-lifetime snow storm, Constable Ellie Cheetham finds a body. The man, a local ne’er-do-well, appears to have died in a tragic accident: he drank too much and froze to death.
But the facts don’t add up: the dead man is clutching a knife in one hand, and there’s evidence he was hiding from someone. Someone who watched him die. Stranger still, an odd mark has been drawn onto a stone beside his body.
The next victims are two families on the outskirts of town. As the storm rises and the body count grows, Ellie realises she has a terrifying problem on her hands: someone – or some thing – is killing indiscriminately, attacking in the darkness and using the storm for cover.
The killer is circling ever closer to the village. The storm’s getting worse… and the power’s just gone out.
The excerpt is taken from the middle of the novel, when the action really starts to get going…
Even with the heating on, the chill from outside crept into the Land Rover and Tom Graham was glad he was wrapped up against the cold. The woollen cap he’d pulled on felt pitifully thin and frankly didn’t cut the mustard; pity Ellie hadn’t left her KGB hat in the car.
Out on the Height the sky was dark, and the only sounds were the muffled wind and the hiss of static from his radio: still no signal, even out here. Wasn’t quite dusk yet, but you wouldn’t have known it; the clouds and snowfall had cut off the last of the failing light. The wind had to be gale force by now, and the snow was coming down thick and heavy, piling up against the windscreen faster than the wipers could clear it away.
Ellie’d been right about Matlock; even the thought of driving back to Barsall made Tom’s palms sweat and trying to get to Barrowman Farm would’ve been a kamikaze job if they’d left it this long, never mind anywhere else.
They’d got the kids out of there, that was the important thing. Ellie and the others. One hole in her fur hat, and that was all the damage, although Bert Annable’d taken a pot at the front of the farmhouse, so Christ knew what would happen when the snows cleared and the Harpers went crying to any ambulance-chaser who’d give them the time of day.
Well, he’d officially been home sick and the raid was all Ellie’s doing – the glory and the grief, all in one. Yet here he was, out on the Height with a radio that didn’t work – he’d have more luck with a flaming carrier pigeon – doing his bit. Probably time he jacked it in, really. He’d turned fifty-five, year before last, and so was eligible for his pension. Reduced benefits if he retired now, but better to do that and still have your health, wasn’t it?
Barsall had always been a quiet beat. A simple life. Apart from the Harpers. But now they were kicking things up a gear. Nearly had a Wild West shoot-out there today. Maybe Paul Harper was cooking meth – turned people mental, that stuff, didn’t it? Place was going to end up like America, nutters with machine guns everywhere you looked. No thank you, not for him. Retire and stay out of it with Thelma. Live a quiet life that way, if he still could – if any bugger still could now.
Well, he’d talk it over with the Mrs, whenever this was over with. For now, though, he was still a copper. Maybe not much of one – oh, he knew what Ellie thought of him, what everyone did, that he was just a time-server, not sticking his neck out any further than he could help – and they might be right, but this was still his job and he wasn’t a shirker. He’d been out on the moors enough times, hadn’t he, hunting lost hikers in weather like this? Helping bring them safely home, or retrieving their frozen corpses. And how many times had he done that last one? Every bloody winter, some poor sod ended up like that. Not even hikers all the time: even locals could come a cropper, like Tony Harper. After a while it got to you, all the death. Ate into you. Even so he wasn’t a shirker, or a coward. He’d taken the Queen’s shilling, signed on the dotted line. A contract. A bargain. An oath. Call it what you like.
So he’d do his part. Keep on a little longer, then head back into Barsall. See how Ellie wanted to play it then.
And back her up. He’d have to. She’d given him a way out and he’d taken it, but it’d been the coward’s way out and he knew it. He’d go back and help however he could and if there was flak afterwards over Barrowman Farm, he’d take it, because that was his job. He’d take the lumps, and Ellie could have any gongs or praise that were going. She’d earned them.
Another five minutes, then he’d make his way back. He’d been out here long enough without even a whisper in reply. Call out a couple more times, then knock it on the head.
“Matlock from Sierra Four Five, urgent call, over. Matlock from Sierra Four Five, urgent call, over.”
Nothing. Only the mush of static, as blurred and formless as the snow and the dark.
Sod the five minutes; he’d head back now. He turned the key in the ignition and the headlights flared on.
Something moved up ahead.
He didn’t get a good look; it recoiled from the light, back into the darkness, but he got an impression of thinness and long, long limbs. Like a huge bloody spider.
Snow blurred and flurried through the headlights.
No. He’d seen nothing: shadows and snow, caught in the light. That was all. He was seeing patterns where there were none. Like Ellie. Too much imagination. That was a laugh. He could hear Thelma snorting at that: When was that ever your problem, Tom Graham? He could make out a silhouette in the snow, just at the edge of the light.
One of the picnic tables, that was it. But it was the wrong shape – too tall and thin. Well, the light played tricks, and the way the snow piled up on top of stuff could do the same with shapes and outlines.
But he knew the layout of the Height by now, after all these years, and there was no table directly ahead of where the car was parked now.
He’d got himself mixed up, that was it. Hadn’t parked quite where he’d thought. Besides, whatever he was looking at wasn’t moving. It was just standing still.
Same as it had been until he’d turned on the lights.
“Sod this,” he muttered aloud. He’d been heading back anyway, hadn’t he? Well, then; if this wasn’t his cue to shift his backside he didn’t know what was.
He shifted into reverse, looking up to check the rearview.
The wind lifted the snow like a curtain, revealing three thin, crouching shapes at the edge of the snowed-up picnic area, beside the road.
Tom Graham was not a man given to any language stronger than “bloody hell” and “sod that” – Thelma had cured him of that habit long ago, to the extent he’d ever possessed it – but he quite distinctly heard himself utter the words “Fuck me sideways” at this point, and in a dismayingly thin and wavery tone.
They weren’t moving. They were at the edge of the light. He remembered how the first thing, if he hadn’t imagined it – but by now he knew he hadn’t – had bolted when the headlights came on. Didn’t like the light. If he reversed quickly, they might scatter from the tail-lights.
Although those weren’t as bright as the headlights. And maybe the first thing had only been startled by the light, rather than actually afraid of it.
Tom looked forward, through the windscreen, and could no longer deny another thin shape was indeed crouching in front of the car. Or, moments later, several others.
Reverse at full speed towards the road – that seemed the best option. Even so, he glanced left and right, out of habit, only to see there were more of them. They were much closer on either side of the car.
Tom shifted gears into reverse; as he did, something hit the rear of the Land Rover, shattering glass. When he looked back, he saw one of the tail-lights was out, the darkness behind the car thicker, and that the thin things were moving.
Then something hit the front of the car, and one of the headlights went.
Looking ahead, he saw the crouched shapes stir into spiderlike motion. Tom flung the gear into reverse, but as he did so a thin limb jerked and a third blow struck the front of the Land Rover. Glass shattered again, and the last of the light extending ahead of the Land Rover collapsed in on itself into snow-swirling darkness. With a blur of scuttling motion, a horde of pale shapes engulfed the car.
Daniel Church’s The Hollows is out now, published by Angry Robot Books in North American and in the UK. The author also has a launch event this evening, hosted by Blackwells — details of which you can find here.