BH Panhuyzen‘s debut novel, A Tidy Armageddon is due out next week. It has been described as a mix of “heart-felt journey of human resilience” and “action-filled suspense”. To mark the novel’s imminent publication, ECW Press has provided CR with an excerpt to run. First, of course, here’s the official synopsis:
They emerge from a war bunker to find the world utterly transformed: every product of human creation has been organized by an unknown hand into a vast grid of random nine-storey blocks, each comprised of a single item type: watering cans, lighthouses, fake Christmas trees, helicopters, spoons, and everything else human culture has every produced.
Led by Afghanistan war veterans Sergeant Elsie Sharpcot, a Cree woman who has struggled against the military’s rampant racism and misogyny, and Dorian Wakely, her PTSD-afflicted second-in-command, this section of misfit soldiers must negotiate the endless passageways that separates the blocks while they search for both survivors, and answers to the source of this catastrophe. And in the meantime, they must struggle – against the elements and each other – to survive.
Passing with fear and wonder through this museum of human achievement, provisioning themselves from its treasures, the group races to outrun the approaching winter.
Intrigued? Read on for a sample from A Tidy Armageddon, taken from Chapter 13…
For Wakely, everything fell to a rhythm of reflex. By feel he set his C7’s fire control selector to full-auto, cycled the cocking handle, set his eye to the scope. He rose slightly and peered through grass down the corridor, and counted five, maybe six muzzle flashes among the small pillars of stuff, most of the attackers shooting indiscriminately.
Debris filled the air from fire hitting the block walls, mostly cork, which was mercifully light when it came down, but he could see fragments of wood and metal coming off the train cars on the corridor’s far side where Virago and Leclerc lay. To his right, Tse stretched out on his belly against the foot of the cork tile. He opened the machine gun’s feed tray and pulled the belt from the ammo box and was trying to find the receiver by touch while keeping his head low.
On his right and slightly forward of their position lay Sharpcot, who was also struggling to fire her weapon. He shouted to her but above the din of the incoming fire and destruction from the walls he couldn’t hear his own voice. To his right he could see Virago, also prone. She pulled her weapon’s trigger but nothing happened.
“Addy!” he called. He tried a second time and she turned. He tapped his weapon’s fire selector, and she looked at her own, shook her head in disbelief, and nodded.
When he turned back to his scope he saw that one of their attackers, emboldened by the apparent lack of a response from the soldiers, had stepped out from behind a pillar and stood boldly in the middle of the aisle, spraddle-legged, firing on full-auto as he swept the corridor. He was white, mid-fifties with a grizzled beard, wearing civilian camouflage, pants and coat, a baseball cap turned askew. His face grim as he fired.
Bullets struck the ground ahead of Wakely, spraying him with dirt. He thumbed the fire control to single-shot mode, set the shooter’s forehead in his crosshairs, and fired once. The man’s throat burst open and he flew backwards, gun still firing, flinging rounds into the sky.
He wondered if his scope had gone out of alignment, was making a mental a note to calibrate it later, when he recognized that he’d just killed a person. He felt himself subsiding into rumination, when he was roused by Tse opening up with the Minimi, the rapid clatter of rounds leaping away, a fountain of hot shell casings washing against his arm and helmet and flank as the pillars down the corridor erupted with hits. Virago also began firing, long discharges on full-auto. He rolled towards her.
“Shorter bursts. And move after you shoot,” he shouted into her ear. “Or they’ll find you by your muzzle flash! Tell Cheree!” Then he gave her a shove and she rolled away, fired a brief volley, rolled again towards the aisle’s far side where Leclerc was firing single rounds.
Wakely dug his toes into the earth and propelled himself towards Sharpcot, slapped the back of her calf.
She turned and said something inaudible over bursts from the machine gun.
“Say again!” he shouted.
He cursed himself for not thinking of it, reached under his body and tore a smoke grenade from its pouch, pulled the pin, and tossed it as far as he could from his prone position. It landed in the cross passageway ahead and spewed a jet of red smoke, but it lay with its nozzle pointing north, and wind from the south carried most of the smoke up the passageway.
Sharpcot tried her rifle again, hammered it in frustration. Wakely rolled left, felt the whisper of the C9 rounds pass nearby, fired a burst, rolled back and threw himself forward so he was beside her.
“Check the bolt carrier,” he shouted, reaching for the rifle. She knocked his hand away.
“I got it,” she shouted back, working on the rifle: she drew back the handle, locked it, fished fingers into the receiver and pulled out a dead grasshopper, which she showed him before flicking it away. She pushed on the bolt catch and the handle snapped in place, tapped the plunger, and fired a quick blast. She rolled right.
“They’ve got cover in those pillars. We’re ducks out here,” he cried.
“And liberal with ammo. They’re well equipped. But undisciplined.”
They each fired and rolled, careful to go neither too far right, which would put them in front of Virago and Leclerc, or left, ahead of Tse.
“Can you see Abby?” Sharpcot called.
He turned back to look, shook his head.
“We need a plan. We’ll go dry before they do,” she cried as she switched magazines, fired and rolled.
“How many?” he called when he reached her again.
“Five or six. Only one down as far as I can tell.”
“At least we know we’re not the last people on Earth,” he yelled.
“Yeah. Too bad it’s these assholes,” she remarked, and fired.
Someone, a woman, wearing black and holding a civilian assault rifle, stepped from among the pillars, very briefly, and ducked into the righthand passage, getting behind the perfume bottles. Wakely followed her and fired a round into the corner, hoping to hit her through the glass. A small cascade of bottles poured into the alley.
“Wait a second,” Sharpcot cried. “I’ve got a better idea. The bottles. Go for the bottles!”
Wakely shifted aim, started firing short bursts into the wall, and Sharpcot did the same. Brief landslides of bottles erupted around the location of the hit, but that alien attractive force maintained the block’s overall integrity. Sharpcot seized Wakely’s arm.
“Tse!” she cried.
Wakely pushed himself backwards and rolled left. As he lifted his head to speak a bullet creased the side of his helmet, sending it askew and forcing his head down.
Tse stopped firing and seized Wakely’s shoulder.
“You okay, boss?” he said when Wakely’s head came up.
Wakely blinked, ears ringing. He spent a moment trying to recall something important he needed to say. He glanced forward and saw rounds from Sharpcot’s rifle exploding along the face of perfume bottles. “Right. Uh. Corporal, see what you can do to take out the end of that bottle block!”
Tse nodded, tracked the C9 sideways and up, aiming into the west end of the block above the attackers, pouring rounds into it. The machine gun cut a deep trough, sending a flow of bottles into the passageway in front of the attackers. He swept the fire around, seeking the key, the keystone that held it all together, but the block held, seemed to shed only brief waves of glass, until abruptly a cataract flowed into the corridor in front of them, obstructing the enemy’s fire. Tse paused to retrieve a new ammo box from his ruck and set to feeding the belt into the tray. Sharpcot glanced at the block’s far end, which now looked like something from Dr. Seuss, a massive cliff perched atop a heavily eroded undercut, dripping bottles that smashed against the pile below. They could hear indiscriminate shouting among their adversaries. The wind had subsided and smoke from the grenade abruptly clouded the passageway.
Sharpcot rose to her knees, called, “Virago, Leclerc, status?”
“I’m almost out,” Virago said, dropping her rifle’s magazine and pulling another from beneath her abdomen.
“I’m still good,” Leclerc said. “Firing singles.”
Sharpcot turned and was just seeing and apprehending that Deeks was down, also on her belly behind them, but facing the opposite way, a furry mound of something indiscriminate not far past her, when a rifle round slammed her sideways and onto her back in the grass.
Wakely saw through a rift in the smoke that a man with a red beard and wearing camouflage had lifted over the drift of glass in the passage to pop off a round. The man ducked before Wakely could get a clear shot, but he fired anyway, clipped the top of the bottles to shower the attacker with glass.
He moved to where Sharpcot lay on her back, gasping for breath.
“El!” he called. “El, you all right?” He saw the tear in her TAC vest and armour, the dimple in the steel plate.
A voice floated down the passage, a woman’s shout: “Righteous, go around and get to their right flank!”
“I’m okay,” Sharpcot cried, shoving him away. “Tell Tse to get on that block!”
Wakely didn’t have to tell him. Tse rose to his feet and lifted the C9 and opened up, confident he knew where to concentrate fire. The gun thundered as he excavated a deep hollow in the most precarious part of the structure, undercutting the crown of glass above. A swift river of bottles began to flow outwards, and as the smoke grenade sputtered out Wakely saw through the thinning vapour the man who’d shot Sharpcot rise from cover, looking at the brink of glass towering above as Tse’s Minimi devoured its base. Terror on his scratched and bloodied face evident through the scope. It was a clean shot, but Wakely saved the bullet. As the river turned into a cataract, the man stumbled to get away. In the next instant the massive end of the block collapsed with an extraordinary crash, the flow spreading outwards with a sustained roar. An avalanche of bottles, a tsunami. The soldiers rose to their feet, wary of the north end that towered over them, which despite the dissolution of the opposite end maintained its integrity, as they watched the block’s entire west end deluge outward, filling the passageway ahead to a depth of 10 metres, while a scree of bottles inundated the smaller stacks among which the attackers had concealed themselves. It filled the spaces between, burying everyone and everything.
After gunfire and that cataclysmic crash, a rich quiet, punctuated by the occasional creak of glass from settling bottles, propagated over the landscape. Then a wave of perfume swept in and set everyone to coughing and retching.
“Stay sharp!” Sharpcot shouted, wiping her eyes, wet from smoke and evaporating alcohol. “This might not be done.” She staggered to the corner and swept the passageways.
“Abby, Abby!” she heard, and turned to see Virago move to where Deeks lay, face down and still. Sharpcot already knew it, had absorbed but not apprehended in the instant before she’d taken that round to her breastplate Deeks’s unnatural posture on the ground, oriented towards the dog.
She approached Leclerc and Tse, who were each standing, weary, filthy with dirt and soot, looking stunned at Virago and Wakely kneeling on each side of Deeks.
She steered Leclerc to one intersection corner, directed Tse to the other. “Anyone comes down either passage, shoot them,” she instructed.
She came softly to the others, as if fearful of disturbing them. Her eyes met Wakely’s and he gave a brief shake of his head. She kneeled by Deeks’s shoulder, glancing at the bloodied dog which lay a few paces back, lips drawn taut in a mortal grin.
Excerpted and adapted from A Tidy Armageddon by B.H. Panhuyzen. © 2023 by B.H. Panhuyzen. All rights reserved. Published by ECW Press Ltd.
BH Panhuyzen‘s A Tidy Armageddon is due to be published by ECW Press in North America and in the UK, on April 25th.