The Refuge

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The Refuge is a stand-alone novel I wrote about ten years ago, and I am finally beginning to revise it. Unlike most of my writing, it is not a murder mystery, but a kind of dystopian wartime survival drama.

I am hoping to release it in 2017, but things may change: so many books to write and edit, so little time!

Here’s a snippet…

They came out of the dark night of the caves into, not bright sunlight, but slanting shadow beneath an outcrop of rock. Deep shade, and the air was almost as cold outside as it had been inside the mountain, although much fresher. This would be the perfect place to store their food, being dry and cool as well as spacious, they realised.

Stepping carefully across the floor of broken, sliding shale and onto the springy mat of grass was an experience that conjured an array of feelings: a sense of achievement, a sense of arrival, and even an awareness, an anticipation of a whole new world of possibilities, and more poignantly, a deep sense of relief.

What lay before them seemed to be perfect, a paradise. Already the crazy plan seemed not merely possible but probable. But there was so much they didn’t yet know. Was there a reliable supply of fresh clean water? Would the soil support a crop? Was there the possibility of building a strong shelter? Anna looked around her.

There, right in front of her, was a vista of the kind only a refuge can offer. Nothing pleases the eye or the heart so much as a safe haven, and the knowledge it is accessible.

They moved forward, emerging from the shadows and found themselves unexpectedly standing in bright sunshine, on green grass, the shadows of rock and the tunnels receding. Glancing down Anna caught sight of a small wildflower bobbing in the gentle breeze. A bee hovered, then landed on the flower’s open centre.

She wanted to cry. She wanted to laugh. It was all too much. The simple beauty of the everyday world seemed so much more than the sum of its parts, her heart was captivated, and the thought of going back, if only for the few days it would take to gather all that they needed—if there truly was water—was repugnant. Already after two minutes, she felt as though she never wanted to leave this place.

If only there was water.

‘Even if there isn’t any water,’ he said, breaking into her thoughts, ‘I would still rather be here.’

‘Even if there’s no water?’ Surprised, she looked into his face, into his eyes scrunched half-closed against the strength of the sun, half-expecting to find a poet hiding there.

He tried to explain. ‘It’s not as if we’ve got anywhere else to go, so I think I would rather die of thirst here, or starvation even, in this beautiful spot,’ and he laughed a little self-consciously at his own words, ‘in this—kind of paradise—than die back there in rubble and carnage.’

And she understood what he meant. She agreed. She took his hand, pulled him back to the caves.

‘In that case, there’s no need to look for water. As you say, live or die, this is the better place. It’s getting late. If we don’t go back now we’ll break the curfew. And if I don’t go back now, I won’t want to go back at all.’

Back inside the cave it was cold. The air was stale and damp. The lamps on the front of their helmets lit up small patches of the rocky path. It was a good thing they had marked their way with chalk, as on the way back they noticed other turnings here and there, which they had not noticed on the way in.

The opening of one of the tunnels was quite large.

‘Wait for me,’ he said, and before she’d had the time to protest, he’d stepped off into the other tunnel, leaving her with no choice but to lean against the cave wall and wait.

The small gleam of her own lamp seemed little comfort as she sat there. He had quickly disappeared from sight. There must be bends in the tunnel. She felt annoyed too, both with herself and with him. With herself for being afraid, with him because he knew she was afraid. She was angry with herself for being so girly, so clinging, but he should have remembered she hated being inside the mountain. He should have remembered that she, like everyone else in the world, had irrational fears.

All these fears now surfaced as she stood there forcing herself to remember he would not be gone for long, that neither of them was likely to come to any harm, and that he would never abandon her or leave her stranded. He would come back.

She tried to concentrate on the list she’d made of equipment they’d need. It was hard to know what to bring and what to leave behind, as they had no way of knowing how long they would be there in the refuge as she was already calling it to herself.

Obviously they would need cooking implements, and food, quite a lot of dried or preserved food. Dry goods and staples. Flour. Rice. Sugar, salt, tea, coffee. Dried milk, dried fruit, oatmeal. Water purification tablets, just in case, she told herself. Soap. String and rope. Scissors, knives, tools, ground sheets, tents, sleeping bags, kettles.

A small scraping sound on rock reached her alert ears and she straightened up, relieved to see him coming back towards her.

***