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Saturday, June 25, 2011

Adam's Fall - an excerpt

What would you do if you found a mute, terrified teenage boy, dressed in rags, shivering in a graveyard?

He has no way to communicate with you; you have no way to know if anything you say is understood.  Would you take him in, feed him, clothe him, call the authorities, or just walk by and pretend that it is someone else's problem?

Adam's Fall is a novel about the rarest kind of love; love that gives, risks everything, and expects nothing in return.  Ultimately, it is about how love can change everything -- even the course of history.

Adam's Fall is available as an e-book from Amazon and Barnes&Noble.

Excerpted below is the first part of chapter one.


November 1870

The Reverend Henry Caldwell Skelton, Vicar of Lisby, held his lantern up, pulled his woolen greatcoat tighter, and shivered. The wind, which he was convinced had originated in the arctic wasteland and had an actual malign, intelligent will, scorned his efforts, finding any tiny gap to slip the knife in, till the good clergyman’s long thin bones were chilled right through.

This is Mrs. Thornley’s fault, Mr. Skelton thought, indulging himself in an uncharacteristic lapse from charity. This is the third time she’s sent for me because she was convinced her husband was dying, and each time it’s turned out to be dyspepsia. The old man will probably outlive me, at this rate, because I’m going to die of a fever from being out in this weather.

As if the elements had heard his thoughts, Mr. Skelton felt the sudden sting of a thin drizzle strike his face. He winced, and gave a rueful glance up at the dark night sky.

Keep me safe, Lord, even if you can’t keep me warm, he thought, trying to shift his mind into a more pious and compassionate track. And at least there’ll be a fire and a nice warming glass of brandy at the end of the road.
That seemed a cheering thought, and Mr. Skelton quickened his pace, his boots now landing with an occasional splash as his feet found the unseen puddles that were beginning to form on the road to the vicarage.

The little circle of light from Mr. Skelton’s lantern seemed powerless to do more than to keep him from falling into the ditch; it illuminated nothing more than the bit of road immediately in front of him. He knew this stretch of road well (Thanks to Mrs. Thornley, he thought, and then banished further recriminations against her from his mind as yet another sin against proper charity), and he pictured the fields, copses, thickets, and occasional farmhouses he was passing on the way home. In the day it would have seemed friendly and familiar, even though this was November in the British Midlands, and the fog and drizzle were chilly and incessant. But nighttime erases your knowledge of a place. Everything dissolves into a blank, uniform mystery. It is no wonder, thought Mr. Skelton, that the men of old were afraid of the dark, and thought that was when spirits walked.

The road turned a little to the left, and Mr. Skelton lifted his lantern higher; he was further along than he’d thought. He must be passing through Elton Wood, and soon there would be the little cemetery where the dear departed souls of Lisby had been buried for centuries. Then a little rise, over a hilltop, and (had it been daytime) he’d see the spire of the church in the distance, and just beyond that, home.

He had just come out from under the eaves of the trees of Elton Wood when the rain stopped. No matter; he was damp through already, it was too late. As if to make up for it, the wind picked up, and he saw flickers of starlight as the clouds were torn asunder, and once, a glimpse of the crescent moon. Very close, now; he must be nearing the cemetery. He smiled a little, even though his teeth were chattering.

And that’s when he heard the noise.

It was a thin, low moaning, like an animal in pain. Mr. Skelton was not a superstitious man; he held a Doctorate in Divinity from Oxford, and prided himself on having risen above the simple peasant beliefs of his origins (his family hailed from the wilds of north Yorkshire, something he didn’t tend to mention to his parishioners, most of whom were of staid Midlands stock and tended to think of Yorkshire as a frozen wasteland inhabited by savages). But there – at that time, alone, in a cemetery, at night – it is doubtful that anyone would have been steady enough of mind not to have their skin prickle, and their heart pound.

It came again. A breathy, despairing moan, from somewhere off to his left.

Animal? thought Mr. Skelton. It must be an animal. And he was immediately ashamed of himself, as he realized that his conviction that it was an animal was because if it were, he would be under no obligation to investigate. Whereas, if it were a human… well, his duty was clear. The Lord Jesus himself had praised the Good Samaritan, who stopped to care for the man who had been injured by highwaymen.

Mr. Skelton stopped walking.

“Hello?” he said, trying to keep the tremor out of his voice.

No response but the wind.

“Is there someone there?” he said.

Then, there was another quiet moan, again coming from somewhere to the left of the road. It wasn’t loud, but it sounded like the noise made by someone or something in the last extremities of terror or pain. And then, the moan was followed by a cough – a cough that was clearly human.

Mr. Skelton gave the matter no further thought, but turned and walked off the road and into the cemetery. Afterwards, he reflected that that single act was the bravest thing he had ever done.

There were half-seen glimpses of marble headstones, carved urns, statues of praying angels made spectral in the wavering lantern light. The Lord is my shepherd, he thought, and even his thoughts sounded tremulous. I shall not want… He maketh me to lie down in green pastures, he leadeth me beside the still waters… He restoreth my soul…

“Where are you?” he said, keeping his voice steady with an effort. “Do you need help?”

Another moan answered him. Close; perhaps twenty feet to his right. The hairs on the back of his neck prickled, but he turned in that direction and walked resolutely forward.

There was a sudden noise of someone scrambling, followed by another moan and the sound of rapid breathing, this time so close that Mr. Skelton jumped back inadvertently. “Lord protect me,” he said in a whisper, and held up his lantern. “If you need help,” he said, in a louder voice, “I’ll try to help you, but you must let me know where you are.”

There was a quiet noise of movement, and Mr. Skelton took a slow step in that direction, and then the lantern light illuminated a face.

It was the face of a boy of about sixteen years. His face seemed all eyes – Mr. Skelton had never seen anyone who looked so terrified. His dark, overlong hair clung to his scalp in curling, wet ribbons. His skin was so white as to seem transparent in the yellow glow. Ragged clothing, torn and filthy, hung from his body. He was barefoot.

Mr. Skelton gave a great, deep breath, and felt relief wash through his body. All of the demons and ghosts, and the more prosaic fears of robbers and murderers, vanished in a flood of compassion. He knelt down on the wet grass, and set his lantern down on a gravestone.

“Child, how can you be out here in this weather?” he said, and immediately realized that it was a ridiculous question; if he was out here, it was because he had nowhere else to go.

“What is your name?” Mr. Skelton asked, but the boy just stared at him.

“Where is your home?”

The huge, dark eyes continued to stare. There was no sound but the boy’s breathing, and the chattering of his teeth.

“We must get you somewhere warm,” Mr. Skelton said. “You’ll catch your death out here. If you haven’t already.” He stood up suddenly, and the boy recoiled, a thin whine coming from his lips. He scuttled backwards, like a crab, his thin hands feeling blindly behind him, finally stopping only when he bumped into the headstone of a grave.

“I’m not going to hurt you,” Mr. Skelton said, gently. “You needn’t be afraid.” He held out one hand to the boy.

The boy looked at Mr. Skelton’s hand, as if unsure of what it was. Then he looked up at his face, his staring eyes locked on Mr. Skelton’s. Mr. Skelton had the eerie feeling that his thoughts were being read, but he pushed it out of his mind; the boy was simply frightened, and cold, and exhausted; perhaps also feeble-minded. The job now was to get him somewhere warm, feed him, let him sleep.

And some of the terror did leave the boy’s expression. His face relaxed a little, and tears welled up in his eyes.

“Come on, then,” Mr. Skelton said, still with his hand out.

And the boy reached out, and put his ice-cold hand into Mr. Skelton’s marginally warmer one, and stood up.

Mr. Skelton picked up the lantern and began to walk back toward the road, giving a gentle pull on the boy’s hand. The cold hand tightened on Mr. Skelton’s in a viselike grip – Mr. Skelton half turned, amazed at his strength, and once again feeling the folk tales of his youth bubble up to the surface (I’ll look back, and he’ll have turned into a demon) but the boy’s white face and wide, tragic eyes simply looked at him with a desperate expression.

He just doesn’t want to let me go, he thought. I wonder how long it’s been since anyone has been kind to him?

“We’ll get you somewhere nice and warm, and get you some food,” Mr. Skelton said. “Mrs. Dawlish will have a pot of soup on, and will have tended the fire. Won’t that be lovely?”

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