SSV is happy to present a preview of Michelle Browne’s newest book, After the Garden. It will be published in 2014. We’re happy to release a series of the upcoming novel and give our readers a taste of what’s to come! A segment will be released on Saturday. Keep an eye out and read along with us.
~ After the Garden ~
A young woman is experiencing memories of The Time Before. She and some other Bearers are trying to solve the riddle of their past and stay under the radar, but a certain fanatical cult may have other ideas. There’s a chance that love might complicate things, but in a world of ruin, poverty, and decadence, it might also be her undoing…
Hours passed, and it was night again. The town was waking up, and even from the manse, they could hear the noise and lights beginning to rise in the central south.
“So, Hamza,” said Karine, “You look sharp. Plans for the evening?”
“Why, yes,” said Hamza. “I was thinking, go out to the closest pub, order a drink, and see if I can find a piece—and quiet.”
“Hamza,” said Karine, “You are a scoundrel.”
“Why, thank you.”
“And doesn’t he know it,” muttered Callaghn.
“Oh no. You know, if nothing else, I do have standards. I always play fair—if I go to bed with them, they think it was their idea. Perhaps you’d like to come along, boys? Especially you, Kerrick. You haven’t had a good fuck—”
“—in some time, I know. I’m just not in the mood.”
Hamza raised his eyebrow in disbelief. “’Here comes Romeo, here comes Romeo—without his roe, like a dried herring. O flesh, flesh, how art thou fishified!’”
“’A gentleman that loves to hear himself talk, and will speak more in a minute than he will stand to in a month,’” Kerrick snapped.
Karine turned away so they wouldn’t notice her grin.
“I told you, Hamza, I’m not in the mood. Enough of the riddles.”
“Oh, come off it! I’m sure there’s something on the leg buffet that’ll catch your interest.”
Kerrick shook his head. “I don’t have the appetite for it tonight.”
Hamza blinked. “Something bothering you? You are not yourself.”
Kerrick drew his hand to the back of his neck. “I can’t put a finger on it. I just have the feeling that something’s going to happen…”
“Well, the better the reason for you to join me! You know women go for dark, brooding types, and if you’re going to be sulky, you’ll have the perfect look. And sex will certainly get your mind off whatever’s ailing you.”
He couldn’t help laughing in return. “I’ll have to pass,” said Kerrick. “It’s not a sulk, this time.”
“No woof-woof?” Karine asked.
“No woof-woof,” Kerrick confirmed. No ‘black dog’, as they called it. “But I still don’t feel like going out.”
“I’ll come,” offered Callaghn.
“All right,” Hamza answered. He glanced distractedly at Kerrick again. “Well, see you soon.” He went out the doorway with Callaghn; Kerrick lifted a hand without turning.
The moment Hamza and Callaghn left, Karine walked over to Kerrick. “What’s eating you? You’re even more laconic than usual tonight.”
“I really don’t know. I know it’s not particularly like me.” He distractedly rubbed at the scar on the side of his face. “Could be the black dog again, but it hasn’t bitten me, so to speak, in years.” Karine nodded. “It’s just that—well, you recall that we were used for target practice an evening or two ago. I thought people around here didn’t mind us. And no one knows, but…”
“They’re still TRs. We’re odd to them. And chance attacks, drunks getting sloppy with their bows, happen often enough.”
“What do we have to steal, though?” Kerrick brushed aside unwelcome memories of breaking and entering. Evaluating it with his old thief’s eye, he didn’t see much. Food, sure, but they made a point of not having much wealth out in the open. There were a few colourful wall-hangings, silk that could be sold, but little else. Silk… “Hey, wait a minute. Where are the others?”
“Oh, Chris and Eva were down at the marketplace, shopping. Arthur came along to make sure they didn’t get into trouble.” She glanced at their mechanical clock, and paused to wind it for a moment. “They’ll be back very shortly. What are you going to do tonight? It’s only seven o’clock.”
“I think I might read a bit. If you need me, I’ll be in the tower.” Without waiting for her answer, he padded silently down the hallway.
He wasn’t having a fragment episode—though if there was time, he often sought privacy for those—but he wondered if it was the ‘black dog’ coming back after all. It felt different, though; it was a sense of foreboding.
Below him, neat, precise Karine was probably tidying something. Her medical training in both the last life and her current one had made her positively fanatical about cleanliness. He wondered if she was feeling self-conscious, running her hand over the back of her neck. He knew his moodiness was irritating her, but couldn’t bring himself to care.
Kerrick smiled as he reached the door to the tower. The others would be back soon, but a book and some peace sounded like an excellent way to spend the wait. He considered Shakespeare, but he still had the Achebe book sitting out. Listening to the spiders scrabbling in the rooms below, he opened the latch.
His patchwork haven awaited. Lighting a small gas stove, he tapped some of the reservoir water from his collection and filtration barrel, retrieved some herbs, and prepared himself tea.
The house was far in the distance now. She had been glancing back continuously, almost wondering whether it was following her, but it was just a speck now, a dash of pepper on the horizon. The town, in contrast, was larger, closer, and more distinct. Time to get some rest.
She walked over to a copse and laid her coat on the ground. It would be warmer under tree cover. The sun was low in the sky, ripe and succulent, like an orange. She took her knife out of its sheath by her hip and sliced a few branches neatly from their connection to the main arm. Notching them together into a frame, she then chose some slender branches from a white birch and wove them over and through it. It took her half an hour to complete the shelter, and only a moment or two to assemble a ring of stones around some kindling for a fire.
Touching the air above the wood and stirring it lightly with a finger, the pale warmth of orange flames sprang up. She picked up a handful of flame and balanced it on her palm. She smiled to herself as she worked with it, confining it to her hands but enjoying the pleasant, tingling warmth. When the hour grew too late, she blew on the fire, and it fizzled out. Pulling her coat close, she began to hum a soft song to herself. She tried to remember the lyrics, but she couldn’t grasp them. Memories of the temple and her family flickered, but she pushed them back. They were fading already; better not to dwell on the loss. It was enough, though, to kill her good cheer, and she ate her dried meat and berries very slowly and sadly. The only thing left to soothe her to sleep was the tune, spiraling away into the emptiness like smoke in the night.
Check out Michelle Browne’s website for more information on the author and her work.