I’m thrilled to be opening the Blog Tour for Pat Young’s “Till The Dust Settles” with an extract from the book.
About the book:
The lives of two women who never meet are about to collide.
Lucie married young. Her husband has become abusive, controlling and violent. Having lost everything as a result of the marriage, Lucie decides it is time to walk away.
As she leaves the house on the morning of September 11th, heading to a job interview at the World Trade Centre and the promise of a new life, the unthinkable happens.
On a street in New York, choking on the dust, Lucie stumbles upon an opportunity for a new life.
She thought the grass would be greener. But starting again is never that simple…
Sometimes, what lies ahead is even more deadly.
Excerpt: Chapter One
The last sound Lucie heard was her own scream.
She lost her footing and pitched forward onto the hard ground. As if somebody had flicked the switch on the city, the light went out. With the blackness came silence.
When Lucie opened her eyes, the world was monochrome. White shadows drifted through a strange, cloying darkness she could smell and taste. A weak beam of light swung towards her, a halo through the dust. Didn’t dying people speak of a tunnel of light? Lucie wasn’t ready to be drawn in to whatever lay beyond. She closed her eyes to concentrate on staying alive, leaving her brain to scan for memories.
Images flickered and faltered on her eyelids like some old movie. Gaping mouths screaming silently, pedestrians spilling off sidewalks into the path of cabs, disgorged drivers pointing at the sky.
Where no sky should be.
Just a thunderhead of smoke billowing upwards, filling the blue space. Blotting out the sun over Manhattan.
Lucie lay on the street, trying to make sense of it all, head throbbing, breath rasping. There was something wrong with that picture. Only smoke where the South Tower should be. Then she remembered the collapse, right before her eyes. The tsunami of smoke had raced towards her, funnelling between blocks, stealing the air. The sound wave, loud enough to feel, crashed down a canyon of tall buildings.
Men and women were running in a hurricane of paper, a storm of detritus. Lucie stood, frail as a sapling, till a man bundled into her, his mouth shaping an apology as he stumbled away. A teenage boy, bandana clutched to his mouth, grabbed her arm as he passed, trying to drag her with him. Her legs refused to move. He ran on, saving himself. An elderly couple jogged sedately into her line of vision, and disappeared into the windstorm.
But her feet were set in concrete.
A running snowman swooped like a hawk to snatch a young child up into his embrace and ran on, without breaking stride. A dark-haired woman, chic and slim, stopped by Lucie’s side. She removed her shoes and cast them away, their red soles gazing at the sky as they fell onto the dusty concrete to lie with the others. She caught Lucie’s eye, tearful, then ran on.
Lucie looked down at her own shabby courts. She was loath to leave the only pair of heels she possessed, but knew the other woman was right; she’d run much faster without them. So Lucie broke into a run, clutching her shoes to her chest until someone crashed into her, knocking her to her knees. People piled up behind her, logs in a river.
A strong hand took her elbow, pulling her to her feet. Galvanised, she ran on. At last she was keeping up with the crowd, racing the unraceable.
She sensed the cloud catching up. Felt its force push her in the back, propel her forward. Getting closer. Then she smelt it, saw it, tasted it. Was engulfed by it. Swallowed up. Cut off from everything and everyone around her. And still running. Her legs, once so reluctant to move, now refused to stop. Running and running till blinded and lost, she tripped and hurtled into darkness.
How long had that been?
She opened her eyes. The beam of light had gone and the murk was clearing. Around her, shadowy outlines moved, grey ghosts in the silence. Blinking hard, she tried to clear her vision. Her throat hurt when she tried to swallow and she tasted bitter ash on her tongue. She tried to spit but her mouth was dry-coated and no saliva would come.
Then the silence became sound with a brutality that hurt her ears, a cacophony of sirens, alarms, and screaming. And more screaming. A baby cried and random names were shouted over and over. One persistent voice was finally answered with a weak, ‘I’m here, Bob. Over here.’ And tears.
The whole city was crying.
Lucie wiped away a stray tear, temporarily blinding herself with the ash and grit she rubbed into her eyes. Her hands, arms and legs were all coated in a thick layer of fine, grey powder, as if her whole body had been dredged in talcum.
Lucie looked around, desperate for an explanation. Vague, indistinct shapes stirred and moved, every one the same pale, greyish white. All colour had been erased in an instant.
She tried to sit, disentangling her legs from the obstacle that had sent her sprawling. Through the ash rain Lucie made out a woman’s legs, slim, tight-skirted and splayed at odd angles. No shoes.
With a muttered apology, Lucie pushed herself away. When the woman did not move, Lucie knelt by her side and tried to roll her over but although she was pencil thin, she felt heavy. Dead weight.
‘Hey, you okay?’ whispered Lucie hoarsely, as she manoeuvred the woman onto her side. Despite how badly it hurt to talk, Lucie persevered. ‘Hello. Can you hear me? Can you open your eyes?’ The woman’s eyes remained closed as if in sleep and, for the second time that day, Lucie thought she might be touching a corpse. Horrified, she let go and the woman flopped, face down, into the ash snow.
Feel for a pulse. That’s what she should have done this morning, instead of running away. With tentative fingers, Lucie touched the woman’s neck. Nothing. She moved her fingers leaving petal patterns in the fine dust on the warm skin. There was no movement beneath her fingertips, no reassuring beat of life, nothing to feel.
Lucie needed to find help.
The grey ghosts had moved away and for a moment the world seemed strangely empty.
Then, the sound of another voice, indistinct, but close by. A huge white outline of a person appeared, barely visible.
‘Help me,’ Lucie said, her voice rough. The shape did not react. She coughed and tried again, ‘Please?’
‘Somebody there?’ The diffused, muggy beam of a flashlight shone in her face, the same light she’d seen earlier. ‘Ma’am, you can’t stay here.’
‘This woman needs help.’ Lucie’s words came out in a pathetic whisper.
‘You have to leave. Go north and keep moving.’
Lucie was hauled to her feet and given a push. She tried to resist, then saw the man’s face, shocked beyond belief. His eyes were empty. ‘We can’t just leave her.’
‘I have to clear the street.’ He pushed her again, none too gently, then pleaded, ‘Please. Please get going …’
‘Just let me get my purse.’
He stood while she dropped to her knees and crawled around in the ash, scrabbling till her hand snagged a leather strap, then she got to her feet and started to run.
Lucie ran till her rasping lungs told her she could run no more and she slowed reluctantly to a walk, joining the ranks of a grey army that marched forward while glancing back every few seconds as if afraid of being followed.
She couldn’t remember dropping her shoes, but they’d gone. Her bare feet stung from slapping against asphalt and every bone in her legs ached.
‘What the hell just happened?’
Lucie found herself face to face with a human snowman. Every part of the man’s body was dusted in fine, grey powder. Only the deep voice gave a clue to his gender.
‘What the hell was that?’ he asked her. Lucie stared at him. Inside grey lips his mouth was an obscenity of bright red. Lucie looked at his eyes, two hollows in day-old snow. A tear carved a clean channel down his cheek, only to disappear like a raindrop in the desert. ‘What’s going on?’
Lucie shook her head but the man paid no attention; he was dazed, staring somewhere over her shoulder, deep into the dust cloud, his senses trying to make sense of something that made no sense.
Lucie walked past him, she needed to keep moving. There was nothing she could say, and her mouth was so dry she doubted she could form a word. The dust ate at her throat, her nose, her lips. She badly needed to sneeze, she reached for her handbag to get a tissue. When the bag wouldn’t open, she dusted it off with her hand and realised why. It wasn’t hers. The shape was much the same, a brown leather bag on a single shoulder strap, but this bag felt softer and more expensive, even with its coating of dust and ash. Hers was a cheap, drugstore imitation, a very rare gift from Curtis.
She’d picked up the other woman’s bag. ‘Oh no,’ groaned Lucie. She couldn’t afford to lose her bag. Not today. Her entire life was in that bag. She needed to get that bag.
Fighting off her panic, Lucie turned and raced back the way she’d come. She felt like a minnow swimming against the tide. Struggling to make headway through the masses heading north, she charged and shoved.
‘Hey! Watch out,’ scolded a small man as she barrelled into him and bounced off like a pinball.
‘Sorry,’ she mouthed and ran on into the dust cloud. It was thicker here, catching in her raw throat. Every instinct told her to turn back to clearer air. Spectral figures appeared out of the ash fog for a few seconds then vanished again. She was the only one heading south.
Lucie took a few more steps then stopped, covered her mouth with her hand and looked around. She could see nothing. The bright blue sky had disappeared and with it the tall buildings that defined the skyline. Lucie had no point of reference other than the flow of people heading north. She might never find the woman. Even if she were still lying in the street, Lucie had no idea where. She was lost and Lucie’s bag was lost with her.
Wandering around like this, breathing ash into her lungs, was solving nothing. She started to cry, everything was gone.
When the next surge of people passed, Lucie joined them.
About the Author:
Pat Young grew up in the south west of Scotland where she still lives, sometimes. She often goes to the other extreme, the south west of France, in search of sunlight.
Pat never expected to be a writer. Then she found a discarded book with a wad of cash tucked in the flyleaf. ‘What if something awful happened to the person who lost this book?’ she thought, and she was off.
Pat knew nothing of writing, but she knew a thing or two about books, having studied English, French and German at Glasgow University. A passion for languages led to a career she loved and then a successful part-time business that allowed her some free-time, at last.
Pat had plans, none of which included sitting at her desk from daybreak till dusk. But some days she has to. Because there’s a story to be told. And when it’s done, she can go out to play. On zip-wires and abseil ropes, or just the tennis court.
Pat writes psychological thrillers. Till the Dust Settles is her debut, from Bloodhound Books.