Only twenty-four hours until I get down the business of copyrighting, ISBNing, and uploading Before I Sleep to Amazon’s KDP servers. The last week has been creatively harrowing. It’s hard to believe how many changes I still find to make, every single time I read it through.
Anyway, here is a portion of the book’s second scene. Only one small spoiler here, but it’s one you’d find out in the first few sentences of the book anyway, so why not 😉
It was the sort of bright, biting-crisp autumn day on which you feel hot while you walk and cold while you stand still. Far away across the wheat field, Matthew Farmer was skulking around, watching dead stumps burn away. Plumes of smoke towered like ghostly fingers reaching down from the heavens to rake the rocky ground.
The spreading red oak in the center of our first clearing was hung with a ghastly array of ornaments. Today’s pigs had been killed in the early morning, and were already scalded and scraped by the time Cora and I made our way outdoors. The men were busily cutting out the bellies, intestines, and urinary tracts.
I found Renske shoulder-deep in a barrel of blood, in the early stages of making black pudding. She smiled at me with her brilliantly white teeth. I smiled back, pleased, and moved closer to her to talk.
At about eight feet away I was hit by the metallic-sharp tang of gore. It turned my stomach. The smell of my own blood had been the defining odor of the last couple of days, and I had had more than enough of it.
Pressing my sleeve to my nose, I moved away from her and nearer the carcasses, which were nearly blood-free. The smell of pork and mesentery was overwhelming, but I found it preferable.
“Teaching the wee missie early, are you?” Amy Shepherd, holding a basin of intestines, stopped to peek at the baby as she passed.
“We could use a distraction. Where are the other babies?”
“Senga has ‘em in our cabin,” she answered, nodding in its direction. “She had ‘em both down for naps last I checked. She could maybe work the same magic on yours.”
I squinted against the sun while trying to smile at Amy. I doubted that Cora would be peaceful until she had had a meal—please God may that happen any hour now—but Amy had had three children of her own, and if she was confident that Senga could help, I was willing to try.
Out of the corner of my eye I saw a splash of yellow-green liquid erupt from the pig Beric was working on. He had nicked the gallbladder.
“Fook!” He scrambled to his feet, wiping bile out of his eyes. “Whoreson hit me square i’ th’een!”
Angus, who was in charge of the slaughtering, took him by the shoulder. “Come on man, don’t rub it. Oy, can we have some water?”
My arms were full, so I stood out of the way while damage control swooped in. The first buckets of water weren’t for Beric, but for the pig: it was important to rinse as much bile as possible off of the meat, as quickly as possible. Even with a prompt rinsing, the affected portions of the carcass had to be shaved away.
After the important buckets had been drawn, Lindsey Farmer stepped in to help Beric. She was eleven years old, but a motherly little thing who loved to help with children and sick people. With blonde hair, blue eyes, and a smattering of freckles across her narrow nose, she was also turning into the settlement beauty. She whispered comforting things while she bathed Beric’s eyes.
He sat on the ground with his hands braced behind him, manfully absorbing the attention. He had taken his shirt off for the messy and very physical job of butchering, but now that he was still, the cold air raised goosebumps on his pale Scottish flesh. The bile had made his eyes water and his nose run. Like all of us, he was still thin from the hungry winter before, so thin that every time he sniffed, all the muscles along his ribs and stomach moved visibly in an eerie echo of the exposed porcine anatomy behind him.
Angus, who had been away to supervise the carcass rescue, returned.
“Can ye go back to work, man?”
“Aye, soonish. My vision’s a bit blurred but I’m sure it’ll clear. Give it a few minutes.”