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    The Sandman

    Now an eBook on Kindle from Amazon

    Kindle eBooks at:

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    The Sandman

    READ this FREE sample chapter

    Prologue

    They pulled the car off the road, bouncing down a track and into the pine woods, before reversing behind a thicket of brambles and turning off the engine. Neither spoke. After a few moments a vague, sparkling cloud caught the boy's attention as it rose and fell in a shard of sunlight between the trees. It was, he knew, only a swarm of flying ants celebrating the beginning of life, but, as he watched, it occurred to him that it was like seeing a wraith.
    The girl saw it, too. But then, stretching her brown legs, she smiled. She had a pretty smile, at sixteen all promise, and, taking it as a signal, the boy leant across and kissed her cheek. She watched him out of the corner of her eye, amused. Then, very practically, she began to check the Wal-Mart payslip against the items in the bag which lay wedged between her ankles. There was half a roast chicken, some ready-mixed avocado salad, a large bag of popcorn, a basket of strawberries and then, a treat, vanilla slices from the bakery counter.
    Getting out of the car, the boy opened the trunk and withdrew a blanket. A basket containing glasses and a bottle of Californian Merlot followed, together with some cans of beer. Joining him, the girl picked up a red and white checked tablecloth and matching napkins, then pulled out a blue canvas backpack. Her shoulder sagged slightly under its weight, but when the boy offered to carry it she laughed and pushed him away. Then, threading her arms through the straps, she set off through the woods, leading the way up a sharp incline and out on to the cream shoulder of an open field.
    It was, they agreed, a perfect day, the barley stubble springy underfoot, the sun warm on their faces, and, as they strolled side by side, they made bets on how high the thermometer might climb. From another hill came the faint sound of metallic threshing from the harvester that must have passed that way a day earlier.
    Quickly they half circled the brow of the hill. The boy was tall and serious, his hair dark and wavy, while his glasses were round and bookish; the girl, less conservative, was neat and athletic in her long, beige shorts and collarless white shirt, her hair the colour of pale copper. At one point they stopped and looked down through a gap in the wooded slopes to the pleasant white houses of their neat New Hampshire town, and the girl pointed out the maple tree which stood outside her home. Then they walked on. It was, the boy thought, like a moment from a television commercial in which they were featuring.
    At the uppermost edge of the field, behind a fence, was a copse of trees that capped the summit of the hill. There, twenty or so paces into the wood, a shallow cleft in the rocks had made a natural basin a few yards across. It was their place. Reaching it, the boy looked around carefully. He’d been half afraid another couple might have discovered it, too, and defiled it. But the dry grass was upright and undisturbed.
    Letting the backpack slip from her shoulders, the girl began laying out the blanket and then the tablecloth on the ridge of land at the centre of the basin. The boy uncorked and poured the wine.
    They were thoughtful as they ate. At one point a blue jay flapped noisily from a tree just above them, and they glanced up, startled, before laughing at themselves. Otherwise there was nothing to distract from the enjoyment of each other, and when they spoke it was of routine matters, classes they shared and the idiosyncrasies of friends and teachers.
    It was deep into the afternoon before they made love. That had been the plan; that the wait would increase the anticipation. They'd finished the wine and were a little drunk, and the boy was eating from the bag of popcorn when the girl began to unbutton his shirt. His skin was smooth and quite white. He didn't believe in sunbathing, he said, and she teased him about it. No, seriously, he insisted, he didn't want to get skin cancer. She giggled.
    Playfully they undressed one another. Usually sex was uncomfortable or rushed, in the dark in the car, in friends' bedrooms at parties, or in their own rooms when their parents were out. But on this day they had all the time in the world. They wanted it to be perfect.
    It wasn't. The anticipation was too much. The girl understood, and, as the boy melted inside her, she took his head in her hands and stroked his hair. Sometimes perfection had to be practised, she reassured. The first time was only ever a rehearsal, anyway.
    The boy wanted to sleep now, to extend this moment of happiness, and pressing his face into her skin he was aware of the different scents, traces of Johnson's Baby Powder and fresh ironing.
    Around them the tall grass stood like a barrier to the world, and turning on his back on the blanket he stared at the branch of a pine, noticing for the first time the length of the needles. Then, with a slight sideways movement of his head, he found a young oak, pushing upwards through the trees towards the light. There was so much to see. He closed his eyes. It was just after four. The sun was at its warmest, and he wondered what his parents and brother were doing over in Wellfleet, and then pictured them sunbathing and playing on the beach. This summer, for the first time, he'd stayed at home.
    Perhaps he did sleep. When he opened his eyes the girl’s iPod was playing familiar music through the speakers she’d brought, and she was sitting up, adjusting the levels, murmuring the lyrics to a song he'd heard so many times before. He smiled, admiring the gymnastic straightness of her body and the fake ruby that was studded into her earlobe. Appearances were deceptive: she didn't look like the brightest girl in class.
    Becoming aware of his gaze, she picked up a speaker, and, placing it in the grass behind their heads, brought the volume higher. Then she turned back to him. And when they made love again, this time it was perfect.
    He was still lying inside her dozing, when he felt the touch at the back of his neck. A moment earlier he'd been aware of a movement as the girl had reached for something in her backpack, but, sleepy from the wine and sex, he'd been too contented to move.
    At first he didn't recognise the feel of metal on his skin, but when he tried to turn his head, the muzzle found the soft spot at the junction between the base of his skull and his neck. Then he realised. She hadn’t been kidding.
    Below him her eyes, the pupils wide as though sucking in every last atom of light, never left his. Smiling, she pushed herself upwards, closer to him and he felt her breasts flattening against his skin. Her stomach was trembling beneath him, her thighs and arms clamped around him. He was trapped.
    The music was now loud, as loud as it would go, and he imagined it carrying across the fields and woods and on down to the town. And he thought of his father and mother and wondered what they would think.
    Both her hands were around his neck, gripping him, holding the gun. "No," he pleaded, and tried to struggle free.
    “I love you so much,” she smiled. Then, reaching up, she kissed him.

    No-one heard the gunshot. In the fields below the rattle of the harvester drowned everything. Later a wind got up and blew remnants from the unfinished bag of popcorn around the sheltered basin of grass, into the trees and out on to the shaved surface of the hill. 

    Where THE SANDMAN Came From