Okay, I thought this would be kind of an easy challenge, but I admit I had some difficulty coming up with an entry. In the end I wrote a scene using a character from my novels. This isn't an excerpt but rather a look at something that happens to a secondary character off-stage while my main character is engaged in the last days of the civil war in Wales. I didn't use any character names so as not to spoil anything for anyone who may someday read my stories. And it's probably a little darker than Nick had in mind, but I can't always control what comes out as a story. :)
The man rolled onto his back and tested the air by releasing a puff of breath. Barely a cloud. Days earlier hoar frost had clung to the walls. It melted where he’d pressed his finger to it, succumbing to whatever heat he had left in his body. He’d traced the letters of her name in the frost until his fingertip went numb. Was that two days ago or three? Before they brought the new prisoner in, of that he was certain.
He stretched beneath his single layer of blanket. Something cracked. Two years sleeping on cold stone had leeched the youth out of him. His bones had lost their supple marrow. Gone brittle and gray like everything else on his body – hair, skin, nails. There were days he believed he could fade into the granite walls if he held still long enough.
“Is it mid-February would you say?” he called out. “January doesn’t seem likely.”
The new man didn’t answer. He couldn’t see him, but he could hear his steady breathing in the next cell. They always slept a full day after the first beating.
“Worst of the cold is gone I think.” He stood and wrapped the blanket over his shoulders as he walked to the bucket in the corner. Steam rose off his piss. Still cold enough for that. “You’re lucky it isn’t January. Saw a man’s face freeze to the floor once after he’d passed out. The blood had turned to ice.”
The man listened to the ragged breathing of his new companion willing him to wake. He no longer bothered to count the days; what time he had done and what time he might have left inside the prison camp were vagaries to him, but he held on to the belief that an end would come and he would go home. It was a flame that flickered deep inside him, keeping his vital organs thawed against despair. But without a word of hope, he wasn’t sure he’d survive another bad winter.
He gripped the bars and recalled again the new man’s uniform as he was dragged into his cell. Not from her unit, but he might have news if the beating hadn’t addled his brains too badly. A few never woke again. Not in January. But sometimes, if he kept talking…
“They’ll be shearing the sheep soon enough,” he said, his breath fogging through the bars. “Before the lambing for sure.”
The rhythm of the breathing changed. A deep intake. Movement.
“Aye, next month. In the spring,” answered the new prisoner, groggy but alive.
Good lad, thought the man and slid down to the floor to sit. They would talk, and he would have his hope.
creative commons photo by Jack_g