'A breathtaking first novel of rare power and intensity.' -- Irish News
'A compelling and action-filled story.' -- Daily Mail
Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.
Hal scooped a final shovel of snow from the makeshift grave and clambered out to address the group. He stood, panting a little, a thin vapour of steam rising from his cheeks, feeling at home here in this wild mountain country, the jagged peaks of the Chugach range jutting skywards around him. This morning, he told them with a smile, Im going to bury one of you alive. He walked down the line, making eye contact with the five shivering clients. Now, who wants to volunteer? There were no takers. Hal looked at Rachel. Want to get those shots? Rachel clutched at the Nikon strung round her neck, unable to keep the alarm from her face. Maybe Ill do them another time
This is the last course of the winter. If you dont do it now
? He left the question hanging. Rachel looked down into the icy grave and suppressed a shudder. Im not so sure itll produce a worthwhile picture
Thats not what you told me before. All those faces of the rescuers as they dig you out? The point of view of an avalanche victim? Sounds like a pretty unique shot to me. She looked at him pleadingly. The camera might get snow in it
Rachel? Yes? If you want that photograph, get in the hole. Oh, God
Rachel picked out the widest lens in her kitbag, her fingers trembling a little as the 16mm Nikkor snapped neatly into its bayonet mount. Then she stepped down into the snow hole and lay flat on her back, her hands cupped over the camera to protect it. The others gathered round the lip to look down at her, seeming to tower far above, even though the trench was only three feet deep. Move your head into that cavity in the side wall, Hal told her. Theres enough space for your upper body in there and enough oxygen to keep you going for a while. Rachel tipped her head to the side, noticing the scooped-out hollow for the first time. She wriggled herself into it, finding that her head and shoulders fitted easily, with a clear nine inches or so of space between the tip of her nose and the solid ice roof. OK. Hal leaned down to clip an avalanche transmitter on to her ski suit. Your beacons in place. Hopefully well find you before the battery runs out. Ha ha. Youre killing me, Hal. Get a shift on, will you? Im freezing here. Hal dropped his voice as he bent his head close to her. Its been beautiful knowing you. You were the love of my life. Youre sick, you know that? Will you just bury me and be done with it? Rachel turned her face to look at Hal, smiling as she saw his reassuring wink. Itll be OK. Just breathe slow and relax, he whispered, then shouted out for the benefit of the clients: You asked for it! The sound of a shovel biting into snow. This is for all the mornings you never made my coffee! A shovelful of snow landed with a thump on her shin. This is for that dent you put in the Toyota last week. Then another. I should have buried you years ago. Soon her legs were covered. Rachel could feel the vibrations as the clients took up their shovels and joined in, hear their laughter at Hals over-the-top performance. Gradually the quality of the noise shifted, the metallic scraping diminishing as the burial continued. Snow began to rain down on her waist, pattering as the crystals impacted on the Gore-Tex. The weight was extraordinary, the snow pushing down on every inch of her body with an inexorable pressure which was quite terrifying. The light began to dim, the daylight blocked out little by little until all that was left was a gloomy shade of blue, a luminous glow, which would have been beautiful under any other circumstances. Then there was just the muffled thud as the shovels pounded away above her. Then silence. Rachel stared at the blue wall of ice in front of her. And tried not to panic. Hal turned to the group. There you go. Well and truly buried. Now follow me. He led them across the snowfield, away from the burial site. This is the most crucial exercise on this course, he told them, the ability to locate a buried avalanche victim. Lets assume that this whole area has just been the scene of a big slide and that one of your party is under that snow somewhere. You know she has a beacon but you have no idea where she is. He began to zigzag, then turned them in a series of circles until they were completely disorientated. Thats just in case you were thinking of cheating. Now go to it. Get the search pattern organised and find her as fast as you can. The clients looked out across the snowfield, blinking with surprise as they realised they no longer had a fix on where Rachel was buried. The snow was falling fast fast enough to cover the tracks they had just made. There would be no visual clues to lead them to where she was. Remembering the training Hal had given them earlier on the course, they quickly organised themselves into a search line, spreading out one metre apart and beginning a methodical sweep of the target area, their avalanche transceivers set to bleep if they got close to Rachels emergency transmitter. Three feet under the snow, Rachel was concentrating on her breathing, inhaling slowly and finding, to her surprise, that there was really plenty of air filtering down from above. She forced her mind to think of other things
of the surprise news she had for Hal, which, somehow, she had failed to find a moment to tell him.