Coffin Dodgers is released on Thursday 2nd February 2017
Here’s a taster from one of the early chapters. It finds the main character, Eden attempting to swim across the Red Lake, one of the challenges in the Survivathon competition set up by Thrillzone. She’s teamed up with three other competitors: Heidi a – Swedish multi-athlete, Wade – Eden’s fiance and Fisk – an old flame of Eden’s
“We should move,” Wade said. Eden nodded, and they entered the water, knees lifting high until it got deep enough to dive in.
Eden welcomed the water’s cool if silt-laden embrace and stayed under longer than she needed, just to delay exposure to the sun again. She was relieved to find there wasn’t any obvious weed to hinder progress. She had the edge on Wade when in the water, but her competing distance was only a mile. The briefing had told them Red Lake was three miles across. A lot could happen in the next hour.
The competitors fanned out until Eden’s only means of identifying them was by their bobbing heads. She’d struck out a couple of hundred metres ahead of Wade and after ten minutes of breaststroke had just about caught up with Heidi and Fisk. The far shore still seemed an impossible distance away.
As she closed in on Heidi, Eden realised she was floundering. She’d chosen the crawl but her style wasn’t hacking it. The Swede had her head out of the water, swimming like a seal, and her left arm struggled to clear the surface. Every other stroke saw her spluttering to take in air.
“Try paddling on your back,” Eden shouted, “it’ll give you time to catch your breath.”
“Can’t …” came the reply, “I’ll sink.”
Fisk had registered she was in trouble and upped his speed to lend assistance.
Eden was only ten feet away when she saw Heidi jerk upright, then disappear under the surface. She broke into a fast crawl but upon reaching where Heidi had disappeared, there was no sign of her.
“What happened?” Fisk asked.
“I don’t know—one second she was there and the next she wasn’t.”
“I’m going under,” he said, and upended in one smooth movement.
Eden’s heart hammered in her chest. Panic gripped her. Wade was still little more than a pinhead against the horizon behind. It would be another ten minutes before he caught up. Had Heidi run out of energy, or did something grab her? She couldn’t see anything further than a foot below the surface and was just about to dive when Heidi appeared and let out an agonised scream. Eden just had time to take in the girl’s terrified face before a gout of blood shot from her mouth and the creature dragged her down again.
Fisk broke water. He’d seen Heidi sink. “Swim for that floating tree trunk,” he yelled.
“What’s down there?” she replied.
“Doesn’t matter—swim for fuck’s sake.”
Survival instinct kicked in and Eden swam with all her strength in the direction Fisk had pointed. As she drew close to the wooden sanctuary, she looked down and saw a pale shape glide beneath her. Cold fear chilled her marrow as the thing swept along for a full five seconds before disappearing beneath the surface again, flipping its metre-length, shell-encrusted tail behind it. Now it was placed between her and the tree trunk, and with growing certainty she knew it waited for her. Frozen by indecision, she trod water until Fisk caught up.
“Keep swimming,” Fisk said, a look of anguish on his face.
“There’s a giant predator up ahead,” she replied.
“Doesn’t matter. The scissor-fish are behind. I’ve been bitten. Once they’ve finished with what’s left of Heidi, they’ll be after us next.”
There was no other choice. Eden powered off again and prayed the thing wouldn’t be there to snap her up in its jaws. Every stroke found her wondering if it would be her last. The gods kept smiling until she was an arms-length from the tree section. Only it wasn’t just a single piece of wood. The tree had fallen dead into the water a long time ago and gathered a ton of debris around it. If she pulled herself out, there might be enough room to shelter beneath the crook of an exposed branch.
Her luck turned to dust when a snout with rows of razor-like teeth cleared the surface. It loomed, leviathan-like, blotting out the sun. It opened its mouth and roared with primaeval force, the breath blowing warm over her, smelling of rotten fish and corruption. Its gape must have been close to a metre wide and there, lodged in a gap between two jagged fangs, she saw Heidi’s severed head. The thing was trying to dislodge it with a prehensile tongue as if irritated by the obstruction.
The horror was too much for Eden to endure and she shut her eyes. She hoped that when they were open again, she would wake as if from a dread nightmare. Another roar convinced her otherwise. Heidi’s misfortune proved to be Eden’s salvation. She used the precious seconds of the beast’s distraction to haul herself onto the trunk. Thankfully, the bark was rough and provided enough grip for her to gain purchase.
“Eden, help me up,” Fisk said from behind.
She turned and saw him flounder as the beast dived once more. His face filled with panic and he reached out a hand to Eden in desperation. She was perched well above the water’s surface leaving him a metre short of rescue. So when the beast shot out of the water and propelled its way toward them like a giant torpedo, Eden feared these would be his last seconds.
What to do? Climb to safety, pull Fisk out—and no doubt die in the process—or something else? She felt an object digging in her back. The harpoon gun. She’d forgotten about the weapon but knew it was loaded and ready. In the seconds remaining, she swung the gun round and aimed it towards the open jaws. As it bore down on Fisk, she remembered what Wade had said. Aim low. She pointed the gun at its lower jaw and pulled the trigger. The kick from the weapon directed the harpoon straight into the gaping maw, embedding itself in the roof of its mouth. It bellowed in pain and recoiled backwards, creating a wave of water as it crashed back into the lake.
“Eden. Please!” Fisk had grabbed the stump of a branch but didn’t have the strength to pull himself up. A red tendril of blood coloured the water from russet to crimson, while behind, a thrashing in the water drew her attention beyond Fisk.
He heard it too.
“Scissor-fish. They were waiting until the predator had gone,” Fisk said, panic in his voice.
Eden reached down and grabbed him by the forearm, but it was all she could do to pull him up an inch before her shaking, fatigued muscles gave up. “You need to power up,” she said.
“There’s no time,” he replied, looking behind again.
The churning water loomed closer.
“Dive down and launch yourself up. Try to grab the branch next to me and I’ll take hold of your other arm. Do it now!”
Fisk responded to her sharp words and ducked down again. She waited one second, two seconds. Where was he? Five seconds later, the scissor-fish boiled the water all around, stoked into a frenzy by Fisk’s blood. They writhed on the surface, brown scales glinting in the sun as they flipped over and over in the water. She glimpsed their evil faces, the upturned mouths bristling with repeating rows of needle-like teeth. As she backed further up the tree her moccasin feet slipped where the bark had worn away. She wanted to reach the highest point as she suspected the scissor-fish might have enough strength to leap out of the water and fix onto her flesh.
Poor Fisk, he never stood a chance.
A scraping noise on the other side of the trunk startled her.
“Wha—” she said as Fisk broke through the scummy layer of plant debris behind her and crawled up a branch dipping in the water. She grabbed his Summer suit and pulled with all her strength. This time it was enough. As he inched up the bole of the tree she saw his calf, shredded and mangled, pouring blood into the water.
“I … don’t … think …” Eden knew he was about to lose consciousness. From the water, she heard a shout from beyond. Wade was in view, wanting to know what was going on.
“Swim away,” she shouted over and over again, sweeping her arm across like a traffic warden. “Predators in the water!”
She was both relieved and disappointed when she saw him strike away from her. Was he going to abandon her so easily? She knew it wasn’t a fair judgement. Years of hazardous climbing events and other extreme projects had taught them the adventurer’s protocol: save yourself first. Everyone’s chances of survival increase if one goes for help. There’s no value in one team-member killing themselves in a failed rescue bid. But this was different, wasn’t it? The Grecos were on their tail. Would Wade be valorous enough to resist the temptation to put some distance between him and the hunters? She also wondered how many of the others would make it to the other side. Those killers in the water were efficient eating machines. Looking back now, they were fools to have accepted the demands of this trip.
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