It’s nearly here. I’m going over the final galleys now and the novella should release on the 2nd of January 2013 (well, the 3rd for us Aussies given Dreamspinner works on American time). You can Pre-Order the eBook now for $3.99, or $2.99 if you catch the Christmas sale. And because it’s Christmas, here’s an excerpt from the story–the very first time our friend Leon (that’s him in the blue hoodie), meets Warrick the student nurse, AKA the guy in the green box on the cover. Not the footnotes start at seven because this section is already six footnotes in.
The room wasn’t what Leon had been expecting. For starters, it was mostly bare, with two ward beds empty and the third containing the limp figure of an aging matron, a thin, white cotton sheet doing little to conceal her bulk.
Leon focused his gaze on the furthest corner of the room, where a yellow privacy curtain had been drawn back, allowing sunlight from the nearby window to play over the unmoving figure in the fourth hospital bed. The bed was large to Leon’s eyes, and the patient it contained looked a bit like a child in comparison, even though Leon knew Rook to be at least six inches taller than himself. The bedsheets were tucked around the recumbent figure, still neat and crisp, as if they had just been fitted around his body. Obviously, coma patients didn’t move much. An unused tray table and a soft chair—upholstered in the poo brown that had been ever so popular in the 1950s or some other decade before Leon’s time—sat off slightly to one side, a bunch of wilted flowers on the bedside table, and a small stack of get well cards the only personal touches in the otherwise institutional space.
Leon would have expected a scrunched tissue or indented cushion or something—anything—to indicate the presence of parents, but apparently they lived far out in the middle of Woop Woop7. The last few days hadn’t been kind to Rook—or as he was known on his patient chart, Travis Rookford. The left side of his face was still swollen and bruised, the skin lacerated with a myriad of cuts that, according to newspaper sources, had been inflicted by a smashed bottle. One source8 said Rook was lucky to not have lost an eye. His right leg was elevated and in a heavy cast, and Leon knew that somewhere under the chest bandages were a number of broken ribs and a lot of internal bruising, and a significant amount of internal bleeding.
“H-hi,” Leon said.
The only response was a triple-fluted snore from the lady in bed three and the steady beep-beep-beep of Rook’s heart monitor.
“You probably don’t remember me. Actually, I’d be surprised if you did,” Leon said, eyes wandering over the tubes that led from Rook’s muscled arm to the bag of intravenous fluid hanging from its polished metal pole on wheels. “I, uh, wanted to say thanks for sticking up for me. Well, not for me specifically but, well… us, you know? You didn’t have to do that. And if you hadn’t, you’d probably still be fine and well.” Leon paused, “Maybe you’re wishing you didn’t say anything—not that I’d blame you, but, um… yeah… I wanted to say thanks.”
As he sat fidgeting on the poo-brown chair, Leon felt foolish, speaking to a man in a coma, whom he knew next to nothing about. “Okay, well… thanks for listening,” he said, staring down at his feet. “Assuming you can even hear me, that is.”
“He should be able to,” a new voice said.
Leon literally jumped, nearly tripping over his own feet on the way down.
“Sorry,” the deep voice said. “I didn’t mean to startle you.”
The nurse was young, and Leon guessed he was a student on a hospital placement. He had the build of a rugby player, with firm muscles barely hidden in the otherwise shapeless green hospital scrubs he wore. His face was broad, and his hair closely cropped. His skin was either tanned by the sun or the result of mixed parentage, and the subtle almond shape of his eyes made Leon suspect the latter.
“Geez, way to give a guy a heart attack.”
“Oh, that’s okay,” the other man said, grinning just enough to show his teeth. “I’m fully trained in CPR and emergency procedures. After all, we are in a hospital.” Then the nurse hesitated, “Wait, that was a joke wasn’t it?”
“Uh, kinda,” Leon said, somewhat taken aback.
“Right. Sorry. I have a tendency to take things very literally.”
“I see,” Leon said, more than a little uncertain if there was any socially acceptable reply to a phrase like that. There was also a slightly more certain feeling that he was being flirted with.
“Anyway, medically there are studies that suggest it’s good for coma patients to be talked to. Sometimes they can hear you even if they can’t respond, and some say it registers in their subconscious even if they can’t consciously hear you.”
“Okay,” Leon said. “That’s… good to know.”
“So… you’re a friend?” the other man asked after a moment of awkward silence.
“Me? Oh no…. We don’t really know each other at all.”
“Right… right.” The nurse’s eyebrows rose. “Sorry, I just assumed that—”
“I wanted to thank him for what he did,” Leon said. “He didn’t have to, and it meant—means a lot to me. I know, I know. It’s stupid and a little creepy and—”
“Actually, I think it’s kind of sweet.” Yep, there was definitely flirting happening. “And it’s good that you came. He doesn’t get many visitors.”
“I noticed,” Leon said, his eyes drifting back to the tiny stack of cards and the wilted flowers. “I’m Leon, by the way.”
“Warrick,” the big man said, holding out his hand. “Nice to meet you, Leon.”
“You too,” Leon replied, grasping the other man’s hand.
For a moment hazel eyes locked unflinchingly with brown, and Leon found it hard to breathe. Then the alarm on his phone went off, startling them both.
“S-sorry,” Leon said. “I gotta motor—class.”
“Of course. See you later?”
“Um… maybe,” Leon said, his cheeks flushing slightly as he darted from the room.
7 Another example of Australian slang. Politely this translates to “back of beyond” and less politely to “bum-fuck nowhere,” but probably with less bum and more sheep. At least, according to the Kiwis across the pond, but they’re just deflecting, really.
8 Vanessa Strangetooth, 20, student of cosmetic dentistry who possessed a perfect smile, obviously.