Chapters from my novels

Prologue from 'Forest Spirit'

Prologue

He was an old buffalo, big and grey, with long, black horns stretching along his back. He stood, partly hidden in the thick spear grass, and scattered here and there tall eucalypts, silent and sentinel, dotted the landscape.

     The bush grew quiet. 
     Even the cockatoos, who, just moments ago, were flocking and screeching in the sky, had returned to their branches to be still and silent. Now, their black eyes focussed on the scene below. 
     The buffalo, swaying from side to side, pawed the ground.  He shook his head, then choked and rasped as squelching rumbles poured from his throat.
     A stick had pierced his hind leg, burrowing deep into his calf-muscle. He writhed and twisted, trying to escape the pain; he rubbed his leg against the tree trunk. The stick snapped with a soft thunk. The buried end remained.
     Now, if he turned his head as far as his horns would allow, he could see the source of his injury, see the yellow pus that seeped from it, and the tiny, black flies that swarmed, then landed to drink their fill.

            His body trembled. It was the poison. It had taken three days to do its work, invading his blood stream, spreading through his body, causing him to sweat and shiver.
     He knew that soon he would have to seek a place to rest, a place of shade and soft breeze where he could lie down and wait - for whatever fate had decided.
     Suddenly, his muscles tightened and his head jerked up. A wisp of wind had sprung from the east, bringing some coolness to his burning body; it also carried a familiar scent - a foul smell that, in the past, had always caused him to turn and trot away in disgust. Today, for the first time, he stood fast, eyes searching the path that would soon bring the vile creature into his territory with its sickening stink.
     The thing that he despised came into view, roaring and spewing its black breath, and at that very moment a spasm of pain, needle sharp, raced through his leg and up into his body.  He shuddered, then pawed the ground once more. White foam formed at his mouth and his breathing grew quicker. 

            He waited.
     The intruder drew near. When it was opposite, he didn’t hesitate. Today, he would not flee. It was time to show his anger. Bellowing his rage, he lowered his head and charged.  Bushes and saplings flattened as he bolted towards the monster, his black eyes fixed and unblinking. White streams of spittle flew from his mouth. Today, his enemy would die. 
     He slammed into the side of the beast. Sudden shock waves rang through the bush.  he cockatoos stirred and flapped their wings. 

            Shaking his head, he stood and watched as his enemy toppled over onto its side, watched as it hesitated before rolling, almost in slow motion, off the dirt track and down into a deep wash-a-way where it lay, unmoving, on its back.
     A cloud of red dust swirled above the crumpled heap, the only sound a whup-whup-whupping that came from the round things attached to its belly.

            ‘Whup – Whup – Whup – Whup.’

            The rhythmic beats slowed, then died.

            Content now, the buffalo shook his head once again, then turned and made his way into the scrub.  He felt the wind strengthen as he struggled to reach the place where he too would die, heard it rustle through the treetops, heard it whimper amongst the tall grass like a lost animal. Heard the cockatoos as they flew squawking into the sky.

 

First Chapter from 'Forest Shadows'

Chapter One

Thursday Night       

Wu Han stood in the doorway of his hut, staring into the night. Something was wrong. ‘It should not be like this, Po-Yee,’ he whispered to his Siamese cat that was sitting by his side. ‘Something very bad happening.’

     Arms folded and hands inside the wide, flowing sleeves of his purple gown, he watched for a sign. Anything. He shivered as he felt the first stabbing prickles of panic. He was certain. Some inexplicable thing, something bad, was near.

     The wild animals had known this, too. Like a wisp of smoke, they’d disappeared. The animals had, over the years, come to make Wu’s place their second home. It was their place of freedom where they were safe – from each other, from all predators. It was the law, Wu Han’s law. Yet something had frightened them . . . some shadowy thing.

     With Po-Yee following closely behind, he stepped outside, trying to see through the darkness, straining to hear any sound. There was nothing.

     He made his way to the campfire that he’d lit earlier in the clearing between his hut and the surrounding forest. When the weather was fine, sitting by the fire with Po-Yee on his lap, was a ritual with Wu. One he enjoyed. Its warmth and smoky fragrance were a comfort.

     Not now.

     He looked down at Po-Yee. She was making rasping sounds from somewhere in the back if her throat like a baby choking. ‘Peace not come tonight, Po-Yee. Yin and Yang not balance, Yin too strong,’

     The two forces meant everything to Wu Han. They were life itself. Yin warned of darkness, weakness, all that was bad. Yang was the opposite, meaning the bright, strong and good. From a very young age in China, he’d learned their meanings, learned that for harmony, good health and peace, the two needed to complement each other. ‘Yin very bad, Po-Yee. Yang weak.’

     As if in reply, a sudden, choking smell surrounded him. His hands flew to his face, covering his nose and mouth. He tried to stifle his breathing, taking only short, shallow breaths. Then, through parted fingers, he searched for the source. He saw nothing, but it lingered, continuing to hang in the air like thick, choking treacle and with it had come a silence, a quiet that didn’t belong.

     His eyes, wide and darting now, continued to search the surrounds. He saw only the shadowy outline of his hut and the dark shapes of the forest, quivering in the glow of the fire. ‘Why you hide from me? Why you not come out?’ he said.

     Feeling a growing weakness in his legs, he lowered himself onto a handcrafted seat put together years ago. Then, with a rasping sound, not unlike a low growl, Po- Yee leapt onto his lap where she settled into a ball among the folds of his gown as though hiding. He stroked her still body, feeling her fear. He felt it, too, and like a wild fire, it was growing.

     He continued to sit, staring into the embers of the fire, watching its changing shapes without really seeing. He leant over and picked up a tin mug and a billycan that he always kept by the fire’s side and with trembling hands he poured the hot liquid, a tea made from the leaves of a nearby sassafras tree. The ritual of tea-making did little to quell his nerves.

     The situation was getting worse.

     The stink had grown stronger, continuing to waft up his nostrils and down his throat. He held back a cough and wiped a drop of spittle from his lips with the back of his hand. ‘It has started, Po-Yee,’he said, suddenly realizing the worst. ‘They have come.’

     He searched the sky . . . listening for what he knew must be there. At last he heard it - a faint whickering sound.

     It grew louder.

     His grip around the mug loosened. It fell from his hands. Po-Yee snarled and leapt to the ground. She raced into the forest.

     Wu, his eyes riveted to the northern sky, barely noticed the cat’s panic. He continued to stare and his eyes widened as the cause of the whickering came into view. It was a ball of light, pulsating and moving in his direction. He bit his lips and his body trembled.

     He struggled to his feet as it drew near, the whickering now a steady throb. He shivered and his heart thumped against his chest as he continued to stare.

     Moving slowly as though searching, the thing, as big as a house and flashing from red to orange, drew to a halt, hovering above his home like a hawk in the sky ready to strike.

     ‘Go away! Leave us!’ Wu Han shouted.

     As though hearing his words, the object shuddered. Then suddenly, like a balloon exploding, it sped towards the forest where it skirted, then disappeared, behind the trees to the south.

     Wu lowered his eyes and wiped his brow. He inhaled deeply, burying his face in his hands.

     For ten minutes or more he stood by the fire, staring at nothing, struggling to think. ‘Yin bring terrible thing,’ he said aloud. ‘Karma very bad. Very bad feeling.’  

     Po-Yee! He had forgotten about her. With some effort, he shuffled to the edge of the forest, calling her name. ‘Po-Yee! Where are you? It safe now. It gone.’

     There was only darkness . . . and a silence that hung in the air like an invisible shroud. ‘Po-Yee. Where are you?’ he called again.

     Then he saw her. She was moving slowly towards him, slinking close to the ground, turning her head from side to side as though searching. Reaching Wu, she made a rasping sound and rubbed against his legs. He bent and picked her up.

     ‘Po-Yee,’ the old Chinaman whispered. ‘Stay with me. There is peril.’ With sad eyes, he rested a trembling hand on the cat’s sleek back.

     Then, as though an invisible signal had sounded, the forest began to stir.

     Wallabies, wombats, quolls, devils, slunk from the depths of the trees back once again to their safe place on Wu Han’s land. Possums began to rustle in the branches and night birds cried. The moon, creeping from behind the dull, silhouetted clouds, cast an icy glow on Wu Han’s face, and from some hidden place the cicadas began to sing.

     Wu Han, with Po-Yee in his arms, shuffled back to his hut, his wrinkled face downcast. He knew why they had come.

 

PROLOGUE FROM FOREST SECRETS

The rhotosaurus tore some leaves from the high branches of the conifer tree and chewed. Always cautious, he turned his head from side to side, watching and listening. All he could hear were the usual sounds of the forest – the rustling leaves and bushes, the scurrying ground dwellers, the distant roar of another dinosaur. Then suddenly he stopped chewing. There was something else, a smell, one that he’d never come across before that was somehow threatening. He didn’t know why or how but he could feel it, sense its menace.

There was a noise, too. But that was a familiar sound. It was a snuffling coming from nearby – from the trees at the edge of the small clearing where he stood. Swivelling his long neck, he saw that it was the two muttaburrasauruses that he often saw prowling around in the forest, feeding from the low-hanging branches of the trees. They were the bird-hipped dinosaurs that walked on two legs. And although plant eaters, they were considered by all the other dinosaurs, big and small, to be dangerous. They were fearless and always up for a fight. The rhotosaurus liked to keep his distance from them whenever he could. Although they were nowhere near his size, he knew he was no match for their deadly leg spikes that could rip his hide to shreds in seconds.

 Standing perfectly still, he waited, hoping they’d go away.

But there was something else. Something he had felt a few moments earlier … that was far more dangerous than the muttaburrasauruses. Thousands of times more. And it was coming towards him.

It was an object as big as a small city and it was travelling at twenty times the speed of a bullet. It was an asteroid, due to blast through the earth’s hemisphere in seconds and which was destined to crash into the sea to create a wave, a monster wall of water 100 metres high.

Oblivious to the coming danger, and from habit more than anything else and hoping that the two dinosaurs below would leave him alone, he pushed his small head through the branches of the conifer for more leaves. But the strange feeling that something was wrong came over him again. He didn’t know what it was. He simply felt it, sensed it like before. It was something … different. With all thoughts of food gone from his mind, he swivelled his long neck to the left and right, listening and looking about him. The two killer dinosaurs had gone and the forest, like a corpse, had grown quiet and still. Wondering what was happening, and without thinking, he snatched some more leaves from the nearest branch and began to chew once more. But something was tickling the side of his face and neck; there was that smell again too, a faint, bitter smell. It was drifting in on the breeze which was getting stronger and, for some reason, becoming warmer … quickly.

He didn’t know that it was the forerunner to a superheated killer cyclone already raging on the other side of the planet. And he didn’t know that the asteroid’s tail, a long, yellow, burning streak, had just exploded above the earth, scattering great chunks of scorching metal and burning debris to all corners of the land.

The giant lizard’s nostrils twitched and his body shuddered. He lifted his head above the tops of the trees trying to figure out what was happening. That’s when he saw the mountain beyond the forest. Black smoke and swirling ash were pouring from its peak. He could see that the mountain was about to explode. And for the first time he felt the ground begin to shudder.

He threw back his head and roared.  Nearby birds and other dinosaurs scattered. They knew the great lizard well and they knew that today he was uneasy … about something. They didn’t know what that something was. They also didn’t know that the volcano beyond the forest would soon be throwing its rocks and choking ash into the sky; that soon its rivers would emerge as slow streams of red, scalding spew that would slither through their forest and over their land, killing everything in their paths.

Backing away from his tree into an open area nearby, the rhotosaurus looked up and stared.  He was mystified. Rocks, glowing red, and sparks were falling from the sky. But not from the volcano. It hadn’t exploded yet. He did see, however, that every one of the fiery rocks was starting fires and that the trees and bushes surrounding him were beginning to burn.

The rhotosaurus hesitated. His hide was starting to singe and the thickening smoke was stinging his eyes.  What to do now? Where to go? The other dinosaurs were wondering the same. They were drifting one by one and in groups into the clearing where they gathered alongside the rhotosaurus. Mingling and rubbing shoulders with each other as though seeking safety from the growing heat and the stiffening breeze, they stared as if mesmerised as the forest continued to erupt around them. The flying pterosaurs were the last to arrive, howling and screeching in the sky, dipping and weaving towards the gathering horde of beasts. That’s when he decided.

Lifting his head to the sky once more, he roared and then, head jutting, neck stretched, looking neither to the left nor right, the giant lizard, with the others following, ran.

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12.08 | 00:55

I look forward to reading your third book - well done.

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