The Calgary Chessman – an archaeological romance

TCC cover art front

THE CALGARY CHESSMAN enters the Top #100 Genre Chart on AmazonUK (26 April 2015)! Time for an excerpt…

I quartered the beach, down to the water’s edge and back to
the machair, gradually becoming calmer as I wandered. I kept
my head low, glancing out to sea occasionally when the waves
came close, not focusing beyond the headland where haze on
the horizon prevented me seeing even the closest islands. The
greenish grey of the sea blended imperceptibly into the sky, and
all the colours of the landscape were subdued. For a moment, I
felt disorientated, as if gravity had inverted and I was walking
upside down on a great curved dome, feeling that at any
moment I might fall into the flat, featureless surface above me. I
shook my head and kept my feet moving.
Slowly some memories seeped into my mind; images of a
small boy flickered across my inner vision, like photos in an old
album. It’s easy to forget what treasures are tucked away in
there, behind the grey divide. Sometimes they feel so immediate
that they shock me right into that other world which was once
so real. It’s so much easier to live in the past than to face what is
in front of me.
My foot scuffed against a tuft of grass and I came back to
myself. I’d walked the beach up and down, and fetched up
against the edge of the machair again. Last night’s high tide and
wind had dislodged a whole chunk of cliff edge, and the lump
had slid down the dune-face, exposing a vertical slope of fresh,
white sand. In it was a dark hollow, a deep space about the size
of my fist. I put my hand in to see if it would fit. My knuckle
grazed something hard. Scratchy. Not like the rounded pebbles

and wave-smoothed pieces of driftwood lying on the beach.
I pulled my hand out quickly and shivered, thinking of
sheep bones. Okay to look at, found scattered on the grass
while out walking. Not so nice to touch, unseen. With a faint
hiss, the little hollow collapsed and something rolled out of the
hole and landed at my feet in a damp clump. I bent down to
dig it out. My fingers closed on a pale ivory-coloured handful, a
little darker than the sand, squat and squarish and about eight
centimetres tall. Not a sheep bone. I pulled out my hanky, spat
on it and rubbed the object. I stared at it.
I was holding something like a gnome sitting on a chair;
rather ugly, but with complex, carved clothing and draperies. It
was surprisingly heavy. The figure was vaguely familiar; even
though at the same time I was sure I hadn’t seen anything like it
in my life. I went to drop it back where I’d found it, but
changed my mind at the last moment and put it in my pocket.
After all, I could easily throw it away later.
A superstitious voice in the back of my head muttered about
omens. I’d come out today looking for something to knock me
out of the self-destructive track of my life. Perhaps this was it?
Or maybe it was more bad luck? Either way, picking up litter
should make me feel good, and at least this was more
interesting than the usual plastic bags and empty bottles.
I glanced back up the beach to where the family had set up
camp. The boy was crying; I could hear his voice, piping like
one of the little birds that run along the shoreline. He was in his
father’s arms, being comforted. The woman was down at the
water’s edge. She had rolled up her trousers to paddle, and the
little girl jumped and splashed, clinging tightly to her mother’s
hand. The woman seemed happier, her stance relaxed. Was that
because she was away from the man? Or were they the happy
family they appeared to be? I wondered if I’d ever learn how to
tell the good relationships from the bad, or whether perhaps all
marriages were as secretly miserable as mine had turned out to
be. Her husband walked over and she greeted him with a kiss
and took the boy from his arms. She might have been smiling. I
gave them the benefit of the doubt.

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