Torc of Moonlight Special Edition started 19 December, so slip down this page for a read or recap then sit back and enjoy.
The clothes he’d discarded the night before still lay at the foot of the bed and he dragged them on, regardless of how they looked. His socks were stiff, but he had no idea of where a clean pair was and no time to search one out. The orange wallet file shrieked at him from across the room like a well wound alarm clock. There wasn’t much in it: some paper and a pen, a few notices he’d picked up, a copy of his timetable, but it looked good, looked as if he’d got his act together. He laid a hand on it, grabbed his keys and slammed the door behind him.
‘So nice of you to join us, number 28. I hope we haven’t dragged you away from anything interesting.’
Nick stood in the doorway looking across the heads of the students to the lecturer, one hand on her hip, the other knuckles down on the table beside her. It didn’t seem like a good idea to answer, especially as he couldn’t remember her name. The door behind him opened with a groan of its spring and the lecturer’s gaze realigned on a point beyond his shoulder.
‘Number 29! Well, hello there.’
Jesus, was she really counting them in? Nick took the opportunity to reach one of the vacant seats in the centre of the group. Almost immediately he realised his mistake. Sunshine was pouring through the skylight with the efficiency of greenhouse glass. He looked around for a seat in the shadows, but they had all been taken.
‘For those of you who have forgotten, or for those who simply never bothered to find out, my name is Janet Duval. I am on an exchange from Lancaster, and it is my dubious pleasure to be acquainted with you for the entire academic year. I am reliably informed that my bark is worse than my bite, but I feel it only fair to warn you, especially the late-comers, that a full series of rabies shots may be considered beneficial.
‘I expect full sittings at my seminars and my tutorials. Those who feel their eyesight too precious to waste upon the set texts will also find themselves at a distinct disadvantage as questions will be asked during meetings, including this one.
‘You are now free, for fifteen seconds, to gasp, groan or wince, whichever is your desire, and then we shall make a start.’
There was a distinct lack of gasps or groans, Nick noticed, but a marked amount of shifting about in seats. And then the door opened and Janet Duval raised an overly benign smile and diverted her attention from the group.
Nick recognised most of the people within his line of vision, though there seemed to be a higher than usual proportion of mature students in this class. He had expected Myth & Reality of the American West to be one of the less daunting options, but Janet Duval was making it perfectly clear that she had written scripts for Billy the Kid.
Perhaps her attitude would prove to be a mixed blessing. On secondment for a year, it seemed she was determined to make her mark. If she made it on him hopefully he would forgo a repeat of the interview he had endured the previous semester, and he would have something cheery to email home.
The seminar room dimmed and Nick let out a slow stream of breath, angling his head to glance at the skylight. A cloud was drifting across the sun, an orange corona sparkling round the edge of the grey mass. He hoped that it would be a big cloud, twenty minutes’ worth at least. His brains felt as if they were being fried.
Luxuriating in the drop in temperature, he took time out from listening to Duval to review the jottings he had made. He hadn’t read the books, of course — Damn! He had a lot of reading to do — but it was probable that few on the course had, either. He felt reasonably safe in that area.
The questions began without any preamble, and bore no relevance to what had gone before. Duval was testing the general climate, and no one was offering a reply. Each silence was met with a hardening of her expression, a stiffening of her angular frame. Nick sagged into his chair. She was going to point to someone and demand an answer, he could tell. It wasn’t going to be him.
‘Does this mean that not one of you, not one of you, has the guts to chance an answer? Not even to get the rest off the hook?’
The silence seemed interminable.
‘The consensus of opinion, then, is for extra assignments?’
There was a general shuffling and clearing of throats, and then Duval’s attention focused near the front and the disquiet subsided. Some stupid sod had offered themselves as a sacrificial lamb. Nick breathed a sigh of relief.
The voice was female. Nick had no idea what she said. All he caught was an aural impression, a richness in the timbre. He eased himself to one side, trying to locate her through the line of shoulders and heads. What he noticed was Duval’s reaction, her surprise and the softening of her features. Dear God, had their sacrificial lamb turned into a saviour?
‘Very good,’ Duval was murmuring. ‘I trust everyone heard that?’
There was a hum of agreement around Nick. It threw him for a moment. He hadn’t heard the answer; how could those behind him? And then he realised that standing so close to the abyss the group would have agreed with anything the lecturer offered.
Duval was partway through another question. Nick had missed the beginning — something about fur trading companies. No one was going to answer again.
But Duval hardly waited. Her gaze drifted across the group to return to the oracle before her. Nick made a concerted effort to see who it was, and caught a glimpse of shoulder-length auburn hair and part of a green sweater. The sound of her voice swirled around him, its peaks and troughs enticing in their clarity. It brought to mind the rim of a crystal glass being smoothed by a damp fingertip; more than a note, but not quite a tune.
Duval was nodding and smiling, smiling not only at the girl but at the entire group. Who was this wonder? She had Duval eating out of her hand.
Nick pulled his chair to the left, its rubber feet squealing across the glossy tiles. The student beside him frowned, but Duval didn’t seem to notice. She was into a new phase of her lecture and heads bowed as notes were scribbled. Nick gained an uninterrupted view of the auburn hair and green sweater.
He tried to match a face to the outline, but no memory would stir itself. His gaze followed the gentle ripples of her hair from crown to shoulder blade and he wondered if it was naturally wavy or if she spent each breakfast clutching a hot brush the way his younger sister did. Her hand reached out to tuck a lock behind her ear, but her action gave him no more sight of her face. She touched her pens, the books and papers beside her. The hand withdrew.
Last year’s English options? He didn’t think so. One of the rugby groupies? Definitely not. With hair that colour he would have remembered. It was very likely that he didn’t know her at all — yet he felt there was something familiar. He caught himself with a snort. Perhaps he just wished there was. Sporting a redhead on his arm would certainly put Louise’s nose out of joint.
The cloud broke and sunshine poured unrestrained through the skylight. There was general unrest as the sudden brightness bounced off white paper and polished tiles. Nick blinked, squinting to bring his vision back into focus. The girl’s hair was alight, sparkling through shades of autumn with each slight movement of her head. Duval was speaking to her.
‘Can you give me three out of three?’
The girl was wriggling in her chair, small agitated movements. Duval had caught her unawares. Nick hadn’t heard the question, either. He looked to Duval, hoping that she would repeat it. She didn’t. She let the girl squirm.
‘Er, Catlin. Er, Notes and Manners on... er... It’s a two volume set.’
Hearing her properly took Nick by surprise. Her voice held none of the authority or rhythm he had anticipated. It didn’t seem to fit with what had registered before.
Duval seemed only marginally disappointed in the answer. ‘At least you know to which books I’m referring.’ She turned her attention to the group. ‘Which is more than can be said for the rest of you.’
There was a crash. Eyes turned, including Duval’s. The girl with the auburn hair slid off her seat to retrieve her dropped file. Duval’s voice demanded attention, but it became a drone to Nick as he watched the girl reach under her chair to reclaim an errant pen. Her outstretched fingers curled around the ballpoint and hesitated. Nick lifted his gaze up the sleeve of her sweater. Half hidden behind the chair she was looking at him, her expression full of doubt, her pale features framed by the corona of flaming hair which undulated through shades of amber and gold, russet and hazel, individual locks lifting from her shoulders.
They were lifting.
Nick stared in disbelief. Tendrils were lifting and swaying away from her head, fanning out as if caught in a shifting field of static, weaving and twisting, mesmerizing in its intricate pattern.
She moved, turned away, sitting in her seat with her back to him. Her hair fell in ripples from her crown in a palette of autumn colours, but not a tendril stirred against the pull of gravity. Another cloud passed across the sun plunging the room into a dull opacity. Nick fought to refocus his vision. When colours became clear again her hair had been leached of its fire.
This ends Chapter 1. If you enjoyed this #SampleSunday excerpt please leave a comment and Tweet the posting. Chapter 2 begins next Sunday. If you are desperate to find out what happens, you’ll need to make a small investment $2.99/£2.20:
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