Extract | While You Sleep by Stephanie Merritt

Category: Extract

While You Sleep

 

Prologue

 

It begins, they say, with a woman screaming.

You can’t tell at first if it’s pleasure or pain, or that tricky place where the two meet; you’re almost embarrassed to hear it, but if you listen closer it comes to sound more like anguish, a lament torn from the heart: like an animal cry of loss, or defiance, or fury, carried across the cove from cliff to cliff on the salt wind.

If you stand on the beach with your back to the sea, they’ll tell you, looking up at the McBride house, you might catch, behind tall windows on the first floor, the fleetest shift of a shadow. All the rooms dark through glass; not even the flicker of a candle, only the shape that shivers at that same window and vanishes, quick as breath, under the broken reflections of clouds and moon. They’ll say the woman’s keening grows louder as the gale seeks unprotected corners of the house, swirls around the pointed gables, shakes the weathervane on the turret and rattles the attic windows in their frames. But listen again; when the wind drops, there is nothing but the wild sea, and the occasional drawn-out moans of the seals beyond the headland.

Only on certain nights, the islanders will tell incomers; when the moon is high and the air whipped up like the white-peaked waves in the bay. Be patient and you might hear her. Plenty will swear to it.

 

The two boys crouch by a ridge of rocks at the foot of the cliff, watching the house. It is still half a ruin; naked beams poke into the moonlit sky like the ribs of some great flayed beast. They hesitate, each waiting for the other to move. They have come this far to test the old stories, they can’t lose face now. The summer night is mild and clear; too balmy for ghosts. They are girding themselves when the screaming starts. They turn to one another in astonishment; fear makes them giggle.

‘Let’s go,’ whispers the nimble, ginger boy. He has his phone in his hand, ready to capture it on film.

But his companion has frozen to the spot, stricken, his eyes stretched wide and fixed on the house.

‘Come on, we’ll miss it.’

The heavier boy retreats a few paces, shaking his head.

The ginger one hesitates, his lip curling with scorn. ‘Pussy.’

He sets off over the sand and marram grass to the half-open door, his phone held out at arm’s length. Left behind on the beach, his friend watches him disappear into the shadows.

The waves break and retreat, over and over, dragging layers of shingle into the restless water. A new scream echoes across the beach, a child’s cry this time. The last traces of light ebb from the sky and behind the windows of the McBride house there is nothing but solid darkness.

***

 

On a remote Scottish island, the McBride house stands guard over its secrets. A century ago, a young widow and her son died mysteriously there; just last year a local boy, visiting for a dare, disappeared without a trace.

For Zoe Adams, newly arrived from America, the house offers a refuge from her failing marriage. But her peaceful retreat is disrupted by strange and disturbing events: night-time intrusions; unknown voices; a constant sense of being watched.

The locals want her to believe that these incidents are echoes of the McBrides’ dark past. Zoe is convinced the danger is closer at hand, and all too real – but can she uncover the truth before she is silenced?

 

This Halloween read the chilling, unputdownable thriller that will send shivers up your spine! OUT NOW and only £2.99 in eBook.

 

Our Spookiest Reads

Category: Favourites

With Halloween just around the corner, we’ve put together our edit of seriously spooky reads. Bestselling psychological thriller While You Sleep is sure to give you chills, and prepare for a sleepless night or two with the truly terrifying serial killer thriller Stalker. Don’t miss out on our pacy debut of the season Forget Me Not – which you can nab in ebook for just 99p!

 

While You Sleep by Stephanie Merritt

While You Sleep packshot

A house full of secrets. A woman alone at night. A threat that lurks in the shadows.

The McBride house lies on a remote Scottish island, isolated and abandoned. A century ago, a young widow and her son died mysteriously there. Last year, a local boy – visiting for a dare – disappeared without a trace.

For Zoe Adams, the house offers an escape from her failing marriage. But when night falls, her peaceful retreat is disrupted—scratches at the door, strange voices—and Zoe is convinced she is being watched.

The locals tell Zoe the incidents are merely echoes of the house’s dark past. Zoe is sure the danger is all too real—but can she uncover the truth before she is silenced?

 

The Quaker by Liam McIlvanney

The Quaker packshot

His name fills the streets with fear…

Glasgow, 1969. In the grip of the worst winter for years, the city is brought to its knees by a killer who hunts in the shadows: the Quaker. He takes his next victim – the third woman from the same nightclub – and dumps her in the street like rubbish.

The police are left chasing a ghost, with no new leads and no hope of catching their prey. DI McCormack, a talented young detective from the Highlands, is ordered to join the investigation. But his arrival is met with anger from a group of officers on the brink of despair. Soon he learns just how difficult life can be for an outsider.

When another woman is found murdered in a tenement flat, it’s clear the case is by no means over. From ruined backstreets to the dark heart of Glasgow, McCormack follows a trail of secrets that will change the city – and his life – forever…

 

Forget Me Not by A.M. Taylor

Forget Me Not ebook

What happened to Nora?

When Maddie met Nora, their friendship felt as easy as breathing. And when Nora disappeared, all the air went with her. Without her best friend, Maddie’s life became impossible.

Ten years later, Nora is still missing and Maddie is still searching. People have been questioned. People have even been accused. But no one has found Nora.

Then, in the same spot where Nora went missing, the murdered body of Nora’s little sister is found. Convinced this is no coincidence, Maddie resolves to uncover the killer and find Nora – dead or alive.

But will she be able to cope, when she learns what really happened to Nora…?

 

Stalker by Lars Kepler
Stalker packshot

You thought you were alone. Think again.

A film arrives at Stockholm’s National Crime Investigation Department showing a woman in her own home, plainly unaware she is being watched. The police don’t take it seriously … until she is found murdered.

When the next video arrives, Detective Margot Silverman frantically attempts to identify the victim. But it’s already too late. Because at the time the video was sent, the killer was already inside their house…

Soon Stockholm is in the grip of terror. Who will the Stalker target next?

 

The Hangman’s Hold by Michael Wood

The Hangman's Hold packshot

There’s a killer in your house. He knows your darkest secrets. And he is closer than you think.

The Hangman waits in the darkness. He’ll make you pay for all the crimes you have tried desperately to forget.

DCI Matilda Darke is running out of time. Fear is spreading throughout the city. As the body count rises, Matilda is targeted and her most trusted colleagues fall under suspicion.

Can she keep those closest to her from harm? Or is it already too late?

 

In A Cottage In A Wood by Cass Green

In a Cottage in a Wood

Her dream home will become her worst nightmare…

Late one night, Neve comes across a troubled woman called Isabelle on Waterloo Bridge. Isabelle forces a parcel into Neve’s hands and jumps to her death into the icy Thames below.

Two weeks later, as Neve’s wreck of a life in London collapses, an unexpected lifeline falls into her lap – a charming cottage in Cornwall left to her by Isabelle, the woman on the bridge. The solution to all her problems.

But when Neve arrives, alone in the dark woods late one night, she finds a sinister-looking bungalow with bars across its windows. And the house of her dreams quickly becomes her worst nightmare – a house hiding a twisted secret that will change her life forever…

 

 

John Harding guest post: Mystery lurks in dark corners…

Category: Author Post

Today, in celebration of Halloween coming up this Friday, we have John Harding, author of Florence and Giles and The Girl Who Couldn’t Read, on the blog talking about gothic horror and what inspired him to write two very sinister stories…

My introduction to Gothic fiction came not from the books themselves but as a small child watching BBC TV Sunday teatime classic serials. Decades later I can still recall the terror of Cathy reaching through the broken window to grab Lockwood’s hand in Wuthering Heights, the hideous cackle of the mad woman in Jane Eyre as she set fire to Mr Rochester’s room, and the haunted midnight sobbing that woke little Mary Lennox in The Secret Garden.

These last two were a huge inspiration in the writing of Florence and Giles and its follow-up The Girl Who Couldn’t Read. But the initial spur came from an author who like me, was not really a writer of ghost or gothic stories, Henry James. When I first read his novella The Turn of The Screw I found it so terrifying I could only read it if my mum was in the house. I was 21 at the time! Similarly, considerably older now, I can’t watch the DVD of Jack Clayton’s wonderful film of the book alone – I only hope the filmmakers who’ve optioned Florence and Giles do half as well.

James’ story is perfection itself. It’s told by an unnamed governess to two children (orphans like Jane Eyre and Mary Lennox) neglected by their absent guardian uncle, and left to run wild in a gothic mansion where they may or may not be visited by the ghosts of their former governess and their uncle’s valet. I was on my way home from seeing Benjamin Britten’s opera of the book when I began to think it would be interesting to see the story from the children’s angle, especially that of Flora, the most unregarded character in the book. I pretty soon ditched the idea of doing a pastiche of James’ book; I didn’t want to do anything so unoriginal as using his characters. What appealed was the set-up: remote crumbling mansion, orphaned children, absent guardian, possible ghost, to which I added an abandoned library and a narrator forbidden to read.

Florence and Giles is a book about the power of literature upon our imagination, its influence for good or ill. Whenever I write a book I’m always trying to create a story I would want to read but nobody else will write for me. Much as I enjoyed Jane Eyre the book tailed off for me when Jane left Rochester, and met up with the bland religious St. John Rivers. Similarly I had no interest in the later horticultural bits of The Secret Garden. I wanted a story where the mystery and terror only ends when the novel does.

In writing The Girl Who Couldn’t Read, I wanted a setting as full of mystery and threat as Blythe House in the first book. What better than a Victorian lunatic asylum, a place seemingly built to instill terror in its unfortunate inmates, and this time, instead of Florence, another unreliable narrator, a man with a secret to conceal, just as the young patient he befriends has a secret, as does the head doctor of the asylum, mysteries that are not entirely resolved until the final page. Mystery lurks in the dark corners of the gothic novel; the joy of reading comes not simply from being frightened while reading beside the safety of our own fireside but from finding out just what it is we are frightened of.

John Harding is the author of Florence and Giles and The Girl Who Couldn’t Read, both out now.