As I edge past the 74,000 word mark on the upcoming sequel to Shadow Beast, it is becoming clear that unfortunately, despite my best efforts, The Daughters of the Darkness may well not hit the shelves before Christmas as planned. The one thing I definitely learnt though in launching Shadow Beast was not to rush. I will continue working away, editing, proofing and amending until things are ready to go. Please bear with me, it won’t be much longer I promise!
In the meantime, travel back with me seven years to Tsavo, Kenya, the historic home of the infamous man-eaters known as The Ghost and The Darkness.
If you haven’t read Shadow Beast, there are no real spoilers here apart from the historical event from Thomas Walker’s past it depicts, which I don’t think will upset the story for you a great deal. Hopefully it will leave you thirsty for more! But for now, in relatively raw form, may I present the prologue to The Daughters of the Darkness.
TSAVO, KENYA, EAST AFRICA – SEVEN YEARS AGO
Amanda Walker woke with a start, sitting up in her sleeping bag and instinctively reaching for the Gurkha Kukri blade she always kept under her pillow. For a few seconds she sat completely still, trying to ascertain what had woken her. Her first thought was that a snake had decided to curl up in or near the sleeping bag. It wouldn’t be the first time. When she couldn’t detect any movement, she relaxed a little and began to listen.
The door of the canvas tent was still tied shut. There was a soft breeze and she could hear the song of crickets carried on it. Then she heard it. Soft murmurs, coming from outside. She looked over at her husband Thomas. Even in his slumber he looked exhausted. She turned up the collar of his shirt to cover the insect bites on his neck. He had fallen asleep in his clothes almost as soon as he had returned from the day of tracking. She smiled to herself and affectionately ran her fingers through his hair. She decided to let him sleep. She could sense it was still dark outside and he had another long day ahead of him. They had heard the man-eaters calling close to the camp during the day.
She pulled the mosquito net up and crawled to the door flap of the tent. She undid the top tie whilst yawning silently and peered out. She could see the camp’s outbuildings across the way, but no lights were on in the windows. Nothing seemed to be stirring. Then she heard the murmur again. Standing on the veranda of one of the buildings was a little boy. His skin was incredibly dark, showing up the blue and mauve tones of the night sky above him. He was completely naked and held his hand over his mouth. He seemed to be crying.
As Amanda undid the tent flap completely, the boy immediately noticed her. As she watched him streak out of the camp, she realised straight away he wasn’t one of the children that lived with the hired help and staff. He moved with absolute silence, his feet hardly touching the bare earth as he ran. The moon was full and cast a bathing light onto the day scorched ground. Amanda couldn’t help her curiosity and stepped out of the tent, taking a few steps in the direction the boy was headed. She hesitated. She knew Thomas would be angry if he knew she had left the tent during the night. All the better reason to let him sleep she decided.
She had also fallen asleep in her clothes, sporting nothing more than a khaki vest top and a pair of bush shorts. She began to follow the little boy. The red dust began to stick to her bare feet and the ground was still warm from the baking heat of the day. She crossed the road that led into the camp and stood for a moment as she looked out over the long grass that stretched out in front of her. Thomas really would be angry at the thought of her going into the grass without a gun or an escort. But she could see the path the boy had taken and now she was growing concerned. She had already imagined the possibility the boy was from a local village, where maybe the man-eaters had attacked. What if he came for help? Amanda thought. She pushed on into the long grass.
She moved carefully and quietly, pushing the brush aside and listening intently with every step. She could barely see over the top, so instead she crouched and followed the path the boy had made, peering ahead.
“Kito,” she whispered softly, “kito?”
The Swahili word was often used affectionately by mothers to children. The literal translation meant ‘precious one’. Amanda had considered the boy was so young that he may never have met a white person, and her appearance may have startled him. If he heard her speaking softly and in Swahili, he might stop running.
The moon was directly above her, making her long blonde hair look silver in the strange light. Somehow it made her feel alone and exposed, and she shivered with the cold she suddenly felt. Instinct overrode her and the hairs on the back of her neck stood on end as she reached the abrupt end of the trail. The boy had seemingly disappeared into thin air. The tall grass ahead of her swayed silently in the wind, moving back and forth as if caught in the breath of some invisible giant beast. She crouched, spinning on her heels to face the direction she had come from. She began to tremble as she closed her eyes and listened as the crickets stopped singing one by one until there was silence.
For a moment, she couldn’t bring herself to open her eyes. She gritted her teeth and blinked, peering out into the grass around her. At first, she didn’t see anything. Then a pair of amber eyes flashed somewhere in the black undergrowth, then another. More eyes, like burning coals in the darkness, appeared over to her left. Even in her fear, she was amazed at the pride’s ability to work together in silence and in the gloom. She could feel them closing in on her. She estimated them to be no more than twenty yards away and they were obviously hunting. She was in no doubt what, or rather who, the prey was.
She decided she had only one chance. The camp was three hundred yards ahead of her, beyond the long grass and across the road. She leapt upwards, her bare feet tearing into the ground violently as she sprinted through the grass. The greenery around her seemed to ripple with tawny coloured flashes of flesh. The lions began to call to each other quietly, emitting little coughs and grunts that came from both sides. She knew they were verging in on her, attracted by her flight and the noise she made as she ran. Her muscles burned as she willed herself faster.
She could now see the road and she felt a momentary swell of relief. She was going to make it. She knew the lions would at least hesitate before they broke cover, giving her the few seconds she needed to make it into the camp. She decided anyhow that she was close enough to start screaming and raise the alarm. She opened her mouth just as the silhouette passed in front of her. She found herself suddenly stunned and winded as she was knocked to the ground. A large, pale coloured paw pushed her face into the dust, stifling the scream that waited to burst from her lungs. It had been the perfect ambush. The big female had always been behind her, waiting for the rest of the pride to drive Amanda into her waiting jaws.
The animal snarled at the unwelcome human scent of the still squirming prey. It opened its mouth wide and bit deep into the back of Amanda’s neck. She kicked out a few times in her violent death throws as she asphyxiated, then her body went limp as her windpipe was crushed and the nerves at the top of the spinal cord were cut off. As the big female began to feed, the other members of the pride drew close, waiting their turn to feast.
Shadow Beast is out now in paperback and on Kindle.
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