We're delighted to present an extract from Last Ones Left Alive, the debut novel from Sarah Davis-Goff, published by Tinder Press.
Raised by her mother and Maeve on Slanbeg, an island off the west coast of Ireland, Orpen has a childhood of love and stories by the fireside. But the stories grow darker, and the training begins. Ireland has been devoured by a ravening menace known as the skrake, and though Slanbeg is safe for now, the women must always be ready to run, or to fight...
Stay clear of tall buildings. Maeve's advice. There is no way round, though, that I can see, not unless we go back, unless I unload and load up the barrow all those times again to get over the trees and gaps and cracks. Going back never seems the right thing to me. I shade my eyes against the sun and look on ahead of us at the town, trying to see might anything fall down on top of us. ‘Is it the right way?’ I ask Maeve, and I ask it out loud, my voice a tremble, in case she can hear me. I’m nearly afraid she’ll answer, and then when she doesn’t I feel a swell of pure rage. We’ll go through. Whatever way we go we’ll have to get through the bigger towns sooner or later. And I want to look, anyway; I want to see a bit of the lives that were lead in the towns here in Ireland. We go on straight so and the buildings get bigger the way the trees did before till we’re surrounded by them. We go quietly on the road, and I’m awake now and looking around and my stomach is in my throat. Glass crunches beneath us. I see shadows and reflections. We might be watched from a thousand different places, something might jump out at us from a hundred. Then something does. A half-turn, a breath, is all I manage before it is on top of me. The barrow goes sprawling and the back of my head is smacked into the road. One hand comes up reflexively towards my belt but the other is pinned behind my back as I fall. I can do nothing at all. I can’t think or breathe or blink or move. I’ve no answer for this thing on me. Move! Maeve. It’s the edge in her voice in my head that gets me going. I try to push myself up and can’t, but get a breath in at least. The smell of rotten meat hits me and I hear, nearly feel, teeth clacking together, trying to snatch a mouthful off out of me. I throw an elbow up and thrust. It’s flimsy and I go again, harder. The weight on me shifts a little. I smash, my elbow bruising, and again, and then both hands are free, and the weight lifts enough to let me get up as far as my knees. My dog Danger is barking hoarsely. It’s everywhere, snapping its teeth furiously, and it’s the most I can do to push the head away with both hands. The teeth are just a whisker off my ear. I can feel the skin and hair shift beneath my palms, its flesh coming away from rotting sinew and muscle and bone. Its dead breath is overwhelming. I fall backwards and the skrake doesn’t break for a second before it comes at me again fast, so fast, but I get a foot under it and pitch hard upwards as I land (Sacrifice throw, Maeve says. Good), and with a desperate thrust I get it most of the way over my head. I get up to my feet and get back to put more space between us and I crouch low and ready. I’ve an anger on me now that I have my breath, now that I’m not so panicked. I feel it all the way up from my toes. My fingers go to my belt and I let fly. My hands are shaking with the fright but the knife gets into the skrake’s chest and I feel like I’m going to win: I feel like I’m getting something back, I’m clawing something away from the dread I’ve in me. I can see it gather itself together for another attack, and without looking for it my second knife is in my hand. I back up a few steps more as it reaches for me, aim for the skull and I throw. The knife glances off.
Danger has the skrake’s lower leg in his mouth, I see now. I think I shout while I pick another knife, toss, catch and throw again, aiming again for the head, and I’m wondering stupidly if I can even pierce a skull from this distance, and all my life bloody training and really I have no idea, I know nothing. The head moves to the left as Danger pulls harder on its leg and the knife glances off again.
I take a breath through my nose. I try to calm down. I reposition myself with one knee beneath me on the ground and one knee forward. The skrake is going to shake off Danger or he’ll get hurt, and I move my hand to my knifebelt again, bring it up, let fly. This one catches it full force in the throat but the skrake doesn’t stop and I get my hands out nearly as it lands on me: I roll sideways, get to my feet and crouch low, trying to gather myself before it comes at me again. Syrupy black blood is oozing from its injuries but the skrake keeps coming. It grabs my hair and an arm, whatever is in
reach, and pulls me apart while its teeth go for my head. I arch my back, try to get a knee between us, and loose a hand so I can get hold of the knife still lodged in its neck. I pull it out and the skrake gives a deep gurgling noise: blood throbs out much faster now, and I feel the warmth of it drench my clothes. I stick the knife in again and feel it weakening at last. I don’t stop. The knife meets soft flesh and gritty flesh and bone, and when I pull it out the blood spurts on to me and it’s all I can do to keep my face out of the flow. I worry about the sores on my hands. I push it off me, feeling the shakiness, the weakness in my arms. I don’t let myself lie there even for an instant. I move. I’m on my feet, in a guard position, watching. I breathe, in and out.
Last Ones Left Alive (published by Tinder Press) is out now.