We're delighted to present an extract from Hawk Mountain, the debut novel from writer, lecturer and podcaster Conner Habib.
Thirty-three-year-old Todd is playing at the beach with his son, Anthony, when he catches sight of an approaching figure. Instantly, he recognizes Jack, his high school tormentor. Todd hasn't seen Jack since school, and yet here he is - radiant, repentant, and overjoyed to have run into Todd. Jack suggests a meal to catch up. And could he spend the night? He's in an unfamiliar town after all. Caught off guard by this chance interaction, Todd finds himself unable to escape Jack's charismatic and insistent presence in his life. But then Todd's past starts to catch up with him and Jack isn't going anywhere....
Before Todd sees Jack for the first time, his eyes are closed. He's in class.
Around him are the sounds of other people who don’t want to be there: students, the teachers in other rooms, cafeteria workers, custo- dians in the halls. They’re all held together by this school at the top of a hill in Lanchester, New Hampshire, where nothing happens. Outside, the world is living out its rhythms; wrens dart past the window, and a cloud dissolves in front of the sun.
Todd is seventeen. It’s the start of senior year. Just nine months between now and graduation, but still, it feels there’s no end in sight.
He opens his eyes and Mrs. Call is at the front of the room with another boy.
Everything is about to start.
The boy is blond with a swipe of freckles across the middle of his face, which Todd can see even though the boy is looking at the floor. He’s wearing the uniform they all wear: a white shirt with a red tie. The boys wear dark blue pants and the girls wear blue skirts; they don’t like it. He’s holding two pieces of paper. Mrs. Call has her hand on his back. "Jack Gates is our second Community Hope Scholarship Student," she says, though no one knows what that means or who the other Com- munity Hope Scholarship Student might be. "He wrote an essay on wildlife in Maine, and we’re going to read it later this week."
The boy looks up: green eyes, Todd sees. Like cracked sea glass. "Jack. Gates," Mrs. Call says again. "Not an easy name to forget. If you say it, you’ll remember it." She gestures to the class and they say his name in unison, except for Todd, who is caught off guard by these two syllables. Jack. Gates.
"Jack, where are you from?" she asks him.
"Me and my dad moved here from Alhashee, Maine," Jack says in a Maine accent, thick like a slur, looking up at her. Jack isn’t short, but she is taller than him.
"My Dad and I," she corrects him, but Jack just stands there. He doesn’t know that he’s supposed to parrot her, so there’s a moment of nonsense, of quiet that isn’t supposed to be quiet.
"My Dad and I, Jack," Mrs. Call says again, and some of the students shift in their seats, since the repetition of a moment is unbearable, because their lives are full of repetitions.
"Oh," Jack says. And at that moment Todd giggles a little and looks over at Hannah Grace, who has black hair, and black lipstick on her polite smile. Then Todd hears Jack repeat after Mrs. Call, finally, "My Dad and I."
Todd turns back to the front of the room, and Jack is looking right at him. Into him, with his sea-glass eyes. He sees that Jack has spotted him laughing. But no, no, he’s misread, Todd thinks, I wasn’t laughing at him, just the moment.
But Jack’s face is taut. It’s trembling with anger.
Hawk Mountain by Conner Habib is published by Doubleday. Conner will be interviewed as part of a panel for the Museum of Literature Ireland's First Friday series on 5th August 2022 - find out more here.