Excerpt from Cold Steal

14 April 2014

He blinked at the square of bright light on the wall and wondered where he was. His head felt heavy. It took a little while for him to work out that the intermittent buzzing he could hear was in his head. Otherwise, there was silence, but not the silence of insulated walls and windows that he was used to. This was an absence of sound, not sound carefully excluded. After a while, he lifted his head from whatever it had been resting on and felt it with one heavy hand, wondering if someone had hit him.

Eventually he forced himself to sit up and found that he ached; not just his head, but every part of him seemed to hurt. Hauling himself to his feet, he supported himself against a windowsill, a graveyard of last summer’s flies, and looked out through the cracked panes. The square of light on the opposite wall had been cast through this window, and he was instantly dazzled by the brightness that stabbed into his head. His glasses had gone and only things that were far away were in focus. The rising distant hills were clear, sparkling in the morning sun and white with a delicate scattering of snow, as a cake is dusted with powdered sugar.

He wondered where he might be. He remembered leaving the hotel and getting into a taxi that appeared by magic, as if called, and leaving it to get into the lift at . . . Where was it? Who had called him? It wasn’t easy to remember and he found himself trying to claw back memories of what he told himself had happened only a day or so ago, but which felt like ancient history.

Sounds gradually started to impinge on his consciousness. There was an occasional distant drip of water somewhere behind him. A bird sang outside beyond the cracked window. There was the slightest rustle of wind in the dry grass outside and he felt a sudden overwhelming hunger.

He was in a cubicle, a grey box that had once been a room, and the door hung at an awkward angle on one of its hinges. He shuffled to it and looked past into a corridor that he gingerly went along, hands on the walls to support himself.

At the end was another room, the glassless windows open to the elements and their long-broken panes shadows of shards in the deep layer of dust on the floor. What had once been a kitchen was open to the elements and Jóhann shivered. Spring was on the way but summer was still a long way off as he again wondered where he could be, gazing around him as he gathered his wits.

There was a gaping hole in the wall for what had once been the flue for a stove of some kind. Any cupboards or furnishing had long been stripped out, but a rickety table against one wall and a chair next to it looked clean, as if recently wiped down, and to his surprise, he saw his belongings stacked neatly on it. The jacket he had been wearing had been folded. He shook it out and gratefully put it on. In the pockets were his wallet, the cash and cards still there inside, and his phone, its battery dead. He tried to switch it on several times without success before pocketing it and finding his glasses there. The left lens had cracked with a starburst of fine lines at one corner, but he almost wept with relief as the world jumped back into focus and he was able to take in his dismal surroundings.