Extract from Face

October 13th, 2000 • Posted in Extracts |

An extract from Face, Chapter One

Later, they would all wonder how they had not guessed the truth. He was waiting in the snow, but after climbing into the car he did not seem cold, his breath did not condense, he appeared calm and composed. He did not act like a man that needed help.

As they first approached him he looked like a tree, struck by lightning decades ago and rotted down to a six-foot stump, standing proud of the snowbanks as if still striving for the sun. And then he turned his head and his shadow followed; maybe a split second later, maybe not. It was still snowing heavily, and the wind sent sheets of snowflakes waving across the road and into the darkness beyond. Perhaps this explained why the headlights had not picked him out very clearly at first away. For an instant the space he occupied in the world was a black hole, swallowing light and logic, disbelief and doubt.

Minutes later they knew him as a human being and for a while they ignored the fleeting doubts, fears and concerns they had felt in those first few moments. They would return later, these fears, and the family – Dan and Megan and Nikki – would try to sort truth from lies. And they would come to know that hate misleads, fear distorts and love blinds. To begin with, they thought that they were safe.

Some days all Nikki wanted was to be a little girl again.

They’d been driving for four hours on what was normally a two hour journey. She had begun to feel sick, she wanted to ask if they were nearly there yet, and she needed the toilet … but she knew her parents were in no mood for any of this. She was a teenager with a level of behaviour to adhere to, after all. So she simply sat back and shut up, bit her tongue, wondered why she was feeling like this more and more. She thought that all the anger and angst were supposed to be left behind with puberty.

Snow threw strange shadows across the window beside her, like shaky footage of nebulous creatures of the deep.

Everything today was white. The radio had called it a whiteout, an expression she’d heard before on television, and only then from America or Switzerland or the Antarctic. Never had a whiteout in Britain, she was sure. And certainly not here in Monmouthshire, of that she was positive. No, that would be just too exciting.

She caught sight of something she recognised – a small gatehouse discernible only by shape, because the blizzard ate size and colour – and she knew that they were only a few miles from home.

Her dad was driving, a dark hunched shape dressed against the cold so that he looked like a chrysalis sitting in the driver’s seat. Nikki wondered what he would turn into, and she spent a few idle minutes speculating to divert her mind from her uncomfortably swollen bladder. Most of her ideas were bad. Dad would not be a butterfly, he would be a moth. Her mum said he had lost sight of his youth – the childlike wonder, the freshness, the miracles – many years ago. He collected those old books, but his interest in them was like a photograph of himself as a child; nostalgic rather than fresh. Often she thought of asking exactly when he had grown old, but she was too afraid to know. She was terrified it had happened the moment she was born.

A forest emerged by the roadside. Beyond it their house and one other lay surrounded by woodland and mock-wild meadow. Boughs were loaded and ready to break. Nikki imagined different shapes dodging the headlights, silhouettes between the trees, fleeting glimpses of things never known. But there was only the snow. Silent and insistent, it buried the world she knew beneath its misleading shroud …

Her mother sighed and her father shifted grumpily. This was no time or place for imagination to be let loose; it would be thwarted by the emotionally staid, sterile atmosphere. So instead Nikki thought about The Rabids, wondered when they would secure their first gig, where it would be, and which record company spotters would be there to see them play.

“Poor sod,” her father said.

“It’s a tree,” her mum muttered.

Nikki leaned between the front seats and tried to squint through the misted windscreen. A shadow appeared out of the snow next to the road, a daring shape standing upright against the worst storm nature could muster, turning and staring at the car as it closed in. And in the early dusky twilight brought on by the blizzard, its eyes caught the headlights and fired them back.

How romantic, Nikki thought, a stranger in the snow! Imagine him sitting in the car next to me, dripping and shivering but trying to sound polite and grateful for the lift. He’d be no more than a few inches away, his cold flesh tingling as blood circulation recovered, and if I shifted over just a little he’d feel my heat-

–so how do I know it’s a he?

“You just have to pick him up,” Nikki said.

“He’s a hitchhiker,” her dad said.

“For Christ’s sake, Dad-”


She tutted. “Sorry, Mum.” And thought, well, for fuck’s sake then.

The Land Rover Freelander slowed as it approached the figure, her dad obviously keen for a glimpse of who would – or could – be out in this horrendous storm. The shape seemed to grow faster than perspective allowed, until by the time the vehicle came to a halt it was standing right there in front of them, bare hands seeking the warmth of the bonnet, head thrown back and mouth open to catch snowflakes on a dry grey tongue.

It was a him.

His hair was long and black, shining like oil-slicked leather in the poor light. His cheekbones were so high and pronounced that they caught a few flakes and held them there, frozen. His eyelids were shut and snow gathered there too, rough white pennies on the eyes of a cadaver.

Holy shit, Nikki thought. He’s a fucking god!

Then he opened his eyes and looked straight through the windscreen. Nikki heard her mother mutter something beneath her breath, and her dad gasped. Nikki could only nod to herself. A god.

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One comment on “Extract from Face”

  1. Kayla says:

    This is my favorite novel. His wording is so brilliant.

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