Extract: A Slow Fire Burning by Paula Hawkins
Laura has spent most of her life being judged. She’s seen as hot-tempered, troubled, a loner. Some even call her dangerous.
Miriam knows that just because Laura is witnessed leaving the scene of a horrific murder with blood on her clothes, that doesn’t mean she’s a killer. Bitter experience has taught her how easy it is to get caught in the wrong place at the wrong time.
Carla is reeling from the brutal murder of her nephew. She trusts no one: good people are capable of terrible deeds. But how far will she go to find peace?
Innocent or guilty, everyone is damaged. Some are damaged enough to kill.
Read on for the first chapter of A Slow Fire Burning by Paula Hawkins!
A Slow Fire Burning
Blood-sodden, the girl staggers into the black. Her clothes are dishevelled, hanging off her young body, revealing expanses of pale flesh. Shoe lost, foot bleeding. She is in agony, but the pain has become inconsequential, eclipsed by other sufferings.
Her face is a mask of terror, her heart is a drum, her breath is the stricken pant of a fox gone to ground.
The night’s silence is broken by a low hum. A plane? Wiping blood from her eyes, the girl looks up at the sky and sees nothing but stars.
The hum is louder, lower. A car changing gear? Has she reached the main road? Her heart lifts, and from somewhere deep in her gut she summons the energy to run.
She feels rather than sees the light behind her. She feels her shape illuminated in the black and knows that the car is coming from behind her. It’s coming from the farm. She turns.
She knows, before she sees, that he has found her. She knows, before she sees, that it will be his face behind the wheel. She freezes. For a second she hesitates, and then she leaves the road, takes off running, into a ditch, over a wooden fence. She scrambles into the adjacent field and runs blind, falling, picking herself up, making no sound. What good would screaming do?
When he catches her, he takes handfuls of her hair, pulls her down. She can smell his breath. She knows what he is going to do to her. She knows what is coming because she has already seen him do it, she saw him do it to her friend, how savagely he—
‘Oh, for God’s sake,’ Irene muttered out loud, snapping the book shut and slinging it on to the charity-shop pile. ‘What utter drivel.’
Inside Laura’s head, Deidre spoke. The trouble with you, Laura, she said, is that you make bad choices.
Too fucking right, Deidre. Not something Laura expected to say or even think, but standing there in her bathroom, shaking uncontrollably, blood pulsing hot and steady from the cut to her arm, she had to admit that imaginary Deidre was bang on the money. She leaned forward, her forehead resting against the mirror so that she wouldn’t have to look herself in the eye, only looking down was worse, because that way she could watch the blood ooze out of her, and it made her woozy, made her feel like she might throw up. So much blood. The cut was deeper than she’d thought, she ought to go to A&E. There was no way she was going to A&E.
When at last the flow of blood seemed to slow, Laura took off her T-shirt and dropped it on the floor, she slipped out of her jeans, dropped her knickers, wriggled out of her bra, inhaling sharply through her teeth as the metal catch scraped against the cut, hissing, ‘Fuck fuck mother of fuck.’
She dropped the bra on the floor too, clambered into the bathtub and turned on the shower, stood shivering under the paltry trickle of scalding water (her shower offered a choice of very hot or very cold, nothing in between). She ran the tips of her wrinkled fingers back and forth over her bone- white, beautiful scars: hip, thigh, shoulder, back of skull. Here I am, she said quietly to herself. Here I am.
Afterwards, her forearm wrapped ineffectually in reams of toilet paper, the rest of her wrapped in a threadbare towel, sitting on the ugly grey pleather sofa in her living room, Laura rang her mother. It went to voicemail, and she hung up. No point wasting credit. She rang her father next. ‘You all right, chicken?’ She could hear noises in the background, the radio, 5 Live.
‘Dad.’ She felt a lump rise to her throat and she swallowed it.
‘Dad, could you come round? I . . . I had a bad night, I was wondering if you could just come over for a bit. I know it’s a bit of a drive, but I—’
‘No, Philip.’ Deidre, in the background, hissing through clenched teeth. ‘We’ve got bridge.’
‘Dad? Could you take me off speaker?’
‘Seriously, could you take me off speaker? I don’t want to hear her voice, it makes me want to set fire to things . . .’
‘Now, come on, Laura . . .’
‘Just forget it, Dad, it doesn’t matter.’
‘Are you sure?’
No I’m not no I’m not no I’m fucking not. ‘Yeah, sure. I’m fine. I’ll be fine.’
On her way to the bedroom, she stepped on her jacket, which she’d dropped in the hallway in her rush to get to the bathroom. She bent down and picked it up. The sleeve was torn, Daniel’s watch still in the pocket. She took the watch out, turned it over, slipped it on to her wrist. The toilet paper around her forearm bloomed scarlet, her limb throbbing gently as the blood pulsed out of her. Her head swam. In the bathroom, she dropped the watch into the sink, tore off the paper, dropped the towel on the floor. Climbed back under the shower.
Using a pair of scissors to scrape beneath her fingernails, she watched the water running rosy at her feet. She closed her eyes. She listened to Daniel’s voice asking, What is wrong with you? and Deidre’s voice saying, No, Philip, we’ve got bridge, and to her own. Set fire to things. Set fire. Set fire set fire set fire.
Enjoyed this extract from A Slow Fire Burning by Paula Hawkins? Let us know in the comments below!