Extract: The Last Winter Of Dani Lancing by P D Viner
P D Viner’s debut novel The Last Winter of Dani Lancing is a deeply textured psychological thriller that reveals, layer by tragic layer, the damage wrought by a single act of homicide.
In the book, something very bad has happened to Dani Lancing and twenty years later her father is still trying to get her to talk. Her best friend has become a detective, the last hope of all the lost girls, and her mother is about to become a killer…
Read an extract from this gripping new thriller below.
The Last Winter of Dani Lancing
P D Viner
Saturday 18 December 2010
‘There’s no such thing as monsters,’ he tells her.
The girl screws up her nose. ‘Look anyway. Please.’
She hugs Hoppy Bunny tight as her dad slides sideways off the bed and onto the floor, pulling the duvet to one side and peering into the shadows.
‘Are you sure?’
Even at five years old she knows that grown-ups can’t be trusted with this stuff. They aren’t clear about what is and isn’t in the dark.
‘I am absolutely, totally sure there’s nothing under your bed.’
‘Check the wardrobe.’
With an exaggerated sigh, he moves across the room and pulls the doors open quickly. Dresses and coats sway violently, like zombie hordes.
‘It’s okay.’ He grabs the clothes. ‘Nothing to worry about.’ He pushes them aside and peers into the back of the wardrobe. ‘Just clothes, no lions or witches.’
Her eyes widen. ‘Did you think there would be?’
‘No. No… I was just being silly.’ He sits back on the edge of her bed. ‘There’s nothing there, darling.’
‘Nothing now! What if a monster slides under the door when I’m asleep?’
‘Once I kiss you goodnight the room is sealed, nothing can come into your bedroom in the night.’
She frowns. ‘What about the tooth fairy?’
‘I meant…’ He frowns too. ‘Nothing bad can come in, and Hoppy Bunny’s here to keep you safe.’
‘How?’ She looks dubiously at the small stuffed rabbit.
‘Hoppy was specially trained, he only lets in good fairies or Santa.’
‘Don’t worry, Dani. Mummy and I are downstairs. Nothing bad is going to happen. I promise.’ He kisses her forehead…
…and the memory starts to fade.
Dani watches her younger self melt into the shadows of the night. Frozen in time, for a moment longer, is her father. The sight of him, so young and handsome, makes her smile – a sad smile. Slowly, the black hair, smooth face, elegant clothes slip away. Left behind, lying in the bed, is the older version. His hair is salt and pepper now, his face craggy and lined. He sleeps, but it’s not the sleep of the just. His nights are pained by visions. More than twenty years of night terrors – and she is the cause.
She sits in the chair by the door and watches him sleep just like she does every night, watching for the shadows to take his dreams. When they come, she will sing to him. Sometimes, when he whimpers or calls out, she aches to lean forward and kiss his forehead – but she can’t. Nearly forty years have passed since he banished the monsters from her room. Now it’s her job – to keep him safe in the night.
She curls her arms around herself. The room is cold, though she doesn’t notice, she just likes to feel arms around her. She wishes she could call the child back, see herself again from all those years ago. How old – five? So serious and confident, when had it all disappeared? But of course she knows the answer to that. ‘Dani…’ he calls out in his sleep.
‘Shh, sleep safe. I’m here.’ And softly she sings a lullaby she remembers from all those years ago.
‘Care you not and go to sleep, Over you a watch I’ll keep…’
‘Not her!’ He calls out in pain from the thickness of his nightmare.
‘Shh, Dad.’ She slides off the chair to kneel by his bed.
‘Dani…’ he calls softly.
‘I can’t find you.’
He’s sweating. His face is pinched and his legs begin to jerk like he’s running.
‘Dani!’ he yells, his hands flail, jaws grind.
‘I’m here, Dad,’ she tells him, hoping her voice might worm its way down into his dream.
He twists sharply and cries in pain. ‘Are you safe?’
She hesitates. ‘Yes, Dad, I’m safe.’
He shakes, whimpering like a child. ‘Dani. Where are you?’
‘Dad, I’m here,’ she whispers. ‘I came back.’
His face contorts and he moans loudly.
‘I can’t see through the snow. Dani, I can’t—’ his body is suddenly rigid. His jaw grinds and darkness knits his brow. His back arcs – like he is having a seizure.
‘Sleep, Daddy. I’m here.’
He makes a low moan and, like a sudden storm, the danger passes as tension slips away from his body and he slides deep into the undertow of sleep. She watches him, listens as his breath softens until it’s barely audible. He’s still. He’s safe. The monsters have left him alone – for tonight. He should sleep until morning.
She stretches in the chair. Her back aches and the pain in her hip cuts through her. She can’t sit any longer, so lies on the floor beside him. She rocks from side to side, trying to get comfortable. It was such a long time ago, surely it shouldn’t still feel like this. Phantom pains. On the ceiling, the faintest movements of shadow – greys and blacks – skirmish above her head. Slowly, the pain recedes and she sinks into the floor. She lies still, missing her night-light, wants something to eat the darkness away. She longs for dawn, for her dad to wake. She wants to talk, go for a walk, maybe see a movie? What time is it now – 2 a.m.? Tiredness sweeps across her. He’ll sleep – she wishes she could.
She lies still for a long time, listening to his breath rise and fall. Finally she rolls over onto all fours – stretches like a cat – and leaves. Outside his door, she pauses for a few moments, continuing to listen to his breath. One day it will end. Will she be there at that moment? Hear the body draw its final inhalation, the lungs expand and then just stop so that the air seeps away and there is nothing. Nothing. The thought scares her. The loneliness terrifies her.
She turns to her own room. Inside is her single child’s bed, the same bed her father knelt under to check for monsters all those years ago. She feels a tiny shudder run through her.
‘Someone walked over your grave.’ That’s what her gran would have said.
The room is too dark, only a little moonlight spills in from the hallway. She isn’t sure she can stay there. The shadows are alive sometimes.
‘Be brave, Dani,’ she tells herself. But the old fears are strong. What would Dad do?
She bends down and looks underneath the bed. Cobwebs. No monsters – unless you’re a fly. She smiles a fake smile, even though there’s nobody there to see it, and she feels braver.
‘Go on, Dan,’ she whispers, and stretches out her fingers to the wardrobe door. It swings open with a little haunted-house creak. The dresses and coats are long gone. It is totally empty. Of course it is. Real monsters don’t hide in wardrobes.