Extract: The Drift by C J Tudor
During a deadly snowstorm, Hannah awakens to carnage, all mangled metal and shattered glass. Evacuated from a secluded boarding school, her coach careered off the road, trapping her with a handful of survivors.
Meg awakens to a gentle rocking. She’s in a cable car stranded high above snowy mountains, with five strangers and no memory of how they got on board.
Carter is gazing out of the window of an isolated ski chalet that he and his companions call home. As their generator begins to waver in the storm, the threat of something lurking in the chalet’s depths looms larger.
Outside, the storm rages. Inside one group, a killer lurks. But which one? And who will make it out alive?
Read on for the opening chapter of The Drift by C J Tudor!
C J Tudor
The Earth is Full of Dead Good Guys
A watch alarm was beeping. Someone was being sick. Loudly, close by. Several people were sprawled at odd, impossible angles over the uprooted coach seats. Blood pooled in eyes and dripped from gaping mouths.
Hannah noted this dispassionately, clinically. Her father’s nature kicking in, her mother would have said. Always able to detach. Sometimes, this lack of emotional empathy made life difficult. Other times, like now, that side was useful.
She unclipped her seatbelt and eased herself out of her seat. Wearing the belt had probably saved her life when the coach tipped over. It had rolled twice down a steep slope, causing most of the carnage, and then come to rest softly, propped half on its side, embedded in a snowdrift.
She hurt. Bruises, scrapes, but nothing seemed to be broken. No massive bleeding. Of course, she could have internal injuries. Impossible to know for sure. But for now, in this immediate moment, she was okay. Or as okay as she could be.
Others were moving. Hannah could hear groans, crying. The hurler had stopped, for now. She looked around the coach, assessing. There were a dozen students on board. They hadn’t really needed such a big coach, but it was what the Academy had provided. Of the students, she’d say almost half were dead (mostly those who hadn’t bothered with their seatbelts).
There was something else, Hannah thought, as she took in the scene. A problem she hadn’t fully comprehended yet. Snowstorm outside, coach tipped over and half buried in a drift. What was it? Her thoughts were interrupted by a voice shouting:
‘Hey. HEY! Can someone help over here? My sister, she’s trapped.’
Hannah turned. At the back of the coach an overweight young man with a mass of dark curls was crouched over an injured girl, cradling her head on his lap.
Hannah hesitated. She told herself she was just gathering her wits, preparing. Not that she was hoping someone else would move forward, step up, so she didn’t have to. She didn’t like close physical or emotional contact. But no one else was in any fit state to help, and as she had medical knowledge, it was her duty. She started to move forward, awkwardly, stumbling her way along the lopsided gangway, stepping over bodies.
She reached the man and his sister. Straight away, she could tell, as they said in the movies, that the girl wasn’t going to make it. This had nothing to do with the stuff Hannah had learned in the classroom during her medical training. That was just a plain, honest gut reaction. Hannah was pretty sure the girl’s brother knew it too, but he was clinging to hope, as people do in these situations, because it was all they had.
The girl was pretty, with pale skin and thick, wavy, dark hair. The sort of hair Hannah had always wished she’d been blessed with, instead of the fine, mousy strands that she could never do anything with and always ended up yanking back into an untidy ponytail. Hannah realized it was probably odd to feel envy when the girl was dying, but human nature was unpredictable.
The girl’s eyes were glazed, her breath short and wheezy. Hannah could see that her left leg was trapped beneath two coach seats that had been forced together in the crash. A mess of mangled metal and crushed bone; she probably had multiple fractures. But the blood loss was the real problem, and that was before you got to the wheezy hitch of the girl’s breathing, which made Hannah think she could have other, less visible, injuries. Those were the ones that would get you. The British princess – Diana – had died from a small tear in the vein of her lung that no one knew was slowly, fatally, bleeding out.
‘We need to get her leg free,’ the man was saying. ‘Can you help me move this seat?’
Hannah looked at the seat. She could tell him that it wouldn’t make any difference. She could tell him that the best he could do would be to stay here with his sister for however long she had left. But she remembered her father telling her: ‘In extreme situations, feeling like you are doing something makes a difference psychologically, even if it has no effect on the outcome.’
She shook her head. ‘We can’t move the seat yet.’
‘It may be the only thing stopping that leg from bleeding out more than it is.’
‘Are you wearing a belt?’
‘I need you to take it off and make a tourniquet here, above the knee. Then we can try to move the seat, right?’
‘Okay.’ He looked dazed, but nonetheless fumbled beneath his coat to take off his belt. His stomach spilt over his jeans. His sister stared up, lips moving but unable to force words out. Every effort concentrated on fighting the pain, sucking in those vital gasps of oxygen.
‘You look a little young for a doctor,’ the man said, handing her the belt.
‘Ah, right.’ He nodded. ‘One of Grant’s.’
The Academy did not specialize in medicine. Generally, it specialized in parents rich enough to buy their offspring an obscenely expensive college education. But a few years ago it had been chosen by the Department as the location for a new medical research centre. An extra wing had been built and Professor Grant, one of the world’s leading virologists, installed to oversee the development. Now, brilliant young students from around the world were selected to study at the isolated mountaintop campus.
‘Wrap the belt around here,’ Hannah instructed. ‘Pull really, really tight. Okay. Good.’
The girl groaned a little, but that was a good sign. If she was still conscious enough to feel discomfort, her brain hadn’t started shutting down yet.
‘It’s okay,’ the man whispered into the girl’s hair, tucking some of his own dark mane behind his ear. ‘S’okay.’
‘Right,’ Hannah said. ‘Let’s try and lift this.’
The man laid his sister’s head gently down and joined Hannah in trying to heave up the coach seat. It was no good. It creaked and gave a little, but not enough. They needed another person. Two to lift. One to pull the girl’s leg out from underneath the twisted metal.
Hannah could hear more voices, movement around the coach, people coming to, ascertaining whether their companions were still alive, or not.
She turned and yelled: ‘Hey, we need a hand here! Can someone help?’
‘Kind of busy over here,’ one smart Alec from further up the coach replied.
But then a tall, slim figure stood and made his way towards them. Pale, short blond hair, matted on one side with blood. It looked bad, but Hannah knew that even small headwounds bled like bastards.
‘You called?’ His voice was cultured, with a slight German accent.
‘We need some help lifting this chair so we can free her leg,’ Hannah said.
The blond man looked at the girl, then back at Hannah, and she saw the cool appraisal in his eyes. She shook her head slightly and he nodded, understanding.
‘Right then. Heft-ho!’
Hannah allowed the two men to do the lifting while she eased the girl’s leg out from underneath the seats. It took a couple of attempts, but finally, the leg was free.
The girl’s brother moved his sister to a slightly more comfortable position, whipped off his jacket and placed it underneath her head. Beneath his coat, he was wearing a baggy sweatshirt that read: Excuse me for a moment while I overthink this. Weird, Hannah thought, the small stuff you noticed.
She felt a hand touch her arm and turned back to the blond-haired man. Aryan, Hannah thought. He’d look at home in lederhosen and a hat with a feather in it.
‘How many do you think are dead?’ he asked.
‘Four or five – others may be injured.’
He glanced at the girl and nodded. ‘D’you remember what happened?’
Hannah tried to think. She had been sitting on the coach, dozing. It was snowing heavily outside. A horn blare. A squeal of brakes and suddenly they were swerving off the road, rolling and rolling, and then blackness. Crazy that they had even tried to make the journey in this storm, but the Academy had been eager to get the students out to the Retreat. To safety.
‘Not much,’ she admitted.
She looked around the coach again. Her eyes skirted over the bodies, the people sitting around, moaning, crying. She was trying to recall what she had missed before.
The coach had landed, tilted on its right-hand side. From where Hannah stood, looking up the coach towards the driver’s cab, the windows on her left were intact, facing up towards the darkening sky. Snow whisked around in lacy sheets, large flakes already beginning to settle. The worst of the damage was on the right: crushed metal, smashed glass. That entire side of the coach was buried in a thick drift, meaning…
The door, she thought. The door is buried. We can’t get out.
‘We’re trapped,’ she said.
The blond man nodded, as if pleased she had reached the same conclusion. ‘Although, even if we could get out, we wouldn’t last for long in these conditions.’
‘What about the emergency exit?’ Hannah asked.
‘I have already tried that…it appears to be jammed.’
The man took her elbow and guided her a little way along the coach. On their left, three steps led to the toilet and another door. A sign above it read: IN EMERGENCY PULL RED HANDLE. PUSH DOOR TO EXIT. The blond man pulled at the handle and pushed at the door. It didn’t give.
He stepped aside and gestured for Hannah to attempt it. She did. Several times, in increasing frustration. The door was stuck firm.
‘Shit,’ she cursed. ‘How?’ ‘Who knows? Perhaps it was damaged in the crash?’
‘Wait –’ Hannah remembered something. ‘Shouldn’t there be a hammer on board, to break the windows?’
‘Correct. That is the other conundrum.’
Hannah frowned. ‘What d’you mean?’
The man stepped back and pointed towards a case mounted just above the windows on their left. Where the hammer should be there was an empty space.
‘There should be another up here, for the skylights.’ He gestured towards the roof. ‘That has also been removed.’
Hannah’s head spun. ‘But why?’
The blond man smiled without humour. ‘Who knows? Maybe some Arschgeige stole them for a prank. Maybe no one checked this coach before it left –’ He let the sentence hang.
‘We need to call for help,’ Hannah said, trying to batten down the panic.
Which was when the other realization hit.
All phones had been confiscated when the students boarded and stowed away with the luggage. No communication en route.
No one must know where they were going.
Hannah stared at the blond man. No way to call for help. No way of knowing how long it might take for rescue to come. How long until they were missed? And even then, who would come to their aid in this storm?
She glanced back out of the windows, looking towards the sky. Already snow was piling up, cutting out the faint grey light.
They were trapped. With the dead. And if rescue didn’t come soon, they would be buried with them.
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