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Extract: The Year of the Locust by Terry Hayes

I Am Pilgrim by Terry Hayes has been one of the biggest thrillers of recent years.

This incredible novel still has us all talking, and like many readers we’ve been desperate for a second dose of Terry’s writing.

But now our wishes have finally been answered! Today Transworld has announced that Terry’s second novel, The Year of the Locust, will publish in August 2017.

We’ve got an exclusive extract here for you now – read on and let us know your thoughts in the comments below…

The Year of the Locust
by
Terry Hayes

Chapter One

My name is K. D. Faulkner. The first initial stands for Kane, the second stands for nothing – I made it up in order to add weight and flow to my signature. I am thirty-two years old and I live in easy circumstances on a horse farm in Virginia.
        It wasn’t always so.
        The truth is, I don’t know much about horses but last year – late in the summer, the hottest on record, a terrible wind coming in from the south – a series of events drove the world to the edge of the abyss. For sixteen harrowing days it looked like all seven billion of us were going over the falls together. As somebody once said – this was no disco, this was no fooling around.
        By a quirk of fate I was at the epicenter of those events. I am a military man – I have been all my adult life – and while I only did what I believed my rank and duty required, I ended up with an award for bravery. Not that you’ll find any record of it: every aspect of those few days has been classified and withheld from the public. As a result, I am probably the only person to ever receive the Congressional Medal of Honor at a secret ceremony.
        As strange as that presentation was, there is another reason it will always loom large in my memory. Of the over eight-hundred medals which have been awarded since the beginning of the Second World War, the great majority have been given posthumously. I may be ignorant about many things, but I certainly know what a miracle it is to be alive and have the President hang that pale blue ribbon around your neck.
        Immediately afterwards, concerned for my security, the government gave me the opportunity to acquire a hundred acres with a six-bedroom Colonial at a remarkable price and I thought it would be foolish not to take advantage of it. That was how a relatively young man, who entered the world with few financial prospects, came to own a horse property in one of America’s most beautiful hidden valleys. I often think when I see the foals running free – if only such things could bring us peace of mind.
        They can’t, of course, but the rolling acres did have one advantage: my wife loves horses. As for her feelings about me – well, that is more complicated. We have separated twice and after the second time, I was forced to admit that our marriage was holed below the waterline. I met with a lawyer late one afternoon, arranged to file for divorce and – determined to tell Lauren in person – texted her to make a time to visit the house. ‘Have to talk, it’s important,’ I wrote.
        An hour later, when I walked in, she was in the kitchen, making a meal at the counter, half turned away from me. She was unaware of my presence and by an accident of light – the setting sun streaming through a window behind – her white cotton dress was rendered virtually transparent, revealing her slim body. She was wearing only a brief pair of panties and I thought of all the times we had lain in bed and held each other tight, through all the fears and after so many long deployments, and I wondered – yet again – how a well we had dug so deep, could run so dry.
        She sensed I was in the room and turned towards me. Her red-rimmed eyes told me clearly she’d been crying and it took me aback – that was never part of Lauren’s playbook. She had grown up in real hardship, and while there was no doubt I could have loved her better, it was one of the things I admired most about her – she had more courage and backbone than almost anyone I knew, combat veterans included.
        The only thing I could think of was that she had realized why I was there – that a marriage which had started with such high hopes, all the dreams we had kept so close, every difficulty we had surmounted as we moved from one forlorn military base to the next, had all come to nothing. I have to say, even though she was distressed, I was relieved – I figured if she was prepared, we might avoid at least the worst of the sudden bitterness and recriminations.
        Anyway, those were the thoughts spinning through my head. Looking back, I think it’s the reason you never hear the expression ‘male intuition’.
        ‘We should be together,’ Lauren said, trying to be lighthearted but not quite succeeding. ‘When I got your text, I was just about to call you.’
        ‘Why was that?’ I asked.
        ‘There’s something I have to say.’
        I nodded – I guessed she was going to get in first and tell me it was time we threw in our hand. ‘Go ahead,’ I said.
        ‘You first,’ she replied.
        I smiled. ‘No – you often say I never give you a chance to really talk.’
        She took a breath and held my gaze. ‘I’m pregnant,’ she said.
        There was a stool beside me and I think I sat down but I can’t be sure. Either way, I was robbed of words, hurled into dealing with a maelstrom of conflicting emotions. When we were first married we had really wanted kids but, despite ovulation calendars and basal body thermometers, it never happened. Finally, we had ourselves tested and discovered that Lauren needed hormone supplement therapy. It wasn’t a difficult thing, but life – or an overseas tour – always seemed to get in the way and we never made the leap, at least not before our marriage had started to falter. Now and again, in the better times, we’d joke that at least she didn’t have to worry about the pill.
        ‘I’ve taken three home tests,’ she was saying. ‘All positive.’ I was straining to hear – it sounded like she was talking from a long way away.
        She had all her attention focused on me, desperate to gauge my reaction. For a moment I looked at her face and it wrenched me back to the present – her eyes were full of confusion. Something we had wanted so much had finally come to pass and yet, as a couple, we were in the worst place we had ever been. I’m not a Christian but I certainly know the Book of Job – the Lord giveth and the Lord taketh away. No wonder she had been crying.
        And yet, behind it, I sensed a change – a prospect of happiness, of deep fulfillment – that probably only impending motherhood could bring.
        ‘Aren’t you going to say something?’ she asked.
        I would have – if only I’d known what. Instead I reached out and took her hand. It was enough for her to step forward and lean her head into my shoulder. So we stood in silence, night engulfing the world outside, the ghostly image of us reflected in the window glass, two people bound together by a new life that had seemed impossible but they had created nonetheless, Lauren undoubtedly thinking about the miracle taking place inside her and me trying to bring some order to a future altered irrevocably. It’s all we are and can ever hope to be, I thought: riders on the storm.
        ‘Your turn,’ she said.
        ‘What?’ I replied, momentarily lost.
        ‘It’s your turn – you said it was important.’
        And so it was – but I couldn’t do it. I couldn’t take that moment from her. From us too, I suppose. It happens once in a lifetime – the news of a first child – and I wanted to hold on to it, to push our troubles away and experience it. There would be time aplenty for the world to intrude later but not now, not on this night with the moon rising and a million stars above. ‘No, it doesn’t matter,’ I said. ‘Not compared to this.’
        I guess my plan – so ill-formed that you could barely dignify it with the name – was for us to get through the pregnancy and deal with the divorce afterwards. Seven months later, I learned one of life’s most important lessons – there is a reason why DNA is built like a chain. Standing in the delivery room, holding my daughter in my arms, I knew I could never leave.
        Not long after her birth, the world began the short journey towards the abyss and I got swept into the maelstrom. As I mentioned, I am not a religious man and I often think fate can be used as an excuse for any failure but there are times when I believe some unseen hand was guiding us: that Lauren and I were always meant to be together. You see, at the height of that terrible conflict – at a time when the trumpets were about to sound, the darkness was closing in and I heard men speak of what the Vikings called Ragnarök, the war at the end of days – Lauren stood by me, her courage never failing. And it was during that onslaught, in the strangest circumstances, we fell in love all over again.
        We have two children now. The kids ride horses, my wife rides horses, and I wander the acreage and think about the past. I suppose you could say I am retired, but I don’t feel like it. I feel like I’m waiting.
        In the deepest corner of my heart I don’t believe it’s over. I am a warrior who managed to survive, a father who fought for his people and his civilization, and now I await
the enemy – one that chills my blood and triggers a terror worse than anything I have ever known. So much for bravery, I guess; so much for medals on their pale blue ribbons.

Chapter Two

It was 4 a.m. and I was roaming the paddocks of the lower twenty in the cold moonlight, once again trying to coax some peace into my mind, when I saw them.
        The vehicles – spectral in the darkness, their headlights flickering like candles in the heavily wooded hills – were moving fast along the ridge-line that led to the farm. Hardly anybody ever traveled that dirt road, especially not at night or at that speed.
        I didn’t let my eyes move from the spot, even though the vehicles had swooped down into a gully and disappeared. People will tell you that God is in the details but if you have found yourself behind enemy lines, fighting house to house and block to block, you learn a different version: survival is in the details.
        I forced myself to recall everything I had seen. The headlights were visible only for a moment, but there were three vehicles – I was sure of that – driving nose to tail. The one in the lead was almost out of sight by the time I had turned but the other two were riding high on their suspension – SUVs, I figured. Their engines must have been working hard and the wind – as sharp as a knife – was blowing off the ridge towards me, but not the faintest sound had carried on the night air. Hybrids, I told myself, running on their batteries. Perhaps the occupants were environmentalists – or maybe it meant something else.
        Winter had hit Virginia hard and the frost crackled under my feet as I moved fast across the bleak and empty land, my coat collar turned up against the cold and my right hand buried in its pocket, wrapped around the grip of a Heckler & Koch 45 Compact – Lauren didn’t know it, but I never went anywhere without a pistol.
        I reached an old oak tree that stood like a sentinel at the entrance to the property and, deep in the gloom under its gnarled branches, watched the vehicles pull to a halt. Three men got out, leaving the drivers behind – two of them hanging back to cover the flanks, just like they had been trained, and the other approaching the gates. He was a black guy, in his late thirties and really well-built – their leader judging by his air of easy authority.
        The tension across my back and arms – the muscles strung tight as a bowstring – unwound a notch. If the interlopers had been genuinely hostile they would have stopped right next to the gates, swung on to the roof of their vehicles and been over them in seconds. They wouldn’t have been wearing suits, either. Having known a lot of them, Special Forces was my assessment. Why they were in suits and who they were working for now, wasn’t clear. Some intelligence outfit was my best guess.
        The black guy’s finger was reaching for the intercom button when he saw me on the other side of the fence, a shadow among shadows, silently watching. He was shocked, taking an involuntary step backwards, and I saw the fear ripple across his face. His two buddies followed his gaze and all three of them suddenly realized how badly they had screwed up. In another world, in different circumstances, they would have been dead.
        They had thought there was safety in darkness, they had assumed all the occupants of the house were asleep and – most importantly – they had forgotten that if you can see the objective, someone in the objective can see you. As usual, survival depends on the details.
        ‘Better not ring the bell,’ I said quietly and stepped out of the shadows, my voice carrying easily across the distance. ‘Family’s asleep.’
        They relaxed a little and I saw the black guy looking at me hard – more than likely comparing my face to photographs he’d been shown, I thought. ‘Kane Faulkner?’ he asked, apparently satisfied.
        I nodded.
        ‘We’ve been sent to transport you.’
        ‘Where?’ I replied.
        He just shrugged – he had no intention of telling me and I knew there was no point in pushing him.
        ‘Who wants me?’ I asked.
        He pulled a document out of his coat pocket and pushed it through the iron bars of the gate. I took it and saw that it was what the military calls a C-1360 – a high priority movement order. A scrawl in blue ink ran across the bottom – it was signed by W.R. Walker personally.
        William Richard Walker was the President of the United States.

Chapter Three

The small convoy transporting me drove into Washington from the south, our headlights stabbing the gloom and the snow hitting us in wild flurries.
        We skirted Arlington National Cemetery, the last resting place of the dead from so many wars, and passed the US Marine Corps Memorial with its famous statue of six men raising the flag on Iwo Jima. Still ahead lay the tribute to those who served in Korea and the long black wall, with its fifty-nine thousand names, which signified Vietnam. To a military man or woman, you come to DC and the ghosts are all around you.
        So it was little wonder the memories of the recent conflict came rushing in – streets and alleys with no way out, tracer fire ripping through the night, desperate men mixing blood with gasoline to make a type of napalm. And drifting through it all, the faces of those I went into battle with who fell at my side. No public memorial for them, I thought, no lines of visitors to pay their respects – just a brief entry in a classified file somewhere.
        And in that moment – alone in the back of an armored SUV, staring out at the gathering storm – I knew, in a better world, exactly what their memorial would be: a sweeping lawn, a small plaque, seventeen words.
        They were told to me by the finest man I served with during those desperate days, the only natural-born leader I have ever known. He was a heavily armed irregular – ruthless too, he was the one who taught us how to make dry-gulch napalm – who went by the name of Mark Kristofferson. As you can imagine, everyone called him Kris. He was in his fifties – tall and athletic, with a weather-beaten face, restless blue eyes and a shock of graying hair. I guess he was handsome but it didn’t matter either way – he had charisma to burn.
        One night, deep in the small hours, we were in the hulk of a ruined building – firelight playing on the walls, ten of us waiting for help that would never come – when the conversation turned to our lives back in the world. Kristofferson said that he had graduated from Annapolis with distinction, rose rapidly through the ranks and was already a Captain when a dark cloud fell over his career. Although somebody asked, he never really said whether he was court-martialed or given the opportunity to resign. After I came home, though, I searched every military database and discovered that nobody by his name had ever served. I figured that whatever transgression he had committed was far worse than he was willing to admit and that in its aftermath he had changed his name. He had an encyclopedic knowledge of what he always called the white man’s blues – Country & Western music – and I guessed that the name was a kind of tribute.
        He said that after he left the military, with no career and no family, he started to travel, going wherever life and the current took him. One summer – he must have been in his mid-twenties – he washed up in Goa, the old Portuguese colony in south-western India, renowned for its unreformed hippies and fabulous palm-fringed beaches. From there, he made his way north, riding the ancient Indian railway system, traveling through some of the most incredible landscapes on earth, heading towards Burma. If you told me that drugs were a big part of that journey, I wouldn’t argue.
        Before he reached the border, almost broke, he was forced to try and get work. It wasn’t easy for a foreigner but – probably thanks to that charisma – he ended up supervising the rebuilding of a small orphanage for an international aid agency.
        ‘It was wild country up there,’ he told us. ‘Deep gorges, tumbling rivers and a pure wind coming straight out of the Himalayas. I loved it. The town itself, built on a series of hillsides, was just big enough and it had an interesting history. I found out that in the Second World War, a huge battle had been fought there—’
        I sat forward, leaning closer into the firelight. ‘Kohima,’ I said. ‘That’s the name of the town.’
He turned and looked at me in surprise. ‘You’ve been there?’ he asked.
        I shook my head – no, but like him, I had graduated from a leading military academy and while my major was in advanced technology, I’d spent a lot of spare time reading about the history of war.
        Kohima was famous once. There were probably three great turning points in the epic war against Japan. One was Guadalcanal, where US forces finally brought an end to the enemy’s relentless expansion. The second was Kokoda in New Guinea in which Australian forces halted a huge southward push and saved their homeland. And the third was Kohima, located at the top of a strategic pass, where British forces confronted the Japanese 15th Army – invading from Burma – and prevented them from seizing the biggest economic prize of all: India.
        Each battle was terrible in its own way, of course, but in Kohima the monsoon had come early, the precipitous slopes were rivers of mud and hand-to-hand combat quickly became the most common form of engagement. By the time the Japanese retreated, the two armies were waging war across the District Commissioner’s lawn tennis court. Needless to say, the loss of life was horrendous.
        ‘Did you see the tennis court?’ I asked.
        He nodded. ‘The most haunting place I’ve ever been. High in the hills, the mist rolling in and a piper playing Taps every sunset. The line markings have been restored and it’s the centerpiece of a cemetery now – it’s where all the Allied dead are buried. The locals say that some nights, when the rains are coming and the wind is in the east, you can hear them marching. You know about the stone pillar?’
        ‘No,’ I replied. ‘I only read about the battle.’
        ‘It’s a memorial to them. It stands at one end of the cemetery, maybe fifteen feet high, with a small cross carved into the top. I guess you’d say it’s fairly ordinary – except for what is written on it.’ He paused for a second. ‘Thirty years have passed but I can’t tell you how many times I’ve thought of those words.’
        Everyone was looking at him and the only sound was the crackle of the fire. ‘People call it the Kohima Epitaph,’ he said quietly. ‘It’s just one sentence, but it speaks volumes about heroism and sacrifice –

              ‘When you go home, tell them of us and say,
              For your tomorrow, we gave our today.’

        And as I traveled through the Washington storm, being transported to some unknown destination, my past walking hand-in-hand with the future, I could think of no better memorial to those comrades of mine who had never returned. Truly, they had sacrificed their today for all our tomorrows.
        It was in that somber mood that a blast of light suddenly hit my face and flooded the interior of the vehicle. I panicked – disoriented, still putting names to dead faces before I dragged myself back and looked out the window. Heavily armed men were watching as we negotiated a series of barriers designed to prevent a suicide attack. Beside them, a checkpoint straddled the driveway and it was a series of remote-controlled flood-lights on its roof which had illuminated the SUV’s cabin.
        Behind the security apparatus, standing aloof in its eighteen immaculate acres, bristling with unseen defenses, the wind and snow sweeping across its façade, was the White House.
        Having passed through the checkpoint, we drove towards the West Wing and I saw – waiting impatiently under the portico, stamping his feet against the cold – a man called Scooter Eagleton. In his forties, hard-wired with energy and ambition, he was the President’s chief of staff. I had met him the night I was spirited into the Oval Office to be presented with the medal and now – as the SUV stopped and I opened the door – he hurried towards me, hand extended.
        ‘Thanks for coming,’ he said. ‘They’re waiting for you.’
        ‘They?’ I replied. ‘Who’s they?’
        If he heard, he didn’t acknowledge it – he was already speaking into a lapel mic, walking fast towards the Marine opening the entrance door.
        I followed him into the mansion but even though I was out of the wind and snow, the chill didn’t leave me.

Chapter Four

Apart from the President, there were eight people in the Cabinet Room and as I looked at their faces I realized that, between them, they controlled all the great citadels of government power.
        Well, six of them did. As for the two men sitting at the far end, they were a mystery. Neither of them was young, far from it, but there was something so chilling in their stillness – so compelling about their absolute focus – that a thought took hold of me and wouldn’t let go: they were the most dangerous men I had ever encountered.
        I had no time to dwell on it. The President had risen to his feet and – passing the fireplace and the famous painting of the Declaration of Independence hanging over it – was coming towards me. William Walker, sixty-two years old, the 47th President of the United States, was a tall, rough-hewn man given to cowboy boots and straight talk. It led a lot of people to underestimate him, which was a grave mistake – his eyes were sharp with intelligence and, like LBJ before him, he knew more than almost anyone about how Washington really worked.
        ‘Good to see you again,’ he said quietly, shaking hands.
        He was so damned vital it was hard not to like him. ‘How’s life in the velvet prison?’ Like I said, he called things how they really were.
        Before I could reply, he was turning and starting to introduce me to the others. I met the Secretaries of State, Defense and Homeland Security, I shared a few words with one of the women present – the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court – and I was about to shake hands with the Director of the FBI when, seemingly out of nowhere, I had a moment of insight, of sudden clarity, that made me stumble over whatever pleasantry I was mouthing.
        People say that intuition is just our emotion and intellect working in tandem. Maybe they’re right, maybe that was what was happening on that cold December day but, whatever the reason, I knew with absolute certainty that their exalted titles really didn’t matter. All nine of them were there because they were the keepers of the secret.
        They were the only people in the Government who were aware of what we had confronted the previous summer, those sixteen days when seven billion of us nearly went over the falls together. No wonder the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff was smiling at me and the US Attorney-General was extending his hand.
        What a strange fellowship, I thought. What a terrible thing that binds us all.
        Distracted, I barely noticed that the President had shepherded me a short distance down the room and the two men at the end – the needles wrapped in silk – were standing up to be introduced. The older of them – in his late sixties – was not quite of average height and more than a little overweight. He had the look of a Harvard intellectual and you could imagine him sitting in front of a fire in some book-lined room in Cambridge, holding forth on any number of obscure subjects. Except for his clear blue eyes. There was a coldness to them which a charitable person might say indicated great analytical ability but which I thought promised a terrible ruthlessness.
        ‘This is Jay McNamara,’ the President said, for the first time omitting to give someone’s job title. The name didn’t mean anything to me and it wasn’t until the man spoke that I realized who he was.
        ‘A privilege to meet you,’ he said, his voice so far out of the South that it seemed to carry the whole of Louisiana with it.
        J. William McNamara, I suddenly thought. I had read an article about him several years before – he was a former head of covert operations for the CIA and was, by all accounts, one of the most effective men ever to hold that deadly position. He had risen to become the Agency’s chief and, after that, was made the Director of National Intelligence. While those storied achievements were in the past, one thing remained – he had acted as a consigliere to at least three presidents, the present incumbent included, and was one of the most powerful men in the country.
        I turned to the man standing next to him. He was in his early fifties – a shade over six foot, lean and fit, with gray showing at his temples and a small scar running across his right temple. He had an air of deep self-reliance to him, no doubt of that, and he was very well dressed – a strange mix of elegance and quiet threat, as if he had been born to money but had chosen the mean streets. Later, much later, I learned that he had been one of the best covert intelligence agents of his generation. People said that when he was young he had gone into Syria, uncovered a terrorist network virtually single-handed, was captured and almost broken on the wheel, but had saved the nation from devastating attack. Maybe it was true – stranger things have happened. He certainly looked capable of it.
        ‘Kane Faulkner, I want you to meet Ed Whitney – known to most everyone as Scout,’ the President said, going on to explain that he was a Special Assistant to the White House or some such thing. As it transpired, whatever title he had didn’t matter. It was just a cover. In truth, he was the head of United States’ intelligence.
        The President indicated my seat and then took his chair at the head of the table. He spoke clearly, his eyes roaming the room, but it was me he was talking to. ‘There’s something I want you to do,’ he said. ‘It concerns the events oflast summer.’

The great and the good, the powerful and the ruthless – all their eyes were focused on me as I shook my head. ‘No,’ I said quietly. ‘I’m sorry, Mr President, I can’t do that.’
        Whitney was the only one who reacted. Strangely, he gave a small smile – I think he was the only one who understood.

TO BE CONTINUED . . .

 

The Year of the Locust by Terry Hayes will publish in April 2017 – and if you still haven’t read I Am Pilgrim, now is the perfect time!

1 Comment

    This book I thought was fantastic, it was thrilling, & gripping, I basically couldn’t put the book down, I’m waiting for the next book to be published, this book was hot, I recommend it to anybody, it was a very good read, hope the next book will be just the as good.

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