Savage Awakening

By: Anne Mather

CHAPTER ONE





IT WAS the chimes of the church clock that woke him.

Ironically enough, he’d grown used to sleeping through the wailing call of the muezzin. Four years in North Africa, the last eighteen months in an Abuqaran jail, had made such sounds familiar to him. That, and the staccato shots that erupted from time to time across the prison yard.

Not that he’d slept well, of course. A thin blanket thrown on a concrete floor was hardly conducive to a sound—let alone a comfortable—slumber. But it was amazing what the body could get used to, how little sustenance it needed to survive.

Still, he had survived, and after six months back in England he should have become accustomed to the ordinary sounds of civilised living again.

But he hadn’t. He was still coming to terms with the fact that he was not the man he used to be and whether or not he slept well—or at all—was a small problem in the larger scheme of things.

Not liking the direction his thoughts were taking, he thrust back the covers and swung his legs out of bed. At least sitting up no longer caused the sickening feeling of dizziness he’d suffered during his first few weeks of freedom. And his limbs, which had been almost skeletal when he returned, were gradually filling out, his muscles strengthening with the regular workouts he subjected himself to every day. The doctors had warned him not to try and do too much, but there’d been no way he could control the desire to regain his health and strength, and moving at a steady pace had never been good enough for him.

Consequently, although his psychological problems showed little sign of improvement, physically he felt much better than he had even a month ago.

Which was such a sucker, he chided himself grimly, pressing down on the mattress and getting a little unsteadily to his feet. Sometimes he had the feeling he’d never make it, never recover even the belief in himself he’d once enjoyed. Perhaps it would be kinder all round if other people realised it, too.

Nevertheless, he’d had to give it a try. And, to that end, he’d bought this house in a village far enough from London and the life he and Diane had had there before he’d been sent to Abuqara to cover the civil war.

Diane didn’t approve of his decision. Mallon’s End was the village where she’d grown up and where her parents still lived. She thought he was crazy wanting to leave the exciting opportunities London presented behind. He’d already been offered his old job with a commercial television station back again and she couldn’t understand why he’d turned it down. He didn’t honestly know himself. But, thanks to the legacy his grandmother had left him, money wasn’t a problem, and there was always that offer of a book deal if he should choose to write about his experiences as a prisoner of the rebel forces in Abuqara.

He crossed the floor to the windows, shivering a little in the cooler air. The polished boards beneath his feet were cold, too, but he didn’t notice them. He was used to going barefoot. The first thing his captors had done was take his shoes away from him. And although initially his feet had blistered and been agony to walk on, gradually they’d hardened up.

All the same, he was used to temperatures that usually hovered near forty degrees Celsius in daylight hours, and although England was supposed to be enjoying a heatwave at the moment, he hadn’t noticed.

Pulling the curtain aside, he peered out. Outside the long windows, the gardens of the house stretched in all directions, lush with colour. To someone used to bare walls or stark packed-earth streets stripped of any sign of civilisation, it was an amazing view. Even the months he’d spent since his return in his comfortable apartment in Belsize Park hadn’t prepared him for so much beauty. This was what he needed, he told himself, what he’d dreamed of while he was in prison. It was a humanising experience.

Beyond the grounds of the house, the churchyard offered its own kind of absolution. He could see cottages through the swaying branches of the elms and yews that guarded the lych-gate, and an occasional car passing the bottom of his drive on its way into the village proper.

It was all so—yes, that word again—civilised. But he was still isolated from the people and places that had once been so familiar to him. It was strange but while he was a prisoner, he’d longed for company, for someone who spoke his own language.

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