Excerpt from Grist Mill Road by Christopher J. Yates, plus links to reviews, author biography & more

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Grist Mill Road

by Christopher J. Yates

Grist Mill Road by Christopher J. Yates X
Grist Mill Road by Christopher J. Yates
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  • Published:
    Jan 2018, 352 pages

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Book Reviewed by:
Poornima Apte

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PATCH

I remember the gunshots made a wet sort of sound, phssh phssh phssh, and each time he hit her she screamed. Do the math and the whole thing probably went on for as long as ten minutes. I just stood there and watched.

I don't know when I realized I was counting. Eight, nine, ten. For a long time it seemed as if all sensation, everything but my eyesight, had been switched off. But once I realized I was keeping track of the shots—eighteen, nineteen, twenty—it felt like something I could cling to because my sense of balance had been switched off along with everything else. I was standing on the nauseating brink of something I didn't want to fall into, a world beyond comprehension.

Twenty-six, twenty-seven, twenty-eight.

This wasn't real life, this was a show. And this show wasn't for me, I wasn't even allowed to stay up late enough to watch this sort of show. No, none of it made any sense, a silent movie with Russian subtitles.

And yet I watched.

What does it mean to watch? When a crime takes place in front you, what is watching? Is it a failure to act or is it simply keeping your eyes open?

I was twelve. I was twelve years old.

Forty-one, forty-two, forty-three … although the newspapers reported Hannah had been shot only thirty-seven times with my Red Ryder BB gun, so maybe Matthew missed a few times, or more likely some of the pellets simply glanced off the ropes. He had used so much rope, I imagine he had to be taking careful aim at the gaps. We were both pretty good shots by then—I could plunk a soda can one-handed from thirty steps and Matthew no doubt thought himself a better shot than me. No way, José.

I figured everything was winding down now. Hannah's screaming was slowly becoming less and less. And between the screaming there was crying and that also was becoming less and less.

Until—

When Matthew pulled the trigger the forty-ninth and final time, there was only half a scream, a sharp yelp that died quickly in Hannah's throat. And that yelp was a sickening enough sound on its own but it is the absence of the second half of her scream that rings loudest in my memory.

I can still picture it as well, the way Hannah's head twisted despite the rope tied around her neck, a reflex that had come absurdly too late.

The woods fell ever more silent. It felt like the moment in a storm when you see the flash of lightning and wait for the thunderclap. Is it closer?

And then Hannah's head drifted back. And her chin dropped to her chest. And her long dark hair fell over her face.

Matthew stayed as still as a lead soldier and I did the same, fused to a plate of the earth, not even breathing, just trying to exert some small measure of control over my life for a few final seconds. The world at that moment was reduced to a thin sort of strip like a newspaper cartoon, a ribbon of life that started with Matthew, the butt of the rifle wedged at his shoulder, and ended two frames later with Hannah, motionless, tied to a tree.

But then came a sound that snapped us both out of it, something small scurrying through the undergrowth, Matthew's head jolting and his body coming alive. He leaned the gun carefully, almost respectfully, against a rock and began to creep forward, stopping an arm's length away and peering in at Hannah like she was darkness in a cave.

He picked up a stick and prodded her arm.

Nothing.

He jabbed again, Hannah's flesh like dough, a small crater of skin filling itself back in. Raising the stick higher, he hesitated a moment. What kind of a world might exist beyond the curtain?

And then Matthew parted her hair. That's when I first noticed the blood dripping from Hannah's chin, soaking the neckline of her T-shirt, its pink collar crimsoning.

Excerpted from Grist Mill Road by Christopher J Yates. Copyright © 2018 by Christopher J Yates. Excerpted by permission of Picador. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.

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