Many thanks to the dedicated (that sounds so much better than, say, “obsessed,” let alone “clinically deranged”) souls who did so much in championing me to the first place in the National Book Festival’s Favorite Author poll!
I would not, of course, want to be accused of bribery, even _ex post facto_, so I won’t say this is a reward for such a gallant effort [g] But as I’ve been reading these excerpts from Book Eight at the various events this week, I thought it was only fair to share them with those who couldn’t make it to one or another of the book-tour appearances.
[Meaning–if you want to avoid excerpts from Book Eight…
Still with me? [g] Well, alrighty, then!
Book Eight excerpt
Copyright 2010 Diana Gabaldon
JEM IN THE TUNNEL
He must be getting near the end of the tunnel. Jem could tell by the way the air pushed back against his face. All he could see was the little red light on the train’s dashboard–did you call it a dashboard on a train? he wondered. He didn’t want to stop, because that meant he’d have to get out of the train, into the dark. But the train was running out of track, so there wasn’t much else he could do.
He pulled back a little bit on the lever that made the train go, and it slowed down. More. Just a little more, and the lever clicked into a kind of slot and the train stopped with a little jerk that made him stumble and grab the edge of the cab.
An electric train didn’t make any engine noise, but the wheels rattled on the track and the train made squeaks and clunks as it moved. When it stopped, the noise stopped too. It was really quiet.
“Hey!” he said out loud, because he didn’t want to listen to his heart beating. The sound echoed, and he looked up, startled. Mum had said the tunnel was really high, more than thirty feet, but he’d forgot that. The idea that there was a lot of empty space hanging over him that he couldn’t see bothered him a lot. He swallowed, and stepped out of the tiny engine, holding on to the frame with one hand.
“Hey!” he shouted at the invisible ceiling. “Are there any bats up there?”
Silence. He’d kind of been hoping there were bats. He wasn’t afraid of them–there were bats in the old broch, and he liked to sit and watch them come out to hunt in the summer evenings. But he was alone. Except for the dark.
His hands were sweating. He let go of the metal cab and scrubbed both hands on his jeans. Now he could hear himself breathing, too.
“Crap,” he whispered under his breath. That made him feel better, so he said it again. Maybe he ought to be praying, instead, but he didn’t feel like that, not yet.
There was a door, Mum said. At the end of the tunnel. It led into the service chamber, where the big turbines could be lifted up from the dam if they needed fixing. Would the door be locked?
Suddenly he realized that he’d stepped away from the train and he didn’t know whether he was facing the end of the tunnel or back the way he’d come. In a panic, he blundered to and fro, hands out, looking for the train. He tripped over part of the track and fell sprawling. He lay there for a second saying “Crap-crap-crap-crap-crap!” because he’d skinned both knees and the palm of his hand, but he was OK, really, and now he knew where the track was, so he could follow it and not get lost.
He got up, wiped his nose, and shuffled slowly along, kicking the track every few steps to be sure he stayed with it. He thought he was in front of where the train had stopped, so it didn’t really matter which way he was going–either he’d find the train or he’d find the end of the tunnel. And then the door. If it was locked, maybe–
Something like an electric shock ran right through him. He gasped and fell over backward. The only thing in his mind was the idea that somebody had hit him with a light-sabre like Luke Skywalker’s, and for a minute, he though maybe whoever it was had cut off his head.
He couldn’t feel his body, and could see in his mind his body lying bleeding in the dark and his head sitting right there on the train tracks in the dark, not being able to see his body and not even knowing it wasn’t attached anymore. He made a breathless kind of a noise that was trying to be a scream, but it made his stomach move and he felt that, he felt it, and suddenly he felt a lot more like praying.
“Gratia…Deo!” he managed to gasp. It was what Grand-da said when he talked about a fight or killing something and this wasn’t quite that sort of thing, but it seemed like a good thing to say anyway.
Now he could feel all of himself again, but he sat up and grabbed his neck, just to be sure his head was still on. His skin was jumping in the weirdest way. Like a horse’s does when a horse-fly bites it, but all over. He swallowed and tasted sugared silver and he gasped again, because now he knew what had hit him. Sort of.
This wasn’t quite like it had been, when they’d all walked into the rocks on Ocracoke. One minute, he’d been in his father’s arms and the next minute it was like he was scattered everywhere in little wiggly pieces like the spilled quicksilver in Grannie’s surgery. Then he was back together again, and Da was still holding him tight enough to squeeze his breath out and he could hear Da sobbing and that scared him and he had a funny taste in his mouth and little pieces of him were still wiggling around trying to get away but they were trapped inside his skin…
Yeah. That was what was making his skin jump now, and he breathed easier, knowing what it was. That was OK, then, he was OK, it would stop.
It was stopping already, the twitchy feeling going away. He still felt a little shaky, but he stood up. Careful, because he didn’t know where it was.
Wait…he did know. He knew exactly.
“That’s weird,” he said, out loud without really noticing, because he wasn’t scared by the dark anymore, it wasn’t important.
He couldn’t really see it, not with his eyes, not exactly. He squinted, trying to think how he was seeing it, but there wasn’t a word for what he was doing. Kind of like hearing or smelling or touching, but not really any of those.
But he knew where it was. It was right there, a kind of…shiver…in the air, and when he stared at it, he had a feeling in the back of his mind like really pretty sparkly things, like sun on the sea and the way a candle-flame looked when it shone through a ruby, but he knew he wasn’t really seeing anything like that.
It went all the way across the tunnel, and up to the high roof, too, he could tell. But it wasn’t thick at all, it was thin as air.
He guessed that was why it hadn’t swallowed him like the thing in the rocks on Ocracoke had. At least…he thought it hadn’t, and for an instant, worried that maybe he’d gone sometime else. But he didn’t think so. The tunnel felt just the same, and so did he, now his skin had stopped jumping. When they’d done it, on Ocracoke, he’d known right away it was different.
He stood there for a minute, just looking and thinking, and then shook his head and turned around, feeling with his foot for the track. He wasn’t going back through that, no matter what. He’d just have to hope the door wasn’t locked.
Book Eight Excerpt
Copyright 2010 Diana Gabaldon
He’d been quite resigned to dying. Had expected it from the moment that he’d blurted out, “I have had carnal knowledge of your wife.” The only question in his mind had been whether Fraser would shoot him, stab him, or eviscerate him with his bare hands.
To have the injured husband regard him calmly, and say merely, “Oh? Why?” was not merely unexpected, but…infamous. Absolutely infamous.
“Why?” John Grey repeated, incredulous. “Did you say ‘Why’?”
“I did. And I should appreciate an answer.”
Now that Grey had both eyes open, he could see that Fraser’s outward calm was not quite so impervious as he’d first supposed. There was a pulse beating in Fraser’s temple, and he’d shifted his weight a little, like a man might do in the vicinity of a tavern brawl, not quite ready to commit violence, but readying himself to meet it. Perversely, Grey found this sight steadying.
“What do you bloody mean, ‘why’?” he said, suddenly irritated. “And why aren’t you fucking dead?”
“I often wonder that myself,” Fraser replied politely. “I take it ye thought I was?”
“Yes, and so did your wife! Do you have the faintest idea what the knowledge of your death did to her?”
The dark blue eyes narrowed just a trifle.
“Are ye implying that the news of my death deranged her to such an extent that she lost her reason and took ye to her bed by force? Because,” he went on, neatly cutting off Grey’s heated reply, “unless I’ve been seriously misled regarding your own nature, it would take substantial force to compel ye to any such action. Or am I wrong?”
The eyes stayed narrow. Grey stared back at them. Then he closed his eyes briefly and rubbed both hands hard over his face, like a man waking from nightmare. He dropped his hands and opened his eyes again.
“You are not misled,” he said, through clenched teeth. “And you are wrong.”
Fraser’s ruddy eyebrows shot up–in genuine astonishment, he thought.
“Ye went to her because—from desire?” His voice rose, too. “And she let ye? I dinna believe it.”
The color was creeping up Fraser’s tanned neck, vivid as a climbing rose. Grey had seen that happen before, and decided recklessly that the best–the only–defense was to lose his own temper first. It was a relief.
“We thought you were dead, you bloody arsehole!” he said, furious. “Both of us! Dead! And we–we–took too much to drink one night–very much too much…we spoke of you…and… Damn you, neither one of us was making love to the other–we were fucking you!”
Fraser’s face went abruptly blank and his jaw dropped. Grey enjoyed one split-second of satisfaction at the sight, before a massive fist came up hard beneath his ribs and he hurtled backward, staggered a few steps further, and fell. He lay in the leaves, completely winded, mouth opening and closing like an automaton’s.
All right, then, he thought dimly. Bare hands it is.
The hands wrapped themselves in his shirt and jerked him to his feet. He managed to stand, and a wisp of air seeped into his lungs. Fraser’s face was an inch from his. Fraser was in fact so close that he couldn’t see the man’s expression–only a close-up view of two bloodshot blue eyes, both of them berserk. That was enough. He felt quite calm now. It wouldn’t take long.
“You tell me exactly what happened, ye filthy wee pervert,” Fraser whispered, his breath hot on Grey’s face and smelling of ale. He shook Grey slightly. “Every word. Every motion. Everything.”
Grey got just enough breath to answer.
“No,” he said definitely. “Go ahead and kill me.”