Midwinter: read the prologue

The light from the street lamps turned the raindrops into copper tears.

He watched them slide down the small barred window. It was set high in the wall, too high to reach, but at least it was something to look at. A dim rectangle hemmed in by shadows.

Light and darkness. Darkness and light. A grey in-between. Sometimes, when the street lamps went off and the dull hues of daylight crept in, he slept.

Mostly he crouched in the corner and waited, huddled against the cold in the blanket they had given him. It was silent and still in the small basement, though outside the wind rampaged through the streets, bending back the lamp posts like stalks of wheat and carrying freezing rain dredged up from the depths of the sea.

They fed him twice a day and the food was good, though not what he wanted. The door would open for an instant, a steaming bowl shoved through the gap. Then the key would click in the lock again. He might eat something. Pick at what they provided.

It made no difference to the hunger he felt.

He crouched in the corner and waited.

His mind wandered.

He thought about the people he had glimpsed when the battered doors swung forwards and back in the place they had put him to work.

Such people! They staggered and swayed. Cackled like devils. The women were made of vast expanses of flaccid white flesh, but dressed like childish visions of the singers and dancers he had seen on television. They rolled when they moved, as if they were walking along the deck of a ship. The men were sullen, crouched resentfully over their drinks and their plates piled with food. Their faces were red and sagging, but their bodies were tense, ready to explode into violence. The people shrieked at each other, their voices rising in shouts of excitement and falling into depths of slurring stupor.

He had watched them, but they didn’t see him. To them he was invisible. As he had worked, he had looked down at his muscular, sinewy hands with their taut skin and long fingers, and wondered what it would be like to touch the flesh of the women.

A memory flickered from his old life. Other women, impossibly different from the women here. They had stood in line on dusty ground behind a wire fence. Those women had been emaciated, their heads bowed. Their faces lined with hunger. In his old life, hunger had been constant. It had been his only focus, his entire world. He had survived on bitter scraps. When even they ran out, he had found other ways to survive.

His hunger had never abated. Not during the long journey. Not even in this strange country where food was abundant – where there was so much food it made people sick. In his old life, hunger had been everything. Here, it was a dull ache. It was a snake in his gut writhing impatiently.

At night the street lamps came on and the light shone in through the high window. He crouched in the corner, huddled in the blanket, and watched the flickering patterns of dim orange on the wall.

He listened to the wind rampaging through the streets, screaming warnings at the people of this strange country.

Hunger ate away at him. The snake in his gut twisted and turned. It coiled and uncoiled.

He bit into the soft flesh of his inner lip and tasted the metallic tang of blood.

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