Christopher J. Yates Excerpt: Grist Mill Road

Grist Mill Road by Christopher J. Yates is a dark, twisted, and expertly plotted Rashomon-style tale (available January 9, 2018).

Read this exclusive excerpt from Grist Mill Road, then make sure you're signed in before commenting below for a chance to win an advanced copy of Christopher J. Yates's highly anticipated sophomore novel!

The year is 1982; the setting, an Edenic hamlet some ninety miles north of New York City. There, among the craggy rock cliffs and glacial ponds of timeworn mountains, three friends―Patrick, Matthew, and Hannah―are bound together by a terrible and seemingly senseless crime. Twenty-six years later, in New York City, living lives their younger selves never could have predicted, the three meet again―with even more devastating results.

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 along 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.

I spun around and spat on the ground, my eyes beginning to scope the woods, looking to see if anyone else might have witnessed it all. When I turned back, Matthew still had his stick under her hair, standing there with his head to one side, as if reading spines in a bookstore.

Hey, come take a look, he said.

I pressed the heel of my hand to the bridge of my nose, trying to pushout the gathering sense in my forehead, a new universe exploding.

The BB’s gone right through her eye, said Matthew. Straight into her brain. She’s stone-cold dead.

I couldn’t rub my forehead hard enough to make the pressure go away so I started to hit myself instead, thump thump thump. Still to this day the heel of my hand fits perfectly into the hollow between my nose and my brow.

I said come here, said Matthew, turning to me. We haven’t got the whole damn day, Tricky.

It was only Matthew who called me Tricky. To everyone else I was Patch or Patrick, or sometimes Paddy or Paddyboy to my dad. But Matthew was Matthew to everyone, me included. He’d never let you shorten his name, would even correct adults if they tried on a Matt or a Matty to see if it fit. My name’s Matthew, he would say every time, very calm and straightforward.

Sniffing, I started to move, feeling like old kings must’ve felt taking their final steps to the executioner’s block—which is a selfish way to think of it but that’s just how it was at the time. I walked as steadily as I could toward the two figures connected by a stick and when I stopped, Matthew pulled me closer, positioning me at the perfect spot. What do you think, Tricky? he said.

Swallowing hard, my eyes ran along Hannah’s measled arms, up to the circle of ropeburn like a choker around her neck. And then, not turning to face her, but with grimacing eyes, I peeked beneath Matthew’s stick. There was nothing but blood and mess and some of the blood was already congealing. Blackness and wetness and skin. Hannah’s left eye socket looked like it was housing a dark smashed plum.

Yeah, I said, trying not to cry. She’s dead. Matthew dropped the stick.

We didn’t check for breathing. We didn’t feel for a pulse.

I stood there for a moment and then Matthew tugged me, not unkindly, hooking his fingers in the back of my shirt to break the spell.

We didn’t make the sign of the cross. We didn’t pray for her soul.

There are layers of rock piled high everywhere in the Swangum Mountains like stacks of pancakes. Our failures were mounting as well. We didn’t even cut her down.

Copyright © 2017 Christopher J. Yates.

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Christopher J. Yates was born and raised in Kent and studied law at Oxford University before working as a puzzle editor in London. He lives in New York City with his wife and dog. His first book, Black Chalk, was an NPR “Best of the Year” selection.

Comments

  1. Donna Goodro

    I didn’t want the sample to end!!!! What happens next???? I’m dying here! This is going to be an excellent book!!! I can’t wait to get my hands on this!

  2. Jody Darden

    This sounds creepy. and good!

  3. Jackie Mungle

    OMG I really want to know why they did it and did they get away with it?

  4. Jackie Mungle

    OMG I really want to know why they did it and did they get away with it?

  5. Hailey Thompson

    I am so excited for this book! January cannot come fast enough! This sample was amazing and has left me wanting so much more.

  6. Phyllis Bernstein

    Sounds like an intriguing story! Hope to win a copy!

  7. Karen Mikusak

    Would love to win!

  8. peter greene

    It sounds like it has a Mystic River vibe. The crimes of the past coming back to haunt the present.

  9. peter greene

    It sounds like it has a Mystic River vibe. The crimes of the past coming back to haunt the present.

  10. Storm992472

    Thank you for the chance.

  11. Shelley Scaramuzzo

    I got goosebumps and can’t wait to read more. This is going to make for some interesting book club discussion.

  12. Janie Boyd

    Very interesting! I can’t wait to read the book!

  13. Janie Boyd

    Very interesting! I can’t wait to read the book!

  14. Janie Boyd

    Very interesting! I can’t wait to read the book!

  15. Andrew Jensen

    That first sentence hooks you. I did my share of bad things growing up (nothing this bad) but knew a few who it wouldnt have surprised me if they had been arrested for this kind of brutality. I went back to myself at twelve which means the author did his job particularly well. A storyteller can do this, not all writers are storytellers.

  16. Pat Murphy

    Scary and mystifying. Can’t wait to read

  17. Andrea Wagenhurst

    Can’t wait to read the rest and find out all the details.

  18. Esther Whatley

    Sounds fascinating. Would love to win.

  19. Kathryn Arevalo

    Holy crap, Mr. Yates! What kind of dark place were you in?

  20. Susan wentzell

    Omg…thats all I can say

  21. Janice Santillo

    Wow! Just that short exerpt gave me the creeps. Must be a fantastic read.

  22. Lori Provenzano

    Agree that the creepiness factor is very high. Can see binge reading this to discover whatever answers are revealed.

  23. Robin Weatherington

    Sounds like a fun read.

  24. Ms Eddie Jenkins

    Well, now you’ve done it!!! I want this book!!!

  25. James Sloan

    I would like to read this book.

  26. Chi Shannon

    I’d love to give this a read 🙂

  27. Deborah Dumm

    Sounds like a great book

  28. Anita Sue Hamilton

    I like British authors. This offering is full of suspense and good writing.

  29. Karl Stenger

    I would love to read the book.

  30. Pearl Berger

    Suspense and intrigue. Thanks.

  31. pearl berger

    Mysterious and captivating.

  32. Perry56

    You have me hooked! Would love to win an advance copy,

  33. jtmswim

    Sounds like the book for me.

  34. Karen Romano Quintus

    I only wanted to read the first line! What happens???? I need to know!

  35. john frost

    Want to keep reading!!!

  36. Belinda Turner

    The book starts out starts out with a horrible crime committed by a young person. It can only get more violent and have terrible consequences for the characters.

  37. John Smith

    Edenic hamlets hide the most hideous secrets!

  38. Mary Ann Woods

    I always like to see how characters deal with past indescriptions.

  39. lasvegasnv

    interesting

  40. Martha LaChance

    This sounds really interesting and I would love a chance to read it early.

  41. susan beamon

    Scary. Matthew is a bad boy. I want this book.

  42. Lonna Wornstaff

    I would love to read the rest of the book! Thank you.

  43. Carole Knoles

    Wow! The first sentence puts you right in the middle of horror. No wasted words, no set up, just POW!

  44. Christal Mormann

    Looks like a good read

  45. Terry Pearson

    They should have cut her down…sniffle.. I would love to read this book.

  46. pat murphy

    love to read it

  47. Peggy Baker

    Really sound interesting . Will be ordering it soon.

  48. Vernon Luckert

    Interesting excerpt. Looks like it will be a good read.

  49. Michael Carter

    Sounds great!
    Please enter me in this sweepstakes.
    Thanks —

  50. Polly Barlow

    This book sounds like a fantastic read, but a bit scary.

  51. Peter W. Horton Jr.

    Kids? Yes!

  52. Amy Hahn

    Looks like this will be an amazing book.

  53. Rose Jones

    Hannah wasn’t killed. How did she get even with the guys?

  54. Angela T.

    Sounds interesting, would love to read the whole book!!!

  55. Christine Smiga

    Wow, this is going to be one heck of a ride!

  56. SUSAN GANNON

    thanks for chance

  57. Robert Grieco

    Sounds like a true thriller!

  58. Susan Morris

    Thank you for the giveaway. The excerpt is disturbing and sounds just like someting I would LOVE to read!! I’ve always been a fan of stories featuring “coming of age” characters. These kids seem a little flawed.

  59. Sandy Klocinski

    Looks interesting but creepy. I cannot read this fast enough. I can’t imagine experiencing such a thing at the age of twelve (or any age for that matter!)

  60. Laurent Latulippe

    Added to my “to read” list. thanks.

  61. Ryan Westmoreland

    Looks like a great read!!

  62. James Joyce

    I hear the sequel, “Wheat Chaff Crescent” is going to have even more twists and turns.

  63. samantha cox

    Can’t wait to get my hands on this book!

  64. Marjorie Manharth

    Oh, yikes!! I’m hooked!

  65. Clydia DeFreese

    Thanks for the sweepstakes. I love reading new authors.

  66. JAMES LYNAM

    GOOD PLOT. I like this. Send it.

  67. Kyle Johnicker

    Off to a good start!

  68. HESTER MAYO

    Count me in!!

  69. Barbara Lima

    Hannah was his friend? Why did he do this?

  70. Dawn Newsome

    Very interesting, wanted to keep reading! Sounds right up my alley. Would love to win a copy.

  71. Shannon Baas

    I would like this.

  72. Angie Stormer

    I enjoy a great mystery

  73. Deb Philippon

    The writing drew me in, so I really want to win. Wish me luck!

  74. Beatrice P

    I would love to read this!

  75. vicki wurgler

    dark and twisted tale-sounds good

  76. Kimbrell Scheunert

    This sounds great! Can’t wait to read it.

  77. Kim Keithline

    sounds great sign me up

  78. Abigail Gibson

    This sounds very exciting and I hope I get the opportunity to read this.

  79. Karen Hester

    I want to know the rest of the story

  80. Michele McAlister

    Wow! Can’t wait to read more!

  81. Lori Walker

    Want!

  82. Marisa Young

    interesting

  83. Karen Terry

    Sounds like a good one.

  84. Sue Dittmar

    Yikes! What a beginning. Hooked me right away.

  85. Kimberly Dull

    This sounds so good!

  86. Sally Schmidt

    Gruesome excerpt. I would love to read it.

  87. Stephanie Liske

    Thank you!

  88. Michelle Garrity

    Can’t wait to read the whole book!

  89. Daniel Morrell

    sounds interesting

  90. Ed Nemmers

    I would like to read the work of Christopfer J. Yates.

  91. Priscilla Pursell

    An intense story.

  92. Susan Smoaks

    thank you for the chance to win

  93. Veronica Sandberg

    want to win so bad….looks like a great read

  94. Lisa Pecora

    Would love a new book to read!

  95. Jerry Marquardt

    I would like to give thanks for all your really great writings, including Grist Mill Road. I wish the best in keeping up the good work in the future.

  96. trish mckee

    This is chilling and sounds like a great, suspenseful read.

  97. Tricha Leary

    this sounds great

  98. Sabine Blanch

    Sounds interesting… Thank you.

  99. Linda Peters

    great reading for the cold winter months

  100. Daniel Vice

    This looks great

  101. Margot Core

    Wow Christopher, that is some imagery. I must read the rest!

  102. Betty Curran

    This is something that makes me wonder if I have the nerve to read the whole story.

  103. Lily Kwan

    Thanks for the great giveaway!

  104. Carl White

    [b]I bet this book has words in it.[/b]

  105. Buddy Garrett

    It sounds like a great read. Thanks.

  106. Philip Lawrence

    1982 was a great year for me so I would like to see how the book depicts that time period.

  107. L

    Wow. What an opening. So many questions I need the answers to. Great set up for a story!

  108. SpikeysMom

    I really enjoyed this book. I finished it quick with it’s fast moving plot. It’s one of those “one second you love ‘em, one second you hate ‘em” stories.

Comments are closed.