Oct 16 2017 9:00am

Christopher J. Yates Excerpt: Grist Mill Road

Christopher J. Yates

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.


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.


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.


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.

Subscribe to this conversation (must be logged in):
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!
Jackie Mungle
3. jackielou
OMG I really want to know why they did it and did they get away with it?
Jackie Mungle
3. jackielou
OMG I really want to know why they did it and did they get away with it?
4. 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.
5. Phyllis Bernstein
Sounds like an intriguing story! Hope to win a copy!
peter greene
7. shanachie
It sounds like it has a Mystic River vibe. The crimes of the past coming back to haunt the present.
peter greene
8. shanachie
It sounds like it has a Mystic River vibe. The crimes of the past coming back to haunt the present.
9. Storm992472
Thank you for the chance.
Shelley Scaramuzzo
10. mrsdraiman
I got goosebumps and can't wait to read more. This is going to make for some interesting book club discussion.
Janie Boyd
11. Jenxy21
Very interesting! I can't wait to read the book!
Janie Boyd
11. Jenxy21
Very interesting! I can't wait to read the book!
Janie Boyd
12. Jenxy21
Very interesting! I can't wait to read the book!
Andrew Jensen
13. atinman
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.
15. Andrea Wagenhurst
Can't wait to read the rest and find out all the details.
17. Kathryn Arevalo
Holy crap, Mr. Yates! What kind of dark place were you in?
18. Susan wentzell
Omg...thats all I can say
Janice Santillo
19. themommazie
Wow! Just that short exerpt gave me the creeps. Must be a fantastic read.
Lori Provenzano
20. Mountainesque
Agree that the creepiness factor is very high. Can see binge reading this to discover whatever answers are revealed.
Ms Eddie Jenkins
22. Demoyn
Well, now you've done it!!! I want this book!!!
26. Anita Sue Hamilton
I like British authors. This offering is full of suspense and good writing.
30. Perry56
You have me hooked! Would love to win an advance copy,
31. jtmswim
Sounds like the book for me.
32. Karen Romano Quintus
I only wanted to read the first line! What happens???? I need to know!
34. 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.
John Smith
35. jsmith2jsmith
Edenic hamlets hide the most hideous secrets!
Mary Ann Woods
36. puttputt1198eve
I always like to see how characters deal with past indescriptions.
Martha LaChance
38. mlachance9
This sounds really interesting and I would love a chance to read it early.
susan beamon
39. susanbeamon
Scary. Matthew is a bad boy. I want this book.
40. Lonna Wornstaff
I would love to read the rest of the book! Thank you.
Carole Knoles
41. carknol
Wow! The first sentence puts you right in the middle of horror. No wasted words, no set up, just POW!
Terry Pearson
43. hippiechick1955
They should have cut her down...sniffle.. I would love to read this book.
45. Peggy Baker
Really sound interesting . Will be ordering it soon.
Vernon Luckert
46. vl4095
Interesting excerpt. Looks like it will be a good read.
Michael Carter
47. rubydog
Sounds great!
Please enter me in this sweepstakes.
Thanks ---
48. Polly Barlow
This book sounds like a fantastic read, but a bit scary.
50. Amy Hahn
Looks like this will be an amazing book.
Rose Jones
51. mamarosiefour
Hannah wasn't killed. How did she get even with the guys?
52. Angela T.
Sounds interesting, would love to read the whole book!!!
Christine Smiga
53. ceecee76
Wow, this is going to be one heck of a ride!
Susan Morris
56. Samfor3
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.
Sandy Klocinski
57. attea2d
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!)
59. Ryan Westmoreland
Looks like a great read!!
James Joyce
60. JamesPatrickJoyce
I hear the sequel, "Wheat Chaff Crescent" is going to have even more twists and turns.
Clydia DeFreese
63. clydia
Thanks for the sweepstakes. I love reading new authors.
68. Dawn Newsome
Very interesting, wanted to keep reading! Sounds right up my alley. Would love to win a copy.
69. Shannon Baas
I would like this.
Deb Philippon
71. DebP
The writing drew me in, so I really want to win. Wish me luck!
72. Beatrice P
I would love to read this!
Abigail Gibson
76. luvlife4ever
This sounds very exciting and I hope I get the opportunity to read this.
78. Michele McAlister
Wow! Can't wait to read more!
Sue Dittmar
82. SKDittmar
Yikes! What a beginning. Hooked me right away.
Sally Schmidt
84. bigcootie
Gruesome excerpt. I would love to read it.
85. Stephanie Liske
Thank you!
86. Michelle Garrity
Can't wait to read the whole book!
Ed Nemmers
88. saturdaynightfever
I would like to read the work of Christopfer J. Yates.
Veronica Sandberg
91. redron
want to win so bad....looks like a great read
Jerry Marquardt
93. versatileer
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.
trish mckee
94. tmckee
This is chilling and sounds like a great, suspenseful read.
Linda Peters
97. linnett
great reading for the cold winter months
Margot Core
99. AnnaZed
Wow Christopher, that is some imagery. I must read the rest!
Betty Curran
101. willitara
This is something that makes me wonder if I have the nerve to read the whole story.
Philip Lawrence
105. Pooch
1982 was a great year for me so I would like to see how the book depicts that time period.
106. LStirling
Wow. What an opening. So many questions I need the answers to. Great set up for a story!
107. 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.
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