JJust over a week ago, we were delighted to let you know about an absolute masterpiece of a novel, A Life Eternal, that was due to be released soon. Well, we are now seriously excited to announce that this new novel from the incredibly talented Richard Ayre will be released on 15 June 2020. That’s right, in just under one month, you’ll be able to get your hands on one of the most beautiful books we’ve ever read.
Advance feedback on the novel has been incredible:
“I absolutely loved this book. Immortality has been done to death (sorry about the pun) so it was good to see it used in a way that felt personal and rich and not at all cliched.”
“A very well-written book. I have not read a story like this before and I have read a lot!”
“I absolutely loved reading this book! It held my attention throughout and I struggled to put it down at times. It is one of very few books in the past several years that has held my intrigue quite like this.”
A Life Eternal goes on sale on 15 June 2020 but is now available to preorder as an ebook on Amazon.
To whet your appetite and because we know you are going to love it, you can read the opening chapter below, or you can download an exclusive extract from the book now by clicking here.
What if you knew you would never die?
How different would your life be?
How different would you be?
When Sergeant Rob Deakin is mortally wounded during the First World War, he is destined to become just another nameless casualty of a terrible conflict.
However, a chance encounter with a mysterious stranger will change the course of Rob’s life forever… Not only has he been healed, but he cannot die, and he will never age.
What follows is a cursed journey through a century of incredible change, seen through the eyes of a man immune to death, while he searches endlessly for the answers to what makes him so unique.
Rob must find out why he is so different.
Before he loses his humanity completely…
The sudden silence was immense. Its heavy intensity pushed me to my knees in the filthy mud, where I stayed immobile for what seemed like an eternity.
The lack of sound seemed complete, but it wasn’t; it was just that the guns had stopped. The fading thunder of the last roars of those now unemployed weapons rolled across the sky and disappeared.
There were still noises. Horses progressed in their lines past me, their harnesses jingling and creaking. Wagons squealed by, full of pinch-faced, rotten-toothed, laughing boys who had behaved as men for far too long. Birds sang. Soldiers talked.
And what did they talk about?
Home, of course. What they were going to do now the war was over.
The shock of survival was painted all over their ugly, wonderful faces. They had lived. They had got through it. In truth, I think most of them were only just coming to terms with this rather than wondering about what was next. They seemed lost, if anything. There were no obvious celebrations I can recall.
As for myself, I just remember that morning as a time of nothing. No thoughts. No feelings of what I had seen, what I had done. Of the men I’d killed or the friends I’d lost. There had been too many.
Even at that early stage of my new life, I was beginning to disregard them, to forget them. I had lived. They had died. War had thrown its fickle dice and they had lost, whereas I had won. It was as simple as that. Fate did not come into it, just luck. Pure, blind luck had seen me through to the end, or so I then believed, and the intense comradeship which warfare brings about had almost instantly disappeared. The only real memory I have of the eleventh of November 1918 was the sudden silence of those guns. And that I was hungry.
I eventually got to my feet and looked about for something to eat.
I spied some smoke in the distance and stepped through the recumbent throngs of khaki-clad, filthy individuals towards a rough fire which some of my lads had got going. The smell of the frying meat made my nostrils twitch as I neared.
There were four soldiers hunched over the fire, poking at it in a desultory manner. One of them noticed me and grinned, showing filthy teeth.
‘Alright, Sarge?’ he asked. ‘Smelled the bacon, eh?’
I nodded. My mouth was watering. The young lad, clad in a motley collection of rags that had once been a uniform, scratched his head vigorously, dislodging lice by the bucket load. We were all covered in the little bastards. He handed me some bacon on a broken plate which had been swiped from the remains of one of the houses in the decimated village around us.
The other soldiers nodded at me as I caught their gaze, but they didn’t smile. They didn’t want me to stay. They didn’t want me near them, I could tell. I didn’t blame them.
‘Ta, Shanksy,’ I said to the young lad and moved away to sit by the road and watch the endless columns rumble by, stuffing the hot bacon into my willing mouth.
The noise of the columns—men, horses, even the occasional bellowing tank—soothed me. I didn’t like the missing sounds. The silence of the guns unnerved me; it didn’t seem natural.
I watched the columns and it slowly dawned on me that this was my new life. I would now watch, not do. I had become a watcher of life, no longer a dispenser of death. Like the guns, I was unemployed. Surplus to requirement. Pointless.
I polished off my bacon and threw the plate down, where it broke and mingled with the scattered glass and ruptured brickwork.
German POWs were now marching by. Their uniforms were rags, they were like skeletons. They walked towards a future even bleaker than my own: although at the time neither they, nor I, knew this.
It was over.
This single thought began to pound incessantly in my head as I watched the battered Germans shuffle past me. It was over. Four years of my life.
The officers’ whistles squealed, and we scrambled up the side of the trench. To my left, one of the ladders snapped and two men fell back onto the mud-smeared duckboards. There was hysterical laughter from their comrades as the sergeant kicked and shouted at them until they got to their feet and went up another ladder. I walked forward into a sudden maelstrom.
Three men on my right went down instantly, one of them screaming shrilly. I knew them all: Archie Thompson, Bobby Cooper and George ‘Dilly’ Dilson. It was Dilly who was screaming.
Half his face had been torn away by the enemy machine gun fire. I remember the one eye left in that horror mask staring at me with a terror I could comprehend only too well. I stepped around his gutted, dying body, ignoring the utterly still forms of the other two. I went on, leaving them on the hard ground.
It was like being surrounded by angry, invisible bees. Bullets tore all around me, the warm air fluttering and buzzing from their intensity. The line of men was being cut down all over; in twos, in threes, or single men falling.
Some of them were flung backwards, some of them crumpled slowly. Some of them screamed like Dilly, some of them made not one sound. It was totally random. The noise of the machine guns and the death they unleashed was overpowering.
Our artillery guns joined in the cacophony, still firing from behind our lines in a blistering barrage even though they were supposed to have stopped by now. I swear some of the shells were no more than five feet above my head. I had to duck more than once. They roared or screamed or thundered forward, smashing and crashing down two hundred yards in front of us.
I kept going, trying to concentrate only on following the orders of the officers and sergeants as they urged us forward.
Ahead of me, I got my first glimpse of the trench we were supposed to take. The yards of twisted barbed wire did not seem at all troubled by the week-long bombardment it had been subjected to. It was a tangled, jagged trap, waiting for us, its prey.
I registered a flash of smoke-laden sunlight on a steaming gun barrel and took one more step. Then someone punched my chest three times in rapid succession, and I was slammed to the artillery-ploughed earth. I lay with the corpses of my comrades.
I stared up at the suddenly clear blue sky. Boots tramped past me, accompanied by harsh, frightened breathing. They were moving forward without me. I tried to speak, to urge them on or to beg for help, I don’t now know. They left me. The blasts from the shells moved on.
A swallow flitted above me, still hunting for food over the savage games of the fools below. I coughed and something warm and wet spattered onto my face. A whining sound came to my ears and I thought it must be a shell coming in towards me, even though they were moving away. I felt no pain. I was simply short of breath and tired. I just needed a little nap, that was all. The whining noise grew louder and overcame me.
The sky turned black…
A hand on my shoulder brought me back to the village. I looked up and realised Captain Greene had been talking to me, asking me something. I scrambled to my feet.
‘Sorry, sir. I was daydreaming there for a second.’
Greene nodded, a smile on his face.
He was, like all of us there, a young man: younger than me and I was only twenty-two. But his eyes held the shadow of what he had seen in his years of war. It had scarred him, even if nothing showed physically.
‘That’s all right, sergeant. It’s nice to have the freedom to do so.’
He looked around the destroyed village, then at the never-ending columns winding slowly past us. Eventually, he turned back to me.
‘What are we going to do now, Rob?’ he asked, softly. His eyes begged me for an answer I didn’t have.
I shrugged. ‘God only knows, sir. I don’t.’
He eventually nodded. He was a man caught in a sudden void. For two-and-a-half years he had lived in squalor and fear and noise. He had made decisions which meant men died, often in violence and horror. He, like all of us, had shied away from thinking about any sort of future, because that future should not have been allowed. He had lived from day to day; indeed, from minute to minute. Now his future stretched before him in a blinding kaleidoscope of probability. He, like I and everyone around us, was drowning in possibility.
‘I was wondering if you had any plans,’ he said, eventually. ‘Do you have a family to go back to? A wife? Children?’
I squirmed uncomfortably. Greene and I had shared a lot. We had sat on cold, frosty, starlit nights and talked of the day-to-day running of the company. Of the men under his and my command. It was Greene who had recommended me for my sergeant’s stripes two years before. He had seen something in me I hadn’t seen in myself. But we had never really talked in any sort of personal manner.
I remembered his first day as a lieutenant. I remembered a callow, flush-faced boy whose Adam’s apple had bobbed nervously after every word as he had tried to exert his superiority over men who had seen death and carnage to such a degree that their humanity was in danger of being snuffed out forever. I remembered laughing bitterly about him with the lads. I remembered thinking he wouldn’t last five minutes. I remembered being wrong.
Jonathon Greene had proven to be a most unlikely warrior. Tall, thin, and aristocratic, but imbued with a steel most uncommon. He had survived, he had learned his trade of death, and he had adapted. Quickly. He had become the best leader I had known in my long war.
I had helped him as much as I was allowed once I realised the type of man he was. As a corporal, promoted through necessity rather than any latent talent, Greene seemed to see in me someone to emulate. He always asked my advice and often acted upon it. He had quickly become a leader his men respected and perhaps even loved in their rough, raw way. They valued him immensely and they followed him unswervingly. Not just because he was their lieutenant and later captain, but because he was a man they wanted to impress. When he made me sergeant he had simply handed me my stripes and smiled his wry, lopsided smile at me. He had said not a word. He didn’t have to.
He never barked an order, was never short with any of his men, even in the heat of the bitterest battle. Instead, his commands were given in a soft voice and he was always quick with an encouraging smile and a joke.
When he made me sergeant we began to rely on each other more and more, and this reliance turned into something that made our section of the trench a place where each man felt he had a place and his duty was to his captain and his sergeant. The men lived and died safe in the knowledge they wanted to because of Captain Greene. Not so much me, Sergeant Deakin: I knew full well they all thought there were increasingly strange things about me. But Captain Greene? They would have followed him into the mouth of Hell itself just for a glimpse of his smile.
‘I have a sister,’ I replied, eventually. ‘Muriel. Back in Northumberland. She’s married. Got a young boy. I might visit her, I suppose.’ I looked around at the devastation and shrugged. ‘I’ll need to find a job.’
‘No family of your own?’ he persisted.
‘No. My parents are both gone, and I was only eighteen when all this started. There was a girl once, but she’s probably settled down. There’s really only Mu.’
Greene nodded again. We stood in silence for a while, just watching the column.
‘You worked as a Gillie, is that right?’ he continued.
‘I worked on the lands around Rothbury. I wasn’t a Gillie. My dad was the gamekeeper for the Armstrongs. They own everything around there and he, like almost everyone else, was in their service. I helped out. I mostly worked in the stables, did a bit of beating in grouse season, looked after the dogs, that sort of thing. I thought I’d become a gamekeeper eventually, I suppose. But then the war came along.’ I sighed. ‘Last time I was back, everything was different. Not much work. All the women were doing the jobs I used to do and doing it a bloody sight better than I ever did.’
I laughed again and Greene joined in.
‘When did your parents die?’
‘Not long after I joined up. Dad died out in the fields. My mother died a few months later. Mu wrote to me and told me the news.’
I became pensive again. I was a taciturn man in those days. I was worried I might be talking out of turn with my captain, but Greene seemed interested, so I continued.
‘My Mam was a lovely woman. I’m not ashamed to say I shed a tear when I heard the news.’
‘Your father?’ asked Greene, probably already knowing the answer.
I shook my head, briefly.
‘We didn’t really get on, me and Dad. Mu was always his little girl. I think he mostly just saw me as an extra pair of hands. He didn’t want me to join up, that’s for sure. He said I was needed to help him work the land. He was a man who talked with his fists a lot of the time. He wasn’t a bad sort, but we never really saw eye-to-eye. He couldn’t understand why I wanted to go and fight. He never understood why I wanted to leave Rothbury. I think it was because I wanted to be away from him that I joined so early. I wanted to see what sort of man I was, not the sort he thought I was.’
I stared into the distance for a while, not seeing much of that Belgian village. Greene seemed to understand.
‘You joined early?’
I returned to the conversation.
‘Aye. Two days after the outbreak. August sixth, 1914. My eighteenth birthday. Went down to Morpeth and joined the recruiting parade. Told them I was nineteen.’
I laughed, bitterly. ‘My dad was furious. Said I’d abandoned them all. The last time I saw him, he stood at the door and said, “I hope you get killed as soon as you get there.” Then he went out. I left that day.’
Greene saw the look on my face and touched my shoulder. A typical response from a man such as him.
‘He didn’t mean it, Rob. We all say things we regret, at times.’
I nodded, unwilling now to pick at the scabs any longer.
‘I’m sure you’re right, sir. But he had his heart attack and I never got to speak with him again. It doesn’t really matter now, anyway. Not after all this.’
Greene knew what ‘all this’ meant. He seemed to come to a decision.
‘After you’ve been home,’ he said. ‘After you’ve seen your sister and your nephew, if you’d like a job, I have some land I need working.’
I looked at him, shocked.
‘A job?’ I repeated.
He nodded. ‘In Hampshire. It’s my family estate. Mine now. I’d like someone I know who I can trust as my first employee. Someone I know would do a sterling job.’
I was unsure. From my rudimentary geography, I believed Hampshire was a long way from Rothbury. He smiled at my indecisiveness.
‘I’ll give you my details,’ he said. ‘No pressure. Nothing like that. If you want the job, I’ll keep it open until the summer. After that, we’ll see. Go and see your family. If you stay, I’ll understand completely. If not, the job is yours.’
I stared at him. I opened my mouth to say something but, at that moment, Major Graves wandered along and told us to get ready to march.
We were going home.
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