In his debut novel, The String Diaries, Stephen Lloyd Jones weaves together three narratives that follow a shapeshifter as he stalks his prey through generations. It’s a terrifying, mythical tale, and it opens with a bang: a mother driving through the night, her daughter asleep in the back, and her husband bleeding out beside her. Start reading below, but be warned that you may not be able to close this diary.
It was only when Hannah Wilde reached the farmhouse shortly after midnight that she discovered how much blood her husband had lost.
They had spoken little during the drive to Llyn Gwyr. Hannah concentrated on the road ahead, her vision blurred through rain and tears. Beside her, Nate slumped in the Discovery’s passenger seat, a crooked shadow. She tried to glance over at him as the distance to what they’d left behind increased, but it was impossible to comprehend the full horror of his injuries while they were on the road. Each time she suggested they pull over Nate shook his head and urged her on.
Get to the farmhouse, Hannah. I’ll be OK. I promise.
Close to midnight, after four hours behind the wheel, she watched the English place names flashing past the Discovery’s headlights surrender to their Welsh cousins: Cyfronydd; Llangadfan; Tal-y-llyn.
No other vehicles shared this night with them. And although Hannah could see little more than what lay directly ahead, she could feel the country growing wilder, opening up around her. The road bucked and twisted, tried to throw them loose. For a time they chased a rushing mountain stream, the fractured diamonds of moonlight on its surface the only clue to its presence. When the road looped, climbing higher, the reflections winked out, lost to the night.
Half a mile from Llyn Gwyr, near the crest of a hill, Hannah slowed the 4×4 to a crawl and turned off its headlights. She inched the vehicle up the final few yards of the slope, to where a clump of ash trees grew. For a moment she watched the silhouette movement of their naked branches.
Hannah switched off the ignition. The sound of the engine had masked the voice of the wind until now. Here, at the summit of the hill, it sang around them, buffeting the car on its springs.
By God, what were you thinking? Did you really believe this place would be safe?
In the passenger seat, Nate roused himself, lifting his head. He squinted out of the window. “What do you see?”
Beyond the trees, the land dropped away below them, receding toward the shore of an almond-shaped lake. Although the moon had draped itself in rainclouds creeping in from the west, a phosphorescence lingered on the water’s surface. The black line of a river, snaking down from the mountains, fed the lake at its westernmost point.
Llyn Gwyr’s farmhouse stood on the lake’s far shore. A steep gravel track, crossing the river at a stone bridge, linked it to the main road.
“I can hardly see a thing from this far away,” she told him. “Not in the dark, anyway.”
“There should be some binoculars in the door well. Check the bridge first. See if it’s clear.”
Hannah found the glasses, raised them to her eyes. Trained them in the direction of the river. She needed a moment to orient herself, and then she found the bridge. Its crumbling stone arch looked barely robust enough to support the weight of their Land Rover.
No debris on the bridge itself, that she could see. Nothing lurking beneath it. No signs of a potential ambush.
“OK, now check the house.” Continue reading ›