Winterwakers is my first completed novel, set in an alternate version of Earth where humans hibernate. It’s gonna be a big one, so I’m throwing it out into the cruel, cruel world in three parts, each about 200 pages. Part 1 is titled Cold Hands, and if all goes well it will be available in e-book form before the end of October. Once I have a firm date I will announce it on all of the various social shouting platforms. Be sure to follow me on Twitter or Facebook to stay in the loop.
The following is a short sample from the second chapter, in which Elliot, one of our protagonists, meets a mysterious person.
The elevator opened onto a sparsely populated lobby. A jovial ‘Happy Feast’ banner loomed above. Two maintenance people were testing the bolts on the thick steel outer doors as Elliot Warden slipped outside.
One of the few things Elliot would miss about the waking months was Happy Fortune Cafe, located just down the block from his office. It was a little hole-in-the-wall that served tasty Taiwanese thick noodles in a rich beef broth. It would be perfect winter food; it was warm and hearty, and those delicious beef morsels were so tender they practically melted in his mouth. Unfortunately there would be no fresh beef once the snow fell, nor would there be a Happy Fortune Cafe. It would be shuttered and dark until the thaw, as would everything else on this busy downtown street. Businesses that thrived today would soon be buried under snowbanks, their proprietors deep in peaceful hibernation.
While the world slept, Elliot was among the few who kept it running. Winterwakers all had jobs in the winter, most of which fell into two categories: infrastructure maintenance, and hibernation care. Elliot’s winter job was similar to his ‘normal’ job: network administration. The main difference was that in the spring, summer, and fall, he administered First Fed’s network. In the winter, he administered every network. He was the only qualified network and server maintenance tech awake in the entire city.
Of course, not every network was up and running in the winter. With electricity at a premium and usage at a minimum, most web servers and data centers were shut down once the snow started to fall. The few websites that chose to remain active required a Winterwaker tech like Elliot to intervene in case things went wrong—and things inevitably went wrong.
Happy Fortune was still pretty busy considering how late in the lunch hour it was. Probably because the high protein, fat, and carb content of a bowl of their rib-sticking noodles was perfect pre-hibernation nutrition. Elliot grabbed a seat at the counter. He didn’t need to look at a menu. The waitress came over and smiled at his familiar face.
“Hi, hello! Number one?”
“No, lean, please.”
The waitress raised an eyebrow as she hustled to the kitchen. Lean meat in late October was unheard of. She returned a moment later with a cup of lukewarm tea. Sleepers believed hot drinks this late in the season inhibited hibernation. Elliot took a sip and wished he’d had the courage to request it hot, but he felt like enough of a freak ordering lean.
As Elliot waited for his soup, a distinct discomfort crept over him: He was being watched. A quick glance to his right confirmed it; a pretty young girl was looking right at him from the other side of the cafe. Her vivid blue eyes locked with his for a fraction of a second before he looked away. Impossible. She must be looking at someone behind him. He ran his fingers through his hair, wondering if she was staring at him because he looked goofy.
He glanced back. She was still staring. Worse still, she was walking over. Elliot looked down at his tea and tried to ignore the boiling cauldron of anxiety bubbling inside his brain. He clumsily reached for his phone to check his e-mail—anything to avoid what seemed to be happening.
“I saw you this winter,” she said. “Did you stay warm?”
A Winterwaker? Unlikely, but not impossible. He didn’t recognize her, but he wasn’t good with faces, even ones as effortlessly beautiful as hers.
“Uh … yeah, I was fine,” he said, his wavering tone betraying him.
The girl sat down on the stool next to him. She smelled very nice. Elliot wondered if he was too close to her. Should he be able to smell her… was that shampoo? He had no idea. He leaned away from her so as not to appear creepy.
“That’s good,” she eventually said. Her voice was high and delicate, but her words were delivered with effortless confidence.
Elliot didn’t know what to do. Was this some kind of marketing scheme? Was there a sales pitch coming? Would she leave him alone if he stopped talking to her? He wished he had the courage to come up with something clever to say. He rarely got to talk to a pretty girl, let alone a pretty Winterwaker.
“I’m sorry … Do I know you?” he asked. “I don’t think I remember seeing you before.”
“I doubt you know me,” she said, glancing at a menu. “I don’t get out much.”
“Yeah, I know what you mean.” He figured this was as good an opportunity as any to introduce himself. Social niceties eluded him at the best of times, but there was never any excuse for rudeness. “I’m Elliot,” he said.
“Nice to meet you, Elliot.”
Wasn’t this the part where they were supposed to shake hands? Wasn’t she supposed to tell him her name? Elliot was starting to feel like the butt of some kind of joke. Mercifully, his soup arrived.
“Elliot,” she said in a quieter tone, “eat your soup and listen carefully.”
Confused, Elliot turned to look at her. She was staring at the counter, her expression stern. He grabbed his chopsticks and swirled some noodles onto them.
“You’re in trouble,” said the blonde.
“Don’t talk. Just listen. I was told to find you. My people work to help all Winterwakers, and we want to help you.”
“No,” said Elliot. “I’m not interested in any religious stuff.”
“Please don’t talk. We don’t know who’s listening. Pretend you’re eating your soup. This isn’t religion. It’s Winterwakers helping other Winterwakers. Just listen carefully. This is important. I’m putting a card in your coat pocket. The card has coded instructions on it. I’m told you’re a clever guy, and you can figure out what they mean on your own. Is that right?”
Elliot was silent.
“Is that right, Elliot? Are you smart with codes and such?”
“You told me not to talk.”
“God … whatever, fine. The card is in the right pocket of your coat. The instructions will tell you when and where to be next. It will be in the winter. If you show up, we’ll tell you more. If you don’t, we won’t bother you again. That said, I think you’d be making a big mistake by not taking this meeting. We don’t do this for just anyone.”
Elliot was so nervous he was visibly twitching. He tried to steady his hand as he ate his soup.
“Nod if you understand me,” said the blonde.
Elliot nodded. He understood the words, at least. The situation, however, was far from comprehensible.
“Don’t look at the card until you get home, and don’t show it to anyone else. It’s for your eyes only. Nod if you understand.”
“Stay warm, Elliot.”
The girl stood and swiftly exited the cafe, her pleasant scent lingering a moment before the aroma of beef broth overtook it. Elliot shakily put down his chopsticks and took a deep breath. He reached into his right coat pocket and tensed when he touched the card. He traced the edges of it with his fingertips, scarcely believing it was real, yet desperately wanting to know what it was. Why did she think he needed help? Why had he never seen her around in the winter before? His mind raced ahead, trying to compute his next move. He thought about reading the card right there. He thought about calling the police. He thought about tearing the card into a million pieces and forgetting all about it.
But he didn’t do any of those things. There was something about her tone, and the way she had chosen her words. She had spoken with sincerity and weight.
He paid for his soup and left. The card remained in his pocket.