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PART OF THE Under Blue Skies ISSUE

‘A ripple of fear travels the length of my spine as I try to assess just how scared I should be of this man who has me here at his mercy. So far, he hasn’t done anything to hurt me, physically. He hasn’t been mean or nasty to me or given me any reason to think that my gruesome, painful death might be imminent.’

Imagine waking up in an unfamiliar bed, with an unrecognisable life, and memories of another life that are utterly different to your surroundings. This is the premise of Stephanie McDonald’s second novel, the psychological thriller, Inference. Read this extract, and you’ll have to discover what happens next . . .

 

Extract taken from Inference
By Stephanie McDonald
Published by Ringwood Publishing

 

I come to with a gasp, sucking in air as though it is in dangerously short supply. I survey the room with hungry eyes, praying that the urgent nature of my awakening is down to the fact that I’ve been released from the nightmare that I had come to believe was real life. But prayers, as I accepted a long time ago, are pointless. No-one is listening. At least, not to me.

I run over the memories of my date with Kevin again – for that’s what they are, memories – and verify every part of our conversation, every bite of my meal, every light brush of his hand against mine. It wasn’t a dream. It happened.

I didn’t want to fall asleep again, for fear of where I might be, or what might have happened to me, by the time I woke up again. And now that I’ve awoken for the second time in this strange room, I have to agonisingly come to terms with the fact that what I am enduring right now is definitely not a dream, and that my only hope of getting out of this hell-onearth predicament that I’m in is to figure out why I am here. And why this is happening to me. The only explanation I can produce is that I’ve been kidnapped. But how? And why? And why is this man trying to make me believe that I’m someone else entirely?

I burst into tears, shivering with cold and with the despair that slides through my veins like an icy ink. The room is darker now, with barely any light illuminating its contents. But only a glance to my left, to where the heavy curtains are drawn, is needed to confirm my fear: that I am not at home.

Jamie is not in the room, which is at least something to be thankful for. I don’t even remember falling asleep, but a glance at the clock, which I’m noticing for the first time because its hands are neon yellow, tells me that I have been offline for about three hours. The fact that not a single morsel of food has passed my lips since the sticky toffee pudding I had for dessert on my date with Kevin is brought to my attention by a loud, uncomfortable growl emanating from my stomach. Jamie offered to make me something earlier, but how could I possibly think about eating? I feel like I am literally living a nightmare, and the sensation does not support a healthy appetite.

Last night, I was a carefree, single woman of thirty-two, enjoying dinner and a few drinks with an old flame. The most pressing issues working on my mind when I laid my head on my pillow after returning home were whether it was truly wise to see Kevin again, and whether it would be obvious to my boss that I had been out drinking on a school night. Now, less than a day later (or two days, if Jamie’s assertion that today is Saturday is to be believed), I’m trapped on an island that I apparently have no means of getting off of, with a man who claims that I have been in a relationship with him for over three years, and furthermore claims that my recollections of my past, my life, are nothing more than hallucinations created by a malfunctioning psyche. What am I supposed to do with that?

The only thing I can think of doing, in this instant, is reinforcing the truth in my mind.

My name is Natalie Elizabeth Byron. My first name was chosen at random, for no other reason than I ‘looked like a Natalie’ when I was born, but my middle name is an homage to my grandmother on my mother’s side. My father is a railway worker of thirty years’ experience, by the name of Iain Byron. My mother is a paralegal; her name is Gillian.

I was born in Glasgow’s bespoke maternity hospital on the twenty-ninth of July nineteen eighty-three, which means that I am still closer to thirty-two than thirty-three by the skin of my teeth, and I’m going to cling to that status for as long as possible. I am the second eldest of four, with an older sister called Gemma, a younger one named Anna, and a younger brother called Max.

I live alone, and have done so for some years now, having flown the coop at the tender age of nineteen when I opted to live a little closer to the university that I attended for one year, then abandoned in favour of gainful employment. My home is a relatively small but cosy house that I was fortunate enough to procure for a decidedly knock-down price when the property market took a nose dive a few years ago.

I work full-time, for the Criminal Records Bureau in Glasgow, ritually performing mind-numbing tasks that I have been carrying out for so long that I could do them with my eyes closed. As jobs go, it’s not the worst – it is far from difficult, and affords me a decent lifestyle. I have a nice home, a recently-purchased car (not brand new, but not an old banger either), and usually manage to enjoy two or three holidays per year.

I have a loving family a stone’s throw from where I live, and a small but close circle of friends that I see often and would trust with my life.

 

*

 

I’ve been wracking my brains, trying to come up with a motive, a reason why Jamie would do this, but other than him being the one out of the two of us with serious mental health issues, I am at a loss. Something like this takes meticulous planning, surely, so there must be a part of him that lives in the real world. An organised, calculating part. He has managed to get me here, all the way from Glasgow, so he must have had a pretty detailed plan in order to pull that off. Perhaps he had help, I think to myself with a shudder of unease.

There must be something I’m missing. First of all, why have I been chosen? I have never so much as laid eyes on Jamie before, and I can categorically say that I had no idea that the Isle of Càrn even existed before today. So, perhaps I was kidnapped at random. I don’t know whether the randomness is a good thing or a bad thing, but I do know that being kidnapped is most certainly not good. Secondly, whilst it’s probably safe to assume that the person doing the kidnapping is something of a crazy person, what does he have to gain by telling me that I’m crazy? So that I am more likely to comply, I quickly provide in response to my own question. If he can wear me down, and make me dance to his tune, then by definition his life will be a lot easier than if I were hell-bent on escaping from him and returning to my life.

A ripple of fear travels the length of my spine as I try to assess just how scared I should be of this man who has me here at his mercy. So far, he hasn’t done anything to hurt me, physically. He hasn’t been mean or nasty to me or given me any reason to think that my gruesome, painful death might be imminent. He hasn’t laid an inappropriate finger on me, and I have woken up wearing the same clothes that I dressed myself in earlier, seemingly unbothered. All things considered, I don’t know whether his apparent innocuousness makes me more terrified than if he were an axe-wielding, wild-eyed lunatic.

What does he want from me? Assuming that, somehow, he could get me to play along with his alternative reality and ‘become’ Jen, where do we go from here? Am I destined to live out the rest of my days on an island with more elevations measuring above one hundred feet than people?

If what he told me earlier is true, and today is Saturday, then there is a very good chance that my absence will have been noted and highlighted to the appropriate authorities by now. If all of Friday came and went without any contact taking place between my mum and I, then at the very least my parents will have gone to my house to investigate. They have a spare key, for emergencies, and given the close relationship that I have with my family, the absence of at least a text in a twenty-four-hour period (more than that now) will have prompted alarm bells to ring.

 

Inference by Stephanie McDonald is published by Ringwood Publishing, priced £9.99

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