Definition from Webster’s:PARADOX: A tenet or proposition contrary to received opinion; an assertion or sentiment seemingly contradictory, or opposed to common sense; that which in appearance or terms is absurd, but yet may be true in fact.
Today on Throwback Thursday, I'm focusing on my mystery romance, Paradox. The story takes placer in the present day, and in Roman Britain during its heyday. The cover is from a photo I took of a Roman mosaic in a Roman townhouse in Rabat, Malta, though Malta doesn't appear in the story at all.
Blurb: Phil is trapped in a coma, and he's sharing a parallel life. Centuries ago, someone is trying to kill Caius Marcellus Niger - Phil must find out who and why. But he’s alone, and nothing is the way it seems.
Excerpt: Phil was a fast and skilful driver, and the Peugeot streaked along the unfamiliar country roads at a calculated, reckless pace. Leaden clouds swept across the sky, reducing visibility to a near-dusk level, occasionally lessened even more by skeins of mist in the river valleys. But it didn't slow him down.
Fortunately for Phil, the roads were deserted, and a swift glance at the dashboard clock told him he was making pretty good time, considering. Then the forecasted rain arrived, and the first few heavy drops splattered on the windscreen. Within minutes the full force of the deluge struck, complete with thunder and lightning, and he had to ease up on the accelerator.
Thankfully the storm didn't last long, but it left the road awash with more water than the drains could cope with. A long, straight stretch opened up in front of him, and Phil increased his speed. The M4 was behind him now, and turning east would point him towards Chippenham. From there he'd soon be back on the motorway with the blockage well behind him. If he was lucky.
Then his luck ran thin. Suddenly the car was drifting, aquaplaning, and there was little he could do except go with it and pray his wheels would bite before—his nearside hit the high verge, flipped the car into a screeching, sliding roll across the tarmac. It slammed onto its wheels, hurtling sideways and down into thick undergrowth beyond the road. The Peugeot finally came to rest beneath an oak tree, the driver's door jammed against the trunk, tail and rear wheels in a stream, and its nose on a level with the bush-lined crest of the bank.
Phil blinked his eyes open. It wasn't easy; his lashes were glued together. But he couldn't see much for his efforts. He had an impression of something very close to his face, and he seemed to be lying on his back—he started to move, and pain exploded through him. The choked cry of agony rang in his head as if it came from someone else. Surely he couldn't have pushed it past the clenching talons closed around his body.
He lay still, panting in shallow gasps, and struggled to retain both consciousness and memory. Aquaplaning—rolling impact—the pain gradually receded to a bearable level, leaving him reasonably clear-headed. Coherent enough to take stock of his situation, at least.
It hurt, but he could move arms and lower legs, if only to a limited extent. Nor did he get that sharp, splintering pain when he drew a careful deeper breath, just its lesser cousin. Bruises and strains, he decided. He couldn't raise his left arm above shoulder-level, but his right was mobile, and he investigated the throbbing areas on his head. Several lumps were swelling under his hair, and a cut on his forehead had provided enough blood to coat eyes and face. His movements dislodged beads of glass from the shattered screen, and they fell about him, rattling on exposed metal. It reminded him belatedly of fire risk, then he realised that if the car was going to go up in flames, it would have done it at the time of the crash. Whenever that was.
His physical state assessed as best he could, Phil attempted to extricate himself. The roof had twisted and depressed to scant inches above his face, the steering wheel leaned against his chest, the airbag a deflated rag. The dashboard had come down to dig into his thighs. One foot was trapped between brake and accelerator pedal.
The conviction began to grow in him that he wasn't going to be able to get himself out. It spurred him to fresh efforts. Ill-judged efforts, for the pain suddenly flared to new heights. He could neither cry out nor breathe, and unconsciousness crashed over him like a falling wall.
Awareness returned slowly, and for a while Phil lay still, relishing the comfort of the bed. He felt heavy, lethargic, oddly detached from himself; a familiar experience. He'd regained consciousness in enough hospital recovery rooms to recognise drug-induced and painless ease. He drowsed, half-listening to the muted sounds of bustle beyond his room, too lazy to even think of opening his eyes. Time enough for that when discomfort made rest impossible. Sleep and relaxation were the best healers.
Somewhere nearby children's voices were raised in sudden altercation, to be abruptly hushed by an adult's hissing whisper. Phil smiled to himself. His young sisters, Camilla and Aurelia, were still quarrelling over that damned puppy.
Camilla? Aurelia? He didn't have any sisters.
Phil opened his eyes to an ochre ceiling bordered in geometric designs in terracotta red, sombre in the dimness of the room. He blinked at it. A little avant garde for your usual hospital, he decided, and he wasn't sure if he liked it. Either way, it was enough to distract him from the unfamiliar names in his head, and he tried to sit up.
He failed. Bandages swathed his chest, his left arm was heavily wrapped, and so were his right ankle and foot. His head also sported fabric bands, but the discoveries paled to insignificance as he took in the rest of the room's decor. The walls were painted, and not in silk emulsion. Despite the gloom, bright earth-colours glowed in frescoes designed to look as if he gazed out of colonnades onto different scenes more Mediterranean than English. Nymphs, voluptuous to the point of being overweight, tripped with ponderous grace among glades of trees. Improbable sea-beasts poised coyly in a wash of waves while a plump and smirking Venus rose from detergent foam, draperies strategically clutched about her. Against a background of stylised hills, two hounds held a stag at bay, while in another, formal gardens and vineyards were laid out under a blue and cloudless sky.
The claustrophobic effect was immediate, and it took a while for Phil to realise the carved wooden panels separating the five different vistas along one long wall were two sets of shutters and a double door. Another door was opposite, sandwiched between nymphs and stag, and about the room were some carved chests, a large plain table, and a couple of basket chairs. A litter of earthenware cups, many small glass jars and pots, and a good-sized jug sat on the table. A low pile of folded cloths lay beside them, and the still air was heavy with the scent of herbs.
The ceiling and walls were devoid of electric light fittings.
Phil pushed himself to an awkward sitting position, the alarm bells in his head cutting through the fog of whatever drug had been administered. He lifted away the sheet covering him. But for the bandages he was naked, and there was no sign anywhere of clothes, watch, shoes—his gun. On- or off-duty, the snub-nosed semi-automatic went with him, and he wanted it within reach now. This was no hospital that he'd ever seen.
He set his sights on the nearest chest and swung his legs over the edge of the bed. It was much lower than he expected, and it took a lot of effort to get to his feet. His balance was precarious, his vision began to blur out of focus, but he lurched painfully towards his goal.
He didn't hear the door open, just hurrying footsteps and a rush of incomprehensible words. He spun as hands caught at him, tried to swing a punch, but coordination was gone. Instead he clutched a fistful of clothing for support, was wrapped in a strong embrace and half-carried back to the bed.
Thankfully, Phil leaned his weight on Demetrius's shoulder and let himself be settled on the pillows.
Who the hell is Demetrius?
He struggled to focus on the features bent over him, got an impression of a concerned young face topped by neat chestnut brown hair, then fog closed in around him and he slipped out of consciousness.
~ * ~
This second edition is self-published under my own Kouros Books imprint