Today on the book tour for Alexandra Burt’s thrilling new book, ‘The Good Daughter’, I’ve an extract from the gripping tale.
They appeared at Aella’s door by nightfall. There had been signs; first the dog had raised his head, then his ears had perked up, and he had let out a deep bark, shallow and low. Atlas was a crossbreed, half wolf, half dog, and she trusted him with her life.
Aella opened the door and stepped outside. Atlas followed her, stood motionless to her left, let out a bark. It was a mere warning on his part, giving her a sign: Watch me. I’ll tell you if there’s trouble.
A man with an unkempt beard and teeth too perfect to be his own stepped forward and Aella knew he had rapped on her door. There were more; she heard their mumbled voices in the dark from where they were standing, to the right where the road had led them to her trailer in the woods.
Aella’s eyes got used to the dark and she realized they were all men, with beards and grimy clothes, who had parked their cars by the road, car doors propped open. The men had gathered around, smoking, talking, and stretching their backs.
Atlas continued to keep his distance from them, remaining next to her, his nose darting out occasionally, only to retreat immediately. Bad news, yes, but dangerous, no. Atlas was a skillful judge of people and therefore Aella was not afraid.
“It’s a bit late for a visit,” she said and watched a couple of cats scurry off into the dark.
“We are just passing through and were wondering if it’d be okay to camp out back.”
Out back was a field with cedar stubs caught between shrubs and trees releasing pollen in explosive puffs of orange-red smoke whenever cold winds blew from the north. Like gnarly little fishhooks, the pollen invaded nostrils and sinuses. It wasn’t a place to camp out, but it was all the same to Aella. It wouldn’t be the first time they had passed through—not the same men, but their kind. “Who’s passing through?” Aella asked, shushing Atlas as he let out a low growl.
“It’s twelve of us. Just for one night.”
“I can count,” Aella said, even though the night was pitch-black and she barely made out the men’s silhouettes. “But who are you?”
The man paused for a second, then stroked his beard downward. In the light coming from the trailer Aella saw strong hands, uncut and clean, maybe a man working with gloves? His arms and face were sunburned and the knees of his jeans worn.
“We are travelers,” the man finally said.
“I see.” Tinkers, Aella thought. Irish travelers passing through, looking for employment. “I guess one night is okay with me.”
The man mumbled something Aella couldn’t make out, and another man from the group called out to him. They conversed in a language with soft vowels and words Aella hadn’t heard before.
“You are here why?” Atlas had settled down, yet he kept his distance.
“Roofing jobs, after the fall storms.”
“But why are you coming here? To my house? You can park anywhere and spend a few days. Who told you about me?”
“Well”—he scratched his beard again—“we’ve heard from travelers that they sometimes pass through here and that you allow them to camp on your property.”
He spoke the truth. Tinkers passed through all the time. Mainly bad seeds, the ones that trick the old folks, scam everybody out of some money, and before locals know they’ve been had, they’ve long since left town.
Aella didn’t care about their dealings but she didn’t want people in town to know they stayed on her land, didn’t want to be connected to them. Aurora had never got used to her, and people gossiped. Women like her didn’t want to be the talk of the town. Too many people came snooping, and then there were the teenage dares, and it would all get out of hand so easily.
The local men were reluctant, shook their heads at the sight of her; some spit in the dirt as they passed by. The women worried. How can you live out there, all by yourself? Aren’t you afraid? they’d ask, and Aella just grinned. I’m the baddest thing out here, she’d say, and they’d stare at her and then break out in a nervous giggle. Yet the people of Aurora flocked to her: meek boys who wanted the pretty girls, men who couldn’t keep beautiful women in their beds, lacking money and prowess. They asked for potions and salves and bottles containing strange things. Reconciling with a lover was what men were usually after—nothing a black cat bone and lodestones couldn’t fix—but the women looked to cure ailments. Ringing in the ears was a big one—no doctor can help with that; no ear drops or pills can cure the dead talking about you because you’ve done them wrong while they walked this earth. Some women wanted to keep their men, bind them so they’d never leave, not thinking about the future when they’d long for them to go, and then they’d return and the unbinding would cost thrice. Mothers came for their children: a cleft palate, a head tremor making other kids scatter in disgust, the inability to read or write, infants who stared straight past their mothers, struggling to make eye contact. Mothers were the most desperate of them all.
Aella held the man’s gaze and cocked her head, as if to say, What’s it worth to you? The man shoved a hand at her, causing Atlas to growl again. This time Aella didn’t correct him. The man took a step back, then extended out his arm again, his hand facing upward. In his palm was a substantial wad of dollar bills held together by a rubber band.
Aella reached for the money.
“Wait,” the man said. “There’s something else. One of us needs to stay here for a few weeks. We’ll get her on our way back.”
Her. Aella scanned the group of men, and a woman of petite stature emerged from the backseat of one of the cars and walked toward them, dragging her feet. Atlas approached her and sniffed the air. When the woman stepped next to the man and the moonlight illuminated her, Aella saw an expanding stomach that seemed overly large, almost freakish.
Her elfin frame had nowhere to put a baby but to push it outward, and then there was her age; she seemed young, too young to be pregnant, and her eyes were vacant as she protectively placed a hand over her stomach.
“She doesn’t feel well. We thought a bit of rest would do her good.”
You can buy The Good Daughter from Amazon and will be available to buy from good bookshops.