Today's Reading

They were almost certainly under the impression that he'd hit the big time in Britain. Which was the way he wanted it. True, the drama school where he'd done his training had been a decent one, if not quite as prestigious as he implied, and after graduating he had focused on the stage and secured roles in some good plays. Few of them had made it to London, though; they were generally productions put on by touring companies doing the rounds of the provincial theatres. Still, he'd had three roles in plays in the West End; twice as an understudy  in neither case had he got to perform  and once in a walk-on role. The wages were paltry, of course, and he survived by working in restaurants on the side, but in his friends' eyes he was a star abroad, making a pretty good living. This was the role he would have to play this weekend and he didn't actually mind it that much.

'Have you really never killed anything?' It was Ármann who broke the silence.

Although Daníel knew the question was directed at him, he decided to ignore it.

'Daníel, have you never killed anything?' Ármann persisted.

'No, I can't see the point, to be honest,' he replied, having to raise his voice to be heard over the rumble of the tyres.

'There's something about it, you know. Something rewarding. I don't know quite how to describe it. Hunting for your own food. It makes you feel self-sufficient, in touch with nature.'

Daníel shrugged, though Ármann wouldn't be able to see as he had his eyes trained on the road ahead.

'I'm quite happy just to eat the food. That's more my scene.'

'Come on, don't be silly, you're going to shoot some birds,' Helena said, smiling at him. 'Something's got to die before we finish this trip.' Her smile held a quality he found oddly unsettling. All this talk of shooting and death had got to him, although he had been well aware that the aim of this trip was to hunt game, in addition to being a reunion, of course.

'Maybe. Sure, I'll have a go. But you'll have to keep my birds as I wouldn't dream of taking them back to England with me. I'd never get them through Customs, for one thing.'

'You wouldn't know how to cook them, anyway,' Gunnlaugur muttered, so quietly that Daníel almost missed it.

He had been rather taken aback to learn that Gunnlaugur would be joining them. He was part of the gang, of course, but in recent years, on the rare occasions they got together, there had been an unspoken agreement to leave him out. Daníel got on fine with him; after all, they'd known each other since they were kids, but Gunnlaugur didn't quite fit in. He had a placid temperament, most of the time, yet there was a darker, more difficult side to him too, as they had discovered over the years. Daníel just hoped he wouldn't display it on this trip. It wasn't as if Gunnlaugur had anything attention-grabbing to contribute to the conversation either, since his interests were limited and dull. As far as Daníel could work out, he seemed to spend most of his time alone at home watching TV.

'You don't shoot much yourself, do you, Gunnlaugur?' Daníel asked.

Gunnlaugur was never called anything else, despite being saddled with such a long name: none of the usual, affectionate short forms like 'Gulli' had ever stuck to him.

'Not really, though I'm not a bad shot,' he replied. 'Dad taught me and my brother. He taught us to fish for salmon too. As a matter of fact, it's his gun I've brought with me.'

'A trusty old friend, eh?' Helena said.

'Yes. But it's only for my use. I'm not lending it to anyone else. Just so that's clear.'

For a moment Daníel thought his old friend was joking, then he realized Gunnlaugur was deadly serious. Of course, he'd never been much of a joker.

'Keep your hair on,' Daníel said. 'No one's going to take your gun off you.'

'I only meant, seeing as you've come along without a weapon of your own.'

'I'm only '

Helena interrupted. 'I've got a bottle of brandy with me. Ármann, you've brought some booze too, haven't you?' she asked, though she presumably knew the answer. It was a nice try at changing the subject, Daníel thought, but perhaps not the most tactful topic to bring up in the present company.

'What do you think?' Ármann grinned round at her.

Daníel leaned back and closed his eyes. If only he could have closed his ears too.

He shouldn't have let himself be talked into coming on this trip.

It was doomed to be dire. He would just have to grit his teeth and try to get through the weekend in one piece. on.

This excerpt is from the hardcover edition.

Monday, December 12th, STAY AWAKE by Megan Goldin.

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