Shadows draped over the furniture in the small Lifewarden cottage. Death hung over Madiya’s mind like that darkness, clouding all her thoughts. Except the one that chided her for sleeping through her last chance to enjoy the beams of dawn penetrating the curtains and casting beautiful patterns on the floor. But she needed no such distractions today. As she rose from her cot, a vision crashed into her.
“John’s dead, Maggie.” Ann stood in the doorway, her voice hollow and her cheeks streaked. In the two years that she’d been my roommate, I’d never seen her cry.
Dec. 24. Victim discovered 3 min. off San Pasqual Valley Road/Highway 78. Mile marker 12. Female. Mid 20s. Face down. Homicide suspected. No attempted burial. Thrown and discarded. Decomposition suggests 6 weeks since death. Wild animals got to body. Skeleton mostly intact. Left femur missing. No ID. Prostitute? Photograph in back pocket.
Green. Not eaten. Not trampled into the dust. Food, or maybe poison. It didn’t matter which. Prisoner 13358 hadn’t been actively searching for either. If he had, he would have passed over the spot. An inconspicuous clay lump shielded the leaves that cowered between the stack of lumber and the barracks wall.
Mahzar sat cross-legged on the sandy floor and gripped his staff to still his trembling hands. Suluboya’s painted face stared at him from the corner of the tent as if waiting for him to renounce his promotion. “This is the will of the tribe,” he said to the idol. “I did not choose this. Nor did I choose Devrim’s actions.”
Sand swirled like a plague of locusts across the plain, spitting against Travis’s goggles. A line of fenceposts and an abandoned bunker contentedly slept while the world died around them.
“Home,” Asher’s escort said, handing him a set of keys. He splayed the keys out in his palm. Which one? But his escort had already returned to the car and started the engine. Asher tested several keys in the lock before one turned. The door creaked as he pushed it open. He cringed at the noise. But why did it bother him?
“Please read me!” Hardcover whispered as the top of a brown-haired head paused in front of his shelf. Though he knew humans couldn’t hear him, he repeated the plea over and over. Fingers crept toward him, creating a trail in the dust. If Hardcover had lungs, he would have held his breath. Just a couple more inches…
I built my first coffin when I was thirteen years old. Father said it wasn’t good enough. I built another. And another. For five years, they were never satisfactory, but Father was too weak to work, so the deceased in our town were buried in not-quite-good-enough coffins.
Arron didn’t believe in panicking. The threat of imminent loss brought fear, but few would dare steal from him or his team. But there were some. And that knowledge, combined with the fact that his brother hadn’t yet returned, made his stomach coil.