Writer, Occasional Animator, Terminal Eccentric, Middling Adventurer, Latte Enthusiast.
(Expected publication: Late 2015. Text not final.)
Near Granite Springs, Oregon
Dense cloud, heavy with the threat of more snow, hung low over the pines that stood as solemn witness around the long meadow. Their branches were already thick with the burden dropped by last night’s late-season storm, and Thia felt her own shoulders bow in sympathy. She knew what it was to carry such a cold, relentless weight, to have more and more piled on until she hardly knew anything else.
She took a slow, difficult breath and went to join the others, ahead, already assembled in a circle at the meadow’s center. She couldn’t yet look at what had been constructed there, and so instead watched her feet on the candlelit path.
Heavy with sorrow. Raw with grief. Frequent descriptions, and with good reason. The aftermath of loss felt just so. Like whatever buffered a person from the world had been pared away to leave a terrible, dangerous vulnerability. And, although great loss was the cause, the result was a pressure so immense that putting one foot in front of the other felt like a slog through quicksand.
There was no wind, no sound other than the soft, frozen crunch of her boots on packed-down snow. The flames of the candles stretched long, reaching for the top of the mason jars that held them, and cast a warm glow into the deepening twilight.
At Thia’s approach, the people nearest the path shifted, giving her a place next to Abby. More were present than she’d first thought, but not everyone that she had expected. One in particular, although there was time yet. Wordlessly, she came to a stop beside her friend, who turned and held out a mittened hand—a speaking gesture for someone who, as a rule, did not like contact.
“Abby,” Thia said, at a loss as they clasped hands. Instead of withdrawing, as expected, her friend kept tight hold.
“Thia,” the normally bold woman said, her voice terribly small. Shaky. Her pale cheeks showed evidence of tears, but her eyes—red-rimmed and haunted—were dry. The kind of dryness, Thia knew, that took great effort. In the meeting of their gazes, shared sorrow reached out, performed a kind of hand-clasp of its own.
“Oh, Thia,” Abby said again. A kind of plea.
“I know,” Thia said, although she couldn’t. Not really. Abby’s friendship had begun long before hers had, and its roots extended far deeper.
Together, they turned to face forward, where the timber and brushwood pyre awaited with its unthinkable charge.
She had been wrapped in white silk and laid upon cedar branches, and Thia’s gaze went unerringly to the top, as if in seeking out her friend’s face she might make a connection…or at least reconcile herself to this new, incomprehensible reality. But nothing was visible beneath the shroud.
Thia had an irrational concern that not enough air could pass through the cloth, or that the artfully bound layers felt stifling. But of course none of that mattered. What lay there, so impossibly still, didn’t breathe, didn’t feel. It was merely what remained.
She was nattering on about gift boxes and paper and it was all he could do not to launch himself over the counter. She was right there. So close he could grab her and hold on tight and maybe never let go. He had missed her.
He was surprised—and embarrassed—by how much.
Once inside the office, Thia attacked the box with a cutter. Several deep slices had the paper peeling away from a cardboard shell that had been crafted from a shoebox lid and another astonishing amount of tape.
There was a note folded and stuck to the top. The direction "Read First," was embellished with several exclamation points and underlines.
"Okay, Lettie." She smiled, detaching the paper, and prepared to read the usual ramblings about weather and innocuous activities—things like scouring a local artisan's market or finding a new jewelry supplier.
She couldn't have been more wrong.
* * *
(Since the Book Page here for The Stone of Shadows seems to be stuck on the older version of the cover, here is an image of the current version.)