First Page: Unpublished manuscript
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Thirst was a living thing, using sharp claws with jagged edges to pare down the sides of his throat. Each breath feeding it, a maelstrom of glass and sand eroding his lungs. The sun slammed into his flesh, the unmerciful heat of it sliding down his arms and hands, his face and back, pooling into little ponds of lava in the dips and valleys of his body. He braced one foot into the dune and pushed, reaching up to get ahold of something, anything, any tiny one substantial, hopeful thing, to move forward in this desert. He found a root. With a grunt, he leveraged himself up and over the top. Beyond, in its vast, shimmering glory, lay the wasteland.
James Harcourt, veteran explorer, known for his derring-do, his unflinching bravery, woke with a gasp, and wept.
Charlotte Lauren Elizabeth Carling, only daughter to the unfortunate wife of the unlucky Edward Carling, wished rather desperately to be anywhere but in church. She was not picky about where; her bed would be fine, perhaps somewhere tropical where greens were lush and plentiful. She would accept Bedlam as a reasonable alternative. Anywhere but church, under the fierce gaze, the heavy brows and the endlessly droning voice of Vicar Tenney. Her foot was asleep and she was very afraid that at any moment, she might be too.
Just as she felt herself drifting off, the doors of the chapel opened forcefully. A tall body, silhouetted by the sun, strode in with the heavy steps of the determined. A rich voice spoke directly to the vicar. “I’ve come for help. I don’t know what to do anymore. I ha…” The same rich voice trailed off as he realized the room was, unfortunately, completely full of people. The silence hung with the dust motes in the air for the space of three seconds. Charlotte was not entirely certain anyone even inhaled. She wasn’t even certain she did.
“I beg your pardon,” he said. “It must be Sunday. My most sincere apologies for the interruption. ” A quick bow to the vicar and he was out nearly with the same force as he was in. Another three seconds passed before the vicar cleared his throat and carried on with the sermon. He must know, thought Charlotte, he must know not a single person in this room is paying him any attention. She tapped her foot and waited three lifetimes for him to finish.
There are any number of times when being a gently bred woman is a hindrance and an irritant and not being able to plow through a crowd exiting a church is one of them. When she was finally able to get through and out into the brisk air and bright sun, nodding politely as required to acquaintances, she looked around in what she hoped was a casual manner to see if any unfamiliar persons of notable height were among the group.
Nothing. She sighed a little, shook her head at her own pointless curiosity, and started for home.
James sat behind the chapel, his burning face in his palms. Of all the idiocy, to not realize what day it was! To not even notice the silent village and piece the thing together! It was a wonder he ever made it home from his first expedition with those stunning observational skills. He let loose a mild curse – under his breath, he was leaning on a house of God after all, and he knew better than to risk any kind of celestial displeasure in his line of work – and waited for the crowd to disperse.