Well, Glass Rhapsody is ready to drop on June 30, and I figured… why not post an excerpt from the book. I will say, if you have not read Of Honey and Wildfires yet, this excerpt will have spoilers regarding the ending of that book, so maybe don’t read this yet.
If you’d like to pre-order the book, you can for just $.99 here.
Of Honey and Wildfires
Oh, That Shotgun Sky
Remember, spoilers ahead. I’ll throw the cover art down here so you have time to back away if you need to.
Five Years Ago
Oh, this grief.
Night comes along with a gasp, dragging her veil of stars behind her.
Cold is a wolf nipping at my heels; her icy teeth touch every part of me. But she cannot reach my sorrow, which is still burning hot and low in the forge of my heart.
If I could but light the world with my pain, it would be a glorious fire indeed.
I study Arlen. He’s staring at the wagon. It is still cradling our father’s body. I unhooked the horse a while ago, and tethered it to a tree. It’s munching, unimpressed with the goings on. The counterpoint of its shifting weight does something to keep me rooted to the here and now.
There is a horse. There are trees. I can feel the air brushing against my skin. I am here. This is real.
Maybe if I tell myself that often enough, I’ll start believing it.
Arlen looks at me, and our eyes lock.
I cannot get over him, this man who suddenly appeared in my life, a stranger to me, and yet not at the same time. I look at him and see traces of our father. My blood croons in me, a song of home and belonging. I know this man. Our souls are cut from the same cloth.
Kindred, my heart sings.
Family, my soul echoes.
But I am still so empty.
I see myself in him. In the slope of his cheekbones and the sharp point of his nose. Mostly, I see myself in his heavy, sorrow-laden eyes.
“It’s time, Cassandra.”
Fate, this hurts.
The world spins. Time grows dark, and darker still. A wolf’s call pierces this veil of obsidian.
I’ve never felt so alone.
We’re already sweaty from digging the grave. Arlen wipes his brow and motions to the wagon. The body is starting to stink. Da stopped being a person a few days ago. Now it’s time to put him in the ground. To transform him from man to memory. An act of magic, a certain undoing that requires the purging of myself to accomplish.
Arlen climbs into the wagon, lifts the top half of our father’s body while I grab the feet.
It is horrible, carrying him. Horrible to feel the heavy weight of death, to struggle with it. To know that in this empty husk rested the sun that lit my days, and the moon that guided my nights. He was a giant, and now, he is a shell.
I had no idea emptiness would weigh so much.
Finally, we lay him in the ground.
The moon bathes this small glade in silver. An owl calls overhead. We stand, silent and still, looking down at the body of the man who, in one way or another, shaped us both.
He is wrapped in a sheet. I will never look in his eyes again. I see the shape of him, but not the man himself, and somehow that feels both right, and terribly wrong.
Arlen gestures at a shovel. “We should…“
I shake my head.
“We’re in the mountains, Cassandra. There are animals up here. We should cover him up.”
I shake my head again. He reaches over, rests a hand on my shoulder, and I crumple. Fall to my knees. Become undone.
“I don’t know how to do this,” I say. I wrap my arms around my knees and shake back and forth, my eyes pinned on my father’s corpse, broken and gone. Just days ago, we’d been staring at each other through the bars of his jail cell. “I love you!” he’d shouted at me, the last words I’d ever hear him speak. A moment ago, he’d been a man. Pumping heart, throbbing soul, all that pain… but he was alive and he was mine.
Now, he’s empty.
Now I’m empty.
I do not know how to live in a world without him in it.
No more surprise visits. No more stories. No more laughing, violet eyes. No more calm, steady voice.
Just… no more.
It seems wrong that life can end so suddenly. I picture Annie in her herb garden. Jasper studying the moon. Harriet and all her angst. Jack, and his teasing barbs. Imogen and her worry.
So much can change in a blink. In a breath.
Now, I am alone, and surrounded by nothing but darkness and shadows. Cold moonlight, and a brother I don’t know.
I’m supposed to cover him with dirt. I’m supposed to unmake the man who made me.
Don’t think I’ve ever been stabbed this deep. Don’t think I knew what it was to be cut right in half, but unable to bleed.
“I don’t know how to do this.” I’m saying it over and over again, like the words aren’t settling in my body. Like they need to come out, or they’ll rot alongside my heart. “I don’t know how to do this.”
I don’t know how long I repeat that mantra. Don’t know how long Arlen watches me shake and tremble, watches me watch our father laying in that grave we dug. That white cloth. All that dirt. Finally, he kneels down beside me, wraps an arm around my shoulders and pulls me close.
“You don’t have to know how to do this, Cassandra,” he says. “I’m not asking you to.”
And somehow, the permission in those words, the leave to be broken, alone, lost, is enough.
I cling to him. To this brother who is both mine and not mine, this last gift given to me from our shared father. I dig my fingers into the meat of his shoulders and sob into the curve of his neck while my fists beat at his back. I know I must be bruising him. This moment, this pain, demands a sign of its passing.
Finally, I steady myself against the wind buffeting my life, and Arlen pulls away. He inhales deep, shakes his head, and starts filling the grave. After watching him a bit, I take the other shovel and do the same. He should not be the only one who buries our father. This is not his burden alone to carry.
It feels final, to cover his body. Final in a way I’ve never experienced before. I have buried fragments of myself in the meadow where I spent my childhood. I buried my soul with Ianthe. Now, I am giving over the last of me to that cold, dark earth.
That sheet slowly disappears under a mound of earth, one shovelful at a time. I feel like I am erasing history. I am committing a crime that cannot be undone. Any moment now, he’ll sit up, breathe deep, and ask us what the hell we’re doing. His rough voice will fill the glade, and we’ll all laugh about this horrible joke.
All I see is one corner of the sheet left, a few small, wrinkled inches up around his head.
Please. Please breathe. Please sit up and show us how alive you are.
But he doesn’t. Of course he doesn’t. Another piece of me, whatever is left in this cavern where my soul used to live, breaks off and slips into that grave right along with him.
I am sobbing. With each shovelful of earth, I sob harder, until I cannot see through my tears. Until Arlen stops me with a steady hand. “It’s done, Cass,” he says, voice low and rough. “It’s done. We did it. He’s resting now.”
“What of us?” I ask. The shovel falls from my hand, clangs hollowly on the ground. Before me is a mound of dirt holding the world in it. “Are we to rest as well?”
“Is that what you want? Do you want to rest?”
I wrap my arms around myself. I don’t need to speak the words for them to sit between us. I will never rest again. Not truly.
I wonder if Arlen knows he just buried the last of his sister.
I am a cracked vessel. I am hemorrhaging the last of myself. I did not know it was possible to live and die in the same breath.
Oh, this agony. This sweet suffering. This tormented devotion.
I breathe deep. Air stabs my lungs. My heart squeezes. Squeezes.
“I am afraid,” I whisper.
“Of what?” Arlen asks. I feel his eyes on me. I wonder what he sees, his sister or a ghost?
I think of Da’s broken neck. I think of this aching in my heart. “What if love is violence?”
Arlen stays silent. It seems he has no words. Nothing to fill this haunting dark that lives both within and without.
My thoughts spiral.
I have nowhere to go now. Behind me are ghosts. Before me are ghosts.
“How did he find you?” I ask. I wipe my nose on a kerchief and sit down. It feels right, to talk about these things here, beside his grave, where his soul might linger and still hear us.
Arlen sits beside me. “He stopped a train. Kidnapped me, I guess.” There’s a low chuckle, and before I can stop myself, I laugh as well.
It sounds so like him. So like Christopher Hobson. No theft of a son in the dark of night from an easily-invaded hotel room. No, that is far too simple for our father. He had to stop a train. Had to make a show of it.
“And you went with him?”
“I was terrified,” Arlen admits. He picks at a wild mint leaf. Its perfume sits in the air, filling it with the scent of summer. Of home. Of Annie’s herb garden.
Another sob wells up in me, sticks in my throat like a stone. I feel the hand of Fate wrapped around my neck, stealing all my air.
They are all gone, all of them.
Gone and gone and gone.
Bodies in graves. Dreams along with them. Hopes and futures.
They meant something to me, every one of them. All of them took up space inside of me. Now I am full of holes. I look at the sky and its cascade of stars. I’ve never felt so celestial. Shine a light on me, and I’ll look just like that. All that glitter. All that pretty.
No one will think to ask how much it hurts.
“He took me up here. Wanted to show me where I was from. Wanted me to know my story,” Arlen continues. “He was a good man. I wish I got to know him better. I wish we’d had more time.”
His voice trails off, and I realize, for the first time in days, Arlen has lost as well. Not just Christopher, but Matthew, an entire life. I haven’t asked, but I’ve seen sorrow in his dark eyes.
I know what pain looks like.
“Will you go back to the Union?” I ask.
For a moment, he doesn’t answer. I watch out of the corner of my eye as he shifts and then leans back on his elbows to look up at the sky. Finally, “No, I don’t think so. There’s nothing there for me anymore. Being here… it’s changed me.”
I let that sit between us. What are we supposed to do with each other? Seems right that we stick together. It’s what Da wanted. Two lost souls, and all that, but I don’t know how to be alone, much less be with someone else right now.
“Tell me about him?” Arlen asks. The words crack right through the middle. I can hear the earthquake surging through him as he speaks. He makes a sound like a strangled gasp, like he’s swallowed down all his emotion, and it’s stuck in his throat. Food gone down wrong, only this time, the food is pain, and there’s no fixing this kind of choking.
“What do you want to know?”
“Anything.” It’s less a word, and more a shape in the air, a hint, but it hits me like an arrow to the heart. One more wound. One more agony in a world of them.
He is mourning a man he does not know.
Fate, this anguish. None of this is fair. Not a bit of it, and yet here we are. Fate never gave a shit about fair.
“I was only with him till I was five,” I admit. “After that, he’d stop by when he thought he could get away with it. We were always watched. The Company…” I flinch. I don’t know what to say to Arlen. He was set to inherit the empire. With Matthew dead, maybe he already has. I’ve been scared my whole life, and now I’m a kind of tired that won’t abide fear, so I let it all spill out. “Da was a wanted man, always running and hiding. Only saw him a few times a year. Sometimes we’d leave messages to each other at a tree. I’d sneak out there every full moon and see what trinket he left me.”
“What else?” Arlen asks, and there’s a hunger in his voice. It’s dark, and just as wounded as I feel. “Was he a good father? Did he love you well?”
I hear what he’s not asking. What kind of life would I have had if I hadn’t been captured?
How much have we both lost? We are mourning things we can’t understand. We’ll be picking pieces of soul from between our teeth for years to come. The ramifications of all that transpired will create ripples and waves that will bandy me about forever.
“He was a good man, Arlen. He… he did his best to do right by me. Mayhap he wasn’t the best father. I did feel a great anger with him for giving me up, but now I am older, and I think I understand.” Silence sits between us, awkward and still. “He would disappear for a long time, and I never knew if he was alive or not. I’d spend half my days mourning him as though he were dead, and the other half praying he was alive. I understand, he did the only thing he knew how to do. He gave me a family, after a fashion, but it was not a kindness, that worry.”
“I can’t imagine it,” Arlen whispers. “And Annie and…” his voice trails off.
I can’t cry anymore. There is nothing left in me, so I just nod and stare straight ahead. “They were good people. They were the best sort. Honest and hardworking. They would have gone on plowing that field forever, if the Company let them.”
“Jasper was a gun runner.” It’s not an accusation. There is no anger in Arlen’s voice. Out there, he may be the man who inherits Shine Company and the Esco empire, but right here and now, he is my brother, and he is just as lost and desperate as I am.
I grab his hand, weave our fingers together. The contact, somehow, helps.
“He was. I didn’t know it for a long time, but I got sick once, and Da came. Jasper gave him a gun. I knew… I knew he had them hidden about. It doesn’t surprise me, when the Company came against them, they stood their ground. He wasn’t a bad man, Arlen. Shine Company took everything from us. Jasper just wanted some land call his own.”
Arlen is quiet, and I wonder what he’s thinking. What must it be like for him, out here for only a few weeks? He doesn’t know the land any more than he knows himself, I’d wager. He’s lost two fathers, an entire life, everything he’s ever known.
“Matthew Esco,” he grumbles. He rubs his free hand over his face and groans. “I can’t believe I didn’t see it sooner. I can’t believe I was complicit. All of this… every bit of it. I never asked questions. I never doubted, probed, or tried to understand. All this time, my family was out here suffering, and I was living under the thumb of a ghost. What is wrong with me? What have I done? Cassandra,” His dark eyes are haunted, horrible things. “What the fuck have I done?”
Then, it is my brother’s turn to come apart. His is a slow unmaking, a tremble that starts in his fingertips and works its way up his arms until it pierces his heart. His tears start flowing, and he curls in on himself. I wrap my arms around him, and hold him tight. His sorrow soaks through the fabric of my shirt, through my skin, right into my bones.
He is part of me now. We are connected, the two of us, by blood and pain.