Chapter 1: The Dunes

     The buildings this far from the Colony were ghosts. They drifted in and out of view under the dunes that waxed and waned across the desert. Evra slowed to a walk and loosened the bandana that covered her mouth. It caught in the tangles of her hair, and in a puff of frustration she yanked it free. Sand erupted from the cloth as she whipped it against her leg and the spiral of grains floated to the ground in the absence of wind. It was one of those days so hot that not even the wind dared enter the glare of the sun. She bent over in an attempt to catch her breath from heat so thick it clogged her throat. Only then did she notice how her tracks meandered through the sand. It was time she joined the wind and sought shelter.

      Evra wandered toward a building that stood resilient among others that had succumbed to decay. The roof had long been torn from its bolts by the wind. The exposed rafters smoothed by the sandstorms that had followed. For a moment, her mind drifted back to the stories of the time people filled these streets. The time before the steady migration to the Colony in a desperate race against the strides of the desert.

     The heat of the metal door stung the tips of her fingers as Evra pushed it open. Where the knob had once been was now an empty hole. If the knob had been copper it would have sold for a few jolts at the Caravans, but someone had gotten to it first. A spark of guilt fluttered in her stomach as she scanned the room in hopes of finding something to collect, something that those before her had missed. Her eyes found only sand and shadows.

     Her knees buckled as she slid down the door closing it behind. She spread her legs across the sand and buried her hands in as far as they would go. The cool grains that coated her flaking skin offered a beat of coolness amongst the melody of heat.

     She closed her eyes. Not a week before she had run through this section of the dunes and had found plenty of trinkets to fill her bag. Today only a gear, a handful of wires, and a brass hinge.

     Clank, clank, clank.

     A distant noise, metal on metal.

     Evra shook her head. The noise was gone.

     She found it hard to piece out the throbbing of her head with the noises of the dunes. To collect in the dunes this long without a break was ignorant desperation. Perhaps the noise had never existed at all.

She trickled water from her canteen across her cracked lips, allowing it to fill her cheeks. She kept the water there as long as she could before her throat screamed for its cool touch. If she had not forced her hand to move the bottle away, she would have finished it all.

     From the side pocket of her pack she removed a small figure in a pink dress. The figure’s arms were raised above its head in a circle as round as a full moon, with one foot pointed behind as effortlessly as if it held no weight at all. Evra traced the figure with her thumb as her mouth curled into a tired smile. What peacefulness the figure contained. Evra tried to bottle the emotion and store in the cracks inside her.

      Clank, clank, clank.

      Back again, louder this time.

      Metal on metal.

      Evra slipped the figure into her pack and stuffed her canteen inside. As she peered through the hole in the door her eyes took a moment to adjust to the light. A dark shape solidified in the distance. Her heart fell and crushed any hope not fast enough to hide. 

     A vulture.

     “I know you’re in there, Evra,” a deep voice called. “I picked up your tracks. Pretty risky of you to scavenge on a day hot as this.”

     Dorrion was broad with muscle, and veins so large that Evra could see them running up his arms and legs even at this distance. He wore white shorts and a light t-shirt, free of any evidence that he worked at all. His beard was thick and dark, growing up the sides of his face to converge with his slicked hair dark as tar. A large pack was slung across one of his shoulders.

     He dropped his pack.

     Clank.

     No doubt it was filled with the trinkets of others he had intercepted as they made their way back to the Colony. It was a prideless profession, a vulture. Yet if Evra had been born a boy with a height as imposing as Dorrion she perhaps would have succumbed to the life of a vulture too. 

     “I’m surprised you left the comfort of your home,” Evra called back.

     “You know how this works. Let me see your pack. I’ll take what I want, and then I’ll leave without trouble.”

     Evra tied her bandana around her mouth.

     “Bag at my feet,” Dorrion called.

     She bottled her canteen.

     “I won’t wait much longer.”

      She rose from the door. “You’ll have to come get it.”

      “I want you to remember that I asked you nicely first,” Dorrion said, voice slick as oil. He stalked towards the house.

     A staircase rested at the far corner of the room with missing stairs like teeth in a young smile. Evra clutched her pack and raced to the stairs, and as her foot rested on the first step the door burst open. Her leg fell through the rusted metal and her face slammed into the upper stairs. Dorrion leaped towards her. She scrambled up the next few stairs which held her weight and pushed herself onto the upper floor. A snarl erupted from below as metal collapsed.

     The heat smothered her as she shielded her eyes against the sun, only to notice drops of red. She wiped her hand against her shirt. A blanket of sand covered the second floor, leaving her no place to hide. She took a single breath and relaxed her shoulders, twisting her mind to find any possible route off the building. A hand reached out from the top of the stairs, just missing her ankle, and Evra bit her tongue to stop herself from screaming. Out of time, she raced towards the edge of the building as her eyes filled with water. On her final step she reached for her pack and caressed it between her arms.

     She jumped.

     Air raced passed her impersonating the wind, and for a moment she was at peace. She would have given anything to fall forever, fall into the Colony, fall into comfort of her home, fall into the safety of the shadows. She smacked into sand and continued to roll. Her pack twisted out of her grip and the gear pierced through the fabric and slid into her arm. As she opened her mouth to yell at the pain, but she found only muffled silence and a mouthful of sand. 

     Dorrion appeared in the doorway of the house. His scowl distorted his face into a monster, and a splotch of red slithered down his shirt. After rising with her pack in hand, Evra ran to the pack Dorrion had dropped. In a duet of desperation and possibility she stretched her arm down and flung Dorrion’s pack over her shoulder. Endless possibilities of what she could buy from the Caravans flashed through her mind. She imagined a firm hand on the shoulder from her father or the quiet exhale of her mother as stress seeped from their chests. If only she was strong enough to outpace             Dorrion to the Colony.

     But after a few strides Evra knew the mistake she had made. Dorrion had double her weight in his pack, and with five kilometers back to the Colony hope cascaded around her. She reached the crest of a sand dune and turned back.

     Dorrion slammed into her.

     She hit the sand first as they toppled over the rim of the dune and spiraled downwards. Evra was quick to let go of his pack and pushed herself off, propelling herself so she tumbled in a different direction. By the time they reached the bottom of the dune they were far apart.

     Evra rose from the sand and looked around for her bearings.

     Dorrion stood between Evra and the Colony.

     His rage pulsed from his body as he slugged towards her with the eyes of a beast.

     Evra turned her heels on both Dorrion and the Colony. She began to run. A handful of wires, a brass hinge, a gear, and a nearly empty canteen clanked with each step as if mocking her.

     She ran towards the only place Dorrion would not follow. 

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