To say that I am thrilled is an understatement. I’ve received so much support and love from friends and family; this has been the happiest few days of my life.
But I realize not a lot of people may want to spend $10 on a paperback from a person they’ve never really read before. That’s why I’ve decided to publish the first chapter, here on my blog.
Collecting the Constellations
I bolted down the sidewalk dodging businessmen and tourists, alternating my concentration from avoiding a collision with other commuters to the trickle of sweat itching its way down my back between my shoulder blades. I adjusted my beaten and worn satchel on my shoulder and reached inside its flap to feel around for the soft velvet pouch containing the knife.
It was the most unusual trinket from my latest trip, a strangely plain but still disquieting little dagger. My fingers moved aside books and notepads, pens and baubles in a small panic until I felt plush fabric brush my skin– only then was I reassured the unusual blade was still floating at the bottom of my bag.
I shifted my gaze to the metal door of the museum half a block away, the sun beating off the polished brass frame and searing into my unprotected eyes. As I closed in on the doorway, I caught my warped reflection in the sheen, seeing nothing but a featureless copy of myself.
The gleaming handle of the door was already searing hot, but I welcomed the twinge of burn on my skin, knowing I was about to enter the cool marble halls of the museum.
My fingers were still stroking the velvet pouch and I felt the hardness of the knife press into my skin. I released my grasp and felt the weight of the find drop back down into the depths of my satchel. Taking a deep breath, I moved toward an unremarkable door at the end of the hall, flashing an identification badge at an unfamiliar museum employee who was beginning to rise from his post to question me. Seeing the institution’s crest on the laminated plastic, he settled himself back down onto a metal folding chair.
As I approached the door at the end of the hallway, I noticed another, older security guard sitting at her post, who smiled and waved at me as I walked toward her.
“Hellooooooo, Karen!” I chirped at the woman. Karen beamed.
Karen was thin and a bit frail, barely filling out her uniform. Her graying hair was piled on top of her head with a gaudy jeweled clip and wide tortoiseshell glasses sat precariously on her nose. She was always ready to chat with anyone who approached her.
“Hellooooooo, Charlotte! You’re back!” Karen stood up and lifted her birdlike arms into the air. I bent down to complete the hug.
“Yup! Just a little trip this time. But I’m happy to be back,” I said with a smile, breaking our embrace. “Can’t tell what I’ve got this time. Could be nothing, could be everything. Worst feeling ever.”
“Which way are you leaning?” Karen spent her retirement working part-time at the museum, overhearing professionals and guests alike twittering in the halls.
“I’m leaning in on saying it’s … pretty neat. Not life-changing, but I’ve never seen anything like it.”
“Tell me about it all later?”
“Of course. Good to see you!”
“You too, dear.” She reached out and squeezed my hand again before we parted.
I flung open the door.
Before my eyes lay an uninterrupted expanse of pallid marble. The floor carried on like the aisle of a cathedral, lined with an endless pattern of milky white stone and dark wooden doors, each with the names of the man inside gilded on the pebbled glass.
Down the corridor and a quick turn to the right, I approached an identical door, with one grating difference. The gold letters on the window spelled out the most ordinary word: RESEARCH. I heaved open the door to my shared but currently-uninhabited office.
The room was utilitarian, boasting none of the worn-leather-and-mahogany lushness of the offices I had strode past, though I was always thankful for the high ceilings that lent an airiness to the clinical space. The room was appointed meagerly with metal bookshelves along the walls, and two rows of tables in the center. To me, it looked like a middle school science lab. Broken crates sat beneath windows nearly identical to the towering dormers in the building’s lobby.
Three tables closest to the window were littered with the detritus of expeditions past; some from before I even started at the museum almost eight years ago. Field journals–some filled with faded notes, others ravaged by water damage and their contents forever lost– lay stacked in precarious heaps. A dustbin held potsherds of mixed origin, all forgotten while awaiting catalogue. More than one half-empty paper coffee cup dotted the dusty still life.
I tossed my satchel onto a nearby chair.
Resisting the urge to slam the office door behind me, I softly nudged it until only a sliver of space remained between it and the jamb. The cool air from the hall flowed in, gently lapping at the stack of papers on one of the many tables lining the study.
I took a moment to kick off my heels and lowered my feet onto the bare marble floor. Slipping slightly in my own sweat, I stretched my toes and fanned myself while surveying the room, pulling at my starched clothes to bring them away from my clammy body. Barely a book had been moved since the previous week, and I sighed to acknowledge that most of my co-workers were creatures of habit, practically wearing paths in the stone floor beneath them as they retraced their steps day in and day out. I picked up my heels and padded in bare feet along the frozen stone floor to my desk, pushing the wheeled chair with my bag alongside me, ready to tackle the day.
In the center of my workstation was a huge metal box, its dull grey paint dented after years of use. The night staff had responded swiftly to my archive request, and I made a mental note to do more of my submissions after midnight. I collapsed into my seat and reached around the enormous coffer, pulling a neatly folded piece of green velvet from a pile of papers and half-used legal pads. I laid it before me, a lovely resting place for the treasures awaiting me inside the grimy bin.
Shoving my fingernails beneath the metal lid of the box, I pulled upward, and the hinge let out a nasty squeal. The cover stopped at halfway open and I squinched up my face, wondering if this was the night staff’s subtle retaliation for my witching hour requisition.
Inside lay a half dozen scabbards and knives, each shining in the dim sunlight. Had they been on the shelves of curio shops or street-side stalls, they could be mistaken for elaborate letter openers, to be presented to a retiring supervisor, or with a desk set to an old-school debutant. Instead, the razor edges of the knives pierced the soft foam interior of the box.
The knives were all pulled from the archives of the museum, acres and acres of labyrinthine library shelves and refrigerators and cases, manned at all hours by a staff ready to pull treasures from the institution’s past. The pieces were remarkable feats of metallurgy and stonework. One particular selection was a long, thin blade– almost as thin as a stiletto– inset in a robust gold hilt. I picked up the weapon and held it in my hand. The handle, despite the array of stones inlaid in the metal, was smooth and comfortable, with a balanced heft that allowed fingers to curl naturally around the bottom for maximum dexterity. I whisked the blade in front of me, with a satisfying swish of air.
I laid the small sword down on the green velvet.
Four more knives followed– one with a handle made of dramatic gold scrollwork, a matching pair with wide, flat handles depicting forgotten deities in carved obsidian. The final blade was somewhat crude. It was missing its hilt and pommel, but boasted a uniquely triangular bronze blade. A puncture from the blade would be impossible to stitch closed, resulting in a long, agonizing death for whoever was on the receiving end of the blow.
I eyed the velvet pouch I had been carrying all morning. Grabbing it greedily from the desk, I spread open the drawstring closure and carefully plucked out what had occupied my mind for the past few days. Small and unobtrusive, the entire weapon appeared to be carved from a single piece of dazzling stone. The blade was flat and pointed, and I had to admit, the shape of the knife was a bit basic boring. The knife shared the shape of common hunting knives or daggers from vintage pirate films. Each side of the blade was sharpened to a microscopic edge– I had already found out that human skin could be pierced by even the subtlest contact.
A sapphire. I knew it the moment I saw it.
The hilt and pommel of the small knife were curvaceous. Whoever carved this tiny knife took great care, and cherished the larger piece of stone from which it emerged.
Holding the delicate piece by its handle, I held the blade to the light streaming through the closed windows above. It was perfectly translucent: the blade cast a long, azure shadow over my white shirt. The otherworldly color was mesmerizing, and I let the blade dance in the sunlight as I attempted to cast more of my world in the stunning color.
Laying the knife in the line-up on my desk, I turned to my desktop, logging in to the museum’s computerized archives. As I typed in the last bit of minutiae hours later, I closed the window, declining to hit the SAVE button on the screen. I wasn’t ready yet to add it to the museum intranet. My stomach knotted at the thought of prying inquests into the piece that would come as the museum staff received pings from the automated system that something new had been added to expansive treasure trove.
Opening a new computer window, I took to the museum inventory and the Internet to research other pure-stone blades. I found only one other piece that matched the remotest description of my new treasure in the thousands of records on file, though the sister knife was made from emerald, and not sapphire, and was missing its hilt. There were no specifics on its current whereabouts, whether it was still on site or if it had been loaned elsewhere. Frustrated at the end of my tedious logging and searching, I locked the museum’s knives back in their crude metal box and tossed the velvet pouch containing my sapphire knife back in my bag.
I had hit the deadest of dead ends.
My first novel, Collecting the Constellations, is available in paperback and Kindle. Click on the image below for more info.