"The Last Will and Testament of Howard Thornbon"
The patriarch of Golden Peaks is dead. The fate of the desert town is in jeopardy as the residents fear Howard Thornbon's daughter will sell the dying town and displace them. But when his Last Will and Testament is read, everyone is distressed when a stranger is announced as the person chosen to carry out Howard's final wishes. Golden Peaks Property Manager Ryan Camden has to keep Howard's daughter and the stranger from destroying the town and each other.
It wouldn’t have been a funeral without someone crying. It wouldn’t have been a funeral with Sheri if she weren’t the loudest of the mourners.
As her shrieks and cries pierced the thick layer of heat of the dying day while they stood on the flat clearing carved out of the side of the hill overlooking the old town, Ryan Camden concentrated on the sun’s dying rays slicing along his neck as it slowly dipped below the rocks.
At least that pain was bearable; the piercing screeches from Sheri were like an ice pick being shoved in his ears.
“Why?” came the cry over and over from the only known heir to Howard Edward Thornbon as he was laid to rest.
Knowing Sheri, though, the performance had only just begun.
As the pastor droned on with “dust to dust,” Ryan blinked the dust from his eyes already burning from the heat of the scorched day, tasted it on his parched lips, and shuffled his feet in the dry, cracked clay.
It was all dust to dust in Golden Peaks, the ancient, withered, dehydrated, wrinkled face of the earth gasping with each blast of heat and the constant pressure from the unrelenting sun.
Lean and mean, plants stretched brittle branches along the ground like hairy desert spider legs, the dried trees armor-plated in thorny, scaly bark.
The only visual relief, a wispy, leafy bush with slender branches, beckoned in the breeze along the old riverbed.
Someday he would know the names of all the plants, of all the animals that skittered like animated rocks along the desert floor.
Wiping thick sweat from his flush, gaunt face, the pastor waited for Sheri to stop wailing.
There was not one other visible mourner. Only the sound of creaking canes, the whispering of dust hitting the side of Grace’s aluminum wheelchair.
Tears were too costly for the elderly citizens, especially when Sheri had more than enough to spare. If they just stood quietly, Sheri would be through with her display of anguish over her father’s passing and they could all get back to their homes and rest.
A golden flash of blonde hair caught his eye as Sheri turned her attention to her audience. Bowing his head quickly, Ryan looked at the red/gold clay at his feet as spirited dust swirled in the air, in the sunlight.
Everyone waited for the finale. With an audience, Sheri would surely save the best for last.
There was only a moment of peace. It was just a moment.
Pausing between shrieks and cries, the pastor delivered the last prayer and stepped back.
Taking a deep breath, Sheri looked around at the mourners, carefully dabbed at her red eyes with a white handkerchief stamped with her father’s monogram, and took in the scene.
As the rays of the sun scraped lower down his neck, Ryan dared not move, not until Sheri had exhausted her grief.
Turning from the others, Sheri extended her arm and allowed her black shawl to flutter to the ground in front of the shiny, mahogany casket.
Letting out a well-practiced sob, Sheri dropped to the ground, careful to make sure her black lace designer dress did not touch the dusty earth, threw her head back so that her blonde hair bounced on the back of her dress for everyone to appreciate, and placed the tips of her manicured fingers on the casket.
“You didn’t deserve this,” Sheri moaned as she grazed her rosy cheek along the polished mahogany. Raising his eyes slightly, Ryan noticed how the stain on the casket blended well with the rouge on her cheeks.
For all the crying, there was not one tear streak on her flawless skin. Eyes back on the dirt, Ryan sighed as the merciful sun reached the protective barrier of his suit jacket.