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Title: A Darker Shore
Author: Malia Zaidi
Genre: Historical Mystery
1926: A year has passed since the events of "A Poisonous Journey" and Lady Evelyn has made a home for herself in Greece, living with her cousin, Briony, her husband, Jeffrey and Daniel Harper. Disturbing this island idyll is a letter, which arrives from France with troubling information about the Daniel’s long-believed-dead brother, Henry. A new journey awaits! With the shadows of the Great War reaching out, Lady Evelyn and Daniel voyage to Amiens in Northern France with the aim of discovering the truth behind the ominous letter. Upon their arrival, they are met not with clarity but rather with crime. Murder, to be precise. Is it linked to their presence in France, or even worse, to Henry himself? Evelyn and Daniel must confront their history as they try to make sense of the present before the killer can strike again, and the secrets of the past are lost forever.
Near Pozières, France 1917
We came here to die.
My heart beats the rhythm of the shell blast. Boom. Boom. Boom. Ready to burst, ready to break. Boom. Boom. Boom.
An explosion of earth, light, and fire twenty feet beyond our trench.
"Close one that?" McCragh bellows into my ear.
I only manage a nod. Too many sounds echoing through my body, the steady pulsing of my heart, the tinny ringing in my ears. But silence can be just as bad I have learned. Silence can be death. My discovery weighs heavy on my mind. What will I do? Do I have a choice?
"What are the orders?" asks a young man, whose name I cannot remember, standing at my other side, leaning heavily against the dirt wall of our trench, his feet squelching thickly in the mud underfoot.
"Awaiting orders," says McCragh with a sneer. "Won't do us much good, waiting 'ere much longer, better get out, better to be moving."
The nameless young man shies away from us, from the bitter words of the burly Scot
Before I can respond, another man, the Runner, comes catapulting into the ditch. I help him right himself. His face is smeared with dirt and dust, but this mask cannot conceal his tender age. I shudder. We will all die here today.
"Orders are to stay. Enemy--" he gasps for air, "enemy is showing signs of retreat."
"Retreat?" McCragh frowns. "Bleedin' cowards!"
"Are you certain?" I ask, feeling the quiver in my voice.
"Yessir, orders from above. Told us to wait it out."
"Right, well done, son," I say, though the boy could be my brother. "Go on, then. Best make the rounds." I try to sound calm, reassuring, to keep my voice steady, while I know I fail and only hope my fear is disguised by the screams and blasts from above.
"Yessir." He takes a breath and sets off at a brisk trot, as fast as the bodies crowded into this tight space will allow.
"Another day to live in hell, then. Lovely." Lewis, a Cornish fellow with a missing left ear comments wryly as he materializes at our side.
"Sounds about right." McCragh rolls his eyes, but makes an involuntary sign of the cross nonetheless.
"Four months they told us," Rawlins, another man with a raspy voice adds, sticking a cigarette between his thin, flaking lips. "'Four months, lads, serve King and Country', eh? Bleedin' liars."
"Watch what you're saying, or I'll 'ave you for treason!" McCragh winks and rubs his beard.
Time passes slowly. The sky goes from gray to purple to black tinged orange, and still the thrumming of the guns, the intermittent blasts, grow only slightly fainter, move only slightly farther away. We crouch together in the black, damp, misery of our trench, our only light is the flicker of orange at the end of a cigarette.
"What will you do when this is all over?" comes the whispered voice of a young nameless soldier, who has drifted to my side.
"If I'm not—" I start.
"If yer not dead," chimes in McCragh. "If we get out of this pile o' shite in one bit, you mean, laddie?"
"Stop pissing about, McCragh," Rawlins says sharply. It is an unspoken rule not to mention the very real likelihood of us never seeing the end of this war.
"Oh, right," comes McCragh's chastised reply. "I fer one will be gettin' back me ol' missus. Seein' the kids."
"How many have you got, then?" Lewis asks, keen for any distraction from the agony of numb legs, and the even worse terror raging above us.
"Two. Two little girls. Bessie and Mary. And I thank the Lord fer that. I'll never be sendin' them off to be blown to bits. I won't let them out of my sight again. Future husbands beware."
We chuckle, though I do not doubt the sincerity of his statement. Future husbands beware indeed!
"And you? How about you, son?" Lewis asks.
"Just go home," I say. "See my mother, father. See my brothers."
"Two. One--" I swallow, a sudden tightness in my throat, "one is here, somewhere . . ." I let the word float into the night, knowing the others understand. Silence descends upon our group, and soon I hear the faint sound of snoring. Can it be? Is one of them actually sleeping while the sky is falling down on us?
After some moments, I sense a sudden motion to my right. I turn my head, though I cannot see my hand before my eyes.
"Hello?" I whisper, but before I can hear an answer, a sharp stab of pain swells in my chest. I gasp, my hand flying up, meeting . . . meeting wetness. Wetness? Sticky . . .
I can't breathe; I grapple around, touching the soft, earthen wall, the rough fabric of a uniform.
"I-I . . ." I swallow hard, pain explodes inside me, louder, more forceful than the shells above. My mouth feels dry, I try retching, but nothing comes. I am on the ground. "Help." I croak.
I feel a hand on my shoulder. Hear voices, raised in concern. All I see is blackness and stars.
We came here to die.
About the Author
Malia Zaidi is the author of A POISONOUS JOURNEY. She attended the University of Pittsburgh, and studied at English at Oxford University. Having grown up in Germany, she currently lives in Washington DC, though through her love of reading, she resides, vicariously in countries throughout the world. A POISONOUS JOURNEY is her first book in the Lady Evelyn mysteries series. The sequel, A DARKER SHORE, is her latest novel.