Author : L. Mellancorps

Allis coughed. Jard pulled his knife out of its sheath.

Jard carries a hunting knife he found in a museum, so it’s probably even older than the video cassettes he likes to collect. It has a blade as long as my forearm with a thick, leather-wrapped hilt. It’s scary looking, sure, but I don’t know why he keeps that old knife. He has to sharpen its edge with a piece of scrap-steel every time we get back from an expedition. He says he doesn’t mind the extra work.

Jard sliced through the twisted nylon ropes holding the body to the wall and let it drop. The corpse cracked as dried joints gave way, and one curled finger skittered across the floor. Allis dry-heaved a few times before we could continue.

Allis does not handle corpses as well as the rest of us do, even if they’re only skeletons. I don’t blame her much in this case, though. Even though the body was old, I could tell someone had really messed up this poor kid. He didn’t look more than thirteen years old, and someone had broadened his smile with a razor blade. Ear to ear, his face was split open in a disgusting grin, and around his neck hung a sign that read “Liar.”

Jard sheathed his knife and we went on. Allis kept her head down and I thought for a minute she was crying, but I couldn’t tell for sure.

Allis really shouldn’t come on these expeditions if she’s going to lose her cool at one dead kid. It’s not unusual to find corpses this far out from base. There are probably still rural areas that haven’t even been explored. As far as his being a kid goes, I’ve seen worse. The orphan gangs that chose rural outposts after the apocalypse ended up completely barbaric. We’ve stumbled across cannibals, cults, even a few feral bands that attacked us with snarls and fingernail-claws.

Jard, of course, has a theory for this. He says they got that way because they left their angels behind. He says that angels tell us how to live, but they live in the past. He says that if we stay close to our past, our angels can help us in the present.

I don’t think Jard knows anything about angels, but when he talks like that, it makes me want to remember the times before Beleuchtung.

That night, Jard played us a song on his harmonica, another thing he found and kept from the old times. It took him a long time to clean it and figure out how to play it, but now he’s pretty good, and sometimes I’m glad he has it with him.

Jard’s pack is heavier than anybody else’s. He carries his knife, his harmonica, his favorite video cassettes, a bottle of Coke he doesn’t let anyone open, even a book. I know he can’t read, but he says it’s a holy book, so he doesn’t let us tear out its pages for kindling. I doubt it’s really a holy book. I think he just likes saving things from the old times, back before the Trans-Con Collapse, the photo-technology boom, back before Beleuchtung. He does it to remember.

Jard played for a long time on his harmonica that night. He played until Eli took my place on watch. He played until the coyotes stopped howling. He played until the fire dimmed, the moon rose, and Allis finally fell asleep.

I couldn’t help wondering, as I fell asleep, if the rest of us could borrow Jard’s angels.

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