Evolution

By: Kate Wrath

Chapter 1: Jane


The skeleton is washed white, purified by the sun. She lies exactly as she fell, fleeing their bullets. It took me a long time to find her. Now I sit by her bones, amongst the tall golden blades of frosted grass, and strain to remember his voice—the tone and inflection of it. The sincerity. The wonder. All I hear is the rush of wind through trees too tall—through a forest dense and dark enough to be a passageway to the underworld.

Behind me, the rustle of footsteps in the leaves signals Jacob's impatience. I ignore him for a moment. For as long as I can. Until he says, "I don't get it, Eden. It's a dead deer. Can't we go yet?"

I close my eyes and take a deep breath, in and out, fighting down my anger. It's not his fault. He never asked for the privilege of following me around. If I hadn't freaked out about the Sentry.... I glance back toward the wall, where his brother, Taylor, has taken up a post. He looks just as bored. Just as cold.

Seeing them reminds me how chilled the earth is. Frozen hard, but warmed beneath me just enough to be damp. It sucks the heat from my legs, leaving my flesh frigid despite its coverings. I've hardly noticed it until now, though. Maybe it's because I'm already so cold inside.

I stagger to standing and brush off my pants. Looking at the remains again, I feel like I should say something, or do something. But there is no farewell here. No acceptance in parting. No way to ever say goodbye.

I walk away toward Taylor. Jacob follows me, just like he's supposed to. My explanation is beyond awkward, but it's all I have. "She was a white deer, you know," I say. "There are stories about them. They're special or something. Holy."

Jacob glances at me sidelong as we trudge through the grass. "Sounds religious."

I wave him off. "So?" I say. "There's no Law in the Outpost anymore." To make my point, I glance back the way we have come, past the barrier that once confined us.

He just frowns, and I can read it on his face. There's law. Just different law.

Against my will, I think of Matt.

Taylor falls in with us, and we walk along the wall, which, in many places, is nothing but rubble. Here and there, men are rebuilding it, patching in the holes. It doesn't matter so much, because Sentries are stationed along the breaches, casting their blocky, inhuman shadows across the heaps of broken concrete. There are two of them standing watch at the gates. Their mirrored faces turn toward us as we approach, making my insides squirm. Conquering them has brought no relief to the feeling of menace. Besides, I am not their master. Matt is.

We pass by the machines, and slowly, my heart rate returns to normal. Inside the gates, the Outpost is still in disarray with everyone working hard to put things back in order. A group of men are putting a new roof on a small outbuilding that collapsed in on itself. A middle-aged woman is nailing boards over a broken window. A father and son are loading bodies onto a cart, to haul to the bonfires that have been set up in the shantytown. But no one is scraping the blood out of the mud. No one is going to erase all the signs of our disaster.

A chill wind whips down the street and across us, emphasizing the fact that it would be better to be indoors. I'm not ready to go home yet, which doesn't leave a lot of options. I stuff my hands in my pockets, duck my head, and stride toward the Rustler. People get out of my way, and it's not because of the two big guys trailing in my wake. They see me, and move. Some of them offer greetings in the form of uncertain mumbles. I don't reply. I just keep going, thinking about the warm whiskey, and a barstool where I can turn my back on the world. Ponder my troubles.

I still haven't figured out exactly how I'm going to drop this news on Matt. I should have brought it up already, but the first day after the executions kept him busy. Not that I was ready yet. Now, I'm running out of time. I'll need to choose my words carefully, so sitting and nursing a drink for a while will give me a chance to internally rehearse them.

We intersect the main street, and I cross to the far side immediately, walking along the raised curb and its broken concrete. I don't want to have to cross farther down, where pools of black blood are still frozen in the middle of the road. I don't want to have to look at it, or think of it. I keep my head down, and walk. We cross an adjoining street, and pass under Sarah's skeleton, dangling from the post above Canson Morganson's store. But at least I am used to that, now. It's not fresh, like the other.

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