By the time Remy reached the outskirts of her camp, her lips were cracked and bloody. Blisters from the desert sun dotted her nose and forehead, and her dark hair was matted more than usual. She had walked for three days along old “Hwy 8” with only two canteens of water and the remains of a crudely bound book clutched to her chest.
While the sun was setting, dragon’s breath wafted up from the cracked asphalt. The soles of Remy’s shoes were sticky from the heat and marked her path as she dragged her feet along the road, toward her grandmother’s tent.
The camp’s generators kicked sand up as she passed the massive cluster of roaring machinery. The stench of gasoline burned her nose and settled into the fibers of her clothing. As she rubbed her eyes with her free hand, she smeared dirt and blood across her face. Coughing, she ducked into the shadows and waited until she caught her breath before moving on.
Remy pushed through the heavy canvas doors and collapsed onto the area rug in the front room. She closed her eyes, let out a sigh of relief, and kicked off her shoes. Relinquishing the book, she slid it under her head and began to move her legs and arms across the floor. When she finally peeled herself from the rug and headed toward the bath to wash up, the dusty outline of her carpet angel remained.
“Is that you, child?” The familiar voice of her grandmother questioned from the other room.
“Yes, Ma’m. I’m sorry I’m late, Nan,” Remy shouted.
“Take your time. I will fix you a bite to eat.” She laughed.
The voice of her grandmother and the smell of breakfast made the process of scraping the dirt from her blistered flesh much easier. The water in the basin felt cooler than normal.
Ham and eggs were waiting for Remy at one end of the small kitchen table as she came out of the washroom. She quickly sat and began to eat. Slowly she let the flavors explode on her tongue as the weight of the last few days sank into her bones, and she hunched forward.
“Sit up properly, girl,” Nan said as she sat down in front of her at the table.
“Yes, Ma’m.” She sat up.
“What is this?” Nan asked as she slid the book onto the table. Remy dropped her fork, but her grandmother began to turn the slick pages instead of waiting for a response. “Where did you get this?”
Panic rose in Remy’s chest. She wanted to jump over the table and pull her book away. She wanted to shout keep your hands off that book, but she could barely breathe. She tried to push the knot back down her throat and closed her eyes, gripping the edge of the table.
A few moments passed and she opened her eyes. Nan was still turning the pages of the book, and tears were streaming down her delicate face. “Grandmother,” Remy whispered, but she did not look up. Remy cleared her throat, “Grandmother.”
“Your father used to collect comic books like these. Look how well these pages are preserved. Someone really loved these books.”
“Where did you get this?”
“I found it when we were out last… scavenging.” Remy did not explain that the book was split up between her and the other two girls, how she had lost most of her pages in an unfair card game, and how she had stolen her pages (and then some) back from Angel while she slept.
“How did you get away from those raiders?” her grandmother asked.
“What?” Remy tilted her head and screwed up her swollen face.
“Angel told the council that you were attacked by raiders…”
“She said that the three of you were attacked. They killed Tara… she said she couldn’t find you before she escaped in the camper,” Nan said as she raised her head and looked at Remy. “They thought you were dead.”
“Raiders? Raiders killed Tara? Are you sure?”
“Angel was able to bring back her body. Her throat was slit.”
Remy dropped her head into her hands. She followed the same road that the camper had traveled, and she hadn’t seen anyone for three days. “Grandmother, there were no raiders.” Remy shook her head. “Angel must have done it...”
“That’s a strong accusation, Thief. I wondered when you would make it back.” Angel stood in the doorway. The corner of her mouth twitched around a stubby cigar. Her freshly shaved head sported bruises and cuts but somehow managed to glimmer in the tent lighting.
“A lady shouldn’t smoke,” Nan stated.
“I never said I was a lady,” Angel spat. “What’s this?” she walked toward the table and grabbed a handful of pages from the book, but Nan had a good grip and pulled them away, sliding the laminated pages through the meat of Angel’s hand.
Instantly Angel was on Nan smearing her bloody hand on her face and gripping the front of her nightgown. Remy pushed the table back. “Hey!” Remy shouted, “Keep your hands off my Grandmother!” Angel smiled and tightened her grip on Nan.
Remy jumped up and over the table, plunged her fork deep into Angel’s shoulder, and pushed her off Nan. Angel fell backward, hit her head on the corner of the table, and crumpled to the floor.
They stood and stared at her for several minutes, shaking. “Grandmother?” Remy whispered.
“Are you alright?”
“I… I think so.”
“We should probably go,” Remy said.
“Anywhere,” she said. “Anywhere, but here.”