Sunday, June 3, 2007


Amalia lay in the crook of Harley's arm, her head pillowed on his chest. She wondered lazily if she should get up and return to her cabin. She would be more comfortable there. Will had been right that the beds weren't big enough for two, but she was always reluctant to leave Harley's arms. At her age, and with such a scarcity of healthy older men since the resource wars, how many more opportunities like this could she expect? She sighed and snuggled a little closer, dozing as she listened to the steady beat of his heart.

A tap at the door startled them both. "Harley!"

Amalia sat up. "Oh, for Christ's sake. It's Will." She was about to yell at him to go away when it occurred to her that if he knew she was here and was bothering them anyway, it must be urgent. She started pulling on her clothes.

"It's important!" Will said.

"Is anyone hurt?" Harley buttoned his pants and glanced at Amalia, who was now decently, if incompletely covered. He opened the door and Will and Diana stumbled in, too intent on their tale to treat Amalia's presence as anything other than normal.

"We went on a scouting mission," Will said. Hastily he told the story of the path through the woods, what they found, and how Coyote had behaved.

"When we left, he was checking their pockets for money," Diana said.

"I'm less concerned about that than by the fact that you took it upon yourselves to go into a situation that could've been dangerous without telling anyone in authority."

"It wasn't dangerous," Diana pointed out. "Coyote said—"

"And I trust him about as far as I can throw him. We may be a volunteer outfit, but we still have rules. I count on you two to have some sense."

Amalia put a hand on his arm. "Shouldn't we be more concerned with who did this and whether they're still in the area?"

Harley looked at Will and Diana in turn. "I'll set up a party to investigate in the morning, but you two won't be part of it. You'll be on watch."

"All morning?" Will asked. "But we're due on in another hour. When are we supposed to sleep?"

"Maybe you should think things through next time."

Will and Diana turned appealing eyes on Amalia, but she shook her head. "Don't look for me to bail you out. You broke camp discipline."

The two exchanged glances and raised their heads defiantly, just as they had as children when Amalia caught them at some mischief. "Fine," Will said. "Is there any more information you want about what we found?"

"Where's Coyote?"

"We don't know."

Harley scowled. "Go on, and don't be late for your turn on watch."

They left the cabin together. After the door swung shut behind them, Amalia peeked through the cracks. Will and Diana were walking the path with their heads together, whispering.

She turned to Harley. "That was a little harsh. You know they wouldn't have done it based on just anyone's talk. You yourself admitted you trust Coyote's sense of things."

"It's not about your kids. This is about keeping order and discipline among the others. If I let it get out that Will and Diana can go traipsing through the woods, unauthorized, what's to stop the others from doing it?"

"I know. It's just..."

"You love them." He took her in his arms and kissed the top of her head. "I'll take them off tomorrow night's watch so they can catch up on their sleep, and if you want some extra coffee for them in the morning, go on and take it."

Amalia pulled away. "No, I don't want them thinking I'm going to help them out of trouble all the time. Do what you think is right. I may argue with you about it when we're alone, but I'll back you up in front of them."

When she got back to the cabin, she found Will and Diana had pulled their beds together and were lying close, whispering. "I would've thought you'd be getting some sleep."

"Who can sleep after seeing that?" Diana said, sitting up and pulling her blanket around her shoulders. "Their faces were black, and some of them were starting to rot, and—"

"I've seen a hanged man before."

Diana ducked her head in embarrassment and Will put an arm around her. "She's sorry, Mother. She forgot."

"That's okay." Amalia took off her boots and set her lantern where she wanted it before turning back the covers. "Maybe you two ought to think about going to your watch stations, if you're not going to sleep."

It wasn't nearly time yet, but Will and Diana sat up, pulled on their boots and picked up their rifles and flashlights. Diana murmured an apology and kissed Amalia on the cheek. Will did the same, and then they moved out into the night.

Amalia closed her eyes. She tried to quiet her agitated thinking but kept hearing Diana's words in her mind, conjuring images she would rather forget— images of the man who had been both lover and betrayer, hanged from a tree on her farm by Strecker, the Guard commander who had taken everything from her. She reached for a bag under her bed and withdrew a metal flask of cheap, homebrewed whiskey. Harley didn't allow alcohol, but that was mainly a rule for the younger set. It was understood that the older, steadier members of the group could have a discreet nip now and then.

Amalia opened her Bible and sank back against the pillow as she flipped through the pages. The book was tattered, dog-eared and pencil-marked, but she liked it that way. It made it easier to find the passages that had made life a little more bearable over the years. She read quietly for awhile, her eyes moving over the familiar words. When finally she thought she could sleep, she set the book aside, turned off her light and burrowed under the covers. A dreamless sleep came almost immediately, washing over her like a blessing.

1 comment:

Alice Audrey said...

This one is kind of sweet in a sad way.