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The sound of church the bells always carries up the mountain, echoing through the trees; it's a call to a service we never attend. Most people I know stopped believing in God a long time ago anyway, convinced that if he ever existed, he certainly doesn't anymore. It doesn't really stop anyone from using the Good Word whenever it suits their purpose, but I don't know anybody who actually prays these days. Nobody that lived through the apocalypse can honestly say that their faith wasn't just the littlest bit shaken.


Personally, I don't remember the end of the world, but I'm told that it was a very different place back then, a place ruled by laws and money and machines and billions of people.

Weird to think there were billions of people... once.

"Why're the bells ringing?" Uncle Matt raises his head, turning it toward the sound for just a moment before looking right at me, squinting into the sun. "Is it Sunday?"

"Nah," I tell him, because it's easy to lose track of time up here. "Ree James is getting married today."

His face pulls into a frown; he seems to think it over for a second. Rhiannon James is the only girl up for marriage this year, and they're giving her away to a man who's almost three times her age. She's fourteen, two years younger than me, and they pushed the wedding up by two months so that her brother could be there to see her get married... just in case. Personally, if she were my sister, I'm not sure I'd count that as a blessing.

"Well, that's unfortunate," Uncle Matt says, pulling a limp rabbit from the snare and resetting the trap. It's what he always says, and if he has anything else to add on the subject, he doesn't share it with me. He's like that, my uncle, only doling out his pearls of wisdom in the tiniest drips and drops. I get them once in a while, and they're usually sound bits of advice, but whereas I don't remember anything of the end of the world, Uncle Matt, well, he remembers everything. And I don't know what he used to be like, back before everything changed, but nowadays he's a man who keeps his own company. He doesn't make friends easy, and he's not a man who believes that we find our strength in numbers.


A quick hiss and an elbow jab to my ribs pulls me out of my own head. I look to him first, my uncle, because I always look to him first, but it's the sound of shuffling leaves and guttural barking that catches my ear, pulling my attention.

"Heads up, we got a live one," he says.

It's not an entirely true statement, though, because the creature dangling by the foot from one of our hunting snares is most definitely not a person. Not anymore, anyway. Her skin is blue from the cold, the tips of her fingers a little blackened from frostbite. Poor girl's dirty from head to toe with her hair all a mess. She might have been human, once upon a time, but from the look of her ripped-up gypsy dress and half-shredded shirt, she's been wandering the wilds a while.

The minute she sees us, she stops barking for a full ten seconds, staring like she can't believe her eyes. Her nose tilts a little into the wind and her nostrils flare, trying to pick out the scent. The second she catches it, her mouth opens and she starts barking again. It's not quite like a dog bark, there's a human voice behind it, but it's about the only sound they can make anymore.

A soft tsk from Uncle Matt precedes the helter-skelter shuffle and pull of the wraith against the snare. Her hands stretch out, fingers opening and closing as he approaches. She reaches for the brace of rabbits hooked at Uncle Matt's waist, her jaw snapping open and shut as she shuffles toward him in a circle. My uncle, he just skirts the boundary of her tether, heading off toward the next trap like it's nothing.

[Longlisted!] -Ghosts of Galena- [#Wattys2018]Where stories live. Discover now