Carry the Flame

Free Carry the Flame by James Jaros

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Authors: James Jaros
trying to save her father.
    â€œHe touch you?” Jessie overheard him ask Jaya. “Because what he did was wrong,” Burned Fingers went on. “Wouldn’t matter whom he did it to—boy, girl, man, woman—it was wrong, but I’ve got to know something . . .”
    Jessie leaned forward, openly eavesdropping and almost certain of the question he was about to ask—the only one that really mattered.
    â€œDid he put it in you?”
    Jaya shook his head.
    â€œThere’s no shame in it for you,” Burned Fingers said, “but you have to be completely honest for everyone’s sake.”
    Jessie glanced at her daughter, who looked pained.
    Jaya shook his head again. “He was going to, but you yelled at him and he ran away.”
    â€œHe’s going to be running from me all his life,” Burned Fingers said. “If he ever comes anywhere near us, I’ll hunt him down and kill him.”
    Jessie’s spine prickled. A ruthless finality in Burned Fingers’s icy tone promised death as much as his actual words, a fitting outcome, perhaps, of decades of earnest killing. But his message must have moved Jaya, who teared up and spat, “I hate him.”
    â€œAnd you’ve got the right. You hear me? You’ve got the right to hate him.” He nodded at the boy’s swollen eyes. “There’s no shame in that, either. Go on. We’ve all had to at some point.”
    You? But she doubted her curiosity about Burned Fingers would ever be satisfied.
    â€œThat man’s a rapist,” he said to Jaya, “and you can bet he’s raped others and that he’ll keep on raping if he gets half a chance. I’m promising you, he’s a dead man from this day forward.”
    Jessie was shocked to find herself choked up by his kind words and fierce vengeance against men who used children and draped their debauchery in the vestments of religion. In the last few minutes he’d seethed with anger, offered compassion, and sworn the worst of violence, roiling contradictions that reflected what she’d gleaned of his complicated past: Oxford humanities scholar who could quote The Waste Land at length and recite ringing descriptions of the competition between gods and mortals from Ovid’s Metamorphoses ; renowned resistance fighter in the final days of the collapse who’d commandeered an army tank and turned it on rampaging soldiers until they burned him with white phosphorus; murderous marauder in the lawless years that followed; and now, late in life, a shrewd and intrepid fighter who helped lead the attack to free the girls from the Army of God and destroy the zealots’ formidable outpost.
    But his background was no more odd than the circumstances that led all of them to this point at this time with these girls.
    â€œLeisha, has your sister spoken at all?” Jessie asked.
    The twin shook her head. “Not since the tank came. It was crushing everyone, and it shot that fire at us. That’s all I remember, and then he came.”
    â€œThe one with the box.”
    Telephone booth, but she wouldn’t be likely to know about an antique supplanted by wireless technology in the early years of the century. All of it refuse now, electronic parts scattered by the trillions across the planet, dribs and drabs and vast waste dumps of chips and screens and candy-colored wires bleeding their toxic innards into the earth.
    â€œDoes Kaisha’s skin that’s hurt on her side feel like yours?”
    â€œNo, it’s different in different places, but we’re both burned.”
    â€œI know it’s awful, but you’ll feel better when we can get you a place to rest.” Jessie peered past her. “Bliss, try talking to Kaisha.” Her daughter held the girl’s slack arm. “She might be in shock. See if you can get her to respond.”
    â€œI’m Bliss,” she said to Kaisha right

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