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"He must have written hundreds of them, just in the time we were together." Kurdy poked the campfire with a stick, not because it needed attention but because it gave his hands something to do.

Mister Smith watched him from the other side of the firelight. "Letters to his father?"

"Yeah. Just his father. Never any to his mother. Not that I ever saw, anyway. But he's been writing them ever since the Death."

"Did he know Devon was alive?"

"Nope. But he kept writing. Maybe because he never gave up hope of finding him, or at least what had happened to him." Kurdy's expression turned grim. "All his Dad left him was a name."

"Valhalla Sector."

"Valhalla Sector. Jeremiah's been looking for it since the Death. I think it's the one thing that kept pushing him to survive. Finding the answer to the riddle his father left behind."

"And now that he's found it?" asked Mister Smith, like a small child awaiting the inevitable happy ending to a dark fairytale. "Did he give the letters to Devon?"

"Not a one. He burned them all."

"Burned them? Why?"

Kurdy shrugged. "Maybe because in his heart he really believed his folks were dead. There's an old custom that says if you write a letter to the dead and then burn it, the smoke will rise to heaven and they'll hear your words." He snorted. "Or maybe 15 years worth of letters would have been too fucking heavy to drag around."

"Good point."

"At least he had that."

"What?"

"Those words from his father. Even something as cryptic as 'Valhalla Sector'. It gave him something to hang onto. That's more than a lot of us had." A distant memory haunted Kurdy's dark eyes as he concluded, more softly, "He never had to watch his parents die."

"Not knowing could be worse."

"It's not." Kurdy tossed the stick into the fire and watched the flames consume it with hungry greed. "I'm turning in. We got an early start in the morning." He rose slowly to his feet until he was towering over the smaller man. There was something in Smith's expression that made him pause. "What?"

"Nothing."

Kurdy scowled. Smith's mournful expression clearly said otherwise. He considered busting the guy's balls about what was on his mind then decided against it. It had been a long day and he was too damned tired. "If you need to talk . . ."

"Good night, Kurdy."

"Night."

Mister Smith remained by the fire long after Kurdy had settled in for the night, his mind a jumble of conflicting thoughts. Not knowing the fate of your parents was worse. He understood that from personal experience. Far worse when there were no memories to accompany the gaping hole left behind. Happy, sad, tragic, joyful – there was nothing of childhood in his traumatized mind to conjure. His existence began with the Big Death. Whatever came before was lost to him. For now. One day the memories might return.

Or never.

But the conversation had brought to mind Sister Hannah's recent warning and a sobering realization. He was just as guilty as Devon and all of the other parents who never had the chance to say goodbye.

Don't leave a silence behind you will regret.

Mister Smith bent to the knapsack resting between his feet and quietly rummaged around inside, feeling blindly the familiar objects until he came across the ones he sought. The cardboard cover of the Composition Notebook had warped from exposure to the elements, it's pages crinkled and yellowed. There were a few random notes scribbled within by an anonymous childish hand. He hadn't the heart to remove them, leaving the simple math and careful cursive as a silent memorial to the original owner.

Turning to the last page, he bent over a clean sheet of paper with the stub of a number 2 pencil and began to write.

Dear Rose,

There are so many things I'd like to say to you. So many things I'd like to explain. One day I will. I promise I'll answer all of your questions. Even the really hard ones. And the sad ones, too.

But I'd like to answer one now. You asked me why we couldn't be together all the time. Remember? I told you that it was too dangerous outside of School. That it was the best place for you to be.

What I didn't tell you was how much it hurts every time I have to leave you there. How much it hurts knowing that the Sisters can take better care of you than I ever could. But it's too dangerous to keep you with me. There are things I have to do. More people I can help, if they'll let me. There's work to be done, and I'm doing it.

I'm doing it because I love you, sweetheart. I want you to grow up into a better world. That's why we can't be together. Not yet, anyway. But someday. Someday I hope we'll have a house with a yard and a white picket fence and a puppy, just like the one you drew for me.

Whatever happens, no matter where you are, my love is always with you, even if I can't be. You are my heart and my reason for living. You are my reason for surviving.

I love you, Rose. More than anything in the whole wide world.

Daddy

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July 2006

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