The baby he carries on his back is not his, not even the baby of one of his own babies. He found her in a recycling bin just outside the Quaketown Slums a year back.

She was an infant then, a newborn swaddled in a Bart Simpson t-shirt—“Don’t have a cow, man!”—that she’d shit right through. And she was so tired of crying that she made no sound as he picked her up, perhaps wasn’t even capable of making one. If the inside of her throat looked anything like the corners of her eyes, her mouth—if they were anywhere near as raw and red—that would’ve explained the silence right there.

She’s grown since then, a lot, so heavy now that his aging back cannot bear the strain. There is a indent—a crevice, really—just above his belt line, where he expects a vertebra should be. And it aches, that place, from what’s missing.

But she’s spent so much time bound to him this past year—wind whipping through her hair as they ran, laughter on her lips because she did not understand—that she has never learned to walk, at least not properly. It seemed like such a good idea at the time, keeping her so close. Now: not so much.

When next she sleeps, he leaves her beneath a canopy of steel and glass, on the doorstep of a broken building with a sign welcoming broken people. He does not stay, because he is beyond repair, but he knows that any kid who can still laugh in this world can be saved.

Not by him, but by someone.

Like the story? Become my patron on Patreon and read tomorrow’s story today!