Fiction: Afterlife (Chapter 12)

by Mike Monroe on March 24, 2014

in FICTION

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If you’ve never read Afterlife before, click here to go to the first chapter.

Photo by Jay Hood

Afterlife is a sci fi/western action serial published every other week. Join us in a post-apocalyptic journey through a future where life has become little more than a struggle for survival. However, where there’s life, there’s always hope.


Read the previous chapter here:

Afterlife, Volume 1, Chapter 11

Where:

Herman Rennock talks to Mavery Thomas, a reporter.
Devin Hellier interrogates and kills Doctor Thomas and his employees.
Abby and her companions are immobilized by disruptors and attacked.

Find the Table of Contents page here.

 

Afterlife, Volume 1, Chapter 12

 

Nat provided covering fire with his shotgun while Bobby ran out to help Abby. Nat tossed his rifle to Pastor Earl, who was hiding behind his own sand bike, and Earl also started firing. There were some people hiding behind six sand bikes several dunes away who were firing bullets from old-style weapons at them. Probably bandits, Bobby figured. Rennock’s men didn’t use disruptor and bullet tactics. They relied on their technology. Booms, cracks, and pops filled the desert with sound as Bobby ran over to Abby and helped her up, hoping the covering fire would prevent any of the bandits from shooting him. Once Abby’s arm was wrapped around his shoulder, Bobby ran with her to his sand bike, where both of them ducked down and hid as bullets whizzed by above. “What the hell were you doing?” Bobby asked Abby as Nat and Pastor Earl stopped firing.

“I saw you fly off your bike,” Abby said. “I wanted to help you.”

“You should have stayed in the van,” Bobby said. “All you ended up doing was putting yourself in danger.” Horseman and Michelle continued hiding inside their sports hover car and Pete had disappeared into the back of his van.

“Hey, black boy!” a voice shouted from one of the sand bikes across the dunes.

Bobby thought the voice sounded like a black man’s. He glanced at Abby and she glanced at him, both with confused expressions. “Are you talking to me?” Bobby shouted back.

“Nah,” the voice replied, “I’m talkin’ to the other black boy over there sellin’ out with a bunch of white folks!”

“What are you talking about?” Bobby asked.

“You’re a traitor against your own people!”

Bobby frowned. His Uncle Joe used to say similar things. Uncle Joe had blamed white people for most of his problems. Bobby knew white people weren’t Uncle Joes’ main problem, though. Uncle Joe was Uncle Joe’s main problem. Heroin was Uncle Joe’s main problem. That’s what killed him, anyway. Still, men like Herman Rennock definitely made things harder.

“He hasn’t done anything wrong,” Pastor Earl shouted. “We’re working together!”

“No black man should be workin’ with white people,” another voice shouted from across the dunes. “They’re the enemy!”

“They’re not the enemy!” Bobby responded.

“When’s the last time you been to the Southwest Iron Mines?” the first voice asked. “You seen what they do to our people there? They push slaves to the brink and they drop like flies. That’s how they treat our dead, too, like they’re insects, burnin’ their bodies in the desert and leavin’ whatever’s left to the vultures! They don’t care if we live or die!”

“They’re not all like that!” Bobby shouted. “Look, you’re giving our people a bad name!”

The second voice laughed. “You’re the one giving our people a bad name, traitor!”

“We’re trying to help the miners!” Abby shouted.

“Ain’t nobody talkin’ to you, bitch!” the first voice shouted back.

“You’re shouting loud enough,” Abby responded. “As far as I’m concerned, you’re talking to all of us!”

“Then send the traitor over so we can have a quieter conversation,” a third voice shouted.

“Or send us one of them girls over,” the second voice suggested. “The hot one or the Asian one, we don’t care.”

“Yeah!” a fourth voice laughed. “We don’t discriminate when it comes to women!”

“Listen, white folk!” the first voice shouted. “Send us the traitor with a thousand dollars and we might let you all live! I know you don’t care about ‘im anyway. Just send ‘im over!”

Bobby noticed Nat staring at him through his black sunglasses. Bobby hoped he wasn’t considering their offer. “I’ve got a counter offer!” Nat shouted. “You all come over here and kiss his ass one by one and I’ll let you keep yours!” He popped up from behind his sand bike and fired his shotgun. The bandits fired a flurry of shots as Nat ducked back down behind his bike.

Somebody screamed from across the dunes. Bobby glanced out momentarily and saw a black man sprawled out in the desert next to one of the sand bikes, his stomach blasted open. He was wearing patchwork clothes made from leather and dull metal. His screams made Bobby uneasy. “See what they do?” the first voice shouted. “See what they do to us?” There was another flurry of shots and Bobby heard bullets clink into the other side of his sand bike. The screams persisted until Pastor Earl popped up and shot the wounded man cleanly through the head with Nat’s rifle. The bandits fired in his direction as he ducked back down behind his bike.

“How are we getting out of this one?” Abby asked Bobby.

“I don’t know,” Bobby replied. “Maybe I should go over there.”

“No way in hell!” Abby said. “And that’s an order. You’re my employee, remember? If you go over there, they’ll kill you and we’ll be down a person. They’ll try to kill all of us anyway, especially after Nat took out one of their guys.”

Bobby knew she was right. The bandits were dangerous killers and outlaws who ultimately deserved what was coming to them, but he couldn’t help but feel for them on some level. In some ways they were the products of their situations. Some were left with no other options but to steal. As far as Bobby was concerned, poverty still didn’t justify theft, rape, or murder. “I guess you’re right,” he muttered. “So what should we do, then?”

Abby shrugged. “We need to find a way to give ourselves some sort of advantage.” Nat fired another volley of shots and the bandits fired back. Pastor Earl followed with several shots of his own. There were no screams this time.

“Maybe they’ll run out of bullets,” Bobby said.

Abby chuckled. “Maybe we’ll run out of bullets. They probably have a lot more old school guns than we do. They’ve rendered our lasers useless. So how can we give ourselves an advantage?” Bobby thought she was still talking to him at first. “I’m not sure,” Abby said, answering her own question.

“You’re all gonna die anyway now,” the first voice shouted. “You may as well come over here and make it easy on yourselves!”

“You should start beggin’ for mercy now,” Nat shouted back. “I ain’t goin’ over there. I’ll pick ya off one by one if I have to.” He fired another shot with his shotgun and ducked back behind his sand bike as several shots were fired in his direction.

“I don’t know,” Bobby said to Abby. “Maybe if Nat and Earl hadn’t killed that guy, we’d still have some way of coming out of this peacefully.”

Abby looked down at the bullet holes in her pants leg. “They were trying to kill me regardless,” she said.

“Maybe they…” Bobby was going to suggest that they might have been aiming at her leg in order to disable her, but he was interrupted by a loud, high-pitched buzzing sound. He was confused at first. Then, he realized it was coming from the direction of Pete’s van. Pete had come out of the back and he was firing what appeared to be a solar powered minigun of some sort with a bullet belt hanging from the side. The gun was tearing through the bandits’ six sand bikes, ripping them to shreds, and there were several shouts as bullet-riddled men fell out into the sand from behind the mangled bikes, bleeding into the desert.

Pete continued firing for about thirty seconds, completely annihilating the bandits’ sand bikes, and then he stopped. There was silence for several seconds. “Anyone left over there?” Pete shouted.

Bobby chuckled. Like they’d tell him. Bobby saw four bodies including the man Pastor Earl had killed earlier. The other two were behind what was left of their bikes, assuming there were six of them to match the six bikes. If they were alive, they weren’t firing their guns. Pete put the minigun back in the van and picked up a rocket launcher. He aimed and fired at one of the bikes where there wasn’t a dead body showing. The rocket hissed over to the bike and exploded, engulfing what was left of sand bike in orange flames. Pete reloaded the weapon, aimed at the other bike where there wasn’t a body showing, and fired, blowing that one up, too. When he was done, he put the rocket launcher back in the van. He closed the doors and walked over towards where Bobby and Abby were hiding. Pastor Earl and Nat stood, so Bobby figured it was okay for him to stand also. He put his helmet on the back of his bike and reached for Abby to help her up, but she brushed him off. “I want to try to stand on my own, at least for a while. I’m getting more used to it.” She rose to her feet.

“Are you sure your cybernetic leg will be all right?” Bobby asked. “How come it’s still working after they fired the disruptor at you?”

Abby shrugged. “The cyberneticist said it runs off my body heat. I guess the disruptor just shut it down for a few seconds.” Horseman and Michelle opened the doors of the sports hover car and got out slowly. Horseman was wearing a tie-dye t-shirt and jeans, which was quite a contrast to the suit he’d been wearing the night before.

“The coast seems to be clear,” Pete said.

Abby nodded. “It seems you’re worth every penny I’m paying you.”

“How about a million then?” Pete asked with a grin.

“Real funny,” Abby muttered.

“Well, we’re stuck here for a while, it seems,” Horseman said as everyone congregated near Bobby’s sand bike.

Pete nodded. “It’ll be a good four hours until my solar cells power up my batteries and I can recharge everyone’s equipment. Maybe even longer.”

“Does anyone have a purely mechanical vehicle?” Horseman asked. All of their vehicles had combustion jet engines of some sort, but everything was controlled by computers and electronics.

Pete frowned. “I’ve been wanting to get an old school bike for this very reason, but I haven’t gotten around to it yet.”

“What good would one bike do anyway?” Abby asked. “There are seven of us.”

“Well,” Pete said, “we’ll have to wait.”

“And we’re sittin’ ducks if Herman Rennock’s men come this way,” Nat said.

“If Rennock has any info on where we’re going, he got it from Doctor Thomas,” Abby pointed out. “They’ll think we’re heading due west towards the Rocky Mountains.”

“We’ve been moving southwest for at least a good three hours this morning,” Pastor Earl said. “Plus about an hour and a half last night. It’ll take them a good deal longer than that to backtrack and come this way if they figure it out.”

“It’ll take a few minutes for EMPC’s, though,” Nat noted.

“Well,” Michelle said, “We’re here for a while either way. We may as well make the best of it.” She walked back to the sports hover car. Bobby watched her for a while, but he turned his eyes away when he noticed Horseman looking at him.

“So what took you so long?” Nat asked Pete. “What the hell were you doin’ in your van?”

“I was loading the minigun,” Pete said. “It takes a while. I only use it when necessary, in situations such as this. It’s always good to be prepared.”

“Sure is,” Nat said. “Why didn’t you just use the rocket launcher?”

“It only fires one shot at a time,” Pete answered. “And besides, I don’t have many rockets left. They aren’t easy to find, either, once I run out. Bullets are a little easier to come by.”

Nat nodded. “I guess that’s true.”

“Well I’m gonna go over to our dead friends and take any disruptors that still work,” Pete said. “Those will most definitely come in handy in the future. I’d also be curious to see what sort of guns they had. Sounded like rifles. If they have wooden stocks like yours they’ll be worth a fortune.”

“You really think bandits are gonna have wooden stocks?” Nat asked.

Pete shrugged. “You never know. They may if they robbed rich gun collectors at some point. Or they’d have some now if they’d have been successful at killing us.” He turned and walked down the side of the dune, heading towards the destroyed sand bikes where the dead bandits were lying. Horseman turned and walked back to his hover car, leaving Bobby, Abby, Nat, and Pastor Earl.

“I guess that’s where he gets his stuff,” Pastor Earl observed.

“You think he kills bandits and steals their weapons?” Abby asked.

Earl shook his head. “He probably got the weapons he has from either Rennock or the Mexican Territory. His stuff is far too advanced for bandits.”

“So you think he gets if from battlefields?” Nat asked.

Earl nodded. “Most likely. There’s a fortune in damaged equipment lying around after a battle, and with his skills, he could fix a lot of it.”

“Well he’s a good person to have on our side, then,” Abby said.

“If you say so,” Nat muttered. He and Pastor Earl walked back towards their sand bikes while Abby walked to the van, opened the passenger side door, and sat down.

Bobby turned to notice Horseman approaching him. “Hey, Bobby,” he said.

“Hey,” Bobby responded

“I just wanted to say I’m sorry you had to deal with that,” Horseman said.

“Huh?” Bobby asked. He’d been thinking about Michelle. He wasn’t really sure what Horseman was referring to.

“Those bandits and the stuff they said,” Horseman answered. “They’re wrong, you know. You’re no traitor.”

Bobby nodded. “Yeah, I know. Thanks.”

Horseman smiled. “It’s the financial rift between blacks and whites that causes a lot of the animosity. Rennock and his pals keep your people down and they try to cause unrest between different factions of the poor. If poor people blame one another for everything, they’ll never look up to see the real culprit. Wealthy power-mongers have been using those sorts of tactics for millennia.”

“Look, man,” Bobby said, “I know you mean well and all, but let’s not talk about this, okay? I’d rather not, really.” When he thought about the bandits, he thought about Uncle Joe. He was trying to get him out of his mind.

“All right,” Horseman said. “Sorry about that.”

“No, there’s nothing to be sorry about,” Bobby said. Horseman nodded and walked back to his sports hover car. He got into the car and started playing some Grateful Dead with the windows down, looking out at the dunes to his left. He lit something that Bobby could tell wasn’t a cigarette and started smoking it. Bobby looked up at the sky and gritted his teeth in anger. He hadn’t thought about Uncle Joe in weeks, but reminders seemed to be popping up a lot lately. He glanced over at Horseman’s hover car to see that Michelle was shaving her sidecut with solar powered electric clippers, using a handheld mirror as she stood near the open passenger side door. Sidecuts were a fairly common hairstyle in Numurka, but even more people preferred the bald look, especially poor people. It was common to find both men and women shaved bald. It gave people one less thing to worry about in a harsh world. The bald look was utilitarian, but sidecuts were for style. Bobby was on fire as he watched Michelle cut her hair. He wished he could say something to her. He wished he could be more like Dean Moriarty in On the Road and less like his shy self. Michelle eventually finished and she looked up at Bobby with her shining blue eyes and smiled. Bobby felt himself tense up.

“Hey, Bobby,” she said. “Do you mind if I ask you sort of a forward question?”

Bobby swallowed. The first time he opened his mouth, nothing came out. “Um, sure, um, I guess. Oh, I mean, no. I don’t mind.”

She chuckled. “I’m sorry. It’s just who I am. I just come out and say things. It makes my brother feel uncomfortable sometimes.”

Horseman gave her a look from the driver’s seat. “Have you heard some of the things that have come out of your mouth in the past? Who wouldn’t feel uncomfortable?”

Michelle rolled her eyes and smiled at Bobby again. “Anyway, do you want me to cut your hair for you?”

Bobby frowned. His mind had been full of the possibilities of what she might say. That hadn’t been one of them. “Uh, I guess so.”

“Well come over here, then.” She motioned for him to come closer. All of her movements seemed so graceful to Bobby. He felt like he was going to explode. He was a grown man! What was wrong with him? He walked towards her, afraid he was going to trip and fall in the sand or do something else to make himself look stupid, but he didn’t. As Bobby approached, he smelled the stinky-sweet scent of marijuana coming from Horseman’s joint. The song “Sugar Magnolia” was coming from the sports hover car’s speakers. “You look like you haven’t had a haircut in a while,” Michelle said. “I figured you just didn’t have access to clippers.”

“Yeah,” Bobby said with an awkward smile. He immediately realized how stupid he probably looked to her.

“I hope you don’t mind me cutting your hair,” Michelle said. “I figure it’d be easier if I did it than if you tried to do it yourself. Horseman hates it when I cut his, though. He’s real particular about things like that.” Horseman shook his head.

“I’m not,” Bobby said. What a stupid thing to say. Why was he so weird and awkward around her? She was a movie star, but when it came down to it, she was still just a person, just like anyone else.

“Here, sit down in the sand.” She motioned towards the sand in front of her and Bobby walked over and plopped down on the dune in front of her. She put a hand on his head and moved it through his hair and he tensed up even more than before. “So how long do you like it?”

“Huh?” Bobby asked.

“I mean, do you want me to shave you bald, or just a lot shorter.”

“Oh,” Bobby muttered. “Like that.” He held up his hand, holding his thumb and forefinger about a centimeter or so apart.

“All right,” Michelle said as she dug through a bag and found an extension which she put on the clippers. She put a hand on Bobby’s head to position it so she could begin cutting. “You don’t have to be so nervous. I won’t cut your ear off or anything. I’ve done this before.”

“No, I know,” Bobby said. Michelle began cutting his hair as he sat nervously in front of her.

“So how long have you been traveling with Abby, Earl, and Nat?” Michelle asked as she cut.

“Um, I don’t know,” Bobby replied. “Maybe a couple of days.” How many days had it been? Bobby couldn’t think straight. It hadn’t been long. He knew that.

“They seem like decent people.”

“Yeah,” Bobby agreed. He wished he could say more, but he was too nervous and turned on with her running her hands through his hair and everything. He felt like bashing his head into a wall. He didn’t say another word as she clipped his hair down to a more presentable length. Michelle had apparently given up on talking to Bobby, too. He tried to think of things to say, but everything seemed stupid to him, so he ended up just sitting there silently. Towards the end, he stopped being so tense, at least. He saw that as a positive. “Thanks,” he said when she turned the clippers off.

“It was no problem,” Michelle said with a kind grin. “Anything for a friend.” The word “friend” was like a punch to Bobby’s gut. It didn’t mean anything. It was just something she said. Why did he take everything in such a weird way around her? Bobby smiled awkwardly and walked away from her as quickly as he could, heading back towards his sand bike. He cursed himself under his breath as he noticed Pete returning to his van with several metal rods which Bobby assumed were the disruptors. Nat and Pastor Earl were standing near the passenger side door of the van talking to Abby as Pete approached.

“Good,” Pete said with a smile. “Just in time for salaat.”

Nat frowned. “I really wish you and Earl would stop with your religious…”

“Nat!” Abby shouted. “That’s enough!” She was sitting in the passenger seat of the van with the door open while Sherry rested on the floor beside her. Bobby stopped walking near where Nat was standing, just in case something went down and he was needed to help break it up.

Pete sneered at Nat. “You’re lucky she shut you up.” He opened the back doors of the van as Nat watched. “You seemed like you were about to insult Islam.” He placed the disruptors inside the van and shut the doors. At this point, Horseman and Michelle had gotten out of the hover car to see what was happening.

Abby glared at Nat. “Nat, just walk away,” she said. Pastor Earl stood beside her, silently watching the situation.

“Right,” Nat said as Pete walked towards him. “I’ve gotta use kid’s gloves when I’m talkin’ about religion. I forgot. When a scientific theory’s proven wrong, how come we’re allowed to tell the scientists they’re wrong, but not religious fanatics?”

“Nat,” Abby said, “this isn’t a theology discussion group. There’s a time and a place. You’re about to piss me off.”

Nat chuckled as Pete grinned at him. “Wouldn’t want to do that.”

Abby stepped out of the van, arms crossed. She was much shorter than Nat but it didn’t stop her from staring him down with her piercing eyes. “Let’s get something straight here, you ugly bastard. You’re not in charge. I’m in charge. I thought that was established before, but just in case it wasn’t, I have a robot leg and I’m not afraid to kick you in the nuts with it.” Bobby sensed that this wouldn’t be the last time he’d hear that threat. He hoped he was never the recipient.

Nat was obviously taken aback. He shook his head and walked away as Pete laughed. “You’ll need to watch out for that one, kid,” Nat whispered to Bobby as he headed back towards his sand bike. “She’ll chew ya up and spit ya out like chicken bones.” Bobby smiled and nodded. Horseman and Michelle got back into the sports hover car and shut the doors.

“Well,” Pete said, “we all may as well settle in. We’re gonna be here for a while.”

“Anyone have any food?” Abby asked.

“I’ve got some,” Pete replied. “You can have some of mine.”

“What do you have?” Bobby asked. “I’ve got some cans of pork and beans I got from Sunbreak City.”

Pete laughed. “I have fresh chicken in my freezer. The power hasn’t been off too long so I’m sure it’s still good. I also have a nice assortment of spices. I’ll cook it up on my stove for everyone. Of course, if you want your pork and beans…”

Bobby smiled and shook his head. “Do you need any help?”

Pete shrugged. “I guess I could use a little. It’s in the freezer in the van. You can get started while I get ready to do salaat.” Bobby and Pastor Earl followed Pete to the back of the van when they noticed Nat running towards them with his shotgun. Bobby was worried for Pete’s life.

“Sand crab!” Nat shouted.

“Where?” Pastor Earl asked as Nat came up to them and stopped running.

“I saw one in the valley between the dunes,” Nat replied.

“Out here,” Pete began, “where there’s one, there are sure to be more. Let’s all seek shelter in my van.” He eyed Nat. “Your gun won’t be much good against a bunch of sand crabs.”

“I’ve killed ‘em with my shotgun before,” Nat said.

“Have you ever been faced with a swarm of them?” Pete asked. “My van’s the safest place. My minigun probably won’t even be enough.” He walked over towards Horseman’s car and motioned for him and Michelle to come to him. “Sand crabs!” he shouted.

Horseman and Michelle got out of the car and rushed towards Pete’s van. As they were running, a pale white crab the size of a car emerged from the sand on top of the dune. Nat cocked his shotgun and fired at it, hitting one of its eye stalks and blowing it to pieces. He cocked and fired again, blowing off the other stalk. The huge, blind creature flailed around a bit and stumbled into the valley between the dunes. Two more crabs even larger than the first emerged from the sand near Horseman’s hover car. Nat cocked his shotgun and fired. “How many shots do you have left?” Pastor Earl asked.

“Three more in my shotgun and six in my revolver,” Nat replied.

“It won’t be enough,” Pete muttered. “Come on!” He, Bobby, and Earl rushed through the open doors into the back of the van, followed by Horseman and Michelle. Bobby watched as Nat fired more shots and muttered something under his breath as two more giant sand crabs emerged from the sand nearby. He joined the others in the van, slamming the doors shut behind him.

Through the rear windows of the van, Bobby could see seven of the giant sand crabs approaching. Inside the van, everyone but Abby was seated on two long benches which ran along both sides. Beneath the benches were storage compartments, and there were also overhead bins. There was an open door leading to the front of the van, where Abby was looking back at everyone else from the passenger seat, holding Sherry on her lap. Computerized electronic equipment, what appeared to Bobby to be the freezer Pete had mentioned earlier, and a comfortable-looking swivel chair were located between the front of the van and the benches. Boxes, tools, and spare parts were scattered everywhere on the floor. Bobby had no idea how big the van really was until he’d stepped inside. “How many of them are there?” Abby asked.

“Seven,” Bobby replied.

“That we can see, anyway,” Pete added. Soon the creatures were banging on the outside of the van with their massive claws. The vehicle started shaking back and forth as Bobby and his companions huddled on the benches. The pounding on the sides of the van grew louder.


Continue on to the next chapter:

Afterlife, Volume 1, Chapter 13

Where:

Abby and her companions are attacked by giant sand crabs.
The heroes reach Fort Samson, where they prepare for their dangerous journey.
The heroes leave town, heading towards the Dead Lands.

Find the Table of Contents page here.

Check out Michael Monroe’s page on Amazon to find other stuff he’s written.
Like Afterlife on Facebook to find out when the next chapter is posted.
Follow Afterlife on Twitter to get updates on new postings and other news.
Follow Afterlife on Tumblr for access to supplemental material.

Mike Monroe

Michael Monroe was born in Baltimore, MD and has lived there most of his life. He’s a poet and fiction writer whose preferred genres are Science Fiction and Fantasy, and he’s always had a thing for Allen Ginsberg and the Beats. His poetry has been published in Gargoyle Magazine, nthposition, the Lyric, Scribble, the Loch Raven Review, Foliate Oak, Primalzine, and various other publications.

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