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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:
Warrick Baines gets information from Vernon Willis and has him thrown through a window.
Abby talks to Pastor Earl while Bobby starts training with Nat.
Michelle invites Bobby to go swimming and he walks away, feeling uncomfortable.
Afterlife, Volume 1, Chapter 16
“He’s kind of weird, isn’t he?” Michelle asked Abby as Bobby disappeared into the trees.
Abby’s bare feet touched mossy rocks as she stood in the water. “He’s saved my life more than once. I owe him a lot.”
“Yeah,” Michelle said, “but he’s a little awkward.”
“He’s probably just not used to people like you,” Abby said. “You’re a very open person, you know?”
Michelle chuckled as she spread her arms out in the water. “It runs in the family. My grandparents were crazy. My parents were crazy. Horseman and I are crazy. You should have seen some of the parties my parents took us to when they were alive.”
Abby remembered reading on the Satellite Net about Rocky and Madeline Hemingway being killed in a car accident. She remembered feeling bad for the kids. They must have been teenagers at the time. It had been ten years ago or so. “Yeah, well Bobby’s a good guy,” Abby said. “He’s helped me out a lot. Like I said, I wouldn’t be here if it weren’t for him.” She leaned back and let her body float on water as she stared up at the sky. The temperature was perfect. It was so relaxing.
“I’m sure you went to some parties too,” Michelle said as she also floated in the water.
“I did,” Abby replied, “but they weren’t that crazy. My parents weren’t like that. Just dinner parties, you know?”
“We hung out with rock stars, athletes, movie stars…” Michelle paused, reminiscing. “I really miss those days.”
Abby thought about her father. She remembered the dream she’d had recently. She remembered being a child, living with her parents and siblings, feeling so secure like nothing bad would ever happen to her, not as long as she had her father to protect her. “I know what it’s like to miss the past,” she said with a frown as she stood back up, her feet touching the stones again. She realized they’d floated a ways down the river.
“We should swim back up so we don’t get lost,” Michelle said.
Abby swam to the water’s edge, where she’d noticed something in the grass. She stopped and looked out at a stone structure partially hidden by bushes. “What’s that?”
Michelle swam over next to her and stopped. “I don’t know.”
Abby got out of the water and walked over to see that it was the ruins of a building of some kind, overgrown with weeds and vines. She noticed something else nearby and walked over to see that it was what remained of a metal statue, also overgrown with vines. It was a man wearing glasses, wearing a military uniform with fringed shoulder pads, with a sword at his side. The legs were partially buried underground, but the statue was in very good shape, with some rusty spots and holes here and there, but Abby could still tell what it was. “Look at this,” she said as Michelle got out of the water, pushing her hair back, showing off her newly-shaved sidecut.
“What is it?” Michelle asked.
“A statue,” Abby said. “Must be from the old world.” She noticed some other ruined buildings nearby overgrown with trees and plants. “This must have been a town of some kind or something. Just think. People lived here thousands of years ago. This person this statue was made for must have been some sort of hero or something. Now we have no idea who he is.”
“I wonder which town this was,” Michelle said. “We’re probably in what used to be either Texas or Mexico.”
“We might even be on the old border,” Abby suggested. “Maybe this river is what’s left of the Rio Grande.”
Michelle smiled. “That’s right, you’ve probably had a good education, too. You know your history.”
“Some of it,” Abby said as she looked at the statue. “I don’t know who this was.”
Michelle stepped closer to Abby, smiling at her. “It’s not often I find a girl with a good education who’s pretty, too. Do you feel the same way?”
Abby was getting nervous. Was Michelle trying to flirt with her? “Yeah, I guess so.”
Michelle reached out and tried to hold Abby’s hand, but Abby backed away. “I’m sorry,” Abby said. “I don’t… I mean…”
“You’re not attracted to women,” Michelle said with a smile.
“Yeah,” Abby said. “I’m sorry if I gave you any signals. It wasn’t intentional. I mean, you seem like a wonderful girl and all. You know. I’m just not, you know…”
“Don’t worry about it,” Michelle said. “I don’t have a crush on you or anything. I was just looking to have some fun, that’s all.” Abby felt a little uncomfortable now, standing half-naked with a lesbian. She didn’t have anything against the idea of homosexuality, she just felt strange and self-conscious. Michelle seemed to notice and smiled. “Is the pot wearing off? I’m joking. I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to make you feel uncomfortable.”
“No, I’m fine,” Abby said with a smile.
“Well we should head back up to the other clearing,” Michelle said. “Walking would be better, actually. It’ll be hard swimming against the current.”
Abby nodded and the two of them started walking back upstream to the clearing, past the trees on one side, with the river on the other. When they got there, Michelle pulled her dress up and started securing the straps. “I’m sorry, Abby. I shouldn’t have done that.”
“No, it’s okay,” Abby said. “I mean, I don’t want you to feel bad or anything. You just caught me by surprise, that’s all. I’m not used to that. I like men.”
Michelle smiled and nodded. “I like men, too. I just prefer women most of the time. I really hope things aren’t weird between us now. They won’t be for me, I promise. I hope we can stay friends.”
Abby smiled back at her. “Sure. I’d like that.” She wasn’t sure if she’d ever see Michelle or Horseman again after they left the oasis, though. Abby frowned. What about Horseman? How would Michelle feel if Abby ended up hooking up with her brother? It didn’t matter. It probably wasn’t going to happen anyway.
“I promise I’ll never try anything like that again,” Michelle said.
“It’s okay,” Abby said. “I’m gonna go back in the water for a little while longer.”
“All right,” Michelle said. “I’ll see you later, then.” She put her sandals on and walked towards the trees as Abby jumped back into the water.
Abby floated on her back again, looking up at the sky, enjoying being out in nature. She felt bad for Michelle. She really hoped Michelle was being honest and she hadn’t been hurt by Abby’s rejection. She seemed like someone who was really good at hiding negative emotions. Abby tried to get it out of her mind and tried her best to enjoy the setting. Then, she heard someone shouting. She stood up and looked at the shore to see who it was. She’d drifted in the current a little, but not as much as last time. She saw Horseman standing at the river’s edge. He was wearing the same loose-fitting shirt, jeans, and sandals he’d been wearing when she and Michelle had been smoking a joint with him earlier. Abby swam over closer to him. “Did you say something?” she asked.
“I said dinner’s going to be done, soon,” he replied, “but swimming does look like fun. Do you mind if I join you?”
Abby shrugged. “Sure, I guess.”
He quickly took off his shirt and pants and was wearing nothing but a black speedo. He was muscular, but not so muscular he looked weird, and the bulge in his speedo showed Abby he was well-hung. She looked away as he jumped into the water. “It feels great,” he said.
“It does,” Abby agreed. What was happening? Everything seemed so surreal.
“This place is amazing,” Horseman said. “We just saw a deer run through the meadow. It was a big one, too. First time I ever saw one.”
Abby nodded as she stood a few feet away from him. She couldn’t keep her eyes off his chiseled chest. “It’s a shame the whole world isn’t like this,” Abby said.
Horseman frowned. “People didn’t love all of this when they still had it. If you love something, you do what’s best for it. You don’t destroy it.”
Abby nodded as she felt the moss under her feet. “It’s like a dream here.”
Horseman nodded. “As opposed to the nightmare everywhere else.”
“It could be better, though,” Abby said. “The world could be better. It doesn’t have to be the way it is.” She had trouble concentrating on the conversation as Horseman stood nearby. Part of it was her drug haze and part was his physique.
“This is what the world should be like,” Horseman said, moving closer to her with a charming smile. “Our world isn’t really life. It’s a sort of afterlife of the world which came before.”
“Our world must be hell, then,” Abby said, frowning. “It must be the hell of some other place where all of us committed atrocious sins of some sort, and now we’re stuck here until we die and either come back or are whisked off to some other hell. It couldn’t be worse than this one, though.”
“But there’s hope,” Horseman said, smiling at her. He moved a little closer to her. “Like you said, it could be better. This oasis is proof of that. We have to enjoy the good things while we have them.”
She smiled back. “You’re right. Maybe one day the whole world will be like this.”
“It was in the past,” Horseman said. “It could be in the future, also.” Horseman moved closer still. “It’s too bad we won’t be here longer to enjoy all of this,” he said softly.
Abby stepped back, looking at Horseman playfully. “What are you doing?”
“I’ve seen how you look at me.”
Abby chuckled. “You know your sister just tried something with me.”
“She’ll be fine,” Horseman said. “She’s a grownup.”
“Really?” Abby asked. “You share women?”
Horseman frowned at her. “Don’t be disgusting. She’s my sister.”
“No,” Abby said, “I didn’t mean, like, at the same time. I mean…”
“Well, you said she tried something,” Horseman said. “I take it that means she wasn’t successful?”
“No, I only like men,” Abby said.
“I’m a man,” Horseman said with a smile, moving closer until he was a few inches away from her. “If she was unsuccessful, that leaves the door open for me, right?”
Abby so wanted to give in, but she knew it would be trouble. She’d had her eye on him since she first met him. He was the handsomest man she’d ever seen. However, she remembered Pete telling her he was a heartbreaker. Somehow she didn’t care. It almost made him more attractive. Besides, maybe she’d be the one to break his heart this time. “I don’t know,” she said as he closed in on her. “I don’t think it’s a good idea.” She didn’t back away, though.
“Why? You don’t like me?”
She could feel his breath on her face. “No, I do. It’s just…”
“Michelle and I aren’t going to be here too much longer. We don’t have a lot of time to waste.” Before Abby could say anything, Horseman’s strong arms were around her. She smiled at him and he kissed her, and she started kissing him back. To hell with trouble. Trouble was her middle name. It was time to throw caution to the wind.
Bobby was done with his training, so he and Nat were sitting on top of the rock formation near the clearing. It was the second day they’d been in the oasis. Bobby had gone to sleep in his tent not too long after dinner the evening before, and he and Nat had woken up early the next day to train. It was now midafternoon, and Bobby was looking out at the trees and the river below and the sky above. He saw the occasional lightning far off in the distance over the desert sands, reminding him of the danger that lurked outside of the wilderness paradise they’d found. “You’re startin’ to get it,” Nat said. He was right. Bobby was still a slow draw, but he had at least hit the target a few times that day. Nat had also started showing him some basic hand-to-hand techniques. “You’re a good kid,” Nat continued, “and ya listen. That’s important.”
Bobby nodded. “I try.”
Nat pulled a flask out of his vest pocket and took a swig. He offered it to Bobby. “It’s grain alcohol. Try some. It’ll put hair on your chest.”
“I’ve got plenty of hair on my chest,” Bobby said with a chuckle. “I’m thirty-two years old.”
“You’re still a kid to me, though,” Nat said. “Come on. Drink it.” Bobby shrugged and took a swig. He immediately started coughing. It burned his throat. Nat grinned. “That takes practice, too.”
“Sure,” Bobby said, handing the flask back to Nat. He looked at the lightning in the distance. “So you trained Warrick Baines?”
“I did,” Nat replied as he took a swig from the flask. “Fifteen years ago, I guess that was. He was my deputy for five years. I’ve never seen a better shot, and I’ve never met a bigger psycho.”
Bobby nodded. “Did his injuries turn him psycho? You know, more machine than man and all that?”
Nat shook his head. “He was psycho long before any of that. I’d say he was born without a soul if I believed in that sort of thing. He was a great deputy, though. And he was smart. Super smart. He went to college back east somewhere. Was workin’ on his PhD in literature or some crap and then he came down with some terminal illness. Moved west to experience some adventure before he kicked the bucket.”
“Really?” Bobby asked. “How come he’s still alive if he was dying?”
Nat shrugged. “I guess when they gave him all his robot parts it took care of whatever it was. Anyway, so we used to make fun of ‘im all the time, him bein’ a nerd and all like he was. He didn’t take too kindly to it, but he put up with it. He’s smart as hell, though. He could argue a case for anything, but that doesn’t change the fact he’s wrong most of the time. Always has been.” Nat chuckled.
“So what caused his injuries?” Bobby asked, looking down at the trees below them.
Nat frowned. “I ain’t so sure I wanna talk about this anymore.” He handed Bobby the flask. “Here, drink some more and maybe I’ll tell ya.” Bobby took another swing and coughed again as the alcohol burned his throat. He handed it back to Nat, who also took a swig. “All right, then. I guess I can tell ya. We’ll be gettin’ to know each other real well over the next weeks and months, I suppose.” Bobby nodded. “So there was this girl,” Nat began. “That’s always how it starts, ain’t it? Warrick was playin’ around with ‘er and I guess he fell head over heels. She was a stripper, a real pretty one, too. Anyway, Warrick scared ‘er away like he always does with the women, or anyone really, so I figured it was my turn to have at ‘er.”
Bobby chuckled. “I guess Warrick wasn’t too happy about that.”
“No, he wasn’t,” Nat said, taking another swig from the flask. “I didn’t care, though. If he wanted ‘er, he shoulda treated ‘er better. Anyway, so the town was on Rennock’s kill list.”
“That’s a real thing?” Bobby asked.
Nat nodded. “Rennock would never let anyone know about it but his most trusted enforcers and a few sheriffs. I was one of ‘em back in the day. Anyway, so I warned all my deputies to leave, but Warrick stayed behind. Bein’ the idiot I am, I went back to find ‘im while the buildings were bein’ blown up by helicopters. I went back to the jail, where I knew I’d find ‘im. He always stayed in the jail. Loved interrogatin’ prisoners. So he was waitin’ for me there, up on the roof. I knew it was a trap, but I figured if I came back for ‘im, maybe he’d forgive me for stealin’ his woman.” Nat shook his head. “Nah, he started a fist fight. I think he was hopin’ to kill me and leave my burnin’ body in the town’s ashes so no one would ever suspect he did it. Or maybe he was expectin’ to die, also. Who knows?” He spit on the rocks below. “Well, we was fightin’ on the roof, and part of the building collapsed under us. He fell. There was fire all below ‘im. I grabbed his hand and tried my best to pull ‘im up, but the flames from the floor below caught my arm and I dropped ‘im. I was able to get down the stairs somehow, and get on my bike and escape. I was sure he was dead, but Rennock’s men found ‘im.” He frowned. “His reputation had grown since he’d been my deputy, so Rennock fixed ‘im up and made ‘im an enforcer, and it didn’t take long for him to become the leader. My side and my arm was badly hurt, so I had to get fixed up, too. Wasn’t as bad as Warrick, though.” Nat shook his head. “I was sure he was dead. If I’d known he was alive, I might’ve gone back for ‘im, burnt up arm and all. Of course he blames me for everything. He’s the idiot who stayed behind when he knew the town was bein’ destroyed, though. For someone so smart, I never knew anyone who did stupider things sometimes.”
Bobby nodded. “If anything, it’s him who’s responsible for your injuries, not vice versa.”
“Yeah,” Nat agreed. “I never saw that stripper again. Anna was ‘er name. I told ‘er to leave town. I told everyone to leave town. She never came for me, though. She may be dead, for all I know.” He shook his head and drank some more grain alcohol. “Ya never know what ya got ‘til ya lose it.”
“You loved her?” Bobby asked.
Nat frowned and nodded, looking out at the horizon through his sunglasses. “Yeah. I loved her.”
Abby was sitting on top of a grassy hill, looking out at a field of flowers. She’d made a mistake with Horseman the night before. After, they feigned going to sleep and once everyone was in their tents, she and Horseman went back to his car and had sex. She knew it was a mistake, but she figured she deserved to have some fun. If she were serious all the time, she’d go nuts, especially with all the horrible stuff that had happened to her. She’d used even more pain killers than usual that afternoon, and now she was looking out across the landscape, trying to get her mind off everything, especially the night before. She watched some sort of creature scamper across the meadow in the distance. It was small, about the size of a housecat, with brown fur. She wished she knew more about the animals and insects in the oasis. There was so much to see, and she’d never seen most of it before. A gray cloud was moving above her. It blocked out the sun a little and everything grew dark. “Fits my mood,” she muttered with a grin. “What’s become of me?” Einstein didn’t answer. Abby had no answer to that question, either. She hoped Pete finished fixing Einstein soon. She felt so alone without him, even though he was just a computer. Her father had given Einstein to her, though. It was as if the computer was a part of him in some way.
She noticed Bobby sit down next to her in the grass. “We should head back,” he said. “Pete said it could rain.”
“Rain?” Abby blurted. “That’s insane. Rain never actually reaches the ground. You know that.”
“He said it might here,” Bobby said. “Everything’s different here. The atmosphere may be different here. The trees and plants have to be getting water from somewhere.”
Abby laughed and shook her head. Then, she felt a drop of water hit her hand. “What the?” Several more drops fell. Water from the sky? Maybe it was rain.
Bobby smiled and looked up, opening his mouth. Several drops hit his face. “We may be the first people to experience rain in thousands of years. We should probably seek shelter, though.”
Abby laughed as more rain fell. “I’m not seeking shelter. Are you crazy? And miss this?” She stood and spun, her arms stretched out. The rain started falling harder. There was loud thunder and lightning struck a tree at the edge of the meadow.
“What if we get struck by lightning?” Bobby shouted.
“I’m not going anywhere!” Abby shouted back. “This is the most beautiful thing I’ve seen in my life!” She looked up, letting the rain pelt her face. She started dancing, but slipped and splashed in some mud. She got up, laughing. Bobby was smiling, looking up at the sky as the rain fell. Abby was soaked, but she didn’t care. There was more thunder and lightning. Abby noticed that Horseman and Michelle had gotten out of their tents and they were also smiling and looking up. Nat and Pastor Earl joined them, eventually followed by Pete. Sherry was running around like crazy, barking and splashing in puddles.
“We should at least go down with the others!” Bobby shouted. He ran down the side of the hill and Abby followed him, slipping again and sliding to the bottom. Her white sundress was covered with mud now. She got up and followed Bobby as he ran through the rain to the campsite. When they got there, the rain stopped.
“Wasn’t that amazing?” Michelle asked, her face glowing with wonder.
“Well you know what they say,” Pastor Earl said. “It’s always raining somewhere.”
Pete nodded. “It proves one of my theories is correct. Though rain evaporates before it hits the ground in most of the world, it’s still possible for it to come all the way down. Perhaps someday we’ll find a way to allow this to happen in the rest of the world like it does here. Then the trees and the plants can come back.”
Horseman smiled, looking up at the sky, which was once again blue. “Someday.”
A rainbow appeared, stretching over the meadow. Abby looked up at it in awe. “It’s the most beautiful thing I’ve ever seen.” She’d read about the colorful arches in books, but had never actually seen one.
Pete started up his grill and cooked up some deer Pastor Earl had killed that morning. After dinner, Horseman made a campfire not far from the campsite and he and Michelle sat near it on some rocks. Abby and Bobby joined them, finding the siblings in the middle of a discussion. “I see where you’re coming from,” Horseman said to his sister. “Husker Du was a great band, and they influenced lots of other musicians, but the Flaming Lips were around a lot longer and The Soft Bulletin is pretty much a classic.”
“But people know it’s a classic,” Michelle argued. “If everyone knows something’s great, it can’t be underrated.”
“Who are these people?” Horseman asked. “Nobody knows who the Flaming Lips are anymore. They should, but they don’t.”
“What are you two talking about?” Abby asked. Michelle smiled at her and Abby smiled back awkwardly and then looked away.
“We were discussing the most underrated bands of the old world,” Horseman replied.
“Well I’d say Funkadelic,” Bobby said.
Horseman raised an eyebrow. “They’re one of the best bands ever, but everyone knows who George Clinton was. I wouldn’t call them underrated.”
“But everyone remembers his songs from Parliament,” Bobby argued. “Funkadelic’s not as well-known.”
“Morphine,” Abby said. “They were great musicians and they were unlike anyone else at the time. Way underrated.” She wasn’t real big on music from the old world, but her dad used to play Morphine all the time. She remembered liking it as a kid. It gave her a way to enter the conversation.
Horseman nodded. “Very true. When Mark Sandman died, music lost a true icon, and one of the best bass players ever, as far as I’m concerned.”
Abby noticed Pastor Earl sit down next to her. “You’re talking about underrated musicians?” he asked. Horseman nodded. “Well you have to start with Joseph Martin Kraus, then,” Pastor Earl said.
Everyone seemed confused. “Who?” Horseman asked.
“Joseph Martin Kraus,” Pastor Earl repeated. “He was a contemporary of Mozart, very popular in his day, and he was a great composer. Of course, no one remembers him today because everyone’s always talking about Mozart.”
Horseman nodded. “I guess you’ve got a point. I’ll have to give him a listen sometime.”
“Speaking of music,” Michelle said, “why don’t you go get your guitar, Horseman? We can play something for everyone.” Pete and Nat had now joined everyone else around the fire. Sherry was lying in the grass nearby.
Horseman shrugged. “All right.” He went over to his hover car, opened the trunk, and returned to the campfire with an acoustic guitar. He sat down and strummed a few notes and went into the guitar part for “Dream a Little Dream of Me,” made famous by the Mamas and the Papas, trading smiles with Abby as he played. Michelle sang the words in a seductive alto. Abby noted that she had an amazing voice. She could understand why Michelle was such a famous singer. Abby also noticed that Bobby was looking at Michelle as if he were lost in a dream. Did Bobby have the hots for Michelle? Heaven help him if he did. Abby turned to Nat and saw there was a tear in his eye as he listened intently. Horseman and Michelle finished that song and went into several more as everyone sat around the campfire, enjoying the music and the setting. Horseman and Michelle performed late into the night and everyone, including Abby, forgot their troubles for a brief time.
Bobby woke up from a restful sleep in his tent and he had to pee. Still half asleep, he slipped out of his sleeping bag, got out of the tent, turned on his flashlight, and cautiously headed towards a nearby clump of trees. Pastor Earl was coming back towards the campsite from the trees with a concerned look on his face. He didn’t even notice Bobby. Bobby wondered what had made Pastor Earl so upset when he heard a rhythmic creaking sound. It was coming from Horseman’s hover car, which was parked just outside of the campsite. Bobby could see long, black hair and bare skin through the windshield in the moonlight. He quickly turned away. There were some groans and a few ecstatic shouts. It sounded like Abby. Bobby bit his lip and continued walking towards the woods, pretending that he hadn’t seen or heard anything.
Continue on to the next chapter:
Herman Rennock sees Abby on the news and alters his plan to intercept her.
Pastor Earl has another talk with Abby.
Pastor Earl and Nat Bigum try to settle their differences once and for all.
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