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Photo by Michael Monroe
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:
Nat Bigum and Pastor Earl capture Devin Hellier.
Abby injures two of Skinny Hayes’ deputies when they attack her in her hotel room.
A drag queen comes to Horseman Hemingway’s rescue.
Find the Table of Contents page here.
Afterlife, Volume 1, Chapter 24
“I don’t know about this,” Mavery said as she stood behind Big Ed.
Ed took his hand away from the doorknob to the hotel room. “Don’t know ‘bout what?”
“I barely know you,” she said. “I’d feel much more comfortable sleeping in my own room.”
Big Ed chuckled. “I’ve had plenty of opportunities to do somethin’ in the desert when nobody was around if I was gonna do somethin’. Why would I wait ‘til now?”
Mavery shrugged. “I don’t know. I guess you’re right.”
Big Ed opened the door. “You learnin’ though. Out here, ain’t nobody gonna look out for you. You gotta look out for yourself.” He and Mavery stepped into the room. There were two beds at least, even if they were tiny twin beds. Mavery had no clue how Big Ed was going to fit on one of those. There was a dresser with a cheap 3D projector on top of it. The room wasn’t much, but it beat sleeping out in the desert and it was air conditioned. Mavery walked over to one of the beds, stretched, and plopped down on it with a smile on her face. Big Ed shut and locked the door and walked over and sat down on the other bed. “What’re you so happy about?”
Mavery smiled. “I’m happy to be alive, for one thing.” They’d been chased by bandits not long after Mavery talked Ed out of robbing the newlyweds, but the sand bike Big Ed and her had taken was much faster than the pursuing sand bikes, so they made it to Dune Post safely. “I’m happy to be indoors and in air conditioning.”
“I don’t know,” Big Ed said, shaking his head as he took his boots off. “I don’t like the feel of it. The air don’t seem right. I prefer bein’ outside. I guess I’m just used to it.”
“You’re nuts, then,” Mavery said.
“Well, don’t let yourself feel too safe,” Big Ed warned. “There’s plenty of bandits that come into towns like this and rob people stayin’ in hotels. That’s why I wanted you to stay in here with me. You safer that way.” He looked up at the stucco ceiling. “We won’t have to worry about giant sand crabs and giant scorpions in here at least, though. Maybe bed bugs.” He chuckled.
Mavery sat up and started looking under the sheets. “Bed bugs?”
Big Ed laughed. “I’m sure it’s fine. You’re funny. Your college ain’t helpin’ you much outside New Atlantis, is it?”
Mavery tucked the sheet back down. “I don’t know. I learned a lot of things. I’m sure I could put them to good use.”
Big Ed shook his head. “Like what? Bandits point guns at you and you gonna tell ‘em about Mozart? You gonna recite some poetry for ‘em?” He chuckled.
Mavery laughed. “I’ve written some powerful poems. Maybe I will recite a poem to the bandits. Maybe my poetry will bring them to their knees.”
Big Ed looked over at her. “Really? You write poetry? Can you recite one for me?”
Mavery shrugged. “I don’t know. It’s been a while.”
“Come on,” Big Ed said. “You can’t remember one? I saved your life, remember? The least you could do is recite a poem for me.”
Mavery shrugged and stood up from the bed. “Well, okay. There’s one I’ve been working on. I’m not sure if it’s totally finished yet.”
Big Ed grinned. “It’s okay. Just recite it.”
“Okay,” Mavery said. “Here goes nothing.” She took a deep breath.
“Big Man, you’re sittin’ in your promised land,
listenin’ to the clocks tick out your master plan,
while the gold coins fall like curtain calls
for all the poor folks livin’ outside your walls…”
She paused for a few seconds. “What’s next?”
“It’s okay,” Big Ed said. “You’ll remember it.” Mavery nodded and closed her eyes, trying to remember.
“…while the gold coins fall like curtain calls
for all the poor folks livin’ outside your walls,
but you can’t hear their cries
over the sound of your lies,
tellin’ ‘em all they’ll get rich too if they try,
and you tie ‘em up with ropes
made from their broken hopes
and dreams, but nothing’s what it seems,
because while in their veins the needles gleam,
while the rivers flow with their blood and tears,
while you gorge yourself on their primal fears,
they’re getting’ angry and they’re startin’ to see
that with you in charge, they’ll never be free.
Big Man, each time one of them dies,
the blood’s on your hands, so stay rich while you can,
‘cause they’re comin’ for you.
They outnumber you a hundred to one,
and you might have the guns,
but they’ve got the truth on their side,
so Big Man, run and hide,
because you’re time’s up, my friend,
and even your money won’t save you in the end.”
Big Ed sat for a moment. Then, he smiled and started clapping. “That was good. Real good.”
Mavery smiled sheepishly and sat back down on her bed. “Really? You liked it?”
“Don’t act that way,” Big Ed said. “You know it’s good. I can see why they kicked you out of New Atlantis, though, if everything you write’s like that.”
Mavery nodded. “Yeah, they don’t like activists like me too much there. I have to be me, though. You can’t change who you are. When the truth boils up inside me, I have to say something.”
“So you was one of those activist types, goin’ to protests and all that?” Big Ed asked. Mavery nodded. “Well, there you have it,” Big Ed continued. “That’s definitely why they expelled you.”
Mavery shrugged. “I always had faith in free speech.”
Big Ed grinned. “Yeah, they let you say what you want as long as you say what they want you to.”
“Well hopefully I can meet up with the rebels in Primrose and find somewhere I can start a new newspaper.” Mavery glanced at Big Ed. “I can find a way to secretly post articles on the Satellite Net, so everyone will be able to read it, even people in New Atlantis. And I’ll be able to say what I want.”
“Yeah,” Big Ed said, “until Herman Rennock shuts you down.”
“He can keep trying,” Mavery said. “I’ll always find a new outlet.”
“So you say,” Big Ed said.
Mavery looked over at him with curiosity in her eyes. “So you know a little about me, but I don’t know anything about you.”
“What do you want to know?” Big Ed asked.
“Where you’re from,” Mavery said. “Your family. You know, stuff like that. I just want to know who I’m traveling with. That’s all.”
Big Ed shrugged. “I grew up in an orphanage with a bunch of other kids. It was near Adeline. I had to learn to fend for myself at an early age.”
Mavery frowned. “You never knew your parents?”
Big Ed shook his head. “They gave me up when I was a baby.”
“What’s your last name?” Mavery asked.
“Nothin’,” Big Ed said. “I was always big, so they just called me Big Ed. Not much to tell, really. I started stealin’ with a bunch of them to get by and I been doin’ it ever since, with whoever I can find. I try to steal from people who look rich, you know? People who can afford to lose a little.”
“It’s wrong no matter what,” Mavery muttered.
“That’s what you say,” Big Ed said, “but I gotta eat. And if it’s between me and somebody else, well I ain’t goin’ out like some punk-ass bitch.”
Mavery frowned. “Whatever.”
“Well,” Big Ed said, “it’s late, so I’m goin’ to sleep.” He turned on his side, curled up the best he could to fit on the tiny bed, pulled the covers over himself, and closed his eyes.
Mavery watched him for a few moments. He was big and burly, but he was also cute in a big teddy bear sort of way. She wondered what it would be like to love someone like him. She shook it off and laughed. “Don’t be ridiculous, Mavery.”
One of Big Ed’s eyes opened. “What was that?”
“Oh, nothing,” Mavery replied. She turned the lamp which was on the stand between their beds off and curled up under the covers. “Good night.”
Devin Hellier was tied to a chair in Nat Bigum’s hotel room, smiling defiantly. Pastor Earl stood with his arms crossed as Nat, who was still just wearing his boxers, vomited into the trash can next to his bed again. He cleared his throat and stood up, facing Devin. “Now I ain’t gonna ask you a fourth time, so you’d better answer now. How’d you know we were here, and what else do you know about us?”
“I’m not telling you a thing,” Devin muttered.
Nat lunged at him and punched him hard in the face with his metal fist, breaking Devin’s nose. Blood gushed out of his nostrils as he grimaced. Nat stood over Devin, glaring down at him. “Now I’m just about through bein’ nice,” Nat said. “If you don’t answer my questions, I’m gonna pluck out both of your eyeballs, and then I’m gonna force feed ‘em to ya. And just so you know I ain’t all talk, in case you haven’t heard any stories from your boss, I’m gonna start by breaking every one of your god-damned fingers.”
Pastor Earl cleared his throat. “Nat, come out into the hall with me for a minute.”
Nat glared at him. “What the hell, Earl? Why?”
“I have an idea,” Pastor Earl replied. Nat shrugged and followed him out into the hallway as Devin grinned at them. Pastor Earl shut the door behind him and frowned at Nat. “We aren’t going to do any of those things you were just talking about.”
Nat smiled and shook his head. “Always the goody-goody. You do realize we look weak to him now, don’t you? Good luck gettin’ him to tell us anything now.”
“If you do those things,” Pastor Earl said, “what makes you any better than Warrick Baines?”
“Don’t talk to me about Warrick Baines,” Nat blurted. “I trained the son of a bitch.”
Earl nodded. “But you’re better than this. You have to be.”
“I do what needs to be done,” Nat said. “Somebody has to. You always talk yourself out of it.”
“Don’t say that to me,” Earl said. “I’ve probably done things as bad as you have over the years, but I’ve changed. You can always come back.”
Nat grinned. “Come back to what?”
“Humanity,” Earl said.
“Humanity?” Nat muttered. “Humans have been doin’ awful things to each other throughout history. Humanity’s not as great as you make it out to be. I do what needs to be done, and that’s that.” Nat folded his arms. “We’re about to go to war, Earl. There ain’t no humanity in war.”
Earl nodded. “Yeah, well one thing you don’t need to tell me about is war. Still, we don’t need to torture people to win. What information could he possibly have that’s worth losing ourselves over?”
Nat shook his head. “Whatever, Earl. Let’s go back in there and you can interrogate ‘im if you want to. Maybe you can tickle him ‘til he tells you somethin’. Either way, I promise to keep my mouth shut.”
Earl nodded. Then, he noticed Pete walking swiftly down the hallway towards them. “We have to get out of here,” Pete said. “Now.”
“What are you talkin’ about?” Nat asked.
“Abby injured two of Skinny’s men,” Pete said. “They attacked her. She was defending herself.”
Pastor Earl nodded. “We need to go, then.”
“Wait,” Nat blurted. “What about Devin in there?” He pointed at the closed door. “What do we do with him?”
“Leave him,” Pastor Earl said.
“Leave him?” Nat asked. “I ain’t leavin’ him. I’ll kill the son of a bitch.”
“Leave him,” Earl said. “There’s no time. Besides, he’s just one man. What’s the worst he can do?”
“He can tell Warrick Baines we were here,” Nat replied.
“Warrick Baines already knows we’re here,” Pastor Earl said. “I guarantee you Skinny’s told him by now, now that two of his guys are down. He’ll find out either way. I’ve seen enough death for one lifetime, Nat. We’re leaving him.”
Nat frowned and shook his head. “Whatever you say, good pastor.”
“No more time for discussion,” Pete said. “When I said now, I meant now. Get dressed and meet us at the stairway.” Nat and Pastor Earl nodded as Pete turned and hurried back down the hall.
“Would you kill somebody with that?” Abby remembered Nat asking her, referring to the laser pistol in her hip holster. “Never carry a weapon you’re afraid to use.” She hoped she wouldn’t have to use it, but she had a bad feeling. She was still high, too. Everything was fuzzy and she was tired. The headache was coming back tenfold along with the nausea as Abby walked down the dirt road with Nat, Pastor Earl, Bobby, Pete, and Sherry. They walked past rows and rows of run-down shops and houses. The streets were mostly empty so early in the morning, but there was still the occasional junkie nodding off, leaning against a wall. Sherry kept running ahead, then running back, barking the whole time. Pete kept trying to shut her up, but she was apparently nervous about something.
Pete had left the diamonds locked in his room. He’d set up a booby trap that would set off a bomb if anyone opened the door unless someone used his remote to shut the trap off first. The diamonds were too heavy to carry all in one trip, so Pete decided to leave them until they were able to get his van. Housekeeping wouldn’t go in the room at this hour, so Pete wasn’t worried about the trap going off unless someone tried to break in. From the look of the rooms, Abby doubted if the hotel even had housekeepers. She chuckled at the thought as she continued walking the best she could. They were on their way to Sunnyside Corral, where all of their vehicles were parked. They planned on getting the vehicles, picking up the diamonds and loading them into Pete’s hover van, and then getting out of town as quickly as possible. Abby looked down at Einstein on her wrist. She’d almost forgotten him, but remembered and turned back at the last minute to the protests of Nat and Pete. Their journey would be useless without Einstein, though. He had all the information they needed to get all of the diamonds in the various towns. “I detect thirteen men walking towards Sunnyside Corral from the North,” Einstein said.
“We need to hurry,” Abby muttered. Everyone picked up the pace, but it was too late. When they turned the corner and reached the corral, Skinny Hayes and twelve of his men were lined up in front of the three sand bikes and the hover van, blocking the way. All of the deputies were wearing patchwork clothes made from metal and leather and they all had laser pistols in hip holsters at their sides. Abby noticed a sign behind Skinny picturing a rising sun, which seemed strange in the early morning moonlight. There was still some time before the sun came up. Abby and her companions stopped walking, lined across the road directly in front of the line Skinny formed with his men. There was about ten feet between the two groups. Abby noticed several vultures perched atop a nearby building. Sherry ran and hid behind some trash cans as a crumpled newspaper blew between the two lines of people.
“You should get out of here,” Bobby whispered to Abby. “Leave this to us.”
“I’m the reason these guys are here,” Abby replied. “I’m staying. You need to take over if anything happens to me, though. Take Einstein, the diamonds, and the constitution to Primrose. Look for Alex Harris. He’ll be able to help you.”
“Don’t be ridiculous,” Bobby responded.
“I just got a call from one of my deputies,” Skinny said, leaning on his cane. “Says he found two of my best employees hurt real bad in Miss Song’s hotel room.”
“They deserved it,” Abby said.
Skinny glared at her. “I don’t care if you think they deserved it or not, you stupid little bitch!” he shouted. “I lost two of my best deputies and I need compensation.”
Abby frowned. “Your men tried to rape me in my sleep.”
“That’s not what I heard,” Skinny said. “I heard you went into a heroin bar. You’re high right now! I can tell a high bitch when I see one. You was probably askin’ for it but don’t remember.”
“If she says they tried to rape her,” Pastor Earl said, both hands hovering over his two laser pistols, “then they tried to rape her.”
Skinny looked at Earl, and then he looked down the line at each of Abby’s other companions. “You all better learn to keep your bitch under control.”
Abby cleared her throat. “You keep calling me a bitch. Some people, like you, use that word to describe all women, but it really means female dog.”
“What the hell are you talkin’ about?” Skinny asked. His men started chuckling.
“Dogs are friendly and loyal,” Abby said, “but they can be vicious if you get on their bad side. And yeah, that describes me. That’s why when two of your men tried to rape me, I kicked one in the nuts so hard with my robot leg it shattered all the bones in his pelvis. And the other one, I stabbed so many times in the same place he was wallowing in a pool of blood crying like a little baby. So yeah, I’m a bitch. How about I show you just how much of a bitch I really am by walking over there and cracking your nuts?”
Skinny grit his teeth in anger for a few seconds. Then, he smiled and shook his head. “Like I said, you all better learn to keep your bitch under control.” He looked around at Abby’s companions once again. “So I was gonna let you all go if you gave me a hundred million dollars, but now, since your bitch severely injured two of my men, I’m gonna need somethin’ more. You’re gonna need to leave her here with us to do with as we please. And then the rest of you can go.”
Nat, who was standing directly to Abby’s left, smiled. “I’ve got a better idea, Skinny. You come over here and kiss both of her feet, and I’ll just blow your brains out and I’ll let the rest of your men live.” His hand was hovering over his .44 magnum.
Skinny smiled at him. “Nat Bigum. You know you killed some of my friends back in the day.”
“I’ve probably killed some of everybody’s friends at some point,” Nat responded.
“Well, legend or not,” Skinny said, “it’s thirteen to five. You know you don’t stand a chance.”
“We’ll take a few of you with us,” Pastor Earl said.
“I’m gonna kill you first, Skinny,” Nat said. “There ain’t no way in hell you’re gonna be alive fifteen minutes from now.” Abby noticed that Bobby seemed a little nervous. He kept shifting his weight and twitching his fingers as he held his hand over his laser pistol. Pete, on the other hand, seemed calm, cool, and collected, even if he was keeping quiet. His lips were moving, though. Apparently he was praying. Abby kept her hand over her laser pistol, waiting for whatever happened.
Skinny moved his hand and Nat’s revolver went flying up and fired, blowing Skinny’s brains out the back of his head. Earl dropped to the ground, firing both laser pistols at the line of men in front of him. Laser blasts flew everywhere for a few seconds and blood splattered and sprayed onto the ground. There were hisses and loud cracks and there was smoke as Pastor Earl rolled on the ground, continuously firing ahead of him. Bodies dropped to the ground like bowling pins. Then, silence.
Pastor Earl slowly stood to see that Nat and Pete were the only other people standing. Pete’s right side was bleeding and his left hand was singed a little, but he appeared to be all right for the most part. Nat didn’t have a scratch. He’d blown Skinny away and killed five other deputies. Earl counted four that he himself had killed, two Pete had killed, and one Bobby had killed. Abby had apparently missed everyone. Still, Skinny and all of his deputies were dead. Bobby and Abby were also on the ground, though. Bobby had a large laser wound in his chest, and Abby had been shot in the head.
Continue on to the next chapter:
Herman Rennock travels through New Atlantis with Deanna Tralley.
Pastor Earl, Nat Bigum, and Pete Ahmad deal with the gunfight’s aftermath.
There’s a reunion of sorts at a safe house.
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