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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:
Herman Rennock talks with Deanna Tralley as they travel through New Atlantis.
Pastor Earl, Nat, Pete, and Abby decide to take Bobby to a nearby safe house.
They arrive at the safe house and find Horseman Hemingway there.
Afterlife, Volume 1, Chapter 26
Horseman grinned as he and Abby stood facing one another. “What’s with the cowboy hat?”
Abby frowned and adjusted the white hat she was wearing to hide her bald spot. “It keeps the sun out of my eyes.”
Horseman shrugged and motioned towards the effeminate man standing next to him. “Well, this is Della Luscious.”
“It’s nice to meet you all,” Della said with a smile and a wink. Horseman introduced everyone else to him one by one. When Horseman introduced Abby, Della’s smile grew wider. “Abigail Song,” he said. “I’ve heard so much about you. It’s nice to finally meet you.”
“Likewise,” Abby responded. Her attention was still focused on Horseman, though.
Della turned to Nat. “And I’ve heard a lot about you, too, Mr. Bigum. Everyone has.”
“It’s all true,” Nat muttered, “so don’t test me.”
Della grinned. “You might be the famous one, but I’m not someone you want to mess with, either, Mr. Bigum. People just don’t know about me, yet. They will, though. You can bet your sweet ass.”
Nat glared at Della. “What’s your real name?”
Della put his hands on his hips. “Well, you’re forward, aren’t you? I like that, though. But Della Luscious is my real name.” Nat chuckled and shook his head.
“Where’s Michelle?” Abby asked Horseman.
He frowned. “She was hurt real bad, but they’re fixing her up. Warrick Baines captured us. He tortured her and stabbed her.” Abby’s heart sank.
“That cowardly son of a bitch,” Nat said, shaking his head. “It doesn’t surprise me though.”
“She’s gonna be all right,” Horseman said. “They did emergency surgery to patch her wound up and they gave her some pain killers. I stayed by her side through it all, but she’s resting now. Della and I figured we’d play some holoball to get my mind off it. I was just about to go to bed, and then you all showed up.” He paused and motioned to Della. “Della here saved us from the enforcers and the Panthers who were detaining us. Warrick left to do something or other and Della showed up not long after that. He was absolutely amazing, killed four enforcers and two Panthers by himself.”
Della grinned. “Oh, it was nothing. I didn’t even break a nail”
“How’d you get across the Rio Grande River a second time?” Pastor Earl asked.
“There’s a secret tunnel,” Della explained with a sly smile. “I work with the resistance and we use tunnels and such sometimes to get around Rennock’s soldiers and robots. This tunnel led under the Rio Grande so I didn’t have to meet any unwanted admirers. You know how it is. Haters are always trying to crash my parties.” He winked at Nat.
“What are you all doing here, by the way?” Horseman asked Abby and her companions. “It’s the opposite direction of where you were going.”
“Bobby was shot in the chest,” Abby said. “We had a shootout with some people in South Edge.”
Horseman nodded, a concerned expression on his face. “I hope he’s all right.”
Abby nodded solemnly. “Me too.”
“Well, we should unpack,” Pastor Earl said. “We’re going to be here for a while.” Nat nodded and the two of them left to go out to their sand bikes as Della walked back to his room.
Abby sat on one of the couches. She was still feeling a little high and nauseated, and her headache had gotten worse. The pain was pounding so bad she was having trouble concentrating on anything and she knew she’d have trouble sleeping. She hoped to flag down the nurse and see if she could get some pain killers of some sort. She also still needed to get her head looked at. The wound wasn’t bad, but she didn’t want it to get infected or anything. Pete had cleaned it a little and put a bandage on it, but she wanted a doctor to look at it. Horseman sat down next to her on the couch. “It’s early for you to be awake, isn’t it?” Abby asked him. “Or late, depending on how you look at it.”
“The exact time is four twelve AM and twenty three seconds,” Einstein pointed out.
Horseman shrugged. “I guess the sun’s gonna come up in an hour or two.”
“The sunrise will occur at six twenty three,” Einstein stated.
“So why don’t you go back to your room?” Abby asked Horseman.
Horseman chuckled. “Are you really gonna try to act like nothing ever happened?”
Abby averted her eyes. “It was a mistake. I’m sorry.”
“Mistake or not, it happened,” Horseman said. He was visibly annoyed. “And I don’t know about you, but I enjoyed it. Regardless, I like you as a person. I’d like to get to know you better.”
Abby frowned and put her face in her hands. Her head was killing her. “I’m not ready for this right now, Horseman. One of my best friends just got shot and I have no idea how he’s doing. You should get some sleep.”
Horseman nodded. “Well, have a good night Abby.” He stood and walked down the hallway. Abby would maybe talk to him the next day. She just wasn’t ready for it yet. Her head was killing her and she felt like she was going to throw up. She really hoped the nurse showed up soon.
Noah Flyman stood beside Warrick Baines in the hotel room in South Edge where they’d found Devin Hellier tied up. They’d also found the bodies of four of their friends piled up in the bathtub. Noah, Warrick, and several other enforcers had spent the morning traveling from Silver City and now it was almost afternoon. Devin was happy to be untied, so he stood and stretched. He’d fallen asleep in the chair not long after Nat Bigum and Earl Steadman had left him, but he’d woken up several times. It had been a long, uncomfortable night. There were two other men with Warrick and Noah. Both were wearing clothes made from leather and metal plating which looked like bandit garb and both wore deputy badges over their left breasts. One was a tall, burly Hispanic man with robotic arms. The other was a shorter black man who wore glasses and had a goatee. “So you say she was shot in the head?” Warrick asked the shorter of the two deputies, his metallic voice ringing through the room.
The man nodded. “That’s what the witnesses said.”
“And these were reliable witnesses?” Warrick asked, boring into the man with his red eyes.
The man shrunk back a step and nodded. “As far as I know. I ain’t got no reason to doubt them.”
“Reliable witness who were awake at three in the morning?” Warrick asked.
“One was the night watchman at the Sunnyside Corral,” the deputy said. “It’s his job to be awake and alert at three in the morning.”
“So she’s dead,” Devin said with a grin.
Warrick turned his gaze to him and shook his head. “I wouldn’t be so sure, Devin. Abigail Song survives. That’s what she does. She’s like a cockroach. I won’t believe she’s dead until I see the body.” Devin nodded and Warrick turned to the man with the robotic arms. “So you’re Jorge Bautista?”
“I am,” the taller deputy said in a deep, booming voice.
“I’ve heard a little bit about you,” Warrick said. “Would you like to join us in our search?”
The man shrugged. “Sure, why not?”
Warrick nodded and turned back to the shorter man with the goatee. “Well, Jordan, it looks like you’re taking over Skinny’s position as Sheriff of South Edge. One man’s tragedy is another man’s opportunity, as they say.” Jordan nodded with a smile. “You should contact Herman Rennock at your earliest convenience,” Warrick continued. “He’ll fill you in on what exactly that means.” Jordan nodded again as Warrick turned his attention to Devin. “Well, let’s get going, then.”
“Where are we heading?” Devin asked.
“Primrose,” Warrick said. “I guarantee that’s where Abigail Song is going. If we find more information along the way, we’ll act accordingly, but for now, Primrose is our destination.” Devin nodded and Warrick, the enforcers, and the deputies left the hotel room.
Bobby was sitting up in bed, reading On the Road when he heard a knock on the door. “Come in,” he said, closing the book with his left hand. The doctor had put his right arm in a sling and said it could be a month or more before the sling was no longer needed. Bobby was a little upset, but at least he was expected to make a full recovery. He’d have to learn to shoot with his left hand, though, if he wanted to be of any help to Abby as a soldier over the next month.
The door opened and Abby’s smiling face appeared. She walked into the room and stood next to Bobby. She was wearing a white cowboy hat, which seemed strange. “I’m glad you’re gonna be all right. I was worried about you.”
“I’m fine,” Bobby said. “Two broken ribs, but the laser shot didn’t hit a lung and it barely missed an artery. Some muscle and tissue damage. It could’ve been a lot worse. I’m not gonna say it’s not painful, though.” He cringed, almost as if to validate his words.
“Do they have you taking pain killers?” Abby asked.
“Some,” Bobby responded. “I refused narcotics, though.”
“Speaking of narcotics…” Abby seemed a little uncomfortable. “Well, I asked the nurse, Ginny for some, and she started asking me some questions. She practically interrogated me, and, well, now it looks like they’re gonna be treating me, too. For addiction to pain killers.”
Bobby smiled. “Good. You need it, Abby. That’s a rough road to walk down. Believe me. I’ll be here for you, though. We’ll all be here for you.”
Abby nodded. “Thanks. She gave me some stuff to help with the headaches and nausea, but it’s not going away completely.”
“It’ll take time,” Bobby said. “It’s good, though. It’ll be good for you.” He grunted in pain and tried to shift his body into a more comfortable position. “So what’s with the cowboy hat? It’s a different look for you.”
Abby shrugged. “A laser grazed the top of my head and burnt my hair off.”
Bobby frowned. “Sorry to hear that.”
“I’m okay, though,” Abby said. “The doctor said it’s not so bad that it won’t grow back.”
“That’s good,” Bobby said with a smile.
“So are you gonna be all right?” Abby asked.
Bobby nodded, but his face looked dejected. “It sucks my right arm’s in a sling. I was just starting to get good at shooting a laser pistol. Now I’m afraid I won’t be of much use to you.”
“Don’t say that,” Abby said. “You’ve been a huge help and you’ll continue to be.”
“Whatever you say,” Bobby muttered.
“You’ll be fine,” Abby said with a smile. “Thanks for everything you’ve done for me.”
Bobby smiled back. “It’s all been worth it.” He cringed and shifted in his bed.
Abby frowned. “I’m sorry you were hurt because of me.”
Bobby shook his head. “No, don’t think like that. There’s more to this than just you.”
“I guess so,” Abby said, “but I can’t help but feel bad about it. I feel like everyone’s in danger because of me.”
“It’s not because of you at all,” Bobby said. “Besides, like I said, it’s all been worth it.”
Abby nodded. “Well, I just wanted to see how you were. When the doctor said the surgery went well I was real happy. I’ll let you get some rest, though.” Bobby nodded and Abby left the room, closing the door behind her. Bobby picked up his book and continued reading. It wasn’t long before he fell asleep with the book resting next to him.
Abby limped slightly as she walked into the living room and sat down in a recliner next to the couch Horseman was sitting on. Her right hip hurt a little now that she wasn’t taking the pain killers anymore, but it wasn’t as bad as when she’d first gotten her robot leg. Nat had started referring to Abby’s left leg as “the Nutcracker” after the incident the night before, so she’d actually written the name on it with a permanent black marker. She chuckled at the thought as she watched Horseman play a three dimensional video game which involved riding a sand bike through a canyon. “Damn!” Horseman shouted as he crashed into a cliff. He grinned at Abby. “You distracted me.”
Abby shrugged. “All I did was sit down.”
“How’s Bobby?” Horseman asked.
“He seemed good for the most part,” Abby replied. “He was reading when I walked in. He’s upset that his arm has to be in a sling and it’s painful, but other than that, he’s doing pretty good as far as I could tell. How’s Michelle?”
Horseman frowned and shook his head. “She’s okay. It’s been real hard on her, though. I mean, physically, she’s gonna be fine, but her face is all bandaged up and there are gonna be scars. She’s an actress and a model. It’s real tough on her mentally, you know?”
Abby frowned and nodded. “It would be tough on any woman, but her especially, I guess.”
“She’s still beautiful,” Horseman said, “and I keep telling her that, but I think she just needs something to get her mind off everything. I don’t know. It’ll take time, I guess.”
“I’m sure she’ll be fine,” Abby said. “She seems like a strong woman.” Abby frowned, thinking about Michelle, Bobby, and everyone else who’d been hurt or killed because of her. Warrick had probably been trying to find information about Abby when he was torturing Michelle. Michelle was cut up because of her. As a matter of fact, everyone was in danger because of her. All of this was her fault. Her head pounded as she thought about it.
“Do you want to play for a while?” Horseman asked, handing her a controller. “You, know, to get your mind off things?”
Abby nodded. “Sure, why not.” She used the controller to move the holographic sand bike through the canyon, but her mind was distracted. She was considering leaving. She’d gotten Bobby shot and because of her, Michelle Hemingway’s acting career could be over. It had always been that way, though. Abby destroyed everything she touched. All of the people who got close to her ended up getting killed. She crashed into the side of the canyon.
“Wow,” Horseman said, chuckling. “You really suck, Abby. It’s all right. It took me a while to get good, too.” He looked at Abby for a few seconds. “Are you all right?”
“Huh?” Abby asked. “Yeah, I’m fine.” She needed to leave. Maybe she’d be able to find a place to get some pain killers, too. The headaches and nausea were becoming unbearable for her. Besides, she and her companions were heading into a war that was going to be waged because of her. There was no way she was going to watch more people she cared about die. She needed to find a way to sneak off.
“Can we talk a minute?” Horseman asked.
Abby put the controller down and smiled at him. “Sure, I guess so.”
Horseman nodded. “Normally, when we’re hurt by someone, we put up our guard so we won’t get hurt again, but I understand why you did what you did and I don’t fault you for it.”
“What do you mean?” Abby asked.
“I mean,” Horseman began, “I guess we were moving a little fast. I know you talk to Pastor Earl a lot. I don’t know. Maybe he told you to slow down a little and you realized he was right.” Abby nodded. “Well, I just want you to know,” Horseman continued, “it may have started as just some fun, but I really want to get to know you. I think we really clicked, and I’m not just talking about, you know…”
“I guess you’re right,” Abby said. Her mind was distant, though.
“Abby, what are you thinking about?”
Abby glanced at him. “I just have a lot on my mind, that’s all.” Horseman was the handsomest man she’d ever met, and he was a nice guy, but she was busy trying to think of the best way to leave without alerting anyone.
“It’s weird,” Horseman said with a smile, “because, as you’ve probably figured out, I’m not usually just a one woman man, but I want to try this. I think there’s something special about you.”
Abby glanced at him. “How can I be sure you won’t cheat on me? You just said yourself you’re not a one woman man.”
“I’m not a liar, either,” Horseman said. “I’m not the type of person who hides things. Women I’ve been with have always known where I stood.”
Abby nodded. “But you hide what you do for the resistance from everyone, including your sister.”
Horseman frowned. “That’s not fair. That’s top secret stuff. If tell people about what I do with the resistance, it puts them in danger.”
“I guess I can understand that,” Abby said.
“Well,” Horseman continued, “if it’s all right with you, I was thinking maybe we could start over from scratch, you know? No sex or anything. At least not yet. Just two people who like each other trying to get to know each other better. What do you think? Sound good?”
“I don’t know,” Abby said. “Maybe. We’ll see.”
Horseman smiled. “Well I guess that’s better than nothing.”
Abby smiled a half-smile and stood up from the chair. “I need to get some rest.” Horseman nodded and went back to playing his game while Abby left the room, walking slowly down the hall.
Abby finished packing up her things. It was late at night, so she figured everyone was probably going to be in bed. “What are you doing?” Einstein asked from her wrist. “You’ve packed your bags and put your traveling clothes on. I can only assume you mean to leave the safe house.”
“Be quiet Einstein,” Abby whispered. “You might wake someone.”
“I must strongly advise you against doing this, Abigail,” Einstein said. “Your chances of completing your mission alone are so miniscule it doesn’t warrant mentioning.”
Abby shook her head. “Screw my mission. We’re talking about people’s lives here.”
“Millions of lives are at stake,” Einstein said. “If you fail your mission, you will be responsible for far more deaths than if you complete it. If you give up, your chances of completing the mission are nullified.”
“I don’t want to put the lives of any more people I care about in danger.” She took Einstein off her wrist, flipped him over, and shut him off. Abby found herself doing that far too often lately. She was in a real bad place. She knew Einstein was probably right on some level, but she didn’t want to hear any of it. Tears dripped down her cheeks. She didn’t want to watch her friends die around her. It was just too much for her. She’d already watched her family die. That was enough.
Abby threw Einstein into her bag, strapped it over her shoulder, and left her room, wearing jeans, her white jacket, black traveling boots, and her white cowboy hat. She was feeling sick and her headache was as bad as it had ever been, but she knew she had to suck it up and be on her way. Besides, she hoped to find a place to get some pain killers. Then, the headache and nausea would go away again. There was no one in the hall, which was perfect. She’d run down the side of the dune the safe house had been built into and make her way through the valley as quickly as she could. By morning, she’d be far enough away that hopefully no one would be able to find her. If only she’d had some way of getting one of Pete’s camouflage projectors. That was all she was missing. He was using them to mask their parked vehicles from any EMPC’s that happened to fly by the safe house, though. Still, she’d be okay. She’d survived on her own in the desert before. Plus, she had a laser pistol at her side to assist her and another smaller one in her bag. She rushed through the empty living room and left the safe house through the front door. She scrambled through the sand, walking towards the edge of the dune. “Hold it right there,” said a forceful voice behind her.
She turned to see Nat Bigum pointing his .44 magnum at her. “Abby?” he asked. He slipped the gun back into its holster.
She frowned. “Nat? What are you doing out here at this hour?”
“Takin’ in the scenery,” Nat said. “What the hell do you think you’re doin’?” He took several steps towards her, glaring at her with his squinting green eyes. “You’re not thinkin’ of runnin’ away, are ya?”
Abby nodded. “It’s too much for me, Nat. I can’t ask anyone else to put themselves in harm’s way on my behalf anymore. Too many people have been hurt or killed because of me.”
Nat frowned. “You’re not goin’ anywhere. You’re stayin’ right here.”
Abby shook her head. “I could leave you Einstein and the diamonds. That’s all you really need. You’ll get along fine. You don’t need me.”
“That ain’t even close to bein’ true,” Nat said.
“But I can’t ask anyone else to put themselves in harm’s way for me,” Abby said. “I just can’t do it.”
“That ain’t your decision to make,” Nat said. “It’s our choice, not yours. It was Bobby’s choice to take a laser shot for you. It was Michelle’s choice to get her face cut up for you. You didn’t have nothin’ to do with it.”
“But I didn’t want any of that to happen,” Abby said.
“Look, Abby,” Nat continued, stepping closer, “if any one of us wants to die for you, that’s our choice, not yours. And we’ve made that decision because we believe in you. You’re a strong woman and you’re smart and creative. You have everything it takes to be a good leader. You just have to realize it yourself and get over this damned self-destructive streak you’ve been on. That’s what’s hurtin’ all of us, not us wantin’ to help you.”
Abby nodded. “Well, I’m trying. I really am, but I really don’t want to see anyone else I care about hurt or killed.”
“People have made countless sacrifices for you,” Nat said. “And it’s not just for you, it’s for what you symbolize. It’s for somethin’ they believe in. If you give up now, all those sacrifices were for nothin’.”
Abby frowned. “There’s so much pressure on me, though. I don’t know if I’m cut out for it.”
“You have to be,” Nat said, “because if you can’t handle it, all of us die.”
Abby chuckled. “Way to alleviate the pressure. Now I feel even worse.”
“I ain’t here to alleviate pressure,” Nat said. “I tell it like it is. You want someone to make you feel all warm and fuzzy inside, go find Pastor Earl.”
Abby nodded. “I’m sorry. I guess you’re right.”
“Of course I’m right,” Nat said. “If you leave, Rennock’s men are gonna kill us all anyway. We’re better off with you stayin’, and so are you. Now get back in there and get yourself some sleep.”
“Okay,” Abby said. “Just tell me what you were doing out here, though. And be honest with me.”
Nat frowned. “I was havin’ trouble sleepin’. Thinkin’ back to a woman I used to love. I’m sure you know how it is. I figured maybe goin’ for a walk might help me relax. I’m glad I did go for a walk, because if I didn’t you’d have gone off and gotten yourself killed.”
Abby nodded and frowned. “I’m sorry, Nat. It’s just really hard sometimes.”
“It’s all right, kid,” Nat said. “I know we can’t all be strong all the time.”
“Right,” Abby said. “Well, I guess I’ll go back to my room, then.”
“You know I love ya, kid,” Nat said with an ugly smile. “I wouldn’t want anything to happen to ya.”
“I know,” Abby said, “even if you have a weird way of showing it.”
“I ain’t all emotional like some other people,” Nat said, “but that don’t mean I don’t care. Just remember that. You ever need anything, you can always come to me.”
Abby nodded and walked back towards the front door of the safe house, leaving Nat to continue his walk.
Abby woke up the next morning to knocking on her door. She sat up in her bed and pulled the white cowboy hat off the end table next to her, putting it on her head and quickly adjusting it. “Who is it?”
“It’s Horseman,” said the masculine voice on the other side of the door.
Abby cleared her throat. “Come in.”
Horseman walked in carrying a tray with waffles, blueberries, bacon, sausage, orange juice, and coffee. The coffee filled the room with its pleasant aroma. He smiled at Abby as he carried the tray to her bed. “Breakfast in bed.”
Abby smiled. “Wow. You didn’t have to do this.”
“I did,” Horseman said. “I just wanted you to know I’m here for you. Anything you need, you just let me know.” He put the tray down on the bed and turned to the door.
“Wait,” Abby said. “Don’t you want to sit with me for a while?”
Horseman turned back around and smiled. “What, and watch you eat?”
“I mean,” Abby said, “you could bring your breakfast in here and eat with me, couldn’t you?”
Horseman smiled. “Of course I could. I’ll be right back.” He left the room as Abby sipped her coffee. It was the first time she’d ever tried coffee. It was strong, but smooth. She smiled. There was a little bitterness to it, but it actually wasn’t bad.
Continue on to the next chapter:
Abby talks to Doctor Elias Long.
Pastor Earl reveals some information to Abby.
Bobby tries to comfort Michelle.
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