Fiction: Afterlife (Chapter 4)

by Mike Monroe on November 27, 2013

in FICTION

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

afterlife - chapter 4

Art by John Blaszczyk

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 3

Where:

Warrick Baines draws on Sheriff Daniel Rhynes, killing him.
Bobby kills the giant gator and evades bandits in a canyon.
Warrick Baines discovers that a preacher has been causing trouble in Dune Post.

Find the Table of Contents page here.

Afterlife, Volume 1, Chapter 4

Pastor Earl Steadman sat on the concrete bench in the small cell, looking blankly through the iron bars at the blue-uniformed guard.  Pastor Earl was considered elderly according to his age, but he was in great shape, wiry and muscular.  His long, white hair was tied in a ponytail and a wooden cross hung from his neck, resting over top of his gray t-shirt.  “You know you could let me go,” he said to the guard.  His voice was soft and steady.  “I don’t know you, but I know you probably don’t want to be an unwilling participant in the murder of innocent civilians.”

The guard sneered at him.  “You’re crazy, old man.”

“You might be right,” Pastor Earl said, “but even crazy people speak the truth sometimes.  A broken clock is right twice a day, after all.”

The guard shook his head.  “You’re barkin’ up the wrong tree.  I’d have killed you by now if it wasn’t for me havin’ orders otherwise.”

“Thanks for letting me know you have orders not to kill me,” Pastor Earl said, leaning back against the wall of the cell.  “That’s definitely a useful piece of information.”

There was a sound outside.  As the sound grew louder, Pastor Earl realized it was music.  “Gimme Shelter” by the Rolling Stones, to be exact.  That meant Warrick Baines.  Earl knew Warrick’s reputation.  There was a good chance he was a dead man.  Pastor Earl wasn’t afraid.  He was ready.

He waited patiently until a door opened and there were heavy footsteps.  The guard nodded to someone walking down the hall towards Pastor Earl’s cell.  A figure wearing a black trench coat and a black, wide-brimmed hat appeared.  His face was a skull scattered with a patchwork of skin and cybernetic implants, and his eyes were two shining red lights.  “Pastor Earl Steadman, I presume,” Warrick said in his metallic voice.

“Warrick Baines,” Pastor Earl muttered.  “Don’t try to be pleasant.  I know you’re here to kill me.”

Warrick stared at Earl with his shining red eyes, his permanent grin on his skeletal face.  “No, I won’t kill a man of God.”

“How noble of you.”

Warrick nodded.  “I’m actually sorry we’ve had to detain you.  It wouldn’t have been my first choice, but it seems your actions have left it as my only choice.”  His skeletal grin made his words seem insincere.

Pastor Earl gazed at him with unflinching blue eyes.  “For Christ’s sake, I delight in weakness, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties.  For when I am weak, then I am strong.”

“Quoting Paul,” Warrick said, stepping closer to the bars of Pastor Earl’s cell as the guard stood and watched.  “I see you are well versed.  How do you like the accommodations here?”

Pastor Earl smiled.  “They could be worse.  I’ve been treated fairly well, to my surprise.”  His expression showed unflinching perseverance as his eyes pierced through Warrick Baines’ half-metal face.  “I could stay here for a long time and be quite comfortable.”

“Three square meals and a place to sleep,” Warrick said.  “That’s more than many in this world have.”

“Thanks to your boss.”

Warrick’s red eyes stared at Pastor Earl from above his skeletal mouth.  “Why do you feel the need to bad-mouth my boss?  It seems that’s what got you into trouble in the first place.  A wise man learns from his mistakes, Pastor Earl.”

“Your boss has helped perpetuate a society that worships sin,” Earl explained.

“How so?”

Pastor Earl’s gaze remained steadily fixed on Warrick’s red eyes.  “Of this you can be sure: no immoral, impure or greedy person – such a man is an idolater – has any inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and God.  Your boss, Herman Rennock, is in charge of a system that rewards greed at the expense of the poor.”

“So you’re one of those, are you?” Warrick asked.  “What about other verses in the Bible, like the ones about saving money?  Precious treasure and oil are in a wise man’s dwelling, but a foolish man devours it.  A slack hand causes poverty, but the hand of the diligent makes rich.  He who gathers in summer is a prudent son, but he who sleeps in harvest is a son who brings shame.  What about those verses and the others like them?”  He continued staring at Pastor Earl with his red eyes.  “You see, there’s nothing wrong with being rich.  The problem is with the lazy people who refuse to work and then beg for money from those who are diligent enough to have it.”

“You can pick and choose verses all you want,” Earl muttered.  “You pull verses you like in order to serve your purposes.  What you should be doing is taking the Bible as a whole, and trying to discern its meaning, not imposing your own meanings on the words you read.”  He closed his eyes for a second and took a deep breath.  “The New Testament is full of examples of Jesus and the apostles condemning the greedy.  Remember the rich young ruler, for instance.  Or the verses that say you cannot serve both God and money.  The temporal nature of wealth.  You can’t take it with you.  There are too many verses condemning the sin of greed to list them all.”  He frowned.  “And what about all of the murders you and your enforcers have committed in Herman Rennock’s name?  What do you have to say about them?”

“It isn’t murder if you kill out of righteousness.  I’m sure you’re familiar with righteous anger.”

Pastor Earl laughed.  “That’s one of the most often-used excuses I’ve heard through the years.  The greatest example of righteous anger was when Jesus overturned the tables of the moneychangers.”

Warrick folded his arms.  “So I guess we have to agree to disagree.  It’s funny how two people can read the same book and interpret things so differently.”

Pastor Earl leaned forward.  “If the only option you leave poor people with is to resort to violence in order to survive, they’ll do just that.  And there are lots more poor people in this world than there are rich ones.”

“Let them come,” Warrick said.  “We’ve got helicopters, tanks, jets, and big guns.  We’ve got armies of robots.  What do they have but their stench and the squalor they live in?”

Pastor Earl gazed at Warrick angrily.  “Now listen, you rich people, weep and wail because of the misery that is coming upon you.”  He stood from the bench.  “Your wealth has rotted, and moths have eaten your clothes.  Your gold and silver are corroded.  Their corrosion will testify against you and eat your flesh like fire.”  He took a few steps towards Warrick, whose red eyes were still locked with Earl’s.  “You have hoarded wealth in the last days.  Look!  The wages you failed to pay the workmen who mowed your fields are crying out against you.”  His voice had risen significantly in volume.  “The cries of the harvesters have reached the ears of the Lord Almighty.  You have lived on earth in luxury and self-indulgence.”  He was now standing inches away from Warrick.  “You have fattened yourselves in the day of slaughter.  You have condemned and murdered innocent men, who were not opposing you.”

The two men stood staring at one another for several seconds as the guard watched.  Then, Warrick Baines stepped back and clapped.  “Very good speech, pastor.  Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have other things to attend to.  It seems some more people have been stirring up trouble in town.  I’m sure you’ll be fine here until I return.”

Pastor Earl gritted his teeth and watched angrily as Warrick Baines walked away from him.  “It’s never, too late, Baines.  You can repent from your sins.”  Pastor Earl heard metallic laughter as the cyborg walked down the hall.  “You can repent from your sins and turn to Jesus Christ for salvation!”

The guard was sneering at Earl, who turned and walked back to the bench, where he sat down slowly.  He waited until he heard the engine of a sand bike start outside.  There was new music playing.  This time it was “Bad Moon Rising” by Creedence Clearwater Revival.  Apparently Warrick Baines had a thing for classic rock from the old world.  Pastor Earl waited for the music to fade and waited about an hour longer, sitting silently in the cell, staring at the concrete wall.  Then, he muttered to himself “Lord, forgive me for what I’m about to do.”

“What was that?” the guard asked.

“I…”  Pastor Earl grabbed his throat and began to struggle with his breathing.  He fell to the floor.

“What’s going on?” the guard asked.  “This had better not be some sort of trick, old man.”

Earl kicked and struggled to breathe, thrashing on the floor, until he stopped breathing altogether, staring blankly at the ceiling of the cell.  The guard walked over to the bars and looked down at the pastor.  “Old man!”  He shook his head.  “Great, he’s died on me.”  The guard unlocked the cell and walked in, leaning over Pastor Earl.  He wasn’t breathing at all.

Pastor Earl let out a deep breath and scissor-kicked the guard in his shins from his position on the floor.  The guard fell to the floor, hitting his head on the iron bars on his way down, and Earl rolled over on top of him and punched him in the face.  The guard went for the laser pistol in his hip holster and shouted.  Earl grabbed the guard’s arm with one hand and grabbed the laser pistol from the guard’s hand with the other.  Then, Pastor Earl shot the man in the face, splattering his blood across the floor.  Earl stood and brushed himself off, still holding the guard’s laser pistol.  He breathed heavily for a few moments.  He wasn’t used to holding his breath for such a long time.

“Charlie!” someone shouted from down the hall.  “Charlie!  Is everything okay?”  Three guards rushed into view of Earl’s cell and he unleashed a barrage of laser shots, blasting through all of their heads and leaving three bodies on the floor outside of the cell, plus Charlie’s inside.  Pastor Earl slowly crept through the open gate of his cell.  He heard something down the hall and spun quickly and blasted another guard through the neck.  The man fell to the ground, gargling, trying to cover the wound with his hand as blood seeped through his fingers.  Pastor Earl shot the man in the face and continued walking down the hall.

He found a room where a clerk was sitting behind a desk.  “Hey, you can’t…”  Before the clerk was finished, Pastor Earl shot him twice in the chest and the man collapsed in a heap before he was able to draw his laser pistol.  Pastor Earl looked around the room, noticing there was quite an arsenal in here.  There were laser pistols spread out on a table.  Above them was a rack with several laser rifles on it.  Earl’s eyes widened when he saw a rifle that was larger than the rest, with four barrels housing laser amplifiers.  The pastor grinned.  It was a Hunnam repeating laser rifle, often shortened to RLR.  He picked up a belt with two holsters and strapped it around his waist, filling the holsters with two laser pistols.  Then, he grabbed a rifle and strapped it over his shoulder.  He picked up two concussion grenades he saw sitting on the table near the laser pistols and hung them from his belt.  Finally, he grabbed the RLR and powered it up as he walked towards the exit.

Pastor Earl emerged from the jailhouse to see four sand bikes in the street with enforcers on them.  He pointed the RLR in their direction and fired.  There was an explosion of laser blasts, fifty shots a second, and the sand bikes and their riders were torn to shreds.  Earl continued firing as a half dozen enforcers appeared from around the corner, running with their guns drawn.  The RLR hissed, ripping them to pieces like they were hairs cut by electric clippers.  The glass of the first floors of the nearby office buildings shattered as Earl continued mowing down enforcers, hoping no civilians were stupid enough to come out into the streets when there was such a battle going on.  The street was soon covered with blood and severed body parts.  Pastor Earl stopped firing when it seemed the street was temporarily quiet, and he ran towards an unoccupied sand bike which was still intact.  The engine was running; apparently the enforcer who’d owned it had left it on in his haste.  Earl took an undamaged helmet with a sand shield off one of the bodies, put it on, and hopped on the sand bike.  Then, he started riding as fast as the bike would take him towards the outskirts of town, his long white ponytail trailing behind him.

Pastor Earl thought about his congregation as he rode.  He hated leaving them, but he knew he had to leave town if he wanted to stay alive to serve God.  “Lord, please bless them,” he said as he rode the sand bike out of the business district and into the poor part of town, where the ramshackle shacks stunk with feces and urine.  “Bless my congregation and keep them safe.”  He heard some laser blasts hissing behind him.  One grazed his sand bike as he turned a one-eighty to see five enforcers on bikes coming at him.  He wove back and forth as the enforcers fired at him, and he fired the RLR, thrashing the bikes and the riders.  There were several explosions as Pastor Earl turned the bike around again and continued riding towards the edge of town.  He rode past the last set of disheveled shacks as skinny people in raggedy old clothes watched him go by from their front doors.  He soon found himself riding over the white dunes of the desert.  Pastor Earl heard the rhythmic sound of a helicopter coming up behind him and he started weaving back and forth again, increasing his speed.  He heard laser blasts and saw sand spraying everywhere.  He rode down between two dunes and quickly turned another one-eighty, RLR still in hand, and fired at the attack copter as it appeared over the dune.  Several shots hit the copter and it spun out of control, crashing into the sand with a fiery orange explosion.

Pastor Earl turned the bike around again and continued riding away from town as fast as the sand bike would take him, the flames of the burning helicopter in the distance behind him.  He looked down to see that the lights on the RLR had shut off.  It was out of energy.  Earl had no idea where he’d find a place where he could charge such a weapon, and the rifle was too heavy and bulky for him to carry if it was going to be useless to him.  He frowned and dropped the RLR into the sand below his bike.  “The Lord giveth, the Lord taketh away,” he muttered to himself as he rode swiftly above the desert dunes, leaving the buildings of Dune Post far behind him.

<>

A half hour later, Warrick Baines walked through the street in front of the jailhouse with Devin Hellier at his side.  He looked around at the carnage: the bodies and severed limbs, the blood and the shattered windows of the office buildings, the wasted sand bikes.  “How could he have escaped?” Devin asked, a look of confusion on his cleanly-shaven face.

“Well it looks like our pastor’s a badass,” Warrick replied.  “He’s no man of God, though.  Not a real one, at least.  What sort of holy man would do something like this?”  He waved his hand over the carnage.

“We should have killed him while we had the chance,” Devin muttered, “if you don’t mind my saying so, sir.”

“No, you’re right.”  Warrick Baines put his cybernetic arm around Devin’s shoulders.  “I should listen to you more often.  We’ll have to clean up this mess and bring more enforcers here.  I want to be ready when Abigail Song gets here.  And send several squads out into the desert to find Earl Steadman.  I’ll never again make the mistake of letting him live.  You live and you learn, I guess.”

<>

Bobby wondered how much longer he had to go until he reached Dune Post as he rode over the white sands.  The sun beat down with all of its scorching anger as Bobby noticed the air meter on his bike indicated that the air was once again breathable.  Since the oxygen tanks were getting dangerously low, he stopped the bike and set it down softly in the sand.  He’d also noticed that Abby’s grip around his waist had weakened to the point of being almost non-existent.  Bobby got down carefully, holding Abby up in her seat as his feet touched the ground.  She was unconscious, and her leg was starting to stink.  Bobby knew that was a bad sign.  He felt her head and realized she had a fever.  He laid her down over the back of the bike and strapped her in with cargo straps.  He took off her oxygen mask and his own and put them back on the back of his bike.  Then, he hopped back on and started the engine again.

Bobby noticed the bike’s fuel was getting low as he continued riding in the direction where he hoped to find Dune Post.  The oxygen was low and the fuel was low, and Abby was dying.  Bobby hoped he’d find Dune Post soon, and he hoped there weren’t any more spots with bad air.  He was starting to realize that Abby wasn’t the only one whose life was in danger.  He’d be a goner, too, if he ended up stranded in the middle of the desert with no fuel.  He considered throwing Abby off the bike and leaving her in the desert.  There was a good chance she’d die anyway at this point, and it would lighten the load so his bike would use less fuel.  He’d already decided that if they hit another patch of the desert with bad air, he wouldn’t waste any more oxygen on her.  He was saddened by the prospect, and he talked himself into keeping her on the bike for at least a few more miles.  Dumping her off wouldn’t save that much fuel, after all.  If only the navigation system still worked, they may have already been in Dune Post.

Bobby wondered what was in Abby’s bag.  If she died, he’d definitely look through it.  He stopped his train of thought.  He wasn’t a thief or a murderer.  She moaned behind him.  “Just hang in there, Abby,” Bobby shouted over the sound of the engine.  “Just hang on until we get to Dune Post.”

After some time, the engine started sputtering.  Bobby looked at the fuel gage.  It still said there was an eighth of a tank.  That must have been damaged in the crash like the navigation system.  Bobby landed the bike on a dune and the engine sputtered some more and stopped.   Bobby looked around.  There was nothing in sight.  No sign of Dune Post.  Not sure what to do, Bobby got down from the bike.  He knew he was a goner, but he had to do something.  He wasn’t going to lie down and die quietly.  Maybe if he started walking, there was a chance he’d find Dune Post somehow.  He could do nothing for Abby at this point, but perhaps he’d be able to save himself.

He noticed four sand bikes appear from behind a dune in the distance.  “Help!” Bobby shouted, waving his arms.  “Over here!”  He stopped when he realized his mistake.  The riders on the bikes were enforcers in blue uniforms wearing helmets with smooth sand shields.  Still, a jail cell was better than death.  Perhaps they’d be willing to help him.  Probably not, though.

As the enforcers came closer, they drew their laser pistols and Bobby knew he wouldn’t get any help from them.  What he didn’t expect was for them to start firing at him and Abby without saying anything first.  Their laser pistols hissed as they fired.

 


Continue on to the next chapter:

Afterlife, Volume 1, Chapter 5

Where:

Bobby and Abby are attacked by enforcers.
There’s a new sheriff in town.
Pastor Earl heads east.

Find the Table of Contents page here.

View more art by John Blaszczyk 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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