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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:
Devin Hellier kills several people in Carpenter City for letting Abby escape.
Abby and her companions are attacked by bandits in Black Rock Pass.
Nat and Sera try to sneak up on the bandits and Sera’s face is burnt.
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Afterlife, Volume 2, Chapter 14
Abby noticed the laser fire coming from the cliff had stopped. Big Ed and Della were still taking cover on the side of the truck, though. “Maybe Sera and Nat got to them,” Mark said. “We’ll wait another minute or two.” A loud crack echoed through the pass. There was a scream and Abby noticed someone falling from the cliff as she watched through the open back of the hover truck. He wasn’t anyone she recognized. There was a thump as he smashed to the ground.
There was a whoosh and Abby thought she saw some orange flames at the top of the cliff. She also thought she could hear a woman screaming but it was hard to tell with all the other sounds; shouts and cracks of gunfire. “Oh, God,” Abby said. “Please don’t let that be Sera.”
Juanita aimed her sniper rifle through the back of the truck. “I can’t see anything. The ledge is in the way.”
There were two loud cracks followed by an explosion as orange flames appeared again. Then, Abby watched as Nat Bigum’s head appeared over the ledge far above. “Come up here!” he shouted, his raspy voice echoing through the pass. “Now! She’s hurt!”
“Great,” Mark muttered. “Now every bandit in these mountains knows we’re here.”
“It doesn’t matter,” Jane said, concern on her face as she looked into Mark’s eyes. “We need to get up there. Sera’s hurt.”
Abby nodded and frowned at Mark. “I’m sure Nat cleared the way,” she said. “He wouldn’t have told us to get up there if there was still imminent danger.” Mark shook his head as John turned the hover truck around. Big Ed and Della got back on their sand bikes and Paul jumped out of the back of the truck and got on Nat’s sand bike so he could ride it up for him. The four vehicles took off for the trailhead with the sand bikes leading the way just in case there was a spot that could be trouble for the larger truck.
The truck moved slowly along the trail, zigzagging its way up the cliff. There were points where Abby could see a good portion of the truck hanging off a ledge, and there were times when it tilted to the point she was worried it might tip completely, but eventually it reached the top and stopped. Jane immediately leapt out of the back of the truck to check on Sera, bringing her medical bag with her as James coughed. After a few minutes, Jane came back with Sera, whose face was wrapped in bandages. She was moaning in pain as Jane helped her into the truck. Bobby and Shelly moved as close to the edge of the truck as they could, trying to make room for Sera to recline on the bench a little. Paul hopped back into the truck. “We need to move fast,” Jane said with urgency in her voice. “Her face was burnt. Nat said one of them had a flamethrower. We need to get her, James, and Grace to a doctor ASAP.”
“ASAP?” Mark asked. “And where are we gonna find a doctor out here?”
“We need to find one, one way or the other,” Jane said. “We can leave the mountains and find the closest town.”
“There may be some small towns in the foothills,” Einstein said from Abby’s wrist. “My data isn’t up to date, but there have been various settlements in the Disputed Lands in the past that are uncharted.”
Abby nodded. “We need to watch out for bandits though. Who knows how many more are in these cliffs?”
“Nat says the way’s clear,” Jane said. “At least in the immediate vicinity. He checked around the bend while he and Sera were waiting for us and saw the other pass Einstein was talking about.” John started the engine and the hover truck took off along the trail, moving deeper into the mountains as the sand bikes led the way. Abby tried to tune out the moans of the wounded as she watched the brown rocks and cliffs go by through the back of the truck.
“It looks like there’s a town up ahead,” John said as the hover truck continued its descent into the western foothills of the Rocky Mountains. Abby looked through the front windshield and saw the same rocky hills they’d been riding through for hours. The sun was starting to set and she could see the desert spreading out beyond the hills. There was a steep cliff that dropped down hundreds of feet towards the sand and at the top of the cliff, surrounding a small trickle of a waterfall, there were some stone buildings that passed as a town. Sera’s painful moans along with Grace’s made for an uncomfortable trip, and on top of that, James was coughing almost constantly. Abby was happy to see a town, no matter what type of town it was.
As the sand bikes and the hover truck approached the buildings, Abby saw some faux wooden crosses standing by the side of the road with rocks piled in front of them in seven foot by three foot rectangles. “A cemetery,” Shelly said. “I haven’t seen one of them in years. Usually towns just have body pits.”
Abby nodded. There was a rickety metal sign at the edge of the cemetery with “Boot Hill” scrawled in black paint. She turned her attention to the stone buildings up ahead. There were definitely no more than twenty or thirty of them. Most were only one story high. “It doesn’t look like much, but I guess a town’s a town.”
“The truck needs some repairs after that skirmish in Carpenter City,” John said. “Between that and our wounded, we could end up being here a while.”
Abby glanced at Mark, who was frowning. “I guess we don’t have a choice. At least we’re not too far from North Point.”
“North Point is approximately twenty miles southwest from our current location,” Einstein said.
“Do you know anything about this town?” Abby asked.
“As I said earlier,” Einstein said, “my data is not up to date, and towns spring up in this area often. There are probably even some which have existed for years or decades but have never appeared on any maps I have access to. Therefore, no I don’t have any helpful data on this town.”
Abby watched as they rode down the street that led through the center of town. The rocky foothills rose high to the right and the cliff dropped off past the buildings to the left. There was a man standing in the road and the sand bikes and hover truck stopped as Nat spoke with him. He was a short, stout man with a bushy red moustache and he was wearing a white ten gallon hat. There was a silver star over his left breast. “Welcome to Dead Man’s Bluff,” the sheriff said. “I’m Sheriff Eric Moore. Let me know if I can be of service.” He pointed to a stone building to the right. The one story building had a green metal door with a red star painted on it. “There’s my office if you need anything while you’re here.”
Nat nodded as he sat on his sand bike. “We’ll be here a few days. We were attacked by bandits on our way through the pass. Is there a doctor?”
Sheriff Moore nodded. “Keep straight and look for the sign for Doctor Harold Dayton’s office on the right. He can help whoever needs it. And go on further down the road and you’ll see Maybelle Sampson’s Inn on the left. Y’all can stay there as long as you like. It’s a fine establishment.”
“Thank ya kindly,” Nat said.
“So these bandits who attacked you,” Sheriff Moore said. “Can you describe ‘em?”
Nat shrugged. “They looked like bandits. Leather clothes with metal plates. One had the letters IAO painted on his vest.” Abby bit her lip. She hadn’t realized that before.
Sheriff Moore nodded. “IAO. They must have been Daytons, then.”
“Daytons?” Nat asked.
“The Dayton family’s been working with them terrorists for weeks now,” Sheriff Moore said. “The International Anarchy Organization.”
“The who?” Nat asked.
Sheriff Moore chuckled. “You been livin’ in a cave the last few weeks?”
“We haven’t been near any televisions or news outlets,” Della said from his sand bike. “What’s this International Anarchy Organization?”
“They been plantin’ bombs and killin’ people,” Sheriff Moore said. “The Daytons have been showin’ up around town with those letters on their clothes. One of their men killed some construction workers and I had to hang ‘im a few days ago.”
Nat nodded. “Well, we’ll stay out of your local business.”
“You look familiar,” Sheriff Moore said, squinting at Nat. “I seen you before somewhere?” Nat shook his head. “What should I call you, stranger?” Sheriff Moore asked him.
“Call me Clint Wayne,” Nat said. Abby chuckled. Could he have come up with a faker sounding alias?
“Well, Mr. Wayne,” Sheriff Moore said with a tip of his hat. “Nice to meet you.”
Nat nodded. “Thanks for your help.” He, Della, and Big Ed rode their sand bikes further down the road. John followed in the truck. The sheriff tipped his hat to everyone in the back of the truck as it rode by.
“The Moores and the Daytons are well known in this area,” Einstein said from Abby’s wrist as she watched the sheriff wave goodbye. She waved back. “They’ve had a feud that’s gone on for centuries on and off,” Einstein continued. “There have been many famous skirmishes and deaths over the years. The song ‘the Fate of Mary Dayton’ was written about it, and there have been several books and movies on the subject.” Abby was familiar with that song. It was about ill-fated lovers who were caught up in fighting between their parents’ families.
“I was in a movie about the Moore-Dayton Feud,” Shelly said as she petted Sherry on her lap. “I played Amy Moore. She was a gunslinger who was hanged about forty years ago.”
“I remember that movie,” Paul said with a sheepish grin. “You were great in it, by the way, ma’am.”
“Thanks,” Shelly said with her glowing smile.
“I’ll have to see it some time,” Bobby said.
“I suggest you all be careful here,” Einstein said.
“We’re always careful,” Abby said as the hover truck rode deeper into town.
Once everyone in Abby’s group had unpacked at the small, stone inn and those who needed it were taken to the doctor down the road, Nat mentioned that he wanted to check out the town a little. Della agreed and they decided the best place to start would be the saloon across the street from the inn. Della needed a drink and Nat seemed to like the idea. Even though Della had a rough experience in the last bar he’d been to, he felt better this time since Nat was tagging along. If things turned sour, there wasn’t better backup than Nat Bigum.
Nat walked through the saloon doors, letting them flap behind him. Della walked in next, an alert look in his eyes as they stared out from beneath his long, fake lashes. He found himself in a smoky saloon where a man was playing a faux wooden piano in one corner and several people were playing cards in the opposite corner. A crowded bar ran along one wall and the other was mostly taken up by large windows. It was a nice looking place, with big, elaborate rugs and faux wooden tables and chairs scattered throughout the floor. The piano player was really good too, his notes pleasantly trickling through the background, but when Della stopped to listen, he could hear the skill and agility of the man’s fingers. It was hard to hear over the voices at the bar and the poker table, but the music was there, all the same. Della’s attention was drawn to the crowd around the poker table, so he walked over towards it with Nat.
There were six people seated at the red felt table and a dealer was dealing out two cards to each player. It seemed that most people’s attention was fixed on a tall, thin man wearing a dark blue suit and a matching top hat. He was a very handsome man, but he wasn’t really Della’s type. There was a rugged wariness about him and Della preferred the sweet, innocent types. Besides, Della preferred blondes and this man had long, curly brown hair and a goatee. He was wearing circular red sunglasses which hid his eyes well as he glanced down at his two cards, puffing on a cigar. The man also seemed to be older than Della usually preferred. This guy appeared to be in his late thirties or early forties. Still, he was very pleasant to look at. “Well,” the handsome stranger said in a deep, resonant voice as he lowered the cigar and lifted his cards just enough off the table to see what they were, “let’s see what the poker gods have in store, shall we?” He spoke with a southern drawl, but it was the voice of a southern gentleman. Della thought he seemed out of place in such a small town. Perhaps he was just passing through. He slid several gold coins into the center of the table, adding them to the ante coins from each player. Della noticed his face showed no emotion. There was no movement, not even a twitch. “Let’s start with five hundred and we can go from there,” he said. Piles of coins were stacked in front of him on the table; he had far more than any of the others.
One of the other players, a man with a stubbly face and a tan cowboy hat who was sitting to the right of the man in the top hat, sneered at him. “Abe, you’re eatin’ us alive.”
Another player, a young man with short, blonde hair who was seated on the other side of the stubbly-faced man, shook his head. “His luck has to run out soon.”
Abe didn’t even glance at the other players. His face was like stone. “William, do you want to know why I’m such an exceptional gambler?”
“Why is that?” the blonde-haired man asked.
“Because I take luck out of the equation. Jake, the proverbial ball is now in your court. Take your best shot.”
The man seated to Abe’s left shook his head and pushed his face down cards towards the dealer. “I fold. Your blood’s too rich for me, Abe.”
“It isn’t my blood that sets me apart, Jake,” Abe said. “Or my money, for that matter. It’s my charm and my good looks.” Just then, Della noticed the woman standing behind him. She put her left hand on Abe’s shoulder and Della realized she was probably his girlfriend, or perhaps his wife. She was a beautiful, elegant looking woman who was wearing an open fur coat over a slinky red dress. She had a slim figure, and she had long, curly brown hair and seductive blue eyes. Her pouty lips were covered with bright red lipstick and she was smoking a cigarette which was perched at the end of a long, slender holder. She was beautiful, but Della thought Michelle had her beat.
The other men placed their bets, and in the end, it was only Abe, the stubbly-faced man, and the young blonde man who remained in the game. Everyone else had folded. The dealer revealed the first three cards: the ace of clubs, the queen of hearts, and the three of hearts. The piano notes filled the silence as the players considered their next moves. “Well, Abe,” the stubbly-faced man said. “It’s up to you.”
“Very well,” Abe said as he pushed gold coins into the center of the table. “I raise one thousand.”
It went to the blonde man and he shook his head and pushed his cards face down to the dealer. “I fold.”
The stubbly-faced man frowned, looking down at the revealed cards. “What do you have, Abe?”
“I’ll never tell,” Abe said, his face as stony as ever.
“Well I’m not gonna let you whittle us away.” The stubbly face man pushed several coins into the center of the table. “I call.”
The dealer revealed the ace of spades. Abe nodded. “I raise another two thousand,” he said as he pushed the gold into the pot.
The stubbly-faced man shook his head and thought hard as the piano player continued his beautiful melody. “You’re bluffin’. I know a bluff when I see one.” He pushed gold into the center of the table. “I call.”
The dealer revealed the final card, the ace of diamonds. Della looked down at the three aces on the table. Abe pushed more gold into the center of the table. “I raise another five thousand.” He glanced at the coins in front of the stubbly-faced man. He didn’t have many left. “Ben, you’re almost fully committed.”
The stubbly-faced man gritted his teeth in anger. “Damn you. I fold.” He revealed his two cards, which were the three and king of spades. “I had a full house, two threes, three aces. Let’s see what you have.”
Abe quietly passed his two cards face down to the dealer. “I’d rather not show you, Ben.”
Ben glared at him. “I showed you mine.” The crowd watched anxiously. Della turned to see Nat watching Abe closely.
Abe finally grinned. “You did show me yours, Ben. And quite an unsatisfactory exhibition it was. I’m sure you wonder why women never seem to be interested. There you have it.”
Ben gritted his teeth in anger. “You pompous son of a bitch. What did you have?”
Abe eyed him through his red sunglasses. “It’s impolite to demand another player show his cards after you fold. Have some dignity, Ben. Quite frankly, it’s like asking a woman who’s just rejected you to show you her tits.” He puffed his cigar as the woman behind him laughed, along with the rest of the bystanders. Della couldn’t help chuckling a little, but he noticed that Nat wasn’t laughing.
“Why don’t we take this outside?” Ben asked. He stood from the table and his right hand was hovering over a laser pistol in a hip holster. The crowd grew silent.
Abe grinned at him, as did the woman standing behind him. Neither seemed fazed in the slightest. “Ben, don’t be a sore loser,” Abe said. “Don’t be upset that you didn’t have the testicular fortitude to call my bluff, if in fact I was bluffing, of course.”
“You insulted me,” Ben shouted. “Them’s fightin’ words.” His hand twitched as it hovered over his gun.
“Now, Ben,” Abe said, now glaring at Ben through his circular red sunglasses, “you know I can’t let you leave this bar alive now.” His face was as stony as it had been when he’d been playing cards earlier. “If I let you go, you’ll wait for me to turn my back on you and you’ll shoot me in it. I’ve survived many a poker game, and that’s because I’ve killed every man who’s ever threatened me.”
“Shut your mouth and draw,” Ben muttered.
Abe’s icy stare was unrelenting. “I believe in being proactive, Ben. And as you know, I don’t leave anything to chance.” Before anyone could react, there was a click and a sliding sound and within a split second, a small laser pistol shot out of Abe’s sleeve into his hand and he fired it at Ben’s face, blowing a hole between his eyes. Ben’s body thumped to the floor as the gun slid back up into Abe’s sleeve. “There’s an opening at the table,” Abe said with a grin as he looked around at the shocked bystanders. “Do any of you want to play?”
Nat stepped forward, glaring at Abe. “I ain’t gonna play, but I ain’t afraid to blow your brains out, either. You just murdered a man in cold blood.” The bystanders around the table gasped. Many stepped back and others left, many leaving the saloon through the flapping doors.
Abe smiled. “Kind sir, I do believe this is none of your business, but seeing as you have a sheriff badge on your chest, I suppose you make a living out of imposing on other people’s business.”
Nat smiled his ugly smile and nodded. “You made it my business when you murdered that man. Now we’re gonna wait here while my friend here gets the sheriff.” He nodded towards Della.
“Sheriff Moore’s an old friend of mine,” Abe said, glancing at Della through his red lenses. “By all means, get him. I’d like to catch up with him. It’s been a while.”
The woman standing behind Abe grinned. The two of them were the only people left at the table. Everyone else had cleared out of the bar, even the bartender and the dealer. Della noticed the piano player had left, too, which explained the silence. “Besides, it wasn’t cold blood,” the woman said in a voice that reminded Della of a cat’s purr. She smiled at Nat, glaring at him with predatory blue eyes as she puffed on her cigarette. “You saw it. It was self-defense.”
Nat shook his head. “He didn’t have the chance to draw.”
Abe grinned. “He did threaten me, though. And I can’t help it if I’m fast.”
“Anybody would be fast with that contraption you’ve got up your sleeve,” Nat countered.
Abe chuckled. “Fine words coming from a man with a cybernetic arm.” Della noticed Nat’s metal arm was showing between his sleeve and his glove.
“I’ll wager that ain’t all you got up your sleeve, either, gambler,” Nat said.
“Are you calling me a cheater?” Abe asked.
Abe smiled. “I’m merely a man who knows how to play the odds.”
“Enough talkin’,” Nat said. “Nathan, go get the sheriff.”
Della nodded and turned to see Sheriff Moore walking towards them, tipping his hat as the saloon doors flapped behind him. “That won’t be necessary,” he said as he walked towards Abe. “I heard you two were threatenin’ each other.”
“More importantly,” Nat said, nodding towards a body on the floor, “there’s been a murder.”
“That’s not what I heard,” Sheriff Moore said. “I heard it was self-defense.”
“Well there needs to be a trial,” Nat said.
Sheriff Moore nodded and smiled at Abe. “Abe’s comin’ with me to the town jail. He’ll wait there for his trail, won’t you, Abe?”
Abe smiled back and nodded. “I sure will, sheriff.” He grinned at Nat. “And I expect a fair trial, too.”
“Of course,” the sheriff said. “Now, come on, before you get yourself into even more trouble.” Abe tipped his hat to Nat and Della and walked out the door, following the sheriff.
The woman grinned at Nat. “He’ll be out in a couple of hours.” She also left the saloon, letting the doors flap behind her.
Della noticed the bartender had reappeared, as had the dealer and the piano player, who was playing a soft melody. “I don’t like that one bit,” Nat said.
People were starting to trickle back into the saloon. “Neither do I,” Della agreed, “but we need to let them handle it. We’ve got bigger fish to fry, Nat. Honey, there’s no sense worrying ourselves about this little nowhere town.”
Nat shrugged. “I was the sheriff of several towns just like this. It don’t sit right with me.” He walked towards the saloon doors and Della followed.
Continue on to the next chapter:
Afterlife, Volume 2, Chapter 15
Warrick Baines settles into his new home.
Nat and Della discover something sinister going on in Dead Man’s Bluff.
Nat gathers a posse to deal with the Dayton issue.
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