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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:
Jane tries to treat Sera’s burnt face.
Abby and her companions enter the town of Dead Man’s Bluff.
A gambler named Abe kills a man at the poker table and is confronted by Nat.
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Afterlife, Volume 2, Chapter 15
Jim Brantley slowly entered the throne room to find Warrick Baines alone, seated on the throne. The lights were dim and Warrick’s skull-like face was cloaked in shadows and even more intimidating than usual. When Warrick noticed Jim, he quickly closed a book and placed it on the large wooden desk. “You’re reading a book?” Jim asked.
“Are you going to comment on it?” Warrick asked.
Jim realized he’d touched a nerve. He wasn’t sure what he’d said that was offensive, but Warrick seemed to be glaring at him. The Duke’s men had fixed Warrick’s left eye and it was shining brighter than ever. Warrick had also gotten a new wardrobe, and he was wearing a black suit with a black tie, along with a brand new black wide-brimmed hat. “I didn’t mean anything by it,” Jim said. “I think it’s great that you read. More people should read.”
Warrick nodded. “I’m sorry. I’ve been picked on for reading in the past. People don’t seem to realize that it’s important to keep your mind as fine-tuned as your aim.”
“Oh, I realize it,” Jim said.
“Good,” Warrick said. “You’re a good man, Jim.”
“You think so?” Jim asked. He stepped onto the red carpet and took a few steps closer to Warrick.
“I do,” Warrick said. “All of these new people. They’re following me because I have power. But you were there for me when I was down and out. You were there for me when no one else was. I won’t forget that.”
“Thanks,” Jim said with a grin. He didn’t mention that he’d only gone with Warrick because he was afraid Warrick would have killed him otherwise.
“Come closer,” Warrick said. “I have something for you.”
“Really?” Jim asked. Warrick nodded and Jim walked up the red carpet to the desk, where he stood facing the cyborg. Warrick placed a small cardboard box on the desk and Jim picked it up. He looked suspiciously at Warrick.
“It’s a gift,” Warrick said. “A token of my appreciation.”
“Okay,” Jim said. He opened the box and gazed inside to find a silver watch with gold trim and diamonds shining in various spots. Jim almost dropped it. He knew it was probably worth thousands.
“Go ahead and put it on,” Warrick said.
“Thanks,” Jim said with a smile. No one had ever given him anything like that before. He’d stolen things, and he’d received payments, but no gifts like the watch he was now putting on his wrist. It seemed a little out of place with his worn leather garb. Maybe he’d be able to afford better clothes now if Warrick continued with his generosity.
“I take good care of my friends,” Warrick said. “You’ll never want for anything.”
“Thank you, Sir,” Jim said, grinning.
“No, that’s not necessary,” Warrick said. “Just call me Warrick.” Jim was starting to realize maybe Warrick was someone he could actually fight for. Not because he had to, but because he wanted to.
“Your new suit looks nice,” Jim said.
“Much appreciated,” Warrick said. “And the eye’s never been better. First Nat Bigum killed me. Then, those men tried to do it again. I don’t go down, easy, though.” He thought for a few seconds. “Nat keeps trying to kill me for good, but he just keeps messing me up more. I thought I was bad before. Now I can’t remember what happened five seconds ago half the time.” He twitched and some smoke seeped out of the bullet hole between his eyes. “The cyberneticist who fixed my eye said he couldn’t do anything about the hole in my head. He said if he tried to remove the bullet, it might kill me.” He twitched again. “Oh well. I guess I should be happy to be alive.”
Jim nodded. “Sure.”
“I was dead,” Warrick said. His red eyes remained fixed on Jim. “I saw Hell, Jim. I saw the flames and the dark, shadowy, screaming spirits. I could feel the unbearable heat of the flames burning me, though there was no skin left to burn. Those are the best words we have to describe what was there, but it was far worse than that. I felt the feeling of being utterly alone. I heard my own eternal screams. And then I came back.” Jim swallowed. Part of him wanted to leave, but he was curious to hear what else Warrick had to say. “I thought to myself,” Warrick continued, “I’ve spent my whole life trying to follow God. I’ve been studying the Bible and believing and praying my whole life. Sure, I slipped up here and there. I made mistakes. But everything I’ve done, even the possibly sinful things, was what I had to do. I always believed. And I always did what was right to the best of my knowledge. And I still ended up in Hell. I still ended up damned. So you do know what I’ve decided?” Jim shook his head nervously. He realized his mouth was hanging open. “If I’m going to end up in Hell regardless,” Warrick said, “I may as well dive into the pit of fire head first laughing all the way. So I’ve given up on all of it. I’ve given up on trying to do what’s right. I’m running the train off the rails and I’m taking everyone else here with me.”
“Can we talk about something else?” Jim asked.
Warrick glared at him for a few seconds. “Sure we can. It’s a hot day, isn’t it?”
The door to the room opened and a muscular man wearing a leather vest entered carrying a box. “Tributes from Las Buitres,” he said as he stepped up next to Jim and placed the box on the desk.
“Thanks,” Warrick said. “Go ahead and take something for yourself.”
The man was shocked at first, then smiled. “Thank you, Sir.” He reached into the box and pulled out a diamond necklace.
“No ‘Sir’ necessary,” Warrick said. “Enjoy it.”
The man nodded. “Thanks.”
Jim smiled at Warrick. “You’re very generous.”
Warrick made a motion with his hands to indicate everything in the room. “None of this is mine.” He dumped the contents of the box onto the desk. There were coins, diamonds, and jewelry. There were even some gold teeth. The thing that stood out the most, though, was the severed woman’s finger with the wedding ring. The diamond was probably five carats or more. The end of the finger had been cauterized.
The man who’d brought the box seemed to notice that everyone’s attention was on the finger. “She must not have given it up willingly.”
Warrick nodded. “Thank you. What was your name?”
“Stewart,” the man said.
“Thank you, Stewart,” Warrick said. Stewart was ecstatic as he left the room with his new diamond necklace. Warrick turned his attention back to Jim. “I want to find out more about this organization and how things work here.”
Jim nodded. “From what I can tell, the Duke of Weston seems to have the most power. I’d say he’s the one you need to talk to.”
“Keep your friends close and your enemies closer,” Warrick said. Jim nodded, wondering which category he fell into. “Well,” Warrick said as he stretched. “I’d like to read some more.”
Jim looked at his new watch again and smiled. “Okay. Thanks again.” He turned and walked towards the door. He heard Warrick jerk in his seat and there was the hiss of a laser blast. Jim flinched and turned to see that Warrick had blasted a hole in the stone wall. Smoke was seeping out of the bullet hole between the cyborg’s eyes as he put his laser pistol back into his holster and opened the book once again. Jim turned and walked towards the door, more briskly than he’d been walking before.
“At least give it some time,” Della said as he stood with Nat in front of the saloon. “Blow off some steam before you confront the sheriff.”
It was dark out, so Nat had taken off his sunglasses. His squinting green eyes were fixed on a metal sign hanging above the front door of the stone building to the left of the inn. The sign read “Hats, Boots, and Guns.” “Della,” Nat said with a smile, “I could be in Heaven. And I don’t even believe in Heaven.”
Della grinned. He was happy to see the much needed distraction. Nat had lost his hat after he’d killed Warrick Baines, and he’d been looking for a new one. Della followed Nat into the store, where a short man with glasses was seated behind the counter. He nodded to Nat and Della as they walked in. Della was immediately impressed by the arsenal that leaned against the wall across from the counter in metal racks. There were laser pistols and laser rifles, repeating laser blasters, and even surface to air lasers. Further back, all sorts of cowboy hats hung from one wall and leather boots lined the opposite wall. The place smelled of leather, a smell which Della hated, but Nat seemed to enjoy it as he took a long whiff with his eyes closed and a grin on his face. Nat opened his eyes and walked towards the hats, where he immediately found a black leather one very similar to the one he’d lost. Della perused the guns, trying his best to think himself out of buying a new laser rifle. There was a very pretty one with a gold-plated barrel and a stock of solid golden flame mahogany. There was also a small enhancer at the end of the barrel. It looked like a powerful gun as well as a beautiful one. Della shook his head. “You’re mine, pretty boy. I’m gonna have to take you home with me tonight.” He took it off the wall and turned to face the man behind the counter. He realized the man had an EMD wristband with blue glowing spheres surrounding it. Every gun shop owner needed one of those. He probably kept the ammo for the old school guns behind the counter. “How much for this, honey?” Della asked, holding the gun up in front of him.
“That’s a Seger,” the man said in a high-pitched voice. “It’s eighty thousand. It’s handmade.”
Della’s jaw dropped. “It better be for that much. This thing better be carved from Adonis’ ass if I’m gonna pay that kind of money for it.” The man looked blankly at Della, who shrugged and put it back. “I’ll have to come back for it. I need to get some cash.” The man nodded as Nat paid for the hat, a huge smile on his face as he and Della left the shop.
“All right,” Nat said, adjusting his new hat. “Let’s go see the sheriff.” Della shrugged and followed him down the only street in town. “I like this town,” Nat said as they walked. “It’s old school.”
“If that’s what you want to call it,” Della said. “I call it passé.” He frowned. “I still don’t think this is a good idea. Let them take care of their own problems. I think we need to keep a low profile.”
“It’s too late for that,” Nat said.
“Yeah,” Della agreed with a frown. He noticed two figures coming down the street. He and Nat stopped in their tracks when they realized it was Abe the poker player and the woman who’d been with him.
Abe smiled and tipped his top hat as he approached. “Good evening, kind sirs.” He spoke with his distinct gentleman’s southern drawl. He was still wearing his circular red sunglasses, which seemed odd to Della considering that the sun was gone.
Nat’s hand was hovering over his revolver. “And what are you doin’ out of jail?”
“Sheriff Moore was unable to find any witnesses,” the woman said with a sly smile. Her curly brown hair seemed to glow in the moonlight.
“No witnesses?” Nat said. “It’s been less than an hour. He must not have looked too hard.”
Abe shrugged. “It’s a small town. You can easily talk to everyone here in less than an hour. Now if you’ll excuse me, I have somewhere I’m needed. Good evening to you.”
“I’m gonna go see the sheriff about this,” “Nat grumbled.
“More power to you,” Abe said as he and the grinning woman walked past Nat and Della.
Nat stormed off towards the sheriff’s office. Della followed close behind. “Nat, we really shouldn’t be getting ourselves involved in this.”
“It don’t sit right with me,” Nat grumbled as he stomped down the street. “I need to do somethin’.”
As they approached the sheriff’s office with the green metal door, there was a loud whoosh followed by several cracks and pops as the stone building which housed the sheriff’s office exploded in a huge orange fireball and stone and other fragments flew everywhere. Della and Nat dove to the ground as debris fell all around them. A small stone smacked Della in the face. People started coming out of their homes to see what had happened when three sand bikes sped down the street. The leather and metal clad bandits riding them had laser blasters drawn. One fired at a woman standing in a doorway, hitting her in the chest. Another shot a teenaged boy in the head. As the bandits howled and laughed, Della caught a glimpse of the letters “IAO” painted on the side of one of their bikes. By the time he’d drawn his laser pistols, they’d disappeared around the last few buildings in town. A young man with red hair was running down the street. He had a look of horror on his face as he saw what was left of the sheriff’s office. The silver badge over his left breast indicated he was a deputy. “Eric!” he shouted. He stopped running as Nat and Della picked themselves up from the ground. Abby, Mark, and Juanita were walking towards them from the inn.
“Are you a deputy?” Nat asked the red-headed man.
He nodded. “Eric’s my brother.” He walked towards the remains of the sheriff’s office. “Was he in there?”
“I think he was,” Nat said.
“What happened?” Abby asked as she approached.
“A bomb, most likely,” Della replied as he brushed himself off. He felt his left cheek with a frown. There was probably going to be a bruise.
“Is everyone okay?” Abby asked. Della shook his head.
Eric Moore’s brother was wiping tears off his cheeks. “Those Daytons are gonna pay for this.” The entire town seemed to be out on the street now.
“It was the IAO,” Nat said.
“The Daytons are workin’ with them,” the young deputy said. “I know this was their doin’.”
Della noticed Abe and his woman friend walking towards them once again. “What’s happened here?” Abe asked.
Nat glared at him. “Maybe you can tell me.”
Abe stopped walking and looked at the burning remnants of the sheriff’s office. Several people were dumping buckets of water into the flames. Abby, Mark, and Juanita had joined them, as had Eric Moore’s brother. “You think I had something to do with this?” Abe asked Nat.
“You seem to me to be a prime suspect,” Nat said.
“Why would I still be here if I had anything to do with it?” Abe asked. “I told you, Sheriff Moore was a friend of mine.”
“Why would we blow up a jail we just left?” the woman in the red dress asked. “You only blow up jails to escape.”
Nat frowned at her. “You seem to know somethin’ about blowin’ up jails the way you’re talkin’.”
“It’s common sense,” she blurted. “Any idiot knows that.”
The flames had gone down, and Sheriff Moore’s brother was standing next to Nat. “Did you see my brother tonight?” he asked Abe.
Abe nodded. “Just before this happened. I’m sorry, Danny.”
“Those Daytons aren’t going to stop until they destroy this town,” Danny Moore said. He put his hand on the hilt of his laser pistol, which was holstered at his side.
Another man with a deputy badge approached Danny. He was a tall man with a thin brown moustache and a tan cowboy hat. “Word is the Daytons are waitin’ for ya at Boot Hill.”
“I need to form a posse,” Danny muttered.
“I’ll help,” Nat said.
Danny glared at him. “You’ll help? Who are you?”
“The name’s Clint Wayne,” Nat said.
Abe chuckled. “Next time, work harder at coming up with an alias.”
“I’ve been a sheriff before,” Nat said to Danny, “in other towns. I want to help.”
“I’ll help, too,” Della said.
Abby, Mark, and Juanita approached the group. “Juanita and I are coming, too,” Mark said. “That’s four guns to help you, Deputy Moore.”
Danny nodded. “And Abe.”
“Abe?” Nat asked, glaring at the gambler. “How the hell can we trust him?”
Danny glanced at him. “I know Honest Abe. I don’t know you.”
Nat laughed. “Honest Abe? Really?”
“Honest Abe Miller,” Abe said. “And this is my wife, Arlene.” He put his arm around the woman in the red dress.
“Abe’s as good a shot as I’ve ever seen,” Danny said. “Besides, he has a stake in this. The guy he killed tonight has worked for the Daytons in the past. And Abe killed two Daytons a couple of days ago, too. They ain’t gonna forgive ‘im for that.” Della nodded. It was starting to make sense why Eric Moore had let Abe go.
Nat glared at Abe. “You do an awful lot of killin’.”
“Only when people make me angry,” Abe countered with a smile.
“Well we got a posse together then,” the taller deputy said. “Let’s get goin’.”
“Excuse me while I get a bigger gun,” Abe said, tipping his hat as he and his wife walked away.
“I’m gonna head back to Doctor Dayton’s office to check on everyone there,” Abby said. “Be careful.” Her attention was directed mostly at Della, Nat, Mark, and Juanita. Della could tell she was upset she wasn’t coming along, but it was going to be dangerous.
“We will,” Mark said. “These were the same people who attacked us in the pass. The same people who blinded Sera. We’ve got a stake in this, too.” Abby nodded. She turned and headed back towards the doctor’s office.
Danny and the deputy started walking down the road that led out of town. Nat, Della, Mark, and Juanita joined the line. The last to join was Abe, who was now wearing a dark blue trench coat that matched his top hat. As the seven of them walked down the road to Boot Hill, Abe pulled a laser rifle out from under his trench coat. Della noticed that it was a double barreled high powered Stanton laser rifle. The full moon stained the street with a pale glow as the line of gunfighters walked out of town towards the distant, shadowy cemetery.
Continue on to the next chapter:
Afterlife, Volume 2, Chapter 16
Nat and his posse shoot it out with the Daytons.
Nat confronts Honest Abe and Arlene Miller.
Eileen Traymont arrives in Carpenter City and isn’t happy with what she finds.
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