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Photo by Jay Hood.
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:
Ace and Annabelle look for Digits O’Reilly during a poker game.
Bobby sees something he shouldn’t have.
Abby and her companions attempt to infiltrate an enforcer office.
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Afterlife, Volume 2, Chapter 28
Bill Upham swallowed as Annabelle Rose smiled at him. He was paralyzed by a combination of her dangerous sexiness and the look of pure evil in her green eyes. He opened his mouth to speak, but wasn’t sure what to say. He still couldn’t believe what was happening. Of all the enforcer offices in Numurka, Ace McCoy and Annabelle Rose had come to his to turn themselves in. This was really happening. “Are you just gonna stare at me?” Annabelle asked him with a seductive smile. “You want me to come back there and make your day?”
“Keep your hands to your sides,” Sergeant Hill said as he pointed his laser pistol at Annabelle along with the nine other enforcers in the lobby. All of the enforcers in the office at the time were there in case anything crazy happened. These were the most notorious criminals in Numurka, after all, and if rumors were true, they’d escaped from countless jails. In the craziness, Bill realized he’d forgotten procedure. He nervously started fumbling to take his laser pistol out of its holster. Bill was startled by a loud noise which he realized was the alarm sounding. It didn’t make any sense. Bill hadn’t pushed the button. Why was the alarm going off? The lights in the lobby shut off and the sprinklers started spraying water down on the enforcers and their prisoners. In the chaos, a black woman in a silver dress appeared on the other side of the window outside the office. She drew two small laser pistols with lightning speed and started firing, and Bill watched in horror as his coworkers swiftly dropped to the floor in twos, their blood mixing with the puddles of water that were forming. By the time Bill realized the woman was actually a drag queen, he’d finally gotten his gun out of its holster and Ace and Annabelle were the only people still standing in the lobby. Bill didn’t notice the fourth criminal, the short one in the black jacket, until it was too late. Her gun was pointed at his head and she fired.
Abby was getting used to the killing. The thought disturbed her as the enforcer behind the counter dropped to the floor. She’d used her camouflage projector and he hadn’t seen her coming. It’s too bad she only had one and there would be too many weapons for her to carry alone. Otherwise, she could have snuck in, got the guns, and snuck out without all the other craziness. Still, the camouflage projector had a limited amount of power before it needed to be recharged, so she didn’t want to overuse it. The last thing she wanted to do was appear out of thin air in a lobby full of enforcers, by herself and holding stolen weapons. Besides, Ace and Annabelle seemed to get a thrill out of the excitement.
Abby was soaked as she watched Ace and Annabelle run through the corridor that led from the lobby to several closed doors. “Come on,” Annabelle shouted above the alarm. “We’ll need help!” Abby rushed through the corridor after them, slipping on the wet floor but keeping her balance enough to keep from falling.
Della rushed in after her as the sprinklers and the alarm stopped. “Are you sure those were all of the enforcers here?”
“That was the whole point of our ruse,” Ace said. “To get them all in one place for you to work your magic.”
“That doesn’t mean it worked out that way,” Della said. She stopped running and stood looking into the lobby in case any others appeared.
Abby watched as a sliding door at the end of the corridor with a combination lock opened on its own. “Way to go, Digits,” Annabelle said as she walked through. Ace followed her and Abby went in last, seeing rows of racks with guns of various sizes lining the walls of the narrow, closet-like room. Ace and Annabelle each strapped laser rifles over their backs and handed a third to Abby, who strapped it over her back. Abby’s rifle had a sniper scope as did Annabelle’s, and Ace’s was double barreled. They each grabbed two laser pistols on gun belts that were on shelves below the racks, and Ace and Annabelle each picked up a large repeating laser rifle from the back of the rack.
“Okay, then,” Ace said in a calm voice, holding his huge RLR. “We’d best be getting out of here now before reinforcements arrive. I’m sure every enforcer in Tequila City is going to be looking for us soon.”
“Hopefully Digits is here already,” Annabelle said as the three of them rushed out of the room back into the hallway. “He doesn’t always have the best timing.” Della joined them and the four of them ran out of the building through the now shattered front window.
Just as they exited the enforcer office, Abby noticed a black hover station wagon speeding down the street. It came to an abrupt stop near where she was standing and the doors and rear hatch opened. Abby, Della, and Annabelle quickly threw most of their weapons into the trunk and then Abby, Annabelle, and Della got into the back seat and Ace got into the passenger seat. As the doors shut, Digits sped off down the road, blurs of buildings zipping past on both sides. “I take it you were successful,” Digits said as he sped around a corner at breakneck speed. Abby was thrust into Della’s lap and she quickly buckled her seatbelt.
“Aren’t you the observant one?” Annabelle asked. “We’re all alive and there are now a bunch of laser rifles in the trunk.”
“It won’t be long before we have company, though,” Ace said. He and Annabelle each kept one of the heavy repeating laser rifles with them. Annabelle’s was so large it was resting on all three of the rear passengers’ laps and Ace’s was tilted out the front window.
The station wagon sped past boarded up houses and metal shacks until it reached a busy street where Digits had to start weaving through other hover cars and hover trucks. Abby was impressed with Digits’ ability to handle the vehicle with essentially one usable hand. The station wagon had seemed like an odd choice when Abby first learned that Ace had stolen it, but he’d removed a compressor which had been placed on the gas lines for safety reasons and now it was as fast as some sports hover cars. Apparently Ace had become a master mechanic through the years after stealing so many different types of vehicles and he knew how to tweak them to get maximum performance out of them, no matter how pedestrian they seemed at first glance. Now Digits was driving on the wrong side of the street, weaving in and out of oncoming traffic as angry drivers honked their horns. “We want to leave the city quickly, honey,” Della said, “but we also want to leave the city in one piece.”
“We’re fine,” Digits said as he turned a quick left and shot through an alley. “I’m an expert driver. Been the getaway driver for most of their robberies.” They were now speeding towards a pedestrian street. Big cities like Tequila City were often split between streets for pedestrians and streets for vehicles. Digits was now heading straight for a crowd of unwitting citizens. Several saw the car coming and dove out of the way. Abby felt something bump against the bottom of the hover car as the crowd parted chaotically and the station wagon made a sharp right and was now speeding down a wide, nearly empty boulevard.
“You could have killed someone,” Abby said.
Annabelle grinned at her and shook her head. “You wanted to rob banks and you’re worried about killing someone? What is it that you think bank robbers do, exactly?”
Abby frowned. “I don’t want to kill any innocent bystanders.”
“Nobody’s innocent,” Ace said as the vehicle shot past the last few metal shacks and was once again speeding through the desert. Abby turned and watched as the city swiftly shrunk behind them and she noticed about a dozen or so black hover cars speeding towards them.
“We’ve got company,” Annabelle said as she rolled down the window. “That sucks. I wasn’t expecting so many so soon.”
“You know what else sucks?” Digits asked as he drove. “A vacuum cleaner.” He giggled at the dumb joke as Abby rolled her eyes and shook her head. Digits turned the car so Ace and Annabelle’s windows were facing their pursuers and the two criminals started firing their RLR’s. The weapons hissed loudly as fifty red laser blasts per second exploded out of them, quickly thrashing the closest four enforcer hover cars, shattering the windows and splattering blood across the white desert sands. The pair continued firing, thrashing through the rest of their pursuers as Digits once again turned away from the city. Ace and Annabelle rolled their windows back up. Digits hit the gas as the vehicle rocketed away from Tequila City, shaking like an unstable meteor.
Annabelle cackled. “Now let’s go rob some banks!”
Bobby was seated at a long plastic folding table in the wine cellar that was now Nat’s sheriff’s office. Tommy Dayton and Chuck Moore were also seated at the table waiting for everyone else to arrive. Richard Dayton’s two sons, Barry and Angus, were with them. After Richard Dayton’s death, Nat had managed to arrange a meeting between the Daytons and the Moores where he hoped to put the feud behind them once and for all and assure the families’ support for the upcoming war against the International Anarchy Organization. It would be a tough sell with all the bad blood that existed between the families, but if anyone could do it, Bobby had faith that Nat could. “So you finally tried some of Madge’s chili?” Chuck asked Tommy with a grin.
Tommy rolled his eyes. “Yeah, I tried it. Nearly burned my insides out, but it was good.”
“That’s what I say,” Chuck said. “It’s spicy, but it’s a good spicy.”
Barry Dayton glared at Tommy. “So you’re palin’ around with Moores now?” Barry looked a lot like his father, chubby, with a thick brown beard.
Tommy nodded. “They wasn’t the ones killed your dad. I thought we got that straight.”
“So you say,” Angus said. Bobby figured he got the good looks genes in the family. He was thinner than his older brother, with a cleanly shaven face. “What about all our kin they killed in the past, though? What about them? You gonna deny any of that happened?”
“They killed our kin,” Tommy said. “We killed theirs. It’s time to let bygones be bygones.”
Bobby knew better than to get involved. This was between family. It didn’t stop Barry from fixing his angry gaze on him though. “You gonna let us go after this meetin’?”
Bobby shrugged. “It’s up to Nat. We’re trying to keep you safe. Somebody killed your father. They may come for you next.”
“So you’ve got us locked in a dungeon,” Angus muttered, shaking his head. Bobby and the other deputies joked with Nat calling his office the Bomb Shelter. Funny thing was, that’s pretty much what it was. The IAO was notorious for using bombs and other attacks, so Nat spent most of his time hiding out underground. He knew he was a target. Bobby was probably a target, too, but he still lived in Maybelle Sampson’s Inn with Shelly. He didn’t want to let terrorists dictate how he lived his life. He was a little paranoid, but he figured as long as he watched his back everywhere he went, he’d be okay.
The first group of people to arrive at the meeting were definitely Daytons. Bobby could tell from their brown hair and soft features. Some of the men had what you would call baby faces and the woman who was with them was pretty and innocent looking, wearing a long blue dress. Bobby recognized the four men as Spencer Dayton, Richard’s brother, and three of his sons, Tommy’s brothers. Bobby wasn’t sure who the woman was, though she definitely had a Dayton look about her. The five of them said hello to their family members and sat at the table. Spencer was another Dayton who’d gotten the handsome genes. He was in his forties and far thinner than his older brother had been, with a wiry, muscular build. His two oldest sons, Lou and Tommy, looked very similar to him while the two younger ones, Frank and Billy who was a teenager, were blondes who must have looked more like their mother.
Just as Bobby was starting to feel sorry for Chuck for being the only Moore present, another group descended the stairs and entered the stone cellar. There was a little old lady in a black dress who looked to be eighty. Bobby figured she was Bessie Moore, the woman people around town called the Black Widow. She was the matron of the Moore family, and Bobby had heard stories about her, mostly from Chuck, but he’d never met her. She was being helped down the steps by her only living son, Gary Moore, whose hair was also gray, probably in his sixties. He had a bushy moustache and wore a gray cowboy hat. Two men in their late twenties and a woman in her fifties were the last of this group to enter. One of the men was Chuck’s brother, Len. Bobby wasn’t sure who the other man or the woman were. All had the hallmark red hair and freckles of the Moore family, though. They said hello to Chuck and also took their places at the table. Gary Moore pulled a chair out for his elderly mother, making sure she sat at the head of the table. The other end was vacant. “Well,” Bessie said in a bitter voice. “We’re all here, then. Let’s get this over with.”
“We ain’t quite all here yet, grandma,” Chuck said. “We’re waitin’ on the sheriff, and Mayor Coolidge and Doctor Dayton.”
The old woman looked at him with squinting green eyes. “Our family ain’t too happy with you, boy. First you marry that prostitute who throws herself all over everyone that comes to town and then you go and get a job workin’ with a Dayton. You keep to yourself and let the adults do the talkin’.”
“I’m thirty three, grandma,” Chuck said.
“It’s all right, ma,” Gary said. “Be civil.”
“I’m too old to be civil,” Bessie muttered. “Civil’s for politicians and lawyers. I ain’t neither. I tell it like it is, and if you don’t like it, I’ll tell ya some more!”
“We all know, ma,” Gary said, shaking his head.
“We came here to talk peacefully,” Spencer Dayton said. “Let’s not have any trouble here. Not for the next hour or so, at least.”
“Oh,” Bessie said, rolling her eyes. “There’s gonna be trouble. I can assure you of that, boy.”
The final arrivals made their way down the stairs into the cellar. Mayor Coolidge was a short, balding man in a blue suit with a red tie. He wore glasses and smiled at everyone, waving and saying hello as he made his way to the table. He was followed by Doctor Harold Dayton, a tall, thin man with a curled brown moustache. He wore a white suit and a white cowboy hat. He was a distant cousin of the Daytons, though from what Bobby had heard, he refused to take sides during the feud. He treated members of both families and was respected by everyone in Dead Man’s Bluff. Finally, Nat entered with two of his other deputies, John Bracken and Lazy Fillman. Both were lean and mean like Nat, wearing black vests with deputy badges over their left breasts. Nat sat at the other end of the table across from Bessie and John and Lazy stood next to the metal door that led into the jail. “All right then,” Nat said with his signature crooked grin. “Let’s get started.”
“Yes, let’s,” Bessie said. “You know we’ve tried to make peace with these ignoramuses before and it always backfires. They always stab us in the back.”
“And what about you?” Angus Dayton asked. “You didn’t see your dead father hangin’ in the doorway, both eyes pecked out by crows.”
“You think we had somethin’ to do with that?” Bessie asked. “If you and your immoral family weren’t so busy makin’ more ignoramus babies, you’d actually be able to see what’s happenin’ around you. Y’all reproduce like bunny rabbits. Have the same amount of brains, too, it seems.”
“I see how it is,” Spencer Dayton said. “Are we gonna just sit around makin’ fun of each other like middle schoolers?”
There was a click as Nat drew his gun and cocked it, aiming at the ceiling. “Next person who talks who isn’t me is gonna get thrown in the jail back there.” He nodded towards the metal door.
“You wouldn’t dare,” Bessie said, glaring at him.
Nat grinned at her. “Test me. Old lady or not, you break my law, you go to jail.”
“This is my town,” Bessie said. She nodded towards the mayor. “It ain’t his. And it sure as hell ain’t yours. I say what goes here.”
“Don’t test me,” Nat said. Bobby could sense the anger seething inside him.
“What are you gonna do?” Bessie asked. “Kill an old lady?”
Nat chuckled. “I wouldn’t waste a bullet on someone who could croak in ‘er sleep any day now.”
That got a grin from the old crone. “My kids and grandkids have all been waitin’ for me to die for decades now. They’re gonna have a long wait and so are you if you think I’m dyin’ any time soon. I’ve survived feuds, wars, droughts, plagues, and I’ll sure as hell survive you.”
“I’m sure you will,” Nat said. “As a matter of fact, I hope you will. But none of us may survive the storm that’s comin’.” He looked at the others seated at the table. “Now listen here. We need to stop squabblin’ amongst ourselves when there’s a much bigger threat out there.”
“Who’s that?” the pretty Dayton woman in the blue dress asked. Her face was full of hatred and not so pretty anymore as she glared at Nat. Bobby wondered why she seemed to hate him so much.
“The International Anarchy Organization,” Nat said, looking around at the faces at the table. “They’ve been stealin’ gold from the Dayton family and they’re plannin’ on taking water from the Moores once they get a foothold in this town. Then, they’re gonna take over. They’ve already killed Sheriff Eric Moore, Danny Moore, Frank Moore, Ben Dayton, and Richard Dayton, and they’re also partially responsible for the deaths of Damion, Phil, and Alex Dayton.”
“How’s that?” the pretty Dayton woman in the blue dress asked. “I heard you killed my brother Damion yourself up at Boot Hill. And your men killed my other brothers Phil and Alex.” There was a tear in her eye, but her anger was still there, also.
“They was egged on by the IAO, though,” Nat said. “They helped the IAO kill Sheriff Eric Moore because they thought he killed your father. He didn’t. It was the IAO. I swear it, Annie.”
“So then you killed my brothers?” Annie Dayton asked. “What kind of sheriff are you?”
“A Moore stooge, that’s what kind,” Angus Dayton blurted.
“I wasn’t the sheriff yet,” Nat said. “I was doin’ what I felt was my duty. All I knew was the sheriff of this town was murdered, so I helped his brother get some justice.”
“With the help of a known criminal?” Annie asked. She looked disgusted. “That’s right. I know Ace McCoy was with you.” Bobby wondered how Nat was going to deal with Annie. He could definitely see where she was coming from.
“We thought he was Abe Miller,” Doctor Dayton said. “I played cards with him many times. He seemed like a good southern gentleman.”
Mayor Coolidge nodded. “Had I known he was actually Ace McCoy, I would have ran him out of town.”
“Ha!” Bessie Moore blurted. “You and what army?”
“I didn’t know he was Ace McCoy at the time.” Nat leaned forward, glaring at Annie. “None of us did. Now I invited ya here because you’re involved in this like the rest of us. I could easily have my men remove ya if you get out of hand. I’m sorry for the loss of your brothers. I wish it hadn’t gone down the way it did. I was fooled just like my men were. I’m sorry for that. But your brother tried to draw a gun on me and I had to defend myself. I realize you’ll always hate me. Ain’t much I can do about that now. But for the sake of your family, I’m gonna need you to put it behind you, at least for now.” He looked around at everyone. “The IAO is gonna take over this town if we don’t do somethin’ about it. And they may well kill all of us.” He looked at Annie again. “They’re the ones who killed your father. And they killed the fathers, brothers, cousins, nieces, and nephews of a lot of you here at this table.”
“How do you expect us to believe all this?” Gary Moore asked. “All we have is your word.”
Nat shook his head and grinned. “We have someone else’s.” He nodded towards John and Lazy and they opened the metal door to the jail cell and walked in. When they came out, each had a prisoner with him. Both were wearing grey jumpsuits. The first had a Mohawk and the other was bald and had a brown goatee. Both were covered with bruises and their eyes were almost shut with swelling. John and Lazy had to help them walk and help hold them up as they stood. “Meet Phil and Larry,” Nat said. “They were wild and full of piss and vinegar when I first met ‘em. Now that they’ve been housebroken, they’re as tame as lapdogs.”
“Are you tryin’ to intimidate us?” Bessie asked. “Showin’ us this?”
Nat shook his head. “Go ahead. Tell ‘em.”
“We’re with the IAO,” the man with the Mohawk said softy. Bobby noticed some of his teeth were missing. “We were with the IAO, I mean. Not anymore. Anyways, we was meanin’ to steal your gold and your water.” He nodded towards Nat. “Just like he said. It’s all true.”
“A beaten man would say anything,” Gary said. “Just to avoid another beatin’.”
“You can see for yourself,” the bald man said. “Our guys are stealin’ from the Dayton mines as we speak. And another group’s buildin’ a dam up above the Sage Creek waterfall. We got more plans too. They’re gonna take your gold and your water. Then, they’re gonna take your town. They were playin’ your families against each other, tryin’ to start a war.” He took a deep breath and almost collapsed. Lazy helped him stand. “The IAO in these parts don’t have the numbers to take you all on. They were hopin’ you’d weaken each other to the point we could move in and finish y’all off.”
The man with the Mohawk nodded. “There’s more gold and water here than anywhere else in the Disputed Lands. Maybe even Numurka. This is prime real estate.”
Nat nodded. “And if your families would have ever learned to work together, you’d be billionaires by now. But because you haven’t, here we are. You can always learn, though.”
Bessie grinned at him. “And what stake do you have in all this?”
Nat smiled at her. “I hate seein’ a nice town like this destroyin’ itself. I have a big heart, I guess.”
Annie Dayton got out of her chair and stood angrily. “Big heart my ass. I listened to your trash. I don’t have to listen to any more. You all can do what you want, but he killed my brother. I don’t need any help from a murderer like you, Nat Bigum.” She pointed her finger at him. “Mark my words though. You’re gonna get what you deserve. Sooner or later.” She turned away from the table and stormed up the steps that led out of the cellar.
Nat watched her leave. “Ain’t the first time I been threatened by a woman. A man in my line of work makes a lot of widows. And where there’s widows, there’s enemies.” He looked around at the people who remained seated at the table as John and Lazy pushed the prisoners back into the jail cell. “So here’s what’s gonna happen,” Nat said. “You all are gonna make up, at least until we take care of this IAO problem. And you’re gonna see what it’s like workin’ together. And I reckon once you have a taste of the good life, you won’t wanna turn back.”
Bessie Moore glared at Spencer Dayton. “Your father killed my husband so many years ago. So I killed him.” Bobby watched the look of shock come over Spencer’s face. He looked over at Nat, who was listening intently. “That’s right,” Bessie said. “I never admitted to it before, but it was me. I can shoot a gun with the best of ‘em. Maybe not so much anymore, but back in the day, I could. But it was one death to pay for another, and it’s been goin’ on like that long as I can remember. Our kin have been killin’ each other for centuries. Maybe it’s time to let it rest a while. I’d like the rest of my family to stay alive, especially the young ones, and I’m sure you feel the same way, Spencer, so maybe it’s time to put an end to it. I don’t like it when someone kills my family members. And these IAO punks are killin’ my family members.” She nodded to the red-haired Moore woman seated near her. “They killed both of Sally’s sons, Eric and Danny. They killed my son, Frank.” She nodded towards Spencer Dayton. “Spencer, they killed your brothers Richard and Ben. Now I don’t like it when people kill my kin, and I’m sure you don’t either.” She grinned wickedly. “What do ya say we show these outsiders what happens when they mess with the Moores and the Daytons.”
Spencer eyed her suspiciously and thought for a few seconds. “I’m game if you are.” The two of them stood. Spencer walked over to Bessie and shook her hand. “So this is peace?”
She put her arms around him and the two of them hugged, though it was a tepid hug. “This is peace,” Bessie Moore said. She whispered something else to Spencer that Bobby couldn’t quite make out and he nodded. Part of Bobby couldn’t believe what he was seeing, especially after Bessie’s confession. He knew anyone would have a hard time forgiving someone who killed their father, no matter how long ago it had happened. Either way, Bobby hadn’t expected the meeting to go as well as it had. Only time would tell if the two families would live up to their ends of the bargain, though.
When Shelly was done with her exercises, she sat down next to Sera, out of breath. They were sitting on a cliff overlooking the stone buildings of Dead Man’s Bluff and the desert which spread out beyond it. Shelly was feeling good, though she was tired. She was in her best shape in years, thin and wiry, muscular rather than bony. She stretched out and looked out at the dunes. “There’s something for you on the ledge,” Sera said with a grin.
“Something for me?” Shelly asked.
Sera nodded. Shelly looked at the headband that was wrapped around Sera’s head over her eyes, the orange rising sun patched in the center. “A graduation present,” Sera said.
“Graduation?” Shelly asked. “But I feel like I have so much more to learn.”
“There’s always more to learn,” Sera said. “But you’ve learned your first punches and kicks. You know how to fight. You’ve reached a new level. It’s time for you to receive the gifts which you’ll need to attain the next level.”
“Which ledge?” Shelly asked.
Sera nodded towards the place where the overhang they were sitting on narrowed, forming a ledge that was about six inches wide. There was a several hundred foot drop to the ground below. Shelly stood and walked to the ledge. She faced the rock face and inched her way along until she found a smaller overhang just above her head. She was about ten feet away from solid ground, her feet basically tiptoeing to keep from slipping off the ledge to the ground hundreds of feet below her. She reached up and found a bag of some sort. She pulled it down, strapped it over her back, and inched her way back to the outcropping Sera was seated on, joining her once again. The bag was long and narrow and Shelly immediately realized that there were swords inside. “Where did you get these?” Shelly asked as she pulled two scabbarded samurai swords out of the bag. The scabbard of one had a red dragon pained on it, and the other had a yellow tiger.
“The gun shop in town,” Sera said. “There’s more.”
Shelly looked inside to see Sera’s EMD belt with its blue lights. “Really?” she asked as she pulled it out of the bag. “You don’t need this?”
Sera laughed. “You’ll put it to better use than me. My fighting days are over.”
Shelly nodded. “But who am I gonna fight? Bobby would never let me become one of Nat’s deputies.”
“Bobby isn’t your master,” Sera said with a grin. “You’ll need them. Believe me. Far more than I will.”
Shelly nodded, looking at the rising sun on Sera’s headband. “You know you could get cybernetic eye implants. They’re expensive, but I’m sure you could get them with the money Abby gave you. I could help you pay for them if you need it. It’s the least I can do.”
Sera shrugged. “I’ve been looking into it. Maybe someday. There are only certain doctors who do the surgery and most of them are in New Atlantis. Even the ones who aren’t are under Rennock’s control. I’d rather not chance it. At least not yet. We’ll see, though. If the resistance defeats Rennock, I like my chances better. I’m done fighting either way, though.”
Sera smiled. “Anything can be good if done for the right reasons. I feel I’m meant to teach, though. Perhaps there will be others after you. I may even start a Buddhist temple.”
Shelly grinned. “Here in Dead Man’s Bluff?”
“Why not? People here need spiritual guidance just like everyone else.”
“They don’t seem like Buddhists, though.”
Sera chuckled. “Maybe they just need to be introduced to it. Regardless, people here definitely need to find a new way of doing things.”
“I won’t argue with that,” Shelly said. “Tell me about the temple where you studied. In New Siam, I mean.”
Sera smiled. “Those may have been the best years of my life. It was in the mountains, and the scenery was beautiful. I imagine it’s the same here. But there was a peace there you won’t find anywhere else. My teacher was young and handsome, but also wise. It didn’t take long for me to fall in love with him, and him with me, even with both of us fighting it with everything we had.”
“Maybe you shouldn’t have fought it,” Shelly said.
“Of course we shouldn’t have fought it,” Sera said. She was frowning now. “But he was a monk. He’d taken vows. And I had to leave. I had to leave because I knew I was causing too much pain for him.”
Shelly nodded. “So he taught you the same way you taught me?”
“He did,” Shelly said with a grin. “And that’s enough for today. We should head back.” She stood. “Make sure you don’t forget your gifts. Tomorrow I’ll start showing you how to use them.” Shelly nodded as she put the swords and the belt back in the bag and strapped it over her back once again.
Tommy Dayton stood from his hiding spot above the canyon. He thought he’d heard something down below but he’d looked all around through the rocky cliffs and the river and didn’t see anything. It had probably just been his mind playing tricks on him. An animal or something like that. Nat had sent his deputies out on scouting missions to find the best place to attack the IAO, and Tommy was investigating a river that ran down from the Camel’s Hump, one of the bigger mountains in the region. Apparently the IAO were building a dam there. Tommy kept his hand over his pistol as he walked back towards his sand bike which he’d parked between two boulders to help hide it from sight. As he approached the bike, he heard another sound, and before he realized what was happening, there was a gun pointed at his temple. “Okay, Dayton,” a gruff voice said. “That’s far enough. Turn around.” Tommy turned to see four IAO bandits wearing leather vests and jeans. The one holding the gun at his head had a thick black beard and long, scraggly hair. “Throw your gun off that cliff there.” He nodded towards the canyon. Tommy reluctantly did as he said, hearing the metal weapon bounce on a far-off rock. “All right,” the bearded man said. “Hey Beretta! We got Tommy Dayton! Come quick!”
Tommy stood nervously as a fifth man appeared from the other side of the larger of the two boulders. He was a short black man who wore a black eyepatch over his right eye and a black bandana on his head. He was dressed in a sweaty white tank top and torn jeans as he stood looking Tommy over with his one black, lifeless eye. The thing that scared Tommy the most was the baseball bat he was holding, which was wrapped with razor wire. “This is Beretta,” the bearded man said with a wicked grin. “He don’t talk, but he gets his point across.”
“Look, you should let me go,” Tommy said. “I’m a deputy workin’ for Sheriff Bigum.”
“So we hear,” the bearded man said, still pointing his gun at Tommy’s head. “We don’t like that you’re makin’ up with the Moores. And we especially don’t like that you’re workin’ for Nat Bigum. We try to discourage that sort of thing. You see, we don’t want Dead Man’s Bluff to be a peaceful little town. We don’t like peace so much.”
Tommy swallowed as the mute continued staring at him with his lifeless eye. “What kind of person don’t like peace?” Tommy asked.
“Us,” the bearded man said. “So we’re gonna send a message.” Beretta swung the bat at Tommy’s legs, smacking his knees hard and causing him to fall forwards. Tommy felt the bat slam into each of his arms and he felt the sharp pain and the throbbing that followed. The other men flipped him over and Tommy lay painfully on his back, unable to move his arms or legs as he watched Beretta’s bat crack his right wrist. His arms and legs were soon bruised and bloody as the bat cracked his bones and the razors sliced open his skin. Tommy felt more bones crack as Beretta continued his assault and he screamed, closing his eyes as the pain washed over him. “He goes for your arms and legs first,” the bearded man said as Beretta continued his assault, “so ya can’t get away. Then, he cracks your ribs. Splits your guts open with the razor wire. And lastly he starts to crack open your skull so he can smash up your brains. That way you die as slow and painful as possible.” Tommy tried to keep his eyes open, looking up at the sky as the pain continued. The bat crashed into him repeatedly and the razors sliced through skin. At first he tried his best to keep from passing out. Eventually, though, he was praying for death. He passed out from the pain long before those prayers were answered.
Continue on to the next chapter:
Afterlife, Volume 2, Chapter 29
Shelly and Bobby have a discussion.
Abby attempts her first bank robbery with Ace and Annabelle.
Alex Harris and his companions are ambushed.
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