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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:
Paul escapes the Messier Mine but the Jupiter Diamond is stolen.
Bobby comforts Michelle.
Devin Hellier has a chat with Eileen Traymont, the new leader of the enforcers in Numurka.
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Afterlife, Volume 2, Chapter 7
Della stepped through the open front door of the saloon. Abby had warned him and everyone else that the citizens of Carpenter City were actually in a cult led by Oral Kenyon, but Della had been in a room alone for too long and he needed to step out. He’d be careful. He could take care of himself and keep out of trouble when he needed to. Della had taken an empty room next to the one Abby was sharing with Sera when everyone decided it would be better for him and Mavery to room by themselves once all the other rooms had been divvied out. Della definitely wouldn’t be doing anything sexual with Mavery, but no one wanted the citizens of Carpenter City to find out why. He’d taken the room next to Abby’s so he could keep a close eye on her, but he’d been shut up in his room since they’d gotten into town other than when he stepped out for meals, so he really needed to get out and get some fresh air. The saloon was actually less than a block away from the hotel, so Della figured he’d stretch his legs, have a quick drink, maybe sit for a few minutes, and head back. He planned on drawing as little attention as possible, so he was wearing a black jacket and black pants. No make-up or cowboy hat with pink trim, just to be safe, and his jacket hung low enough to hide his two pearl handled pistols. He looked like a man out to have a drink, just like anyone else.
It was right before dinner time and the saloon was mostly empty. There were a few down-and-out looking men leaning over drinks at the stone bar and a pretty blonde bartender in a conservative white dress was standing behind it. The walls, floor, and ceiling were sandstone and a couple of bulbs hanging naked from the ceiling provided dim light. The place seemed ancient and uninviting, like a dungeon from medieval Europe. Della walked over to the bar as nonchalantly as he could and sat on a metal stool. He ordered a whiskey in the most masculine voice he could muster, winking at the pretty blonde bartender he had no interest in, and waited patiently for his drink. He felt like he was in middle school all over again, back when he had to hide who he really was. It was mentally exhausting always putting on an air, consciously trying to be someone he wasn’t. He was convinced no straight person would ever fully understand.
Della was a little upset with Abby for telling him not to be himself, but he knew on some level she was probably right. Why had Henry Song chosen this place of all places to send the Jupiter Diamond? Della frowned as the waitress put his drink down in front of him and he handed her some money. Then, he took a long swig. It was really the people of Carpenter City he was upset with. Not Abby. She’d been nothing but good to him, and Della was sticking to her like glue, like Pastor Earl had made him promise before he died. Della felt a little nervous about not being in his room next to her, but he was close enough. He could see the door to the hotel through the open door of the saloon, and he could tell if anyone unpleasant was heading into the building. Besides, Mark Gonzalez and the others were there. They’d be formidable enough bodyguards if Abby needed them. Della had really needed to get out, though, even if it was just for a few minutes. He was going absolutely stir crazy. Sitting at a bar pretending to be someone he wasn’t didn’t feel much better, though. He took another swig from his whiskey.
Della noticed a tall, handsome young man in a grey suit enter the bar and he averted his eyes, as hard as it was. He couldn’t let himself seem too interested. To his surprise, the man walked over to the bar and sat down next to him. “Nice evening, huh?” the man asked. Della took a quick peek down at the man’s posterior and liked what he saw.
“Oh, yeah sure,” Della replied in his fake masculine voice. The sun was still up outside. It was just before evening. “Here for a drink before dinner, or are you starting early?”
The man smiled at him, looking him up and down, and if Della hadn’t known better, he’d have thought the guy was checking him out. “Just chillin’ out a minute. You know how it is.” His voice was just slightly effeminate. Della could tell he was working hard to hide it.
He nodded. “Yeah.”
“So what do you do for a livin’?” the man asked.
Della grinned. Small talk? “Oh, I’m a bodyguard. Just passing through.”
The man chuckled. “I was just passin’ through. That was five years ago now. Maybe you’ll stick around, too. It is a nice place.” The glance the man gave Della made him think this guy definitely did want him to stick around. And for more than just small talk.
“I don’t know,” Della said. “It does seem nice, but like I said, we’re just passing through.”
“What’s your name?” the man asked, holding out his hand. “I’m Donnie.”
Della smiled and shook the hand in front of him, holding it a tad longer than usual. Donnie didn’t seem to mind. “Nathan.” For that day at least, he was back to being Nathan Forest again. Della Luscious would have to hide in the shadows.
Donnie nodded and glanced at the bartender. “She’s pretty ain’t she?” He was trying hard to seem genuine.
Della grinned knowingly. Part of him wanted to help this guy find his way out of the closet he was stuck in. It had been a long time since Della had been with anyone. Still, this wasn’t the time or place for it. Della knew that. And there was a good chance, living in Carpenter City, that Donnie was completely clueless regarding himself. “She is pretty.” Della nodded. Pretty in the same way a flower was. Nothing like the sexy man sitting next to him, though.
“I wouldn’t kick her out of bed, right?” Donnie asked with a goofy smile.
“Sure,” Della said with a chuckle.
“Of course I’d have to be married first,” Donnie added.
“Of course,” Della agreed with just a hint of sarcasm in his voice.
“I wouldn’t mind bein’ married to her, though.”
Della wondered why Donnie didn’t pay more attention to her if that was the case. “Can I give you a piece of advice?”
Donnie looked at him curiously. “Advice?”
Della nodded. “I’ve learned this the hard way, and I’m not sure why I’m telling you, but I just felt like this could be something you need to hear.” Donnie nodded, a perplexed expression on his face. “Don’t let other people determine who you are,” Della said. “It’ll catch up to you and it’ll kill you. Be yourself.”
“What on earth are you talkin’ about?” Donnie asked.
If they had been anywhere else, Della would have been more than happy to explain. This guy really needed someone to show him the ropes, and man was he sexy. “It’s just been something on my mind lately. And I figured someone else may need to hear. And you just happened to be the one sitting next to me.”
Donnie shrugged and nodded. “Okay.” He ordered a drink and stopped talking to Della.
After some time, two more men came into the bar. Della hadn’t quite finished his second drink yet. He decided this was an evening when he needed two. He’d leave when he was finished. Della looked more closely at the two men and realized one of them was the chubby sheriff who’d been sitting on the porch when they’d first gotten into town. The other was the deputy who’d been sitting beside him. They walked to the bar and took the stools next to Donnie. The sheriff seemed to be in a jovial mood. He was smiling through his bushy gray handlebar moustache as he puffed on a long cigar. Della chuckled when he thought about what the motion reminded him of. He swigged his whiskey to hide his amusement. “Well, Randy,” the sheriff said in a husky voice as he patted the young deputy on the back. “So let me tell ya the rest of the story while we wait for Maggy to take our orders.”
“All right,” Randy said.
“So I found them two faggots in the alley kissin’. And you know what I says? I says, look you skin flute playin’ bottom feeders. I got somethin’ for your mouths. And I pull out my laser pistol, stick it in the first one’s mouth, ask ‘im how he likes it, and then I blowed ‘is brains out right then and there.” He chuckled as the deputy looked at him with a shocked expression. “The other one was so scared he pissed his pants on the spot so I put my gun in ‘is mouth too and I blew ‘is brains out, too while he stood there shakin’. They shoulda known better,” the sheriff continued. “We don’t want no pipe stuffers in this town. They ain’t real men anyway. They’re abominations, and I did the world a favor.” He puffed his cigar. “Next time I see a rump pumper, maybe I’ll stick my gun up ‘is ass and blow ‘is faggot guts out.” Randy chuckled and even Donnie snickered a little. “See how they like that. They’d probably enjoy it, right?” They continued laughing. Della wasn’t surprised to hear Donnie laughing loudest of all.
“It’s Adam and Eve, not Adam and Steve,” Randy said, chuckling at his own bad joke. If Della had a nickel for every time he’d heard that ridiculous pun, Abby wouldn’t need to look for any more diamonds.
“You really killed them?” Della asked the sheriff, looking down at his drink.
The sheriff glared at him past Donnie. “Yeah, I killed them faggots. When Sheriff Bear Phelps says he killed someone, he killed ‘em. What, you don’t believe me?”
Della grinned and drank the rest of his whiskey as his blood boiled. “Yeah, I believe you.” He ordered another whiskey as Sheriff Phelps continued telling stories about his supposed exploits. In many instances, the deputy Randy backed him up. Della couldn’t get the first story out of his mind, though. True story or not, a man who talked and acted like that had no business being the sheriff of any town. Della wondered how many other innocent people he’d killed, and how many he’d kill in the future. He needed to stop it. He needed to do something about it. What good was Della to anyone, including himself, if he turned the other way when innocent people were being murdered and the murderer was sitting right in front of him? Della gritted his teeth and turned away from the sheriff and his audience as he paid the bartender for his next drink.
After some time, Sheriff Phelps and Randy said goodbye to Donnie and left the bar. Della left a hefty tip and followed them out soon after. Donnie said goodbye, but Della ignored him. He walked out into the waning evening daylight and watched as Sheriff Phelps and Randy parted ways. Phelps turned right and walked down a long alley that cut between the street that the hotel and the bar were on and the street where the porch had been where Della had first seen the sheriff and his deputy. Della walked quickly to the same alley and turned into it, following Sheriff Phelps several paces before stopping. “Sheriff Phelps,” Della growled. “Turn around.”
The sheriff turned to face him, a confused expression on his round face. The two men were about thirty feet apart. The narrow alley was scattered with trash cans and black plastic bags as the evening sun cast shadows across the buildings and the sand that filled the alley between them. Phelps lifted the brim of his ten gallon hat a little, as if it would help him see. “What do you want, boy?”
“Draw!” Della shouted. He opened his jacket, revealing his two pearl handled pistols at his sides.
Phelps’ hand hovered over his own laser pistol, which was hanging in a hip holster on the sheriff’s left side. “What? You crazy, boy?”
Della shook his head. “Draw! You people say homosexuals are Satan’s abominations, right?” He was back to speaking in his usual effeminate voice. He even ratcheted it up several notches for the sheriff’s benefit.
Phelps scowled at him. “That’s what they are, alright.”
“Well the devil’s come to collect his due.” Della winked at him.
“What the hell you talkin’ ‘bout, boy?” Phelps asked.
“Draw,” Della said, “or I’ll sneak in through your window tonight and sodomize your homophobic ass!”
Phelps’ hand was still hovering over his gun. His eyes widened with intensity. “You a faggot, boy?”
Della nodded. “I’m as faggot as they come, honey. Now draw!”
“You know,” Phelps blurted, “the only thing I hate more than niggers is faggots, and boy, you’re both.”
Della gritted his teeth in anger. “Then draw!” Sheriff Phelps went for his gun, but before his hand touched it, Della drew both of his pistols, moving like the snap of a firecracker, and fired them. The guns hissed and one laser blast shot through each of Sheriff Phelps’ eyes, leaving empty bloody sockets and blasting his brains through the back of his head, splattering them across the sandy alley behind him. The sheriff stood for a second, flames flicking out of his empty eye sockets until he collapsed. Della was seething as he walked over to the sheriff’s body with tears streaming down his cheeks and he kicked his mangled face. “You son of a bitch,” he muttered as he kicked the dead sheriff’s head once again. More blood spilled out. Some got on Della’s boot. “You homophobic son of a bitch.” Della looked around. There was no one nearby. Still, he realized he’d just put himself and everyone else in his group in danger. He cursed the whole situation. He cursed all of Carpenter City as he tried to figure out what he was going to do. They’d have to blast their way out of town, now. It probably would have come to that regardless, though. Still, Della had just walked up to the proverbial pot they were stirring and kicked it over. He took a deep breath and ran into the shadows of the alley. He needed to find Abby and make sure she was safe. But in the meantime, he couldn’t let himself get caught.
Abby was standing in a grassy clearing beside a river. She immediately recognized it. It was the river that ran through the oasis, where she swam with Michelle and Horseman. Where she and Pastor Earl had some good talks. She noticed someone seated on a rock next to a river and realized it was Pastor Earl. His long, white ponytail rested on his back. She’d already known she was dreaming, but that cemented it. She walked over to the rock and sat beside him. “Remember I said not to trust anyone in Carpenter City,” he said with a smile.
Abby nodded. “I guess I was thrown a little by the crosses and churches. I was hoping they’d be more like you. I miss you.”
“Not everyone who claims to be a Christian is a good person,” he said, “and there can be Buddhists, Muslims, aetheists, and people of all belief systems who are better people then many who claim to follow Christ. But you already knew that. I’m not telling you anything you didn’t already know.”
“But how can I tell the difference?” Abby asked. “Between the good ones and the others?”
“It’s a gray world we live in,” Pastor Earl said, “but the Bible says you can recognize a false prophet by their fruit.”
Abby remembered this verse. “What fruit?”
“Do they help others, or are they only really out for themselves?” Pastor Earl asked. “Never trust a man who’s only out for himself. These types of people will stab you in the back without a moment’s hesitation if they have something to gain by doing it. They’ll destroy the world if it suits them. You must do everything in your power to stop them and bring them down. Selfishness is the world’s greatest evil.”
Abby nodded. “Like Herman Rennock.”
“Right,” Pastor Earl agreed. “Likewise, when you become the leader of your own nation, always see that the poor and needy are provided for, to the best of your abilities. Feed the sheep.”
Abby remembered Pastor Kenyon saying something similar when he’d spoken to her. He’d mentioned feeding sheep. “Pastor Kenyon and his people seemed so nice when we first got here, providing for us and everything.”
“But they have ulterior motives,” Pastor Earl said. “They’re fattening the sheep for the slaughter, not feeding them in order to help them thrive. They want you to join them. Pastor Kenyon wants what you have. He means to take it from you.”
“How can they know?” Abby asked.
“I don’t know,” Pastor Earl said. “Remember, I’m not telling you anything you don’t already know.” Pastor Earl looked at her with his kind blue eyes and smiled. “I told you about Pastor Kenyon before. I couldn’t remember his name, but I told you about his cult.”
“I remember.” She listened to the birds singing as she watched the river flow in front of her.
Pastor Earl nodded. “He sucks people in by making false promises. But remember, the life of a Christian isn’t an easy life. It’s a life of pain and suffering. If you truly put God above yourself, you will serve his people. And you will likely suffer for it.”
“I try,” Abby said.
“Love first,” Pastor Earl said. “You’ll never go wrong if you love first. Love comes before accusation. Love comes before judgement. Love comes before everything. Never forget to love.”
“It’s hard sometimes,” Abby said. “Especially when it comes to loving your enemies.”
“Sometimes you don’t even know who your enemies are,” Pastor Earl pointed out. “The most ferocious wolves wear sheep’s clothing.”
Abby frowned. “I wish I had the eyes to see.”
“Even if you don’t, God does. Remember, Abby, I’m not telling you anything you don’t already know. All this is within you. You have what you need. You’ve just forgotten. It’s easy to forget.” The last words trailed off into darkness as Abby pondered their meaning.
Abby woke to someone knocking on her door. It seemed to be a common occurrence these days. She was always trying to catch up on her rest, and there were always people knocking on her door. She noticed that Sera wasn’t there. She must have been off training somewhere. “Who is it?” Abby asked as she stretched and put on her cowboy hat. She slipped her boots onto her feet and zipped up the sides, making sure to put her knife in the right one just in case before pulling her jeans down to cover the tops.
“It’s Grace.” Abby recognized the voice of the woman she’d talked to earlier. She glanced at a clock on the wall to see that it was almost seven. She’d almost forgotten she was supposed to meet Grace and her son so they could leave with her. Of course, Nat and the others still hadn’t gotten back from the mine and she wasn’t sure if John was done fixing the truck. Abby noticed Einstein charging on the end table. He’d been almost out of power. She probably needed him to charge a while longer before he’d be any use to her.
“All right,” Abby said as she walked towards the door. “I’m coming.” She groggily opened the door to see four men standing with Grace, who was wearing the same white dress Abby had seen her in earlier. Her long, brown hair was tied back in a ponytail. The four men were wearing gray suits and gray cowboy hats. One was holding a laser pistol pointed at Abby.
“I’m sorry,” Grace said sadly. “I had no choice. My husband found out.” She was teary eyed. “I couldn’t keep it from him.” Abby noticed the bruise on her left cheek.
“What’s going on?” Abby asked.
“Come with us, Miss Song,” the man pointing the laser pistol said.
“My name’s Ruth King,” Abby said as two of the men patted her down. One found the knife in her boot and slipped it into his pocket as Abby swallowed.
“We know who you are,” the man pointing the gun at her said. “Come with us or Miss Stevens here is goin’ to meet Jesus.”
Abby noticed another man with a laser pistol dug into Grace’s back. “Where’s her son?”
“Don’t worry about him,” the man with the gun said as Grace sobbed. “We’ve got ‘im under control.”
“My friends will notice I’m gone,” Abby said.
“Keep quiet,” the man said, “Or we’ll kill Grace here. You’re takin’ an awful long time, Miss Song. Do you value your life?”
The man with the gun in Grace’s back pushed it harder. Abby wondered if any of her friends had noticed what was happening. Della had the room right next to hers. He must have noticed at least. John and Paul were on the other side. Paul was still gone and John was probably working on the truck. As Abby stepped out into the hall, she saw that all of the doors were shut. She followed the four men and Grace down the hall, down the steps, and past the front desk, where Abby noticed Mary scowling at her. They left the hotel and made their way down the main road. The people Abby saw in the street didn’t seem to care that she and Grace were being escorted at gunpoint. Abby didn’t see any of her friends, either. She wondered where Sera was training. They made several turns and walked past lots of one story houses with peeling paint, when Abby saw what looked like an old-style plantation mansion at the end of a wide street lined with the first trees she’d seen in a while. The trees were surrounded by brick walls on four sides, with dirt filling the space in the middle. They appeared to be well-watered, somehow. It looked like a very expensive, wasteful undertaking.
The mansion they were walking towards had a large porch with white wooden columns which appeared to be freshly painted. Abby figured each column was probably worth millions as she was marched up the steps. Two of the men took Grace away while four more joined the two who were with Abby as they opened the huge wooden front doors of the mansion and walked through. Abby was looking for an opening now that Grace was gone. She had no weapons, but she did have her cybernetic left leg. The six men marched Abby into a large foyer hung with colorful tapestries depicting battles from old wars. Abby noticed soldiers wearing blue and gray uniforms. Abby knew from her history classes that this tapestry depicted the American Civil War. The men led her up the spiraling steps and through an open wooden door into an office where Oral Kenyon was seated behind a large wooden desk. A gold cross stood on the desk in front of him as he smiled his fake smile at Abby. His round face was red with either anger or anxiety. “Sit down,” he said. The office was sparse for its size. There were a few books on a shelf and a Bible lay on Kenyon’s desk. There were some plants here and there and a large golden crucifix hung from the wall, but it was a large office and it seemed mostly empty.
Abby slowly sat in one of the wooden chairs situated across the desk from Kenyon. He was wearing a spotless white suit, which was actually all Abby had ever seen him in. “What’s going on?” she asked.
“Abigail Song,” he said with a grin. “I knew who you were from the moment you came to town. We all knew you were comin’.”
“How’d you know that?” Abby asked.
“Oh, don’t worry,” Pastor Kenyon said, grinning. “I have my ways of findin’ things out. That’s all you need to know. So you lied to everyone about who you really are. Now, you do realize that lyin’ is an awful sin?”
“It’s all relative,” Abby said. “I had good reason.”
Kenyon shook his head. “No, Abby. It ain’t relative. Sin is sin, and you’ve proven yourself to be an unrepentant sinner. You know what we do with unrepentant sinners here?”
Abby frowned. “Give them spankings? Whip them? I don’t know. You seem like the kinky type.”
Kenyon glared at her. “You’ve got a mouth on ya. You’ve been hangin’ around folks like Nat Bigum too long. A young woman like you shouldn’t be talkin’ like that.”
“And a pastor like you shouldn’t be leading people astray,” Abby said. “You do know what the Bible says about false prophets, right? And those who would lead God’s children astray?”
He nodded. “I do. So it’s a good thing I only preach the truth.”
“You call that insanity from your church the truth? I felt like my IQ was lowered just being in the same building as that craziness.”
Kenyon folded his arms and glared at her for a few long moments. “Let’s get to another nastier subject. I was content leavin’ you and your people alone while you were here, but it seems you’ve forced my hand. My men found our sheriff here in town, Bear Phelps, murdered, lyin’ dead in an alley. One of your people is unaccounted for. Do you know anything about this?”
Abby looked at him with surprise. “I don’t, actually.”
“Do you know the whereabouts of all your folks?”
Abby shrugged. “They don’t tell me everywhere they go.”
“Three of your men went off to Gerald Messier’s mine this morning,” Kenyon said. “We’ve dealt with them.” Abby’s heart sank. How did he know about that? “They were smart to sneak off early in the mornin’ like they did,” he continued. “Didn’t get past our knowledge, though. Anyway, so you’re here, seven of your folks are in the hotel. They’ll all be dealt with soon enough. And we already captured the black fella who was workin’ on the truck and that black woman who was playin’ with ‘er swords out on the dunes. That leaves one unaccounted for.” He leaned forward. “My men said the other skinny black one who wears all black was in the saloon across form your hotel this evenin’. That was the last place Bear Phelps was seen alive. Now you’re tellin’ me you don’t know anything about this?”
Abby shook her head. “I don’t.” So that’s why Della hadn’t come to her rescue. What in the hell was he up to?
“Well, we’ll find ‘im,” he said. “And if the rumors I’m hearin’ are true, there’s a hot place in hell waitin’ for ‘im. Along with the rest of your folks.”
“There’s an even hotter place waiting for you,” Abby blurted, glaring at him with her piercing eyes.
He glared back as his six men stood behind Abby. “I saw the Holy City, the new Jerusalem, comin’ down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride beautifully dressed for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne sayin’, ‘Look! God’s dwellin’ place is now among the people, and he will dwell with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God. He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mournin’ or cryin’ or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.’” He smiled his synthetic smile. “What if I were to tell you this is me? I am this man. Carpenter City is the new Jerusalem. The old world has ended. My people are joinin’ me in the new one.”
Abby smirked. “I’d say ‘You’re full of crap, asshole.’”
Kenyon bared his teeth in an awful grimace for a split second, his face beet red. He quickly smiled and leaned back. “No true Christian would ever use such foul language.”
Abby nodded. “Well you don’t know a god-damned thing about Christianity, so that doesn’t mean much coming from you.”
Kenyon licked his lips. “You’re lucky,” he finally said with a smile. “You get to be the witness to a hangin’ tonight. Of course, Rennock wants you alive. Too bad. I’m sure Satan’s waitin’ for ya in Hell, whenever you end up goin’ to meet ‘im. Rennock’s gonna give me a nice chunk of change for you, though.”
“Thirty silver coins?” Abby asked. “I should have figured a man like you would be working with Herman Rennock.” Kenyon nodded to his men. They pulled Abby up from her chair and marched her out of his office. Two of them had guns thrust into her back as they walked.
Continue on to the next chapter:
Afterlife, Volume 2, Chapter 8
Michelle and Juanita have unwelcome visitors.
An enforcer named Jimmy Bond runs into unexpected company.
The townspeople of Carpenter City gather to witness a hanging.
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