Thursday, April 29, 2010

American Apocalypse IV - Heartland - Chapter 3e

"Well, not much to tell you really." I told him. I looked around. We were in a fairly large room that was empty except for a couple of picnic tables that had been pushed together to form one long table. About halfway down the table were a pair of nice silver salt and pepper shakers. There was a china cabinet which held dishes and a side table that was empty. At the head of the table, where Brother Tom sat of course, was a rough hewn wooden chair that looked a lot like a throne. On purpose I was sure. Behind it on the wall was another version of the same flag they had flying outside. It was actually a satin bedsheet that had been spray painted. Who ever did it had held the nozzle to close and the paint had run.

On his right sat Elder Bob and Brother Tom had gestured for me to sit on his left. His men, all four who had followed us in, took their seats below the salt. The empty space above it was supposed to be filled by Ricky and Loco. Ricky had moved to sit down, Loco growled at him, then he walked away from the table and took up position against the wall by the open door that probably led to a kitchen. Ricky started to take the same wall but Loco looked at the far wall and back at him. Damn, he was slow about some shit but he got the message and moved over to the far wall by the china cabinet. Brother Tom did not like this at all. He opened his mouth, thought about the loss of face involved, and shut it. Inwardly I grinned.

"So where are you coming from? You know how it is. We don't get the news like we used too." He smiled. I am sure he thought it was his best "Talk to me" one. Before I could say anything he banged on the table with his fist and yelled "Women! Where the hell are you! You got thirsty men in here. Bring us some water!" He continued "I am sorry that all we have to offer is water but this is a poor village. Perhaps we could convince you to tithe a small bit to the church. You are good Christians are you not?" Oh yeah. His boys who hadn't missed a word of what was being said popped a woody of nonverbal delight over this comment.

"Well Brother Tom, you know there are many roads that lead to the Fathers house." I remembered hearing someone say that once and liked it. It had lots of weasel in it without being nasty. He thought about it for a second, or pretended too, then he said "Yes, but there is only one God and one true path." He smiled at me. Then yelled "Water! Woman get your ass in here now!" I heard her voice saying "Coming!" before I saw her. That was a good thing. I needed it. A cold wave splashed over me and a jolt of pure energy lit up my nervous system. She came through the door struggling with a five gallon plastic container two thirds filled with water. Another woman was right behind her carrying coffee mugs on a silver serving tray. She said "Sorry Brother Thomas. The stupid bitch, I mean woman, had problems with the pump." She curtsied, set the cups on the table and told Carol "Don't splash the water all over the place when you pour."

She looked like shit. She probably hadn't been that skinny since she was twelve. Her hair was dull but when she looked at me, only for a second before dropping them, her eyes told me she was still alive. I slid my legs up over the seat and dropped them on the floor. Then I bent down and began retying my boots. I had too. I knew if anyone saw my face then it would begin. It would too, just not until she was out of the room. I heard her bare feet move across the floor and Brother Tom say "Do you have a problem with women knowing their place amongst your people? I didn't look at him first. Instead I looked at his men and then Loco. I heard Loco say softly "Holy shit." Then I turned to Brother Tom and said "No. Not at all."

American Apocalypse IV - Heartland - Chapter 3d

Bible Man was interesting. The gray streaked beard, the glittering eyes, the sense of purpose that you only get when you are truly freaking insane. He was a keeper. The other two flanking him had drank from the same kool-aide. Hell, Bible Man probably brewed and dispensed it for the community. I grinned at him. Much to my delight he grinned back. I call it a grin. The reality was we had just shown each other our teeth in a socially acceptable kind of way. The two guys with him, and every man I had seen so far had a beard if they could grow one. You saw a lot of beards nowadays. Ricky had one. Loco tried to have one but he was not from the first class beard growing limb of the old genetic tree. Me? I shaved. I wasn't good at it but I would rather scrape and cut myself than have a beard. Plus Night didn't like them. So I told her I shaved for her and reaped the benefits whenever I could which sure as hell wasn't much lately.

Bible Man focused me by starting the conversational ball rolling "What do you want?" It was spoken in a half confrontational, half curious tone. I could understand that. I replied with "So you guys Amish?"

"No." He seemed insulted that I asked him that. "Amish don't carry guns." was his reply. I thought about it for a few beats and said "Oh, I guess that is why we haven't see any." He didn't like how the conversation was proceeding, I saw that plain as day on his face, probably because it wasn't going the way he had planned. He tried again. "Why are you here?"

"Because it is on the road we are following." I kept a stone face when I answered him. I was starting to enjoy this and I decided to see how long I could continue. Plus it sounded mystical I thought. A guy like Bible Man should be ale to appreciate that.

The guy on his right decided to jump in. He said "Brother Thomas means what do you want from us?" Brother Thomas looked at him and snarled at him "I will ask the questions here Elder Bob." As he did I saw a bit more of Bro Tom appear and I decided I didn't like him. Not that I wasn't already prejudiced against the entire Crackin Christy subset of American Christianity. Brother Tom decided to try another tack "So...join us inside, we can provide clean cold water for you to drink, and we can talk." He went for a warm smile. I smiled back and said "Why thank you Bro."

We headed for the two story building that the watchman had his post on. Brother Tom and I fell into step together and everyone trailed along after us. Behind me I could hear Elder Bob trying to chat Loco up and failing miserably. Especially after Elder Bob told him "We have beans we can trade. I know you people love them." Brother Tom heard it too and said "You don't look like traders. Outside of beans we don't have much to trade." I could tell by the way he emphasized "don't have much" that he was planning on kicking Elder Bob's ass when he got him alone.

"No, we are not traders. Rather we are an advance party for people who might be interested in trading with you." I told him as we came to the double doors that lead inside the building. It looked like it had been a post office at one time. The wall was cracked in places from the impact of multiple rounds and the glass in the doors had been replaced by plywood with strips of metal to reinforce it. "Brother Tom saw me taking it in and said "Yes. We had our share of troubles. Tell me more about this group that you say is following you."

American Apocalypse IV - Heartland - Chapter 3c

I slowed the pace down so I could watch as they mustered. It was sad. Max, or anyone else who led people with training, and the weapons to use, would have gutted them. Either they didn't have anything worth taking, or they were backed by someone who had the muscle to make sure that what ever was taken was quickly recovered. Then again they could just be survivors trying to get by. I discounted that. Just getting by didn't cut it anymore. You didn't get participation awards anymore. Hell, second place was a hole in the ground if you were lucky.

A crow cawed somewhere off to my right. I cawed back. No reason other than I felt like it. Not every bird belonged to Freya but increasingly I felt like all crows belonged to me and my people. In front of us the village welcoming committee formed. I noticed they were looking around like they expected someone else any minute. He stumbled out of a house, noticed we were watching, slowed down an adjusted his robe and began walking towards us. He was armed with a black leather bound bible. “Truly a weapon of mass destruction” I thought “When deployed by the wrong people.

We came to a stop. In the old days, an even older movies, a dog or two would be in the street barking and watching. Maybe a couple chickens working the dirt for bugs. Not in this world. They had all been eaten. The policy of neutering everything with four legs wasn't going to help matters. Hell, if Woof was still intact he had a good chance of becoming immortal.

The others had slowed down their pace too. They were trying to time their arrival in front of us with the arrival of Brother Bible. Since he was going going for dignified that meant they had no choice but to wait for him while we stood off from each other. Maybe twenty feet of distance separated us. While we awaited his arrival we both studied each other. It was in many ways a dance with each movement falling into a certain expected form. There were different movements depending on what music was selected but they almost always started off the same way. The greeting. This would determine the tempo of the second movement and whether or not there would be a third movement. Myself, I listened to the music in my head which seemed to be beamed in from another planet entirely. I was okay with that. I had to be. It was the only station I had.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

American Apocalypse IV - Heartland - Chapter 3b

We cut back around the backside of the hill we were on so we could approach them from the road. No use in advertising that we had been sitting up there spying on them.  Some people might take that the wrong way.

We walked toward the town with me out front and Ricky and Loco back about six feet.  Ricky and Loco liked wearing their rifles so it looked like they hung off their chests instead of slung over their shoulder like I did. I understood why but I didn't care for it. They, and I thought it was a disadvantage, were totally focused on the rifle as their weapon of choice.

Myself, I figured if I was engaging people at rifle range then I had fucked up. I preferred getting up close. My range was 15 feet or less. At that distance it was personal which worked in my favor.  I wasn't a target then. I was a flesh and blood man who was armed and with in range of more than just their eyeballs. I was there. They could smell me, see me, and read me on levels they were not even aware of probably. The reality that death was just a split second away and looking straight at them was unnerving to most people. Not all, but most. The ones that it wasn't were the ones I shot first.

I was thinking about this because we had been spotted and the lookout was beating on a trash can lid with a piece of wood.  I noticed they had left their flag up all night. Well, one less chore to do in the morning I figured. From a couple of houses men came busting out the doors trying to dress while holding on to their rifles at the same time. Impressive it wasn't. I heard Loco snicker.  Not a lot of body armor in this bunch. While they rushed around I realized we were going to have to tone down the military look some. Out here it made us stand out to much. Camouflage was the wrong camouflage. Looking around at the villagers approaching I realized modified Gander was what we wanted. 

American Apocalypse IV - Heartland - Chapter 3a

We woke up before dawn, sat for a while, and listened to the daytime world wake up around us. We watched as the village came to life. Nothing new here. I watched a guy come out of a house and enter the woods to take a piss. Sanitation was going to be a problem if the they didn't get power restored everywhere. Either that, or start digging holes for outhouses. The women would probably make sure something happened either way. 

I counted twenty two people here. Enough people to make a village but I wasn't sure it was enough to make a village work. None of the fields looked cultivated though there were a couple gardens.  I didn't see any sign of animals like cows and goats. Those had been devoured.  Same thing for chickens. Someone was going to make some money breeding animals and selling them from what I had seen so far.

This told me they were being supplied. The question was by who and where were they? Where they a threat? What did they have? Was it worth letting the Horde know? Could it be taken?   Damn, thinking about it made my head ache.  "Too bad. This isn't about you" This from the inner voice I called "Mr. Responsible Pain In The Ass."  Fortunately I didn't hear from him very often an almost never listened to him anyway. 

"Okay guys. You ready to go meet the neighbors?"

Ricky said "Yep" and Loco said "Sure."  They both looked at me, waiting I guess for me to tell them my plan. I didn't want to say "Yeah. That's all I came up with." So I added "Maybe they'll invite us for breakfast."

The two of them looked at each other, back at me, grinned, and Loco said "Right." 

Monday, April 26, 2010

American Apocalypse IV - Heartland - Chapter 3

He passed the binoculars to Ricky who took a look. He handed them back to Loco and said "Looks like a checkpoint of some sort."

Loco replied "Yeah. You see the flag?"

"Flag? Hand me them binoculars again." Loco passed them back to Ricky. "Yeah. Okay. I got it." He held the binoculars to me. I took them and scanned back and forth. Lucky the wind was blowing lightly. The flag unfurled enough in the breeze for me to get a glimpse of the device sewn to the white cloth. "Y'all see whats on that flag?" I was looking at Loco when I asked. "Not really. It ain't the star spangled banner. That's for sure." Ricky added. "Yeah. That's got to be something else." He laughed and said. "Maybe it's the local warlord."  I didn't laugh. "Yeah. Probably. I don't like the watchtower." There was a platform built on top of a two story building that had a lookout with a rifle on it. "That could be trouble" Ricky observed.  I agreed with him. "He does have a couple blind spots once you are inside of town." I pointed them out to them. They were trying to wall the main area in with dead cars. So far they had only managed a 100 foot section.  Half of that had been covered in dirt. Somewhat.  It did not look to impressive.

 I told them "Lets sit tight here. See what happens for a bit. Spend the night. Look at them again tomorrow. I want silence now until tomorrow. No cooking either." I told them the watch schedule and sat down and began cleaning and sharpening my weapons. I also had to figure out how we were going to do this.

The flag had a cross and something else emblazoned on the white field. It probably meant Christian milita types. I wanted to figure out some cool strategy to do this instead of just showing up. Something more military. Something more Max like. I couldn't think of anything other than show up and if it got weird, well, kill them all. I watched the village as darkness came upon us. I saw the light of a couple lanterns for awhile glowing through windows. Lantern light was different than real light from a light bulb. It glowed more than it illuminated. I shrugged, and thought to myself "I was what I was." I told myself "Tomorrow we would go down and say "Hello." After that it was see what happens." I got up, stretched , and went to relieve Ricky of the watch.

Sunday, April 25, 2010

American Apocalypse IV - Heartland - Chapter 2e

I signed off to find Loco and Ricky staring at me with more than a little bit of awe. Loco said "Were you talking to Freya?"


They both shouted "Freya!" and slammed their chests with their right hands clenched into a fist. "Okay" I thought "I missed when that became popular." They were looking at me like I was supposed to do something. Probably bang back.  The weird thing was I felt something stir inside of me when they did that. Something I was familiar with. I wanted to roll. I wanted to pull the sword I had strapped across my back and cut someones limbs off.  I wanted to yell. To let free, to give voice to that which lived within me. Instead I said "Cool. Lets move." 

We moved. We were able to put some miles under our wheels for a change. The road was clear in places. More so than we had seen so far. We passed houses, some occupied. Once we passed a man and a boy walking the road, slung rifles over their shoulders. I waved, and the boy waved back.  The sky was blue. A deeper blue than I had ever seen. It seemed like every year the sky got bluer. I forget who it was that had explained it to me. The sky really was getting bluer because each year there were less planes up there painting it gray with their exhaust. I still saw contrails. They were rare enough that they were pointed out when someone spotted one.

We did have one nice surprise. Nice surprises were rare. Nasty ones were far more likely. Loco found us a portable radio that worked.  They were excited. I could care less. Why? If they played music it was from a world that was gone. I didn't really morn its passing either. It never was my world anyway. The news? Lies from liars. The weather? Useless generally. It was never for the area we were in and if it was, it was usually wrong. I was a better weatherman.More and more I found that cared less for the artifacts and news from a civilization I thought of as "Machine World."

They were excited. I think they were surprised that I wasn't.  I noticed Loco look at Ricky and get a tiny shrug. Loco and Ricky started talked about baseball and if the Yankees were still playing. The Yankees? Well if money could save you from PowerDown then they might still have a roster. Otherwise there probably were some bulked up Gnawers running around New York. A-Rod had to have enough steroids in him to pump a Jewish Granny up to minor league Gnawer status.

I wasn't surprised at what was playing. I sat with them anyways. Who knows? Maybe we would hear something useful.  FM was what I expected. Government approved broadcasting. Pure propaganda. A couple of robot stations playing  music. Loco and Ricky started arguing about what station to listen to. What a surprise that their musical tastes were different. I told them to switch to AM and it got more interesting. We got the usual Christian preachers telling us what happened was Gods vengeance on a nation that had lost its way. Someone was selling charms that prevented nightmares and then we hit gold. We heard:

"Standby for a broadcast from the Revolution Network. We are also available on the 'Net at  or They went to the pan pipe music that the Burners always used and a womans voice, with a bit of a Brit accent, said "This broadcast will be brief as usual." She chuckled "No surprise there." Then continued "We will prevail. Despite the brutal tactics of the warlord puppets and mass murder of citizens by the government police battalions we will prevail. Know this! Freya is upon you government dogs. You think by killing us you have stopped us?" She laughed scornfully "No. Oh no. You have only guaranteed your death. She comes! She comes! Fire and sword! Fire and sw...." Then the transmission went dead for a couple of seconds. Long enough for Loco and Ricky to look at each gape mouthed. I just grinned. Shorty was stirring people up.

Then another voice. This one male, and by the accent southern. "The broadcast you just heard was from a robotic transmitter placed in your area by terrorists. Please contact federal law enforcement should you know anything about this. A reward will be paid for successful prosecution of these individuals. Thank you and God Bless America."

"All right. Leave the radio somewhere the follow on people will see it. Maybe it will be here. Maybe it won't."

Loco asked me "G. Any chance..."

"No." I said it flatly. I relented and told him why. "We don't listen to the news. We make it Loco." It was bullshit of course but it sounded macho so it was okay. They liked it. We rolled on.

We pulled up outside of some little crossroads that once existed because it was at the crossroads of two minor state roads.  That had worked in their favor until PowerDown. Then they had been overrun. Loco and Ricky glassed the town while I studied it. I was really wishing I had Woof and his friends with me. I had asked for them but Max said he wanted them to work the gaps between the scouts. I was going to ask again. I liked talking to Woof. Perhaps more than most people. We saw eye to eye except when I stood up.

"We got people." I told them.

"Yeah. I got them." Loco replied.

Friday, April 23, 2010

American Apocalypse IV - Heartland - Chapter 2d

Loco began trying to untie the cords that they had used to tie down the tarp with. It was blue of course. I sometimes thought if I ever started my own country the national flag would be a blue tarp. He was having problems with the knots they had used. I told him "Just cut them Loco."  The Old Mans lips compressed into a tight line when I said that. He started to put his sunglasses back on. I said "Don't." I watched his face ripple with his thoughts "Fuck him. Do it. No. He'll do something. Probably painful. I'm a man damn it!" He was going to do it. I pulled the hammer back on the Navy. He changed his mind.

Loco cut through the cords, sheathed his blade and began pulling back the tarp. I didn't know what to expect. Hell, it could been filled with dried people jerky headed for some Gnawer market. Carefully wrapped bundles of white and dark meat.  It wasn't.

We had the same stuff we saw in the backs and trunks of cars. A suitcase. Some trash bags, the official suitcase of the homeless, a couple of cardboard boxes with pots and pans, and what looked to be spices. Also three sleeping bags, each tightly rolled, and some plastic water jugs, one of which was leaking I noticed. Seeing that let everybody relax a notch. I smiled at the boys and said "See. No big deal." Bearded Boy smiled weakly. The other two were still pissed. I understood that. Too bad.

I was going to tell Loco to just grope the Hefty's.  I changed my mind. He obviously knew what he was doing.  The tension went back up a notch when he stepped away from the cart. looked at it, then walked around one side. knelt down, then stood back up. He looked at me, and said "We got something here." I knew it as soon as he took a knee by the change on the Boys faces.

Of course then they had to go for it. Ricky was for shit as an actor but he was fast on the trigger. I already had a round in Bearded Guy, maybe a tiny piece of a second before Ricky. Loco was on them too. We were fast, but it was sloppy and overkill. Overkill because none of us knew the other well enough to bet their life on them doing what needed to be done. I sighed mentally and thought "No wonder Max walked us through the why and whats afterwards."

I looked at Old Man who was frozen in place and white in the face.  "So...what are we going to find old man?" 

"I don't know. Really!"

Either did I actually. I didn't even know what had alerted Loco. I thought I would keep that to myself. Instead I said "Show him Loco."

Ricky looked at Loco and said "False Bottom?"

"Yep. Same old shit. Different country." Loco started tossing luggage out of the back of the cart when a voice I recognized blasted the word "Run!" into my head and followed it with an image of a smoking crater. I went from 0 to 60 in nothing flat yelling "Bomb!" as I passed Loco and Ricky. They understood that word. I had a five stride lead on them but they were moving at speed right behind me. I felt like I had been running, and not fast enough, for an eternity or three or four seconds when the same voice screamed "Down!" and down I went.

I hit the ground hard, ate grass, and skidded to a stop. Almost on top of me was Loco who from the "Oof" I heard hit as hard as I did. Ricky was about two strides behind us. I covered my ears, and buried my face in the grass I had just mowed with my face and waited. The ground shook, the boom not even muffled by my hands and Marlboro butts in my ears, and dirt and other crap rained down on us. I knew my head was going to be hurting for certain soon. Jeebus that was loud.

I waited a few seconds, got up on my knees, and while I finger combed crap out of my hair and clothes looked back at where we had been. There was a small crater where we had been standing. Old Guy was nowhere to be seen. I thought "Well, he did say his legs were hurting. Probably not bothering him now."  I stood up and gave Loco a hand up. Him and Ricky started doing what I was doing. The only  difference was they were saying "Holy shit" while I was thinking it.

I was rearranging all the gear I had hung on me. "Take a look guys" I told them "While I check in with headquarters."  Mentally I sent Freya the word that meant I wanted to talk to her "Svärd." I didn't get why I had to say that. I wanted to say "Earth to Freya" but no, we had to had to have a nifty cool Norse word.  She was there instantly as I had expected. I didn't bother with verbal foreplay "What the fuck was that about?"

 She sounded genuinely puzzled "I don't know."

 "Damn. I bet you can hear my ears ringing from there."

 She laughed "No, all I hear in your head is the usual." I didn't bother to ask. I knew it would be insulting. "Can you patch Max and Night in?"  I was surprised by how much I wanted to hear Nights voice. Everything we verbalized in our heads went out to whoever was tied into the Freya party line so she heard and felt it too.  I heard/saw her smile. "No Max. He is discipling people. I felt her fierce joy about that. "Here is Night"

 As soon as she came on I sent images of how much I missed her as she did to me. I thought "Wow! This is intense. Maybe we could..."

Night cut me off laughing "No."

 We went back and forth, then settled down an actually talked for about five minutes about nothing really. It was a delight just to talk to her. Well, actually it was listen. She did most of the talking.  Then we got down to what just happened. Prompted by Freya who told us "You want to hurry up. I got birds to talk to."

 "So what do you think?" I asked Night.

She was silent for a few beats and then said "Who were they going to be running into next?" Then she sent me an image of the horde.

 "Oh. Yeah."

 Freya joined in "Me?"

 We both answered her "Yep." 

American Apocalypse IV - Heartland - Chapter 2c

Now it was my turn to laugh and say  "Like that has worked out so well for everyone."

"Yeah. No shit." He replied glumly.  We talked a bit more. I told him a bit about the road ahead of him. He told me a bit about the road waiting for us. "What ever you do -- stay out them camps. Hell, don't even go within 40 miles of them. I don't know why you be going this way. Going be tough to squeeze in between all the road blocks and patrols. You should go south then head back up. Got a lot of gangs working that area too. Some serious looting going on from what I hear." He chuckled "Some of them chuckleheads are stealing TV's and such." He shook his head, then added "Plus watch out for them Prius cars and such."

Huh?" That one caught me by surprise.  He told me "Them electric cars. The gov loves them. You see an electric car and you are looking at a gov person or someone in tight with them."

"Damn. He was right. I hadn't seen but a couple of them hybrids and they were totaled."  He was talking about West Virginia and his people when it clicked in my head. I casually asked him "So you and the boys been together for awhile?"

He replied "Oh no. We hooked up about two weeks ago. They came into town." He laughed bitterly "Town...shit...nothing but a hand full of people nowadays...lot of people drifting here and there...lot of them you never hear from yeah, safety in numbers and all that.  Why?"

"Don't know. Let's go see." I started walking over to them. Ricky and Loco were grinning at something Bearded One had said. They looked over and I hit them with the "Danger" sign.  Ricky the dumb ass dropped his grin and went stone faced but Loco said something back in reply and laughed.  Old Man wasn't following. I stopped and said "You coming?" He shrugged, and I waited until he was next to me before continuing towards the happy little group. 

I stopped about five feet from them. Old Man stopped with me. As soon as he did I moved again so I was about three feet from him and had a better angle. I called it anchoring a person.  You got someone walking with you and you approach a group just stop. The person with you stops without thinking usually. Then you move again. They never follow because they know it makes them look like a little puppy. A lot of what I did was just playing off cultural wiring and conditioning. Staying out of the pattern" was what Max called it.

The boys looked a little unsure now, Bearded Boy especially. I told them "Well, we're out of here" and grinned. "We got one more thing to do. Y'all don't mind if we poke around in that cart? Of course not. Why don't you two boys stand back a bet." I waited for a couple beats. Sure enough Bearded Boy objected "You're not the law. Why don't you fuck off." He was going to keep going but I drew the Ruger. In the silence that followed I told him "Shut up or die." He shut up.

"Loco. Take a look." I drew the Colt. "Old man. Settle down.  We're just looking." I had seen him open his mouth and change his stance.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

American Apocalypse IV - Heartland - Chapter 2b

He looked at me for a couple beats.  Then over his shoulder he said "Boys, pull the cart off to the side and take a break while I talk to this gentleman."  He scratched himself. Then he said "All right if we sit down somewhere? My legs are talking to me."

"Yeah. Sounds good." I indicated the car that Ricky was behind. Then I gave the hand sign for him and Loco to form on me. I watched his eyes. The old man was good but I knew that he had not seen either one of them. They were good but I found it curious that he was that bad.  Damn. Here I was hoping the dumbasses in the gene pool had been thinned out and it was looking like some of them had had survived. Yet, there was something wrong here. The feeling of being watched was back even stronger.  Plus them boys, they weren't relaxing right. I did a quick caution hand sign as Ricky and Loco came up. They didn't say anything. They just continued on and walked over to the boys.

The old man started talking "Where you coming from? How's the road?" While he was I noticed Loco had split from Ricky and was at an angle from him but in one of the boys blind side. I like that and relaxed a hair. We were taking a lean against the side of the car and the old man was looking at me -- waiting for my response. "Funny. I was going to ask you the same things."

He laughed "Well, we could take turns."

"That we could."  I looked around. "You feel like you been watched along the way?" He looked startled for a second. Then looked away and spat. He almost made the grass.  "Yep. I figure every step of the way we are going to be watched by somebody. If it ain't the gov up in the sky it is going to be some assholes in the woods. Supposedly this area was swept by one of the police battalions they got." That got my attention. "Regular Army or the Guard?"

"Shit. What I hear is that there a mix of all kinds. The one that went through here was mostly Guard. There supposed to be heading for the National Forest down the road. Got some real assholes living in them woods." He shuddered and I don't think he even noticed he did. "Got some fucking, pardon my language, Eaters running around still."

"Yeah. We called them Gnawers where we come from. Same thing I suppose."  I told him.  He spat again. "Yeah. So I've been running my mouth. What you got?"  I thought "Yep. Nobody wants to stay on the subject of what and who ate what for very long." So I decided to give him some information. "We're headed for Iowa out of DC."

"Iowa?" He laughed. "Jeebus. You got a hell of a long walk ahead of you. We're headed for West Virginia. Got family there. I suppose the gov will be showing up there eventually but they will pay a hell of a price rooting us out."

"What makes you think they'll bother?"

He looked at me like I was an idiot. "Son. They want us all where they can see us."

American Apocalypse IV - Heartland - Chapter 2a

I watched as the old man turned his head slightly,  speaking out of the corner of his mouth he told the other two "We got company boys. Keep an eye out."

"Shit. Just what we need." This was from the one walking along side the cart.

The old man told him "Just keep your mouth shut boy and let me do the talking. This is far enough."

The bearded one didn't hesitate. He stopped dead and let the cart down with a clunk. I heard Cart Puller tell Beardless "You're up next." They were arguing about how far he had pulled it and whose turn it really was as the old man walked towards me grinning. 

"Howdy stranger."  He was wearing sunglasses. I don't like people walking up on me wearing sunglasses.

"Hey." I didn't grin, and I didn't put any emotion into my response. As far as I was concerned he was on my road. He didn't seem to be taken aback much by my lack of enthusiasm. He asked me "So where you headed?" "

"My, isn't he a chipper old man." I thought.  "You want to take off them sunglasses." I told him. That threw him off a little and the two behind him must of sensed something because they shut the hell up about who had done what and when. He didn't move to take them off. Instead he kind of cocked his head and said "Say what?"

"Take off the sunglasses. I don't like talking to people who won't show me their eyes."  This was it I thought. If he couldn't handle doing that then he was not going to be cooperative about anything else. Better to get that out of the way now rather than later. In the second or two I gave him to figure out what he was going to do I saw what I was going to do. Draw simultaneously. The Navy Colt in my right hand for him. The Ruger in my left for the other two. Hell, with a little luck they might have some cookies underneath that tarp.

He decided to take off the sunglasses. He did it slowly too.  The skin around his eyes was paler than the rest of his face. He had spent some time in the sun wearing them.  He looked at me "Good?"

"Good."I smiled. "So tell me about what you seen."


Wednesday, April 21, 2010

American Apocalypse IV - Heartland - Chapter 2

They were on foot, and far enough away that the heat from the asphalt made them look like they were emerging from the ocean. They did not look like a crack unit of road warriors from here, but they had survived this long so they had to have something going for them.

"Okay. I'm going to stand in the middle of the  road. If they keep coming we will see if they want to talk. If they scatter then we hunt them down."  I looked at Ricky and Loco. They were okay with that.

I strolled out into the middle of the road and watched them approach.  In the background I heard Ricky and Loco take up positions on either side of me. Ricky had a car to take cover behind. Loco had to make do with flopping in the grass on the side of the road. I was carrying a Marlin 30-30 on a leather sling over my shoulder. It was also known as the Appalachian AK. I liked it, but I figured I would be swapping it out for a real wood stock AK or M-14 as soon as I found one. I wasn't a big fan of rifles but they had they were useful when you had to really reach out for someone.

I reached in my shirt pocket and stuck the two cigarette butts I kept there in each ear. My hearing was good, real good, thanks to Freya.  That had turned out to be a mixed blessing.  My vision, which was always good, was better too. Cigarette butts in the ears was my new idea. I had yet to test them but I figured anything had to help. My head really rang the last few times I had to slap leather and the headaches were a bitch afterward. It was easier to find gold nowadays then a couple of aspirin. Shelli wanted me to look for willow trees while we were out here because they grew aspirin or something. I had just pretended like I hadn't heard her. You start going down that road with people and you would end taking requests for all kinds of shit. I don't do personal shopper very well.

While my mind was running random crap like that through it the rest of my brain was watching the people approaching. One old man with gray hair and a really good old testament prophet beard. He was walking in front and had spotted me about a minute ago. A young guy, long hair and a decent beard also was pulling a garden cart with a tarp covered load. Off to one side was an even younger kid with no beard, probably because he didn't have the juice to grow one yet. They were all armed. Cart Puller had something slung over his shoulder. I couldn't tell what it was and a handgun on his hip. Grandpa had a handgun and a genuine black plastic assault rifle of some sort. Youngster had a shotgun and no handgun that I could see. They were all wearing knives. No body armor that I could tell. Decent boots and each one had a day pack.  This might be interesting.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

American Apocalypse IV - Heartland - Chapter 1d

Working the cars wasn't our job. The horde had people whose job was to check vehicles for goodies. If they found anything they would leave it in piles on the road and when the trucks rolled past it would be picked up and picked over. At least that was the plan. Who the hell knew what reality was going to be. The problem we continuously bumped into was how labor intensive and time consuming everything was. I had learned that right away as soon as I had become homeless. The farm had emphasized it. Everything that had happened since was just reinforcement.Well, if it was true everywhere than unemployment was going to be a thing of the past.

I personally thought of car stripping as a shit job but some people loved it. They actually thought it was fun. My guess was that it attracted the same kind of people who thought going to the mall was fun back in the day. You want to smell something foul? Bust into a Lexus that has been sealed up tight for months with dead people in it. No thanks.  Usually they just busted the trunk open and left the passengers to grin at whoever passed by next. Popping the trunk still created quite a stink.  No clothes were salvagable that was for sure.  We passed on the deadmobiles like that. I was sure others wouldn't and hadn't. There were gold wedding rings and diamonds to be found. 

We were having problems finding a vehicle. Not because there wasn't plenty of them. The problem was finding one with a stick that we could roll and jump start. Nobody bought vehicles with stick shifts anymore. It helped narrow the search down. If it was an older truck we stopped and looked. Otherwise it was keep pedaling.  Me and Loco at just stopped to look at a Ford F-150 when Ricky said "Got company ahead."  We stopped looking and rolled up near Ricky to take a look. Yep. We had company.

American Apocalypse IV - Heartland - Chapter 1c

We may have been out in the middle of nowhere, at least as I defined it, but PowerDown had left its skid mark across the face of the landscape here. Once this highway had probably handled 30 cars an hour at its busiest. We had not seen any today. None. Zero. It was rather freaky. None of us liked it, but that was why we were out here. To find problems and solve them before the rest of the horde had too.

This highway had its share of abandoned vehicles. Far less than what we had seen before.  Yet enough that someone would eventually make some money working salvage here. Hell, at the rate America had gone through its vehicles during PowerDown Detroit might actually make a comeback building replacements. That thought was quickly followed by "Nah. They had already proved they could fuck up a wet dream." 

Instead of dwelling on it I told Loco and Ricky. "Y'all know the drill. Loco take the road. I'll take the left side of the road." I didn't bother finishing who had the right side. Ricky knew. We didn't push out someone at point. Instead we rode abrest of each other. Loco was our car guy. That was why he had the center of the road. His job today was find us something that would run.

We had made it to about 3 miles from here when the Tundra died. It wasn't the trucks fault. Ricky had taken a pot hole that had turned out to be deeper than it looked, busted a tie rod, and driven the truck at an angle into a telephone pole. We weren't moving that fast which was a good thing. Since the airbags no longer worked it was even better that we had belted in. Well, it was a Walkaway truck anyways so no big deal. At least that was what I thought at the time. "How hard can it be to find a vehicle? I mean it rained vehicles along this road for awhile."  The only reason we had stopped here was to eat something and reinflate my tires.

We should have been further ahead. The problem was we were having to stop and clear the road.  When we couldn't do that we had to find away around the obstacle and then mark that we had been there. A couple times we had been visited by crows who sat on the telephone wires and watched us. Loco had asked me "Those Freyas birds?"

I replied "You know anyone else who does that shit?"

He didn't answer.  I didn't care.  I suppose I should have made it into a "teachable" moment. Maybe even answered civilly. I didn't because it was a stupid fucking question.

American Apocalypse IV - Heartland - Chapter 1b

We were sitting under the shade of an oak tree about a hundred yards off the main road and about a quarter of the way up a small hill which this part of the world had more than a few of. Our bikes were laid down in the grass and dirt next to us. The terrain was starting to flatten out which was not really a good thing. I already felt more exposed than I cared for.  I could only imagine what the Great Plains were going to be like. At least the bike units behind us would be able to pick up the pace.

"Hey G."

"Yeah Loco?"

"You feel it?"

"Yeah. They're out there again." Loco was sharp. Maybe as good as I was at feeling it when someones eyes where on us.

"Shit. This is get irritating."

"Yeah Loco. The problem is I can't find the fucker." Which was true. Even looking through the eyes of one of Freyas birds didn't help.

"The birds not picking it up?" This was from Ricky. He usually felt it but it took him longer, and he usually lost it quicker. "No.  Nothing. Who ever it is, or whatever it is, is pretty freaking slick."

"I think it is one of those fucking drones from the gov. Them birds don't get up high enough to see that shit" was Locos reply. "Probably. So far they have been quiet.  Mount up.  We need to find a vehicle and gas." I told them. I loved saying "Mount up" It was really cool to have a reason to say it without sounding like a total ass. I had to bite my tongue and just say it occasionally. I didn't want to ruin the coolness of saying it.I picked up my bike, straddled it and coasted down to the road.. Behind me I didn't hear anyone bother to groan or complain. It wouldn't have done them any good and it would have pissed me off anyway. They were good though. As good as we had available. I would have rather have been out here with Max and Ninja but life never did pay a whole hell of a lot of attention to what I wanted or didn't want.

In two days we had begun to figure out how we were going to do this. We had too. If we didn't -- we would probably die. I wasn't big on dying and I sure didn't want to get stuck or bitten by anything sharp again. My  leg never did come back completely after that damn dog had bitten down on it. I didn't tell anyone, including Night, that sometimes I lost feeling in places.  That wasn't all bad I figured. It beat the alternative. Plus, if I did get hit there again I wouldn't notice it until I had time to deal with it.

You would think that three guys, all of them experienced in dealing with the different faces that violence wore would be a team right off the line. It didn't work that way. It helped of course. It also helped that we all knew the difference without talking about it. There is a team and then there is a pack. A team works up to a certain point. That point is when you run into situations that practice never covered.  A pack could care less what the situation was. It was just more of the same. No discussion was needed. Looking over your shoulder never crossed your mind. You knew your brothers and sisters would be where they needed to be when they needed to be. If they weren't -- it was because they were dead or dying. I didn't have to practice with Max and Ninja. I knew. That is where we had to get to and the sooner the better.


Monday, April 19, 2010

American Apocalypse IV - Heartland - Chapter 1A

Walking across America is not a good idea in the best of times. These weren't the best of times. Some might have said the worst was past us. I didn't think so. I thought I had some idea about how big this country was. I was wrong. America is freaking huge and right now it was also hot in Ohio.

We had been gone two days now from the main group. They were behind us. Maybe 40 miles or so and they would be beginning to move tomorrow. That would mean they would be narrowing the distance between us pretty damn fast. We needed to roll but I wasn't in a hurry. The breeze felt good on my face. I took another sip of water that I didn't need or really want but Max had taught us to drink or "Hydrate" as he called it. I already knew to do it but not to the extreme he wanted us to practice it. The two guys with me must have gone to the same school as Max had as they drank a fair amount of water too.

I remember asking Max what he remembered about the roads in Iraq an Afganistan. I expected something like crazed Muslim fanatics in cars or IED's. He looked away for a second and said "Water bottles."


"Yeah, they were everywhere in some places."

"Oh." For once he had me at loss for words.

Well we didn't leave our water bottles behind. Loco and Ricky had camelbacks. As soon as I could find one I was going to get one.  My idea of just carrying a couple containers and a filter was turning out to be pretty stupid.  What worked for me back in Fairfax and at the farm was turning out to not work so well on the road. You spent anytime on foot and carrying water got to be a major pain in the ass. We were spending far too much time dismounted and walking. Far more than I had planned.

We were sitting off Route 124 east of Wilkesville and not real far from a strip mine job on one of the many hills around here. I had gotten a look at it from above and it was ugly. A scar gouged into the earth filled with water.  It looked like a pond, a big one too but nothing grew around it.  I bet some local asshole would have told me it looked like money. If it had smelled bad he would told me that smelled like money. I shook my head, stood up, and stretched.

We had been watched on and off since we left the main group. I hadn't felt it since this morning but it was back.

Friday, April 9, 2010

The Lion - Part 12b

I was right. It wasn't good at all.

"Great. I'll take that." Then the Big Hurter bent over and snatched my half finished Angus! I yelled "Hey! Give it back!" as I tried to get untangled from the stupid table seat.  That's when he hit me in the chest. I fell, bounced off the table and fell side ways. As I did I felt something in my leg give. That hurt more than the punch.  A lot more.  I heard laughter, and the Little Hurter, Shorty, say "Get them yogurts too. I be liking my yogurt."

I rolled off the seat and hit the ground. It was dirty down here. I thought "Maybe I should stay down here. Maybe even crawl under the table where it would be harder to get me. I had a Hurter take his boots to me before. I didn't want it to happen again. In the background I heard the others yelling. Ana ripped something off in Spanish. I didn't need to a translator to know she had just called them queers.  I knew that word.  Then I heard the smack of a hand on flesh, a scream, and Ana had joined me on the concrete. I looked across at her. We looked at each other and I didn't miss what her eyes were telling me. I wanted to scream at her "I don't care! I'm not a hero! I don't have a heart!" Then I heard Shorty say "Drag the bitch back up here and bend her over. I'll show her whose a maricón.

There was bad coldness in his voice.  I saw Big Hurters arms come down,  pick her up, and watched as she tried to fight lose. In the background Tina yelled "I'm calling 911!" Shorty laughed and said "Go ahead. They don't come anymore."

"Oh god please help me" I prayed. I wanted to hide. They were going to crush her. Ana cried out "Brian!" and started sobbing. This wasn't right. Crushing is bad! Bad! I rolled out from under the table and tried not to scream from the pain in my leg.  I looked up. The Hurters were busy. Shorty was trying to get Ana's pants down. Maria was just standing there and I couldn't see Tina. A little voice said "Don't let them do this Brian. If you do you will go far away and never come back." I pushed my self up. "What the hell did I have to stop them?" Then I remembered the trowel. I pulled it out and said "Hey!" I had to say it twice to get their attention.

Shorty stopped, looked over his shoulder and laughed. "Your're pathetic." Big Hurter grinned at me. I looked at my trowel. It was pathetic. A wooden handle with a steel curved scooper thing at the end. It even had dried dirt on it from the last person who used it. Shorty turned away and went back to paying attention to Ana's pants.  Big Hurter reached under Ana and grabbed her breast and twisted it. He told her "Quit struggling until we're in bitch." Shorty had her pants halfway down. Ana needed to wash her underwear or buy some new ones. I was going to throw the trowel away and see how far I could get before they noticed I was gone when the same little voice said "Excaliber." Just like that. Then I remembered! The Sword in the Stone! I knew what I had to do! I had the answer!

I stepped forward, that hurt, raised the trowel, and drove it into Shortys back. He had assumed the hunch position and was fumbling with his pants.  I didn't drive it into him. I had gone for the center and hit something hard. I think it was bone. So I raised it up above my head and did it again. That went in a little deeper. I liked that. He was screaming louder than me an Ana combined. He sounded like a little girl. I grinned. Then Big Hurter was on me. I looked at him and my Mr. Smile froze. That's when he sunk that sheath knife he wore into me. I thought "Why Big Hurter?" When I looked into his eyes I got my answer. It was the same reply I had always gotten from Hurters. It said "Because I can." Then he pulled it out and hit me again. This was past hurt. I felt myself going down. "No yorgut parfait for me today" I thought and then I was back on the dirty concrete. I put my hands to where it hurt and knew I had dropped the trowel. That was bad I knew but I was leaking. Leaking blood.

Shorty was still howling. I looked up at Big Hurter. He looked at me puzzled. That was funny. What was he puzzled about? I heard Tina yell "Run you fucks! I called 911 and told them there's gunshots an a Officer was hurt!"  Tina was a bitch but she wasn't stupid. That was about the only thing you could say that would get a response nowaday. Shorty was screaming "Help me!"

"Funny" I thought "He's still hunched over but there is no Ana now. Where's Ana?" I must have gone to sleep for a second because when I opened my eyes the Hurters were gone and my head was in Ana's lap. That was nice of her. She was going to get her clothes messed up because I was leaking badly. It was even coming out my mouth. I knew that taste. I told her "Sorry...sorry Ana." I was sorry too. Sorry for so many things. So very, very many things. Her eyes were big and pretty. I never noticed that before. I tried to tell her what I wanted to tell her under the table. "Ana..."


I tried again. This was important. "Ana...I don't have a heart."

She smiled and said "Yes you do. You are Brian. Brian the Lion Heart...Don't you hear it?" She put her hand over mine where I was leaking so much. "I hear it mi amor." She heard it? I listened. She was right! I did have one! It was pumping so loudly now! Like a drum and it was tiring me out too...

Thursday, April 8, 2010

The Lion - Part 12

Ana, over her shoulder, as she stomped away said "Brian. Angus right?"


As soon as she disappeared through the employee door Maria started giving me a hard time. "You come around here sniffing for food. Boy, you are stupid aren't you." It wasn't a question. It was a statement. I thought "What the hell? Why is she attacking me? What did I do?" What I said was "Huh?"

"You know that girl likes your sorry homeless ass. Don't you?"

I said the first thing that came into my mind. "Why?"

I heard Tina snort and then laugh. Tina was definitely a snorter. Maria stared at me, opened her mouth to say something, then closed. She waved her hand in the air and scattered cigarette ash on her smock. She didn't bother to brush it off either. "Never mind. Don't matter. She has bigger problems."

Tina, over at the next table chimed in "Yeah. Like a job." She muttered something to herself and crossed her arms.

We sat there in silence until Ana returned. I got my Angus! Everybody else got yogurt parfaits and double cheese burgers.  Tina looked at hers, looked at Ana, then tossed it over her shoulder. I made a mental note of where it landed. "Thanks Ana!" Then I dug in. I got about half way through when the Hurters arrived. As soon as I saw them come around the corner I wanted to stuff the rest of my Angus burger in my day pack.  The only reason I didn't was it was too late.

Shit. My luck sucked. It was the Hurter twins. They weren't twins. They didn't even look the same. I still saw them as twins in my head. They went every where together and every where they went no one wanted them to come back. Ana said under her breath "Shit. It's Beevis and Butthead."  I laughed. That was pretty good. My timing could have been better.

The big one said "What's so funny dickhead?" His partner, Shorty, he was short too, chimed in, just as I knew he would with "You laughing at us?" I was getting a sick feeling in my tummy. I knew where this was going because I had been there before.

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

The Lion - Part 11

Instead of going by my place in the woods I decided to go to McDonald's and see if Ana or Marie could part with some food.  I was hungry.  As soon I decided to do that I got even hungrier.  "Stupid stomach." I thought to myself as I stuck the trowel in my belt. It was kind of like a knife that way. "Armed and dangerous" I thought and laughed. 

I was surprised when I got there to see Ana, Maria, and Tina the shift supervisor sitting outside at one of the round like a hamburger tables.  They did not look happy. I kind of approached them at an angle. Just in case you know. Ana saw me, waved and yelled "Hey Brian! Come sit with us!" No one else looked enthused about that idea but I didn't mind. I liked Ana. Mostly because she liked me. Her and Maria always fed me when the bad shift supervisor wasn't around. I was hoping for an Angus Deluxe meal.  Tina was okay with them feeding me so I was already looking forward to it. I knew I would have to do some idle chit chat to get it. That part I wasn't looking forward to.

I walked up to them. I hated that they stared at me as I did too. It made me feel stiff. Ana was smiling. Maria, I noticed was crying silently. No wonder she didn't want to see me. Bad Things were happening. I could feel them.

Ana asked me as soon as I got close enough "How are you Brian? Where you been?"

"Why is Maria crying?" was my reply.

Maria answered me "Because Maria doesn't have a job anymore."

Ana said gently "We're all gone. They closed this McDonald's." Now she was looking sad too. Tina, sitting at the next table snorted. I guess that meant something. I wasn't sure what.

I was dumbfounded. "But...but everyone eats here!"  This was not good. "But I'm hungry!" God, I know I sounded like a baby as soon as I said that. Ana's face fell and Maria started to say something. It was going to be mean too. I could tell. Ana held up her hand and cut Maria off. "I know Brian. We all going to know how that feels soon..." Ana stood up, stared defiantly at Tina and said "I'm getting us all food. If they don't like it well fuck 'em." 

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

The Lion - Part 10

I stopped. Running is tiring. Plus it gets boring sometimes.  I hoped Father Shovel wouldn't mind me running off with his kid. He had another one. He probably wouldn't miss my trowel. I was getting closer to my woods, the Black Forest, the land of ghosts. So far real people had been scarce. Or least scarce enough that I felt alone most of the time. I didn't always sleep there. Sometimes I slept at other peoples places. Not as often as I used to. It was like every year I got older the kindness of strangers, and the strange, receded. I felt old when I was nineteen.

I took the path off the road about a half mile before the McDonald's. It wasn't really a path as much as where trees had been cleared for a sewer line a long time ago. Maybe ten years or so. I don't know. Weird pipes stuck up in a few places and let out stinky air.  There were raised concrete domeish things with metal manhole covers on top every once in a while. They were good for sitting on. 

I kept some stuff in plastic bags that I hid under a fallen oak right off this path.  The trash bags were black and once you threw some leaves and sticks on them they were invisible. So invisible that I couldn't find them one time when I was really drunk.  I ended up sleeping on the ground and woke up freezing. It took me damn near a week to find them. Boy I was blowing snot for awhile after that.

I kept a tarp, well a part of a tarp, some blankets, a plastic flute that I was going to learn to play really well. I liked the flute. I pictured myself sitting in the woods playing it and making magic good ghosts come out. Maybe little green cookie elves that would bring me food. Some books and papers. One had a really cool design that someone had drawn. The other was a shopping list and a phone number.  It was written by a woman. This I knew. I liked looking at it an imagining things. Little plays in my head. Plays that had her...she never had the same face. Usually it was whoever I had seen in the parking lot or maybe going into McDonald's or getting gas.

She was always pretty with clean straight hair. She had a job doing something important. Not real important. Even in my dreams I knew not to go to far as to make then unbelievable to myself. Something good. A job where people said "Hi" to her and she went to meetings. I knew meetings were important. I had been to a few and my life always changed after a Meeting. 

She would have an apartment and I would have the list. I would be going shopping for us. I would bring it home and she would be waiting and happy. She would talk to me. It would be like cable TV except there wouldn't be badness. Sometimes I would be important too. I would have really nice sunglasses, my tooth wouldn't hurt, and no one could hurt me.

Monday, April 5, 2010

The Lion - Part 9

I found it just in time. I was starting to get discouraged. All the goodness of the day was evaporating. One of the ghosts was knocking hard on the door in my head. I could hear her and I didn't want to let her in. She always got in anyways.  Sometimes I would press my hands to my head to keep the door shut. She would knock on it to get my attention. It sounded like a woodpecker and it made my head hurt. The knocking would stop and I would hear her voice, I knew it so well. She would tell me "You're a fuckup. Don't kid yourself. You're a fuckup. It's your fault. It's always your fault." I would yell at her "Go away Mom!"  Sometimes she wouldn't leave and I would start crying. She was so mean. I must be bad. Mom's always love their boys. She said so. It must be me. She is right. I am bad and a fuckup.

She was going to get through the door soon. I was going to have to hurry up and get back. Find somebody with something to drink. If I drank enough then it didn't bother me so much. Sometimes to get the money I would have to be a bad boy. That wasn't so bad most times except when they hurt me. Even then it was okay because I was a fuck up and deserved it. As long as I knew I could get free I was okay. No matter how bad I felt I never let them tie me up. Then I could get crushed. Crushed by their love. Crushed by monsters. Crushed by their oily snakeyness in me.

That's when I saw it. A midget metal house. Jeebus I hoped this one didn't have spiders. I didn't like spiders and the last one had a lot of them. I just gritted my teeth and looked anyway. Heroes need hearts and I had to find  one. If I had to deal with spiders then I would. When I got out of the last metal house without finding anything I felt like spiders were on me. Crawling up and down. Up and down. So I rolled in the grass. That was fun. I felt like a big dog until that made me itch too. I had grass stains on my clothes. It made for a good smell. A summer smell.

This little house was going to have to be a quick search. The door was squeaking and pecking. I had to go back. I just stuck my head in and there it was! Just like someone had left it for me! A trowel! It wasn't alone either. It had friends. A claw looking thing and tiny little rake were next to it.  Standing up nice and tall next to them was a shovel. It was a family!  I said "Sorry" to them, then I reached in, grabbed the trowel and ran. I don't know why. I just did.

The Lion - Part 8

I was glad I figured it out. A lot of times I thought I had figured things out only to realize that I hadn't. When I was a kid in school my answers often made the other kids laugh and laugh. I didn't understand why. Later I learned to pretend that I was just being funny. I still knew who the joke was on - It just made it easier to play off. The problem was going to be finding a trowel. Then figuring out where to dig.  I would just have to look for signs. Sometimes when I was in the woods I thought I saw things out of the corner of my eye. Maybe they were connected?  It was possible.

I thought this over as I walked. No money was going to be a problem.  Where could I get a free trowel? "Dummy!" I felt like smacking myself. I was walking down a street filled with houses. At least a third of them were empty. Empty houses often had good stuff left over from the people before. I just needed to find one with those little midgit metal houses in the back. I searched my brain. I knew there was a name for them I just couldn't remember it. I hated this. So many things slipped away when I needed them. I often thought of my thoughts as fish. Big thoughts like this were big fish. Hard to hold on to and with a life of their own. They would dodge my hands as I tried to pull them in, hug them, and squeeze out what I needed. I never hurt them and always let them go. They never understood this and fought with me every single time. Stupid fish. All I could come up with was midget house, hot, and grass smelling place. I shrugged and forgot about it.

It was still early enough that no one was really up yet.  Sometimes in developments like this where there was still a lot of people I would get yelled at by neighbors or they would tell me they were going to call the cops.  I quit worrying about it awhile back when I realized that the cops never came and the people never left their yards. In fact, it had been awhile since anyone had yelled anything.  I guess they were afraid. There were a lot of crazy people running around now.

I started looking for the tell tale signs. Empty houses may have their lawn cut and curtains still in the windows but I always knew when was empty. I could feel it. It felt like home.  It felt like me. I turned off and began walking up the driveway of the first one I spotted. This one didn't have any windows to see into the garage.  I figured the garage might be a good place to look too. I was pleased with myself. My brain was working pretty good today. That me smile. It was a happy feeling.   I went around back. Nothing except a broken bird bath. I tried the faucet. The way things were happening today I hoped I might get lucky and get some water. None. Oh well. It didn't suprise me. I was enough of a realist not to expect to many good things in one day.

 I lost count of the houses I had checked after the third one. I did get some water. An old guy was in his back yard watering his garden next door to one of the houses I checked. I asked him if I could drink from his hose. He was undecided at first, I saw his hand go down and check that the gun he was carrying was still there in its holster.  That reassured him enough that he came over to the chain link fence that I  was on the other side of and tossed the hose over.  I turned the little sprayer thing back on and drank as much as I could, maybe a little bit more. I was hungry too and eating water was filling. I told him "Thanks!" but he didn't want to talk. When I tossed the hose back over the fence I thought he might say something. He looked like he wanted to but he didn't. The next house I checked was where I found it. I knew then I was destined for something good. I am never usually this lucky so many times in one day.

Friday, April 2, 2010

The Lion - Part 7

"He knew!" That was my first thought. My second, which I spoke out loud was "How did you get your heart back?"  I really wanted to know. He thought about, cocked his head a bit, and said "I dug for it." That confused me. I wanted to ask him more but he stood up, looked down at me, and said "I guess you'll be going."  Not much I could say to that. Plus I was still trying to figure out what the hell he meant. "Dig for it? Was there a secret burial place for Hero hearts? Were they stored somewhere?"  I told him "Yeah. I'm gone."  Then I got up and started walking back to what I called home, the woods by McDonald's. I could feel his Watcher eyes on me every step of the way until I turned off on a bike path.

I looked around once I hit the path for a decent clump of bushes to take a leak behind. I had been wanting to go since my eyes had opened but I had to wait. Having a real bathroom not far from where I slept was one of the few things from my past life I missed.  I hadn't been the only one to use these woods this way. Flies were buzzing around a couple piles of shit off to one side.  Thank god I hadn't stepped in it. Just being me guaranteed a little extra space. Stepping in human shit would increase that space by a mile or so.  I guess I could think of that has a mixed blessing I thought as I wandered back on the trail. 

It was fairly quiet out here since it was early. A jogger pack passed me. No one jogged alone anymore. Women didn't jog at all anymore on this trail unless they had men with them or were armed. I had gotten over how unreal to see joggers pounding by you with weapons strapped to their leg in one of those fancy military holsters. Now it was just one of those things.

While I walked I thought about what Gardener had told me.  Jeebus, I had a hard enough time figuring out what people meant normally. I was totally lost when they went cryptic.  Yet he knew what I meant. "Dig up a heart. Dig up a heart." This kept going through my head. "Why would Gardener tell me to dig up my heart?" Then it hit me! I got a visual of Mrs. Montez digging in her flower beds with a trowel! Holy Jeebus! He was telling me to get a trowel!.

Thursday, April 1, 2010

The Lion - Part 6

He just stared at me. He wasn't surprised that I knew who he was.  Then again if my world had a star he was one of them. Unlike the others whose fame came from their cruelty or connections. Him, and that guy Max were know as fair but not to be fucked with. Some of us even slept at night in empty houses in the area that they had marked as "theirs" because it was safer. The freaks and drug crazed had learned not to cross their boundary's or them. Of course we couldn't stay. Come morning it was time to migrate back to where the action was or deal with getting moved on by them. Some people said he was crazy like that was bad or something.

"So what are you doing here." He said this flatly.  I knew what he was really saying of course.

I bit back the first thing that came to mind. Besides I had already said it.  Normally I would have have smiled and told him I was just passing through.  Then he would have said "Make sure of it" or something like that. I would get up, say "See ya" and start what I knew was going to be a long walk back to where I belonged.  Instead, perhaps because of what happened, or maybe just because of who he was I decided not to. I had to tell someone. Maybe he would know.

"Do you have ghosts?" It sounds strange but I really thought he might understand. His eyes narrowed and I saw him evaluating me. Deciding how and if to respond. Like a comic book I saw the balloons form and disappear over his head in rapid succession. Pop! Pop! Pop! They went so very fast but I didn't miss a one of them.

"I know ghosts...why?"

So I told him about the Tree People and how they had taken my food.  How I applied for a job. How the ghosts of the me that was once would come to me, stand there, look at me, cry and ask me for explanations. Then I took a deep breath and told him my secret. "They took my heart. They came with sharp knives to my bed. My Mother watched them and helped. She laughed when they opened my chest, took my heart, and put it in a white Styrofoam box and took it away. Now I have no heart!  I can't be a hero or good anymore. They took it from me!" I was crying and I shouted the last part. 

He didn't move. Didn't blink. Didn't look at me with one of those looks. He just said "They do that."