Tuesday, November 30, 2010

American Apocalypse IV - Chapter 6b - by Nova

We gave up. They didn't have any collars that fit Woof. Instead I took a leash with the idea I would clip the end on the leash itself after putting it around Woofs neck. I showed Woof and Zane what I planned on doing. Charlene was chuckling in the background and telling Saggy Jowls "I gotta see this."  Woof didn't like the idea. I knelt down next to him and held out the leash for him to sniff. He declined.  I told him "Look big guy you got to do this. I got to give up my guns. I don't like it but its for the greater good." I shouldn't have said "Greater good." Woof was no dummy. He knew when someone said that you weren't going to like what they had planned. He backed away.

I tried a different line. "Remember when I found you? You were chained up? I let you go. That worked out okay? Right?" It hadn't for him but I was counting on him not remembering that part. I was wrong. Like I said -- Woof was no dummy. He backed away when I reached for him.  I knee walked over to where he was and tried it again. Again he moved.  I could hear Charlene and Saggy Jowls laughing. The entire thing was fast getting irritating. I tried Plan B. "Woof. Listen to me. If I got to chase you all around this lobby I am going to shoot your ass and toss you out the door. Now hold still."  He moved and then barked at me. Damn. The idiot dog was calling my bluff.

I was saved by Charlene.

"Why don't you let the boy try. It's his dog."

"Since when?" I thought but she had a point. They were pretty tight. "Okay Zane. Your turn." I handed him the leash and stood up. 

Zane walked over. He didn't need to bend over, as Woof, when he had his head up, was looking Zane in the eyes. I heard him whisper "It's okay. I won't let them hurt you."  Then he slipped it around Woofs neck, hugged him, and told us "Okay. What's next?"

American Apocalypse IV - Chapter 6a - by Nova

Saggy Jowls looked at me "You have a leash sir?"

"Ah no."

"Okie dokey." She disappeared from view for a handful of beats. I could hear her rummaging around underneath the counter. She popped back up with a copier paper box that she set on the counter top.  "Take a look in there. You'd be amazed at what people have with them when they come here. We do are best to be prepared around here!" She smiled broadly. During all this I was aware of the lobby security team watching us.

I rummaged around. The first thing I pulled out was a red nylon horse halter. "You get horses in here?"

"Oh my! Not in here! Did you hear that Charlene! The man thought we got horses in here!"

"Tell him about the goat. He'll like that."

"I wasn't here for the goat." Saggy jowls glared at Charlene who looked up, stared at both of us, then turned the page and shut us both back out.  I tuned Saggy out too.  I held up a few collars, looked at Woof and Zane, and dropped them back into the box. The problem was size. Woof was not a small dog. Charlene, who decided to put down her magazine, came over to stand next to Jowls and looked over the counter at Woof.

"Damn. That dog is huge! He sure as hell better not take a dump in here."

Monday, November 29, 2010

American Apocalypse IV - Chapter 6 - by Nova

Yet another converted light industrial building.  The difference was the sign that said "Acclimation Visitor Parking." The arrow pointed to a lot that was maybe a quarter mile away from the lot in front of the building. Once upon a time that would have been considered a hike and they would have had golf carts running as shuttles. Not anymore.

I pulled the truck over to the far corner of the parking lot and looked. It was maybe a quarter full. Mostly trucks. Some cars with tags from all over the US.  A school bus for a school district that was at least 100 miles away.  I stared out the front window and said "Okay."  I ran the calculations again in my head. Time wise and safety wise it was a winner.  Money wise it made sense.  I wasn't getting a bad feeling from the place.  Yet I hesitated.  It meant trusting the government.  That had never worked out well in the past.  Yet perhaps, just perhaps, I could make it work. I had before. 

Zane and Woof were staring at me.  "Okay guys. Lets go see what they have to offer."

Woof didn't say anything. Zane did though. "Remember what you said about Woof."

"Yeah" I know. "No Woof. No go. C'mon. Maybe they can give him a bath and brush his teeth."  I doubted it. Woof would have to cooperate and that was not likely.  I would hate to be called from the squirrel brain class because he had been caught dining on the groomer. 

We wandered on over and I held open the main door so Zane and Woof could go through first. If there was going to be a reaction to Woof I wanted to be behind him so I could catch it.

It was a non-event.

The lobby had a circular desk behind which sat a couple of the camo clones.  Both of them were black and thick built. I wondered how much weight they had dropped lately. One of them had the saggy jowl look of a woman who had lost a lot -- fast.

"Why look Charlene. The boy has a dog!" This was from saggy jowl. 

Charlene was reading a magazine. She looked over at us and said "Get him on a leash." Then went back to reading her People magazine.  It had to be an old one. Angela Jolie was one the cover and I wondered if she ate Brad first -- then the kids, or was it the other way around? My money would be on Brad first. She did have such a nurturing, earth mother aura.

American Apocalypse IV - Chapter 5d - by Nova

 "So what are you here for?" She asked me.

"We're going to get acclimated." I watched her face. Nothing but a faint smile. "Yeah. It's like being in high school again."

"How so?"

"Just a bunch of classes on stuff that if you didn't already know you would be dead. Like always wash your hands before eating. Never eat squirrel brains. That sort of stuff."

I pursed my lips and nodded my head gravely.  "Yeah. I can see where that could be important."

She looked at me, trying to read me, she couldn't.

"You do know you will have to check the weapons?"

"I figured as much. Why?"

She shrugged and looked away. A couple was approaching. Before she went off to greet them she said "Because people have learned to kill each other for no reason at all."

I watched her walkaway.  She had a great ass. Damn I miss Night. The physical need for her rolled through me with an intensity that literally made me want to howl.  I shook myself. Damn. I thought I had already made it through this stage of life. Hell. I remembered going to the mall, limping around in a daze, and hoping it wasn't as obvious as it felt. 

"You okay?"

Zane's voice sliced through my fever dream.

"Yeah. I'm fine.  Let's get this over with. We got places to go." I added silently "And a woman to do."

Saturday, November 27, 2010

American Apocalypse IV - Chapter 5c - by Nova

I walked over to where everyone stood and checked out the memorial.  That was exactly what it was too.  I had seen them before in town back before everything truly went to hell. Candles, a photo or three, some flowers or if it was a kid -- a stuffed animal.  This one was a lot bigger and it didn't smell to good either.  It was obvious why. Rain had swept in repeatedly and soaked the stuffed animals. More than a few items of clothing with blood stains were intermixed with the photos and toys. They added their own scent. It smelled like a combination of Goodwill store and the leftovers from a week old foreclosure eviction. If you added some furniture it would look like one too.

The woman in the official Fedland uniform whom I noticed lurking behind the group of people walked up to me and asked "Can I help you sir?" It was a creepy kind of voice. She sounded like she was an undertaker in church at a funeral and trying to sell coffins to the mourners.

"How did this happen here? I mean ...why here?"

"Because of the Citizen Location building here."

I saw Zane come out the front door and yelled "Zane!" and waved him over.  I told her "I was only in there briefly. What's that all about?"

"It's a database really. People go in there an can search for the whereabouts of friends and family. They can also have photos and information posted about themselves so others can find them.  It's like facebook but only for people who are missing, dead, or trying to reunite."

"And the government runs it?"

"Yes sir it does.

Friday, November 26, 2010

American Apocalypse IV - Chapter 5b - by Nova

The toll booth was really an information booth. Once again staffed by two people in woodlands camo utilities and the armband.  I rolled up and was greeted with a smile and "How can I help you?"

"Wheres the nearest bathroom?"

"That would be at the Citizen Location building. That would be your first left as you continue on. Anything else sir?"

"The get a Zone pass building."

"That would be the last building off of Freedom Road.  Here's a map and some information for you." The woman handed me a brochure and said "Anything else?"

"No ma'am. I'm set."

"Thank you and remember America is only as strong as its people!"

I pulled away shaking my head. This was weirdness on a scale and level that was completely different from what I was used to.

"She was nice."  This was from Zane. 

"Yeah. She was." 

I made the turn and parked in a big and busy parking lot.  My first thought was how the hell are they paying for the gas? Of course. They had Zone passes and got the special price.  It occurred to me I should have come here first and drained some tanks. Screw paying a premium for regular.

"Can we hurry?"

"Sure Zane." I told Woof to stay and we hurried towards the main door.  The lobby area had a row of tables manned with more woodland wearing auxiliaries with computers and in/out boxes.  They were working computers too. I knew that because there were people sitting on the other side of the tables listening or talking. One couple was crying. The man holding his woman as she sobbed into his shoulder. A man at the next table over was grinning and saying loudly over and over "I knew it! I knew it!:

They had regular Army working security here too. They were geared up and had their serious faces on. I drew them like a magnet as soon as I cleared the doors. They weren't subtle about it either.

"Hold it right there sir."

I stopped and looked at them.  "Yes?"

"Check the weapons or clear the area immediately."

I did the calculations. This was going to be dicey but I could do it. My body was already adjusting. Time was slowing down. Everything was sharp and focused. The soldier who had done the talking was just beginning to process the change in my body language when Zane said "I got to go!"

I froze, took a deep breath and shut it down. "No problem. Wheres the men's room?"

"Down the hall and to your right."

"Zane. I'll wait for you outside."

He was off like a kid on a mission.  I watched him go and smiled at the two soldiers. They didn't smile back. I heard their safeties click off, shook my head, and walked back out the door.

Outside it was still threatening to rain. Off to my right was a covered picnic area. It had probably been built for the employees of the building I had just walked out of.  Even from here I could tell what it was being used for now. A memorial.  People had worn a path in the grass to it and I could see a group of four standing off to one side. I watched as a woman, she had been kneeling, slowly got back on her feet with the assistance of two of the males.  She had placed a stuffed turtle on the edge. Yet another camo wearing woman was standing to one side of them. Close enough to be there but far away enough not to intrude.

Thursday, November 25, 2010

American Apocalypse III is Available - Sort of

The Kindle edition is available on Amazon. The paperback should be out tomorrow. That depends on Amazon. The other ebook formats are available on smashwords.com.  They seem to be having problems with the Apple conversion which hopefully will be resolved in the next few days.

Thank you all for your support and I hope you enjoy the book if you buy it.

American Apocalypse - Chapter 5a - by Nova

He walked around to where I sitting with my window rolled down waiting for him. He didn't come to close.

"Yes sir?"

"Fill it up with the cheapest you got soldier."

He liked the soldier part. He also didn't bother to correct me either.

"Zone ID please."

"On my way to get one."

He made a point of staring at the Brethren graffiti before telling me "Thought so." Then he told me how much a gallon was.  I bit back what I wanted to say and instead told him "Fill it up." He waited until I produced the gold coin. I thought about the price while he undid the gas cap and got started. If you wanted to limit peoples mobility then this was one way to do it with out looking like you were an evil fuck.

I leaned out the window and asked him "What if I wanted to check my tires?"

"Do it away from the pumps. You want me to check the oil and wipe them windows down?"

"Naw.  I'm good."

We rolled out of there and were about a mile down the road when Zane told me he needed to go the bathroom.

"What! You got to be kidding! We just left a gas station!"

Zane looked at me like I was an idiot and said slowly "The man said not to get out of the car." 

"Yeah. He did didn't he. Okay. I'll pull over."


"Now what?" I was getting a bit exasperated.

"I got to poop."

"Okay kid. We're almost at the center. You can check out the bathroom there."

He was good with that. Otherwise he was going to be in the bushes on the side of the road with whatever paper was in the glove compartment.

I put my foot into it a little bit and the truck surged forward. That didn't last long. Traffic was heavy! Especially after I took the turn off for the Center.  Cars were waiting to pass through some sort of toll booth into what had been a light industrial park.  It was different than any other toll booth I had seen in that it had a M1A1 Abrams tank sitting off to the side.  I had never seen one before. I was impressed.  It would have been nice to have had a few of them at our tollbooths. It wouldn't have made any difference in the end. We still would have been overrun. 

While we sat in line, which alone was a bizarre feeling, I studied the tollbooth and the lager next to it. Yep. Sheriff Smiley wasn't kidding when he said the regular Army was in town.  No wonder life seemed so normal around here. When you can roll a M1A1 out to guard a tollbooth odds were you had some serious firepower to drop on people who wouldn't act right heads.

They had tents, a generator on a truck that looked big enough to power a trailer park, another HUMVEE that was being worked on, a couple of bicycles, and three people standing at attention and getting their asses chewed out by a black female NCO who was gifted in her command of the English language. The other surprise was the grass was mowed. Someone wasted gas on mowing! This was definitely FedLand.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

American Apocalypse IV - Chapter 5 - by Nova

We dropped the dogs off a couple of miles out of town.  Woof didn't seem as bothered about it as I did. We would come back for them but I doubted they would be there without Woof to guide them. Hell, knowing them they would end up shot trying to eat someone or they would eat each other.  The damn dogs had taken multiple dumps and then walked it all around the bed of the truck too.  I looked up at the sky. It was cloudy enough that maybe I would get lucky and it would rain and wash the bed out. I doubted it would.

The gas station was on the edge of town in the direction we had to go to check out the Zone people processing center the Sheriff had told us about. It was well marked. The signs were the usual green background with white lettering. "ZONE VII PROCESSING CENTER"  The gas station I got lucky on finding.

I pulled in underneath cover or roof or whatever the hell they call it over the gas pumps.  There was only one space open. The place was busy. The station still had a SUNOCO sign. It also had a sign that said in big block letters "THIS IS A FEDERAL INSTALLATION"  Underneath in smaller letters it explained that bad things would happen to you of you were an asshole and they could charge whatever they liked and set the amount you could pump to whatever they felt like -- whenever they felt like it. They said it more officially but I thought that was an accurate translation.

They backed it up with a HUMVEE with the weapon on top manned.  I thought pointing a .50 cal at a bunch of gas pumps was a little insane but after I was told the non-Zone price I understood.  They also had one person per cluster of pumps. They were in woodland camo with an armband. It said "ZONE VII" and underneath it "Auxiliary."  They were also armed with handguns.  Gas was a big deal apparently.  It made sense. Anything that could have been drained probably had been. Even with PowerDown this was the edge of highly populated area that stretched for miles.

I pulled up to the pump and killed the engine.  A sign had been taped to it "STAY IN YOUR CAR!"  They were really big on signs in Fedland. They always had been too. I already had the window down.  My attendant was a white male in his early twenties. He had bad skin, looked tired, and thought he was important.  Yet another sign of FedLand. Everyone who had a little power confused it with having a lot of power.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

American Apocalypse IV - Chapter 4d - by Nova

I spotted the Sheriffs vehicle. It was a Camaro. Probably the last year they made them.  "Nice" I thought. Pumpkins must have been good to this town.

The dogs woke up and started barking. Woof had jumped out the open window after we left and was sitting  halfway under the truck bed in the shade. Woof was no idiot. He popped up and met Zane halfway with his tail wagging.  Zane, if had a tail, would have wagged it back at him. Instead he stuck his hand in his pocket and palmed Woof a piece of pancake.  I ignored it.

We hopped into the truck. Woof still stunk. Pancakes apparently weren't effective mints. "So what's the plan G?"

"We take a ride and dump the dogs. Then we check the place out. If it's cool we do it. If it isn't we go back for the dogs and roll on."

"Does Woof get dumped too?"

I thought about it while working my way around a horse drawn Mercedes Benz Smart Car. "Nah. Anyone who won't take Woof isn't worth it."


Zane stared at the horse and I glared at Woof who was looking at me.  I swear he smiled.

American Apocalypse IV - Chapter 4c - by Nova

I had stood up without thinking about it. Sheriff Smiley was looking amused.  Sheriff Smiley wouldn't look so amused if I had put a bullet in his head. I looked over at Zane who had been listening intently to all this. "What do you think?"

He shrugged, squinted his eyes a bit, damn if he didn't look like his dad when he did that, and said "Will it get me to my mom faster?"

"Yeah. I think so." I also wished he had stuck with a simple "Okay or no way."  Sheriff Smiley may smile a lot but that little piece of information didn't get past him. He didn't say anything but I knew.  Instead he said "We can do this a couple ways. I can give you directions or you can follow me over there."

"Directions would be fine." I was done with him. It was time to move on.

He gave them to me and I thanked him.  We walked out without him. About halfway across the parking lot I quietly told Zane "Never give strangers more information than a yes or a no." Then I cuffed him lightly upside the head.

"You mean when I said we were going to meet my mom?'


"Sorry sir."

"Don't call me sir. Call me G. It's what my friends call me."

Then I tried to cuff him again but he was too fast and dodged it.

American Apocalypse I - News

I sold AA I to Ulysses Press and they re-edited the book and did a new cover.  In the last few days they have told me AA I is going out to all the big bookstores, selected airports bookstores, and drug stores! Pretty awesome.  The release date is March 1, 2011.  It is also going to be a promotion at B&N.

I wanted to thank you all for staying with me, leaving reviews, and buying the books.  Thank you!

American Apocalypse IV - Chapter 4b - by Nova

"Acclimated huh. Is that a fancy way of saying 'screwed, blued, and tattooed' Sheriff?" I had learned that phrase from Gunny back when we had a town and it was nice to have a chance to use it.

He shrugged. "It's not for everyone. People get all paranoid at first when I tell them about it. They think the government is going to get them inside and next thing you know they are going to be tied to a metal rack and doctors with evil grins are going to implant chips into their brains. The thing is the government actually needs functioning people who will do the right thing because that's what they believe."

"And the ones that don't?"

Sheriff Smiley spread his hands and said "They can get with the program or pay the price." He wasn't smiling.

I had a pretty good idea what that price might be.  Another good reason to get as far away as possible from these lunatics as we could.  I was also mulling it over. While the Sheriff was talking I had watched a petite women with long black shiny hair walk across the other side of the room and into the hallway which more than likely led to the Ladies room.  I only caught a glimpse of her face, she was a little heavier than Night, but damn if I wasn't hit with a surge of physical an emotional need to see her again.

"How long does this acclimation class take?"

"Three days. Maybe four."

"Does the boy stay with me?"

"Yes he does. They didn't start that way but we got tired of responding to hysterical woman, pissed off men, and screaming kids. Nobody gets separated.  Just as well. It was a stupid policy to begin with."

I did the math and it sounded good. I could be with Night in a week probably. Or I could go around the Zone and dick with god knows how many dumb ass wannabe bandits on the road. Possibly ending up having to continue on foot to avoid them.

"You got functioning gas stations here?" 

He was back to smiling. "Yep. When you finish acclimating you get a chit good for five gallons of gas which might get you a 100 miles in that truck of yours. Another voucher good for two meals and if you want it, a referral to the job center in your area. That is if you know where your going and there is one around there."

I said very softly "How did you know I have a truck?"

Sheriff Smiley didn't smile. He laughed. "Hell Gardener. You pull into town in a Brethern truck with a wolf pack in the back and you don't think you will get noticed?"

He had a point.

American Apocalypse IV - Chapter 4a - by nova

The General is what this country needs. Why?  Because he does not see color or religion. He just sees red, white, and blue. I know -- you're thinking 'how old fashioned' but it works!  Sure, we still have martial law and the elections have been put on hold.  We also have a country that is being torn in many directions by people who don't understand that just because the USA is going through hard times they can't set up their own kingdoms.  That can not and will not be tolerated.  Especially as you know the kingdoms they create are not places anyone sane would want to live or raise a family."

"So why are the Brethren still around? I mean they are damn near next door."

Sheriff Smiley made a sour face. It didn't look natural on him at all.  "Yeah. There is that.  Best thing I can tell you is they don't stray this way, they keep the road open, and we'll get around to the treasonous little shits eventually. The General has regular Army here keeping the Interstates open inside the Zone. Plus we got a police company, they're like infantry really, out there taking care of the criminal element."

The waitress came by and set a cup of coffee in front of the Sheriff. It smelled like the real deal too so I ordered one.    I started digging out more silver but the Sheriff smiled and told me "Put that away Mr. Gardener. This one is on me."  He looked up at the waitress, winked and told her "Put it on my bill Katie."  I thought "Yeah right Sheriff. I bet you have a tab that hasn't been paid in years."  Her reply was "Sure Sheriff."  She also took Zanes glass back for a refill. I was going to have make sure he used the bathroom before we left.

"So whats the catch?"

Sheriff Smiley looked at me blankly. "Catch?"

"Yeah. If we go through the Zone. How do we get ID? What's the rules.  What about the camps?"

"Oh yeah. The camps. You know that's usually the first thing people ask about. They either want to know how to get in or how to stay out of them." He shrugged. "The General said a couple of weeks ago it is time to wind them down. We need the people out settling the empty areas.  You know, growing crops we can sell to the shit headed, lying back stabbing foreigners." He caught himself.  I was glad. I was never big on listening to rants. The stupidity factor was usually to high for me to stomach.

"Sorry Gardener. I get wound up about some things."

"No problem. You were saying..."

"Yeah. I know. Zone ID's.  The good thing is you get to go anywhere in the Zone and our roads are pretty much back to normal. Foods cheaper too.  Bet you figured that one out on your own." I nodded thinking "No shit."

"Yeah. You could get work too. No problem. My guess is that US Marshals might hire you. You look like you could handle yourself in fight and they are doing plenty of that. Yeah..." He looked at me "Or local law enforcement. Probably get you on here. That is if you can pass a background check." 

"Yeah. I can do that."

"I thought so.  You remind me of a guy that was on the force when I was first coming up. He had worked out west. There were some stories too. He was Border Patrol.  Why..."

I interrupted him. Drank the rest of my coffee and said "I still haven't heard the catch and I know there is one."

He smiled "Oh yes. There is. You got to go through new processing and get acclimated."

American Apocalypse IV - Chapter 4 - by Nova

He set his elbows on the table, steepled his hands, and said "Good question. An understandable one being you have been out in the Badlands for quite a while I think."

I didn't say anything. I just stared at him and waited for him to talk.  It didn't faze him.  He liked to talk. I was starting to wonder if he sold cars or real estate on the side.

"It's like this.  I 'm sorry. I didn't get your name?"


"Okay Mr. Gardener. It's like this. You and I both know things were falling part long before the lights went out.  It doesn't matter what your political beliefs were. It was all messed up. I'm not going to go off on a political tangent here." He waved his hand in the air. "That's history now.  What is important is the General has us unified. We don't need political parties right now. We need purpose. We need leadership. We need to unite and rebuild this country."

I interrupted him "Is this the same General that called in the air strike on the crowds storming the White House?"

It barely made a dent in the flow. It wasn't until later that I realized that I wasn't the first person who had asked him that question. Hell, it was probably covered in his first indoctrination class. 

"Yes...Yes....I know. I had problems with it too but Gardener its all about order. We have to have order to survive." He was a hundred percent sincere. He really believed in what he was saying. This was a first for me really. I mean I listened to a few "Leaders" who believed their own bullshit. Every fundie did or at least was able to do a good imitation of a true believer. This guy, Sheriff Smiley, was as much of a believer as any "Get Baptized or Die" I had run into.  What he was saying made sense to me too. That was even weirder.

Monday, November 22, 2010

American Apocalypse IV - Chapter 3f - by Nova

"Is that so?" I answered politely.

"Yes sir. Why I don't know if you noticed but our town water tower is painted to look like a giant pumpkin." He was obviously proud of this.

"Oh, I thought it was a tomato." I really had too.

He laughed.  "Yes sir. It has faded a bit since we last painted it. I can see how you might make that mistake." He paused, looked at Zane "How's them pancakes young man?"

Zane had his mouthful so he just made a grunting sound of approval.

"I thought so." He smiled again and shook his head.  "Okay. I know you are wondering why I stopped by."


He smiled again. I was now thinking of him as Sheriff Smiley. "I'm here as the community liaison to new arrivals. We're now a Zone area, and proud to be I might add, the government has stepped in and is handling the current situation quite well." 

I could tell he was warming up to recite his standard script but I wanted information -- not a monologue.

Exactly how are they handling the situation quite well?" 

I was genuinely curious.  This felt like an alternate reality to the world we had been living in so it probably had an alternative reality government. One that actually cared and was doing something. I doubted it but you got to keep an open mind. Plus a part of me, despite my personal nightmare of becoming just another IT guy again, actually hoped for a moderate return to stability. I liked electricity, cheap food, and shelter.  I wanted Night to be safe.  Hell, I could always go back to killing people online. Maybe. I was surprised by how bad I actually did miss the old days.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

American Apocalypse IV - Chapter 3e - by Nova

The pancakes weren't bad. Zane was packing his away too. It didn't look the little guy was going to leave me any of his.  Our waitress came back to check on us, actually it was Zane she was checking on. The long sleeve shirt she was wearing rode up enough on her wrist when she took his glass for a refill that I saw the fresh scars from the blade or razor. I looked away and pretended not to notice her tug the sleeve back down.  She didn't ask me if I wanted a refill.   I let it go. Everybody has their load to carry but slit wrists were a baggage claim to a world of pain.

That's when the kindly old Sheriff slipped in under my radar.  I didn't realize how conditioned I had become. I also didn't realize that my early warning system that I had relied on for so long had a major flaw.  Later I called it the "Nice Guy" blindside.  He didn't trip the hostile alarm because he personally wasn't hostile. He was just doing his job. Hell, he was probably thinking about getting a free law enforcement doughnut or its equivalent from the manager of the restaurant. He wasn't heavily armed because he didn't need to be. He was a tripwire tho I doubt if anyone had explained that to him.  An invisible string connected him to the real power and cutting it was just another alarm in their response system. 

He stood about two feet from us, looked me up and down, smiled a real smile, and asked if he could join us. I looked him over. He was pushing 60, in shape but it was a diminished in shape, time was robbing him slowly. He was wearing a worn khaki shirt with a faded patch that told me he was Circleville Police, maybe it was Centerville? I wasn't sure as it was worn and washed out as his shirt. He was wearing a pair of jeans held up by a garrison belt. His duty belt was minimal and he was packing a revolver. He sure as hell wasn't the tip of a SWAT wedge.

I moved the empty chair out with the toe of my boot and told him "Sure, have a seat."  This might be good. He was probably a better source of information than anything the Information Center would tell me and I didn't have to walk anywhere.

"Pancakes huh. They're pretty good here. If you got the time you should try the pumpkin pie. We're famous for our pumpkins."

Saturday, November 20, 2010

American Apocalypse IV - Chapter 3d - by Nova

I took a drink of my Pepsi. No ice. No straw. The red plastic tumbler it was in was nice. It wasn't Pepsi. It wasn't even that sweet. I made a face and set it down. Zane looked at me and giggled. He told me  "It's pretty yucky isn't it" and then chugged some more. It was carbonated water with a syrup that the only relation to Pepsi it could claim was that it was dark.  I drank some more too.  Why the hell not?

We sat and waited for the waitress to come back with our order. Zane asked me "Do you think their will be another Transformer movie?"


"Oh." Then he began telling me about his favorite Transformer and everything he had done in every Transformer movie ever made. I nodded my head and said "You don't say" and "Sounds pretty awesome" every once in awhile.  I made a mental note to tell Night not to let any of our kids watch a Transformer movie until they were at least 30 years old. 

When our waitress came back with our order I had planned on saying something witty like "Pepsi lose the secret recipe when the power went out?" Or "I've had ice tea that tasted more like Pepsi than this." Instead the sight of the pancakes with the pat of butter on top melting in a pool of syrup swept my smart ass comments away in a frenzy of pancake lust.

I told her "Thanks! Can I get more syrup?"

"No. It's rationed"  She didn't smile either.  I was seriously considering stiffing her when it came to a tip.

American Apocalypse IV - Chapter 3c - by Nova

We waited for our drinks. I was excited! Pepsi! Sugar! Yes!   I looked over at the little guy. "You need to close your mouth and quit gawking kid."

"I can't help it." He lowered his voice "She was clean!"

I smiled "Yep."

"Plus they got electricity Gardener! Do you think its all over!"

He was a little loud with the last sentence. Enough so that one of the men sitting at the bar looked over at us. I stared at him and he looked away. "Inside voices kid." Damn, I hadn't heard that said in awhile. I sure as hell never expected to say it in my lifetime.

I told him "I don't know. I doubt it."

For a second I saw myself going to back to work as an IT guy. My most dangerous weapon a tiny screwdriver. My worst enemy anyone with "Manager" in their title. Going home to Night and showing her my latest injury. Another paper cut. Not good. Not good at all.  Fortunately the waitress came back with our drinks and interrupted my nightmare.

"Before I can serve you I must inform you of our policy."

"Okay. Go ahead."  I knew this was about the payment part. It had to be.

"First of all do you have a valid ID for this Zone?"


She smiled. She had a nice smile despite it being as tired as the rest of her looked.

"I thought so. Do you have any new, new as in the last three months Zone script?"


The smile again.

"Okay men. We can feed you but your going to have to pay the out of Zone fee. That's paid in silver and three times the price on the menu."

I sighed. I was going to pay it. Hell, I would have paid four times the menu price for pancakes.  "So how far does the Zone run around here? Are the roads working?" I was doing mental calculations based on where I thought we were and were we  had to go. We had 21 days left to cover 300 plus miles. Every day that distance increased by at least 30 miles. If I could chew off a big chunk by moving down a clear road like an Interstate I could be in a sleeping bag with Night in a couple of days. Add two more days for the usual stuff to go wrong and we were looking good. *  Not bad at all.

"Okay. That's fine." I started digging out my silver and.and counting it into her hand. "Two plates of pancakes and lots of syrup." I wanted some info from her so as I did that I asked her "How far does this Zone go?  How's the roads? Do we need a Zone ID?"

The last silver coin was in her palm about the time I asked "How's the roads?" Her hand closed over them. She waited until I was done talking and said "Honey I'm to busy for this. You need to go to the information center." Then she was gone.

Zane watched her go and then told me "I don't think she likes you."

"Yeah. I get that a lot" I replied.

* Bobn inspired.

Friday, November 19, 2010

American Apocalypse IV - Chapter 3b - by Nova

The parking lot was gravel. The door to the kitchen area was open and I could see into the dishwashers area. A Hispanic male with a baseball cap on backwards was unloading a busboys cart. Yep. Things were getting back to normal. I stepped out of the cab and down onto the gravel. As I walked around the bed of the truck I yelled "Stay!" to the the dogs. They told me how much they liked that idea by barking their heads off.  I had to tell Zane to leave his M-16 along with Woof  in the cab but leave the window down  like I had.  I hoped someone would try and steal his M-16 or the truck itself.  Then I wouldn't have to worry about feeding the dogs.

Inside was a surprise. We came in and there was a sign "Wait to be seated"  The place was split with a bar running along one side semi shielded from the eaters by a waist high partition. A couple of tables were jammed in a corner next to the bar. The other side was all booths and tables.  Most of them were taken. The food looked and smelled good. Very good. While I was checking the patrons plates they were checking us out.  I was beginning to feel like a freak which always irritates the hell out of me when the hostess walked up to us and said "Table for two?"  She seemed fine with how me and Zane looked but her eyes told me there wasn't much running inside either.

"No. We'll sit at the bar."

"Sorry sir. Minors are not allowed to sit at the bar. State law."

Can I sit at one of the tables by the bar?"

"Certainly sir"

"Thank you Ma'am.

That produced a bright empty smile and she led us back to one of tables next to the bar.  We sat down and I looked at the menu while Zane about broke his neck looking around. I nudged his menu closer to him and told him "Take a look. If they have pancakes you might want to eat them."

He opened the menu, looked at it for all of a second and quietly asked me "Is Woof going to be okay?"

"Sure kid. Woof is smart and has sharp teeth. He'll be fine. They have pancakes!"

He looked at me, He didn't seemed convinced about Woof or overjoyed about the pancakes. I mentally shrugged.  He was getting pancakes. If he didn't eat them then I would.

Our waitress showed up. She was thin, pale, and looked very, very tired. Still she probably had more life in her asleep than the hostess did when she was awake and wired on caffeine.

"What can I get you to drink?"

I noticed she only smiled at Zane.  Me? she looked through.

Zane was just staring at her like she was a being from another planet. I mean she wasn't bad looking but he was only nine years old. What the hell was up with him?

"Two Cokes please."

"Sorry sir. We only have Pepsi products."

Now it was my turn to stare at her. The unreality of what she had just said smacked me upside the head.  For a second I felt lost. Totally disorientated. It didn't help that she was patiently waiting for me to answer. 

The fact that I was the only one wearing armor struck me. I had seen holstered guns on the people eating but they were worn with regular clothes. Well, pretty much regular clothes. More regular, as in far more civilized looking than what I was wearing. Plus I bet I was the only one in town wearing a sword.  Then I heard a cell phone ring.  Yep. We had driven into a alternative universe.

"Did I just hear a cellphone ring?'

She finally looked at me. I saw a hint of a smile. "You just in from the Bad Lands?"

"Uh. I'm not sure."

She laughed. "I thought so."

Edited for clarity

Thursday, November 18, 2010

American Apocalypse IV - Chapter 3a - by Nova

"Crows huh?"

"Yeah. No one believed me except maybe my Mom. She told me to stop talking about it. There wasn't much  to tell people. Did you know crows eat dead animals?" 

"Yeah. I noticed that."

"It's gross. I mean it was at the time..."

 "Yeah. We're hitting new levels of grossness lately."

Zane didn't say anything. He just went back to staring out the road. I kept driving. I was thinking how things  were getting weirder. For a second I almost grasped how it all was connected and then I lost it. Besides I was getting hungry. It occurred to me if the kid was plugged into BirdNet then he might be able to get us home quicker. Or even better get me Freya. "Hey kid. You ever talk to anyone when you do the bird thing?

He shook his head. "No. I tried talking to my Mom. She didn't hear me." He paused, his face scrunched up a bit and he asked me "Do you talk to the birds?"

"Yeah. It's almost the same as you pretty much." I thought about it "I think I would rather talk to Woof."

"He eats gross things too."

"Yeah. So you got any magic powers I should know about?" I was only halfway kidding asking him that.

No." He added wistfully "I wish I did." 

"It's okay kid. I don't either."

We had been passing vehicles. The had all given me the nod and raised fingers on the steering wheel greeting. All of them but the last two. The last one had scowled at me. My guess was I had left Brethren land.  It was time to clean off the truck and get some gas. Maybe even something to eat. Plus I needed a map.
I saw a place up ahead. It looked more like a bar then a dinner but there were a couple of cars and trucks in front and the sign said "Food and Gas."  It was normal looking.  If I didn't look around and focus this area looked as prosperous as West Virginia did before PowerDown. Hell, businesses were open. Vehicles were on the road. The sign was lit with electricity. Unemployment was probably no more than 50 percent or so. Damn near normal.

American Apocalypse IV - Chapter 3 - by Nova

We rode for awhile in silence. Neither one of us were big on talking plus I was keyed up.  I had no idea where the Brethren borders were or if we were being pursued. I was moving with a vague idea of what direction I was supposed to go in.  I was driving because I was driven by a gut level feeling that we needed to move. It was almost a physical pressure in my gut to go! go!

I  looked over at him occasionally. He stared straight ahead, his arm across Woofs back.  Every time I did I saw a mini Max with shades of Carol. I thought about how, if things had worked out differently, what Carol and I would have produced. I put that aside the third time it crossed my mind. It didn't do anything for me but lead me down a road paved with sadness.

I was thinking about gas and finding a place to scrape off all the Brethren crap that they had painted on the sides of the truck when he startled me by asking "Do you think my real dad will be happy to see me?"

"I don't know kid."

He thought about it for a bit and said "Yeah. I know."

I bit on it. "What do you know?"

He sighed and I saw his arm hug Woof a little tighter. Woof felt it and pulled his head in from where it was hanging out the window, looked at Zane, then me, and stuck it back out the window.  Thank you Woof I thought. Keep that big head out there in the breeze. 

"I know that fake dads and real dads don't always like their kids." He paused "My friends, almost all of them had fake dads. They would be nice at first and then they would stop. Sometimes they got bad."

I nodded my head and said "Yeah. I know." I did too. I think he heard it in my voice because he looked over at me for a second, then quickly looked away.

"The real dads go away. They try to be nice but after awhile they quit coming or they say they are coming but never do. My best friends dad was like that. It made him sad but he didn't show it to everybody.  I knew. Sometimes the fake dad and the mom have a kid. Then they love that kid more. They say they don't but they do."

"Yeah...it sucks in a lot of ways."  I was flashing back to my past. I knew exactly what he meant.  I just never heard anyone articulate it like this. Especially the part about "Uncles" or step-fathers being fake dads. That was exactly what they were too.

"My mom will be happy to see me." There was no hesitation or doubt in that statement. He knew. I knew he had to believe that. The alternative was to bad for him to wrap his brain around. He was lucky. She would be happy to see him.

"Yeah" I told him. "She will.  She's a good woman."

"She cries every night."

I thought about that. I wasn't sure I wanted to know but I asked anyway. "How do you know that?"

"The crows show me."

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

American Apocalypse IV - Chapter 2e - by Nova

"Where you headed?"

I looked at him. Once upon a time you would actually answer that question without hesitation.  Once upon a time you could also expect to get there without being robbed, murdered, or gnawed upon. Not necessarily in that order tho it would be how I would do it if I were so inclined.

"South. We're headed to El Paso."

He didn't bat an eye. "Why the hell there?"

"It's tough to get a good taco around here."


I thought "Maybe he isn't going to work out as the heir to the Captain." Not my problem. I looked at my watch and told him "Well, its been real but we got to move." I yelled at Woof "Truck!" Then I told Zane to drop the tailgate so the herd could get in. He said "Yes sir!" and literally ran to do it. I was going to have to talk with him. That "Sir" bit was annoying.

I told Cameron "Gotta run. I'm on the clock." and walked over to the truck. Woof was waiting on the passenger side. I climbed in, turned the key and listened to the engine turn over. It sounded good and we had three quarters of a tank of gas. Not bad. Not bad at all. I listened to the gate clunk shut but he was too short to see with the rear view mirror. The side mirror on the passenger side had been snapped off somewhere along the line so I made sure I stayed in Park. It would be a real bitch to back over the top of him and have to explain that to Carol.

He popped open the door and held it open for Woof to jump up into the cab. I held up my hand and said "No way. You ride in the middle. Woof can hang his his head out the window."  He climbed in and Woof jumped up and in after him.

"Phewww" Zane waved his hand in front of his face. "Woof! your breath stinks!"

"Don't let him lick you kid." I pulled away and felt something crunch under the back left tire. I checked the rear view mirror. Thank god it was just a body part and not a kid. I put my foot into the gas and picked up speed. We needed some wind moving around in the cab. Woof needed to brush his teeth soonest.

American Apocalypse IV - Chapter 2d - by Nova

"I'm grinning because if either one of you peckerwoods shoot my dogs I am to make your head disappear."I was really getting pretty good at the country boy lingo I thought. That made me smile too.

I changed course just a bit so instead of standing in front of them I was at an angle. That gave me a better view of everyone. It also made it a little more difficult for them to shoot me. Not a lot more but it was all about getting the edge. My armor was better than anyone else here that I had seen. In close like this I had an advantage. Yet someone sitting in the bushes 250 yards away with a scoped deer rifle they knew how to use could make my head explode as quickly as I could take these two.  Keep moving and keep them guessing. It had worked so far and I saw no reason it wouldn't continue too.

I hit the mark I had measured in my mind as the right place to stop and asked them "Those friends of yours?"

"Hell no! They killed the Captain."

"Then why do you care if my dogs finish what they started?"

It hit home.  I watched their eyes defocus. The intensity leaving them. The muzzles of their weapons drooping. Game over. I ignored the mumbled "It just ain't right..." I dropped my eye contact with them and looked at the scene.

One of the dogs, one of the dumb ass Rottweilers, had torn an arm off and was happily gnawing away on bone. I hadn't given them names but when I did the Rottweilers were going to get names that reflected their personalities. I was thinking Brick for this one because it was one dumb ass dog.  If the pack was a football team than the Rottweilers would be the linemen. The mutt I had already tagged for a Terrell. 

Zane was hustling. The dogs left him alone. Something I hadn't thought about when I told him to strip the bodies. I watched as he pushed the other Rottweiler out of the way. It gave him a "Huh" look and moved enough for him to get into the stiffs pockets.   The crowd was fading away. Almost all of the remaining people had gathered around the body of the Captain. Cameron, I think that was his name, and probably the heir apparent yelled at the two who had mentioned the dog munch to me "Don't stand there. Get their weapons and move them trucks!" He added, probably for my benefit "And leave the kid alone." 

He walked over to where I stood. I noticed he gave the dogs some space. He looked at me, looked around, laughed, and said "Damn. Not going to be a lot of cleanup needed here." We both watched Brick lick a spot on the  pavement clean. "Yeah. Except we're out of here in two minutes." I added "If you got any left a couple of Hefty trash bags should do it."

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

American Apocalypse IV - Chapter 2c - By Nova

"Hey Buddy! Call your fucking dogs off!" 

The guy standing next to him looked like he couldn't figure out if he wanted to scream, throw up, or shoot them. I didn't even turn around to look. I could see them from the sounds I was hearing. I kept walking towards them. I holstered the one Ruger and began reloading the other. As I did I kept eye contact with the guy who had yelled at me. He was undecided still. I was trying to pin him with my eyes.  I was also hoping Zane knew enough to watch my back. If I had to shoot them I was going to piss some people off. Well at least the dogs will eat good I thought and smiled. Smiling probably wasn't the right thing to do at the moment.

I saw Mr. Undecided face change. He was now sure about one thing. He didn't like me. The guy who yelled the first time saw it too. "What the hell are you grinning about buddy?" 

"Because I am a magician."

"What?" His reply wasn't said as a question as much as it was verbal shorthand for "Are you a fucking idiot?"

"I'm grinning because if either one of you peckerwoods shoot my dogs I am to make your head disappear."I was really getting pretty good at the country boy lingo I thought. That made me smile too.

American Apocalypse IV - Chapter 2b - by nova

I looked at the faces gathering around us. People were coming down from the hill. People were popping out of their assigned holes. They looked like decent people. Good people. I don't do well with people like that. I don't want to. I could lead them. Just looking at them as they tried not to stare at me told me that. I was "The Man." I dispensed death and grinned doing it. They would fear me. They wouldn't like me but they would try. Then I shoot a few of them and they would turn on me. Max knew how to lead because that was what he was born to do. He liked it. He fed on their energy and shined it back on them. Me? I killed bad people and didn't go to anywhere near as many meetings as he did. I was okay with it.

I told Zane quietly "Search and strip them. Throw it all in that truck. We're out of here in five minutes if not sooner."

I let him deal with that because I had another problem.  I held one of the Rugers up so I could flip the gate and clear the empties. Normally I would of scavenged them. Now was not the time. Impressions are everything and scurrying are after spent shell cases did not project the right image. I just hoped I wouldn't step on one, have it roll and I end up falling on my ass.

Especially as I wasn't looking at what I was doing. I was staring at the man who was yelling at me.

"Hey Buddy! Call your fucking dogs off!"

American Apocalypse IV - Chapter 2

"Okay. Up the stairs. Lets see if anyone is watching your truck." I let him go first. That didn't go unnoticed by him. His smirk didn't go unnoticed by me either. I was right. They had lived above the shop. We did a quick tour of the rooms. Someone had tried to set the mattress on fire in the master bedroom. The other bedroom was a kids room. Someone had painted a unicorn on one wall. They had done a nice job of it too. The unicorn was the only thing that interested Thursday in the place so far. He stood and stared at it until I told him from the door "We can see the truck from the window at the end of the hallway."

We looked out and saw that someone had been smart. They had posted three guys as sentries and they looked miserable. Nothing like standing around guarding a pickup while lightening strikes and rain poured down on you. Plus they had to have heard gunfire. So yeah, they were miserable and jumpy. So I was going to have to be subtle. Maybe even think up some tactics or a plan.

Thursday was growling and muttering to himself. What, I didn't know because it was in another language. He sounded a lot like Freya. Once again I reminded myself to have a talk with him later.

I called the kid over and told him "See them people standing around that truck?"

"The one with the weird shiny sheep heads on the front"?

"They're goats!" Thursday told him.

"Yeah those." I told him. Now was not the time to squabble about fucking hood ornaments.

"That's my truck!" Thursday added.

I so wanted right then to lay the Ruger upside his head. Zane told him "Nice truck!" Thursday grinned and told him "You betcha!"

"Both of you shut the fuck up about the fucking truck." I didn't yell. I didn't raise my voice. In fact I said it very quietly. They looked at me and shut up.

"Here's the plan. Zane. I want you to stand here and watch them. If they look like they are going to shoot us then shoot them. Me and Thursday are going to go down and talk to them."

"Talk to them?" Thursday asked incredulously.

"Okay. We're going to get close and kill them." I told him.

"Okay. That's a good plan." Thursday told me. I really wanted to reply "Thanks for your fucking approval hammerhead" but we were trying to stay focused here. Then Zane asked "How do I shoot them if the window is in the way?" I took a deep breath, and growled at him "You shoot through the fucking window." Then I started heading down the stairs before I lost it. Damn, I missed Ninja at times like this. Him and Max. If I had them I would have been halfway back to Night by now."

I heard Thursday clumping along behind me. That man walked heavy. Maybe it was carrying the hammer or maybe he had rocks in his boots. Whatever. I knew I would never take him on a job that required stealth. Door opening? Yes. Sneaking up on anyone ? No. I wasn't worried, at least at the moment, of him dropping that chunk of metal on my head. I didn't sense any animosity towards me now. Probably because he was looking forward to hammering the soldier boys.

I paused at the door and told Thursday "Okay. What I want to do is walk towards them. When they spot us I want us to smile and wave. Got it?"

"Trickery. Sure. I got it" was his reply. I yelled up the stairs "Hey kid!"


"When we get in that truck you best come running down them stairs."

He yelled back, his voice as high pitched as a girls "Got it!"

I pulled the door open enough for me to squeeze out, looked around, the street was quiet, and told Thursday "Okay." I waited until he slipped out and propped it back up. Then we started walking.

I was really hoping the kid wouldn't need to shoot. He was up there for a reason. To keep him safe. Not to be a sniper. If we died they would probably find him and send him back to boarding school. It would suck to be him but he would live. I put him out of my head and focused. Just before we turned the corner I looked over at Thursday. He had picked the same time to check on me. Our eyes met and we both grinned. So far he had been a bit of an asshole at times but he loved this shit as much as I did.

I whipped a little Freya talk on him for the hell of it. I growled "
Doda dem alla" I had been in a growling mood today. I kind of liked it. I was going to do more of it. I thought it fit the occasion much more than soldier talk. What I didn't expect was his reaction to it. He yelled it back at me and took off running while he yelling it over and over loudly. Very loudly. Amazingly loud. I thought "Fuck! You idiot!" I drew both guns and followed him thinking "Why do I even bother to plan."

He was fast for an old man. I had to open it up to stay a couple steps behind him. He was still yelling as he turned the corner. Yelling always made me feel good in these kind of situations too so I joined in adding "
Freya!" at the end. I swung out a bit to his left to give me room to work and lost a couple steps on him doing it. They were still where they had been we looked at them from the window. Their positions had only changed by a couple of steps.

They had frozen in place when Hammerhead rounded the corner yelling but these laddies weren't going to run or panic like the last had. Weapons were going to their shoulders and I was still at least 75 yards away but closing fast. This was going to be tricky. Then, out of the corner of my eye, I saw Thursday throw his hammer. I remember thinking "One shot and he wasted it" and I started pulling triggers. At a full run, off the hip, all I could hope for was spoiling their aim. While I shot I watched that hammer fly. It didn't twirl like a tomahawk. It sailed on a laser beam straight line, head first into the chest of the soldier boy who was getting ready to shoot Thursday. He went backward like he had been hit by a bus.

The guy next to the one who ate the hammer, I was closer now, close enough to tell it was a woman, shot a three round burst at Thursday, while the third one tried to kill me. He shot high. I had missed too but I was closing the distance. Then the hammer Thursday had thrown went sailing back to him like some kind of bizarre high speed replay.

I hadn't heard it but the kid must of cracked the window open because my guys throat exploded in a burst of red spray. The woman soldier was staying calm, she sent another burst towards Thursday and then she spun awkwardly to the side. The kid had hit her but he hadn't put her down. The hammer that hit her did. Even that was an awkward hit because of the fact she was falling, and off balance. I heard bones crunch, saw the grimace of pain, and she was gone, tumbling gracelessly backwards.

I kept running towards them holstering my weapons. I was going to switch to the 30-30 I had slung on my back which as usual I had forgotten about. Plus I didn't like what the flying hammer had told me. I had an idea of who I was dealing with now. Another pain in the ass left over from another time wannabe god who spoke a language that no one else did and wanted to be treated like he was somebody still. Well, I liked the hammer. Maybe he had a spare he didn't need.

We came to halt and stood there looking at the bodies. I looked up and down the street and saw nothing. I didn't expect it to last long. I checked the window. No kid in sight which hopefully meant he was hauling ass towards us. I told Thursday "You got two kills. You want to strip them?"

"No. I want you cut off this ones head." He walked about twenty paces past the truck where the first soldier he had hit landed, grabbed him by his boots, and dragged him back to the truck. While he did that I stripped the other downers and tossed their gear in the back of the truck. I noticed they were wearing crappy quality vests and their boots had seen better days. I thought "Supplies running a little thin or second rate troops?" I filed it away. Night loved knowing this stuff.

The kid had come pounding up grinning until he saw the bodies. I put the grin back on his face by telling him "Good job Zane." Thursday had pulled the soldiers helmet off and positioned the body horizontal to the truck with his head, shoulders, and arms hanging over the side and into the bed. He told me "Okay. Ready when you are." He opened the gas tank and was standing there grinning at me. There was a bit of a challenge in that grin too. I thought "Okay. So you want to see hard core? Fine." I reached back over my shoulder, drew the sword, and stepped forward at an angle to the right of the body. As I did I had to tell Thursday "Move. You're in my way." He was standing there staring bugeyed at my blade. I yelled "Freya!" pivoted, and brought the blade down hard and fast.

As I did Thursday yelled "No" and moved towards me, his hand reaching out to grab my arm and stop my swing. He wasn't fast enough. The blade gleamed brightly as it went slicing through the air. I remember thinking "He's going to be pissed when he sees the gash my beauty puts in the side of his truck." I had put everything I had in it and it felt right and true on the down swing. It sliced cleanly, even though the angle was a little off. It cut like it always cut flesh, like nothing in the world would ever stop it. Then it bit into his truck and my world exploded.

I came to with Zane kneeling next to me. His face floating above me, vaguely seen between the blue white after images that danced through my vision, leftovers from the arc torch brightness I had just seen. He asked me, actually sounding worried "You okay?"

I still held the sword in my left hand I could feel the grip glowing, it was a nice warm heat in my hand. I told him "Yeah. I'm fine." and got to my feet feeling more than a little off balance. Thursday had the neck of the soldier whose head I cut off jammed into his gas tank opening. He was muttering and seemed extremely pissed about something. I looked at the sword, it looked fine, and I sheathed it. Zane whispered to me "What is he doing?"

I replied "Filling it up with unheaded kid."

"Get in the truck." While he did that I walked over to where Thursday was finishing up. As I watched, I told him "We need to move soonest." He replied "Who's we Freya Warrior?" Then he yelled at Zane "Get out of my truck!" With that he dropped the body, which looked more than a little shriveled, jerked open the truck door, and tossed his hammer inside. He settled himself behind the wheel, rested his elbow on the window jam, and told me "I'll make this quick. You got your head up your ass as far as your priorities. You got the killing down but you suck at the rest. You are sworn to Freya. I could work around that but you carry the Sword." He looked at me, sighed, I guess he saw I wasn't getting it "Damn, if you aren't one of the dimmer candles in the beer hall." Then he turned the key, yelled "You got 20 seconds!" put it in gear, and was gone.

I spent two precious seconds processing his remarks and the rapidly disappearing back end of his truck. It didn't help that his exhaust pipe was glowing a deep red, almost like an eye, which I thought was rather cool. Then it clicked. I yelled "Run!" and took off for the end of the street. I heard the kid behind me and hoped he kept up because we were going to cut this one close. I cut around the corner, saw a house with a yard and headed for the overgrown bushes besides it. The kid turned the corner just in time. A second slower and they would have seen him. I heard vehicles stopping where the bodies lay and a truck went hauling ass down the street we just cleared in the same direction as Thursday had gone. I thought "Good luck catching that asshole." Anyone who fueled their truck on unheaded and whose exhaust glowed like a dragons eye was not going to be caught by someone driving a Ford.

The kid slid into the bushes. Thank god they weren't holly or something equally obnoxious. "You up to doing some serious running?" I asked him. He whispered "Yes sir."

"You like dogs?"

He looked at me like it was a perfectly normal question to ask when you hiding in a clump of weeds and bushes and replied "Sure. Who doesn't."

"Good." I told him. I unslung the 30-30, asked him "Ready?" I waited for his nod. Stuck my head up and looked around, and said "Go!"

We had to fade and freeze a few times. The kid, for being so young, moved well. He also didn't try talking to me which was good. It was definite plus that he understood basic hand signs. Maybe two hours later we were back to where we had dropped the dogs. We could of been there quicker but I took a roundabout path to get there and approached from the other side. Instead of going to the exact spot I stopped about 500 yards from it and settled down behind a downed tree. I told the kid I would watch for a bit. Of course he told me he wasn't tired and then went to sleep about three minutes later.

I looked at him as he slept and saw the parts of Carol in him. His skin was her color, ivory pale, but it tanned easy instead of burned. The hair was brown with streaks of gold like hers. He had Max's face. The eyes were all Max too. Not a bad combination if he hadn't been too damaged along the way. Then I fell asleep. It was one of those dreams that were totally life like, in color, and I could feel every emotion at twice the power of what I would feel awake.

I was back in time, another world ago, high school. I was looking for Carol. It was the day of graduation practice, a practice I was not invited to, and I knew I had to find her and talk to her or I would never see her again. The thought of that almost made me sick. I kept running into people who wanted to talk but I either brushed them off or asked them if they had seen her. A couple of girls laughed and told me where they had seen her last but she wasn't there. I would run up to groups of people, search each ones face for her, but she was nowhere to be found. Even her the group she should have been in -- she wasn't. She was gone. Gone for ever. I wandered away, found a private place, and I sat there and cried and cried.

In the dream it seemed like I cried for ever but at some point a hot wind began to blow into my face. My tears stopped, then dried up. In my dream I realized the breeze had changed. It stunk now of rotten meat and drops of rain were falling on my face.. I woke up with a start, my brain shrieking "Oh my god! I fell a sleep on watch!" Jeebus, the adrenaline kicked in then. It didn't help that I bolted straight up and bumped noses with Woof who standing over me. He had a wet nose too. I told him "Damn Woof...get off me." and wiped the drool he had dropped on my face off with my hand. I was going need to wash my face. Woof's saliva smelt like his breath. Foul.

The kid woke up a lot calmer than I did but then he wasn't sleeping on watch or breathing in fresh Woof breath. He was a little bit wide-eyed. Woof's friends who surrounded us were sitting, laying, and in one case, licking himself, would do that to most people. Especially to a kid that weighed, maybe, as much as the scrawniest dog there. I looked over at Zane and said "Don't worry. They're on our side for now." I pushed Woof aside, got up, stretched, and checked where the sun was. We had a couple of hours to go before sunset. Woof was sniffing the kid who much to my surprise reached up and scratched Woof behind the ear. I heard him whisper "Hey doggie." Woof liked that. I knew that because his tail wagged.
We moved fast without stopping. I ran us back the way we had come but I planned on looping down towards Kentucky and then back up. Too many people had been stirred up to go back the same way. We were going to have to find us some more water soon too. Fortunately it wasn't that scarce. Filtering it was going to take some time. It must have been nice to be able to drink from a stream without having to worry about spending the rest of your life sitting in the woods shitting your insides out. I wanted to find a spring. I also wanted a lot of things but I would take what I could get and like it. Supposedly once upon a time that had been a joke. I never got what was funny about it. It seemed to sum up life for most everyone I knew.

We made camp on the opposite side of a hill with the road about a mile or more on the other side of that. I decided to go light on dinner. We had eaten pretty good that day. Better than I know I was used too. We settled in. I didn't know what to do about watches since their was only me. I was glad no one else had witnessed my falling asleep on the job. We had the dogs so I was going to use them as watch standers. I knew they would run off to hunt though. I just hoped they stayed close. Regardless, I was going to be up before dawn.

American Apocalypse IV - Chapter 1e - by nova

He opened his mouth to say something more when Thursday casually dropped the head of his hammer on our table. They hadn't reacted to him having it in his hand. Who is scared of a short handled sledge when you are armed with state of the art black plastic? Our table collapsed. I heard a roll of thunder overhead which was weird as the day had been only moderately overcast. At first I thought it was a flyover or something hovering overhead. I heard Thursday mutter "We'll see who gets to babysit the dogs..." Then all hell broke loose.

Thursday raised his hammer. The officer looked at him, grinned, and said "This ain't a body shop old man. Put it down." I was doing my calculations on who I was going to kill first when he put it down. Hard. The next thing I knew was I laying on the diner floor trying to clear my eyes from the after flash of the lightening strike that had hit the Humvee outside the window. It was now a smoking ruin and all the diner windows had blown in. I was covered in shattered glass and my ears were ringing which was good. It meant I wasn't deaf.

My brain was screaming at me "Shit! Get up dumbass!" I got up, filled my hands with guns, and registered that Thursday was still standing and laughing. I saw movement on the floor where the officer escorts had been. One of the soldier boys was sitting up and shaking his head. I shook it some more for him and shot the one next to him who was screaming. The officer was down. His head was a pulp. Mentally I noted it, thought "Huh?" and moved forward to find the remaining two.

One of them was busy bleeding out from the face full of glass he taken. The other popped up from behind a table and I caught him right between the eyes. I swear he looked cross eyed at the bullet just before it impacted. "Damn! The kid!" I looked back and he was fine. He had gone down and stayed down on the floor. He looked a little pale but I didn't see any bleeding. This was good. Someone outside cut loose with a short burst just barely missing me. It was time to go. I yelled "Go!" and ran for the kitchen door. I didn't look back. They either followed or we all died right here and I wasn't in the mood to die.

Inside the kitchen there was no sign of the cook or the waitress. Just as well. No sign of apple pie either and no time to look. Life was a real bitch sometimes. The kid was through next followed by Thursday. He had waited to make sure the kid cleared the room first. I liked that. I crouched down and gestured for them to do the same. Someone was pushing rounds through the front of the diner and I knew we were running out of time fast. I also knew going out the back door was probably going to hurt.

We were crouched there in the kitchen when someone shot a short three round burst through the door I planned on going through. I thought about sending Thursday through the door first as a bullet sponge then I laughed. Hell, that's why I got paid the big bucks. I was getting ready to tell Thursday to lay flat on the floor with the boy when he signaled me to look at the opposite wall. I looked. I saw a wall. So? He pointed at me and the kid to cover our eyes. I don't know what the boy did but I peaked. Thursday reared back and tossed his hammer at the wall he had pointed at. The wall blew out like it had been hit by a cannon. I was impressed. I grabbed the kid by the collar and raced towards the hole making a mental note to myself to get a hammer like that. Maybe two.

The world we found as we ran out of the diner wasn't the same one that had been there when we had stopped by for lunch. I had never been in the eye of a tornado but this was what I would expect it to look like. The sun was gone. The wind howled somewhere not far off and the clouds were black, fat and low. I doubt if we had more than a 100 yard ceiling at this point. The temperature had dropped too. It felt good. It felt right. It felt like killing time.

Nobody was outside, at least on this side. We had had come out into a parking lot. To my right was an alley that the backdoor of the kitchen opened on. I had two choices: Move away from the enemy who was around the corner or engage. I let go of Zanes collar by shoving him hard into the asphalt of the parking lot, pulled my sword, and screamed "Freya!" without breaking stride.

On my left was Thursday. I took a quick look at him just before we turned the diner corner. His face was red, veins stood out like snakes on his neck, he screamed something I lost in the wind and roar of my fury and desire to cut some fucking heads off. There were four of them. They looked at us and they freaked. That was a mistake. A fatal one. We ran into them like a pair of wolves ripping into a flock of sheep. Their only advantage was distance. We were breathing in their faces before they could get their act together. I didn't break stride. I hit the one to my right using the sword as a lance. It hit him dead center and ripped through every thing he was wearing, his guts and then punched its way out the back just below his shoulder blades. I forgot to shoot the guy on my left. Instead I slashed at his face as I went past with the barrel of the Ruger. It wasn't a clean hit. He was wearing a helmet and he took it half on it and half in his face. I did get the pleasure of seeing his nose explode.

I was past my two, trying to slow down and spin around so I could come back for more. It took me all of a second at most but I was too late. I got turned around in time to see Thursday shatter the soldier I had just run past helmet and his brains inside it. At his feet were the other three soldier boys who wouldn't be getting an open coffin send off to the next world. Their heads were nothing but seedless watermelon.

The kid came bolting around the corner. I noticed his knees were bleeding through his pants and one knee was torn. Asphalt is unforgiving but so was the world we were in. He didn't pause to gawk or talk. He grabbed a rifle off the ground and pulled the watermelon heads spare magazine in about three blinks of an eye. Which was good because we were running again.

We ran until we found another street to cross over on. I stopped at a corner. I sorely missed getting Freya's magic bird view at times like this. Thursday was almost right behind me. I was going to have to slow it down. The kid was game but his legs were too short. Lightening strikes were hitting all over town and I smelled smoke. Something was burning nearby. It was hard to tell where. From the smell it was wood. Whether it was a house or a tree I had no idea. I didn't really care either. What was bothering me was running down the road with all this iron attached to me. I felt like a freaking lightening rod waiting to get lit up. Especially as the strikes were not all that far away. Then it began to rain. Hard.

I looked the kid and asked him "You alright?

He told me "I'm fine. Shouldn't we be moving?"

Thursday joined in with "Yeah. Shouldn't we be plundering too? Maybe setting fire to houses and seeing if any women folk run out?"

I wasn't sure who I wanted to smack upside the head more. Instead I told the kid "Shut up." I told Thursday "Not today" and I started running again. The rain was heavy enough that I figured as long as it kept pouring we might get out of town without anymore problems. I felt better in the woods. In town if we got cornered they would eventually wear us down or burn us out. Of course the rain and lightening stopped almost instantly once we got moving again. I just kept jogging and thought "Shit never goes right. Never." The thought kind of made me happy. I was used to that.

I had us headed towards the truck. We needed it, or something like it, to get the hell out of here as fast as possible. I had a feeling that once who was ever in charge here got their act together they would be extremely interested in finding us. I hoped to be forty miles down the road by then. I figured that if I was in charge I would have staked out the truck just in case. I was hoping that if they did that it wouldn't be local soldier boys in Humvees with machine guns. I doubt if they had anything heavier. At least I hoped so. Even worse would be air support. I mentally shrugged and thought "In that case we are fucked."

The street we were on led to the corner of the block the truck was on. If the truck was still there it would be about a half a block down on the right. I slowed the pace and started looking at what we were running past. It was a mix of storefronts, row houses, and the occasional nicer house set a bit further back from the sidewalk. I stopped in front of a two story storefront that looked empty. I waited for Thursday an asked him "Can you open that front door with that hammer of yours?" He just grinned, walked over to it and swung. I thought he would whack it by the lock and we would have to push it in. Nope. He took the entire door down. I really liked that hammer.

I motioned for him to go in and waited for the kid. He was good. When we stopped he had plastered himself against the wall about nine feet away, crouched down, and was covering us. He saw Thursday go in, then he was up and moving towards me and the door. Lowell may have been an asshole but the school looked like it hadn't been a complete waste for the kid. He slipped past me and I followed him in. I grabbed the door and tried to fit it back into place as best as I could. "No use attracting attention" I thought.

Thursday was wandering around the room. There wasn't much to look at. Some shelving, a counter that had once held a POS terminal, and a woman's white high heeled shoe lying on the floor beside it. I told them "Kid, watch that door. Me and Thursday are going upstairs and see if his truck is still there." Thursday growled "They better not have touched my truck." I ignored him and passed through doorway in the back looking for stairs. The doorway still had curtains hanging inside the frame to block the view into the next room. Thursday should have cleared this room already. He hadn't, and I went into it with guns drawn. It was clear.

It also had been ransacked at some point. This had been a row house originally and this room had been the kitchen and dining room area. Someone had spent some money on moving walls an updating it into a nice break room. I wouldn't be surprised to find an apartment upstairs. Someone had a dream. An upscale art and glass boutique maybe. They could live the small town dream, make some money, and never have to commute again. Or maybe they sold sex toys. I would never know and I needed to focus on today.

"Hey Hammerhead." I was still irritated with Thursday. He should have known to clear the next room. Hell, the kid would have.

"What?" He turned to look at me. I wasn't sure if the "What?" was for the name or he was just responding.

I told him "Always check the rooms if you go in first. You never know who might be waiting."

He just stared at me. Actually glared would be more accurate.

"What." I told him flatly. "You got a problem?"

We locked eyes. If he so much as twitched an arm I was going to drill him. Fuck the noise it would make. He broke contact first, looked away, and mumbled something. I let it go. For now.

American Apocalypse IV - Chapter 1d - by nova

Of course he said "Sure" and of course I didn't believe him. I was trying to figure out if I was going to kill him or let him join the Horde. It was going to be close at this rate.

We went in the front doors. It still smelled like an elementary school. That was where the resemblance ended. Two little midget soldiers stood in the lobby flanking a large portrait of the Colonel between the US flag and the local one. Their rifles, they looked like Enfields, were damn near as tall as they were. Painted in block letters above what used to be the administrators glass cage was "MY LOYALTY IS TO GOD AND THE PEOPLE" I thought they might want to work on that. It did nothing for me.

We went into the administrator area and were greeted at the counter by an old woman who probably never stopped working there. She looked exactly like the librarian who banned me from the computers at school for watching youtube videos back in the day. She asked us "Can I help you?" Very polite and even colder.

"Yes. We're here to pick up Zane Morton." I wanted to add "And a pizza with everything on it for carryout" but I didn't. I was working on being smooth and diplomatic. Of course Thursday added "We're on a mission for a fair maiden." I was beginning to think he had been dropped on his head one too many times at the Renaissance Festival.

Once again I noticed the shadow pass over her eyes. What the hell had Carol given birth to? A mutant?

She said "I see. Please wait here." She disappeared down a hallway and I listened to her footsteps until she went inside an office at the end of it. She whispered "They're here." I heard a male voice reply "Thank you Mrs. Greene." She came back to us smiling and said Mr. Lowell will be with you in a minute." She went about doing what had to be busywork. He made us wait of course. I was being remarkably patient I thought. Too bad Night wasn't here to see it. She would have approved. Thursday was not good at patience. After a couple minutes he said "Where is this Mr Lowell? Perhaps we should go find him."

Mrs Greene heard this and sent a disapproving stare our way. We both ignored it. After about seven minutes I was done with being patient and was going to go find him when I heard a chair squeak and the heavy footsteps of a large and graceless man coming towards us down the hallway. I almost laughed out loud. Mr Lowell was wearing a Scoutmasters uniform that looked two sizes too big for him. There were a few additions. Like the black plastic handgun in the brown leather holster. He was beaming, balding and needed to start wearing sunblock from the looks of his florid face. I hated him on sight. He went behind the counter to join Mrs. Greene. The hand he extended across it was as soft as I expected. He smelled like old cum and sweat.

He extended his hand to Thursday. He ignored it. Instead he told him "Make us wait again and they will be able to mail your head to your Mother in an envelope." I laughed. I liked that. I guess he didn't like to wait anymore than I did. I told him "We're here for Zane Morton on behalf of his Mother."

"I see." He looked down at his boots which were nicely polished. Took his index finger and rubbed his nose, then said "Certainly. We do have procedures." He looked over his shoulder at the woman and said "Please explain to these gentlemen the procedures." Then he started to walk away. That was a mistake. I grabbed him by the shirt, twisted, and slammed him against the counter hard. He winced and groaned. Then I hit him in the sweet spot right below the rib cage. Mrs Greene started moving and without looking at her I said "Don't." She froze.

I told Thursday "Go get one of them midget honor guards and tell them to find Zane and bring him here." I smiled at Mr. Lowell and said "You don't have a problem with that do you?" He was looking a little ill and just nodded his head in agreement. "Good" I told him. I added "We just had a misunderstanding...didn't we?" He nodded again. I let him go and stepped away from him. He looked like he was going to barf any second.

I smiled at Mrs. Greene. She didn't return it. Instead she snarled and said "You just wait. You heathen, foreigner loving, terrorist piece of crap. You just wait..." She shut up. Not because of me. Mr. Greene was giving her the death glare though I didn't find it all that scary. I told her, speaking quietly, "Talk to me like that again and Mr. Lowell will be cleaning your head off the wall with a sponge." She looked like the type that keeping her mouth shut was something she wasn't accustomed too. I gave her ten minutes before I painted the wall with her poor excuse of a brain.

Thursday strode into the office. He was perking up. I guess the old guy enjoyed this. It had to be better than sitting around in a village outpost watching a lot of nothing go by. I also noticed the gloves he had tucked into his WWF belt were now on his hands and the hammer was out and being carried. The hammer looked different too. It was lighter in color but it was inside illumination rather than a metallic shine. Mr Lowell was gripping the counter edge tightly but his color was better.

"What's up Thursday?"

"One of the little men went to find him. He will bring him here."

"Thanks Thursday."

I looked at Mrs. Greene and asked her "Got anything to say?"

She opened her mouth, thought better of it, and shut it. I laughed.

Two minutes later I heard the sound of approaching footsteps. Light ones. Kid sounding ones. Honor Guard kid came in, saluted the room, and said "Corporal Zane Morton is here." He then did a snappy about face and left. Probably back to his post. That's when Zane stepped in the room, saluted, and said "Reporting as ordered sir."

I stared at him. He wasn't much to look at. Just a scrawny kid in a green t-shirt and khaki shorts. His corporal stripes had been drawn his t-shirt sleeve with a black magic marker. There was just a couple problems that I was trying to process and I was having difficulty doing it. The flow in the room changed when he entered. Not just a little. A lot. He didn't have any African American ancestry. At least not in the last 40,000 years or so. No, that I was certain of. What I was also certain of was I knew who his daddy was. It just didn't seem possible. I tried doing the math in my head but it wouldn't compute. I was looking at Max's son.

I dug into my left cargo pants pocket and pulled out the Transformer t-shirt and tossed it to the kid. "This yours?" He caught in the air, unfolded it, sniffed it, and said "Yes sir."

I asked him "Your Mom named Carol Morton?"

"YES SIR!" The kid was literally quivering in place.

"You want to go see her?"


I grinned "Okay. We can do that." I looked at Lowell and told him, not asked him "So we're good." He croaked out a "Yes." I looked at Mrs. Greene "You okay with this?" Tight lipped she replied "Yes." I stared at her, waiting for the tirade I knew she so wanted to bust loose with. Nothing. Good. Let the toxic hate inside stay inside. Maybe she would have a stroke. I looked around the room, and then said "Well, I guess we are out of here."

The kid stopped us. He asked me politely "Can I say goodbye to Mr. Lowell?"

I wanted to say "Are you freaking crazy? The man is an asshole." Then I thought about it, "Maybe he was good with kids? Maybe he let him be head of the hall patrol. Shit. Who knew?" So I told him "Sure. Make it fast." Mr Lowell didn't seem to enthusiastic about coming out from behind the counter so I told him "Get your ass out here Lowell. I don't have all fucking day."

He pushed through the little swinging door at the end and came out and stood about as far away as he could get from me. I told the kid "Do your thing little man. We got to roll." Zane looked up at me smiled, and said softly "Thank you sir." Then he marched up to him. I couldn't see his face but I was interested in the flicker of fear I saw cross Lowells face. I heard Zanes little kid voice say "Thanks for everything Mr. Lowell" and then he punched him in the nuts.

He did a nice about face, marched back to me, and said "I'm ready now sir."

I laughed, and said "Yeah. I guess so.

I looked at Thursday. He understood what I wanted. He strode out of the room and stopped a couple feet out the door and looked around. If anyone was out their waiting for us with a weapon Thursday was dead meat which was okay with me. Better him than the kid or me. I didn't hear anything so I told the kid "Follow the hammer." Once I saw him moving I started backing towards the door behind him. My body in their line of fire. I thought about shooting them both but I wanted a quiet exit from this town.

"Well. It's been real" I told them and we walked out of there.

We hit the street and nothing was waiting for us. "All right." I told them. "Lets move." I let Thursday walk in front while us while the kid and I walked side by side."The kid was looking around, about breaking his neck in the process while trying to look like he wasn't at the same time.

I knew what he was looking for. I had looked for her enough myself. I told him "She isn't here but she isn't that far away."

He looked up at me, smiled, and said "I know. I can feel her."

We walked back the way we came. Nothing had changed that I could see. Why should it have? I hadn't killed anyone. I had picked the kid up and played it by their rules. Lowell would get over his nut whacking and Mrs. Greene still had her virginity of mind and spirit. Yet something was off. I got distracted from trying to figure out if and where a threat could be coming from by the kid.

"Excuse me sir."

I told him "The name is Gardener. The guy in front is Thursday. Sir is on vacation from reality somewhere on a mountain top. What?"

"I'm hungry...Gardener."

He couldn't have timed it better. We were approaching the diner and I could smell the food cooking. I was hungry too and my nose was telling me that someone was baking apple pie and grilling meat. "You hungry Thursday?" He just grunted for a reply. I took it as a "Yes." I told the kid "Okay. We'll eat." We crossed the street. I noticed the kid didn't even check for traffic so I smacked him lightly upside the back of his head and told him "Look both ways when you cross a street." He in turn looked at me like I was an idiot. I let it slide. My mouth was watering.

We walked into the diner and everyone stopped to stare. Nothing unusual there. We had caught them between lunch and dinner so everyone wasn't much more than a couple of tables occupied. I ignored the waitress who came up to seat us and took a table by the wall. I nodded at the people we passed, checked their plates, and was greeted with nods in return. The place was like Shelli's diner. A limited selection. We had our choice of stew or the special which was steak.

She greeted us and I asked her "That smells like beefsteak. Is it?" She laughed. "Yeah. Once it's gone it will be awhile. We got a side of beef in. Some farmer got his cow through all the stuff that happened by hiding it. Then just lately he decided it was safe for her to graze and he let her out. She stepped in a hole or something and she broke her leg." She laughed "God works in mysterious ways."

"That apple pie I smell too?"

"Yep. We might be the only place in thirty miles that has it."

I told her "I'm surprised you don't have people lined up down the street."

She grinned, and told me "Ask me how much this is going to cost you."

She was right. Plus I had to pay a "conversion" fee to cover the changing of my silver into "Freedom" dollars. I had to dig embarrassingly deep to cover it as it was cash up front. Thursday of course looked off into the distance while this all happened. When she left he looked at me and said "So who is doing the plundering here?" I just glared at him instead of replying. Of course he ordered his steak rare or as he said "Carve a piece and put it on a plate." That didn't go over well with the waitress. She wasn't to pleased with my "medium rare" either. The boy ordered "well done" which got him the waitress smile of approval. I asked Zane, after she left "What's up with the meat having to be cooked?" He knew what I was talking about. He told me, and he didn't look to happy to be saying it. In fact he whispered it "If it bleeds sometimes people think bad things of you or remember bad things."

"Oh." I told him. That made sense.

Thursday was not the kind of guy you wanted to sit across from at a table. His table manners were on the same level as Woofs. He took a look at his steak. Picked it up in his gloved hand and began ripping pieces off and stuffing them in his mouth. It didn't bother me or the kid enough for us not to eat. Damn, I had forgotten how good beef was. The pie was even better. Not as sugary as I liked but still good. While we were eating the remaining tables emptied out. I was getting increasingly uneasy. Uneasy enough that I was stuffing my face in the same style Thursday was. I told the kid "Hurry up. We got to roll." Thursday was already done. He leaned back in his chair, belched, and said "They come."

He was right. I looked out the window to see a Humvee rolling up in front of the diner right about then. "Time to go guys" I told the other two. We had stood up when they came in through the back. It wasn't a bull rush. They just casually sauntered out into the dining area. All of them dressed for the occasion. The officer in charge smiled at me and said "Hello Gardener. We've been expecting you. Nice of you to drop by."

I smiled back and said "I'm not going to leave a tip now."

He replied "That's understandable. We knew you or Max would be coming for the boy. Some would have preferred Max. Personally I don't give a shit. That 'Medal' shit may have meant something back in the day but it don't mean nothing now."