When we last left you, our hero had just won a major victory over his arch nemesis Depression and its sneaky sidekick Anxiety. In the ensuing weeks, Writerman has continued to succeed in defeating many of Depressions henchmen such as cluttered house and even scaled the terrifying Laundry Mountain.
All joking aside, it’s been a really good couple of weeks. I’m finally getting my life back in order and it feels great. I realize that the basic chores I’ve listed don’t sound like much. They’re things most people do every day. Still, when you haven’t had any motivation to do things like that in months, getting the house clean feels like a major victory.
I’ve also been getting my old SUV back in driveable condition so that I can sell it and finally start work on the writer wagon. I’m really looking forward to getting it going and doing some touring in it. If nothing else,I can’t wait to take it to some secluded spot in the black hills and get some real writing done with no distractions. Updates on the van build hopefully coming soon.
So far, there hasn’t been much progress on the writing front, although I feel it coming. I haven’t lost my skill at procrastinating though.
So far, I’ve installed a new operating system on my writing laptop. (Linux Mint Cinnamon.) Then, of course, I had to work out all the bugs that come with a new OS. After that, I had to reinstall all the programs I need and then customize everything just how I want it. (I might have to redo that again later.)
Later today, I might play another round of “I need to clean the office so I can finally get some writing done.”
Yesterday was supposed to be a meeting of the “Black Hills Writer’s Group” which I’ve been a member of for years. Unfortunately, it was cancelled due to snow. In May. IN LATE MAY!!! Still, an intrepid few of us made it to the location and had an unofficial meeting. I have to say, those meetings are usually a great boost for me. It seems like whenever I share a story with the group, I get mostly praise from my fellow members. Being professionals themselves, they aren’t the type to blow sunshine either. After one of my stories goes over well, it’s always a great feeling.
That’s about it for now. I’m really hoping this bad weather ends soon. I’m not sure how much more I can take. I really want to ride my motorcycles.
On the other hand, if the snow holds out for another month or so, I say it’s time to have an official Christmas in July.
“Truck? Oh. You mean that death mobile you used to shoot up a buncha’ my folk? Ain’t seen her.”
Butch stepped forward, pulling his pistol and cocking it.
“I’m not playing with you. Me and my men want our truck back now.”
“Now, now. No need to get testy. Why don’t ya’ put that thing away and set a spell so we can talk?”
As he said this, a small child in ragged clothing appeared as if out of nowhere with another chair and placed it across from the old man and disappeared as fast as she’d appeared.
“I don’t want to sit. I want to get what’s mine and get out of here. If you give it up now, we’ll leave peacefully. Otherwise, my boys are going to come rolling in here and wipe you out.”
“Your boys.” The old man said in a wheezing laugh. “Ain’t but the five of ya. Not even armed that well either. Now my people? We may not have guns, but we got numbers.”
Butch looked at him uneasily.
“That’s right. We seen ya’ coming a mile away. Now think about it. If we had your truck, do ya’ really think we’d let you get so close? Hell. If we took the damn thing, don’t ya’ think we’d have come in and wiped out everyone in that school by now? Probably woulda’ slit a few throats while we was stealin’ her too.”
Butch’s arm dropped just a hair.
“Now why don’t ya’ have a seat so we can jaw. Call your boys in. They’ll wanna’ hear this too.”
Butch waved for Nutcase who approached warily. As he waited, four more chairs were brought out. Bear and Gut eyed the flimsy chairs uneasily and chose to stand.
“Yeah, Boss?” Nutcase said.
“I need you and Bear to run and go get Rat. Might as well bring the bikes up too.”
“But where’s the truck?”
“Never mind that now. Just do as I ask and this gentleman will explain once you’re back.”
Nut gave the old man another wary glance, but then he and Bear were off. Butch sat in the chair across from the old man.
“Okay. So start talking.” Butch demanded.
“If ya’ don’t mind, I’d rather just go through all this the once. Meantime, can I interest y’all in a drink?”
Without waiting for a reply, the old man gave a whistle. Almost immediately, an elderly woman came bustling out with a bottle and handed it to the old man who pulled the cork and sniffed whatever was inside with pleasure. He made as if to take a drink, then stopped.
“Where are my manners?” He asked, shaking his head and holding out the bottle to Butch.
Butch eyed the bottle, but didn’t take it.
“Well, I guess I can’t blame you for bein’ cautious.” The old man said, and took the first drink before offering it to Butch again.
Butch took the bottle and sniffed. It smelled like paint thinner.
“What is it?”
“I just call it hooch. M’own private recipe. Don’t bother askin’ what’s in it cause I ain’t tellin. Besides, you prob’ly don’t wanna know anyway.” He gave another of his dry, wheezy laughs.
Butch still didn’t trust the old man, but there was something about him that was impossible not to like. He took a tentative swig or the hooch. It was surprisingly smooth considering how it smelled. He took a bigger drink before handing the bottle to Gut.
Gut upended the bottle and began drinking. Butch finally elbowed him in the ribs, causing him to spray a fine mist of hooch into the air.
“You want to save some for everyone else?” Butch asked.
“Sorry.” Gut said sheepishly. “That’s some good stuff.”
“No worries. I got plenty more in the cave.” He gave another whistle and the elderly lady came back out with three more bottles.
Just as she headed back to the cave, Butch heard the sound of approaching motorcycles. Bear and Nut rode slowly behind Rat, who was on the lead bike and wobbling dangerously. Butch had forgotten he wasn’t a rider. He held his breath as Rat approached a large boulder as if he were aiming for it before swerving and missing it by inches. His breath escaped in a loud bellowing laugh.
Finally, the bikes were parked and the five of them sat together as they watched the old man as he started a campfire against the gathering dusk. Two more sturdy chairs had been brought out for Bear and Gut.
Once the fire was blazing brightly, the old man sat back in his own well-worn chair.
“Now then. I suppose introductions are in order.” He said as he uncorked another bottle of hooch. “Name’s Dan, but most folks around here call me Smokey. Some o’ the younguns have taken to callin’ me Old Smokey. They love singin’ that damn song at me too.” He took a swig of hooch and passed the bottle to Butch who introduced himself. He then took a swig and passed the bottle to Bear, who did the same.
And so it went, each man introducing himself, then passing the bottle. Finally, Rat introduced himself and made to pass the bottle back to Smokey.
“Ya ain’t gonna’ take a drink?”
“I don’t drink, sir.” Rat said.
“Hmph’ Not sure I can trust a man sittin’ round my fire who refuses to drink with me.” Smokey said, eyeing him suspiciously. Butch cleared his throat and nodded to Rat who begrudgingly took a small sip.
“There now. That’s better.” Smokey said, relieving Rat of the bottle. “Now then. As I was tellin’ ol’ Butch here. I do believe Y’all got snookered.”
Their knobby tires crunched over the hardpan as they raced toward what they had taken at first to be small hills but were turning out to be mountains much farther away. As the bikes chewed up the distance, Butch wracked his brain trying to come up with some sort of a plan. Not easy when he had no idea what they were walking into in the first place. He briefly considered hiding the bikes once they were close and walking the rest of the way, but he was sure they’d be spotted long before they were within walking distance. Even now, looking at the craggy peak, Butch could imagine a lookout monitoring their progress through a pair of binoculars as the rest of the raider camp readied their weapons.
“This is stupid.” He thought to himself. There was no way they were going to get their stuff back. Part of him was surprised they weren’t being fired upon already. He thought of the powerful sniper rifle he’d kept stashed away in the truck. The one he’d sworn to himself he’d never sell. If the raiders turned that on them, they’d be easy pickings. Still, what he’d said to Jacob about them being dead without their truck hadn’t been a lie. That truck was their livelihood in more ways than one. Sure, being traders was a good business, but more than that, it made them welcome at most of the settlements they came across. Having items to trade literally opened doors to them which would remain shut if they showed up empty-handed.
He supposed they could find a new truck and start over, if they could keep from starving in the meantime. That was a big if. Still, Butch couldn’t see how to approach the raider camp without dying. A full assault was out of the question. They had neither the firepower nor the cover they needed for something like that. They only had one chance of getting anywhere near the camp without being gunned down first. Even then, it was a huge risk. Still, it was the only thing Butch could think of. He pulled in his clutch and slowly applied the brake to avoid sliding in the dirt. The two bikes flanking him did likewise.
“What’s up, Boss?” Bear asked.
“Rat, Nut. Sling those guns across your backs.” Butch ordered.
“But what if they start shooting?” Nut asked.
“Then we’re dead either way. Let’s just hope they won’t if we look friendly enough. If we show up looking for a fight, I’m sure they’ll be happy to give us one.”
“I don’t like it.” Nut said, doing as he was told anyway.
“I didn’t ask if you did.” Butch barked, a little too harshly. “Look, I don’t like it either, but I don’t see any other chance we have. Just put on your friendliest smile and be ready to empty your mag if negotiations fail.”
Butch looked at Rat, who already had his rifle slung across his back. He nodded, first to Bear, then to Gut as he put his bike back into gear.
They approached the craggy mountains slowly. Warily scanning the rocky outcroppings for anyone who might be laying in wait for them. Butch could feel his muscles throbbing and realized he’d been tensing for the inevitable gunshot ever since they’d crossed into rifle range. He consciously tried to relax them, but as soon as he stopped thinking about it, they’d tense back up.
Butch felt the air cool as they passed into the shadows of the mountain. He stopped his bike and dismounted. The others did the same. They found themselves at the mouth of a funnel leading to a narrow canyon between what were actually two mountains standing side by side.
“I don’t like this, Boss.” Rat said nervously. “It looks like a…”
“A trap. I know. But unless you’ve got a better idea, we have no choice.”
“Well, I’ve been thinking about that.” Nut chimed in. “What about that thing Rat wired up. What’d he call it?”
“A failsafe.” Rat said.
“Yeah. What about that failsafe thing?”
“Jesus Nut. Do you know what that thing does? If Rat presses that button, the truck, and everything in it, blows up. Including Bertha.”
“Better than letting these assholes get their filthy hands on her.”
“So you’re telling me we came all this way, just so we could vaporize the whole thing without even trying to get it back? Is that what you really want to do?”
“Well, you asked for ideas.”
“Fine. Let me clarify. Does anyone have any GOOD ideas?”
The rest of the group stayed silent.
“Okay then. Here’s the plan. Gut, Bear, and I will see where this canyon goes. We’ll keep our guns holstered.”
Gut and Bear exchanged a look at this but said nothing.
“Nut, I want you to follow us with your rifle, but try to stay out of sight. Keep your distance, but stay close enough to cover us if need be. Got it?”
Nutcase nodded, but the look on his face said he didn’t like the idea.
“What about me?” Rat asked.
“You’re staying here with the bikes. I want you to be able to make an opening with your rifle if they box us in. If things go bad, I want you to blow the truck, jump on my bike, and hightail it back to the school, got it?”
Rat nodded solemnly.
Without another word, Butch headed down the canyon path with Bear and Gut flanking him. None of them said a word. Soon, the sheer walls of the mountains pressed in on them. Even though they tried to be as quiet as possible, the crunching of their footsteps echoed off the rocks, making them feel like someone was following them. Here and there were shadowy holes in the rock face. Butch assumed they were cave entrances and eyes them warily, waiting for an army of raiders to come boiling out of them, but none did. Still, from time to time, he could swear he heard sounds coming from them that weren’t their own echoes.
Finally, the path began to widen as the sides of the mountains retreated from each other and they suddenly found themselves at the mouth of a box canyon. At the far end, sitting in a battered lawn chair, sat an old man. Smoking a pipe. He felt Bear going for his pistol and stopped him.
“Well, well, well. Look what the cat drug in.” The old man said with a chuckle that turned into a wheezing cough. “Looks like they done got you too, didn’t they?”
The broken chain lay on the pitted asphalt next to the open gate. The shiny ends of fresh steel where the chain had been cut stood in stark contrast with the patina of rust that covered the rest of it. Butch was about to ask the obvious question with its equally obvious answer when he heard a voice behind him.
“Hey guys. Man, have I got a story…” Nutcase began.
Butch wheeled on him and punched him in the jaw, knocking him to the pavement.
“Where the hell were you?” Butch screamed at him.
“What the hell, boss? I was just about to tell you that before you decked me.” He said, holding his jaw. “Hey, where’s Bertha?” “I was going to ask you the same thing.” Butch spat. “You were supposed to be watching the truck.”
“I was. It was fine when I left it. I swear.”
“And when was that?”
“Just after sundown. Not long after Rat went to bed.”
“You left it alone all night? And where exactly did you go?”
Nut blushed at this.
“Well… You see. I was sitting here, finishing the lockdown when this girl comes up to me. She was really friendly and, you know. One thing led to another and we went back to her room.”
“And you left the truck unlocked?”
“No, Boss. I swear. I’ve got the keys right…” Nut stopped, patting his pockets. “They’re gone. I swear I had ‘em. Honest.”
Butch put out his hand to help him up. Nut shied away as if he were afraid of being punched again. Butch probably would have, but by now, the citizens were starting to dribble into the courtyard. Some held bundles of treasures they were hoping to trade, but most of them only seemed interested in the commotion.
“Oh my god! The gate’s open!” A woman screamed. “Somebody go get Jacob.”
Several people rushed off, only to return with the weapons they’d bought the previous day as they eyed the shadows and the rooftops, looking for raiders.
By the time Jacob Drake came puffing into the courtyard, carrying with him a fresh length of chain, the courtyard was full of wide-eyed people.
Drake rushed right past Butch and swung the gate silently closed. He took the lock from the broken chain and attached it to the new one and locked it, giving it a tug to make sure it was locked before striding angrily over to Butch.
“Would you mind telling me what happened here?” Drake demanded.
“Why don’t you tell me? How could this happen without anybody noticing? Don’t you have security patrols?”
“Normally we do, but I had your assurance that we were safe as long as your vehicle was in the yard. Where was your man?”
Butch shot a withering look at Nutcase.
“I’m sorry Boss. What was I supposed to do? Bring a stranger into the truck?”
Butch silenced him with a look, but it was too late. Drake was now looking at them with suspicion and hostility.
“I think it’s time you men got on your motorcycles and left.”
“I think you’re right. Just point us in the direction of that raider camp and we’ll be on our way.”
“Don’t be a fool. You won’t get within a hundred yards of them with that machine gun in their hands, not to mention all the other arms you had in the back.”
“That may be so, but we’re dead anyway without our truck. That thing was our whole livelihood.”
“Suit yourself. I’m pretty sure they live in the hills to the south.” Drake shrugged, walking away.
“If we could just borrow a couple of rifles…” Butch started, but then stopped again as everyone holding a weapon suddenly hugged it tighter to their chest.
“Oh don’t be such fools. Don’t you see that they’re our best hope?” A familiar voice said. Melanie stepped out of the shadows and into the center of the crowd. “If they don’t get that truck back, the raiders will be back as soon as these guys leave and mow us all down.”
At this, a couple of men loosened their grips on their guns. Melanie immediately targeted them. She walked to each man, whispered something to them, and then deftly plucked them from their hands. She then returned to Butch and handed them to him.
They weren’t much, one semi-automatic rifle, and one bolt action. Still, Butch knew complaining wouldn’t do him any good, beggars not being choosers and all.
“Thanks.” Butch said, handing the semi-auto to Nutcase and the bolt action to Rat. “What did you say to them?”
“Oh come now. A girl’s got to have some secrets after all.” She said, giving him a peck on the cheek. “Take this one too, she said, slapping the thirty-eight he’d sold her into his hand.”
“I can’t take this. You need it. Besides, I’ve already got a pistol, he said, nodding down at the nine millimeter strapped to his hip.”
“Take it anyway for good luck. You can give it back to me when you get back.”
“But I might not…”
“Shhh.” She said, giving him another kiss, this one on the lips. “Don’t talk like that.”
Without another word, Butch tucked the revolver into the back of his waistband. He turned and started to walk away before turning around and striding back to Melanie. He grabbed her and she let out a brief squeak of surprise before melting into his arms. He kissed her. A real kiss this time, holding her body tightly against his. He heard a few people in the crowd gasp, but he didn’t care. This might be his last kiss ever, and he was determined to make it a good one. He could feel tears welling up inside him and released her, turning quickly and nearly running to his bike. Bear was already mounted up with Nutcase gripping his rifle behind him. Rat was squeezed in behind Gut. Butch mounted his bike which sat between them. They started their bikes as Drake swung the gate wide. The courtyard rumbled as the three beasts roared to life. They warmed their engines for a moment before putting them into gear and heading back out into the wasteland.
The rest of the day went well. Butch was actually surprised at some of the things people would bring him to trade. Things that had been extremely valuable in the old world, but were frivolous luxuries now. Nobody even argued when he was sadly forced to offer a low price for a grandfather’s watch, or a great grandmother’s cameo.
Finally, as the last customer was walking away, seemingly pleased with his transaction, Butch gave the signal to start packing up. At this point, they were like a well oiled machine. Each man knew exactly what to do. The whole operation was completed within a matter of minutes.
By the time they were done, the two waitresses who had served them their pie and beer were standing nearby, watching them. The moment they were done, they approached Gut and Bear. Soon, the four of them were talking and laughing together. Soon after that, they broke up into two couples and wandered away. Butch smiled to himself as he watched them go, then remembered he had a date himself.
“You guys good here?” He asked Rat and Nutcase.
“We’ve got this.” Nutcase said. Rat gave him a thumbs up, unable to talk due to the screwdriver he was holding in his teeth as he tinkered with whatever new contraption he was working on.
“Good. I’ll check back in later. I’ve got… uh.”
“Have fun, Boss.” Nut told him with a knowing smile, saving him from actually having to say where he was going. He turned and walked away quickly before his men could see his reddening cheeks.
Butch didn’t actually know where he was supposed to meet Melanie. He began wandering around the school, hoping he’d bump into her. As he explored, he discovered where the peaches for the cobbler had come from. The school’s old football field had been turned into an orchard. In it were hundreds of trees heavy with various fruits. He marveled at the lush forest here in the middle of the barren desert, wondering how they kept everything watered. The areas between the trees were filled with what Butch at first took to be undergrowth, until he realized that these plants too were bursting with produce.
He continued his self-guided tour, finally coming to the old auto shop. There were no vehicles in it, of course, but it still seemed to have all the tools. Butch was wondering if they’d be allowed to pull their vehicles in so Rat could perform some much needed maintenance when there was a tap on his shoulder. It was so unexpected, he actually jumped. When he wheeled around, he was surprised to see Melanie’s smiling face.
“Hey, Sugar. Happy to see me?”
Butch realized that his hands were clenched into fists and quickly released them.
“Sorry. You surprised me.” He said, a bit sheepishly.
“It’s okay. Are ya’ ready for dinner?”
He felt his stomach rumble at the thought of food.
“Lead the way.” He said.
Her room was small, but she’d done what she could to make it look as little like a classroom as she could. Brightly colored fabrics adorned the walls. A few ripped posters, relics of the old world, hung here and there. Butch noticed that there were two beds in the room.
“My roommate’s.” She said, catching him looking at it. “Don’t worry. I convinced her to stay with a friend tonight.”
Butch smiled, unsure of what to say. He’d gotten used to women being forward with him. In this new world filled with widely dispersed small villages, strangers were always popular with the ladies. Still, Melanie seemed braver than most.
His stomach rumbled again.
“Oh my. You are hungry. Have a seat, I’ll go get dinner.” She said, and flitted out of the room.
Butch sat in the folding chair facing the door. The battered folding table was a bit wobbly, but sturdy enough, he supposed.
With nothing better to do, he let his eyes roam the room. It took some effort to resist the urge to snoop. It wasn’t anything malicious, he was just curious. Still, he knew the best way to wreck what was about to happen was to have her come back and find him looking through her things.
Before long, she was back, carrying two covered plates which she placed on the table. When she removed the covers, he was greeted by a sort of stir fry with lots of vegetables and some sort of meat. He didn’t ask what kind. Sometimes, it was something normal, but others, it was better not to know.
He was about to dig in, when she stopped him. She turned and bent down into a wooden chest, deliberately giving him a view he didn’t mind at all. When she stood back up, she was holding a bottle of wine and a corkscrew.
“I don’t have any glasses. I hope you don’t mind.” She said, uncorking the wine.
“It won’t be the first time I’ve had to drink right out of the bottle.”
“Let’s just hope it’s not vinegar.” She said, handing him the bottle.
He looked at the bottle, as if he had any clue. The label was singed and he couldn’t read the winery’s name, but he could make out the year. 1977. Of course, he had no way of knowing if it was a good year or not. He took a tentative sniff before upending the bottle and taking a swig. It tasted good. Decadent almost. He wondered if he’d have been able to afford it in the old world.
He passed the bottle back to her.
“Well, dig in.” She said, taking a sip of the wine herself.
He didn’t have to be asked twice. He took his first bite.
“This is really good. You cooked this yourself?”
It was her turn to look sheepish.
“Oh, heavens no. You wouldn’t want to eat anything I cooked. I just stole it from the dining hall.”
“That’s okay. It’s still good.” He said, diving in.
Before long, his plate was empty. She was still picking at her food. Butch assumed she was trying to keep up appearances, but he knew better than to encourage her to eat. He reached for the wine bottle, but set it back down when he realized it was empty. Without a word, she retrieved another. This one had no label, but was still just as tasty. He leaned back in his chair, wishing for a cigarette. She smiled at him.
“So tell me. Have you always been a bad-ass biker?”
Butch couldn’t help but laugh heartily at that one.
“Not even close.”
“Okay then, what did you do before?”
“Well, let me ask you this. Do you know what the word monger means?”
“Well, sort of. I mean I’ve heard of warmongers. I assumed it was something related to that.”
“It means peddler. A salesman. We were all in sales of some sort. Gut and Bear worked at a motorcycle dealership. Bear actually sold me my first bike. Nutcase, he was one of those crazy guys you see on T.V. who smashes stuff while he yells about his insane deals. Rat was his assistant. The one who fixed things when people brought them back broken, which they often did.”
”What about you?”
“I owned a bookstore. I loved that place until the day it burned down.” Butch grimaced as he tried to push away the memory. “It started as a joke. When we all started riding together in our suburban motorcycle club, mongers sounded tough if you didn’t know what it meant. After everything happened, we decided to go with it and stick to what we knew best. Selling things.”
Melanie laughed at this. Getting up to retrieve another bottle of wine. It was only then that he realized he’d finished the second one. He vaguely wondered how many bottles she had stashed in her chest.
The conversation flowed as freely as the wine until Melanie stood up. He half expected her to tell him she was turning in and that he should go, but instead, she wordlessly took him by the hand and led him to her bed.
The next morning, Butch woke as the sun was just peeking above the horizon. His head ached from the wine, but not too bad. Melanie was still asleep. He considered waking her, but decided to let her sleep. Instead, he slipped out of bed, got dressed, and made his way to the courtyard.
Gut, bear, and Rat stood together in a knot, mumbling to each other.
“Mornin’, boys. Isn’t it a fine day?”
The three of them turned to look at him, their faces pale, even Rat’s. It was only then that butch looked up at the empty courtyard. Something was missing, but it took Butch a moment to realize what it was.
The truck was gone.
So that’s it for this week, but remember, if you just can’t wait to find out what happens next, part 5 is already up on my Patreon page. It’s only a dollar for early access to this story for the whole month. More perks, like exclusive short stories, are available if you’re willing to pay a little more.
By the time the rest of them had showered and showed up at the courtyard, Nutcase had already begun setting up shop. He’d already set up the tables and had begun laying out merchandise. The old RV awning they’d attached to the side of the truck had been unfurled. Guns and other assorted weapons lay neatly arranged on a table between the main shop area and the truck where customers would have to ask to see them. On the table in front stood several ammo cans of loose ammunition in various calibers. Also on the table were various trinkets and baubles they’d rescued from the wastes. Various clothing items hung from the awning’s supports.
Each item had a meaningless dollar amount attached to it. Dollars hadn’t been a thing since the apocalypse, but Butch had found that the easiest system was to appraise whatever their customers brought to trade with a dollar amount and then give them the worthless scraps of paper which had once been money which they could then exchange for goods and services. Not only did it streamline the process, it gave their customers a sense of normalcy in this abnormal world which put them at ease and made them more pliable. They loved the farce of buying things with actual money even if the money had no real value except at their shop.
Without having to be told, Gut and Bear grabbed their rifles from the back of the truck and took up their posts at either side of the table. Not that they figured they’d have a problem with this lot, but it paid to keep up appearances.
Butch was the main dealmaker with Nutcase filling in when Butch was busy or replenishing stock as it was needed. Rat’s table stood off to the side with his toolkit and a banner offering “Repairs and Modifications”.
By the time they were open for business, the residents of the school were standing in the early morning shadows eyeing them curiously, but afraid to be the first ones to approach.
Butch nodded to Nut, who dashed into the truck. Moments later, the hatch clanged open and Nutcase clambered out of it and stood atop the truck. He took a deep breath and launched into his pitch.
“Step right up, folks. Don’t be shy. You won’t find better deals anywhere in the wastes. If we can’t make a deal, I’ll throw myself off the top of this truck.”
As if to prove he was serious, Nutcase then ran the length of the truck’s roof and jumped high in the air, executing a perfect front flip before landing on the edge of the roof and tottering precariously for a moment before reversing it with a backflip and landing on the center of the roof.
Butch smiled to himself as the enraptured crowd first gasped, then clapped and cheered. He didn’t need to watch Nut’s antics. He’d seen them all before. In a moment, Nut would do another flip down through the hatch and onto his bed which was positioned below the hatch. Even as he thought it, he heard another gasp from the crowd accompanied by a thump from inside the truck followed by more cheers and applause as Nut emerged from the back of the truck unscathed.
“Good job, Nut. You really roped ‘em in today.” Butch said.
“Thanks, Boss. I still think it would be more effective if I had a monkey or a tiger or something.”
Butch sighed. They’d been through this countless times before.
“A tiger would be out of the question, but if we ever run into a monkey, I’ll get him for you.” Butch said.
“Deal.” Nut said excitedly.
The crowd approached the makeshift shop. First they wanted to talk to Nutcase and shake his hand, but even as they did, Butch could see that most of them were carrying bundles which undoubtedly contained whatever they felt they could part with in exchange for more useful items.
As soon as they had finished talking to Nut, they began to line up in front of Butch to reveal their treasures. Most of it was useless junk, but Butch did his best to give them a fair price. As Butch did his appraising, Nut climbed back onto the top of the truck and began shouting for their most wanted items. Of course ammunition and ammunition components were at the top of the list as always.
“Live ammo, brass casings, primers, and unirradiated lead, weapons parts. Even broken parts may be useful. If you have any of these things, just bring ‘em to my buddy Rat at the repairs table and he’ll treat you right.”
Once more than a few people had cash in hand, Nut once again jumped from the top of the truck and began making deals. Butch joined him as soon as he was done with appraisals. As usual, the weapons and ammo were the biggest draw. Butch couldn’t blame them considering he’d already seen how much trouble they seemed to have from raiders. Almost as popular as the weapons was the food. Still, there was a good amount of interest in things like clothing and even jewelry.
Butch saw a feminine hand reach out to stroke a silver necklace studded with emeralds. He looked up from his wares into Melanie’s bright green eyes.
“Good morning, Star Dancer.” Butch said with a grin.
She returned it with one of her own. Hers with a touch of mischief in it.
“Figured it out, did you. What took you so long?”
“Well, I hardly expected to run into an actual celebrity out here in the wastes.”
“I was hardly a celebrity.”
“Besides, you look a bit… different.”
“Well. It’s not easy finding good makeup in a post-apocalyptic world. Speaking of which, I’m surprised a man such as yourself watched beauty videos. Something you’re not telling the rest of your gang?”
Butch felt his cheeks reddening.
“My niece used to watch you. I had no choice but to watch with her.”
What he would never tell her, what he would, in fact, take to his grave, was that while it was true he had watch one of her videos with his niece the first time, he had looked her up and watched the rest of her videos on his own afterward.
“So, do you like the necklace?” Butch asked, changing the subject.
“I do, but I need something a bit more practical.”
“Protection. I need a gun.”
“I have just the thing.” Butch said, wheeling around to the weapons table.
Moments later, Butch slapped a small piece of metal into her palm. He could immediately see the disappointment in her eyes as the looked at the pearl handled derringer. Butch had to admit, it looked tiny even in her small hand.
“Really? I was hoping for something a bit bigger. I guess it’ll have to do though. Especially since this is all I have to trade.” She said, unveiling the small jewelry box. “It was my grandmother’s.”
Butch eyed the jewelry box. There was nothing special about it. In fact, he had left identical boxes behind out in the wastes, most of which had been in better condition. Still, he had always been a sucker for a pretty face. He took back the derringer and swapped it for a snub nosed .38 special.
“I’m afraid this is the best I can do.” He said, handing her the revolver. “Straight up trade.”
She hefted it in her hand and her smile brightened.
“Are you sure? This has got to be more valuable than my old jewelry box.”
Butch looked over his shoulder to make sure none of his companions were paying attention.
“It’s good to be the boss.” He said with a wink as he reached into the can which held the .38 ammo and gave her a handful of cartridges.
Her eyes widened.
“So when are you guys leaving?”
“I’m not sure. It usually takes Rat a few days to finish his orders.”
“Good.” She said. “How about letting me cook you dinner tonight as a way of saying thanks.”
“I’d like that.”
“Then it’s a date.” She said with a smile a she turned on her heel and walked away with that wiggly walk of hers.
Butch wondered once again if it was for his benefit, or if that was just the way she walked. He shook his head, remembering what he was supposed to be doing.
“Next!” he shouted.
. . .
Okay. That’s it for this week. I’m still not sure exactly where this story’s going, but I’m starting to get an idea. I hope you enjoyed it. I’ll see you next week with another what’s up Wednesday.
“I think so.” She said. A mischievous look in her eyes.
“Want to let me in on it?”
“I could, but I think letting you figure it out on your own will be so much more fun. For me at least. I’ll let you think on it. I’ve got some things to do. I’ll see y’all next time.” She said, getting up.
“Wait. Can you at least tell me your name?”
“It’s Melanie. But that’s not going to help you a bit.” She said, winking before sashaying away.
Butch wondered if she always walked that way, or if that extra bit of wiggle in her hips was for his benefit. Butch frowned. “I’ll see y’all next time,” he thought. It seemed like an odd way to say goodbye. After all, there was only one of him. Unless she’d been talking to Rat as well, but he’d never even looked up from his notebook. Still, there was something familiar about not only the phrase, but the way she said it. A memory tried to bubble to the surface, but when Butch tried to grasp for it, it fled.
“Don’t forget to eat, Rat.” Butch said, still lost in thought. “You’re too skinny as it is.”
“Right.” Rat said, grabbing his fork and taking a scoop of food. Not even looking up from his notebook to see what it was he was eating.
Butch dug into his own food, almost as preoccupied as Rat. Who was that mystery woman? How could he possibly know her? He’d lived thousands of miles away when the apocalypse had come. Had she been from the same area and somehow drifted here? Butch figured it was possible, but highly unlikely. Still, he supposed that as many settlements as they visited, he was bound to run into someone he knew eventually.
As Butch sat here, lost in his thoughts, he felt his side of the table lift up a couple of inches. He wasn’t surprised to see bear and Gut sitting across from him, each with a mug of beer in each hand.
“Sooo? Who was that?” Gut asked mockingly.
“Where’s Nut?” Butch asked without answering Gut.
“He’s out in the truck, makin’ love to his ol’ lady.” Bear said, laughing.
It had begun as a joke, but it was getting less and less funny. From the moment he’d seen it, Nutcase had been in love with that gun. He’d been the one to name it Bertha. With guidance from Rat, he’d also been the one who mounted it on the roof and then made the access hatch. Butch had tried at first to persuade him that it wasn’t necessary, but even he had to admit that she’d come in handy a time or two. Butch was sure that, after today’s workout, he was meticulously stripping her down so he could clean and oil everything.
“I wonder what he’d do if one of us ever had to wrap our finger around her trigger.” Butch wondered out loud.
“I don’t think I want to find out.” Gut said, emptying both mugs of beer. He started to get up for more when Butch stopped him.
“I think that’s enough. Save a little for the rest of these people.” Butch said.
“Aw, come on. There’s plenty.” Gut protested.
“That may be, but tomorrow’s a sale day. We don’t want to go in with these people feeling like we owe them something.”
“What are you talking about? We saved their asses.”
“Yes, but that kind of gratitude can be short-lived. Now no more about it.” Butch said, ending the conversation.
Gut sat there like a sulky five-year-old until he glanced over and saw that Bear was still working on his first beer, while the other one sat on the table getting warm. He slowly reached out toward it.
“Don’t even think about it.” Bear growled.
Gut crossed his arms over his chest and pouted.
“Good evening, Gentlemen?” A voice said over Butch’s shoulder.
On cue, Bear and Gut began looking around comically for the “Gentlemen” the voice was referring to.
The voice belonged to Jacob Drake. The mayor.
“I trust you’ve all had enough to eat.” Drake said.
“Oh yes.” Gut said, patting his prodigious belly. “Couldn’t eat another bite.”
“Oh, that’s too bad. I was hoping I could tempt you with a piece of my wife’s peach cobbler. It was the best in the world even before the world changed. It’s still hot and fresh out of the oven.” Drake said, smiling.
“On the other hand. I could probably make a little room.” Gut said, and belched loudly. Butch gave him a dirty look, but a few people within earshot chuckled.
“Wonderful.” Drake said. “Can I get you another beer while I’m at it?”
Gut looked hopefully at Butch, who rolled his eyes and nodded.
“I’ll have another round brought for each of you.” Drake said.
“None for Rat.” Butch said. “He prefers his brain cells intact. I can’t say I blame him, runnin’ around with this lot.”
“Okay then, five cobblers and four beers.” Drake looked around. “I assume your friend will be back soon.”
“He’s taking care of something in the truck. If he’s not back soon, we’ll take it to him. If that’s okay.”
Drake nodded and bustled off. Soon, two ladies appeared. One with a tray of cobbler, and another with a tray of beer. Clearly they had been waitresses once upon a time, as the trays didn’t so much as wobble as they passed out food and drink.
“You look extra thirsty, handsome.” The waitress serving the beer said to gut as she set an extra mug in front of him. Gut looked back at her with a sparkle in his eyes, clearly in love.
Butch just sighed and shook his head in exasperation.
After they’d finished their dessert, just as Gut was beginning to eye the mug earmarked for Nutcase, the mayor returned.
“Well then. If you’re ready, I’ll show you fellows to your room.”
Without a word, they got up and followed Drake. Gut was reaching for Nutcase’s beer and pie when Bear slapped his hand.
Butch followed Drake into the yard where their truck stood sentinel.
“We’ve put fresh linens on five of our best guest beds.” Drake told him.
“Thanks, but we only need four.”
“Nut sleeps in the truck.”
“Oh. Are you sure that’s wise?” Drake asked, eyeing Bertha, who was once again mounted on the roof. “Forgive me for saying this, but he seems a bit… unstable.”
“He passed unstable miles ago. He’s batshit, but he’s great security. Don’t worry Jake. As the song says, he ain’t never shot a man that didn’t deserve it.”
Their room turned out to be an only partially converted classroom. The blackboard still hung on one of the walls. Bunk beds filled the room in neat rows. Butch was reminded of the barracks he’d called home when he was in basic training a lifetime ago.
“I call top bunk.” Gut said. The rest of them laughed.
“Now then. If you fellows should need anything, my room is the old principal’s office. Oh, and the locker rooms are just down the hall if you’d like to shower.” Drake said, making a hurried exit.
Butch hurriedly picked his bunk and dived in. Over the years, he’d learned that the best way to get a good night’s sleep was to beat Gut and Bear to the punch. Once they started sawing logs, there was no getting to sleep. Luckily, he’d taught himself to fall asleep fast. As he lay there, eyes closed, Melanie’s words echoed in his head. “I’ll see y’all next time.” Over and over it repeated. Finally, just as he was on the verge of nodding off, his eyes snapped open. He knew who she was.
So there you have part 2. Sorry for the long wait. I really had meant to post this last week, but I was spending time with my own group of bikers the last couple of weeks. The good news is, I’ve already got a good start on part 3, so I should be able to post that next week. I’ll see you next Wednesday.
Well, the bikers are gone. Most of them at least. The truth is, there are always some who stick around until the snow flies. Still, it’s all over but the cleanup.
I’m already regretting not spending more time up at Sturgis this year, but I just didn’t have the energy to tell the truth. I was starting to think that maybe I’m getting too old to party like that. That I was turning into an old man. While there’s truth to that, it was a relief to discover that I was fighting off both a cold and some sort of stomach bug and it really took the energy out of me. Still, now that it’s all over, I kind of wish I’d toughed it out and gone up there more anyway. Alas, the party’s over.
Now it’s time to get back to work.
I’m still working on the next installment of “The Mongers” for this week’s Fiction Friday. I know I promised to have it out last week, but as I said, I wasn’t feeling well and if I had been, I probably would have been partying like an irresponsible teenager.
I’ll be perfectly honest, I don’t know where “The Mongers” is going, if it’s going anywhere at all. I got the idea for the opening scene and I went with it, so try not to be too mad if it goes somewhere unsatisfying. I promise I’ll finish it one way or another. I just have no idea what’s going to happen myself.
Other than that, I haven’t done much this past week. I did make one last trip up to Sturgis on Saturday for dinner with family and one last trip up and down main street for souvenirs. I wish I could post the thing I bought for my new nephew, but I’m not sure if my brother and sister-in-law read my blog, so I’d better not until they get it.
After years of searching, I found a ring that I’ve been looking for. I had one like it when I was a kid, but I either lost it, or one of my scumbag friends from the time stole it. (You know who you are.) Anyway, here it is.
I’ve been taking a bit of my own advice and started reading more. I’m a big proponent of reading and have actually made a YouTube video on the importance for writers to read, but lately, I haven’t been practicing what I preach. I fell into the old trap most people do, proclaiming, “I just don’t have the time.”
Unfortunately, as a writer, that just doesn’t fly. Reading, for a writer, is like doing research in any other field. A scientist couldn’t very well go to his higher-ups and tell them he just didn’t have the time to keep up on the latest scientific research. So it is with a writer. At least, for writers, our research material is entertaining to read.
On that note, I just finished reading “The Regulators” By King/Bachman.
I really liked it, but about halfway through the book, I realized something. While at first I thought it was just a continuation of Desperation. I realized I recognized some of the names. I had to look it up to be sure, but it turned out I was right. Some of the names were the same as in the Desperation. Some of the characters even had the same career, but had vastly different personalities. The antagonist was basically the same. I think it’s basically the same story told in two alternate realities. I’m not sure, but I wonder if King/Bachman was unsure which way he wanted to take the story, so he ended up writing them both.
Anyway, on that note, I now want to re-read “Desperation” while “The Regulators” is still fresh in my mind.
Well crap. I may have just accidentally started yet another book.
I had intended the following story to be a Flash Fiction Friday, but as I wrote it last night, it turned into something else. I removed the Flash part, because it’s already longer than 1,000 words. Besides, it’s not exactly a complete story. I think it want’s to be a novel, or at least a short story. Since I really want to get something out today, I’m going to make it an episodic. So I present to you,
The Mongers, Part 1
The dust cloud rose from the dry desert floor like smoke from a bonfire as four vehicles raced over the barren soil. Two motorcycles flanked a battered armored car while a third took point. Crudely spray painted on the sides of the armored car was the word “Mongers”. Each of the riders wore a leather vest with a patch to match on the back.
The bikes had once been Harleys, but after years of wandering the wastes and scavenging whatever parts they could, they weren’t of any recognizable make anymore, but they ran, and that’s all that mattered. The armored car they had found in front of a bank, completely cleaned out, but with the keys still in the ignition.
Atop the point bike sat Butch, the leader of the Mongers. His face, baked by the blazing desert sun, resembled the barren remains of the once lush prairie they now rode across.
Butch craned forward, the leather of his bike’s seat squeaking beneath him. There was a town up ahead. Or, at least, what had once been a town. Most of the houses were charred wrecks of their former selves. Normally, Butch wouldn’t have given it a second glance, but there, on the outskirts of the town still stood what looked to be an old school. What’s more, even though it was hard to tell at this distance, he could swear he could see movement near the fence. He aimed his handlebars at the school. The rest of the group didn’t need to be told to follow.
As they got closer, Butch was able to assess the situation. A band of raiders was attacking the school. Inside the fence, a group of the school’s inhabitants were trying to fight them off, but they were losing.
Butch raised his left arm, and pointed one finger into the sky. He heard the hatch they’d cut into the top of the armored car clang open followed by a quick burst from the .50 cal machine gun they’d mounted to the top. The gun was aimed harmlessly into the sky, but the sound had the desired effect. For a moment, all activity at the fence stopped as they all turned to look at the approaching dust cloud. Those inside the fence turned and ran, but the raiders, sensing their chance, began scaling the chain-link fence.
Butch opened his hand, now pointing all his fingers into the sky. Then, with a chopping motion, he pointed his arm at the raiders. The machine gun opened fire. Even over the roar of the engines and gun fire, Butch could hear Nutcase cackling maniacally. Bodies began falling from the fence as the rest of the raiders ran off into the desert. Nutcase turned the gun to follow, but Butch once again raised his hand and closed his fist. The gunfire stopped immediately. A moment later, he heard the hatch clang closed.
Butch hated raiders. He would have loved to let Nutcase mow the rest of them down, but there was no sense wasting precious ammo.
They approached the school slowly, lest the already spooked inhabitants mistook them for another band of raiders. Butch signaled for the others to wait as he dismounted his bike and approached the gate. A small, mousy looking man ran out, trying to look as tough as he could which only brought an amused smirk to Butch’s face.
“Friend or foe?” The mousy man demanded.
“Well, considering we just saved your bacon, what do you think?”
“What business do you have here?” The mouse asked, ignoring Butch’s question.
“We’re here to trade.” Butch said with a nod toward the armored car.
After a moment’s thought and a curious glance toward the closest building, the mouse pulled out a set of keys and unlocked the rusty gate. It slowly groaned open as Butch helped him open it.
Once the vehicles were safely inside, the mouse rushed to re-close the gate.
“Don’t worry.” Butch said, dismounting his bike and brushing the dirt off his leathers. “They won’t be back anytime soon. At least, not while ‘ol Betsy’s on guard.”
Nevertheless, the mouse finished closing the gate before returning to Butch and introducing himself.
“I’m Jacob Drake. Mayor of this place.”
“Yes really. And you are?”
“Name’s Butch. This is Bear and Gut.” Butch said, indicating the other two riders. Bear was a mountain of muscle while Gut was merely fat.
The back door of the armored car creaked open and out stepped a tall black man with a bright white afro followed by another man who looked fairly normal until you looked at his eyes.
“Those two are Rat and Nutcase.” Butch finished.
“We typically ask our guests to turn over their weapons.” The Mayor said hesitantly. Butch just stared at him. “But considering what you just did for us, I suppose we can make an exception.”
“Tell ya’ what,” Butch said, unslinging the rifle strapped to his back and tossing it to Rat, who caught it deftly, ”We’ll keep our rifles locked in the truck. We keep our sidearms though. Don’t worry, they’ll stay holstered unless there’s a need to take ‘em out.”
Butch nodded at the others and they did the same.
“Now, you said you were here to trade?” The Mayor said.
“We are. But we’re a lot more agreeable when we’ve had a meal and a good night’s rest.”
“Yes. Of course. I suppose it’s the least we can do after your saving us. Follow me.”
Jacob led them to what had once been the school cafeteria. Inside, they could hear dozens, if not hundreds, of voices.
“You’re in for a real treat tonight.” Jacob said proudly. “My wife, Margaret, just made a big batch of homemade peach cobbler and Isaac tapped a keg of his home brewed…”
“Beeer.” Nutcase said, sniffing the air.
“Um, yes. Just sit anywhere you like and I’ll send someone over to take care of you.”
As they walked through the doors, conversation stopped for a moment. Then, a single pair of hands clapped, then another. Soon everyone was cheering and applauding. They found an open table and before they knew it, plates heaping with home cooked food were placed before them. Nutcase drained his beer in a single gulp and almost immediately another was set before him.
“Man.” Gut said around a mouthful of food. “A guy could really get used to this.”
“Yeah, well don’t.” Butch said. “We aren’t staying.”
Conversation in the cafeteria had resumed, but all the while, people were stealing glances at the newcomers while others stared outright.
One of the starers caught Butch’s eye. He couldn’t help but feel like he recognized her, but he couldn’t figure out where. He stared back, expecting her to look away, but she didn’t. Instead she got up, and walked confidently toward him and sat down across from him. Right between bear and Gut.
“Hi.” She said cheerily.
“You were staring at me.”
“You were staring at me first.”
“Everyone’s staring at you. Even the ones who’re pretending they aren’t. But why were you staring at me?”
“Uh…” Butch wasn’t sure what to say.
“Hey, Gut. Wanna go see if we can get seconds?” Bear asked.
Gut quickly got the idea and followed Bear while Nutcase said something about more beer. Rat sat at the table busily sketching something, his food barely touched, oblivious to what was going on around him.
“Come on. There has to be a reason. Is it because you think I’m beautiful?” She asked, flipping her hair comically.
“No. I mean, yes, you’re beautiful, but it’s not that. I feel… I feel like I know you, but I don’t know why.”
“I think I know why.” She said, dropping him a wink.
So that’s it for now. I’m sorry if it left you a little unsatisfied. I’m also sorry that it isn’t my best work. truth be told, it’s the first thing I’ve written in quite a while. Hopefully next week’s installment will be better and have more action.
And, of course, please buy my debut short story, Blood Moon
Also, Amazon apparently now considers me an influencer, which means that they basically gave me my own Amazon store where I can recommend products. I do get a cut of anything you buy when you click my link. Unless you’d rather all your money go to a faceless corporation. 🙂 You can find my influencer page here. https://www.amazon.com/shop/justinmkellywriter