Feeds:
Posts
Comments

Posts Tagged ‘post apocalypse’

abandonedcampsiteA post-apocalyptic tale, rejected (narrowly) from an anthology. So you get it! Something of a dry-run for a setting for a forthcoming survival game.

Days run a little differently now than they used to.

It used to be I would get up, kiss my wife good morning, wake up the kids and head into the shower. Breakfast was a cereal bar and a cup of coffee on the way out of the door to the car. I drove eight miles to town, parked my car, walked to my office and sat in front of a computer from nine in the morning until five in the evening fielding people’s problems with their computers. Then I’d go home for an evening of forcing my kids to eat their peas and watching boxed sets on Netflix in bed with the missus.

A dull, boring, ordinary life. Days ticking by on my phone calendar. Nothing special, the same kind of thing that millions upon millions of people did every day, day in, day out, without changing or straying from the norm.

Now, things are a little different.

I get up when the sun rises, and I let everyone else sleep. I peel back the tarp and climb down the ladder – slippery with morning dew – to the forest floor. There’s no breakfast, we eat once a day, in the evening. I walk the trails through the woods and check the snares as well as the fish hooks we leave dangling in the rivulet – though the water drops every day. If I find any fallen wood, I bring it back to the hide to dry out for the evening’s fire, but that’s getting scarce too. We’ll have to start cutting them down soon, and that will make our presence easier to detect. Then I walk back to the hide, and I sit in the cover under the hide and tinker with the radio, just for something to do. It’s unfixable since the pulse, like everything else, but it keeps me busy.

I don’t know how anyone else lives now, but if they’re surviving it must be something like this.

Somehow we survived the pulse, the chaos that came after it. The plague and the looters, the rioters and murderers. All of us, my whole family.

There’s me, my wife (Ellie) my father (Gramps), and my kids, Tony and Amy.

Tony’s doing alright; he was a scout before everything went to hell and while he doesn’t enjoy camping anymore, he can cope with it.

Amy’s broken, though, and there’s nothing we can do about it. She hasn’t talked since we escaped town and she has her little den she’s dug in the woods away from the rest of us. She only comes close to us when we make food, so at least we know she’s eating. We keep hoping she’ll snap out of it, but she hasn’t yet.

My wife was a fiercely independent woman before all this happened, the one who did everything made more money than me doing bank work in the city, organised and ran our lives. Now she’s lost, traumatised, just doing what she has to and crying over everything we’ve lost.

Gramps is old, sick, but he struggles on and helps me as best he can. He’s a tough old dog, my father but we all notice the cough. Sick as he is I’ll dread it when he’s finally gone. He’s used to a simpler world than we were. He’s practical; he knows how to fix things, how to skin rabbits and gut pheasants, skills which have become literal lifesavers. I’ve learned more from him in this past year than in the forty preceding it. I used to be the one to teach him things like using the internet or setting the video to record. It’s strange how things turn out.

We lost track of time in all the chaos but so far as we can tell it’s late summer now, maybe the end of August. We’re hoping we can find and preserve a lot of autumn fruit and nuts, somehow, once they start to appear. We can’t get meat to smoke or dry properly, we’ve tried we have no salt or vinegar or even alcohol to pickle or preserve with, and we daren’t go back to town to look for supplies that probably aren’t there.

It’s a worry.

This morning was the first in quite some time that there had been a chill in the air and mist clinging to trees. It was getting towards the autumn, and that weighed heavy on my mind.

We had a rabbit in a snare, so that was a good haul for the morning or at least better than nothing. The hazelnuts weren’t ripe yet, by any stretch, so that was a bust, and the blackberries weren’t ripe yet. I still had some gloves and a good knife, so I cut a big bushel of stinging nettles – they come out a bit like spinach when you boil them. We’re all utterly bored of them, though, we lived off nettles and rice too many days before we got the snares right. Just as well that they did, because we ran out of rice. I read once you can’t live off of rabbit, but that’s been almost all we’ve been eating this month other than the nettles. Another thing to worry about.

When I get back on this day, everyone’s up and awake. My grubby little family of dirty survivors. No sign of Amy though, at least not yet, no food for her to eat I suppose. My wife’s hanging up the blankets to try and dry and air them in the sun – it hardly works even in the summer, you just can’t get dry living outside. Gramps is fiddling on that bow of his again – bailing twine and hazel sticks don’t make for the best or most accurate hunting weapon, but he perseveres. Tony’s tending the fire; that has become his singular obsession. He keeps it going through the day from the embers of the previous night. He’s gotten pretty good at it, though we don’t dare have a massive fire. Someone might see.

The day passes, somehow. Boredom is something we all constantly experience now, boredom punctuated by terror at the noises coming from the woods. We’ve not seen another person in months, just deer and the occasional fox sniffing around. We still remember what it was like getting out of town. People were – and probably still are – terrible. Desperation does that to people. It has done it to me; there is blood on my hands as much as anyone.

When the sun starts to set, we build the fire up, boil the river water in our fire-blackened pot and put in the rabbit and the nettles. It’s not much, but its something, or will be when it’s cooked.

Tomorrow, maybe, we’ll have some better luck.

Only we don’t get to tomorrow uninterrupted. There’s a loud cracking sound from the edge of our little clearing, our home, and then a voice raised, calling out to us. A new voice, one we haven’t heard before, cracked and husky with a lack of practice at speaking.

“Can you spare a little of that?”

***

He looked a state, but then we all did. He’d made an effort to trim his beard, which I hadn’t, but he was still as grubby and tired looking as the rest of us. Layered with muck and sweat, the sort of thing you only ever used to see on homeless people. He had a huge backpack, one of those army ones called ‘Bergens’ I think, and a gun, something I hadn’t seen in a long time. It was a battered looking double-barrel, and he had a half-empty bandolier of shells hung around his neck. It was pointing down, but he was almost as cautious as we were, frozen in place around our dinner with only gramps and his stupid bow and arrow to defend ourselves.

“I’ve got salt, pepper, some spice. Just nothing to put it with, can we make a trade?” He took a cautious, half-step forward, holding the gun one handed, raising the other, palm towards us.

Just the thought of salt had me salivating, let alone anything else. My stomach yawned at the mere mention. Less food, but with flavour? That would be a good trade at this point and someone who’d been out there might know something. News and flavour. I stepped forward and waved gramps to lower his bow – for all the good it could do in the first place.

“If you put the gun down and show us what you have, maybe we can find a place for you tonight and a bit of food. It’s just rabbit and nettles, though. Nothing fancy.” I moved, slowly, between him and my family. If things went wrong, perhaps I could still protect them.

He set the gun down on a stump with the shells and unslung his pack, keeping one hand up as he rummaged in the side pocket. He showed us salt, pepper and – Lord have mercy – garlic granules.

“Alright, come on closer but leave the gun there,” I gestured to him to approach, and he set his pack behind and came forward.

He stank worse than we did, or we’d just gotten used to our smell perhaps. We could wash – occasionally – in the rivulet, but he smelled like he hadn’t washed at all in the year since the pulse. He was greasy with it. Shiny-headed in the firelight and the fading sun, and I could hear his stomach growling as loud as mine was. He handed over the condiments, and I gave them to Ellie. She added them to the stew pot with shaking, quivering hands.

“It won’t be ready for a while. Why don’t you sit with us and sing for your supper?”

He winced a little at the suggestion, but he did sit, on one of the mossy logs we’d dragged here to use as seats and after a deep sigh he told us his tale, constantly glancing towards the pot and the promise of food to come, as though reassuring himself it was real.

“What do you want to know?” He asked, his voice low, almost lost in the crackling of the fire.

“Your name,” I sat, opposite him and everyone else crowded closer. “Everything you know. What’s been going on out there, how did you survive?”

He tongued his lips and took a sip of water from his canteen, and then he began to talk, a practised tale he must have told many times before. Too many people.

“My name’s Alan. I was a delivery driver. My watch didn’t work; my phone didn’t work, the van didn’t work. Nothing worked. I waited for other cars but after an hour all there was, was a young couple whose own car had broken down. That seemed like a bit too much of a coincidence to me, but I stayed with the van. Like an idiot.

He shook his head and plucked a few leaves off his boots before he went on. “Wasn’t until a policeman on a bike – of all things – came by that I clicked something bigger was going on. His suggestion was to find a pub or something to stay at, but I didn’t. I stuck with the van. I thought it might all get fixed I suppose. Two days later and nothing but a few people trudging down the road. Got to the point where I started breaking into the packages to look for food and drink, but eventually, I had to lock up the van and get going again.”

“We were in town when it happened. It was worse in a lot of ways, though people were looking out for each other at the beginning.”

“Then the sickness hit,” he sighed again, deeper. “As I’m sure you know.”

“We didn’t see much of it; we decided to leave town after a couple of days.”

“You were lucky then. I walked through a couple of villages before I got to a town and by the time I got there, the sickness was in full force. Pale people, white as sheets, barely able to move for how weak they were. Easy prey for the people who were still fit and were looking to loot and pillage. Whatever it was, I didn’t want to catch it. I stayed long enough to get some supplies and then got the same idea you did, to get out.”

I nodded along with him as we shared a moment of understanding. It had been horrible, and it had felt like there was no choice but to get away. We’d seen the writing on the wall the same way he had. Still, leaving people to die was haunting.

“I tried a couple of camping sites, but the sickness or bandits, or worse, always came along. Things broke down or just stopped working – whatever machines were left that is. The amount of people around got fewer and more sparse and spread out the more time went on. I just kept on moving. You’re the first people I’ve even seen a sign of in a few weeks.”

“Worse?” that worried me, I thought we’d seen the worst this new world had to offer.

“Ah, forget it. Don’t worry. Just being dramatic I suppose. I’ve just stayed on the road; there is still food and supplies out there if you’re not too fussy. Dog food will keep you going in a pinch. There’s hunting if you’re a decent shot, but I’m not,” he laughed, a little bitterly. “You seem to be doing alright, though. I’ve been watching you since this morning. You and your family have it pretty good.”

“It doesn’t feel like it most days,” I turned and looked to Ellie as she hovered over the pot. She nodded.

We had plastic bowls from an old picnic set, enough for everyone, though they were no longer the cleanest. The stew was thin and sloppy, but with the salt, pepper, and garlic it was the grandest feast we’d had in some time, considering a single rabbit don’t go so far between so many people.

After a mouthful of boiled rabbit and soggy nettle, Alan stopped abruptly, eyes wide and white in his grubby face. He swallowed, hard, and jabbed one dirty finger at the bowl we’ve filled for Amy. “Why are there six bowls?” He sounded panicked, scared, terrified. We didn’t understand why, but the fear was infectious.

“My daughter. Amy. She’s not well. She hides in the woods, but she comes back for meals. What’s wrong?”

“No, no, no!” He’s clutched his head like it was about to split, set down his bowl and stood, casting about and then walking towards his gun with quick strides.

“Wait no!” I spilled my bowl as I got up. “Don’t hurt us!”

He snatched up the gun and the shells and looked back at me. “I’m not going to, but six people is too many. I didn’t know about the girl. It always goes bad when there’s more than five. Always. Always.”

There’s a subtle change in the air as he says it. His fear is genuine, and it does feel like something has changed, shifted, a chill, a sense of being watched. I can’t explain it.

***

Alan kept staring into the woods, clutching that shotgun of his, white-knuckled and panicked but nothing was happening. My family huddled together in the dark except Amy who had scuttled back into the woods to hide. Slowly the tension began to evaporate from the terror he’d induced in us, and I stepped away from the others to try and talk some sense into him.

“Alan, please, you’ve scared everyone. Nothing’s happening.”

“It will,” he looked back at me with wild, feral eyes. “It’s coming.”

Something about the way he spoke made me still believe he meant what he was saying; I swallowed to wet my throat and ease my voice. “I’ll climb up into the hide and see if I can see anything.” He nodded to me and kept staring out into the trees.

I moved away from him, with a glance towards my family for mutual assurance, and then I stepped to the ladder. When I set my hands on it, it felt strange, dusty under my fingers and when I placed my weight on the bottom rung, it simply snapped, rusted through. That was absurd. It was steel; it had held firm as long as we had been here and showed no sign of breaking or damage. I just stared down at the fragments at my feet, uncomprehending. “Rust?”

“Rust?” Alan twisted around to look at me. “Get clear!” He shouted, stabbing a finger to point up at the hide.

My family moved the moment he barked; I didn’t. I was frozen, staring at the ladder, the patina of rust spreading across it like a time-lapse image of mould running across fruit. I looked aside to the great wooden beams that held the hide up above the forest floor and there too the metal bolts that ran through it and held it all together was turning red-brown and crumbling before my eyes. As I looked up in terrified wonder, the hide gave a loud groan, shuddered and slewed drunkenly sideways.

Our home, everything we had scraped, preserved and recovered was smashed to pieces in a deafening, splintering crash as it toppled into the woods and threw up clouds of dirt and leaves in all directions, blowing our meagre fire across the forest as embers that quickly vanished in the dark.

My ears were ringing. My lungs were burning as I coughed up leaf mold and ash. I stared into the crater around the broken stumps of the support columns as the clouds settled and thinned and saw something even stranger. The ground was writhing, twisting, heaving with worms, one atop the other in an enormous tangle right where the hide had stood. I’d never seen anything quite like it. The rust, the worms, none of it made any sense. At all.

“Alan! What the hell is this?” I screamed at him over my deafness, and I staggered to check on my family. They were horrified, staring at what remained of our meagre life, backed against a grand, old tree.

“This is what I meant by worse,” he yelled back. “Come together, help each other, and the world turns against you. I thought we were safe! I didn’t know about the girl!” The despair in his voice made my spine quiver.

I held Ellie tight though there was nothing I could offer to calm her, no platitude that would serve in this situation. Every last little thing we’d scraped together, this hardscrabble desperate life we’d forged, ruined in an instant.

Tony stepped apart from us, peeling away from the family huddle, clinging with one hand to my ragged shirt and staring into the night. Suddenly pointed out, with his free hand, past Alan, out into a gap in the trees to the blue-black night sky and the distant stars. “Dad! Look!”

I looked where he was pointing, and through the gap in the trees, the sky abruptly turned completely black. With sudden ferocity a torrent of croaking, shrieking feathers came pouring through the trees like a tidal wave. A pecking, screaming mass of crows that scratched, flapped and snapped at us as they flew around and over us and circled back through the trees and into the sky to fly back at us again.

I was bleeding from dozens of cuts and scratches, as was everyone else. Blood ran from a gash in my brow, down into my eye, half blinding me as the birds wheeled and whirled through the trees, screeching and cawing, massing for a second attack. It was incredible, it was impossible, it was terrifying, but there was no time to think about it. As they swept back I grabbed for my wife and son and hit the ground, scrambling under what remained of the tarp as Alan’s shotgun barked deafeningly, and flashes of light lit through the plastic.

Ears ringing I could barely hear the bodies of the crows tumbling around us, some still twitching and squawking in pain, crippled or killed by a shot, others tearing at the tarp with their claws and beaks to try and get at us. There were sickening crunches, something smacked into my leg and bruised it to the bone, but most of the crowing stopped. We screamed as the tarp was thrown back.

It was Alan, bloodied, blinded in one eye, a ragged hole where it should have been. The crows that remained perched angrily in the trees; the ground was littered with their corpses. Blood and spittle dripped down his chin as he opened the gun and thrust in the last shell. “It’ll be people next I think. Bandits. It won’t stop. It won’t ever stop so long as we’re together.”

I struggled to stand, the bruised leg almost giving way under me. “We’ll run, there’s nothing to stay here for anyway. Come with us. We’ll make it together. Don’t be stupid.” I reached my hand towards him, bloodied and scratched, fingers stretched out to take his hand.

He just shook his head and looked at me with one working eye and one ruined one, blood running down his face. “No. It won’t work. No more than five people. Never more than five. There’re no antibiotics anyway. I’m done. Thanks for the rabbit. I should have seen the girl.” Tears mingled with the blood.

Before I could stop him, he twisted the gun and fired. The flash was so close it singed my eyebrows and blinded me for a moment as his mostly headless body fell back with a wet, boneless thump amongst the dead crows.

We stood, I don’t know how long, in shock. When we recovered our senses, and our muscles answered our appeals to move the surviving crows had left, and it was quiet again. The air had changed, back, to the way it was before, without that tension, without that sensation of being watched. A new peace settled over our shattered camp and then, after a time, as we had so many times before, we set about picking up the pieces of our shattered lives.

***

We’re back on the road now. All five of us. Amy came back out of hiding after Alan died though she still hasn’t spoken and never leaves her mother’s side. We have Alan’s supplies and his empty gun. We have a tiny bit of food, the last gasp of the snares and fishing lines, but autumn is coming now, and there’ll be nuts and berries and whatever has survived in people’s abandoned gardens for a while.

We’ll look for supplies in some of the forest villages and then try to find somewhere remote and sheltered where we can rest up for the winter. All five of us. Just the five of us. Wherever we go, I’m going to leave this information, no more than five. Maybe it’ll keep some other people alive, but it means we’re alone, and we have to stay alone if we’re going to live. It means there’s never going to be any more help. No civilisation. Nobody to ride to the rescue or to rebuild.

It’s just us now.

Just family.

Advertisements

Read Full Post »

july-15-08It’s home. This damp, tired little room that reeks of stale sweat, shit and fear. It hides us from the sky, which is something, not that I think it does us any good. This is it, the whole wide world reduced down to two-hundred square feet of misery and darkness, the dim light of a novelty LED torch, the slow bubble of slop buckets and on every surface the weird scratchings Hope has made.

Of all the people in the station, it’s Hope I saved. I don’t know why. I don’t even know how old she is or her real name. I know nothing about her at all and she’s not one for talking. Not since I met her. I think she was a writer, a secretary or a personal assistant. Her purse had a notebook in it, filled with scrawl, but I couldn’t read her handwriting.

Now she squats by the wall and draws on it, endlessly, with children’s chalks we took from one of the little station shops. She’s worn two sets down to nothing, covering the room with her spirals and swirls. Sometimes it looks a little like the sky, when it broke.

I saw it, when I ventured to the surface to see what all the panic was about. People were crowding into the stations to get away from it. Rebelling against what they saw, like insects running away from the light. The street was worse, half the people staring slack-jawed into the seething sky, others clawing at their eyes.

When I looked up, against all reason, the sky was a riot of colour and motion. Like the coloured images of nebulae and galaxies that they used to show on the television. The stars moved and slide, the sun seemed to dim. It made no sense and yet everyone could see it. Then space itself broke and from the fractures threads and tendrils came and began to pluck people up from where they stood.

There was something malevolent about them. The way they toyed with people, pulled them away on the brink of safety, pierced children to use them as bait. Some tried to fight, but for every tendril they destroyed two took their place.

I had the key to the back rooms of the station. Late at night there weren’t many others but me. I don’t know what made me take her. She was the nearest person stumbling by the door when I unlocked it. I suppose I just didn’t want to be alone but with a silent, staring maniac who never seems to sleep, I might as well be alone.

The buckets needed emptying. I’d been putting it off for days. A diet of snack-shop chocolate and cola hadn’t been doing us much good, especially eked out so much to make it last. It made the buckets even more foul than they had any right to be. That and even leaving the room had become terrifying beyond reason.

Boredom and fear. Eventually one wins out over the other.

I left Hope to her scratchings on the wall and took the heavy weight of the buckets. I clasped another torch between my teeth and elbowed out of the door. Dead escalators are hard to navigate in the pitch darkness, especially carrying buckets. There are shoes and bags, left in the rush. The people have long since disappeared but the civilised skins they shed in their panic are still there to trip me up.

The station is slowly flooding. Inch by inch, day by day. I don’t reach the bottom before I find the water. A foul brew of bodies, rags and the shit I’ve dumped here week by week, day by day while we survive. I don’t even see the rats or the mice here any more. A shame. A rat would make a welcome change from a Snickers bar at this point.
I empty the buckets and ‘rinse’ them as best I can. Sitting on the lowest step I dare to get my breath back before I head back up.

Something ripples in the water. Another body bobbing to the surface? No. Tiny waves lap against the shore and them with a gurgling slurp a bloated corpse is dragged beneath the surface. In the bluish LED light a shadowed shape beneath the muck shifts and twists and then, the panic finally pushing me to move, I turn, leave the buckets and run. Scrambling up the steps on hands and feet as fast as I can until I get back to the room and slam the door shut, weeping.

Nowhere is safe. Not really.

I slump against the wall and slide down, tears tracking lines through the dirt on my face. My jacket smears Hope’s drawings, something that normally freaks her out, but this time she just silently paces over to me and touches my hand.

It’s simple human touch, but it’s not something I’ve felt in days, weeks, however long we’ve been down here with no clocks, no day or night, no way to mark the time save by the number of times we sleep. I look at her and it’s strange to see her face so changed.

She has dark rings around her eyes from lack of sleep, and I do not blame her because the nightmares that come when I close my eyes make death seem like a good option. Still, despite that, she looks younger than when I first saw her. Softer, the innocence of a broken mind giving a softness to her face and body that was never there before. I caught sight of myself in a patch of clear water some time back, my body – despite all the chocolate – has been sculpted by hardship into the kind of slender muscle people would have paid a fortune for.

I touch her filthy cheek and sniff, blinking away more tears.

Dare I?

It would be like taking advantage of a child. She’s mad, insane, a mute with no voice and taking care of her gives me no right. But she is also soft, and warm and human and, for all I know, we are the last two people alive in all the world. Just to feel close and safe would be…

…she kisses me. Kissing away the tears as a mother would her son. Did she have children I wonder? Where are they now if they are anywhere? The touch seems to awaken something else in her and she makes an inarticulate sound and clumsily kisses my mouth.

I try to turn away, this isn’t right still, somehow. A betrayal of trust. I look after her, for no reason, simply because it is the right and human thing to do. The human thing to do. A warm, human, with no desire to kill me, with soft lips. Even the stinking breath and the stale-sweat smell of us is human. The air everywhere else has this strange, chemical, tide-line edge to it that chokes your throat like chlorine.

I don’t know that I’d have looked at Hope before everything went wrong. Here she’s the last woman on Earth and I am the last man. I have no illusions about my worth either, but we are here and she is still kissing me and I cannot resist. For my mind, for my body, for the sake of a fleeting moment of pleasure in a world of pain I let my reservations collapse.

Fingers cut through grime. Damp clothes peel away from soft and yielding skin. A human sweat, a human stink, a human taste. Was this what pleasure was like? I barely remember. Candy and soft drink would have been a pleasure back before all this, now its a chore. Warmth, softness, these have been lost to us for so long, both of us. I touch her back, slide my hands around her, find the suppleness of breasts to match the softness of her mouth and kneeling, her astride my lap, riding with naïve eagerness, we clutch and cling to each other in the old dance and damn the world beyond the walls.

She takes me and I lose myself within her. I take her, on her hands and knees atop our grubby blankets. She takes what I have to give and gives what I offer. Innocent eyes and soft features hide a ravenous body as starved of affection, pleasure and wonder as I have been. Every orgasm is a light against the darkness. Every gush of cum or wave of pleasure a defiant light against the darkness.

It makes it tolerable, down here, to fuck and rut in the darkness. To sleep together in warmth. A little camp-fire of affection and humanity, however flawed. Is this what passes for love now? Taking care of someone? Is this what we used to be? Hiding out in caves from the monsters. The brave ape-man protecting his mate and daring the world beyond to provide?

I can’t go out though. The world is dead, so far as either of us know or care to know. The food is almost gone and there is nothing more I can. Nothing more to find. There are things in the water that rises every day. No rats, no mice, not so much as an insect. There’s only us and a knife to my own throat is the only way I have anything left to give.

For hope.

Read Full Post »

Water was a hard thing to come by out in the desert, unless you were rich or lucky. Angel’s Spring, as the name suggested, had more water than a lot of places but it was still a resource you had to watch. Not for the team going to the final though. That warranted a special reward.

The room was filled with steam, great hot clouds of it turning the Rink showers into an interior rainforest. It was so hot, so wet, it was hard to breathe. Wide eyed, coach Flint stood at one end of the big room full of showers, licking his lips at the sight of so much bare, wet flesh moving around.

“So you beat the Project, big damn whoop!” Flint growled in his cactus-gargling voice, somehow cutting over the hiss of the sluicing water. “Don’t get cocky, you can’t afford to slip when you go up against the Vegas Showgirls…” he trailed off, losing track of his thoughts as Swish plucked her panties off the bench in her toes and kicked them into the air, catching them with a twirl.

“Don’t worry Flint, we’ve got the goods to beat ’em, see?” Farmstarter yanked open her towel and gave the grizzled old dude a faceful of jiggling titties.

Becca laughed and slipped in front of her, twitching the angel-devil tattoos on her ass as she slipped her arms around Farmer’s neck, giving her a big, deep, kiss on the lips. “Leave the poor ol’ guy alone lover!”

The poor man almost whimpered as their curvaceous lines pressed together, then he screwed his eyes shut and stepped past them, throwing back his head as he continued his harrangue.

“You got sloppy and you got lucky!” ‘Sloppy’ got another bout of giggling from Becca and Farmer. He ignored them. “They play or practice every damn day. They’ve got tricks you’ve never heard of and they’re all lookers. Not that you’re not, but it’s going to mean the crowd is behind them. You won’t have the home-field advantage.”

Hellen stepped out from under the shower head, water droplets slaloming down her dangerous rink-hardened curves. She wrapped a towel around her hair with practised ease and perched up on tiptoe, twisting around to look behind her, rubbing her hand on a patch of red rink-burn on her ass. “We know Flint. We’ll play it tight.”

He handed her another towel and she wrapped it around her body, hiding the flaming hearts tattooed on her breasts. “No show-boating Hel, you hear me? Be more careful, you could have smashed your hand with that stunt.”

Hellen raised her fist and looked at the cuts from Nicola’s teeth. She thought she’d busted a knuckle, but she’d put up with it. She’d survive.

“Won the game coach.”

“Yeah, but next time?” He frowned. “Right, I’m gonna go, uh, think and prep some game plans. Enjoy the shower girls. You earned it. Two days and we’re on the road!”

The squat little man sidled out of the showers, hunched over like he was carrying a load, grizzling to himself as Becca and Farmer blew kisses to him from lipstick-smeared faces.

Hellen looked over the team and bent down to pick up her shorts with a smile. They could win, they could really, truly, win.

***

Two days and a lot of hard celebration later. It was going to be at least a couple of days to get to Vegas and they had to make Fort Holly by tonight. That made for an early start when many of the girls were still sporting hangovers and bruises – not all of them from the match.

The sun wasn’t even up when they gathered, huddled and shuddering with the horizon lighting up with a slow, persistent glow. Touring was always a scary time, even when you were travelling by air, let alone on the roads. Rollerbrawl teams got a certain amount of leeway, but bandits could often let their greed overcome their respect and the different factions in the American wasteland would take anything they thought could give them an advantage over others.

Hellen had been laying off the celebrations, she’d been practising and tending to her painful hand. She shook it out now and the joints crackled, snapping into place. It was just about better. Good enough to take down the Showgirls, that was for certain.

Flint waved the bus on and the monstrous-looking Leyland Tiger rumbled forward, the side door flying open with a kick from the driver. It was a strange looking thing, raised up high on off-road tyres that had seen better days. Armour plating bolted and welded on along with a roll cage and extra fenders, festooned with spike. Stuck into the top was a drum like turret with a .50 browning stuck out at a crazy angle. The bus came to a rumbling halt by the team and the guy on the turret, teeth browned by tobacco, threw them a wink and a wave.

“Alright ladies, saddle up!” Flint shouted, spitting his toothpick to the dirt. He moved to the back and hustled everyone on board with shoves and smacks to the tush.

Hellen clambered up first, skates hanging around her neck, bag over her shoulder. The driver seemed nervous, a fixed grin on his face. He didn’t even glance at her chest. Who wouldn’t be intimidated by a bus full of wheeled Valkyries though? She didn’t think too much of it and pushed on past. Ah, that was it, she could feel his eyes on her from behind, he was just shy, how precious.

One by one they filed on, bags and boots, skates and pads, Bettie Page bangs and dead man’s curves, piling into their seats, lighting up smokes and chattering excitedly. Flint was on last, running a hand back through his hair he grasped hold of the pole at the front of the bus and gripped it tight, white knuckled. “Get yourselves settled girls and try to get as much rest as you can. It’s a long and bumpy road ahead and you need to be in top shape when we get there. You get me?”

A ragged cheer went up from the girls and a choking rumble started up from the engine of the bus. It lurched and pulled out onto the dusty road, picking up speed as it went. Flint nearly fell, swinging from the poll, bombarded with empty cigarette packets and flung stones. Always having to play dad to a gang of sapphic warriors, sometimes Hellen pitied him, but the old fool seemed to enjoy it.

The sun rose over the horizon, inch by agonising inch, red, then yellow, then white. The bus was an oven as the sun climbed in the sky higher and higher. Everyone was sweating but the spirits of the girls were still high. Flint was enduring the constant taunting and tossed detritus with stoic calm, even when Wheely bounced a too-tough piece of jerky off his head with such spectacular aplomb that the whole bus burst into spontaneous applause.

Becca and Farmer were spending the whole trip necking it seemed. Hellen smiled and shook her head, if they kept up the heavy petting they’d have no damn energy left for the competition. That was a concern, but so was the potential distraction to the driver who kept checking his mirror, distracted from peering through the armoured slit in the windshield.

“What the hell?” Donna slammed her hands against the window and half stood out of her seat. “The goddamn gunner just jumped off?”

“What?” Came from at least three directions at once and in that same moment there was a loud ‘clunk’ and the driver’s door opened. They watched in disbelief as he hurled himself from the bus, flying off into the dusty drifts at the side of the road.

The bus lurched left and right without a driver, swinging wildly over the road. Flint dove forward and grasped tight hold of the wheel but it was too late. The speeding bus ploughed into the dune drifts and bit into the ground, sliding and twisting onto its side, throwing everyone into a pile on the right hand side of the bus. Sparks flew up as it slid along the road and ground to a noisy halt, smoking and steaming.

Hellen was dizzy, the interior lights were off and lancing sunlight came through the gaps in the armour, haphazard in beams like heat-rays with dancing motes of dust drifting in their glow in the sudden silence.

“Ladies! Grab your gear and get out, now!” Hellen shouted, clambering out of her seat and smashing her motorcycle boots against the rear door, hammering hard until she felt it start to give. “Becca, go check on Flint!”

Hellen kept smashing at the door, with her feet and Angelicar clambered up next to her, giving it some extra beef to shift it. Finally, it started to give way. Damn thing should have been able to open, this must have been a trap.

Becca wailed from the other end of the bus as the girls scrambled for the exits. “He’s dead Hel! He’s dead! He’s caught under the wheel, I can’t get him out!”

Hellen ducked down again for a quick look, Becca’s cheeks were streaked with tear-tracked war paint and she was tugging uselessly at Flint’s crumpled body. The Coach had fought for them to the last. They probably owed him their lives already.

Leave him Bec, get back here and get out!”

Angelicar roared and shoved, thrusting the door open and scrambling out onto the side of the bus. Hellen hauled herself up with her arms, as though she were vaulting, swinging her legs through like a gymnast and dropping down to the asphalt in a crouch.

There was a squeal of tyres ahead and her head darted up. A pair of cars, armoured and brutal, swinging to a halt ahead of them.

Trouble.

No. More than trouble. The soft-top on the Caddy wrenched back and a man in a fedora stood tall, hoisting a bazooka up onto his shoulder.

Fuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuu…”

The world rolled with a deafening slap and blossomed into fire.

Read Full Post »