The Reaper Campaign
The corroded Chevy Colorado stood in the derelict mall’s car park, baking in the sun’s unforgiving glare. The old pickup was abandoned long ago. Its rusty exterior made the make and model almost unrecognisable. The wheels deflated, the rubber shredded with years of neglect.
The aging vehicle shared the sprawling flat space with some misshapen shopping trolleys, the once regimental lamp posts and a bent flagpole. The tattered ribbons of a half mast Star and Stripes fluttered pathetically in the breeze.
It brought a wry smile to the traveller’s face.
The weary scene was an appropriate metaphor for this once great nation. How poetic.
The shopping mall was the only building for miles. It was a ruin in a desert, in the middle of nothing. The connecting interstate was cracked and broken, going nowhere in a hurry. In many places the tarmac had gone. It was no longer of any use to latter day vehicles. Today, most vehicles were modified. Junkers. All-terrain vehicles those were adapted and jury-rigged to suit the worst kind of surface.
There were not any windows in the mall. Every pane of glass had been smashed. Rubbish and debris lay scattered on the jigsaws of broken flagstones.
Anything that had a use had gone. Everything else that was left was broken. The rest was beyond repair.
The ramshackle building looked like it wouldn’t survive the next strong gust of wind.
North lifted her hood and raised her gaze to the grey overcast skies looming in the distance. She loosened her tinted goggles, revealing piercing green eyes. The traveller gave a long wary look at just how dark the clouds were. She tucked a loose strand of autumn gold hair back behind her ear. She was anxious of her journey ahead.
A storm is coming.
North closed her eyes, fighting back the tears of loneliness. She nervously tugged at her braided fringe. It was a habit to remind her of her quest.
A reminder that the braid kept her long hair tucked away tidy for a reason. In a fight, long hair was a distraction.
I’m alone not lonely, she reassured herself.
North yearned to take out the tattered photograph of baby North and her mother cuddled together. It was now bleached with age but there was no mistaking the mother’s love for her baby. It was a mother’s love so strong that she sacrificed her life for her baby daughter.
She decided to leave the treasured photo safe in her journal. Now was not the time or the place. The valuable photo and journal would remain secure in the battered satchel that never left her sight.
The thick journal was a gift from her father. The poignant photograph was a surprise, secretly tucked away in the inlay of the leather cover. To be discovered on her journey. It was to inspire her. It was to give her the strength to keep the night terrors at bay. It was one of her most valuable belongings. Not that she owned a lot. The lone traveller had acquired the bare essentials to survive the desolate wastes.
The murderous wastes, North reminded herself. She would help change that. She would teach people to hope.
She patted the satchel for reassurance. It was to check if the journal and photo were still safe. They were still there.
North thought of the bombs that had killed her mom. She shuddered at the many bombs that destroyed America, killing thousands. Maybe even killing millions?
The bombs that created the savage world they somehow survived now.
This once great nation…
And we will try to rebuild her, she told herself. North’s inner voice was full of conviction and determination. We will spread the word of hope. We will inspire the people of the wastelands to get America back up to her feet. We will build her to the country’s former glory. However much of a struggle and a hardship, we will succeed. Together we will fight the evil that tears us apart. We will organize and become stronger.
Hope was a simple word that instils strength and courage.
But now, North had things to do. And amongst North’s highest priorities was to survive this night.
A strong wind tugged at her hooded travelling robes and weathered clothes. It whistled through the decrepit mall and car park, shifting debris and a large tumbleweed. It rolled across the car park bouncing off the lamp posts.
North watched, expecting the mall to collapse in a cloud of surrender and resignation. The swirling dust and the tattered flag were the only significant movement she had observed from her vantage point.
The tumbleweed weaved away, long gone on the warm desert winds.
She had made a secure nest for herself on a hill. It was a suitable place that overlooked the mall. From this distance she felt reasonably safe. North had watched the mall, patiently, for hours through her old pair of cracked military grade binoculars.
Nobody was here. She had surveyed the empty mall since daybreak. The shelves and aisles long pilfered, no longer a desperate prize for survivors and scavengers.
Her vigilant hours had passed with no sign of life. She was cautious. And caution saved lives.
North peered at the solitary pick up. It would be an ideal refuge for one or two nights before she continued on her journey to the village. The windows were intact. It would be a great shelter from the imminent storm. It could also be easily defended from all sides. And it would provide protection from the predators of the wastelands. It would be an excellent site for a fire and camp.
And that is what they would be expecting.
The three brothers knew where she was going. North had repeated her tales to many in Prospect. It was no secret where her journey would take her.
She had to complete the quest and get to the village of the Harbinger.
And they knew what direction she was going to after leaving Prospect. They knew they would catch her at the shopping mall. That was where they caught most of their travelling victims. If the brothers let their prize travel any further than the mall and the stragglers would become another man’s prey.
She packed her binoculars and collected the rest of her gear and hurried down to the Colorado.During the night, in the safety of the moonlit darkness, the raggedy three brothers strutted across the car park. They pushed at each other, goading themselves. They travelled from the direction of Prospect. They had no fear. And they had no intention of disguising where they had come from. There were never any survivors. The brothers noisily approached the fire and the Colorado. They were boastful about their sick intentions.
The driver’s door on the old Colorado was wide open. The three brothers could see the bed roll and the occupied sleeping bag laid out beneath a thick blanket. The girl was sleeping across the front seats. The rucksack was a makeshift pillow. Her worn boots sat in the foot well within reach, in case of a hasty exit. A small hanging flashlight dimly illuminated the cab of the Colorado. The outline of a semi-automatic pistol glistened bright, poised at the ready on the dashboard, within arm’s reach. A folded compound bow and its quiver lay resting against the wheel arch of the dormant vehicle. Her jacket and the hooded, travelling cape draped over the steering wheel.
The girl’s other belongings sat on the dented hood. Her binocular case and flask were standing upright on the roof.
The girl had made a meagre fire and was warming some grub.
The pretty traveller had made herself nice and cosy. It was a regular home from home.
But not for long. They had not travelled this far not to enjoy their prize. They collectively giggled at their victim’s fate. But they would have to be quick. Their loud boasts had shattered the element of surprise.
The flames of the desperate campfire flickered, casting moving shadows across the open space. Orange patterns danced and illuminated the Colorado and the make shift camp. A dirty pot of coffee bubbled next to a dented pan of cooking beans hanging above the fire from a makeshift spit. The strong aroma of the food made the camp seem reasonably homely.
“Get out here pretty bird!” They hollered at her.
“We are coming for you!” Gary tormented.
“We’ve got something for you!” They taunted her cruelly.
Before the two could reach the door of the rusted pick up, a cloaked figure stealthily stood up, disguised by the shifting shadows of the flames. The shape stood on the other side of the fire, unnoticed. A dirty tarpaulin slipped from its shoulders, dropping to the cracked ground underfoot.
North took a step forward from the fallen tarp. And she stopped.
She was dressed for a fight.
She had left her outer garments in the pickup. She was wearing no extra weight and no surplus kit.
North had her semi-automatic fixed on Barry.
If they hadn’t have been so desperate and taken the time to search the camp, they would have probably found me. But they had become blinded by their barbaric intentions. Their hungry eyes were set on their goal sleeping in the Colorado.
“Get away from my gear and get your hands so I can see them!”
A shocked Gary and Larry spun on their heels to the direction of the voice. Barry quickly looked up and stood aghast.
The three looked at each other for support. They were visibly startled. Their grubby hands hesitated, clutching at the air above their blunt knives.
Fancy bringing a knife to a gunfight, North mused.
Their lecherous taunts were replaced by quiet doubt. They looked pathetic and lost. Not unlike their victims no doubt, she told herself.
North had no sympathy for them. Not so brave now are you?
“Did you really think I was naive enough to set up camp in your little trap. The pickup? Right in the middle of the whole car park. A good secure spot. It has worked before, hasn’t it? Who would dare venture to the creepy old mall? Too many Lurkers in the shadows. So you set up the pickup. Lure the travellers in. But you were not expecting me. You were not expecting the sucker punch!”
Gary dropped his gaze and mumbled something to Larry.
Larry shook his head in return.
“And don’t any of you think about rushing me. Because if you do, I’ll gun you down where you stand, like the mangy dogs that you are!” North paused for affect, letting her deadly threat and steely gaze sink in. But North knew they were dumb enough to try to rush her.
The three brothers looked at each other and North knew she had to interrupt their train of thought. They were actually that dumb.
“Barry? Barry? You’ll be first. Then Gary; And Larry? You’ll be last! You see boys; I’ve been watching you too.” The steady gun switched between the three brothers.
“Larry?” North pointed the SA Officer firearm at the one she had named Larry. Her aim was strong and true.
“You’ve got a busted left leg, your standing leg. You don’t have the speed to rush me but you do have the speed to run home. Now. While I’m feeling generous. I’ll give you a chance to escape.. but it has to be now!” They all stood and waited.
Barry and Gary looked at Larry. And then they quickly looked back at the girl pointing the gun at him. It was unwavering. Her aim had never faltered. Larry did not move.
North let out an exaggerated sigh and tutted at Larry’s poor choice.
“Gary? Yes you!” Gary’s gormless face didn’t register any recognition. North was starting to get antsy and impatient. She didn’t want to monologue. The direction of the SA changed to the second brother. North cocked the hammer of the pistol with a loud audible click. Now she had Gary’s full attention.
“Gary? Sorry, no offence but you’re just plain fucking stupid. Unpredictable. Who knows what you’ll do. Hopefully when you see Barry die, you’ll run. But you’re that stupid, you won’t. So I can predict this… I’m going to have to kill you after Barry!” The other two looked at Gary. They stood motionless.
“Now that leaves you Barry. The smartest and quickest. The biggest and baddest. The brains behind the outfit. The worst kind of bully. Now for some friendly advice. Leave me the fuck alone and go back to town. You see, I’ve discovered your dirty little secret. The bunker beneath the mall. The cells. Your sick little trophy room. I’ve found the bodies. How many? Twenty? Thirty? Helpless travellers wanting a fresh start in life? And you butchered them. Whole families, murdered.”
North could have easily cried at the awful thought of it all. The slaughtered children.
She gazed toward the mall.
“I’ve found the women too and released them. They’ll survive. I’ve told to them to head back to town. They’ve got the clothes, supplies and a map to get to Prospect.” North paused and forced the next questions.
“Do you keep the women alive long enough ’til you capture the next victim? Like me? Was I the next victim? You sick bastards!”
The three brothers looked at each other. Fear and panic had replaced their shock. North tightened her grip on her pistol and strengthened her stance.
North slowly shook her head at the three.
“Oh…. but you can’t go back to town. Your reign of terror is finished. I remember now. You see, they will be ready for you. Prospect. I gave them enough time to get ready for your return. I tempted you out of town. I suckered you out. We all knew you’d follow me. They are sick of your shit. The good people of Prospect are not going to stand for your crap no more! If you go back to town, they’ll sentence you to the gallows. And who could blame them. After the years of suffering you three have put them through. You have gleefully terrorized them. But now they are ready to strike back. I told them not to fear you. I have given them hope.”
North watched as Barry sneered at her defiantly.
“Not what Barry?” North asked impatiently, cutting him off. She brandished the weapon at him as if to make a point.
“…the brains behind the outfit!” Barry’s voice was matter of fact. His panic was replaced by calm reassurance.
A confused North was surprised by the strength of the arms that grabbed her abruptly from behind. She let out a startled yelp as she was almost bundled to the floor. But the iron grip behind her gathered her up and lifted her off the concrete.
They had brought a fourth!
A fourth brother!
She hadn’t expected that. She had underestimated them. How stupid and thoughtless of her. If I survive this…
Then North realized that she might not have the opportunity to give the fourth brother a name.
And it seemed that by the size of the brute behind her, Barry wasn’t the biggest and baddest anymore.
The strong, muscular arms had North round the upper torso and easily lifted her off the cracked concrete. She couldn’t raise her trapped upper arms. Fortunately for North, the gun had not dropped to the ground when she was attacked.
North watched in horror as the three brothers decided they were now brave enough to rush her.
Yeah because I’m trapped, she thought.
She had to act quickly. She wondered if her training would save her. Images flashed of her in training. Endless lessons on being taught how to use a firearm. North recollected the faded faces of the teachers and instructors. The long days of punishing lessons. The dry drills. The live round exercises. Strip and clean. Reassemble. It was repeated over and over until it became muscle memory.
Now was the time to stay calm and survive. North attempted to control her rapid breathing.
Barry had moved round and cleared the campfire. Blood lust had quickly replaced the humiliation in his face. There was evil in his greedy stare. His eyes and teeth flashed red from the flames. He looked like the devil.
Barry was going to have the last laugh. He would teach her a few things about the secrets of the mall.
The pretty traveller relaxed her body. She waited until she was lifted again. North arched her back. And the fourth brother lifted her and squeezed tighter. One more lift should do it. She wriggled downward and was promptly lifted upward again.
Barry closed the space between them very quickly.
She pulled her arms up from the elbows; North raised the semi-automatic and gently squeezed the trigger. She shot at the fast approaching Barry.
The round exploded from the gun with a flash, then a deafening crack and hit Barry, point blank in the face. Her aim was accurate.
Barry’s contorted facial features seemed to disappear within themselves. The round exploded from the back of his head. Red brain and skull matter mixed with a pink bloody mist filled the air. He stumbled and collapsed to the floor with a sickening dull thud. His final breath wheezed through his shattered mouth as he skidded across the dust.
The fourth brother squeezed harder, determined to crush the life out of North.
Concentrate, North commanded herself.
Gary and Larry screamed and howled defiantly as they continued to sprint toward her.
Barry was dead and the girl would pay!
North could make out their dark murderous shapes, growing larger as her eyesight blurred. They were getting closer. And fast.
As the fourth brother violently flung and shook North about. She emptied her clip, spraying her rounds across the camp, in a blind panic now, buying her time. She prayed that one stray bullet had the good fortune to hit one of the advancing brothers. She prayed.
North could hear the occasional round ricochet off the car park concrete and a stray round hit the rusty Colorado. That should slow the two brothers down, she hoped.
Vivid colours flashed in the black of her fading vision. The last round was aimed at the thug’s foot. It sparked off the concrete. It missed her target and it made him more determined. He squeezed harder.
North relaxed her grip on her SA Officer. The semi-automatic slipped from her aching fingers. She felt vulnerable as the gun clattered and skidded away from her.
North focused, pushing the feeling of hopelessness away. The gun has gone. Move on!
She blocked out the howls of the two advancing brothers. She silenced the ringing in her ears. North ignored the crushing force that suffocated her screaming chest.
Pain is a ball.
Throw the ball away.
And the lone traveller was prepared for a fight.
North crossed her arms and her slender fingers found the hidden knives strapped to her forearms. She gripped the handles as tight as she could. She could not afford to drop them, not now.
With her eyes closed, North concentrated on the brawny fourth brother. He seemed huge, looming behind her. The new attacker’s bulky frame was going to; hopefully, make a larger target for the knives to hit.
North pulled the knives from their scabbards and in one swift, deliberate movement she plunged the knives into the thighs of the unnamed assailant. The sharp blades were buried up to their hilts. She retrieved the blades and rapidly stabbed again, over and over again.
It was a distraction.
His deathly hug slackened slightly.
Another ferocious attack of her blades bought her precious time.
The strength in his arms lessened.
Her hands were wet with blood as she twisted the knives and savagely pulled them out of the muscly flesh one last time.
Another howl filled the night sky. The thick arms released North, accompanied by a roar of pain.
She greedily gulped at the fresh air, filling her empty lungs. She dropped from the grip of the fourth brother, kicking herself away from him to gain more space between them.
The corpse of Barry broke her fall. The knives slipping from her grasp as she landed clumsily.
North quickly stood up. She had no time to look for the bloody knives or the gun in the shadows. No time at all.
Gary and Larry seemed to be on her in a flash. But the two were not expecting to be attacked. They were predators.
North shoulder barged Gary, knocking him side wards and made a lunge for Larry. She grabbed at his jacket collar, spinning him round, her elbows cracking him in his jaw. North used his momentum against him. Keeping Larry as an obstacle between Gary and herself and she continued the spin.
Larry’s hands grabbed at her, flailing, trying to find some purchase to hold her. But North was quick, she twisted her body and her heavy boots kicked out at his lame leg.
The heavy combat boots made solid contact.
With an audible pop, Larry’s knee gave way, under the combined weight of the two; he went crashing to the ground. He was clutching his knee, screaming in pain.
North rapidly released him and landed on her feet, shakily.
The writhing Larry laid in-between Gary and her. North was embarrassed at his whimpering.
Now Gary, she contemplated.
The two stood staring at each other. There was murder in Gary’s eyes. His mouth pulled back in a snarl, baring dark frothy spit on his black and rotten teeth. Blood covered one half of his face.
It looked like one of her random bullets had grazed Gary’s head, the same round taking the top of his right ear.
No wonder he looked pissed off.
Gary spat a mouthful of thick blood at North and began to run at her.
North emptied her head of any emotion. Keep calm. She wasn’t going to allow herself to get distracted. Gary was unpredictable and stupid.
She had to get to the fire. And keep a healthy space between them. She didn’t have the strength or energy to fight them all.
Get to the fire!
North jinked one way and went the other, running quickly in the direction of the flames, her boots losing momentum, slipping in the dust. She heard Gary’s disapproving grunts as he followed her. He was rushing to close the gap.
The last thing North expected was to be pushed. She would have been prepared for being grabbed. But her momentum carried her headlong toward the fire. Hands out in front of her, she skated painfully across the concrete. North landed in a heap, winded, face down in the dirt.
North made a desperate grab for the fire but was abruptly pulled back by her boots. She jarred her chin and smacked her nose painfully on the concrete. Stars filled her vision. Her nose and chin started bleed from the impact to the hard surface. She kicked out blindly, thrashing her legs out to defend herself. Not allowing her attacker to get a secure hold on her.
The raging Gary grabbed North by the back of her combat vest, trying to pull her up. He lifted her aggressively off the floor.
North cleared her head of spinning stars and fumbled with the clips on her carefully chosen clothing.
As Gary pulled her closer, North released the clips and escaped the captured vest. The injured Gary staggered backwards as North collapsed to her bruised knees.
You have to act fast! Get up!
North scuttled and crawled towards the fire and reached above the flames toward the spit.
She could hear Gary almost upon her.
Her fingers found and gripped the familiar woven handle of her katana. The welcoming warm grip filled her with renewed strength.
The legendary Japanese fighting sword had sat above the flames, disguised as the spit.
North pulled the unsheathed blade from the two rests that stood either side of the fire.
The coffee and beans hissed as they hit the heat of the fire, spilling into the flames. The pot and pan clattered to the floor.
In one faultless movement North spun round, blade aloft to face Gary.
A blood stained Gary looked perplexed as he stood, staring at the new threat before him. The girl had a dangerous looking sword!
He did not look well. Gary’s face drained of any colour, he looked incredibly pale under the thick dry blood that covered half of his face.
North stood straight and rolled her shoulders, gathering herself from her balletic pirouette.
The katana hung parallel to her right leg, dangling from her relaxed grip. There was red dripping from its extremely sharp blade, into a pool of blood that collected next to North’s right boot.
North and Gary faced each other.
It was to be their last battle.
It looked like Gary was weighing up his next move. He was very hesitant about rushing an opponent with such a sharp looking sword. He dropped her vest to the concrete and offered his open hands to her in a shrug. Maybe he wasn’t that stupid after all.
North wondered, looking into Gary’s eyes, what he was before the bombs. Was he a caring family man or was he always a murderer?
A creature of circumstance.
Either way, it no longer mattered.
There was a sickening wet, heavy splat as Gary’s warm guts dropped onto the concrete.
North’s hard and unforgiving stare never left Gary’s face.
“Why?” Gary uttered the one incredulous word before he slowly keeled over and died, face down in his own mess.
North did not dwell over his question; she stepped over the body and rapidly looked for the other two attackers. She bent down and wiped her katana on the back off Gary’s rag of a jacket. When she was satisfied the blade was clean she reached out and collected her combat vest off the ground.
North wasn’t too pleased it had splatter of Gary on. It better wash out. Before she stood up North untied and kept the laces from Gary’s worn boots, stuffing them in the thigh pockets of her combat trousers.
North rose up from her haunches and watched, looking for the other two again. The gleaming katana hung by her side.
Larry had gone.
The fourth brother sat next to the corpse of Barry. North wondered if he had found her knives or worse he might have got the SA firearm. North would not take the risk. She would not take for granted he had not found them.
North turned back and strode purposefully to the Colorado.
Once at the forlorn vehicle, North swung the combat vest on over her grandad top. She grabbed for her webbing and scabbard and put them on. She fastened and tightened the harnesses and shrugged her body for any signs of hindrance or discomfort. The vest and webbing sat comfortably. North pulled the laces out of her pocket. She yanked them, testing their strength, once satisfied she tied them to her webbing in a quick release knot.
With great finesse North sheathed her katana in the scabbard between her shoulder blades.
North tidied her belongings into the cab of the Chevy, grabbed the essentials and kicked the door shut. Her gear had done the trick. It was enough to sucker the brothers, to distract them away from her and stealthy appearance.
She stooped and picked up her folded compound bow. With a quick flick of her wrist, the bow folded out. North tested the strings, bow sights and cams. The would-be archer cocked the bow string and placed a high tensile arrow that she’d pulled from the quiver that was leaning against the wheel arch.
North methodically turned round, facing the gloom of the car park beyond the campfire. She raised the bow to her face. North found the bulky shape of her shadowy target through her peep sights. She relaxed her fingers and slowly released the arrow. The projectile fizzed across the car park.
Another scream of pain emitted from the fourth brother. It wasn’t going too well for him tonight.
Satisfied that her target was going nowhere, North walked round the fire to confront the unnamed brother.
The dark clouds erupted with a flash of lightning, illuminating the night.
North caught the silhouette of the crippled Larry as he shone out in the car park; he was hunched over, limping heavily. He was headed home. Not that Prospect ever wanted him back.
The crash of thunder was ear splitting. North flinched at the noise. The storm was right above them now. The rain started to fall abruptly in cold fat droplets.
By the time North finished her steady walk and stood before the fourth brother, they were both soaked to the skin.
The brute was sitting in a large puddle, now red from the deep wounds in his thighs. His legs open in a “V”.
This guy is not having the best of luck.
Lightning flashed once again, temporarily blinding the both of them.
The horrifying realisation of who the fourth brother was revealed. It was terrible shock for North. She felt her skin crawl in revulsion. His identity was revealed as a negative, scorched on her mind’s eye.
Dr Richard Schneider! He was an Elder on the council of Prospect. He was a school teacher.
“Thorn Evans. What have you to me?” He enquired weakly.
“Not enough Dr Schneider. It seems. You are still alive.”
North inspected her bloody handiwork. He sat, both legs badly cut open, the doctor was bleeding profusely. Her high tensile arrow skewered his right wrist at the joint, pinning his hand to his right leg. In the trapped hand, his incapacitated fingers held her SA Officer firearm. It pointed safely to the ground. His left hand was reached over, clutching the base of the arrow. He was trying to ease the excruciating discomfort in his skewered limbs.
North took a stride forward and swung her bow over her shoulder. She forcibly stepped on to the Elder’s left forearm, pinning down his limbs and trapping her semi-automatic. North grabbed the arrow. “This is gonna hurt..!” She pulled the arrow free of his broken wrist. Not taking any care. The arrow could be heard grinding his shattered bones. She crouched to Schneider’s eye level. And North stared into his face as he screamed once more.
With her right hand, North prized open his stiff fingers and claimed her firearm back. The trained marksman changed the empty clip for a full magazine in a flash then she spun the firearm round her finger like a seasoned gunslinger and placed it back in its holster, in a well-practiced move.
North stood up, pushing aggressively off his injured limbs, looking down in disgust at the badly injured Elder. “You betrayed all those people. You betrayed me.”
“And who are you? What makes you so fucking special?” Schneider was seething his words through gritted teeth. His eyes squeezed tight shut. “You spout this shit of hope! You’re deluded. You deserve everything that’s coming to ya!”
“Shhh.” North quietly hushed the doctor as she took the compound bow from off her shoulder, carefully placed the bloody arrow against the string. She slowly eased the arrow back toward her. The cam and idler wheel revolved as the string arched the limbs of the bow back with a quiet metallic creak.
North released the nocking loop. The steady arrow sliced the heavy rain in the direction of the retreating Larry.
Another flash of lightning illuminated the night. Larry was now on his back. The arrow had passed straight through his right leg. He was rocking back and forth. The pain in his lame leg was forgotten as he screeched at the arrow that had penetrated and ruined his good knee.
“You were saying, Dr Schneider? Now you have my full attention.”
A rumble of distant thunder was evidence that the storm clouds were passing.
“Have you nothing to say, doctor?”
The doctor was trying to overcome the surges of pain that washed over him in waves. His eyes squinting as he grimaced and groaned.
“No final words of remorse?”
“Fuck you Evans! I’ve no remorse. Everything I did, I did for Prospect. We had to survive. And every season it was getting more and more difficult. Travellers would pass through Prospect. They would never stay. They’d say their thanks and leave. Fuck you very much. They’d give us nothing. Nothing in return. We’d feed them and give them supplies. If we decided not be so kind and generous, they would steal it anyway. They would greedily take and take. And we would end up with less and less. Our people would leave. Families would follow the promise of a better life. That was our bloodline. It was our future. I woke up one night to find that my wife and kids had gone, they’d fucked off with a group who preached the same broken promises.” Schneider paused for breath. He opened his eyes and stared accusingly at North.
“Just like the shit you’re trying to sell. Promises? Promises of what? What can you give them? The world is fucked. We are all fucked. I did what any decent husband would do. I had to get my wife back.” The doctor paused. He struggled to shape his words into coherent sentences. He sobbed and grimaced in pain.
There was another distant flash of lightning. And then a quiet rumble of thunder. The storm had passed but the rain had not lessoned any.
North folded the bow efficiently away. She pulled the collar of her combat vest tighter. It was futile of course. They were both drenched. They faced each other. North wiped the blood from her nose and chin. Her clothes already stained.
“My wife was never gonna come back. Said it was my fault that I was so blinkered. I was suffocating the town. Me and the Elders. Said we had too much power for simple men. We argued. I couldn’t change her mind. She had been brainwashed. She wouldn’t accept I was her future. We fought. I killed her. I killed them all. Not the children. The kids were our bloodline.” His voice faded to a whisper. His head nodded slowly, North kicked the puddle in his face to jolt his attention. It looked like Schneider was crying tears of blood.
“You’re not dying yet. Wake up!”
“Christ! You’re gonna rot in Hell for this.”
“Ladies first.” North simply replied. “Finish your tale. Try and justify yourself.”
“I don’t have to justify myself to you!” North lashed out in anger and kicked his boot. The doctor flinched in pain as he was reminded he was in no longer able to call the shots.
“I couldn’t leave my wife in the desert. I remembered the old mall. I brought her here. Her body would be safe from the predators that would have fed on her. I made it back to town and grabbed the guys.” Schneider had a coughing fit.
“The kids never knew what I’d done. I just said that Mommy left for a better life and would come back one day and take us too.”
Schneider drifted off, his eyes grew heavy. It was a struggle for him to stay alive.
“The guys?” North was losing patience and kicked him again.
“Prospect survived because of me. They owe me their lives! Me and the guys found the bunker. There was food that lasted for months. We did away with the men. We hung them out to dry, let the vultures enjoy the feast. We claimed our stuff back. And we kept the women. We broke them. Believe me when given a choice; they preferred Prospect to the mall. Our bloodline survived. And the guys kept quiet cos they could have their fun. Their thrills were payment enough.”
His voice started to rasp. The doctor finished his explanation in a hoarse whisper. He looked very weak.
“What about the children?” North shouted at the dying man in front of her. She couldn’t kick him because she knew if she started now she wouldn’t stop until he was dead.
“What about the kids?” Louder this time, hopefully enough to startle him back to the land of the living.
Doctor Richard Schneider never opened his eyes again. His head slumped to his chest. Then, in what seemed like an afterthought, he whispered to her in a dry uneven voice.
“We kept the healthy ones.”
North stared at him in disbelief.
“The healthy ones?” Those three words are going haunt me. Haunt me in that death rattle of a whisper.
North scoffed angrily.
“How could you decide that? The healthy ones? And you criticise the shit that I sell?”
She found the mini flashlight in her pocket and clicked it on. The beam illuminated the doctor. His breathing was laboured. And getting quieter. He wouldn’t have had the strength to answer her questions. North removed his laces. Tested their strength and tied them to her webbing. With a couple of sweeps of the flashlight she found her bloody knives. She cleaned them and placed them back securely in their scabbards on her forearms.
“You know, I thought I was gonna struggle giving you a name… Dick!”
An angry North turned away from the dead Dick and marched in the direction of the crippled Larry.
She was sick to the stomach, raging at the doctor’s confession. How could anyone justify that? North felt like killing him again.
Larry lay in a rocking heap near the edge of the car park. Doctor Dick Schneider can die by himself. I’ll let Larry fill in the blanks.
It did not take long to cover the distance to catch up with immobile Larry. But in that short time that it took to cover the ground North did not want to hear Larry’s confession. Schneider’s pitiful words turned her stomach enough.
“Thought you’d made it, huh? You thought you’d escaped?” she scowled at her victim.
North kicked his hands away with a hefty clout of her boot. His fingers crunched.
“I said you’d be the last to get it. To be honest though, I genuinely was not expecting Dick to creep up behind me. It kind of changed the order of things. But there you go. I caught up with you in the end though.”
North grabbed Larry’s boot abruptly and straightened the leg which had the arrow through the knee. It did not matter to North which leg she chose, both would have equally painful.
North inspected her arrow, she found that it was damaged and beyond repair so she decided it was best left protruding out of Larry’s leg.
North removed his laces from both boots. Each time she jerked or pulled Larry screamed out in agony. She was way past listening to his pleas for mercy. She kicked Larry in the top of the thigh. It caused Larry to involuntary curl up into a ball. North quickly grabbed both of his wrists and tied them under his bent legs. She gave a hefty tug to see that the knot lasted. It was strong enough for the job in hand.
She stood over the whimpering Larry, took a deep breath and pulled him back across the wet car park. North’s anger and disgust for him made the task that little bit easier to do.
Larry’s screams echoed through the night.