I had a new character portrait done for the character in my other blog and I think it’s cool so I’m posting it here too.
There isn’t much traffic on eighty these days. When we were at the pop-up flea market (with plenty of actual fleas) Queen/King Big Belly made a big production out of trade being the lifeblood of the land and so on and so forth and how important it was for the Roadrunners (meep-meep) to maintain control of eighty because if the Invincible or other wicked groups from the north got their mitts on it, trade would be strangled and everyone would die. The Roadrunners are big heroes you see. But we’ve only seen one other vehicle on the road.
That vehicle – which was something that looked like the love child of a nineteen-fifties Oldsmobile Ninety-Eight Holiday Coupe and a World War two armored bulldozer (with a couple whirling blades for good measure) – blew past us headed the other way. Didn’t seem like the kind of thing that could carry a lot of trade goods to me. Hard to see how it could have been an important lifeline for delivering hope to the wasteland.
Whatever it was, it had a cheetah painted on the side, which begs the question; how do these people know what a cheetah is? I’ve never seen a cheetah at a zoo, so it can’t be that after the end of the world they got out of the cages and started breeding and they live in northern California now. Martialla claims that there used to be cheetahs in North America but they died out thousands of years ago.
Even if that was true, what is she implying with that information? That somehow the collapse of human civilization caused extinct species to come back like magic? Whenever I say something like that to her, she reminds me that there was a bug man at the swap meet. It’s annoying because I can’t really say shit after that.
That all changed today though. We saw plenty of vehicles today.
Martialla was busting my tits about drinking too much and I was reminding her that my wrist is broken (or sprained maybe, or just hurts maybe) so I’m allowed to drink for medicinal purposes and so she said that I shouldn’t be the one driving then and then I said that I didn’t think there were going to be any sobriety checkpoints and then she said I was missing the point, etc. I’m just setting the scene here, Martialla was carping at me in that shrill tone she gets sometimes when we came upon a hell of a sight.
We parked like two lovers (or more commonly one lover and one apathetic go along to get along participant) on make-out point to check it out. I think we were somewhere in the vicinity of Rollins Lake, there was no lake anymore but there was a weird series of depressions that looked like where a lake might have been to me. Skirting those depressions, there was a thing crawling along that looked like one of those giant mining trucks with the bed (or whatever) removed and in its place stacked side by side boxcars from a train. Flanking it were a few vehicles that were long and low like a flatbed only they had trucks at both ends seemingly. Around that was a swarm of crude dirt bikes.
But that was just the beginning. That mass of machinery was all headed the same way, there was a second blob of machines that was coming at them – a madman’s delight (not a rapper’s delight sadly) of buggies and trikes and things that sort of looked like buses and everything in between. Many, but by no means all, of the vehicles in this second group had a sort of stylized fist painted on them that I’ve been told is the symbol of the Invincible. It was like stumbling on the world’s biggest demolition derby, only this one also had guns and people being run over.
There was gunfire but there were also people throwing rocks and chucking sharpened sticks and whatnot. It’s pretty strange to see a dude on a motorcycle with a lance like a medieval knight. After watching for a minute, it seemed like most of the guns were on the Invincible side. I suppose if you have rifles and everyone else has javelins and slingshots, that’s how you end up with a name like the Invincible. Based on Martialla’s inexpert analysis, in addition to being better armed she thought that the fist boys had a five to one advantage in numbers as well, and overall their vehicles were better. I told her that I didn’t think that was very sporting. She dropped our newly acquired binoculars and looked over at me.
“What rational person would ever want to give their enemy a sporting chance?”
A fair point. There’s three million people in LA, and I believe about nineteen million cars on the LA streets. Er, there were I mean since they’re all gone now. Suddenly being alone with Martialla most of the time was eerie coming from that crowded life. After a few days (and/or a hundred years) of seeing few people and fewer cars, somehow coming upon this scene was even more startling. It’s like being in pitch black and then having a light flare up in your face. My first thought was that the scene reminded me of an ant colony attacking a fallen ice cream bar. Only the ice cream bar was full of blood and bits of metal.
Martialla and I watched the carnage in silence for a while, only partially because of morbidness (is that a word? I guess it is now since I’m in charge of the English language now). The other reason we watched being that sadly, it reminded us of rush hour traffic on the one ten and was therefore one of the most familiar things we’ve seen lately.
I handed the binoculars back to Martialla “Should we do something?”
She frowned back at me “Like what? You want to drive into that mess? Do to what?”
I gestured vaguely “I don’t know, to help . . . someone.”
Martialla raised an eyebrow “Who?”
“You know . . . whoever the good guys are.”
“Well, if the good guys are the ones getting their asses kicked, there’s nothing we can do about it. And if they’re the ones doing the ass kicking, they don’t need our help do they? Not to mention which, I have a strong feeling that we’re not in a good guy-bad guy world here. For that matter, it’s highly questionable if the one we came from was ever that.”
Before I could respond, as if to prove her point, we were both startled out of our britches by the sound of a bullet pinging off J-Lo.
One unexpected side effect of starting a WordPress blog is the many other blogs I’ve started reading. There’s a few oddballs in the mix but they generally fall into three categories –
RPG blogs (mostly D&D since that’s the most popular RPG by a substantial margin these days) that I read to get ideas for RPGs and to shake my head at how the young people play RPGs these days and lament that the world I grew up in in gone.
Movie review blogs that I read because I enjoy how upset everyone gets by each new Marvel movie (and Star Wars to a lesser degree) because it RUINED everything because there was a female character in it.
And horror movie blogs. I enjoy the occasional horror movie but I am by no means a big horror guy. My sister is a huge horror movie fan. She honestly tries to see EVERY horror movie that comes out each year. It’s crazy. I like reading these blogs because I enjoy how into it people are. People who are really into horror movies are REALLY into horror movies. There’s been so much written about Friday the 13th and what’s really going on there and which movies should be “canon” that there should be a Wu-Tang American Tale style documentary about it.
This is how I learned that Friday the 13th Part 9: Jason Goes to Hell is generally reviled by the Jasonheads out there. I get why you wouldn’t like it, if you’re really into the Jasonverse, making Jason a Deadite and the Voorhees family Deadite cultists does pretty much overturn the mythology they had going. It’s not as bad a Midi-chlorians to Star Wars people but its close.
As a casual horror fan though I love Jason 9 the most, and not because of the Deadite thing, even though I am a fan of the Evil Dead. I love it because of the opening scene.
If you’re not familiar the opening scene is a sexy lady (the same actress who did the nude karate fight in Point Break which was the greatest thing I had ever seen when I was a young fella) going up to Camp Crystal Lake alone. She goes into a creepy old cabin and immediately gets naked. Which of course is how you summon Jason. Sidenote, I one time wrote a Friday the 13th script where a lady gets naked and Jason doesn’t show up and it makes her self-conscious that she’s not attractive enough to get the attention of a supernatural killing machine. That’s probably not okay anymore but I think that was in 1998 so I’ll forgive myself on your behalf.
Anyway, Jason shows up and nudity 2-shoes dodges the machete attack and after falling off a balcony onto a coffee table she springs away like a gazelle. At some point she wraps herself in a towel because as we learned from Zombieland no one wants to see a naked woman running full speed.
Jason chases after her and she leads him into a trap where a small army of FBI dudes shoot Jason to pieces with an illogically wide array of firearms. Also they appear to be in each other’s line of fire, but whatever. Dudes even quick-rope down trees with assault rifles to get in on the action. And then the pièce de résistance, after shooting Jason several hundred times the FBI guys all hit the deck and they finish him off with a mortar attack.
This is awesome. But it also does what any great film does, it makes us think. What did the FBI know about Jason? And what does that imply? Some people (you know the type) have tried to say that the FBI was just going after a serial killer, but to them I say – you don’t have small artillery weapons for close fire support at the ready to blow up a serial killer. Even in the 90’s you’d get in a lot of trouble for that. To me this clearly indicates that they knew they were dealing with something supernatural.
I submit that the FBI had collected all the details of the many times Jason has been dealt “fatal” wounds and shook them off, and the times that he had “died” and come back. And based on this they decided to try some good old fashioned heavy firepower. Let’s blow this fucker up with a mortar and see what happens.
So, we have to wonder, is this the first time the FBI acknowledges and deals with a supernatural threat? If not was there a special unit that deals with that kind of thing? This is what I need to know more about. Has there been some FBI agent out there (Mulder?) for 20 years trying to get attention to this Jason Vorhees thing and someone finally paid attention to him?
Or was the FBI supernatural kill unit born after the federal raid on Innsmouth, Massachusetts in 1928? These are the questions I want answered. Were the people that killed Jason (he came back don’t worry) working on a pill to protect teenagers from Freddie Kruger and other dream masters? Were they trying to figure out a way to harness the power of the Hellrasier dimension to create portal that would generate unlimited free clean energy? Did they have a Chucky operation in the works?
The Chucky angle is especially interesting. Eddie Caputo is a serial killer who manages to voodoo throw his soul into a doll. I have to assume the FBI was already on his trail since they deal with serial killers, and the information that voodoo can throw souls around is something that it seems like they would be interested in. Not very PC since voodoo is a real religion, but what can you do? If not Innsmouth maybe the FBI magic division came sprang from the Chucky case and they started recruiting people with knowledge of African diaspora religions to build their new squad.
And what about the army? When they heard about Jason did they want to learn his secrets so they could build an army of nigh-invulnerable Jason-like soldiers to take out the Russians? Did the FBI have to work against them as well to prevent that horrific dabbling? What did POTUS have to say about it? What about the Supreme Court? Does the Bill of Rights extend to supernatural entities? Does Jason have civil rights?
But that’s not even the most interesting question raised by Jason 9. The real story I want to know is what the heck is going on with Creighton Dukes?
So Dukes goes out to Camp Crystal Lake as a teen and Jason murders his girlfriend so he dedicates his life to learning about how to defeat him. Uh, excuse me? How does one study Jason? Where does that information come from? Is there a Jason section in the library I don’t know about?
And why does he break that dorky dude’s fingers as “payment” for telling him what the hell is going on? Is he magic and he draws power from pain? He later produces a magic dagger that is the only way to kill Jason. I submit that he’s a magic man and he made that dagger. His girlfriend was murdered and he traveled the world Dr. Strange style looking for true magic and he found it. And now he lives in an armored compound and has brought in six serial killers as a bounty hunter. I want to know more about this dude.
He tells Jessica Kimble that she’s the only one who can kill Jason because she’s actually Jaon’s niece. How would he know that? Because he’s the one who did the magic on the dagger of course. It all makes sense.
And while we’re on the subject of the Kimbles, Diana Kimble is Jason’s half-sister, the daughter of Elias Voorhees. We don’t know much about Elias Vorhees, but we do know that he’s “far more evil than Jason” and he was killed by Momma Vorhees for beating Jason. Oh, and we know that his great-great-great-grandfather was a warlock who was maybe burned alive when girls started going missing in Salem Massachusetts.
So Diana is the daughter of this dude and whom? And how did it all go down? Does she really not know the deal? She was hanging around Crystal Lake working at a diner, can that be coincidence? Was there waiting for the day the dude with the magic dagger would show up so she could kill Jason? She tells the dorky dude I mentioned before that they need to talk about Jessica. She’s killed before she can give much exposition but that implies that she knew something about what was going on. Is she magic too? Was her mother a witch? Did she specifically seek out Elias to get pregnant because he knew that only a Vorhees could kill Jason and she was getting the bloodline going for that specific purpose? I need to know.
While the Roadrunners and the traders and other flotsam were breaking up and driving out into the morning sun, Martialla and I sat on our new car and watched them disperse. She looked over at me and asked what we were going to do next. Wonderful question. We have transportation and all the “food” and (sort of) clean water we can carry. Now what? Then she answered her own question because she’s an incredibly rude person.
“Do we wander the earth like Caine from Kung-Fu?” I sighed and shook my head at her nonsense. “You were in an episode of Kung Fu the Legend Continues, so don’t you roll your eyes at me about Caine from Kung Fu!”
I grunted a mild admission “That wasn’t a bad part.”
“For you maybe, I broke my coccyx falling out of that window.”
“Occupational hazard. If you wanted to be on screen without being set on fire or run over or hurled into a crash pad, you should have been prettier.”
“And learned to act.”
“Well, acting ability doesn’t hurt none but it’s not strictly necessary for an actress either. I mean look at Pam Anderson.”
“I thought for sure you were going to go J-Lo on that one.”
I rolled off the car “Speaking of, that’s what I’m going to call our new wheels.”
Martialla slowly slide off to her feet as well “Let me guess, because it’s ugly and has a big rear end?”
I hopped into the driver’s seat Dukes of Hazzard style “And because getting inside is no problem at all.”
Martialla gingerly climbed in on the other side “There are no doors and the windows are literally armored plates, it’s not easy to get into at all. Are you ever going to let up on Jennifer Lopez? She’s long dead, if there was ever a point to your constant trashing, it’s long gone now.”
“Shows what you know about being a catty bitch.”
“You are the expert there.”
I reached over and gave her a sisterly pat on the shoulder “Don’t sell yourself short Mar, you can be an enormous bitch when you put your mind to it. You just need to practice. I’m thinking we should head for Colorado Springs.”
Martialla looked out the window as if she could see it in the distance “Peterson Air Force Base?”
I nodded “The ever same. If the NORAD headquarters don’t have apocalypse-proof bomb shelters, I don’t know who does.”
She grinned “Mr. President we must not allow a MINESHAFT GAP!”
“I told you before Martialla, don’t be a dork, I can’t abide it. I wonder what the plans were in terms of nuclear annihilation. Hide out under the mountains of course, but then what? If that was really a hundred years ago, what is going to be going on there now? Will they still be underground, ignorant of the world above?”
Martialla smiled brightly “Only one way to find out. How do you propose we get there? When you asked for a map all they could do was show you a piece of metal with some wavy lines gouged into it.”
I shrugged “The road goes east, sort of, we’ll figure it out as we go.”
“That sounds like a great way to run out of fuel in the middle of nowhere and starve to death.”
“Don’t be silly Martialla, you know we’d die of dehydration long before we starved to death.”
You’re mostly likely saying to yourself “Ela why are you the one behind the wheel? I thought Martialla was your driver.” I’ll tell you why, thanks for asking. I went to stunt driving school to try and get a part in a movie called Speed Demon. Not because I would actually be doing any stung driving in the movie had I gotten the part, but because that’s the kind of thing that impresses casting directors. Sometimes. You really never know what casting directors are going to do. Other than try to get you naked. Even the women. Especially the women sometimes.
Speed Demon never did end up in production because the entire pitch was a scam cooked up by Joshua Jackson so he could try and strong arm his way into that stupid Fast & Furious movie. Which didn’t even work by the way. You wasted everyone’s time and money Joshua Jackson and I hope that when society crumbled you were taken as a warlord’s concubine. I’m sorry guys, I don’t mean that, I shouldn’t make light of sexual assault. I just hope he got ran over by a cement truck.
Anyway, I found out in stunt class that I’m a pretty good driver. After Speed Demon fell apart, for fun I went to a racing school and did pretty good there as well. One of the instructors there said that I have the reflexes and instincts to be a pro. Although he was probably just trying to get me naked. I don’t have Martialla on staff because I can’t drive, I just like having someone else around to do it. Plus pity. Also she shot that gun once at someone who was maybe trying to attack me.
My dad was a big car guy. Not classic cars or old cars or muscle cars, he liked all cars. He was always tinkering with the family car, often to my mom’s annoyance. I know he worked at an auto shop when he was a kid. I think he would have been happier if he had a little joint like that that he ran his entire life instead of getting into the corporate world. I wonder what he would have made of seeing me behind the wheel of this monstrosity.
Is it a coincidence that bizarre and bazaar are homophones? Or did one beget the other? I could see that happening. I certainly saw some bizarre things at the bazaar. What I hadn’t considered is that the tanker itself would be worth more than the fuel inside of it. There must be more fuel around than I think. We probably got ripped off on a lot of our trades, but what can you do? It’s like when you first get to prison and pay two soups for a candy bar, you don’t know how the economy works. But you learn over time and then you trap the candy bar guy in the laundry room with your shiv.
Martialla got herself a Smith & Wesson Model 29 to add to our very small arsenal, if she starts wearing a hockey mask she’s on her own. I don’t care if that means I have to wander the apocalypse alone. She didn’t end up buying it but she checked out some pieces of body armor that she said were Russian. Her new theory is that Russia invaded the US at some point. Like it matters now who invaded what when. Wolverines!
She spent some of our not very hard earned barter units on one of those weird looking assault rifles we saw people sporting. She confirmed that it is plastic but as per usual could get no details on where it came from. Based on her analysis, as long as you give it a lot of daily TLC, she estimates that it might jam as little as forty percent of the time. Which isn’t great but I can’t build any assault rifles so who I am to judge?
Since I’ve been snake-bit and wrist-jammed and death marched in the last forty-eight hours, I felt like I needed a little something. You know what I mean. I asked several vendors what they could give me for pain. One of them pointed at a circle of cheering people wherein two dudes were beating the shit out of each other. Even at the end of the world, everyone’s a comedian. They had opium in olden times right? How do I gets some of that? It probably didn’t grow in California though. What did the native Californians use to get nice and loose?
Most of their booze was pukatronic. No fooling, a lot of it was made from fermented animal fat. But I didn’t give up and eventually I did find some brown jugs of liquor that I was able to choke down. Tasted like cheap wine (really cheap wine) with club soda and fruit juice to cover the grossness. Half a jug of that that I wasn’t feeling as much pain.
One other thing I need to mention about the trading spot. I’ve been pretty rough on the future (or present I guess) people we’ve seen so far when it comes to looks. And it’s all been fully justified because they’re punk rock lead singer grade uggos. But I saw a couple guys walking around the swap meet that really took the cake. One of them was a bugman and I don’t mean in a Steve Buscemi way, I mean he had patches of carapace instead of skin and antennae on his head. He wasn’t fully bugged out, he was maybe only eleven percent bug but that’s a high bug percentage where I come from. Even Hayden Christensen was only a one percenter.
I asked Redlight about the bugman and he said that he was a splice. As in spliced DNA maybe? How the heck could that happen? These people don’t even have water treatment technology under their belts, how could they be putting bug DNA in people? And even if they could, why would you? Martialla said that even though it seemed like things were falling apart when we went into the tubes, maybe technology kept marching on for decades after that before everything finally went kaput. Like she knows. She’s got a lot of opinions about what may or may not have happened while we were on ice.
Besides insector, I saw another guy who was wearing a dress like a nomad in a desert nomad movie (and maybe real life?) who had a lizard head. Like full-on lizard head. When I asked about him, Redlight sneered and said “they let anyone come trade”. You’re no prize yourself, champ.
Once night fell, trading was done. A couple people sat around a fire to mumble to each other and drink revolting booze but most of them returned to their ramshackle mobiles to sleep. Martialla and I sat back on the hood of our new car/home and watched the “northern” lights dancing in the sky, contemplating the bright vista of our future.
“How’s your stomach doing?”
I pointed into the darkness “Go check, I think it’s over behind that rock.”
Martialla peered into the gloom “I think that’s a bush.”
I grunted “Whatever. I tell you this much, I would burn down an entire village for a shower and some grapefruit rosé. Assuming they still even have villages.”
“We saw several around the lake.”
“I wouldn’t call those villages, I’d label them closer to being dog kennels.”
“It’s too fine a night for you to be this salty.”
I grunted again “What can I say? The end of the world puts me in a sour mood.”
“Also, grapefruit rosé? What are you, twelve?”
“Oh, I’m sorry I’m not as sophisticated as you with your refrigerator full of Pabst Blue Ribbon, that’s a heck of a palate you have there.”
“Well we’re a simple folk in Los Angeles, we can’t all be from teaming metropolises like Shelbyville.”
“You got that right, I’ve been out west for a long time and I have yet to see a single motel where they also sell bait like we had back home.”
“AD” turned out to be 80, as in Interstate 80, known as Dwight Eisenhower Highway by some and Blue Star Memorial Highway by others. It runs all the way from San Francisco to Teaneck New Jersey. At least it used to, it doesn’t look like it’s in great shape now so I can’t attest to where it ends now. I-80 as I’m sure you remember was the hunting grounds of the Truckee River killer. I was supposed to play a character based on the Truckee River killer in a thinly veiled rip-off but the picture was cancelled because people just don’t get excited about a female murderer unless they’re flashing their beave Sharon Stone style. Sad but true.
I think we’re where Auburn used to be. I saw a mound that I think could have been the Capital Corridor station and a big area that maybe could have been the airport? Doesn’t matter what it was before now I suppose. What does matter is what else I saw, a couple dozen cars parked in a big clump with heaps of scrap and “goods” laid out between them in rows. One of the first things that drew my eye, and my nose, was a massive rusty drum on its side like a BBQ pit over which was roasting what looked like a Komodo dragon.
I have never eaten a lizard before, I never wanted to eat a lizard before, I never even thought about eating a lizard before, but in that moment I wanted to eat that lizard like the sun wants to burn an albino.
No one tried to murder us straight off, but I think that’s because we showed up with Redlight. They knew and were expecting him. If anyone was impressed with us rolling up with a tanker of fuel, no one showed it. I expected that it would be like showing up with a forklift carrying a pallet full of gold bricks, I thought people would lose their minds.
It was hard to tell how ugly the nonplussed people were because most of them were covered in multiple layers of clothing, to the point of head-scarfs and face coverings, all covered even though it was somewhere in the ninety-degree range. They must have been broiling under there. I did see a couple of guys walking around shirtless and aside from being rashy and hairy as goats, they didn’t look too gross. Ten or fifteen beers and I could get there.
The majority of people had blades and/or beating tools of one kind or another, but there were a lot more with firearms than we had seen before. Most of the guns were scratch-made numbers that looked like they might blow up in your face Yosemite Sam style if you tried to fire them, but a good quarter of what we saw were real firearms that I recognized. They were beat up all to hell but they looked functional. I even saw a cluster of people that had guns that looked new. The metal looked weird, like it was pitted or wavy somehow, but they looked newly manufactured. Martialla said that she thought it might be impact-resistant polystyrene rather than metal but how could these screwheads be making plastic?
The people running the swap meet are called the Roadrunners, you now, the bird from Wiley Coyote cartoons. Many of them had little bird symbols on their clothing. Overall they looked like violent lunatics from a Mad Max movie but it was a little hard to take them seriously because of their cartoon bird tattoos. They control Interstate 80 and organize these little trading parties. Trade is apparently a big deal because no one anywhere has enough of anything to make it alone. I guess that’s the same as it was in our time and I just didn’t think about it because there was more of a supply chain than a bunch of dirty nomads at a swap meet.
About half the people we tried to talk to were completely unintelligible to us like those traders at the cryo facility. Another forty percent we could generally understand with the liberal use of hand gestures and pantomime like the filthy lake people. There were only a few others like Redlight who we could mostly carry on a conversation with semi-normally. When we asked why we could talk to that section, he reminded us that he’s “not a mushroom”. Thanks.
It’s mostly a barter system as you would imagine, but you could get “chips” which looked very much like casino chips, I was surprised not to see a Harrah’s logo on them. And where do these chips come from? They’re doled out by the California Highway Patrol. I shit you not, that’s what they said. We double, triple, quadruple checked. As the swappers tell it, if you help with road repairs or act as a courier, they give you chips that you can turn back in to them for repairs and vehicle parts and fuel. The California Highway Patrol. I can’t wait to see what that’s all about.
I filmed a pilot for a new CHiPs TV series with Heather Locklear and Jerry O’Connell. What a piece of garbage. And the pilot was bad too. It didn’t get picked up, they said my look was too “midwestern”. Fuckers.
After gorging myself on lizard meat, puking my guts out, and gorging myself on more lizard meat (not in a bulimic way), we traded our fuel truck and other assorted junk for a lean mean machine of our own. I’m no gearhead but all the vehicles seem like hybrids cobbled together from the wrecks of the past, which makes sense. But there’s a big skull icon on the front. Who made that? Ornamentation? Does that mean there are artists? Seems like you’d have to have a pretty advanced society for art to exist. Then again, cave paintings.
While Martialla tried to learn everything she could about our new killmobile from the leather daddies that swapped it to us, I went to speak with the big kahuna Roadrunner himself. Or herself. I couldn’t quite tell. The person I talked to had a big round belly like a pregnant lady but I couldn’t tell if those were man tits or the normal kind bouncing around on top of it. Word got around that I was asking questions and they wanted me to ask them to this person.
According to preggo-belly, the Invincible are another group from up north that the Roadrunners (meep-meep!) don’t much care for. Sounds like their leader, Duke Eagle The Vain, is a peach – a real Ghengis Khan crush your enemies, lamentations of the women type. The Roadrunners had them quarantined out of this area for a long time but it sounds like something has changed. They weren’t very happy to hear that I had seen them in the hills by the awful lake.
When they asked why we were so clueless about the world, I told them we had been asleep underground for a long time. This didn’t seem to faze them. Not sure if that’s because they didn’t believe it or they didn’t care. After I was dismissed from my meeting with head honcho, one of the others came up to me and asked what it was like before.
“Better” I told her.
I asked Martialla what she did to fix the car and she told me that there was a rock jammed between some thing and some other thing that was pinching a hose. All she did was pull the rock out. Though it looks like a muscle car, the vegetable man’s machine is more like a dune buggy, there’s no back seat or trunk or any place for cargo. Ergo we were trying to figure out how much junk we could pack in the front and still have room for me and Martialla in the passenger seat. Please note, that seat seems to be sized for a large baby. While we were playing junk Tetris in our minds, Redlight (as we found out his name was) came across the stinking leaking fuel tank in the middle of the truck-fort.
His look wasn’t quite as ecstatic as during the car repair voyeurism but he was clearly in hog heaven. The acrid stench and the skeletonized bodies didn’t bother him in the least, he walked right into the stink zone. I was halfway expecting him to put his mouth up to the hole and start suckling the acid-poison slowly spilling out. Instead he grabbed a tool that looked like a hedge trimmer with a wrench on the end instead of blades and pinched the hole closed. More closed anyway. For reasons unknown, this process made the chemical nostril attack fifteen times worse and Martialla and I both fled the area, doubling over and retching. My eyes stung so badly it felt like they were sealed shut for a minute, like when you wake when you have pink eye and your eyelids are crust-glued together.
On my knees trying to twist my nose closed with my non-broken hand, I looked over at Martialla “Did you ever think we should have just hopped back into those tubes for a while? Let them sort all this shit out and try again?”
She spat up something that looked like pink toothpaste mixed with mauve chunky peanut butter “It’s a little late for that, those potato head people probably stripped the place.”
We were highly dubious that his muscle car dune buggy could haul the tanker but Redlight (when I asked him why he was called that he said “because it’s my name”) insisted that we help him hook it up. To his credit, it worked. This little machine was able to move that bulk out of the “fortress” without much trouble other than the tanker itself groaning and creaking. Even then we assumed that it wouldn’t work cross county, a flat paved parking lot is one thing but dragging several tons behind you overland? No way.
Way. What followed were the most uncomfortable thirty-three minutes of my life (so far). And when I say that, realize that I had dinner with Kevin James once. Since Martialla would crush me if she was on top (phrasing), I was sitting in her lap with a box of tools and parts that I estimate to have weighed somewhere about eighty billion pounds. Add to that my tender hindparts, a broken wrist, and general aches and pains plus the fun of wondering if the six thousand gallons of cyanide-arsenic behind us was going to explode, and you have a heck of a ride. Every bump felt like the boys at Guantanamo Bay were working me over. And there were lots of bumps because the machine didn’t seem to have shock absorbers so much as shock enhancers.
Rattle-shambling across the bush was unbearable but when we reached the road, the ride became merely intolerable. And the road was a real road, not an overgrown garden full of weed-ball-stumps and clothes-tearing thorns. I think it was part of the Golden Chain Highway. It wasn’t in good shape by modern standards, which I guess are past standards now, but it was a road.
Martialla peppered our new friend with questions about why and how cars exist but he had no answers. None that made any sense to us anyway. I’m eighty percent sure that I saw a dead kangaroo by the side of the road. This prompted me to ask what he ate and he reached behind his seat, forcing me to grab the wheel so we didn’t veer off the road, crash, and die. He pulled out a ceramic thing that looked like an ashtray with a lid. Inside was a kind of dirty brown mixture or what looked like tobacco juice, dead squid soaked in toilet water, and Dinty Moore beef stew. It smell liked barbecued dog hair but he slurped it down like it was a delicious milkshake. He assured us we could get all the food like that we want at AD. Goodie gumdrops.
Other fun things I saw along the “roadside” include a cluster of what looked like termite mounds, those big ones you see on the nature shows in Australia (or Africa? South America?) but I saw a little furry head poking out of what totally looked like a terrace/balcony thing. I didn’t get a good look but maybe it was something like a raccoon-weasel-badger. I saw a little canyon type area that had I-beams perched and wedged into it to hold it up. How could someone even do that? And even if they could, why would they want to do that?
Martialla had her arms around me like we were taking a damn wedding photo, so I couldn’t look her in the face. That would have been too close to us kissing. Ergo her hot sticky breath was right in my ear.
“So when we get there, wherever there is, what prevents them, whoever they are, from stealing our goods instead of trading with us for them?”
I wriggled uncomfortably “Why are you so bony? I feel like I’m in an iron maiden here.”
“No such thing.”
“There was never any such torture device as an iron maiden, a German dude made that up in the eighteen hundreds to make people of previous generations seem primitive and stupid, it’s just that bullshit about people thinking the world was flat, it’s propaganda.”
“I saw an iron maiden at the museum in San Diego.”
“Yeah, but it wasn’t real.”
“What the fuck are you talking about?! Are you saying I was looking at a hologram?!”
“No, I’m saying that what you saw was made later . . .” she sighs “. . . forget it. Anyway, what I was saying before, since we’re in Mad Max times now, what guarantee do we have that we can trade with these people rather than them going all Lord Humongous on us?”
“We may have to shoot a couple of them first, show them that we’re not to be trifled with, before we can open up commerce talk.”
“I believe those were Commodore Matthew C Perry’s exact words in Tokyo Bay.”
I sighed “Don’t be a nerd Martialla, you’re the only person left in the world I have to talk to, I don’t want to be trapped forever with a nerd. I don’t want a repeat of that time I made the mistake of doing an appearance at Comic-Con.”
That was a bit of a fib I told you before. I kicked that guy as hard as I could. But it’s not like I’m a Jeet Kun Do champion. In school, I was never even any good at kickball! Plus whenever it was my turn, that little monster Sally Weaver would yell that my underwear was showing. Well now she’s a gross soccer mom with four ugly screaming children and a mouth-breathing husband that teaches IMPROV and people PAY to see me in my underwear. They pay me, Sally! They pay me a lot! Actually I guess now-now she’s not a soccer mom, she’s dead. Anyway, the point is that one little kick to the chest from me should not cave in a man’s chest. When Martialla went over to help him (after grabbing the crossbow thing he dropped) I one hundred percent expected him to whip out a knife and put it to her throat because it was a gambit but he just wheezed and rolled around. I guess I really did hurt him.
He bounced back like a champ and stopped bellyaching fairly quickly though. It took a while but we did eventually convince him that he had no car. When we said we walked there, he gaped at us like we said we flapped our arms and flew high in the sky, as if the idea of anyone walking anywhere was beyond the pale.
“Didn’t you walk here?” I pointed out smartly and attractively.
He didn’t as it happens. He had a car hidden in the brush, which means not only did he creep up on us but we didn’t even hear the car. Which isn’t great situational awareness. He was trying to carjack us because his vehicle wasn’t in great shape. He needed to get to “AD” and he was concerned that his car wouldn’t make it in the shape it was in. When we asked what AD was, his answers made no sense to us, the best he could do in the end was to point to the north. He looked around at all the tools and scrap with his greedy beady little eyes and asked if the stuff was ours. We said that of course it was.
“How about we help you fix up your car and you help us take some of this stuff to AD? They have trade there?” I asked him shrewdly and charismatically.
He jumped into the air and quick-walked in a little circle a bunch of times while making a snuffling noise that I guess was laughter. At first I thought he was sneering at our offer but we eventually figured out that he thought I was joking about the possibility of fixing his car. Once I made it clear that I wasn’t joking, he stepped away from us like we were radioactive. He asked us if we were engineers – he enunciated the word very slowly and purposefully. There was more than a little reverence to the way he said it as well. I told him that we aren’t engineers, but we knew a few things about cars. He headed over the edge of the parking lot and waved us on eagerly to see his car.
Martialla half-whispered to me as we followed behind “What are you doing?”
“You fix my car all the time, maybe we can help.”
“I change the oil, Ela, I’m not an auto mechanic. I can do maintenance, I can’t fix shit.”
“There’s no harm in looking.”
“There’s no reason to think that whatever hunks of junk they have running now resemble anything like the cars we knew, Ela. It’s probably more like Model A or whatever came before the Model A, one of those old things from black and white movies where the driver puts on goggles and an aviator cap and . . . you have got to be shitting me.”
The car we saw didn’t look exactly like the one from the Road Warrior (which Martialla assures me was based on a car they never made in America) but it was pretty damn close. It had that spinny thing sticking out of the hood and everything. It wasn’t black, it was tan, which kind of ruined the Mad Max effect but it was still a lot cooler than what I was expecting.
Martialla sounded like she was having a hard time catching her breath “Where the fuck did this come from?”
Our new friend said the f-word a couple times like it was a new term, and ultimately it seemed that he decided he liked it. Even though he mostly sort of kind of speaks English, he was referencing a lot of people and places that meant nothing to us. I think either he stole the car from a courier or he was a courier of some kind. So couriers exist. Maybe. Which seems like an advanced society concept. Which is good news. Maybe. I asked where he was from and he pointed north again, explaining “I’m not a mushroom”. Good to know.
Any further questioning was overridden by his lust to see his car being fixed. And there was a lot of lust. I’ve seen horndogs walking into the strip club, you know the all-nude kind of strip club where they give handjobs in the back for a hundred bucks, that were less excited than turnip-lips was for us to pop the hood. Which was the first issue because there was no hood.
Martialla was peering around for a seam of some kind “So what’s the problem? What’s not working?”
Vegetable mouth jumped in the car, put the hammer down, and the engine roared for a second before sputtering out. He jumped back out just as quickly to watch Martialla crawl underneath the front of the car. He was hunched over and licking his massive lips like an old-timey perv looking through binoculars from a tree branch. Martialla started coughing and spitting and peered out from under the car.
“It reeks under here, what do you run these things on, mule droppings?”
He shook his head furiously “Run on fuel! Fuel good.”
Fuel good indeed. Unless the environmental issues of the mass consumption of fossil fuels is what destroyed the world. Then fuel bad. When Martialla wriggled out from under the Mad Maxmobile, she was smeared from tits to nosetip with greenish slime.
I took a step away from her as she got to her feet “Good god, is that glowing? What is that?”
After another coughing fit, she tried to wipe the slime off her torso as best she could, which wasn’t very “Hell if I know. There’s mold or fungus or something growing in there. I saw something that looked like a green brain the size of a peanut.”
I reached out to touch the hood “Whoa, so it’s biological technology?”
Martialla spit up a bug or something brownish and coughed some more, very ladylike “No, I think it’s just fucked.”
Despite that highly skilled assessment, she told beet-lips to try it again and the thing roared to life. He grinned and sat there revving the engine for quite a while. I gave him a thumbs up and he scowled back at me like I had given him the finger but he was too happy about the car to be mad for long.
I’m starting to really resent the way Martialla breathes. When we had the masks on I didn’t notice it, but she emits a high pitched whining noise when she inhales. It’s not her fault, it’s probably happening because we both have nasal cancer now because of the poison air. Even so, it’s driving me insane. I want to reach up her nose and yank some stuff out to make that noise stop. It reminds me of the time that an ex jammed a whistle in the exhaust pipe of my Jetta. A constant annoyance. I spent a ton of money taking that car to different mechanics before one of them figured it out. Fuck you Harry Tavern, I’m glad you died in the apocalypse.
Today we stumbled out of the thorn and scrub into a parking lot. I mean that literally, with the sudden change of terrain, I fell and jammed my wrist. Maybe broke it, I don’t friggin know. I know it hurts. How can terrain change so suddenly? Partially because I wasn’t paying much attention because I’m exhausted and in a lot of pain. Also I killed a guy last night. Which has been on my mind a bit. But also because this world is insane. The parking lot was mostly covered by rock. And I don’t mean it had rocks over it like a landslide, I mean it was like someone melted rocks and poured it over the parking lot like spaghetti sauce and then it hardened back into rock. What the hell can melt rock like that? A nuclear missile? I would have thought it was from a volcano but it was brownish grey and I think lava rock is black.
The part of the parking lot that wasn’t covered with mysterious rock was broken up and had ugly grasses sticking up in irregular clumps between the skeletons of a few wrecked, rusted and burned out and stripped cars. There was a dog, or something doglike anyway, sniffing around that was roughly the size of an ATV. Half of its body was covered with hair so coarse it reminded me of a brillo pad and the other half was a mass of ugly goiters with just a smattering of super long hairs that was dripping some kind of oil. The skin on its head was so tight it was like it just had a naked skull.
It eyeballed us for a minute but when we pointed our guns it loped off with all the grace of a hyena on stilts crossing an ice skating rink. If we had more ammunition I would have shot it just on principal. Well I would have told Martialla to shoot it, but it amounts to the same thing.
If I’m remembering the area correctly, which I’m not, I think we’re in or around where the town of Kelsey once was.
Backed up against one of the thicker parts of the “rockflow” was a cluster of Penske trucks that had been arranged into a camp, like you’d see in an old western when the pioneers circled the wagons. The addition of barricades of old scrap metal and wood kind of ruined the old west motif, especially the part of the “wall” that was a couple of old coke machines. The logo was mostly gone but it still made my mouth water. I’ll probably never have an ice cold Coca-Cola again. That bothers me almost as much as shooting a guy does. Almost.
There was an overwhelming chemical smell coming from behind the barricades that stung our eyes even worse than the constant eye stinging we’re being subjected to from the dirty air. So of course we climbed over to get a better look.
“Inside” there was a big, and by big I mean the size of a billboard, wooden sign hanging on the side of one of the trucks that had a massive skull painted on it. Underneath the skull were some words that looked like they were a mixture of the real alphabet plus some made up crap. Martialla said that it was Cyrillic and Arabic, like she knows anything about languages. Beside each word was a mark that I’m pretty sure was a number and then a funky symbol a hieroglyph. Seemed a little like a menu, but for what? Skulls?
The rest of the place was cluttered with tools and machine parts, way more tools than you would ever need to fix anything. It was enough tools for an army of mechanics. There were fifty car batteries in a big bank with wires all across them and a bunch of big oil drums with holes cut in them and pipes and shit. Martialla said that she thought it might have been a wood gasification boiler which is clearly something she made up on the spot.
In the middle of the mess was a gas tanker that was slowly leaking something that was causing the eye-stabbing stench. In and around the toxic mulch were six skeletons with a few bits of metal stuck to them. I got close enough to identify that at least two of those bits were nipple piercings studs. It’s like whatever came out of the tank ate away all the flesh and clothing and melded the metal to the bone. The skeletons were still “together” you know? Like a skeleton in a biology class. What the hell would do that? Without muscle or sinew or whatever, what was keeping them together?
We were pondering this, I was anyway, I don’t know what Martialla was thinking about, something stupid probably, when I heard a voice, clear as day –
“Where’s the car?”
Martialla and I aren’t doing very well not getting sneaked (snuck?) up on so far in this post-apocalyptic wasteland. Upon? Sneaked upon? This is the third time someone’s dropped in on us unannounced. One of us should have been on guard I suppose. I wonder if we’ll get the hang of it before we die. Stayed tuned to find out! At first glance I thought this sneaker was wearing a crappy leather jacket but I think it was a dark colored pelt. Probably made of those San Joaquin swamp rats they always used to complain about on the TV. I bet those things are everywhere now.
Aside from those murderers with the lumpy-heads he was one of the least ugly people we’ve seen so far. Don’t get me wrong folks, he was plenty ugly, for instance he was completely walleyed and his lips looked like sideways rutabagas, but he was less ugly than the standard I’ve seen so far is my point. Plus, he might have been as tall as five six, he was real catch by horrible post-apocalyptic future standards.
He had a crossbow-like thing in his hand that he jabbed at us angrily as he bellowed. It was so small it looked like a toy. I’ve seen the hunting crossbows rednecks carry around and they’re huge. This thing was smaller than a hair dryer and its arrow was the size of a pencil. It was hard to be afraid of it even though I’m sure it actually was dangerous.
He was so worked up he was foaming at the mouth, or maybe his mouth foams all the time “Where’s the stabble car glaad!”
I held my hand up to forestall Martialla from blowing him away “I don’t know what a stabble car glade is but we don’t have a car if that’s what you’re asking. You’re the first person we’ve met that can talk proper, what’s your story?”
He shook his little crossbow pistol back and forth like a drunken carny trying to stop an out-of-control tilt-a-whirl and horked up yellow spittle as he shouted “Lies! Where stabble car is glaad!”
“Calm down dude, if you keep waving that thing around, my friend here is going to shoot your balls off.”
He frowned with his entire face. It was like his entire head was made up of frown lines. You ever see one of those nature shows where the little coral polyps or whatever retract back into the ground all at once? It looked kind of like that.
“Balls? No balls! Clamp, give where car!”
“No balls huh? That’s unfortunate. How is the world going to recover if a fine example of humanity like yourself can’t pass on their genes? Look, we don’t have a car, how about we all just take it down a notch and just talk yeah? See we’re new in town and . . .”
He shrieked like an electrocuted raccoon and stomped towards me with his non-crossbow hand out like he was going to grab my leg. I had been standing on part of the barricade to look into a box of tools when he sneaked up on us so his head was a little below crotch level. I don’t know what he thought he was going to do, did he expect I was just going to stand there like a frightened tapir and let him manhandle me? When he got close, I kicked him straight in the chest and it crunched like a car running over a crate of fortune cookies. He collapsed to the ground gasping like an asthmatic Chihuahua.
Martialla scowled at me accusingly “Jesus Ela, was that necessary?”
“I barely touched him! How friggin’ brittle are people’s bones now?!”
In my old life, which was a few days ago and/or a hundred years ago, sometimes at night I’d have a bad dream. I’d dream that I was being chased by a giant spider with my dad’s head or I’d be trapped underwater or I’d be alone in the frozen wilderness, snow falling with nothing around for thousands of miles. But I’d wake up. The dream would be over. A wave of relief would wash over me. I wasn’t being chased or drowning or freezing, I was in my warm soft bed with my Egyptian cotton sheets and my Frette linens. Everything was fine. No, everything wasn’t fine, everything was great! I was rich (well maybe not rich rich but I was doing well). I was an excellent actress and a fantastic singer, I was world renowned (well maybe not world but I was doing well) and most importantly of all I was pretty, so very very pretty. Everyone said so.
Now it happens the other way round. In my dreams everything is okay and when I wake up it’s a nightmare. The bad things are true and those other things are just in my head. I smile in my sleep sometimes, I can feel it in my cheeks. But then I wake up. No matter how tightly I close my eyes and will myself back to the dream, I can’t make it happen. Those nice things I dream about are gone. The hard ground underneath me is here. The ache in my legs and back and shoulders is here. Why does walking make my shoulders hurt? It makes no sense. I wake up and it all comes back. I wake up and everything is not great. Everything is not fine. I am nothing and no one.
Martialla has been eating about half as much as I have. She probably thinks I don’t notice. She’s not as sly as she thinks. I wish could speak up. I wish I could tell her she needs her strength too, more than me probably. I wish I had the lady balls to say “I’m only going to eat as much as you do”. But I don’t. I feel like I’m starving and what I really want to do is not sacrifice nobly and share, what I want to do is eat her food too. A couple energy bars and a handful of mungloaf isn’t enough. I want to want to be fair and stalwart about the distribution of food but what I really want is to grab the food out of Martialla’s hand and gorge myself like the Cookie Monster.
Martialla saw me eyeballing her as I groaned my way awake “Thinking about seizing all the food and devouring it like Jaws?”
I shook my head haughtily “No not like Jaws at all, I was just thinking about that guy I shot.”
She nodded “Yep, you shot the hell out of him for sure. Took away all he’s got and all he’s ever going to have. Took him away from everyone that loved him and put an end to any good he would ever do in the world.”
I bolted upright, which hurt my stiff muscles more than the time I cracked my pelvis playing volleyball in eleventh grade “Jesus Christ Martialla, are you saying he didn’t deserve it?”
She shrugged as if it didn’t matter “I don’t think I’ve ever seen a bullet that only hit people who deserved it. Living a good life isn’t an effective bulletproof vest, the best way to avoid bullets is to be the one pulling the trigger.”
I felt a shiver run through my guts “When did you get so grizzled?”
She gestured around at the broken landscape “Uh, I’m going to guess when you dragged me out of my popsicle tube and the world was all blowed up and my husband and my parents and everyone I ever knew besides you was long dead. Also I was mostly just paraphrasing Unforgiven, plus a little bit of Copland.”
I nodded “That did sound kind of familiar.”
“This isn’t the movies though, this is apocalypse now . . . not the movie, I mean it’s the apocalypse and it’s now. Sorry, that was confusing. You know what I mean. It’s all gone, it’s just you and me here on the raggedy edge.”
“What are your chances do you reckon?”
Martialla looked around again as if assessing “Not good, but all is not lost. We’re smart and we’re resourceful, if we work together I think we can get through this.”
“And what does that mean? What are we getting through to? That’s what I’m having the hardest time with. What’s the goal? Staying alive? To what end? Doesn’t there have to be something to fight for? You need something to be planning towards right?”
She shrugged “I’m not sure what else there is at this point. Maybe finding something to live for is goal one. Start with that.”
“Searching for meaning at the end of the world huh? That’s some kind of philosophical thingamajig if ever there was one. You remember Tim Kragt?”
She frowned “The stunt coordinator? I’m the one who introduced you to him.”
I frowned back at her “So you remember him then. We were training one time and I was feeling pretty saucy about myself and my ‘skills’ so I asked him what I should do if someone attacked me for real, you know, what move I should use. And he said that if a man ever attacked me in earnest, what I should do is run. I didn’t like that answer. I goaded him into ‘sparring’ for real. He didn’t even hit me really, it was more like a shove, and I flew back like I was nothing. He told me that wasn’t even half his strength. He told me if someone wanted to hurt me, I should run as fast as I could. And if I couldn’t get away, then beg them not to hurt me. It really stuck in my craw.”
“Why are you bringing up Tim Kragt now?”
“Last night I watched you hack a man to death with a tomahawk, and then stomp another man’s skull in.”
“And that’s what it made me think of. Tim Kragt telling me to beg for my life.”
She stared at me for a long time and then shook her head slowly “Jesus Christ Ela, this isn’t some feminist roundtable, this is survival. It’s not some action movie either, this is real god damn life with real consequences and real death. Running away is a great idea! I wish I could have run away but I couldn’t leave you there asleep, now could I?”
My face got hot “So what, it’s my fault? Is that what you’re saying?!”
“I’m not saying anything, you’re the one who brought up fucking Tim Kragt for no reason!”