It’s still raining, up here

Smashweed is so called because it’s surrounded by grey colored weeds that are tough as wire.  The people of Smashweed spend all day every day bending these weeds’ roots back and forth until they eventually break.  If you’re good at it, doing this takes about twenty minutes.  If you’re a little kid learning how to do it, it can take hours.  Once the weed is broken, you harvest it and then you boil it in some kind of brown water for a couple days and then you can hammer it until it breaks open and you can eat it.  This is the food that sustains all the people in the area.  I guess it’s better than gathering mud all day in Bosstown but only by the slimmest of margins. 

Unlike Bosstown where it seems people can breeze in and out as they wish, Smashweed is surrounded by a “wall” of smooth unbarked trees that look like they’re made of stone.  I guess they’re petrified but I’ve seen petrified wood before and it didn’t look like that.  The wall is heavily guarded (mostly by people with spears but still) on account of outsiders are not welcome in Smashweed.  At all.  They didn’t let us set one foot in the place.  That’s how worried they are and how valuable this paste they hammer out of iron grasses is. 

Also unlike Bosstown there’s no boss here, or maybe it’s more appropriate to say there’s a bunch of bosses.  Smashweed is run by committee and it seems like a dozen different people came to talk to us as we cooled our heels outside with the vulture tribe.  But in every group situation there’s always someone who’s the real power no matter how democratic you try to be.  I identified two as the real leaders of the place.  One of them was a little man (even by the standards of the day) with macular rashes all across the torso (no shirt for his fellow) and a kind of long twisted Mohawk.  I think he’s the “we are all equal but some are more equal than others” of the group. 

The other fellow was wearing a veil like a belly dancer and was swaddled in furs and robes that looked to be of decent material.  He also had shinbones that were about twice the length that you would expect.  He seemed to have a pretty difficult time getting around because of this.  His job is to deal with traders that come by so that the rest of the folk don’t have to sully themselves by talking to outsiders.  He’s the one who had the idea of hiring the vultures and I had him pegged pretty quickly – his thought process is if you need something dangerous done, have someone else do it because who cares if they die? 

It was slow going to make any progress because the Smashweedian leaders would only come out to talk to me for a few minutes at a time.  Longshanks would speak with us for longer than the others but even he acted like it was a real chore.  It was like being out from behind their walls was like being underwater – you do it for a moment and then you need to pop back out.  I suppose given all the dangerous shit out here I can’t blame them. 

Rashy claims that Smashweed can trace its history back to my time.  He claims that there was a flash-flood, followed by a monsoon that drove people to this place from Durham, Palermo, Sacramento, and other actual cities.  The fact that he even knows the names makes me think his story has some merit.  They were able to scavenge enough supplies from the ruins to start a farming community.  He claims there were thousands of them in those early days.  Two years later, ninety percent of them were dead.  But the community survived.  Later when the choking weeds took over their farms, two-thirds of them died again, but they adapted to be the “thriving” village they are now. 

Of course they had no information about what caused the flood or why there would be a monsoon in northern California instead of India. 

They claim that they hired the Vultures purely for self-defense because the Bosstowners would attack them to get the weed-mush if they didn’t give it to them, which they aren’t because of the filter situation.  The one thing both sides agree on is that there was an earthquake and now the river is fucked.  They are very bitter about how they feel Bosstown is not sharing their water filters. 

When I pointed out rationally and attractively that it made no sense for Bosstown to hold out on them because they needed Smashweed’s smashed weeds, they were dubious. 

“What’s their end game?  If you guys all die there’s going to be no food for them right?  Then they also die.”

They remained adamant that the Bosstowners were trying to destroy them by not sharing the filters.  Putting on my best negotiator hat I asked them, just for the sake of argument, pretend that Bosstown actually doesn’t have any filters either – what would they do then?  ‘Die’ was their answer.  Everyone would die.  They have a one track mind, these future people. 

I persisted in badgering them about it.  My point was clearly they didn’t make these filters because they suck (I said it nicer than that), so where did they come from?  Eventually they grudgingly admitted that there was a place to the north where they had originally gotten the filters from the last time the river turned to poison but it was impossible for anything to go there now.  And by impossible they meant that it was dangerous in some unspecified way.  No matter how much I pried, they wouldn’t say what was so terrible about the path to the vague land of water filters. 

When I suggested that what we should do, since this was a problem that affects everyone who needs the river to live, is gather a representative from each of the villages in the area to talk about potential solutions to the issue, they acted like that was the craziest thing they ever heard.  “What if it’s a trap” they cried. “That’s why you send someone you don’t care about as a representative” I replied intelligently in a smooth sexily seductive voice.  This they were intrigued by.  Not so intrigued that they let us in their stupid honeycomb hideout for the night, but you can’t have everything. 

The Vultures had moved on by that point so Martialla and I were left to camp out on our own once again.  The bad news is that a snake jumped on me.  The even worse news is that there’s jumping snakes now.  The good news is that snake meat is by a wide margin the most palatable thing I’ve eaten since we woke up. 

Martialla looked at me as she gnawed on a snake-scrap like a Neanderthal “You know we’re the ones who are going to get those filters right?”

I nibbled daintily and sedately “Of course, I’m the protagonist and you’re my loyal handmaiden, who else would go?  But if we get everyone together to talk about it first maybe we’ll get some supplies, and perhaps they’ll send some extras with us to get killed in the final climatic battle.”

“Plus then everyone will know that you did it.”

“That too, how else will they know what to make the statue of me look like?  Maybe they should call me Ela the Peacemaker instead of Ela the Savior.”

Martalla spit out a snake fang “Why not both?”

“Why not indeed?”

There’s still fountains down there

Huffiness aside, we were able to reestablish communication with the mercenaries of the crudely drawn vulture without any trouble.  I don’t know exactly how I want to say this, but the future people we’ve met seem very unsophisticated.  I don’t mean unsophisticated because they have chicken bones in their hair or that they shit in trenches, I mean emotionally.  Or socially maybe.  I can’t exactly find the words I want.  Talking to them seems more than a little like talking to a kid – a thirteen-year-old kid who’s big for their age and will stab you with a sharpened screwdriver without warning.

Take what happened right here.  I ask them an innocent question, it upsets them for some reason, and they run away – but not too far away – and then sit there sulking and looking over like “are you going to come talk to me or what?”  Maybe it makes sense that if you spend most of your life trying not to die and the time you don’t spend trying not to die you spend beating each other in the head with rusty hooks, you don’t have time to develop your interpersonal skills?  I should have paid more attention in sociology class.  Also I should have taken a sociology class.  

I was able to speak to their leader (I think) who based on ass smoothness alone I judge to be a woman.  She was wearing a mask, a harness/backpack of some kind that looked like it was a prop from Ghostbusters, and not a lot else, other than a quiver on her hip for the bow she was carrying.  We told her that their plan had worked!  The Boss of Bosstown had sent us to negotiate with them.  Good work!  She didn’t seem to know what to do about that.  I wonder if the people that hired her gave no further instructions because they didn’t think the plan was going to work or because they didn’t want the plan to work.  

Despite my obvious charisma and natural confidence that makes people like me, I don’t have a lot of experience with the subtle art of negotiation – that’s what my agent was for.  Well that and getting arrested with a bunch of angel dust in a duffel bag on the Corr’s tour bus on the way to the Mahaffey Theater.  Despite this lack of experience, I figured that if the person across the table from you (metaphorically, I want to be clear that there was no table) doesn’t know what to do, you should suggest a course of action to them gently.  I said that perhaps she should take us back to the people who hired her so we could hash things out with them.

She thought this was a capital idea.  She was so relieved that I gave her some direction and freed her from the responsibility of thought that she thanked me.  The future is a weird place.  Present I mean.  You know what I mean.  We traveled west (mostly) at a fairly sedate pace.  Not sure if that’s because their Frankencar can’t go very fast or because of the shittiness of the roads or if they just weren’t in a hurry.  Martialla was keen on trying to see how fast their cars could go but I dissuaded her from challenging one of them to a race on account of I figured it’s probably best they don’t know how fast our car can go either.  I feel confident that J-Lo can smoke any of these buckets.  

A few hours after sundown, our car is the only one I’ve seen with headlights but it’s bright enough because of the aurora borealis that it’s pretty easy to keep driving, we stopped in the middle of the road and circled the wagons with our vehicles.  They put us in the middle, not sure if that was to protect us or to intimidate us or both.  I choose to be flattered by their concern.  

The bare ass archer said that her name was Filo.  Or maybe Jefa.  Or Medio perhaps.  Even when I can understand most of what someone is saying here, names are tricky because they can be anything, you can’t use contextual cues for names.  I asked her about the Lincoln Sport Sedan and she acted like it was no big deal.  I tried to explain that that car had to be a century old and I couldn’t understand how it was still around and running but she couldn’t understand what I was saying about it.  I became briefly passionate about explaining that we’re from the distant past but Martialla reeled me in.  No reason to confuse people. 

They brought out a crock pot looking thing that fit into another thing that Martialla called a brassiere like a lunatic. [Martialla’s note, I said brazier because that’s what it is] They threw some vegetable fiber in the bottom to light on fire and then they put some stuff in the top that looked like green peanut butter.  And I mean BRIGHT green.  It cooked up into a big sheet like taffy and then they broke it apart and ate it.  The stench was unbearable.  I may have to cauterize my nostrils with a burning stick if I’m going to survive here.  I was able to keep from puking my guts out at the stink, so I call that a victory.  It’s all about the little wins.

A one-eyed fellow (in that he had two eyes and then lost one, not like he was a cyclopes mutant) with a modern-ish looking mask wearing big baggy pants that looked like they were made out of a red giraffe hide noticed I wasn’t eating the green gelatinous cubes (Martialla choked them down somehow). So he got up from the circle for a while and came back with some scorpions on skewers.  Probably not scorpion scorpions since they had no tails and four claws, but close enough.  

I thanked him profusely and set to roasting them over the fire.  And you know what?  I was sincere.  Can you beat that?  That’s where we’re at people, I am overjoyed to be eating stick-scorpions kinda cooked over an open flame but mostly raw and crunchy.  Real crunchy.

Then I guess not feeling is the same as not crying to you

Martialla’s so-called plan, if it can so be called, was as stupid as it was insane – talk to them.  Why did I go along with this stupid insane plan?  That’s a question historians will be asking for generations to come.  Why did someone as smart and canny and beautiful with a gorgeous singing voice as Ela the Savior of Humanity go along with such a stupid insane plan?  They’ll probably ask that while sitting near a statue of me that’s been erected for my role in rebuilding society.  

Speaking of, I need to start thinking about what stuff I want to make sure they don’t accidentally add to the new world I’m going to build.  

I should have known better, and I did know better, so why did I do it?  Here’s the only thing I can tell you about my mental state.  Before we left Bosstown when I woke up, I saw that Martialla was sitting with her head in her knees crying.  It was like walking in on your parents having sex, and I don’t mean vanilla PIV, I mean doing some really weird stuff like with props.  It stuns you in a way you never thought possible because you didn’t even ever think about that being a thing that existed in the world.  Parents are not sexual beings with feelings and emotions and hopes and dreams and flaws, they’re just there to give you money and cook and clean for you. Like a maid/cook/ATM.  By the same token Martialla shouldn’t be crying, that’s like getting on an airplane and seeing that the pilot is a killer whale in a little pilot’s hat.  It makes no sense.  

My instinctual reaction, to say loudly “are you fucking crying?” in an incredulous and horrified tone, probably wasn’t helpful.  In order to smooth that over, I told a little bit of a white lie.  I knew that Martialla was having a tough time on account of her husband being long dead and probably painfully devoured by cannibals and/or taken as a warlord’s concubine, so I told her that I had secretly gotten engaged to my (now long dead and cannibalized or concubined) boyfriend just the week before we went into the cryo-tubes.   So while I didn’t know exactly what she was going through, I could sympathize.  In truth, we had broken up the month before but thankfully for Martialla I’m a tremendous actor and she bought it.

It seemed to make her feel better.  But I’ve been feeling guilty about it.  Which doesn’t make a lot of sense because I used to lie to Martialla all the time and it never bothered me before.  I mean not really.  After all it takes two to lie right, one to lie and one to believe it – so she’s just as culpable as I am when you get down to it.  

Point being when she proffered this insane stupid idea of détente with these post-apocalyptic meatheads, maybe I agreed because I felt bad about lying to her too-wide unappealing face, even though as we established just a moment ago, she’s just as much at fault for believing me as I am for lying.  

We drove closer and then stopped to see what they would do, ready to haul ass if they came at us en masse.  I’m no good at estimating distances, maybe we were two hundred yards away, maybe it was a mile.  I’ll call it “a fair piece” as my grandma used to say.  

They didn’t immediately swarm us, which was good.  In fact even though they obviously noticed us, they didn’t do anything for a goodly amount of time.  I suppose they thought we were travelers noticing that the road was blocked and trying to decide what to do about them rather than people trying to get their attention to talk.  We could have waved a flag or something only we didn’t have one, and also would they even know what that meant?  Fun fact, one of my distant ancestors fled to America in the 1600s because he was a military commander that flew a flag of truce and then ordered an attack when the enemy came to parlay, and people weren’t pumped about that kind of behavior back then.  I always meant to learn more about that.  Too late now I suppose.  Genealogy research has likely had its day in the sun.

Eventually a cadre of dusty future people got into one of the buggies and detached from the group to come our way.  Behind them they left TWO people with what looked like functioning rifles covering them.  That’s a lot of firepower by the order of the day.  I was prepared to drop the hammer and ram them if things turned south – I’m pretty sure that J-Lo would split their moon-rover looking pile of junk in half without too much trouble.  I imagine, had that happened, it would have looked like the time my friends and I moved old man Yeltin’s chicken shack onto the railroad tracks and it was smashed to bits.  That was the same night I let Joey Latiano go down on me.  It wasn’t great.  But it was alright.  

These folks had masks on and capes and robes and all the ragged-ass clothing you could want.  That seems to be one of the three accepted apocalyptic styles of dress.  I don’t get it at all, it’s balls hot out here and humid as you like, and they’re wearing fifteen layers?  How do they not pass out from heat stroke?  The leader, or actually probably not the leader but the one the leader told to talk to us, had on giant goggles and grasped an ax that was from our time.  It looked brand spanking new, it said FISKARS on the side plain as day.  How the hell is that still in such good shape?

S/he said something like “oota goota solo” and I figured the plan was dead right there but when I sighed and replied “I can’t understand you bub” one of the others with their head and face wrapped in a giant scarf leaned out of the buggy and said clearly (if confusingly) “Hello, chief.  Let’s talk.  Why not?”

Why not indeed?  Scarfy (which would be a good name for a dog) claimed that s/he and their friends were not marauders at all, but rather were on a diplomatic mission of peace.  They claimed further that there had been an earthquake (according to Martialla this may have been what granted the Invincible access to the valley) after which the river that all the communities depended on was poisoned by something underground.  As they say, this had happened once before and at that time, Bosstown had grabbed all the filters you need to clean the water.  

I told them that the Boss himself had said they were attacking people and they responded by saying of course they were attacking people, how else would you open up a dialog?  Their diplomatic mission of peace was to cut off trade and try and force Bosstown to the bargaining table by starving them – you know, with violence.  

While Martialla was mulling this over I said “so you’re from Smashweed then?” and Scarfy said no, they were hired goons from down south brought in not just by Smashweed but also Roachback, Treehorn, Iron Springs, Bristleboar, and other smaller villages in the area.  They didn’t really care or understand what was going on with the water filters.  They’re just in it for the “money”.  I asked what they were getting paid with and s/he said food, water, chips, and monkeys.

“Monkeys?  Like for pets?”

For some reason this seemed to be really offensive to them and they remounted and drove off in a huff.

OOC – The eyes are the groin of the head

At my old blogspot there were certain blog tropes that I hated. One of them was the “I’m drunk and/or high right now so this post is going to be super weird!” post. I am not on any sort of pain medication but this still kind of feels like that sort of post.

An HR lady at a job once told me that my worst trait (and I have many according to her) is my desire to publicize my failures. I will admit that yesterday when I poked myself in the eyeball with the corner of a gift bag and sliced that eyeball open like a boar eating a cantaloupe, my instinct was to e-mail everyone I knew and tell them how stupid I am.

Since my eye stings, obviously I can’t work out today. I thought I was past the point of looking for excuses not to work out but here we are. Mildly disappointing.

The good news is that I still have 20/20 vision. I got laser eyeball surgery about 20 years ago and you’re supposed to go to the ophthalmologist every year to see if your vision is degrading because laser eye surgery is still new enough that they don’t really know the long term effects, but I never do it. And my vision is fine so my laziness has been rewarded after the fact.

The bad news is I can no longer make fun of someone I know for having to go to the ER twice for getting glitter in their eye. Or at least I have to cut the fun making in half.

The only weird thing about my visit to the clinic was the doctor wanted to shake hands. We’re both there wearing masks and there’s signs everywhere about covid and she wants to touch me? I waved her off, which people really don’t like. I was hoping that sort of thing would go away for good out of the pandemic but people seem to be backsliding.

I saw Salma Hayek on an advertisement for an HBO show and I thought to myself “What HBO show is Salma Hayek on?” Turns out she’s going to be on a new show where she plays a woman whose boobs start talking to her. This sounds insanely awful to me, but perhaps I’m not the target demographic.

It put me in a mind of another show on a streaming service that I don’t think exists anymore where little Anna Kendrick went on a cross-country adventure with a sex doll that came to life. I started writing a script for that concept for a reboot of Mannequin only it was a horror movie because if a sex doll came to life, I figured it would be pretty upset about it’s existence.

Salma Hayek said recently that she was happy to be cast in the Eternals because the only roles she gets offered now are “old hooker” or “grandma”.

I never saw the movie Grown Ups but I understand that in this movie Salma Hayek plays Adam Sandler’s wife. And there’s a scene where Sandler goes to a yoga class to ogle the instructor. Because Salma Hayek isn’t hot enough. For Adam Sandler. I used to think that the media didn’t really have much effect on people but I’m starting to change my mind. Maybe things like this are part of the reason that mouth-breathing troglodytes used to come into my store and say that Halle Berry wasn’t pretty enough for them. They’d do her if she begged them, but it would be charity.

I watched the Matrix 4 the other day. It was fine. I was never a big Matrix man but I was interested to see what it was about. It felt very much like Force Awakens in that it was mostly just a remake of the first movie only I loved Star Wars enough that a remake got me with its emotional manipulation. I’d say a good 15% of the dialog in Matrix 4 was someone speaking directly to the audience saying “remember how much you liked the first movie? This is that again!”

In conclusion there was a show on IFC called Documentary Now! that was pretty good overall but the best episode by far is a parody of the Thin Blue Line called The Eye Doesn’t Lie.

You think not telling is the same as not lying, don’t you?

On the road today I slowed down because an animal that looked like a giraffe without the long neck ambled across the road in front of us.  Giraffes are pretty weird looking on their own but they look even stranger without that iconic long neck.  I know what you’re thinking “Ela it only seems that way to you because you’re used to seeing giraffes with long necks” but I don’t think so, I think even if I had never seen a normal giraffe, that thing would have looked weird as hell to me.  I looked over at Martialla (who has a bit of a giraffe neck herself) as we waited for it to pass.

“Seriously, what the fuck is going on?  We’ve seen the Loch Ness Monster, inside out dogs, seal-hippos with saberteeth, and now this thing.  I thought evolution was supposed to take millions of years.”

Martialla leaned out the window to get a better look “Maybe it’s not evolution.  Maybe a giraffe escaped from the zoo and bred with a horse and the descendants of that coupling have short necks, for a giraffe anyway.”

I scowled at her “That is obscene Martialla, why would you even think of something like that?”

She slid back into the car “You’re the one that grew up on a farm, didn’t you say that you saw a chicken and pig doing it once?”

I started driving again as the shadow of the short neck giraffe passed us “No, I told you once that I saw a guy who people called Chicken having sex with a pig.  He bought me and my friends beer for years after that so I wouldn’t rat him out.  Ironically he was hit by a chicken truck when I was a senior.  You’d remember that if you hadn’t been fifteen tequila shooters deep when I told you that story.”

“That was a hell of a quinceañera.  What happened to Carmen after she quit trying to be an actress?”

“Hopefully she died in the early stages of the apocalypse, I don’t think she would have done well as a warlord’s concubine.  But no one would I suppose.”

“What about that one agent you had at Gersh?  Hallie?”

I nodded “Yeah, she would have done fine.  I thought of another good line for when they make our courageous story into a movie once the world has advanced to the point of making movies again.  After some heavy shit goes down I would turn and ask ‘sometimes do you feel like we never really woke up when we climbed out of those tubes?’ pretty good right?”

“Scintillating.  Are you still going to be around to get a writing credit on this thing?”

I laughed “Why would I want one?  Writers are all nerds.  I’ll be a consultant.”

“As I recall, in addition to the writers, you also didn’t care for the directors or other actors.  Or the producers.  Or anything involved with the production it seemed.  Why did you become an actor again?”

I couldn’t help but smile “Oh Martialla, sweet, sweet simple Martialla, when you’re as pretty and talented as I am there’s really no choice now is there?  Try as I might I couldn’t hide my light under a bushel basket, all the world’s a stage and I couldn’t help it, I was born to shine.”

“I walked right into that one.”

“Besides, if you want to talk about attitude problems, you’re the one who got kicked out of the union.  Twice.  Didn’t you get into a fist-fight with the treasurer at a meeting one time?  Or was it shooting that guy in the hand with a speargun that got you kicked out the first time?”

Martialla’s face tightened “That all got blown way out of proportion.”

Hours later, we came to a nice rise where we got a good look at the land around us.  A few miles away we saw a crossroads that were being squatted upon by a . . . what do you call a group of vehicles? A lance?  A cluster?  A star?   Like in the military, what do you call a squad of armored cars?  A squad I guess.  That sounds too spit and polish for these jokers though.  One of the machines looked a lot like the Frankencar we saw the other day – like someone had put a log cabin on top of an SUV.  It didn’t even look like it could move.  With it were three other post-apocalyptic scrap-buggy-mobiles, one of which was magenta.  Which is not a color you expect to see in an apocalyptic killmobile.  But the fifth car was the weirdest because it just looked like a 1950 Lincoln Sport Sedan.  It didn’t have spikes or gun ports or armor or racks of fuel tanks or anything that all other machines have these days – it was just a car.  I’m not going to lie, it really freaked me out.

I handled the binoculars to Martialla “Is this them then?”

She looked for a moment, and then shrugged “I guess.  They look like raiders to me.  But how can you tell one raider from the other?”

“Are they Invincible?”

She puckered her brow at me “You have the same information as I do Ela, how would I know?”

“You’re going to get frown lines if you keep this up, Martialla.”

“Yes, that’s what I’m concerned about these days.” She put the binoculars back to her face “I don’t see any fist symbols or any of those bumpy-head people.  Looks like one of them has a vulture painted on their car maybe.” 

“Why are these future marauders so obsessed with birds?  Vultures, roadrunners, what’s the deal?  Alright GI Jane, so what are we going to do here?  Go in outnumbered five to one?  What’s the plan?” 

She thought for a moment “How would you feel about seducing them all one by one and killing them in their sleep?”

“One at a time?  Lame.”

Can’t you hear me, can’t you hear me calling your name girl?

Eventually some of the hairy-handed villagers did approach us but we couldn’t understand what they were saying at all.  This feels like the twelfth different dialect we’ve encountered in less than a fifty mile radius.  What is this, London?  Can these people all understand each other?  How the hell does it work? 

I had a fantasy about the villagers being thankful for us saving their miserable sorry lives and bringing us crude wooden skewers laden with glistening chunks of duck dripping with honey – and not fatty duck, but juicy crispy duck – made with zucchini and red peppers.  But instead we eventually figured out that they were asking us for food.  We did give them some of our supplies, each of us taking turns being the one saying to the other that all we were doing was hurting ourselves but then feeling guilty and handing over more of our supplies anyway. 

What they really needed was a doctor.  Neither Martialla or I know much of anything about first aid and even if we did, we definitely don’t know anything about post-apocalyptic first aid.  What do you do when you get smashed in the back with a chain by a guy on a motorcycle and there’s no such thing as hospital?  I don’t care what the hippies say, you can’t just squeeze a plant and smear some natural bullshit on a motorcycle-chain smashed spine and be fine. 

When I was thinking about that, I realized that being a doctor or a nurse or someone else with medical training waking up in this world would be about the worst thing ever.  Everyone, literally everyone here, is sick or injured from what I’ve seen.  You’d drive yourself insane because everyone needs your help.  And without access to modern machines or pharmacology, what are you going to be able to do about it?  Nothing, that’s what.  That’s probably what medical people have nightmares about – everyone begging for their help and knowing they can’t do anything for even a fraction of the people crowding around them. 

Since we couldn’t really talk to them or help them and we couldn’t seem to stop giving away our limited supplies, we got back on the move after maybe an hour.  We couldn’t follow the raiders on their dirt track so we headed back to the road, which was a damn sight harder than getting off of it was.  The grade actually didn’t seem as steep as when we were barreling down it, but it was enough that it took several tries, and a lot of pushing and cursing from Martialla, to get back up onto the ridge.  Once we were back in position, instead of getting back in the car, Martialla sat on the edge of the road and looked out over the landscape. 

I tapped her on the shoulder “Come on, let’s hit the road.”

She scowled over at me “Give me a minute, I think I pulled my quadratus lumborum.”

“What’s that?  The boob?  What do you have to pull there?”

Martialla scowled even harder “Why was I even the one pushing?  You’re the one who drove us down there like a lunatic.”

I sat down beside her and held out my arms “Because my muscles are so puny, I don’t have big ropey manly arms like you.”  Her only response was a sour grunt “You know what I’ve realized?”

She kicked a rock down the hill absently “Something about your butt I’m guessing?”

“No, sadly not everything is about my butt.  We’re basically Superman here in this future land.  Think about it, he was just going along living his normal life and then his parents tell him ‘oh, actually your planet blew up and you’re the only survivor’ and just like that his entire worldview changes.  That’s like us waking up here in those tubes.”

She shook her head “That makes no sense, Superman grew up on earth, he didn’t find out about Krypton until later.”

“Hey, I was the one who was going to play Superman, I know what I’m talking about.”

“Supergirl, you mean.”

“No, I was going to play Superman in a reboot.”

She gave me a dubious look “How exactly were you going to play Superman in a movie?”

“I was going to be doing voice overs for the woman who was in control of Superman’s body.  Something to do with solar flares and blue kryptonite.  The production never got off the ground because that idiot Dean Cain wouldn’t shut up about the changes he wanted to the script.  That guy’s lucky he even has a career and he’s shooting his mouth off?”

“Why would they do that?  If they wanted to make a movie with a woman, why wouldn’t they just make Supergirl?  Why do some kind of Freaky Friday Superman?”

“Why do scriptwriters to anything?  They’re crazy.  You’re just mad because you couldn’t stunt for me if I had gotten the part.  Why are you always trying to take roles away from women?  Especially when that woman is me?  Also why is it that there’s a Supergirl and not a Superwoman?”

“What, are you working on a tight five for the Comedy Store?  Anyway, we’re nothing like Superman, if we’re like anyone we’re like Buck Rogers.”

“The porn star?”

She threw a pebble at me “There is no porn star named Buck Rogers.”

I threw up my arm to ward off further attacks “Yes there is, I met him at the AVN awards!”

“Why were you at the AVN awards?!”

I shrugged “Leo wanted to go.  It was more boring than anything.”

She snorted “Leo, that guy was a dick, why did you go out with him?  Anyway, I’m talking about Buck Rogers in the Twenty-Fifth Century not some dude with a freak penis.  He was an astronaut that got frozen for five hundred years and then has to save the universe from Ming the Merciless.”

“Ming is from Flash Gordon.”

Martialla bit her lip “Oh right.  Well Buck Rogers was frozen and then he was trying to do something.  Erin Gray was there, I remember that.”

“That’s science fiction stuff either way, we’re more like Snake Plisken in Escape from New York, except you know, women, and also nothing like that is going on.  But you know what I mean.”

Revenge

It takes a village to raise a child, but how many people does it take to make that village to raise that child?  I think of these people as villagers but does five treehouses make a village?  I guess either way it isn’t a village anymore since all the tree-houses are burned up. 

The villagers are bald, just like the other people with the lumpy heads, but whereas the potatoheads are close to normal human proportions, these people are even shorter than the norm we’ve seen so far.  I’d call them squat.  Seemed like they were not even five feet tall but were three feet wide.  One other thing that really stuck out to me was how hairy the backs of their hands were.  It was thick enough you could have braided it. 

Had I been thinking about it, I would have expected them to swarm around us in thanksgiving and offer us their finest foods and sing songs of praise for saving them.  But I wasn’t thinking.  Not about that anyway.  I was thinking about how on the news they used to have some dullard standing there shell-shocking mumbling “it all happened so fast” after a natural disaster or a plane crash or something.  I shouldn’t have judged them.  It does happen fast.  And afterwards you don’t know what else to say.  It’s like it happened too fast for your brain to understand it.

Some of the squat bald villagers that were fleeing during the attack continued fleeing.  Some of them started trying to help the wounded that weren’t able to flee.  A couple of them stared at us warily.  The guy that Martialla shot and I ran over was super dead, but there was another one of the attack bikers that was alive.  I’m pretty sure he wished he wasn’t soon enough, because a couple of the hairy-handed people tied him to a burning tree and started in on him with their spears. 

I guess I can’t blame them but it didn’t make his screams any more bearable.  When you hurt someone, they scream.  Most people know that.  But what I’ve learned in California After Apocalypse Twenty-Two Hundred is that if you hurt someone bad enough they don’t scream, they make a different kind of sound.  This sound has no name because the overwhelming majority of humans throughout history don’t know it exists and those that do know about it also know that nothing can do justice to that sound other than hearing it for yourself. 

Martialla stayed low and dashed from cover to cover, sliding up beside the car in a way that seemed very unnecessary since the fighting was over.  She had a pistol in her hand and was scanning the area in a sort of crouch.  Her voice was strung tight as a tennis racket.

“Are you hurt?”

I shook my head and then realized that she wasn’t looking my way and couldn’t see me “No, I’m not hurt.”

Her voice trembled a little “You can’t do that Ela.  You can’t just drive into something like that.  You need to check with me.  You can’t make snap decisions.  We could have been killed.  We should have been killed.  What the hell is this car made out of?”

“I know, I’m sorry.”

Her head whipped around and she stared at me like I had never said that I was sorry before.  Maybe I hadn’t.  Her lips moved like she was about to say something but then she stopped.  She threw one leg over the window and slithered back into the car without taking her eyes off the ridge. 

“You’re not thinking about going after them, are you?”

“No, not them.  But I think we should put our vacation to Colorado Springs on hold.  What do you think about this idea?  We head north and find the leader of these assholes, Duke Eagle, and we murder him.”

“That sounds dangerous.”

“Yeah, it’s probably pretty dangerous to try and kill this guy, but I’ve realized we’re not going to live very much longer no matter what we do.  Might as well go out with a bang, right?”

She took a break from darting her eyes around manically to glance over at me “Are you sure you’re okay?”


“Yeah, I’m okay.” I pointed at a cluster of village people dragging one of their dead friends out of the rice mud “Not like that guy.  He’s not okay at all.”

“I guess going on a roaring rampage of revenge is the cinematic thing to do.  That’s what the mysterious stranger always does.  Does that make us Shane, or Chris from the Magnificent Seven? “

“Girls can’t be the mysterious stranger, Martialla, that would be silly.  If this was a movie, you would have been killed for trying to fight and I would have been taken as a sex slave.  The real mysterious stranger would have been badly hurt in the attack but he’d crawl into a cave and heal himself by willpower alone and then when he got better and came to rescue me months later, before I died in his arms from all the sex slavery, I would whisper to him ‘you gotta kill them for me mysterious stranger, kill them all, for me’.”

“And then you guys would bang, right?”

“Obviously.  When you’re dying from sex slavery, that’s all you want to do on your way out.  Being the mysterious stranger has to be rough, knowing that you have to wait until right before a woman dies before you make your move.  That’s probably very frustrating for him.”

Martialla finally put her gun away “Yes, leading men have a bad hand for sure.”

I put my hand on the gear selector, which is also a skull in case you were wondering – who the heck made that? 

“So what will you have, Martialla?  A deadly mission of revenge or continue on our way to Colorado Springs?  I want to make sure you feel heard here.”

“I hear wine country is lovely this time of year.”

“That’s more east than north really, but I’ll allow it.”

Unhinged

I hung my arm out the window and glanced over at Martialla as the ugly landscape crawled by “You know I haven’t seen a single roach here in the future.”

“Present, you mean.  You say that like you’re disappointed.  Why do you want to see roaches?”

“I don’t want to see roaches, who would want to see a roach?”

“An entomologist.”

“Shut up Martialla!  The point I’m trying to make is that back in our time they always said that after the end of the world the only thing left would be the roaches, so where are the roaches?  Swarms of giant carnivorous roaches hungry for our tender meat.”

Martialla frowned “Why do you want there to be roaches?”

“God damn it Martialla, I’m not saying that I want there to be roaches. What I’m saying is that they told us there were going to be roaches everywhere after the world blew up so where are they?”

“They were wrong.  Roaches being left after the bombs drop is one of those things that someone said once based on nothing and it sounded good, so other people kept parroting it.  Like that old chestnut about how you lose ninety percent of your heat from your head or that if you wake up a sleepwalker they could die.  Roaches evolved in tropical rain forests, the only reason they can survive in other environments is because humans have heated houses for them to live in and create literally tons of garbage for them to eat.  Anything that took out humans would take out the roaches too, except in the jungles where they evolved to live.”

I scowled at her “Why do you know so much about roaches?”

“I dated an entomologist in college.”

“Stop saying entomologist!  I don’t think you have any idea what you’re talking about, need I remind you that you’re an adult woman who doesn’t know what third base is.”

I know what third base is, you’re the one who thinks that millions of women are out there getting fingered all the time in the back of cars!”

“I never said anything about fingers going inside anything, everyone knows that third base is when you . . .”

I trailed off when I saw the smoke. The road was elevated maybe thirty feet, the parts of it that are left anyway, some of it had dropped off on the north side.  I’ve driven out to Reno before (don’t ask) and I don’t remember the interstate being on the side of a hill like this.  How could any of the road be intact if the topography has shifted that much?  The future present makes no sense. 

I think we’re in the general area of what used to be Truckee, but I don’t think there were ever rice fields in Truckee before.  That’s what was off the road to the north.  It looked like something out of a movie about Vietnam.  Not just the terraces and the rice plants but the scene – blood and mayhem – was what you would expect from one of those movies too.  I mean except for the motorcycles.

The smoke was coming from a burning stand of trees crowded in-between the fields.  Most of the smoke was issuing from little huts that were built into the branches like a treehouse for a little kid.  Tearing ass around the fields were a half dozen guys on dirtbike-like contraptions flailing about with chains and clubs as other people on foot fled in terror before them.  They tried to flee in terror anyway, a lot of them got bashed down from behind, you know because you can’t run faster than a minibike.  Generally speaking.

I saw a clump of a dozen or so people with spears form up into a little square like they were going to fend off a cavalry charge in olden times.  One of the bikers skidded to a stop in front of them, spraying up a big wave of mud and rice-stalks (?) and then hurled a stick of dynamite at them [Martialla’s note, it was a black powder fuse grenade, not dynamite] and blew them to pieces.  It was just a thing that happened.  A bunch of people turned into bloody mist right before my eyes like that’s normal. 

Across the field there was a vehicle that was one of the ugliest wrecks I’ve seen here so far.  The frame looked like it was that of a big off-road truck or utility vehicle but the body looked like a horizontal tepee or something – I swear that a lot of it looked like it was wood.  There was a friggin’ turret on this thing.  I have no idea where the engine even would be in something like that.  Standing near this Frankencar were three of those lumpy-headed people watching the carnage and having themselves a laugh.  They were bald like all the potato-head people we’ve seen so far, so I can’t say for sure, but I think the one in the middle was a woman.  She (?) had a crazy looking gun over her shoulder that looked like it was four feet long. 

“Jesus Christ what are you doing!”

That’s what Martialla said when I turned our car, fishtailed like crazy, and took us over the side into the field.  I guess it was a pretty steep decline.  I should have given her a heads up.  Especially since this thing has no seat belts.  Here’s the problem with J-Lo.  Armored plates are all well and good for protection, but it leaves you with just a small slit to look through.  It’s not so bad when you’re on the road, but when you’re driving around a terraced rice field trying to run over nimble dirt bikes you really need a full field of vision.  I never wondered before how tank drivers in World War Two were able to see where they were going but now I do.  How the hell did they know where they were going? 

I stuck my head out the window so I could see better and in doing so I managed to clip one of the bikers on the back wheel and send it and him tumbling through the air.  I tried to come around to take another crack at him but J-Lo got bogged down in the mud and plant material in the fields as I turned.  We weren’t going anywhere.  Martialla grabbed me by the seat of the pants and dragged me back inside.

“Get the fucking armor up, that’s a saw!”

I would find out later that saw can mean Squad Automatic Weapon.  Why couldn’t she just say machine gun like a normal person?  Why did she have to say saw?  Say saw.  Say saw.  That sounds weird.  A moment later the car started trembling like it had those hardware store paint can shakers on each wheel.  The sounds of the bullets slamming into the armor was outrageous.  You cannot imagine how loud it was.  I ducked down in the seat and prayed not to get hit with a ricochet.  Based on the sound alone, I imagine that even a deflected bullet would have ripped me in half. 

My ears were ringing when the firing stopped so I didn’t even realize that it had stopped until I felt Martialla yanking on me again and shouting.  I couldn’t hear what she was yelling about but she dove out the window and a second later I saw one of those dynamite things [Martialla’s note, it was another fuse grenade, see above] clatter onto the hood of the car.  I guess Martialla didn’t think J-Lo would be able to take the blast.  Oh she of little faith. 

The explosion was actually surprisingly tame by comparison to the sound of that gunfire.  All it did was knock J-Lo out of her rut.  I put the hammer down with my sights set on one of the motocross murderers.  Another one of the bastards came whirring up beside and tried to stab in through the window with an L-shaped blade.  That didn’t work so well though because Martialla sprayed him with a burst of fire in the back from her position hugging the side of one of the terraces.  I could hear her cursing as the rifle jammed on her after a split second of fire. 

I felt a big thump, so the blade-guy must have fallen right under the back wheels.  I tried to bring J-Lo around to head up towards the woman (?) with the SAW but the incline was too steep and the purchase was too poor for me to make any headway.  I watched as the remaining bikers excite-biked their way up there and the potatohead people piled into their stupid looking machine and slowly drove away.  Martialla was yelling for me to turn, go laterally, and head up a dirt path on the other side of the burning trees but by the time I realized what she was trying to get me to do, they were gone. 

From the moment I spotted them to the time I saw them drive away wasn’t more than thirty seconds I bet.

Throw my better self overboard

UF Jeff Hostetler and his scabies-infested cronies said that we could stay in the market square that night since there were no traders in town anyway.  We parked J-Lo under a shabby canopy and had the luxury of lying down in the dirt to sleep.  You know what the truly sad thing about it is?  It felt SOOO good. There’s a slippery slope of living uncomfortably – after sleeping in a car for a few days, just being able to straighten out fully feels like heaven.  I think there’s a term for that, how back before the apocalypse companies and the government or cults or what have you could treat people like crap and they would thank them for that grungy treatment because those selfsame powerful entities had treated them even worse in the past.  Some kind of mental conditioning, like how if you beat your kids enough, they decide they must deserve it.

Sleeping in a car is really bad for your hips I’m learning.  It’s all about the hips.  Of course if there’s anything that isn’t bad for my health in one way of the other here in the future-present, I haven’t encountered it yet.  Pterodactyl-woman and a couple of her pterodactyl friends brought us some soup that looked like Elmer’s glue mixed with rotten sushi that smelled like a burning raccoon.  It didn’t taste bad though.  Not by apocalypse standards anyway.   

When night fell, the non-Northern Lights were so bright the change in ambient light level was barely noticeable.  Since the sun isn’t green and purple and amber, the overall effect was very different but the amount of light was almost the same.  I started singing “Amber” by 311 but Martialla didn’t appreciate it all.  She’s always had serious stick in the mud tendencies and now that her husband (and the rest of the world) are gone, that side of her is really taking over in an unpleasant way.  Not that she was ever a barrel of laughs but I’m just trying to lighten the mood, keep a little optimism.  She needs some all you can eat Buffalo wings and a bottomless mojito.  Also she needs some chapstick and a change of clothes, but that’s for different reasons. 

Martialla looked over at me under the bottom of J-Lo “Are you asleep?” 

I looked back her way “I just had a serious flashback to childhood slumber parties.” 

I could see the crazy colors in the night sky reflected in her wet dull brown eyes as she looked over the car “We should have gotten a car with more clearance, this thing isn’t great at off-roading and I have a feeling we’re going to want to do that a lot.”

“We’ll trade up at the next Ford dealership.  Mar, I don’t mean to alarm you but I don’t feel good.” 

“Interesting, if anything you should feel better now.  In the old world I doubt that it was even possible for a normal adult to ever really feel good.  In that world, I didn’t feel good.  Nobody felt good.  After childhood, it was just a fact of life that you wouldn’t feel good.  The reality was that most people got up earlier than we wanted to, and sat at a desk or a cash register or stood at an assembly line or in front of a classroom for far longer than they wanted to, so they could collect just enough money to allow them to stay alive to do it all again the next day.  And against that despair all you had was the weekend, where you clean your house and do yard work and run errands, and if you’re lucky, if you’re lucky, you manage to scrounge together enough time to make a single palliative gesture like going to see a movie where you pay way too much for popcorn and watch a presentation of fancy dinners and immaculately tailored clothing that you know you can never afford.”

I couldn’t help but be taken aback “Jesus, was working for me that bad?” 

After a moment she sighed “No, it’s just . . . you know . . . everything . . . anyway, you were saying that you don’t feel good?” 

“Uh . . . yeah, I mean I’m not puking hourly anymore but I still kind of feel like I’m dying.  How is this supposed to work?  I feel like between the two of us, we’ve had a total of six hours sleep in a week.  How are we ever going to regain our strength?  How do they do it in the army?  There’s sentries on duty during the night when everyone else is asleep right?  But the army is on the move during the day so when do the sentries ever get a chance to rest?  You know what I’m saying?” 

“Generally an army has more than two people, so I’m sure it works out for them somehow.  What we need is more manpower.” 

“Or womanpower.” 

She sighed heavily “Yes, or womanpower.  Did you ever see Space Seed?” 

I raised an eyebrow “The porn?” 

She halfway raised up in outrage “No!  The Star Trek episode.  They find the SS Botany Bay, a ship of cryogenically frozen people shot out into space.  Since it takes so long to get anywhere in space, you have to freeze people so they don’t die of old age on the way.  We need to find one of those, wake up some other freezer people to be on our side.” 

“Wasn’t that also the plot to Planet of the Apes?” 

“Spoiler alert.” 

“I’ll keep my eyes out for any crashed space ships full of human popsicles.  That seems like a good plan, very likely to bring positive results.  Fuck, marry, kill, Kirk, Spock, McCoy.” 

“Hmm, fuck Spock . . . marry McCoy, kill Kirk.” 

“Blasphemy, you don’t want to get down with James Tiberius Kirk?” 

“No, I sure don’t, that guy has to have a dozen alien STDs at least. What about you, fuck, marry, kill, Picard, Riker, Data.” 

“I don’t know who those people are.” 

“You were on an episode of Next Generation!” 

“Oh yeah, that’s right, which one was that?  Was that the one with Kevin Sorbo?  Was he the captain of the Enterprise?”

Martialla rolled over to give me her back “Now you’re just trying to upset me.” 

Spent too much of my life now trying to play fair

During World War Two, the Allies dropped a boatload of fifty caliber single shot pistols into enemy occupied territory for the use of partisans and resistance fighters and the like.  The idea was that you as a guerrilla fighter against the damn Nazis would use that single shot pistol to creep up on and take out one of the dirty Nazis and then grab their gun for further resistancing.  No one knows how many of them were actually used, but after the war “they” decided that it probably wasn’t very many.  But they decided that dropping all those guns all over the place likely had the unintended useful psychological side effect of making the Germans think that there might be lurking guerrillas with a fifty cal pistol ready to blow them away at any moment.  These are the kinds of “fascinating” things that Martialla tells me now.   

I always knew that she had an interest in firearms but I’m now starting to wonder if she’s been a full-blown gun nut all along and she was just hiding it.  She talks at length about the kind of crude firearms she thinks people might be knocking together these days.  Thanks to this impulse of hers, I now know that a homemade shotgun is called a tumbera in Argentina.  And that you could buy a twelve-gauge pipe gun for ten bucks in the fifties because a dude who fought in the Philippines thought it was cool.  And that those old cap gun toys can be converted into real guns “relatively easily”.   

I bring this up because the Boss had a thing hanging around his neck that Martialla said is similar to one of a number of improvised firearms produced in Chechnya during the nineties.  The Boss himself looked a lot like Jeff Hostetler, I mean a LOT like Jeff Hostetler.  Not that I’m a huge football fan, but the resemblance was so uncanny that it kind of freaked me out. 

You’re probably thinking “that must have been nice for you Ela, to finally see someone who looked more like the people of your time.” 

No, I said he looked like Jeff Hostetler, so he was right at home here in the ugly future.  His squat hairy badger-like cronies were carrying him on what I technically should call a palanquin but that word makes it sound fancy, which it was not.  This thing was a couple of sticks and a pile of garbage for him to sit-stand on.  Was Elizabeth Taylor on one of those things in Cleopatra or am I thinking of the Ten Commandments?  Who was in that one, Anne Baxter?   

Ugly Future Jeff Hostetler spoke perfectly clearly, he was the least accented person we’ve met so far, unfortunately he wasn’t speaking English.  Martialla said she thought it was Russian, like she knows what she’s talking about.  Luckily one of his mush-mouth minions interpreted for him, unluckily we couldn’t understand eighty to ninety percent of what the interpreter was saying.  An inability to enunciate clearly is a significant hindrance to an interpreter if you ask me.

Let me ask you this (I say that knowing likely no one will ever read this) why is it that Martialla and I have a hard time understanding most people here but generally they seem to understand us just fine and dandy?  What’s that about?  In olden times, did people that spoke vulgar Latin still under what people speaking classical Latin said to them but not the other way round?  I should have paid more attention in linguistics class.  Also I should have taken a linguistic class.   

After several minutes of an even less funny “who’s on first” routine, our leather drum faced guide, who had wandered back on the scene at some point, explained to us that the Boss was saying that if we had guns to trade, we had to trade them with him.  UF Jeff Hostetler nodded when she said this so clearly he understands English so what the hell was even going on?  Was he speaking maybe Russian to an interpreter? 

We said that we’d be glad to trade him a rifle for some fuel and food and water and some new clothes and a shower and a shave and some whiskey, but then things got confused again.  Eventually we figured out, through leatherface, that UF Jeff Hostetler was under the assumption that we were merchants from Gunmetal City because we had pistols on our hips and were tossing crappy rifles around.  I guess no one else ever is willing to give up a firearm for anything.  When we told him that we just picked that up at the Roadrunner (meep-meep) flea market, he was very sad.   

With zero prompting, he told us that they needed weapons because a group of raiders had set up camp on the route between Bosstown and Smashweed and this was bad because they need food from Smashweed because all they have is mud and everyone was going to die unless they did something about it.  I’ve never been in charge of a feudal kingdom before, but that seems like the kind of thing you wouldn’t go around blabbing to strangers that just came into town.  I guess statecraft is still in the process of being reinvented.  Rediscovered?  Whichever.

I was about to say “that’s a bummer, good luck with that” when Martialla opened her big fat mouth and asked what they would give us if we ran the raiders off.  I looked at her incredulously.   

“What are you doing?” 

“This is the best place we’ve seen so far, and they seem to have contact with other places that might be even better.  We need to start making some friends.  What’s the harm in driving out there and just taking a look?  If we can run them off, great, we reap the rewards. If not, we drive away and forget the whole thing.” 

“Uh, are you forgetting about the Loch Ness Monster in scum-lake town?  This seems to be more or less the same deal and that didn’t go great.  I’m still sneezing out the occasional eel.  And that was just an animal, these are professional murderers.  Think about this, these raiders are apparently more than they can handle themselves, don’t you think that means it’s more than the two us are going to be a match for?” 

Martialla gestured “Look around, does it look like these people can handle anything?  That piece of junk about his neck might well be the only gun they have.

“Yeah, and we have TWO guns so clearly that’s a huge improvement.”

Martialla’s voice was wild with confidence “This time will be different.” 

“Yeah, this time could be much worse.”