You found my breaking point, congratulations

Martialla and I debated at length (as is our wont) if we should go into Bosstown.  And once we decided that we should, we debated some more (as is tradition) if we should go together or if one of us should stay outside with the car.  The safest thing would have been to just drive on, but how are we ever going to get more stuff and survive if we avoid everyone?  The problem with waking up after the apocalypse is that you don’t know how to operate in the world you find yourself in.  There are other problems too but you know what I mean.  

Martialla is obsessed with two things – guns and fuel.  She wants more of both of them and she wants to know where they come from.  I would settle for some clean clothes.  The Martialla that I knew and loved (well not loved-loved, but like how a dog loves a ratty old blanket) was a perfect sidekick.  She had the initiative to do things that I didn’t care about but otherwise she was just hanging around waiting for me to tell her what to do.  Nowadays she’s displaying a lot of drive and determination.  Independent thought is what it is.  If this was a novel or a script, the line producer would have a real issue with the writing, “who’s the protagonist here?” they’d say.  And the writer would stare at their shoes because they’re mostly poltroons in bad clothing who want to go home and play Xbox.  Eye contact startles them.  

One of her lusts was satiated because was got to learn all about “fuel” firsthand.  

When we rolled into Bosstown there weren’t too many people about, there certainly weren’t guards of any kind, but the people (and I use that term grudgingly) that were around seemed impressed by our wheels.  I didn’t see another vehicle in the place.  We inquired of a woman lounging in the door-hole of one of the large mud-brick buildings if there was a marketplace.  Not I, nor anyone else, knows for sure what the skin of a pterodactyl looked like, but nonetheless I would say that her skin was pterodactyl-ish.  Other than that she wasn’t too ugly.   She told us that there was a market square but it was only used when a caravan comes into town.  

I’ve been wondering how the economy works here in the future, giving someone a cow for two chickens on the spot?  No problem.  But when someone has the idea “if you give me those two chickens right now, I’ll give you twelve seashells and then another six of them next week, and you can give them to my cousin for a cow plus a sack of monkey heads” how are you going to keep track of everything?  Once trade becomes a thing, doesn’t currency have to be close behind?  Since the market is closed I guess I’ll still have to wonder.

Martialla and I gave each other the “now what” look when the leathery lounger told us that if we needed fuel she could show us where to get it.  Before we said yes, she came and sat on J-Lo’s hood and a slightly smaller pterodactyl woman came out to take up her post in the door-hole.  With a shrug we followed her directions (it’s pretty easy in a town with four roads and four intersections) to a plot of land that looked something like the big vats you see at Granite City.  Martialla listened raptly while a skinny man (who smelled like a brewery himself) told her all about how he turns biodegradable garbage (including corpses) into fuel.  

While they were rambling on, I asked Lady Rodan what there was to do around here for fun.  The answer apparently is nothing.  Or in the case of this lady, what you do is make bricks out of mud, unless you don’t have any mud, then you stand around and wait until you die or get more mud to make bricks out of, and then some gorgeous strangers drive into town and you show them where the fuel depot is unasked-for fun. 

I’m starting to better understand old literature.  You read a book about colonial times and the characters see a cloud shaped like a candle and they lose their minds and that’s like a whole day’s “adventure”.  I’m starting to get that now.  We’re in times where entertainment is staring into a fire or counting the number of flies on someone’s face.  It doesn’t take much to entertain people.

Martialla and Amarillo Slim talked for what seemed like half a day.  Eventually leathery Sue wandered off.  I wished I could do the same.  I don’t think it’s literally possible to die of boredom but I did my level best at just that sitting in the driver’s seat as Martialla hung out the window talking about fractionating and copper pipes.  After a while, I realized that she was done with that conversation and was talking to me.  I looked over and she was shaking her head like a cat that sees a bird on TV, they want it bad but something just isn’t right.

“ . . . . ethanol but if that’s true then why . . .”

“Well, whatever the case at least it was really boring.”

She looked down her nose at me like a vexed schoolmarm “I’m sorry that learning how to survive this apocalypse isn’t more entertaining to you.”

“Trust me, so am I.  Did you at least get us some more fuel?  

Martialla pursed her lips for a moment and then looked out the window towards her new best friend who was stirring a vat of sludge and seemed like he was trying to hide as well “No, when I said that I would trade him the plastic rifle for fuel he got all squirrelly.”

“Maybe they don’t allow guns here like at the scum-lake.”

“That could be.  Maybe the Roadrunners . . .”

“Meep-meep!”

“. . . have all the guns.  That’s how it worked in olden times right?  The peasants toiled and the nobles had all the weapons?  If you want to maintain control you can’t let the people on the bottom of the pyramid get their hands on guns.”

I snorted “You’re asking me?  Maybe he just . . .”

I was interrupted at this point by the approach of the eponymous Boss of Bosstown and his cadre of scabby goons.  Is eponymous the word I mean, or do I mean titular?  Do those mean the same thing?  If so why do we have them both?  

Drift down into the new dark light without any reservations

I’m not sure how long we traveled for exactly.  Seems like a couple of days to me but it easily could be more.  Or less.  I wouldn’t be completely shocked if someone (who would that be?) told me it was just two days and one night.  Martialla and I took turns sleeping, you know, because we had stuff and didn’t want to be murdered and/or robbed by the people we were escorting.  Which meant that really neither one of us slept much at all.  It’s hard to get some decent shut-eye when you’re worried about being surrounded by a horde of potential murderers.  

My hand/forearm on the side where I hurt my wrist has gotten crazy swollen and so tender that I almost scream when a stiff wind touches it.  Now it’s completely numb.  That’s a great sign for my continued health right?  My hand still works but it’s like trying to operate the radio in your car with thick winter gloves on.  Or it’s like trying to dial the phone by controlling a marionette, which I have done.  

The horse people and their friends didn’t try and kill us or take our stuff while we slept, but they should have.  That’s the fucked up thing that I realized.  They absolutely should have bum rushed as soon as they saw us, taken our car and all our food and water and weapons and tools.  Their forbearance in this situation makes no logical sense.  This is the state of nature, there’s no reward for moral behavior.  If a lion has a chance to eat a baby hippo and it doesn’t do it, the momma hippo isn’t going to bring the lion something to eat later to make up for it.  You just missed out on a meal.  

When the chips are down it’s dog eat dog right?  We’re not part of these people’s clan or tribe or moiety or whatever they have going on, not robbing us blind doesn’t do them any good because we’re not them.  Whereas ripping us off, on the other hand, would help them significantly.  And if they did steal our stuff, it would behoove them to kill us dead to make sure that we didn’t come back for revenge.  

It makes me wonder how society ever even happened.  The first caveman that was smart (or whatever) enough to consider being nice to another caveman was dealing with an immoral monster who would use that to their advantage right?  So how did it ever catch on enough to become a thing?  The concept that we’ll all be better off overall if we don’t constantly crack each other’s skulls open is pretty esoteric when you’re coming from a wilderness survival situation isn’t it?  How did it happen?  

Don’t get me wrong, I’m happy they didn’t murder us as soon as they could, but it’s puzzling.  

We did see a couple scouts for the Invincible in the distance sitting on their scrap cycles and watching us.  So maybe having us as escorts did the horse people some good.  Maybe if we weren’t there, they would have attacked the survivors.  Dunno.  

One of the wrinkly leaders told us that only the Invincible that make a kill while “mounted” on their machine get to put the fist symbol on it.  The stripes and dots and other paints on their vehicles all mean other things, various kinds of killing and maiming and stealing.  The red paint is reserved only for the bumpy-headed ones, who are the elite, and the other colors are for associates and mutants and whatnot.  It was way more detail than I could remember even if I wanted to.  I suppose it pays to learn everything you can about your enemies.  

They told me that Duke Eagle “the Vain” is so called because he has a mirror.  Seems like a pretty low bar for vanity, I wonder what they’d call me if they knew me better.  

I wouldn’t say that I was excited when we spotted Bosstown, but I felt something approaching the human emotion of excitement.  From afar it looked like an actual town sort of, a shitty one, but better than anything we had seen so far.  There was a tic-tac-toe pattern of muddy (and other stuff than mud I found out) paths that you could call streets if you wanted to be nice, and clustered around them were a couple hundred buildings.  Most of them were made from brown-grey mud bricks but here and there we saw shacks rigged up out of a patchwork junk that you might find in a construction dumpster.  Not sure if those were the good ones or the bad ones.  

I do know that the worst ones have to be the tents and dugouts in the mudflats around “town”.  For miles around in all directions there’s just mud.  To the north the mud gets mottled grey and to the south it turns more rust colored but it’s all a vast field of mud.  Why would you make a town in a mudpile?  The mud is why the town is here.  They’re mud farmers or gatherers or whatever you want to call picking up mud as a career.  This mud is the “good kind” that you can turn into stuff.  The mudders gather up the good mud and bring it to town where the townsfolk turn it into things that they trade with other settlements

That’s why the survivors of the convoy came here, because anyone can come here and be a mudder.  They always need more mudders.  As long as you bring in the mud you get food, enough to stay alive to get more mud.  They’re not technically slaves, not that technicalities matter anymore, but unless you “strike it rich” and dig some old tech out of the mud there’s no way out.  Other than working yourself to death or disappearing in the mud one day.  

I know I’ve said this like three times before, but seeing that giant mudhole and all the ghastly looking people slogging through it, that’s when it really hit me that my world is gone.  I keep thinking that the scales have fallen away from my eyes (that’s an expression right?) but then I see something even more mournful.  

As the survivors of the battle dispersed (seemingly instinctually) into the mud fields, the wrinkly elders came to thank us profusely.  It made me a little sick to my stomach.  A couple days ago they were driving to a place to do a big trade deal and then go home and now they’re here, probably to toil until death, and they’re thanking us?  It was a bit much.  

Be an upstanding well-loved man about town

Perhaps mob is a misleading term.  Or maybe it isn’t.  A mob doesn’t have to be angry or threatening does it?  Is a mob just a group of people?  Can there be a happy mob?  These people were neither happy nor angry or threatening.  They were a pretty sad bunch.  I suppose that’s what happens when you’re the survivors of a losing battle.  These were the people of the convoy (?) that we saw being attacked by the Invincible (and others?) bereft of their dirt bikes and whatever else they had, but with the addition of wounds not bad enough to get them left behind to die.  I have no idea what soldiers looked like after a swords and arrows battle in the olden times, but I imagine it was something like this. 

Not all of them looked alike but there was a solid core that must be some the same bloodline or tribe or whatever happens now.  They were completely hairless and had long horsey faces.  I suppose I should be more careful with my terminology these days since I’ve seen actual people with bug and lizard parts.  They didn’t literally have the faces of horses, they just had long facial features with big lantern jaws and way too many teeth.  Since they just got stomped I’ll refrain from any mention how ugly they were.  But they were.

The first few dozen that came plodding up the road ignored us and made for the stream.  I’ll refrain from any jokes about leading a horse to water.  I can’t cast stones I suppose since I was just bathing in the waters myself, but after a score or so of people had dipped their hands in to drink, the water downstream was taking on a greyish pallor.  Pall?  Pallor. 

After being ignored for a while, a little knot of hairless horsepeople in the middle of the group came over our way.  I was dressed at this point FYI, even though I hate pulling on wet clothes.  It’s the worst right?  I mean other than everything else happening all the time.  It’s hard to tell people’s ages these days but this group was wrinklier and they were wearing capes or robes or something made out of animal hide so I assume they were elders or leaders of some kind. 

We could more or less understand them.  They asked us if we were Roadrunners or California Highway Patrol.  We told them no and they just stared at us for a long time.  I suppose they were waiting for us to tell them who we were.  They were the first group that seemed to find our very different appearance from everyone else (not ugly) noteworthy.  Aside from the clump of wrinkly people, they kept their distance but they gawked at us like we were space aliens.  I felt a little good about that until I heard them whispering about how they were glad we weren’t part of their group because it would be impossible to find enough food for anyone so large.  Rude.

They said they were heading for a place nearby called Bosstown that would take them in since there was no reason to continue on to Scrapbridge and there was no way for them to get home.  Home they said was a place called Antolpe.  They run a yearly caravan from there that was supposed to be protected by the Roadrunners.  And it sounds like the Roadrunners were doing a bang up job of it until this year.  They were pretty bitter about that.  I suppose that’s fair.  From what I saw, there were several hundred of them yesterday and the group before us wasn’t even fifty.    

I asked them what they were hauling in their giant truck/train and what they trade it for.  They said they bring in ore which makes sense, and some kind of dried foodstuff that I didn’t quite get, and then they said that they also brought glowbugs (fireflies?) and hormones.  Hormones?  What the fuck does that mean?  Before I could decide if I wanted to know, they started talking about this Scrapbridge place like it was New York City – they had anything and everything you’d ever want!  Just for laughs I asked them if Scrapbridge had a theater district and one of them nodded their head so vigorously I thought they were going to topple over.  S/he was talking so fast it was hard to be sure, but I’m almost certain they were describing a play they saw there last year.  Better get in touch with my agent. 

At that point I did something very stupid.  I offered them some of our food.  Martialla shot me a mean look, but eight seconds later she was right there with me handing out ceramic “tins” of food sludge just like me.  She’s practical but she’s not made of stone.  As our stash of food dwindled more and more, we both kept looking at each other like “we should stop now right?” but it’s hard when people keep coming up with their hands out.  We had given away half our food before we lied and said that it was all gone.  It felt shitty, but what’s the point of us having no food so these people can all have a third of a meal?  This is the kind of fuckery we have to deal with now.  Honestly we shouldn’t have given them anything because it’s going to hurt us way more than it did anything to help them. But once you cross that moral threshold, what kind of person are you anymore? 

It’s a bad scene man.

They did ask us if we could escort them to Bosstown.  Not sure what good one car and two guns is going to do them if the Invincible come back, but I suppose it’s better than nothing.  I asked them what Bosstown was like and they didn’t really answer us.  I’m pretty sure it’s not a great place, even by apocalypse standards, but they don’t have any other options.  I assume there’s going to be a boss of some kind that runs the town and I have a suspicion that he’s going to be a real asshole.  Although if these people are expecting to find shelter there, it can’t be all bad?  I almost said succor instead of shelter but that’s a dumb word. 

Even though it was early morning they all crowded around J-Lo like kittens around a momma cat and went to sleep.  I guess we’re staying here for the day.  We kind of wanted to get away from the press, but there was no way we were leaving our car and supplies alone so we just sat there listening to the snores of the horse people and their friends.  Since there’s no radio, I started singing “Breakfast At Tiffany’s” for Martialla’s pleasure. 

She put her fingers to the bridge of her nose “Could you not please?  I have such a headache right now.”

I shrugged “Your loss.  You know what I’m thinking?”

“Something self-absorbed and narcissistic?”

“Don’t those mean the same thing?”

“That we just gave away half our supplies and we’re probably not going to stumble across a tanker truck of fuel again?”

“No, I was thinking about that scene in Jaws where Quint says ‘we’re going need a bigger boat’.”

“That was Chief Brody, not Quint.”

“Whatever, I was thinking when they rebuild the world and they make a movie about us the scene where we come out of the cryopods and fight off the mutant hordes, the Ela character should look around at the devastated land and say something like ‘you’re going to need a bigger apocalypse to take me out!’”

After a moment she grunted “That’s not a bad line actually.”

Cling to my convictions, even when I get hurt

Remember when I mentioned that the I-80 flea market had actual fleas at it?  Although completely true, it was meant a funny observation at the time.  It became a lot less funny when the itching started.  Said itching didn’t register at first because I’ve been itchy anyway on account of the air being poison and filled with dirt.  Probably poison dirt.  But eventually I realized that there was another layer of itching going on.

I have to say that so far this is a pretty shitty apocalypse.  I don’t care for it one bit.  It’s too hot for one.  The air quality as I just mentioned is horrendous.  Don’t even get me started on the food.  Don’t!  And now I’m lousy?  I asked Martialla what we do about it and she shrugged and said “I guess we have fleas now” like that was an acceptable answer. 

When we woke up this morning, we saw that next to the road where we had parked there was a stream – a stream that didn’t look like it was mostly tar and used canola oil like most of the water we’ve seen so far.  Martialla started rigging up some contraption to boil water on J-Lo’s engine and fill up our empties while I dove in to drown the little bastards crawling all over me.  I ask you this, how can the water be so god damn cold when it’s ninety-eight degrees with seven hundred percent humidity?

Martialla looked down at me in the water “Are you going to help me?”

I shook my head “N-no.”

“You’re going to freeze to death in there.”

I did my best to keep my teeth from chattering “Sh-sh-shut up Martialla e-e-very . . . every . . . one knows a-a-about . . . y-y-your . . .”

“Jesus, get out of there before you get hypothermia.  That’s not even going to work, you can’t drown fleas.”

“C-c-can . . . too.”

She cocked and eyebrow “Didn’t you grow up on a farm?  Why don’t you know anything about anything?”  I tried to stammer a response but failed. “Even if drowning them did work, which I assure you it will not, you’re going to get them back from me anyway because there’s no way I’m getting in there.”

That was a good point.  That’s why I got out, not because I was starting to lose feeling in my extremities.  Not because Martialla was right, because she’s a filthy person who would reinfest me so there was no point in going through with my idea that would have totally worked.  She’s a beast that one.  I laid my clothes on the top of the car to dry and laid myself on top of the clothes to get some rays.  I heard the frown in Martialla’s voice.

“Can’t you put on some other clothes?”

“What other clothes?  We have no other clothes.  Someone spent all our trade chits on weapons and food and water.  Besides, what do you care?  You’ve seen me naked plenty of times.”

“I have not!  Why would I have ever seen you naked?!”

“You’ve been in dressing rooms with me a bunch of times.”

“I never hung around while you were dressing!”

I raised up in a perfect sphinx pose to look at her “Have you really never seen me naked?”  I laid myself back down “That’s a shame because it’s really something.  You know I was supposed to be in that episode of Seinfeld that Teri Hatcher ended up doing.  You know the one ‘they’re real and they’re spectacular’.”

Martialla snorted “Yeah right.”

I sat back up “I was!  What, you don’t think I have the goods?”  I jabbed my finger at her “My jugs are huge and everyone knows it!”

Martialla sighed  “How many days a week were you going to therapy before the world ended?  Because it wasn’t enough.”

I laid myself back down again “You’re just jealous.  You know while I was in the water I felt something bump into me.  It made me think, did you ever hear that urban legend about the fish in ‘South America’ that swims up a dude’s urine stream and into his bladder for some reason?  I realized that it’s even more stupid than I thought because if a fish wanted to get into human bladders it would be way easier to swim into a woman’s snizz that it would be to swim upstream through a river of urine.  That’s how screwed up the world is, even when they’re making up stories about animals invading our bodies, they have to make everything about penises.”

I could hear the eye roll in Martialla’s voice “Fascinating, you should really write a book about gender theory.”

“Maybe I will.”  I felt something bounce off my head and looked up to see that Martialla had thrown one of her empty water bottles at me. “Hey, what the hell?!”

Martialla pointed down the road “Get your clothes on right now, damn it!”

I looked and saw the mob heading our way.  At least they didn’t sneak up on us this time.

Lie down in the dirt

If this keeps up, eventually someone is going to sneak up on us that possesses both a gun that works and the ability to shoot straight and then we’ll be dead.  When I was a kid I saw a segment on Hard Copy or some other newsplotation program about how in these modern times everyone’s senses are so dulled by TV and cheap beer that murderers can sneak up on you all day every day. 

Their dramatic reenactment example was a guy sleeping in a La-Z-Boy while another guy started a chainsaw right by his head and La-Z-man didn’t even wake up.  It scared me at the time because I was ten, but when I got older I realized it was moronic.  Now I’m starting to wonder if there was more truth to it than I thought.  These future people keep walking right up on Martialla and me like they’re stealthy little voles.  We keep saying one of us should always be on watch but then we don’t do it.  I blame Martialla.  She’s the chief of security.   

Martialla hit the deck, taking cover behind J-Lo, but I whirled around at the sound, which I admit is not a good reaction to being shot at.  Standing right at J-Lo’s ass end was a hunched little future dude with an overly large mouth and way too many nostrils.  He had some kind of zip gun that was wrapped up in rags and/or furs.  What’s the point of that?  Was his gun cold and needed a little coat?  A few yards behind him straddling a bike that looked so heavy and awkward that I can’t understand how you could even ride the thing was his partner, who looked a little like Sam the Eagle from the Muppets on account of his bluish skin and hooked nose.   

Nostrils punched his gun forward at me like he was trying to throw bullets out of it instead of shooting them but nothing happened.  Luckily for me since I was standing there with my mouth open like a moron and he would have shot me down if his gun fired and the bullet traveled anywhere close to true.  Which it would not based on his first attempt.   

At this point I did a very stupid thing.  Instead of ducking down behind our armored killmobile, I came around the side and lunged at nostrils like an osprey grabbing a baby seal.  I don’t know why I did this.  It was just what I did in the moment.  It’s like that time when I was roller-skating at Susie Brecklenmeyer’s birthday party and I tripped Sam Lickwuthering when he came whipping around by me.  I had nothing against Sam, I barely even knew Sam, I just stuck my foot out in that moment without thinking.  It was pure instinct.  He landed on his face.  I felt bad about it afterwards.  When my mom asked me why I did it, I couldn’t say because I didn’t know.  I just did it.   

Nostril’s eyes went so wide as I came at him that I thought they might pop out of his skull and roll under my feet to trip me, some kind of defense mechanism like a sea cucumber barfing up his own stomach or a bonnacon letting fly with its vortex of deadly combustible feces.  Constrastally (that’s a word now I’ve decided) his many nostrils zipped closed like a turtle retreating into its shell.  I grabbed his hand/arm with the “gun” and when I shoved it back, I heard snapping noises just like when I kicked Redlight in the chest. Does everyone in the future have brittle bone disease or what?  You know, I was supposed to play the woman on the train Brue Willis flirts with in the opening of Unbreakable but I got stuck in Veracruz because of the flooding.  I was down there filming Skullhunter 3 – Timesword.  So instead of a small part in a 250 million dollar movie, I got to be the lead in that piece of shit.   

I didn’t have too much time to feel bad about breaking the arm of a guy trying to kill me though, because his (not very good) friend on the bike turned the wheel of his bike towards me and fired a mounted weapon of some kind that made him explode.  I called it a cannon and Martialla pedantically said that it was a large-bore, short-barreled blunderbuss not a cannon.  She always has to have the last word.  Why couldn’t I have gotten trapped in the future with one of my other friends?  Probably because I don’t have any other friends.   

It’s a good thing I was crouched over a little, otherwise the shrapnel blast would have ripped my face off.  Instead, Nostrils took the entirety of the shredding.  I guess I’m lucky that it was a scattergun and not something with a solid shot that would have gone through both of us, instead I was saved by my human(oid) shield.  While I stumbled back and fell down with a bloody blanket of skin and little pieces of muscle over me, Martialla popped up with her pistol on the roof of the car and fired a couple shots at the motorcycle Eagle.  I guess she must have missed because instead of dying, he ponderously turned his massive bike around and blasted off with a jet of flame like the god damn Batmobile.  She watched him drive off but didn’t fire again.  Taking her sweet time, eventually she wandered over and helped me out from under what was left of the dead man and to my feet. 

I spat several hundred times “I think some pineal gland went in my mouth.” 

“Well don’t swallow it, according to Descartes the pineal gland is the seat of the human soul.” 

“If true wouldn’t that mean I should want to swallow it to gain the strength of the fallen?” 

“He didn’t seem very strong to me.” 

“Hey, every little bit helps right?”