I went to church with my parents as a kid. Back home everyone went to church on Sunday. It was just what you did. I think I was raised some kind of Baptist because I remember getting dunked. I think mainstream religions just sprinkle some water on your head. Even as a kid I never really got into it. Church was boring. I almost said boring as hell but that would be silly in this context. I sang in the choir because I like singing and I like attention. That was about it for my interest in religion. Once my parents stopped making me go, I never went again and never thought about it much.
Turns out that I’m a huge hypocrite because I prayed over Martialla. Maybe prayed isn’t the right word, begged is a better one. I begged a god that I don’t believe in to make her not die. I begged in a way that I didn’t think was possible for me to beg. I felt like I was being torn in half right down the middle. I don’t think I could beg like that again if I was begging for my own life. I hate to say it, because it makes me sound like a sociopath, but what I was really begging for was not to be alone. Saving Martialla would be great sure, but the main thing was for me not to be left alone. That’s job one. I don’t feel good about it, I don’t like that about myself, but that’s what it was.
The idea of Martialla dying and me being alone here in this world frightened me in a way that I can’t comprehend. If we’re being honest, and I feel that we are, I’m disgusted by myself for that fear. I’ve never felt so helpless and hopeless and whatever other lesses you want to toss in there. I guess I’m not as strong as I think I am. I suppose none of us are in the end.
I told her, I fucking told her, if she was going to go and fight with that stupid axe of hers like this was some period piece movie about knights and . . . whoever knights fight (Saxons?) that she had to stay where I could see her from the bus. So I could cover her and help her. I fucking told her. And she agreed. So what happens? The instant, the very instant, that she and the quarrpeople all go running out of the truck-bus and start bashing Paradisians, she chases a guy around the corner where I can’t see her and leaves me cursing her oily hide.
How did the battle go? I shot some people. They might have been enemies. They might have been people there to trade. I know I didn’t shoot Martialla or any of the quarry people, but other than that? Shrug. I can’t say that I accomplished much with the rifle on account of the fact that I never fired a rifle before in my life. Fun fact, shockingly, it’s nothing like firing a pistol. Who could have ever possibly guessed that? Why the hell didn’t Martialla give me some lessons on that instead of judo throwing me to the ground like a drunken abusive husband? What was the dirty bitch thinking?
I did much better once I ran out of ammo (okay I still had rifle ammo, I just couldn’t figure out how to reload the damn thing) and switched to the handgun. I for sure shot the hell out of some people with that. One guy was running towards the bus-truck with a big can of gasoline over his head like a 2001 ape creature with a bone and I shot him all to pieces. I’m pretty sure he was an enemy. I also shot a guy with a big wrench, I’m less sure about that one. Fifty-fifty on the guy with the shotgun-chainsaw-flamethrower but no matter whose side he was on, if anyone’s, I think taking him out before he started that thing up was a good idea for everyone involved.
Once the bodybuilders started pulling Paradise people into a line and executing them, I figured the fighting was over. After the battle is when the real killing starts I’ve learned. Makes you wonder why anyone would surrender. Desperation I suppose. You know you’ll probably die but there’s a chance you won’t. No one knew where Martialla was, or if they did know where she was I couldn’t understand them when they told me, so I went looking for her. At that point it didn’t occur to me that she might be dead or injured, I assumed she was jacking around somewhere just to annoy me.
I went into the “main” building of what used to be a Texaco that looked to be a gambling zone, there were a couple tables with some chips on them and a bloodstained cage where I would imagine a bloodsport of some kind took place. There was a big dead man on the floor that looked a lot like Sloth from the Goonies (without the Superman shirt) with a stupid serrated blade in his hand. There was so much blood that I can’t imagine it was all his. How could that much blood be inside one person?
There were doors in both far corners, one of which led to a storeroom filled with trade junk that was currently being looted by traders, and the other which led to an office-bedroom-security room-junkpile that had a single functioning TV screen thing for a single functioning camera. The camera was currently pointed at a dead woman outside who looked like she had been flattened by a cement truck. I probably would have stopped to marvel that there was a working piece of video technology if not for the other contents in the room.
There was a lean hairy fellow with no visible ears dead on the ground. This did not give me pause in the slightest. What gave me pause is the foot. A few weeks (and a hundred years) ago, a severed foot would have been enough to put me in check in and of itself. Sadly those idyllic halcyon days are behind me now, a foot on the ground normally doesn’t bother me anymore. The thing about it was that it was too clean. That’s what made me take a second look. There were a few flecks of ugly green nail polish on the toes. You know what’s stupid? My first thought was “what happened to her boots and socks?”
My next thought, if you can call it that, was a feeling that I have to assume the dinosaurs had when they looked up and saw that meteor streaking across the sky – the world is about to end and there’s not a damn thing you can about it. I don’t know why I picked it up. But I did. In that moment I was like a toddler picking up whatever is in front of them. There was no thought to it. I just did it. It wasn’t nice and even like a fake foot the propmaster would make for a movie out of ballistics gel and corn starch and pork roast, it was all ragged like that time I watched a show about shark attacks with a warning about graphic content. It looked like someone had tried to jam a brick of corned beef into a paper shredder.
I found the blood soon enough. And don’t worry, there was plenty of it. The middle of the room was dominated by a pile of trash with some disgusting rags thrown on that I think was being used as a bed. Earless deadman was on the near side, Martialla was on the far side. She was sort of facedown halfway on her side with one arm outstretched and her legs kinked up underneath her like she was trying to roll into a ball. Her shirt and jacket were mostly gone, the shirt reduced to a sopping bloody belt-strip around her waist and all that was left of the jacket was one shoulder and part of a sleeve melted into her flesh.
As you probably figured out, her one leg ended not in a foot but in a stump that was red and black and brown that looked like a piece of string cheese that kid with only a couple teeth had been gnawing on all day. I’m guessing the reason her shirt and jacket were mostly gone was because they burned off, this I base off the blackened flesh across her shoulder blade and mid-way down her back. The burn was so bad that in several places it had cracked open and thick pinkish blood was seeping out sluggishly like it was molasses.
She had a wound on her right flank that looked like someone had been digging at her with a trowel. The skin around it was brittle and hard like a corn chip and flaked off between my fingers like ash falling off a campfire log. What causes something like that? Poison? Acid?
It was the most revolting and brutalizing sight I’ve ever had the misfortune to behold.
I assumed she was dead at first glance. Why wouldn’t I? How could she be alive? But then I saw her finger move. Her one arm was outstretched but the other was clenched up against her body like she was sheltering a baby bird. And on that hand I saw her finger twitch. What came out of my body wasn’t even a proper gasp, it was like a wind passing through me. It was like a full body dry-heave. She was broken and mutilated beyond recognition but somehow, against all logic, she wasn’t fucking dead, and what the hell could I do for her?