I’ve retraced every scar

Because it wasn’t bad enough that I’m dying of food poisoning and have a snake bite on my ass and the wound is probably infected, now thanks to Martialla, I also probably have Dengue fever or Hippo pox or whatever you get from roughly a million gallons of dirty tar-water-oil being flooded into all the holes in your head.  When Martialla fired at the beast, it charged at us because of course it did!  Why would it not charge at us?  You mess with the bull you get the horns.  Or rather, as my grandmother used to say, you can’t go looking around with hot water and then act shocked when you get burned a little bit.  

When it came at us it seemed like it pushed half the entire lake in front of it – I’ve seen surfers on smaller waves out at the Wedge.  It was like a dam had broken.  It was like a fucking tsunami.  I suppose that worked out in our favor though because it was such a deluge of water flying at us that we were washed away a good thirty yards or so instead of being seized in the creature’s jaws or tentacles or claws or acid-pouch or whatever other weird mutant grabbers it had. 

We were yanked off our feet and sent spinning around like a mouse in a washing machine.  My mask was knocked off and pretty much every crease and crinkle in my body was aggressively infiltrated with filthy water.  Filthy isn’t even a strong enough word.  Sludge is what it was.  Or some kind of slurry.  It was like that slime they dump on people at the kid’s choice awards only with slightly more typhus.  I thought I had a bad cough before, for a good half an hour after Martialla’s stupid maneuver got me drenched and full body enema-ed, I coughed so much my ribs felt like they were cracking in half.  Lengthwise I mean.  

When I finally managed to stop hacking and snorting the mud out of my face and staggered to my feet, there was no sign of the beast.  Which is good because it easily could have killed us all while we were half-drowned and all filth-spattered.  Our guide was not pleased by this turn of events.  Not because he was drenched with garbage juice which would have been reasonable, because I think he was actually cleaner afterwards, or because our attempt at beast slaying was an utter failure, but because we had fired a gun.  He was very upset about that.  He said that guns were not allowed around here.  What the hell did he think we were going to do?  Jump in the water and wrestle the sharktopusgatorphant with our bare hands?  

A bunch more dudes from the village with sticks showed up to tell us we were banished forever, not just from that village but from all the villages around the lake of disgusting filmy grime water.  What would have been funny is if we shot them all while they yelled at us and shook their sticks in our faces about how guns were not okay.  Irony?  But we didn’t shoot them while they yelled at us and shook their sticks in our faces.  What would have been the point?  There’s nothing quite like being banned from a place you don’t want to go to anyway.  Like that time I was told never to return to Chuck-E-Cheese.  

We managed to pull our masks out of the muck but since all the filters for them got covered with mud and crud and scrud, there was no reason to put them back on our faces.  I wore mine on my head like a hat, a little dash of post-apocalyptic flare.  We headed north into (out of?) exile from grosstown because it seemed like the easiest path.  For several hours, any time either of us tried to speak we were arrested by a coughing fit but eventually as we trudged along to nowhere, we managed to croak words at each other.

“Are we going to get used to this air quality or die of cardiopulmonary disease?”

Martialla though a moment before answering “Yes?”

“Remember in that movie Speed when Keanu accidentally stabs the gas tank of the bus with a screwdriver and then the girl from the Net asks him if he felt like being on a bus with a bomb wasn’t a big enough challenge for him?  I’m trying to think of a line like that for you trying to drown us with a septic pit wave.”

“Well keep working on it, I’m sure it will come to you.  Weren’t you supposed to be in Speed Three?”

I couldn’t help but spit, and not because my esophagus was coated with crude oil “Yes but that mother fucker Jason Patric said that I was too old to be his love interest.  I’m ten years younger than him!”

“In Hollywood that does make you too old to be the love interest doesn’t it?  If he’s in his mid-thirties, wouldn’t they have needed to cast a middle schooler as the female lead?”

“Yeah well he’s dead now, and good riddance I say.  You ever see that movie Narc?  What a piece of crap.”

“Speed Two wasn’t bad enough for you as a reference?”

I looked around at the blighted and benighted landscape “I can’t say that I ever gave much thought to what I would be doing after the end of the world, but criticizing the career works of Jason Patric with you is not what I would have expected at all.”

“Funny, I expected nothing else.”

I see you, you see me, we know what must be done

The angry spearman with the crown of dirty rags sent off Gollum with a kick and then came stomping towards us.  After the first few stomps I could tell that he was starting to have second thoughts about this decision.  It’s like when a dude gets bumped into in a bar and he whirls around to get all aggro but then sees the guy that bumped him is a Hell’s Angel.  He was all full of piss and vinegar until he got closer, before realizing how much bigger we are than him.

He didn’t crap out though, I give him credit for that, he kept stomping our way.  I was able to understand him better than anyone we’ve encountered so far but I still don’t know if his name is Adam, Atum, Atem, or some other similar sound.  He was bent out of shape because he thought we were marauders come to steal their “weet”.  He was very upset about the possibility of weet thieves.  We told him we had no idea what weet even was.  And further that we had been asleep in a cave for a long time so we didn’t really know what the F was up with anything else either.  He didn’t believe us but he also didn’t much care if we made up cave lies.  He wanted to know what we were doing there.   

Which is a fine question.  What were we doing anywhere?  What do we want?  What do we need?  What are our goals?  Is this where we’re going to live now?  I feel like we’d both be dead of tetanus or typhus or Mengshu Fever if we stayed in this village.  But what other options do we have?  We just don’t know.

Ignoring his question we asked why the water was so polluted, which he didn’t seem to understand.  We asked if it was safe to drink and he looked at us like we were insane.  We showed him our bottles of water and told him this is what water is supposed to look like and I thought his head was going to implode.  He reached out for it kind of involuntarily like a cat batting at a string.  It was like instead of a bottle of water we had presented him with the holy grail.

“This is the color water is supposed to be.” I pointed at the lake “Not that nasty crap.” 

Martialla couldn’t help but pipe in “Clear isn’t really a color.” 

I glared at her to shut up.  She always has to try and undermine me, it’s among the worst of her many bad qualities.  Angryman responded by bringing us some of their water in a pottery cups.  It didn’t look slate-colored like the lake water but it was one hundred percent grey and had little flecks of mung floating in it.  He said they had machines they used to make the water better but they never got it to look like our water.  I tried to drink a little and then I tried not to be rude but I couldn’t help spitting it out.  It was like sea water, it was too salty to even swallow  Luckily Adam didn’t seem to care.  I guess when you live a dung-pit you’re not going to be offended by a little spittle.  Which isn’t a bad name for a rapper.

I looked over at Martialla “How can they survive drinking this?” 

Martialla sniffed at a her cracked cup of water “Maybe this is why they’re all so puny.” 

Since the water was a non-starter we asked about food.  That’s when we learned about “weet”.  They use their sticks to drag some manner of ugly smelly thorn-kelp out of the lake and then they smash it with rocks against some metal sheets – one of which was once a side of an airplane, it still has some of the “United” logo on it – and then they take that mush and dry it in the sun and then take that gunk and grind it up and boil it and then after like eighteen more steps it becomes a Big League Chew type of loose strands that barely taste like anything but maybe is food?   

Adam told us that they used to also fish in another part of the lake but they couldn’t anymore because of a “terra”.  He had been eyeballing us the entire time regardless, but at this point he particularly started eye-molesting our clubs and knives.  I guess he’s not familiar with firearms.  He said that because we were so large (rude) we must be good fighters.  And being great warriors he said that if we killed the “terra” they would be able fish again and they’d be willing to trade with us if we would perform this grand service.  I asked what they had to trade besides foul water and chewing tobacco masquerading as food.  He assured us that they had  much “treasure” hidden away, but he couldn’t risk showing it to us.  Sounds like bullshit.  I’ll gladly pay you on Tuesday for a hamburger today.

I asked him what he was so angry about when we first showed up and he said that he thought we were scouts for “The Invincible” coming to demand all their food and water.  He didn’t seem to know much about them (or did and wasn’t willing to share) other than that they were bad news and they were going to come here and ruin everything now that the path was open.  The one thing he did know is that they have cars.  Martialla peppered him with questions about that but he had nothing else to say, or was willing to say, and left us alone to consider his offer. 

Martialla looked around like she was searching for something “It makes no sense.  How could there still be cars?  Where does the rubber come from for the tires?  I don’t think the global supply chain is still in place, you know?  And even if they did get the rubber, how can they manufacture tires?  And that’s not even touching on the fuel issue.” 

“Who cares?  Either they have cars or they don’t, what difference does it make how it works?  Do you think this guy really has something worth trading for?” 

She shook her head “No.  Have you noticed that there’s no women here?” 

“How can you tell?  They’re all so scrawny and dirty how would you know the difference?” 

“They probably sell all the girls to slavers.” 

“I hope so.” 

She whipped her head around “Excuse me?” 

I held my hands up “Hey, I’m just thinking that if there’s enough of an economy to support a slave trade, there’s got to be someplace better than this somewhere.” 

Martialla looked like she was about to spit at my feet “That is monstrous.” 

“Look, I’m not saying that I want there to be slavery . . .” 

She jabbed her finger at me aggressively “That is exactly what you just said word for word!” 

“. . . I’m just saying that if there is, that might be good news strangely.  Anyway, don’t get all bent out of shape about it, what are we going to do here?  Check out one of these other villages?  Or head out to where the car people come from?  What’s the move?” 

“I say we kill the monster.” 

I frowned “What?  Why?  You said you don’t think they have anything to trade.” 

She gestured at the land all around “I think fighting a monster for a slim chance of some garbage is the best offer we’re going to get.”

I blew out a long breath “Like that time the only offers I had on the table were for parts in Species Two and Three Ninjas Four.”