I’m starting to really resent the way Martialla breathes. When we had the masks on I didn’t notice it, but she emits a high pitched whining noise when she inhales. It’s not her fault, it’s probably happening because we both have nasal cancer now because of the poison air. Even so, it’s driving me insane. I want to reach up her nose and yank some stuff out to make that noise stop. It reminds me of the time that an ex jammed a whistle in the exhaust pipe of my Jetta. A constant annoyance. I spent a ton of money taking that car to different mechanics before one of them figured it out. Fuck you Harry Tavern, I’m glad you died in the apocalypse.
Today we stumbled out of the thorn and scrub into a parking lot. I mean that literally, with the sudden change of terrain, I fell and jammed my wrist. Maybe broke it, I don’t friggin know. I know it hurts. How can terrain change so suddenly? Partially because I wasn’t paying much attention because I’m exhausted and in a lot of pain. Also I killed a guy last night. Which has been on my mind a bit. But also because this world is insane. The parking lot was mostly covered by rock. And I don’t mean it had rocks over it like a landslide, I mean it was like someone melted rocks and poured it over the parking lot like spaghetti sauce and then it hardened back into rock. What the hell can melt rock like that? A nuclear missile? I would have thought it was from a volcano but it was brownish grey and I think lava rock is black.
The part of the parking lot that wasn’t covered with mysterious rock was broken up and had ugly grasses sticking up in irregular clumps between the skeletons of a few wrecked, rusted and burned out and stripped cars. There was a dog, or something doglike anyway, sniffing around that was roughly the size of an ATV. Half of its body was covered with hair so coarse it reminded me of a brillo pad and the other half was a mass of ugly goiters with just a smattering of super long hairs that was dripping some kind of oil. The skin on its head was so tight it was like it just had a naked skull.
It eyeballed us for a minute but when we pointed our guns it loped off with all the grace of a hyena on stilts crossing an ice skating rink. If we had more ammunition I would have shot it just on principal. Well I would have told Martialla to shoot it, but it amounts to the same thing.
If I’m remembering the area correctly, which I’m not, I think we’re in or around where the town of Kelsey once was.
Backed up against one of the thicker parts of the “rockflow” was a cluster of Penske trucks that had been arranged into a camp, like you’d see in an old western when the pioneers circled the wagons. The addition of barricades of old scrap metal and wood kind of ruined the old west motif, especially the part of the “wall” that was a couple of old coke machines. The logo was mostly gone but it still made my mouth water. I’ll probably never have an ice cold Coca-Cola again. That bothers me almost as much as shooting a guy does. Almost.
There was an overwhelming chemical smell coming from behind the barricades that stung our eyes even worse than the constant eye stinging we’re being subjected to from the dirty air. So of course we climbed over to get a better look.
“Inside” there was a big, and by big I mean the size of a billboard, wooden sign hanging on the side of one of the trucks that had a massive skull painted on it. Underneath the skull were some words that looked like they were a mixture of the real alphabet plus some made up crap. Martialla said that it was Cyrillic and Arabic, like she knows anything about languages. Beside each word was a mark that I’m pretty sure was a number and then a funky symbol a hieroglyph. Seemed a little like a menu, but for what? Skulls?
The rest of the place was cluttered with tools and machine parts, way more tools than you would ever need to fix anything. It was enough tools for an army of mechanics. There were fifty car batteries in a big bank with wires all across them and a bunch of big oil drums with holes cut in them and pipes and shit. Martialla said that she thought it might have been a wood gasification boiler which is clearly something she made up on the spot.
In the middle of the mess was a gas tanker that was slowly leaking something that was causing the eye-stabbing stench. In and around the toxic mulch were six skeletons with a few bits of metal stuck to them. I got close enough to identify that at least two of those bits were nipple piercings studs. It’s like whatever came out of the tank ate away all the flesh and clothing and melded the metal to the bone. The skeletons were still “together” you know? Like a skeleton in a biology class. What the hell would do that? Without muscle or sinew or whatever, what was keeping them together?
We were pondering this, I was anyway, I don’t know what Martialla was thinking about, something stupid probably, when I heard a voice, clear as day –
“Where’s the car?”
Martialla and I aren’t doing very well not getting sneaked (snuck?) up on so far in this post-apocalyptic wasteland. Upon? Sneaked upon? This is the third time someone’s dropped in on us unannounced. One of us should have been on guard I suppose. I wonder if we’ll get the hang of it before we die. Stayed tuned to find out! At first glance I thought this sneaker was wearing a crappy leather jacket but I think it was a dark colored pelt. Probably made of those San Joaquin swamp rats they always used to complain about on the TV. I bet those things are everywhere now.
Aside from those murderers with the lumpy-heads he was one of the least ugly people we’ve seen so far. Don’t get me wrong folks, he was plenty ugly, for instance he was completely walleyed and his lips looked like sideways rutabagas, but he was less ugly than the standard I’ve seen so far is my point. Plus, he might have been as tall as five six, he was real catch by horrible post-apocalyptic future standards.
He had a crossbow-like thing in his hand that he jabbed at us angrily as he bellowed. It was so small it looked like a toy. I’ve seen the hunting crossbows rednecks carry around and they’re huge. This thing was smaller than a hair dryer and its arrow was the size of a pencil. It was hard to be afraid of it even though I’m sure it actually was dangerous.
He was so worked up he was foaming at the mouth, or maybe his mouth foams all the time “Where’s the stabble car glaad!”
I held my hand up to forestall Martialla from blowing him away “I don’t know what a stabble car glade is but we don’t have a car if that’s what you’re asking. You’re the first person we’ve met that can talk proper, what’s your story?”
He shook his little crossbow pistol back and forth like a drunken carny trying to stop an out-of-control tilt-a-whirl and horked up yellow spittle as he shouted “Lies! Where stabble car is glaad!”
“Calm down dude, if you keep waving that thing around, my friend here is going to shoot your balls off.”
He frowned with his entire face. It was like his entire head was made up of frown lines. You ever see one of those nature shows where the little coral polyps or whatever retract back into the ground all at once? It looked kind of like that.
“Balls? No balls! Clamp, give where car!”
“No balls huh? That’s unfortunate. How is the world going to recover if a fine example of humanity like yourself can’t pass on their genes? Look, we don’t have a car, how about we all just take it down a notch and just talk yeah? See we’re new in town and . . .”
He shrieked like an electrocuted raccoon and stomped towards me with his non-crossbow hand out like he was going to grab my leg. I had been standing on part of the barricade to look into a box of tools when he sneaked up on us so his head was a little below crotch level. I don’t know what he thought he was going to do, did he expect I was just going to stand there like a frightened tapir and let him manhandle me? When he got close, I kicked him straight in the chest and it crunched like a car running over a crate of fortune cookies. He collapsed to the ground gasping like an asthmatic Chihuahua.
Martialla scowled at me accusingly “Jesus Ela, was that necessary?”
“I barely touched him! How friggin’ brittle are people’s bones now?!”