“What’s in Harveyville?” he asks.
I laugh. It hurts but I can’t help it. “The crossbone soulless jailhouse and Congress of sorrows...”
“What are you babbling about?”
“Moloch. Solitude. Filth. Ugliness. Better known as that evil pink fuck, The Cupcake.”
“You’re chasing that guy?”
“Hunting, more like. It’s an on again, off again kind of deal. I had kind of given it up until your dipshit hippy brother kidnapped me and brought me here for fun and torture. Seems like kind of a cosmic wake-up call, so I guess I’m back on my mission.”
He rolls his eyes. “I really should just cut you open and leave you to bleed out.” He starts to tuck the knife back into his belt, and I’m up. It’s agony to move, and I feel various bits and pieces of myself ripping, spurting, and falling off, but it doesn’t affect my speed too much.
I’m behind him with his knife against his throat before he even knows what has happened. “Who’s gonna bleed out?”
He doesn’t say anything, just stares ahead, his eyes angry and impatient. I should probably just slice his throat and head out, but I can already feel the adrenaline draining out, and my entire body is wracked with pain. I won’t make it very far, and I know I won’t even be able to fight off a pack of dirty hippies, much less the hordes of monstrosities that have taken over the world. Plus, I kind of like the guy, although I’m not sure why.
I move the knife away from his throat and back away from him. I hold the knife up with the pointy end in his face, and I slump back to my bed. “So you up for a Cupcake hunt or not?”
“Absolutely not,” he says with a bitter laugh. “I have enough problems these days without going to look for more. I’ve seen that guy in action—he was made to kill. You go after him, you’re chasing down your funeral.”
“We’ll see, when the time comes.”
“Yeah, whatever. Can I have my knife back?”
“I’m keeping it. I don’t trust those goofy bastards out there, and if they come at me again, this’ll help even the odds.”
“If they come after you, you’re dead, knife or not.” He sits down in a folding camp chair in the corner of the tent and lights up a cigarette. It might be my imagination, but even the small flame of the lighter seems to make my skin ache, even though he’s sitting a good six feet away. “In large numbers, even stupidity can be a challenging adversary.”
“Yeah I think I read that in a Dilbert cartoon once.”
“Make jokes, but you know it’s true. They caught you.”
“They posed as friends and drugged me.”
“Nevertheless, here you are. You talk a lot of shit for a guy who just got his ass handed to him by a bunch of hippies. His stewed, scalded, infected ass, I might add.”
He’s right. About getting my ass handed to me, as well as about the infection. I remember reading once that one of the main problem burn victims have to deal with is how prone their open wounds are to infection. My whole body seems like an open wound at the moment.
“So what are you doing with these people?” I ask him.
He takes a drag of his cigarette, smiles, and says, “They’re my army.”
“You gotta be shittin’ me.”
“Nope. They aren’t as stupid as you think. Almost everyone out there is stoned out of their mind, and some of them even believe the shit they spout, but a lot of them are just regular people who want to escape from the harsh realities of our new world.”
“You’re…their leader?” He shrugs. “You could have saved me.” I’m not sure when I did it, but the knife is now handle out, the blade between my fingers, ready to be thrown. “You could have stopped that bullshit at any time.”
“Not necessarily. I probably could have stopped them from killing you—that’s why I was even close enough for you to see me—but I couldn’t have stopped them short of that. Put that fuckin’ knife down before you kill somebody.”
I consider killing him for another couple of seconds, and then flick the knife across the tent, sticking it hilt-deep in the dirt between his feet. I hate not having a weapon at all, but if he’s telling the truth—and it feels like he is—it isn’t going to help me.
“I wouldn’t really say that I’m their leader,” he tells me. “It’s more like I’m their designated driver. They need guidance, and I can usually convince them to do what I want, I can talk them into things. But if I tried to go directly against their wishes, I wouldn’t be able to lead shit.”
“How’d you get hooked up with this gig?”
He laughs again. “Drugs, man, drugs. Back in the days before life went insane, I was a college kid. My little brother, Steve, was just this goofy little stoner, I used to come hang out with him on the weekends—he was pretty cool to hang out with before he met the feminazi.”
“His name is Steve and your name is Steve, too?”
“My name is Steve, his name is Steve Junior. My mom didn’t know much about the naming process. Not too terribly bright, either. People who know us both generally call me Steve and him Stoner Steve.”
He shrugs again. “So one day we’re sitting there playing video games, and he goes to roll a joint and discovers that he’s out of weed. He calls his connection, and as we’re driving over to pick the shit up, I ask him how much cash he drops on his dope. He tells me, and I just laugh at him—it was like four times more than the guys at college paid. I tell him we should start getting his weed from some guys I know at school, that we could sell it for cheaper and clean up. And just like that, we were in the drug business. Started with weed, but pretty soon, we were selling mushrooms and acid, too. Hippy dope—nothing like coke or meth.”
“That doesn’t really explain how you came to have an army of unwashed flower children at your disposal.” The pain’s wearing me down, and the only thing keeping my eyes open is the pain caused when I try to close them.
“Like I said: drugs, man, drugs. We were getting too big for our britches, but it was just too good. The only thing Steve ever did with his cut of the profits was buy munchies, movies and video games, but I saved mine. You’d be amazed at how fast it can get out of control. Pretty soon, I have thousands of dollars that I can’t use. I mean, you can’t put it in the bank, you know? You can’t use it to pay tuition. Sometimes I used it to buy my schoolbooks because you could pay cash without causing suspicion, and groceries and shit like that. But you don’t eat five grand in food, and you only need so many books. I had everything I wanted—anything I could pay cash for, anyway. And I still had thousands and thousands of dollars. So I started buying more dope, expanding to a few other towns around, kind of just trying to spend the money on something that wasn’t traceable. One of the easiest things to buy with undocumented drug money is more drugs.”
“It’s a vicious cycle.”
“Tell me about it. So I find myself meeting with some pretty serious suppliers. Dudes that carry guns and shit, you know? And I’m buying a whole fuckpile of drugs. We come down into the middle of the desert to do the deal, and I’ve got my suitcases full of cash, and they have an underground bunker full of dope, and I have no idea that they’re DEA.
“They were reading me my rights when the shit went down. The guy’s already got a cuff on one of my wrists when out of nowhere, this monster just pounces him. There were about twenty agents—I don’t know what they were expecting, but I guess it was more than a college kid and his stoner brother—and they all just go batshit. This was that first day of Post Hell, you know? These guys were expecting more than a couple of kids, but they weren’t expecting fucking monsters. These agents start shooting all over the place, screaming, getting killed by the monsters and by each other’s stray bullets. I cram Steve into the rental car and take off across the middle of nowhere.”
His cigarette has burned away sometimes during this little story, and he lights another one. “You’re looking pretty beat, man—you want to finish this tale later?”
“Nah. Go ahead—it’s nice to hear about someone else’s nightmare for a change.”
“Heh. We manage to find a road, and even make it to this little town before we run out of gas. We’re filling up the tank when the monsters hit there. They were everywhere, you know? I’m still amazed at how fast they took over. I panic, and take off back the way I came. I didn’t mean to, it’s just that I didn’t know what the hell I was doing. We ended up back at the bunker. By then, all the monsters were gone. All that was left was a bunch of DEA bones, some guns, and the keys. I take the handcuff off of my wrist, and since I’m curious, I open up the bunker thy had come out of. Turns out, it was this old bomb shelter, and it’s absolutely packed with drugs. Food and water, too. Enough to last for years. And guns like you wouldn’t believe. I have no idea what the G-Men were using this thing for, but it was more than just a place to bust a couple of drug-peddling kids.
“Steve starts calling all of his friends, texting them, all that. Telling them to come down if they can make it.”
“Judging by the group out there, Steve had a lot of friends.”
“Nah, only a couple of his friends made it. But one night, we’re sitting around, and we notice this huge fire in the distance. You know what it is?”
“Yep. Can you imagine? The world has ended, right? If you can manage to stay alive, there’s nothing stopping you from leading a completely hedonistic lifestyle, and these bastards are still gathering in the middle of nowhere to celebrate it. Singing, dancing, playing music at stupid-loud volumes. Practically begging the monsters to come wipe them out. Me, Steve, and his friends, we load up in a Jeep, we take as much firepower as we can handle, and we head out. We spent the first night protecting these goofy stoned fuckers, and they didn’t even care. The next day, we let the monsters do a little damage before we stepped in, and then the hippies were much more appreciative. They still didn’t want to help, but at least they stopped preaching their Mother Earth bullshit at us as we saved their lives.
“They kept up their singing, and their huge bonfire, and their loud music. It drew a crowd. Monsters and regular people, both. It was like a beacon, man. People showed up from all around. I started sending out scouts to bring in new recruits. Like I said earlier: most of those people are just scared. They get stoned to hide from the reality of this mess. Lots of them are sober, but you probably didn’t see any of them—I keep them on detail.”
“Yeah, man. You notice how the monsters haven’t killed anyone since you been here? That’s because we have guys surrounding this place. About four miles in diameter, someone stationed with a gun every ten yards. That’s how many people have come in so far. That’s my army.”
“So where’s this magical bunker?”
“It is where it is. The bunker is a closely guarded secret. I know about it, Steve knows about it, and Bob knows about it. Bob is the only one of Steve’s original friends that hasn’t been killed—we learned pretty quick that stoners aren’t all that great at fighting monsters. We have this little tent-town set up, and that’s all most people know about. When we need to, me and Steve and Bob load up into a truck, we breach the perimeter, and we go get shit to restock. Food and water isn’t so bad—we can send details into town for that kind of thing—but we have to go back to the bunker for the drugs.”
“That’s a good story, but it leaves me with questions.”
“How in the hell did your brother end up abducting me in Oregon? I didn’t pay much attention in school, and I don’t know much about Burning Man, but I’d say that’s a hell of a distance.”
“He went to pick up the feminazi. They had some weird internet thing going on before Post Hell, and since then, they’ve been keeping in touch with a ham radio. He finally decided to go get her, as well as another pile of dope. He knew a guy who knew a guy up north. Some old guy used to grow the shit, had a garage full of it. After they loaded you up, they filled a U-Haul trailer with dope and then headed back. Other questions?”
“Why did he pick me up? And why are you telling me this?”
He crushes out another cigarette. There are several butts at his feet, meaning that I missed when he lit at least two of them. He waits until our eyes meet, and then he speaks in a deadly serious voice. “That pink motherfucker hated you so much. He ranted and raved about you for days, describing you down to a tee. He seemed normal at first—as normal as you can seem when you dress up like cotton candy and have eyes like a fuckin’ reptile—but this chick named Brandy slipped him some peyote. She was this dizzy hippy bitch that thought it would help him lighten up and find his center.”
“He freaked out for a few hours, and when he sobered up, he skinned her alive. I don’t know how the fuck he managed to do it, but he kept her alive until he had tanned her skin. He made a little suitcase out of it. He showed it to her right before he finished her off.”
“Holy shit. Why didn’t the rest of you try to stop him?”
“He kept killing us. I’ve never seen anything like it. We formed a circle around him, and then just closed in on him. He waded through us with a grin on his face, and took out…shit, I don’t know how many. I got off easy.” He raises his shirt and shows me a scar that runs from his beltline to the bottom of his neck. “I managed to pull back in time to avoid getting gutted, but just barely. It didn’t take us long to realize that he had a good chance of wiping out the entire colony, and we retreated. Then he left.”
“Sounds like him.”
“When Steve saw you, he knew you were the guy that the pink fucker had been ranting about, and decided to bring you back.”
“And what do you want from me?”
“I want to make you my second-in-command.”
“Oh,” I said. “I’ll have to think this over.” And on that note, I passed the hell out.