Note: We started this 2 Heartbeats business a long time ago. For the uninformed: it’s a story told in parts, where anyone can take up the next section. So far, four different people have written on it, but it’s mostly Trey and I. It’s hyper-violent and pretty goofy, and no one’s written on it in almost a year. I tried to recap in this episode so nobody has to go back and read the stuff from before, but if you just want to, you can find it all here. If, for some bizarre reason, you decide you want to add the next story segment, feel free. You can take the story wherever you want.
You know how sometimes when you’re watching TV, they tell you something important, and then they cut to a commercial? And then when they come back, they recap, just in case you forgot what happened two and a half minutes ago?
That’s what this is—a recap. Only it hasn’t been two and a half minutes. It’s been over two years, and the shit that was happening right before our commercial break, it’s long since over.
My name is Brian. A long time ago, I lived through the end of the world. Monsters took over, things kind of like zombies but more just monsters. Some of them are slow lumbering creatures, and some of them are sprinters. If they bite you and leave you alive, you become one of them. Most of the time, they don’t stop at biting you, so becoming one of them isn’t much of an issue.
In addition to these creatures, there are also dog versions. I have yet to see a slow zombie dog. Humans and dogs are the only ones that change, but the monsters have killed pretty much all life on the planet. I haven’t seen a cow in three years. Or a chicken. I saw some horses once, but only for a second, hauling ass through a canyon.
When the end of the world came about, I was in Science class. At the time, I was having issues with a girl named Sarah, and bigger issues with being psychic. Being able to see into the future was more hindrance than help, and when the ability went away, I wasn’t that tore up about it.
Sarah eventually became more hindrance than help, too, but even in the end, I was sad to see her go.
I wouldn’t go so far as to say that I’ve had any friends since the end of the world happened, but I’ve had some cohorts. The people I began this insane journey with, they’re all dead. Sarah, McMurphy, Larry. Names of the dead.
About a year ago, I was walking through the woods when I got kidnapped by a hippie and his girlfriend. Stoner Steve, is what people called him, because his mother had named both him and his brother Steve. Steve and Steve Junior. Steve Junior was the one people called Stoner Steve. Big Brother Steve was the one that somehow managed to put together a small army in the middle of the desert.
The stoner and his feminazi girlfriend drug me across the country to Burning Man, where they almost killed me by boiling me alive. Big Brother Steve had them stop, and then told me all about how he had used drugs to form his motley crew, bribing enough people to form an army. He told me that he wanted me as his second-in-command.
I took the job, as the alternative was death.
I guess I should mention that by this time, my psychic powers had changed so that instead of being able to tell the future, I was telekinetic. I could kill with my mind, although it generally fucked me up to do so. After the boiling water thing, my powers were reduced to nothing more than heightened intuition.
Enhanced intuition comes in handy when you’re roaming around through life After Hell, but it isn’t nearly as good as being able to tell the future or being able to kill someone with nothing more than a thought. I later found out that the whole boiling-me-alive thing was set up specifically to rob me of my powers. Stoner Steve’s bitch of a girlfriend had read all about some weird study performed back in the 50’s, and volunteered her knowledge to Big Brother Steve.
He was the one that gave the order to boil me until my powers didn’t work anymore. If it hadn’t worked, they would have just kept dipping me until I died.
I found that out later, though. I recovered from the boiling, all the while convinced that Big Brother Steve was the nice guy. He said he had done everything in his power to keep the hippies from stewing me, blah, blah, blah, and although I always found his story suspicious, I went along with it.
At first, our main goal was protecting ourselves from the monsters. Over time, other small armies formed, and soon, we were protecting ourselves from them, as well. We began training our guys—not only self defense, but also as soldiers. There was a small percentage of our group that just wanted to hang out and smoke weed and be cool.
I killed them.
Sometimes I made it look like an accident. Sometimes I made it look like a crime of passion. Sometimes, I made it look like the creatures had gotten to them. I know it makes it seem like I’m a bad guy—because I am—but life After Hell is harsh, and it takes a special kind of psychotic asshole to survive here.
Here’s the thing: the Steves, they had this idea about reforming society. Big Brother Steve wanted the safety and structure that a real society could offer. Stoner Steve, he envisioned a Utopian society—he often called the outbreak of monsters a cosmic do-over, and felt that we had a chance to do it right this time.
Stoner Steve’s idiot girlfriend had some vision about a world where women were rulers, or some such bullshit. Honestly, I never really listened to her tripe. I’m all for women’s rights or whatever, but that bitch was just evil.
Over the years, I’ve killed a lot of people. Sometimes it was self-defense, and other times it was because I was working towards a goal. When I killed, I did it quick and mercifully—most of the hippies never even knew what hit ‘em. With her, though, I woke her up, I dragged her out to the desert, and I worked her over.
When I was done, I was sick with myself. I threw up for a while, and I cried a lot. And then I came back to camp and told Big Brother Steve what had happened.
You know that heightened tuition I was telling you about? I knew something was wrong with that chick, I just didn’t know what.
As it turned out, she was a spy. Dramatic, right? She was working with another camp, telling them our weaknesses, plotting to overthrow Big Brother Steve, kill me, and rule our makeshift army. I told all of this to Big Brother Steve, and although he looked uncomfortable being in the same vicinity as me, he commended me on my victory.
What I didn’t tell him was that the chick had also told me all about how he had ordered my boiling. What I didn’t tell him was that his time as our brave leader was coming to an end.
Big Brother wanted to reform society, and Stoner wanted a cosmic do-over. I didn’t care about any of that shit. I just wanted revenge. I wasn’t sure how to go about it until my discovery about Big Brother Steve being behind the torture that led to the loss of my powers.
Suddenly it was crystal clear.
I killed him, took over the army, and we went mobile.
By that time, most of the soldiers were looking to me for leadership instead of Steve, anyway. He was a politician; we were soldiers. And they were soldiers by then: life After Hell will quickly harden you into a survivor or kill you. All the shiftless lay-abouts had either died of natural causes—being torn apart by monsters—or by my hand.
When I announced we were loading up and going to war, they were thrilled.
We marched across the land, like the ancient armies of Rome. We started out as six hundred, but by the time we reached Florida, we were only a little over three hundred. Monsters, other armies, famine, nature—all of these things contributed to the lessening of our numbers. But there was never threat of mutiny, because we all knew that we were going to die.
You live in the times After Hell, you don’t dream of growing old or starting a family or being a movie star. You dream of going out in a blaze of glory instead of some stupid nonsense like getting bit by a slow-mover while you’re taking a dump.
In a world where a horrible death is certain, meekly waiting around for the end is enough to drive you out of your skull. My men loved me because I made them warriors; I made them heroes. They didn’t have to wait around for Death—they went out hunting the bastard.
Which brings us up to speed, I think. If you were watching before the commercial break, you realize that there’s one key player that I have failed to mention.
Even by After Hell standards, the guy’s a fuckin’ nutcase. His bloodlust makes the monsters look natural. A big fat sonuvabitch who’s always dressed in a pink business suit. He’ll shoot you if he has to, but he prefers to use a blade—knife, ax, sharpened spoon, whatever. We had a bit of history a while back. Teamed up, I guess you could say. He started forming his army in Vegas. Him and his brother.
He told me once that they had been built to live in the world After Hell. He told me that this entire mess had been started on purpose by the people in charge, and that he had been genetically engineered to thrive in this world and to protect his masters. He and his brother had turned on their creators and decided to claim this new world for themselves. I don’t know if any of that is true, but he does seem to have a special talent for living in the world After Hell.
His brother killed my girlfriend, I killed the brother. And Cupcake?
Cupcake went on his merry way, just like he always has. Harveyville, Ohio, that’s where I was supposed to find him. I took my army there, and it was deserted. The entire place was nothing but charred buildings and blackened bones. Even the monsters avoided the place, and the fact that Cupcake scares even the thoughtless creatures whose only goal is to kill the living does a lot to back up his story about being engineered specifically for a world like this.
Since I’ve led them, the only time I’ve seen my men unsettled was in Harveyville. We left town and headed south—Cupcake did not leave a subtle trail. He left a wake of bloodshed and death, corpses of monsters, mutants, and humans.
Which brings us here. Florida, if anyone still paid any attention to the names on maps.
Kennedy sneaks up beside me, and if I was anyone else, I probably wouldn’t even have heard her coming. “The men are stopped about five miles back,” she says.
We don’t have a lot of formality in this army—I lead, and if you don’t like it, you can piss off—but I suppose you could call Kennedy my second-in-command. She’s the toughest bastard I’ve got, and smart, too. She’d probably make a better leader than me, but she doesn’t have a mission like I do.
I don’t want to build a new society, I don’t want a Utopia. I want revenge, plain and simple. I want to find the fat man in the pink suit, and I want to kill him. I’ve put it off for years, but now it’s time.
“Keep them there until nightfall, and then we’ll bring them in a little closer. I don’t want to attack until daylight—we don’t know the terrain, and this bastard probably has traps set up everywhere.”
“Sir, this guy…is he really as badass as you make him out to be? I mean, it’s not just a story you tell the men so they feel like they’re going to go down in the books like the Spartans?”
I look at her. She’s cute in a war-ravaged kind of way, I suppose. Four or five years older than me, which would put her in her late twenties or early thirties. Her brown hair’s cut short so it’s easy to wash. Sometimes, she shaves it completely bald for convenience, but she lets it grow out just before winter, which is why it’s ear-length now. There’s a scar over her right eye—she got that fighting off a mob of bikers before my army found her. They were trying to rape her, and when they realized that wasn’t going to work, they decided to kill her. The first guy went for her eye with the knife, but he missed. She got the knife away from him, and that was the end of that biker gang. We came across her a of couple weeks later, stumbling through a cornfield in Kansas, naked, hallucinating, and still wicked good with the knife.
Although I refer to my army as men, it’s actually made up of both men and women. There’s fucking, but in life After Hell, you don’t do the relationship thing; you don’t do the raising-a-family thing. Anybody gets pregnant, they’re doomed—you can’t keep up if you’re carrying a child, and nobody’s gonna wait around for you. You don’t have time for jealousy or love or any of that other silly bullshit we used to deal with. You have time to screw, and then it’s back to the business of surviving.
Kennedy and I have never slept together, not because we’re afraid it would be awkward, but because we’re never around each other when there’s time to fuck. When we’re together, it’s because it’s time for battle.
“This is the deadliest creature I have ever come across,” I tell her. “If he has trained his army to be even a fraction as dangerous as he is, we’re all dead. I think I could take him with you and twenty of our best guys, but I wouldn’t put money on it.”
“It just seems so weird. I mean, you say he’s a fat guy. You say he dresses in pink and acts like he belongs on Broadway. And I mean, this? This is his fortress? I feel like we could send a squad of kittens down there to take him out.”
“Don’t be fooled,” I say, looking through my binoculars. I scan the castle, looking into the illuminated windows, hoping for a glimpse of him. “Whatever his eccentricities, it’s not because he’s weak. It’s because he’s batshit insane.”
“I believe you, but only because it’s you. I’m going back to get the troops. You’re just going to wait here?”
“Yep. I don’t want to lose the bastard again.” I lower the binoculars to give her my orders. “Make sure everybody gets settled in and rested—tomorrow we go to war like none of us have ever seen.”
She smiles and nods. “About time.” And then she’s back into the trees.
I look out over the parking lot full of rusted-out cars, overgrown with mildew and vines. Mother Nature reclaimed the earth faster down here. The castle is well-maintained, though. Not newly painted or anything like that, but definitely in good repair.
I crawl forward a little and my hand crushes down on something. I look down and see one of those novelty hats with the big black ears. One of the ears has what appears to be bite marks in it. Happiest place on earth, my ass.
I toss the ears to the side and lift the binoculars, settling in to keep watch until another soldier comes to relieve me.