“Come on out, boy!” How long has it been? Hours? Days? I reach down and run my hand through Larry’s innards…still warm. Not just Vegas-heat warm, but alive-not-too-long-ago warm. I wonder how many I’ve just killed. Not the Cupcake, apparently, because he’s still taunting me from somewhere.
So many, though. I’ve lost time and my nose is bleeding. It didn’t give me a headache this time, though, which is a plus; but it’s breaking out without my permission, which is a minus. Or not. Too much power, not enough practice, but I suppose it doesn’t matter too much when you don’t mind destroying the world.
“You actually just saved me a step and a hell of a battle—why would I be mad at that?” His yells echo through the metal corridors, the acoustics make it impossible to tell just where he’s at. “You did him in, didn’t you? He was never part of my plan, God rest his soul. But you, my young friend, you are a horse of a different color. You definitely are a part of my master plan, and you will be part of that plan, do ya hear? We can do this the hard way or the soft, but it’s gonna get done.”
I can’t come up with any great ideas on how to handle this situation, and I can’t wait forever to come up with something. If he finds me here, he wins—there’s just the one exit, and although I’ve gotten really good at killing the shit out of things, I’m still no match for him.
Okay, here: The plan is, I’ll bolt out of here, guns drawn, ready for anything or nothing, and deal with whatever I find. It’s still a pretty crap plan, but at least I know what my plan is, and knowing is half the battle.
I grab all the artillery I can manage, and prime myself for evacuation. Just as I begin my dash, I slip on a puddle of shit and blood that Larry has been kind enough to leave in the way, and I promptly bust my ass.
I find myself staring at a lonely eyeball, and even in death Larry seems to be mocking me. I slam my fist down on the eyeball, trying to ignore the sound it makes as it bursts, and stand up. Try this again.
I don’t bother with trying to be subtle—I kick through the door, full force, full speed, ready for whatever.
“If you build it, they will come!” Larry shouted gleefully from the back seat. He slurped down a bottle of red wine, popped back up through the sunroof, and held the bullhorn back up, yelling his nonsensical bullshit and hollow promises about leading the future through this mess.
We had been at it for a couple of hours now, driving up and down the strip, just as we had on the previous day. Only this time, instead of killing monsters, we were recruiting them. Technically, these were humans, these were victims, these were refugees and survivors.
They were monsters, though, even if they didn’t know it yet.
They surrounded the car, they wailed and praised and cursed and followed. They followed.
“What the hell are the two of you up to?” Sarah asked Cupcake. He was mopping sweat off his meaty brow, and he looked like a preacher that has been under the spotlight for a few hours too long, but he still looked human. I think that’s what all the followers came for—from a distance the nut brothers just seemed so human.
“We’re taking back the world, my dear.” He took a few chugs out of his water bottle and panted a smile at her. “I don’t know why we would want such a horrid place, but we’re taking it nonetheless. In order to do that, we’re going to need warriors.”
“These aren’t warriors,” I told him. “These are barely even people anymore.”
“So much the better,” he giggled, and stood back up through the sunroof, a politician ready to lead and lie.
“They’re out of control,” I said.
“Yeah, so what’s new? If we had any sense, we’d gut-shoot them both right here, and leave them dead for the mob.”
“Bad idea, little miss,” Larry whispered. I hadn’t even seen the creepy son of a bitch duck back inside, but here he was, gun pointed into Sarah’s left ear, lunatic grin plastered across his face.
“Shit, Larry,” I said, “Put that thing away, man!”
“Shootin’ folks ain’t so funny when you’re talkin’ about missy here, is it?”
“Larry, jus-” and that’s as far as I got. I assume the guy was pretty hefty before I turned him into road paste, because we bounced hard enough to make Cupcake fall back into the car, and we bounced hard enough that Larry hit his head on the ceiling. He kept the gun trained on the side of Sarah’s head the entire time.
Sarah screamed—I think she thought she was shot for just a second. “What the hell just happened?” she shrieked.
“Please don’t run over members of the congregation,” Cupcake muttered from the backseat. “It’s bad for business.”
“Crunch all you want,” Larry cried, rubbing his head, “We’ll make more!”
“Shut up, Larry,” Cupcake said, and stood back up through the sunroof. He hollered something—I couldn’t hear what over Larry’s maniacal laughter—and the crowd cheered.
Larry pulled the trigger, letting the gun dry-fire against Sarah’s head, and then followed his brother up through the sun roof, still laughing.
I stared ahead, hard, trying to ignore the smell of urine that had filled the car almost as soon as the hammer snapped down, and the sounds of sobbing coming from the seat next to me, and the feelings of uselessness that were crushing my heart.
“Follow us, my people!” Cupcake shouted. “We can give you what you seek! Food, shelter, protection, the love for life! We can, and we will give you these things! Follow us now, and we will lead you to the light!”
He dropped back down into the car. “We’re done for today—we might try a little tomorrow, but I think the majority of the work is done. Time to go home.”
I took a turn and began heading back to the hotel, but he corrected me, “To our new home, boy-o.”
He directed me from the back, sipping wine and sweating, while Larry continued to yell to the mob.
“I couldn’t help but notice we seem to be heading back out to the desert.”
“That’s what I like about you my young friend—your incredible grasp of the obvious.”
“Why the hell are you leading a group of people out here to their deaths?”
“Even with that extraordinary mind of yours, and even with your crazy powers, you still operate under false assumptions, lad. And as long as you do that, you’ll fail to realize what is really going on.”
“Enlighten me, then.”
“I’ll give you a new set of assumptions, how ‘bout that?”
“Sure, why not.”
“Let’s assume, them, that instead of a nightmarish accident, this entire situation was something of a plan.”
“Bullshit indeed—this entire situation is nothin’ but a fuckin’ mess. But it was supposed to be a plan, do you understand what I’m tellin’ ya?”
“This outbreak…it was manmade?”
“Nature doesn’t fuck itself over, Brian—man fucks nature over. And man fucks man over.”
“The wrong people got scared. You ever notice how it’s always the cowards that have the most power?”
“Assuming that I believe you for even a second—which I don’t—how the hell do you know all this?”
He laughed. Long and hard, a laugh that shook his body and filled the car. It was a laugh of genuine pleasure, and I suddenly realized that he was telling the truth. “Because people with power are also the most moronic. Larry and I, we were what you might call experiments. We were supposed to be something like super bodyguards. They thought they could enhance us, erase us, and have the perfect soldier to carry them through this disaster and make them leaders of the new world.”
“I got time.”
“Condensed version: they thought we were just some retards from the hills, they thought we didn’t understand the things they were sayin’. They injected us with shit that was supposed to deteriorate our minds. It didn’t work. In case you didn’t notice, Larry and I have quite the flare for the dramatic. It was no problem for us to pretend. They unleashed this chaos on the world, and then hid in their little shelters, waiting for the shitstorm to blow over. While they waited we killed ‘em. The meek shall not inherit the earth at this time—the crazies win by default.”
“Did any of that story explain why we’re heading out into the middle of the desert again?” Sarah asked.
“Ah, the wee lass speaks at last,” Cupcake said, staring down at her wet crotch. She started to go for her gun, but I was faster. I held her hand against her leg, and it took all I had to keep her from getting loose and to keep us from driving off the road.
She cooled down quick, and I was able to concentrate on my driving again, although I knew she was glaring death at me.
“Don’t be mad at him, sweet dearie—he just saved your life…again.”
“Why are we going out to the desert?” I asked, trying to change the subject.
“Are we still talking about this?” He threw himself back into the seat, his body screaming mock boredom. “I was in Colorado, Larry was in Oregon. Those were two of the larger shelters. The fourth largest is in Ohio.”
“Harveryville?” I asked. “Where the radio transmissions are coming from?”
“Like I said, Bri—love your powers of deduction. But the granddaddy of all of ‘em, the absolute shit of the shit, that’s here in Vegas. Or rather, outside Vegas. You ever notice how they always hide the good stuff out in the middle of the desert?”
“What are you talking about?”
“This is where they planned to hole up. This is where you can go to live like kings, this is our throne from which we will rule the world.”
“And that’s why Larry was waiting for you out here?”
“You’re just like the ugly girl on Scooby Doo, Brian, that’s how smart you are!”
I didn’t have anything to say about that. I didn’t have anything to say, but I had a lot to think about. I believed him, but I couldn’t believe him, that’s the thing. Even as he gave me directions, even as he led us out into the middle of nowhere and then found a remote control in a hidden compartment in the side of a boulder. Even as he punched in a series of buttons, even as the gaping hole opened in the ground to reveal a giant metal door.
I just couldn’t believe him. Not until I saw him lead his militia down into the metal corridors, not until I saw him shoot the President of the United States in the forehead. By the time he had ripped off the president’s head and performed an impromptu puppet show with it, I was already a believer…but that really seemed to seal the deal.
Weeks and freaks, man. Every day we went out and recruited more of the Leftovers to come enlist. And they did. In the movies, the people who survive the catastrophe are the good guys. In real life, the good guys are the first to go.
The Leftovers, they’re the scum of the planet, too dumb to die, maybe, or maybe just too hard to kill. Roaches and human trash, that’s what can survive the end of the world. They came staggering to us, ignorant racist bastards of all colors, ultra-religious freaks, unenlightened morons that couldn’t form a single coherent thought by themselves.
These were the Cupcake’s new weapons. Guns weren’t good enough for him anymore. We went out on expeditions, I never knew if we were recruiting or killing, and it didn’t seem to matter. Too many hours in the sun, I was a red-skinned, fried-brain robot, doing what he said only because I didn’t know what else to do.
Sarah stayed locked up in our apartment—we had a really nice pad in the underground halls of the end of the world—because there weren’t enough women to satisfy the men. Most of the women were so grateful of the fact that they were safe from the monsters that they didn’t mind spending most of their time as sex dolls. Sarah wasn’t really built that way, though. She was a hard-core feminist, and although she could wipe out the walking nightmares with the best of them, her vagina made her more of a problem than an asset.
She hated it, but she realized that having a hot thing like herself running around with a bunch of blood-thirsty, testosterone-fueled, gun-toting freaks was a bad idea.
But keeping her holed up, it wasn’t enough. They wanted more, the monsters that we had recruited. They wanted something new, they wanted something forbidden, and she was it.
It was night when they came, because I was asleep. You can’t tell day from night down there, but there wasn’t anyone screaming at me to get up and at ‘em, it’s time to grab the world by the balls, so I figured it was night time.
You can’t kick down solid metal doors that are a foot and half thick, so what they did was figure out how to hack the door lock system. They busted in, perhaps expecting us to be disoriented, perhaps expecting us to be confused. Instead, we rushed to meet them in the corridor, cold steel and hot lead.
They poured in, wave after wave, wanting what they couldn’t have for reasons that I will never understand, and we killed them as they came, working in a harmony that we hadn’t had since this lunacy began so long ago.
It stopped suddenly, the live bodies retreating, the dead bodies left twitching, and then Larry walked in.
“What the hell is going on here?”
“They broke in,” I told him. “They were trying to rape Sarah.”
“You killed…two, four, six,” His voice faded as he counted, “Eighteen, twenty-four, twenty shit! You killed all these people because you didn’t want them having sex with this wasted sack of flesh?” He pointed at Sarah.
“They broke in, Larry,” I told him.
“These were my men, you stupid little bastard! My men!” The mass of human waste behind him swayed, moved not only by his words, but by the tone of his voice. Like dogs getting geared up before they’re master screams sick ‘em.
“They weren’t men,” Sarah said.
Larry laughed. “All this, over a bitch!”
And before anyone could correct his political incorrectness, he shot her. Dead center, spot-on, right through the heart. He turned and walked away as she catapulted back into the apartment.
She was probably dead before the bullet ripped through the back of her shirt, through her backpack, before it reached the end of the metal hall and lodged in the custom-made couch that had cost someone a lot of money at some point.
The letters, the letters my mother had given to me. I thought I had thrown them away at some point, but Sarah had kept them, I guess. They were shredded and burning, floating down to the floor. She was launched back through the burning confetti by the gunshot, like a rock thrown through falling snow of fire.
I ran to her, but it was pointless. Dead.
And at her feet was the only letter that wasn’t completely destroyed.
This is what she died for. Love, Mom
And the monster was released. It was like my skeleton ripped out of my body, lead by a mind that wasn’t my own. I heard myself scream as the power escaped, but it was distant. And then I was inside them, each and every one of the recruited maniacs, and I was too much. I felt their brains hemorrhage, I felt their lungs explode, I felt their stomachs rip in panic.
And I felt myself deflected by Larry. But there’s more to killing than mental abilities, right?
He was quick, but I was quicker, and if I couldn’t kill him with my mind, I knew I could kill him with my hands.
Shot after shot after shot, and now he’s dead and his brother is on the prowl, and none of it matters because the only thing I wanted to live for is now dead.