Somewhere in the depths of that desert tomb the Cupcake was laughing. Hooting echos bouncing down the steel walls of the bunker, singing the names of dead companions, preaching the futility and evil of the world.
The monster in my head pulled me after him and the stink of his sweat was animal rank in my nostrils.
Time lost meaning in those dark and bloody halls.
My guns blazed away, but always and only at shadows and Me always a step behind and him still laughing.
My head throbbed and my legs burned and still the monster carried me forward and I followed. Past stacks of corpses I barely saw, past the dried remains of his brother I didn’t see, past the frozen face of Sara, I followed, and the beast in my head didn’t pause to shed a tear.
And still I followed and came to a massive steel door, now open, and I left those blood drenched halls behind and exited into the cold desert night.
A low hanging moon traced the edges of the Cupcake’s steps across the desert sand. I followed him that night until I could follow no more. Small desert creatures scattered out of my path, taking fright at the shambling thing I had become.
I followed until, at the trough of two dark dunes, the thing in my head gave one final howl and I became myself and my fear once again. I sank to my knees panting, my blood caked shirt pasted to my chest.
My head pounded and the sun rose and night creatures skirted around my kneeling form, as they sought out dark holes and cool shadows and safety once again.
My vision faded to pink and to red and to black.
On my first day in the desert I woke burning. The sun an angry disk in the sky and the surrounding sand a furnace. I rose on wobbling legs and climbed the dune in front of me. I surveyed my surroundings and saw sand stretching into sand and little else save a faint trail of footsteps leading further into the desert.
I noticed a weight pulling at my right arm and found my pistol still clutched heavy in my stiff and bloody fingers. I checked the clip and found 3 bullets remaining.
My tongue felt dry and thick in my mouth.
I thought about laying down in the sand and letting the red sun burn out my eyes as I died.
Then I thought about McMurphy and Sara and the dead in the bunker tomb behind me and the dead world around me and killer ahead of me and I followed the faint trail of footsteps leading down the dune and further into the desert.
The entire world is a wasteland now. No place in it now for the living or for the dying. Yet as I crossed those endless sands, walking a lifeless plain I had never imagined to exist, I longed for even the destroyed world I had left behind.
On my second night in the desert I thought I knew thirst and I heard fierce howls and the stacatto sound of gunfire in the far distance ahead of me.
On my second day in the desert, across a stretch of grey rock being slowly consumed by the surrounding dunes, I came across a pack of mutant dogs now dead. In the middle of their bodies was a circle of spent brass shell casings. I stared at it dumbly for a moment. My mind clicked and I realized the circle of shells was a smiling face, and the right eye was a smaller circle of shell casings, and the left eye was the straight line of a wink.
I walked on until I noticed a glimmer of metal in the sand, but this was not brass. I dropped to my knees and dug into the hot sand and uncovered the Cupcake’s enormous pistol. Too heavy to carry with no ammunition.
I smiled and my dried lips cracked and bled.
On my third night in the desert I shivered in the cold and crossed my arms and gathered my wretched shirt around me and wished for warmth and cursed the burning sun I knew awaited in the day.
On my third day in the desert I knew thirst. My sandpaper tongue rasped across my teeth and it’s swollen girth threatened to choke me. My cracked lips still bled and I greedily licked at the wetness and was surprised that my veins were not full of the same sand that had become my world.
And still the trail of footsteps led on into the wastelands, and still I followed.
On my fourth day in the desert I would have turned back if there had been somewhere to turn back to. Even in my sun maddened state I knew I could never make it back.
Behind me was death.
Ahead of me was death, but also the chance to see the corpse of the killer and whether dead by my hand or the sun’s, it was all I had left to live for.
My body cried out for rest and my feet were blisters and I could not feel the pain.
I could feel only thirst.
As the sun set I understood that I was going to die in the wasteland and I too would become bones until even those were ground down by wind into more sand.
It seemed unfair to add more sand to this place which had so much.
I would have laughed, but my battered body could only manage a tremor.
I thought about death and I thought about Sara and I thought about sand and I stumbled through the night and I saw a glimmer of light in the distance.
On my fourth night in the desert I came upon a campfire.
A smoldering and smoking pile of scrub and human shit.
Not thinking I stumbled into the circle of it’s glow and croaked a hello.
On my fourth night in the desert I heard another voice.
I heard a voice from the darkness, “Hello little man.”
I raised my gun and peered into the darkness and twenty yards out, sitting on a rock, was the Cupcake.
I raised my pistol and my hands were shaking and I said, “Fuck You” and I fired into the darkness and the recoil knocked the gun from my hand and knocked me to the sand.
“Tut tut child. Is there not enough death in this place without adding my own to the countless?”
On my knees I scrambled for the pistol and found it’s coolness in the still hot sand and spun back to the darkness expecting him to be coming for me.
He was still sitting on the rock in the darkness.
My hands were shaking and I screamed, “Fuck You” and I fired again and the recoil knocked the gun from my hand.
I scratched for the pistol in the sand and he laughed.
I found the cold steel in the sand and turned towards the shadows expecting him to be coming for me and he was still sitting his rock like it was a throne and he a king.
I aimed my last bullet into the darkness with shaking hands and hesitated.
“Tell me something child, why are you here?”
“Because you’re evil and you must die. Because you have destroyed everything I had in the world and I want to see you crying in your own blood before I die.”
He chuckled deep and long and said, “You want me dead, but am I not what this world deserves? Am I not the child of the world that was, born to be the King of the world that is?”
“Fuck you” I called back.
“Child, can you be so blind? You judge me as though the end days had not already come and gone. Look around you. The four horsemen have ridden roughshod across this earth and I am but their message to those who have not realized the truth. I did not destroy this world. You hate me for happily making it my home. You should be hating the men in suits with briefcases and contingency plans. The men who did the math and decided to roll the dice with god and lost.”
“Fuck you. I’d kill them too if they weren’t already dead. But you’re still here, and you’re all I have left to do in this shit hole.”
He now came to the edge of the firelight and his massive bulk was painted a lurid red by the fire light and he said, “Are you really so much better than me, you mewling crying little shit? All you talk of is unfortunate death, yet you’ve tried to kill me twice tonight. Tell me little man, how many bullets do you have left in your pop gun? You’re little bitch is dead, but not by my hand. My brother is dead, and yet I am only trying to enlighten you.”
He was close now, but I only had one bullet left and I needed him closer. “You’re brother begged me before he died. First he offered to suck my cock and then he offered to kill you if only I would let him live. He was a little bitch punk just like you, and you’ll die crying just like he did.”
The Cupcake only chuckled from the edge of the firelight and said, “Those who die, Child, are only the ones who deserve to die and we all deserve to die. You only saved me the trouble of killing him when the day comes. You hope to make me angry. You are acting a fool. You still don’t understand. Do you still not see what I am?”
“All I see is a fat, pink, prick. There are still people out there. We saw that in Vegas. We can still rebuild.”
“You call those dregs people? Do you not see their need and fear. Shuffling zombies begging to follow someone, anyone. Personally, I prefer the company of the shuffling masses of mutants. At least they still have a bit of bite left in them.”
He lowered his bulk into a crouch eye level with me and said, “Child, listen close now. The world you are wishing for is dead and gone. I am not the freak in this world, neither are the mutants. You are the freak, the man still living in the past once the world has already moved on. You are the past. I am salvation.”
“Fuck you,” I said. I was raising my gun for my final shot and he launched himself across the intervening distance in an instant. Still faster than should be possible. I pulled the trigger and the hammer dropped with a thud. I looked down and saw my 45 planted above his heart and his hand on top of the 45 and the tip of his middle finger stopping the hammer from striking home.
His face was inches from my own and his cold eyes looking into mine.
He pulled the pistol from my shaking hands and looked at it’s bulk in his hands and with a swift movement spun it around and pressed it against my head.
“Do it you ugly prick,” I yelled.
“Tut tut Child. There is life in you still, but not so much I fear. And life in this world is rare and become more precious than gold. Besides, even a god needs an audience.”
He raised the gun and brought it down again against my temple and a load ‘Crack’ echoed through my skull and everything went dark.
On my fifth day in the wasteland I awoke alone. My head ached and I knew thirst for the first time again and the fire still smoldered and smelled of burning shit.
I found my pistol a few feet away, the bullet still in the chamber and next to it was half a bottle of water and I drank it all in one great gulp and my stomach cramped.
A trail of foot prints trailed off into the desert in front of me and I arose and followed them and my feet were all blisters, but I did not feel them and I knew hunger for the first time.
My fifth night in the wasteland I shivered in the cold and drew my tattered shirt close to my chest and cursed the cold and cursed the heat of the sun that I would face in the morning and I slept as the night creatures moved around me.
On my sixth day in the wasteland I came to a road and I followed it and I came to a rickety gas station and I gorged myself on piss warm soda and potato chips and it came up again and I gorged myself again.
On my sixth day in the wasteland I found a mutant pinned by a huge knife to the door of a garage at a rickety gas station still moaning and grunting and reaching for me on a road leading out of the desert wasteland into the new wasteland.
On my sixth day in the wasteland I put my last bullet into the head of a mutant pinned to a garage door so I could pull the note off of it’s chest.
On my sixth day in the wasteland I read a note I pulled off of the chest of a headless mutant pinned to the wall of a garage.
“Remember Child, even a god needs an audience. See you in Harveryville Ohio, Little Man. I’ll have bells on.”