Bonus Short Story: Horizon of Pastels

Early 90’s metal blared from the speakers of his ’68 Camaro. Over the dash, the waxed polish of the blue coat and white racing stripes gleamed in the bright light of the desert around it. She had her head in his lap, sucking him off. Between the vibration of the 396 V8 and her vigorous strokes, he was in utter heaven. He drove with one hand on the wheel, the other between her legs as she splayed out across the leather seats. Her sundress flapped in the hundred-mile-an-hour breeze while her throat groaned against him.

His fingers were wet inside her as she thrust her hips back and up to get off. He suddenly understood how kings and emperors felt. They were Gods among mortals, a half-dozen women on their knees for them at any time. All he had though– or needed for that matter– was her and the car. The three had been running together for months, every night out doing one drug or another, and at some point ending up in a similar position before passing out.

That was of course, all in secret. Likewise the mornings had always come too early and the glaringly recognizable car had to park down the street to drop her off at home. She walked the block in the near-darkness, her sneakers scuffing gravel the whole way. He watched her every step to the house and into the door, even despite the difficulty. And always, before leaving for wherever he was headed, he waited long enough for her to sleep, revved the engine and sped past too fast to be seen.

She never knew anything of it, but he knew exactly what he was doing. So did her father. He couldn’t see the car, but he sensed it’s owner. Always though, when he went to check on his daughter, she was fast asleep in bed– still sore from their sex hours before. If only that fat, abusive prick had known, he’d have killed them both for it.

He was one of those types that always hid their abuses in community participation. He’d take the family out to church on Sundays, and the quiet, reserved family would silently participate in the sermons. Sometimes, they’d even stay after to mingle with the other members of the congregation. She and her mother never betrayed the secret, no matter how much they wanted to, but from fear rather than love.

When she was younger, Karen– or Kay, as he always called her– had made the mistake of saying something to him about the abuse. Jake showed up the next day with a squadron of cops and a loaded .45. They pulled everyone out of the house, took them into separate interrogation rooms, had female cops examine the women physically. There was nothing to suggest abuse. Kay’s “dad” ended up beating her half to death when it was all over, but when in the hospital, everyone insisted she’d been mugged the night before, walking home.

That was the last time Jake got the law involved. Ever since then, he’d taken matters into his own hands. The prick couldn’t blame anyone when he woke up some mornings with swastikas burned into his yard, or his tires slashed, or with broken windows in his car. He always called the police, and they always took his reports, and did absolutely nothing. Most of them had gone to school with him, took him at his word. It was the same reason he’d gotten away with the beatings and escaped the interrogations unscathed.

Everything changed recently though. How he’d pulled it off, Jake didn’t know, but he knew what he’d pulled off. Kay had been in to see a gynecologist for a cursory examine after turning eighteen. Somehow the bastard got hold of her medical records, or bribed a doctor, and found out her cherry’d been popped. He also found out she was on birth-control, as opposed to the anti-acne pills she’d said she was taking.

The beating she received then only stopped when Jake showed up. The house was wrecked. Glass was shattered all over the place. Kay and her mother were barefoot in the middle of it. Blood spotted the creme-white carpets where Kay had been tossed and shoved around. Jake had been lucky enough to get a call from one of Kay’s friends. The two had been on the phone when her father came in screaming, she heard the first thuds of heavy fists, and immediately hung up.

Everyone knew Jake was bound to do something, and that calling the cops only made things worse in the long run. What they didn’t know, and few did in fact, was Jake’s proficiency with his .45. He’d spent months at the range, learning pin-point accuracy shooting at every range. He’d also learned to control his adrenaline through street-fighting, and had a morbid fascination with human anatomy.

The only thing that kept him from driving the Camaro through the front room was the fact that he’d still need it afterward. Instead, he kicked the door in off its hinges. The .45 was up and aimed straight on the old man. The snake-faced monster was poised over Kay. She lie, sprawled on the floor in her sundress, hands and feet covered in blood.

Her father actually had the gall to bark orders at Jake. He didn’t sway. His voice was calm, firm. He kept his gun and eyes level on her father, “Kay get off the floor. Get in the car.”

“Move and I’ll break your neck!” He spat at her. Jake repeated himself calmly, feeling adrenaline flood him. Her father spat again, made a move, “Son of a–”

The .45 cracked. The aim was perfect. The bullet whizzed past his left ear, close enough for a friction burn. He recoiled with a yelp. Kay skittered toward Jake. She rocketed out the door and into the street, climbing into the car.

“I could’ve killed you,” Jake said simply, unmoving. “I will if you follow me.”

The old man gave a roar, and moved to lunge. The gun angled down. Two rounds blasted his kneecaps. He fell in screaming pain. Jake lowered the gun as the monster howled and screamed pain and obscenities. He gave a final look to Kay’s mother, who stood slack-jawed to one side of the room.

“I wasn’t kidding. If he follows me, I’ll kill him,” he said, turning for the door.

Over his screaming pain, her mother called, “Take care of her.”

He stepped for the door, hesitated just before it. His head cocked a little to the side as if to speak, but he had no words. He started forward again. A few moments later, sirens screamed nearby as the Camaro’s engine revved. It’s tires squealed and it tore away from the house.

Since then they’d been driving, only stopping long enough to refuel, sleep, or fuck. They finished together; she threw back his semen like a pill and he sucked his fingers dry. She sat up with a smile, leaned against the passenger door. The bruise on her cheek was just beginning to yellow, but the light played off her face with an angelic glow, accenting her blonde hair with bright highlights.

“How was it?”

She threw back her head with a laugh, giddy from her newfound freedom, “Magnificent.”

He laughed with her.

They didn’t know what the fallout back home was, or if there would be any. For all they knew, they were fugitives, but something in Kay’s mother had told Jake she wasn’t going to make a case of it. Who knows, maybe he’d liberated her too, or opened the door for her to do it herself. Personally, he didn’t give a damn. He had Kay, she had him, and they had the car with nothing but an open road and a horizon of pastels ahead. Most of all though, they had life.

That was more than enough for anyone.

Bonus Poem: Final Breath

Passion,
Lust,
Desire,
Bred by the heart that’s caught fire.

Betrayal,
Mistrust,
Jealousy,
Claw at the back in simile.

Disgrace,
Disgust,
Shame,
In more than only name.

And yet,
to thrust,
pierce fate,
a word used most in hate.

So we stand,
amid rust,
society decayed,
to carry on as we must.

But when,
blown to dust,
our greatest feat,
We’ve no recourse but to admit defeat.

But such,
is Nature’s gust,
when soiled by us,
and left in a fuss.

She will,
with her great crust,
up-heave and quake,
not stop ’til we awake.

And from,
the miserable thrum,
of cyclic life and death,
compel from us our final breath.

Poetry-Thing Thursday: The Grave

A million to one,
the shot from a gun,
death on the run,
and a life come undone.

We should’ve known better,
than to trust in man’s sanity,
or that blood can’t get wetter,
when mixed with depravity.

But “so what” you say,
“My life’s good and okay,
good job and good pay,
no need for rebellion today.”

But what about when,
the gun’s turned in at you
will you admit then,
that the world’s gone askew?

Maybe, perhaps not.
Even if, you’re forgot.
Then again, you’ll be sought.
If so, quite a lot.

In the end all that matters,
is that life is a lesson,
and when the world’s in tatters,
we’re all a shoe-in.

Bonus Short Story: To Strengthen One Another

Exhaustion. That was what he felt as he sat, hunched over on a concrete barrier. His orange vest and hard-hat were the beacons of his status as a rescuer– one of a few-hundred. Like them, he’d worked for near-on thirty-hours to dig corpses and even fewer survivors from the rubble. What used to be a downtown office block was now a post-war zone. The dust had settled, but only for those outside the quarantine zone lined by emergency vehicles for half-a-mile in every direction.

Every few minutes the dogs and their handlers would scurry past. The hounds nosed the ground while their handlers’ eyes were locked on their ears, tails, and muzzles. Like the rest, they waited for any sign that would prompt them to dig. They would hand off the barking dogs, scope through the debri for what weakened scents of the living or dead had been caught.

Across the one-time plaza, a woman in a police uniform with a radio to her mouth took orders to sweep and clear every few minutes. No-one was sure why; the damage had been done, and it wasn’t likely whomever had done this would return. They wouldn’t need to. All they had to do was flip on the TV to see the live vids that revealed the loss of an entire city block, the lives of most workers therein. The woman wasn’t even sure why she was there, but she knew she couldn’t leave. At that, she couldn’t have been dragged away either.

Most at the scene were like her; lost, confused, tormented by a moral quandary of whether their exhaustion was more important than the suffering of others under the rubble. No-one escaped the buildings before the bombs, but just as well, few people had been found. Most were dead. And now the rescue teams were beyond exhausted.

A great rumble kicked up from one of the blockaded roads, and someone shouted something about a convoy. A firetruck’s engine revved to part from the center of a barricade, then a convoy from the Army Corps of Engineers rolled in. It led the way for a series of construction and demolition vehicles. Flat-bed eighteen-wheelers arrived with curious looking, mechanical vehicles atop them. It wasn’t long before their purpose was revealed.

The Engineers piled out, ready to aid the rescue teams with blue-prints, enlivened vigor, and coffee by the barrel-full. The construction and demo-trucks fanned out around the inner-perimeter of the disaster, immediately began work. Bulldozers and back-hoes, front-loaders and excavators, and a quarter-mile’s worth of dump trucks worked with the dogs and handlers.

Together, they combed small areas with resonance scans that gave three-dimensional views of the rubble and Earth beneath it before beginning removal as gingerly as possible. Wrecking-ball cranes were hitched to the largest chunks of debris and lifted for the dumps.

A few more bodies were revealed, all but one dead. The woman was barely breathing, obvious even through her dust-caked, high-quality blouse. Her abdomen had the tell-tale bruises of internal bleeding.

Everyone present had seen her on television at some point– most during the business-segments of news-vids. She was an unliked, well-known contrarian that argued business matters for payment against most definitions of ethics. Even so, she was loaded onto a stretcher as carefully as anyone else, rushed across the site to a triage, and worked on as anyone in need. If it were any normal day, perhaps those present would’ve had words against the woman’s nature.

But this was not a normal day. It couldn’t have been. It is said that sin has no place in disaster; so benign seemed even her greatest sins that no-one even hesitated to help her.

More work, hours passed. More bodies, more dead, fewer survivors. Then came the Mechs;

those peculiar-looking vehicles on the trucks– like giant, hydraulic legs with clawed arms and blocky, snake-like heads atop metal shoulders. They were super-strong, mechanical exoskeletons built of high-strength steels and powerful hydraulic limbs. They could lift, carry, even hurl tons as easily and competently as a human with a tennis ball.

Each Mech was an armored cock-pit, accessible from the back, that an operator stepped into. The operators thrust themselves into computerized braces along the feet, legs, arms, hands, head and torso to allow for full-range of mobility. When the back came down, sealed the operator in, the Mech’s systems engaged to work with the strength of a full platoon of men. In time, the Mechs even gave most rescue workers time to sleep or recollect themselves.

When those workers sat for water or food, they fell asleep without pause, as dead to the world as its reaches beyond the quarantine zone had become to them. The Mech operators were praised for their appearance and timeliness as they quickly sifted through what remained of the buildings, filled the convoys of dump-trucks twice over, and uncovered more than a few people both living and dead.

It was said, after the fact, that over a million collective man-hours had been spent in the search and clean up of those few days. Most there agreed, if only due to the extreme fatigue they all eventually succumbed to. Were it not for the Mechs and their operators, some men and women might have literally dropped mid-dig. Though all there feared it, so too did they know that no man nor woman would stay down long. Each of the rescuers– from the dogs to the EMTs– were ready to commit themselves so fully as to rise in defiance of any would-be collapse.

There is much that can be said of the human spirit, but those few days its existence wasn’t debatable. Not in the sense that it had been before. Whether metaphorical, metaphysical, or just plain curious, that collective spirit became more real, corporeal. It became a wall of bagged sand against a tidal wave of grief and tragedy that, like Pandora’s Box, rose as a lid that closed to keep the worst at bay. Such is the nature of the Human spirit, and in it, the true purpose for our dominance of this planet; to live, love, and strengthen one another.