The Gun Of Crow (Incomplete)

Cataclysm

(Prologue)

“We didn’t see it coming. The bodies piled in the streets and we…” The woman pauses and looks out the window, toward the sounds of sirens and sanitation vehicles- sent to collect the bodies, and assess the living.

“We thought it was a virus.” she giggles slightly, as she wipes a tear from her -now emaciated-  right cheek. this gives her pause. “You know, I used to be beautiful”, she concludes.

“You’re still beautiful.”, says the man in the hazmat suit, as he takes her temperature.

The woman smiles. “Can I hug you?”

“Sure.”, he answers politely.

As the two embrace, a hastened exhaust is heard. The woman falls limp. The man in the hazmat suit gently strokes her hair, as she takes her final breaths. He removes his euthanizer from her back,  

“So beautiful”, he says – laying her warm corpse onto the ground. He stares at her for a moment before hearing –

“Sir. We believe we’ve found the source of the contaminant.” The man reveals a sealed container -that holds several bottles of creams and ointments.

“Most of this is contraband in the camps. Assuming these are water-based, she may have been poisoning herself for weeks. Albeit, accidentally.”

The man waves off his associate and focuses his attention back on the woman’s corpse. “Too beautiful”. He exits the woman’s tent.

As he walks outside he signals to a group of extinguishers, who had been patiently waiting for the go ahead. On his command, they proceed to burn down the woman’s’ “home” – with their government issued flame-throwers.

“Officer James” the man calls, as he unzips the mask from his hazmat suit.

“Yes, sir.” James, replies.

“Take note, that the spread may be worse than we had originally assumed. They’d gotten into our water supply as well. “

James is stunned  – remaining still at the revelation.

“Do you have that James?” the man asks -breaking James’ hesitation.

James nods in affirmation, as the man in the hazmat suit, enters a vehicle and drives away from the quarantined sector of the camp.

***

Instances like this had been happening throughout the country for weeks. Initially reported as a “passerby sickness” – as the death toll rose, suspicions that it may be something more sinister, did as well.

It wasn’t until the death of the President’s son, that public health ordinances were put in place. Schools were closed, offices operated on limited schedules, and the hospitals were persistently overcrowded and understaffed. No one expected that limiting the country’s operations would exacerbate the issue.

Exposure nearly doubled overnight. Though anyone who came into direct contact with the virus was certain to die, many of the cases were once or twice removed from the source – but they became something else entirely.

A noteworthy biologist from the W.H.O. ( World Health Organization), would later point out that those people who’ve come into secondary contact with the virus, would not die – but would suffer from the slow deterioration of their cerebral cortex.

Essentially, the virus would eat their brain – so slow in fact, that they would never realize that it was happening.

He also mentioned that it was impossible for this virus to have occurred naturally -hinting that this may be a biological attack.

Few people remember that part. Especially since that scientists’ career was maligned, when nearly every paper in the world suggested that he was promoting zombie propaganda. To his credit, the media’s mockery of him was short-lived.

***

Six months went by this way. The death toll began to decline, but the crime rate sky-rocketed. These weren’t your average purse snatchers, though. Most of the reported attacks were acts of random violence -people who simply snapped. Some were killed, most were sent to prison.

It wasn’t long until every prison in the country was filled with these hyper-aggressive inmates. Many of the correction officers protested. With the prisons understaffed, the inmates ran wild – cliquing off- several -now prominent- gangs emerged.

A sort of odd frat-like symmetry – drove the gangs together. As a symbol of sovereignty, every member of the gangs had mutilated themselves – in one way or another, to differentiate themselves from mainstream society. This was left out of most reports -until of course they had broken out of their prisons.

Finally, it happened. The President had called for a State of the Union address and answered the questions that had been burdening the nation.

I have called you all here, to bring your attention to the fact that we have indeed been attacked.

It is unclear to what extent. But we are certain that many of our country’s reservoirs have been poisoned. We are aware of who has done this, as I’m sure many of you have – by now- seen the video online, of the monsters – who’ve done this to us.

Rest assured that we will be taking swift and ruthless action. Please stay in your homes and view our website, to ensure that you are taking the proper precautions. Concerning the recent outbreak of violence –

I have approved legislation that will immediately institute martial law, until such a time as we can guarantee your safety. Trust in your government.”

The country would crumble, less than a year later.

***

Many sought the W.H.O. biologist – who had all but precisely predicted that this would happen. He was tracked down to his home in Sweden.

His decomposed body had been swinging from a support beam. They think he killed himself, shortly after he was “laughed out of” his profession. He did leave behind some useful journal entries (among pages of profanity – damning the idiocy of the globe).

The disease went airborne, not long after. With the world slowly falling into madness – order broke down. Those immune to the virus separated themselves from the dying and hyper aggressive. They’d successfully built camps – that spanned miles. However, protecting them -was an obstacle all on its’ own.

***

One by one nation’s of the world had fallen. City’s burned. Order had become extinct. With hope lost, the focus of the remaining sane shifted from finding a cure – to restoring some semblance of order.

Rumors began to spread of a city -that had all but entirely vindicated itself from the virus. Though some dispelled the idea – with few options remaining several dozen groups were formed- all with a singular mission – get to Crow.

The Gun of Crow

By: Antwan Crump

“The Inner Sanctum. Have you heard of it?” his raspy voice inquired, cutting through the beaten panting of his hostage. Weeks of chase had culminated in this moment. Gun, had captured his would be killer.

“Have you?” Again, he queried. He didn’t expect an answer. He asked simply to enjoy the sound of failed attempts at speech. Laughing, as his captive choked down the blood that had filled his lungs, incapable of positing words .To Gun, this was a hilarious sight indeed.

He brandished his shotgun in plain view, ensuring that his captive could hear the subtle clicks, as he thoroughly cleaned it’s working parts. He was particularly proud of the fact he sawed the barrels down himself. ” It’s this nice little spot in Boston.” -Gun, cracked open the barrel of his shotgun-. “A little too artsy for some folks. Some pretty damned good art though.”

His captive squirmed, as he listened to Gun’s ramblings, stopping suddenly when recognizing the sound buckshot entering the dual chambers. His attempts to scream failed -he could only produce a bloody discharge from his mouth-. “Yea, (He clicks the gun closed) some pretty fine art.”

He attempts to scream once more, this time achieving a low, bloody gargle. “All that hootin’ and hollerin’ won’t do you no good.” Gun says, as he approaches the furnace that he had tightly bound his hostage to, and lights a cigar. “Besides” he puffs a thick cloud of Cuban smoke into his face, and brings himself nose to nose with him, “Rudeness is unbecoming of the dead.” Gun’s words disintegrate the remainder of his victim’s hope.

Gun picks up his weapon, uses the barrel to scratch an itch on his chin, and cocks it. Placing it to the lower jaw of this imminent corpse he asks “You fear God, boy?” with obvious sarcasm. Trying and failing to keep his head up, the victim opts for leaning it against the cylindrical side of the furnace. The position he had been chained in, made it difficult to breathe. “Blink twice for yes.” Gun joked, his victim complied.

“Good.” He removed the weapon and turned away from the man. His head dropped as Gun continued to smoke his cigar.

“What bout’ the devil. You believe in him too?” Gun looks out of the basement window, taking notice of the slowed foot traffic on the street he concludes “Smart man would about now.” He takes a deep pull from his cigar, aims his weapon, and observes his victim’s death rattle. In those last moments, he managed to eek out one word, Crow.

Lowering his gun back into it’s holster Gun thinks to himself, they always choose the hard way.  He taps out his cigar on the cadaver, dons his leather coat, and exits.

Crow was possibly the final bastion of human decency. Since the collapse, society had fallen into peril of grand proportions and consequence. At a glance, outsiders would see it as impossible that they were once civilized. Gun knew this, and it was reason for his concern. How did he know about Crow? He thought as he situated himself in the drivers seat of his eighteen-wheeler.

Gun had risen through the ranks of a rag-tag militia who sought to restore order once the established government had failed to affect change. They had originated in Crow, but once successful, Gun (among others) were sent out to spread news of the cities survival, offering safe-haven, in exchange for labor. At the time, they were unaware of the depths to which man had fallen.

That was three years ago. He hadn’t been back since. He feared they’d been overtaken. There was no way they could’ve been prepared for an invasion, the man power just wasn’t there, and these “things“, had been slowly taking over. “Even if their unaffected, they’ve still gone mad.”, that was his creed. Gun knew there was no hope for civility other than Crow, and had spent the last year killing all those who had threatened to share it’s location, or knowledge of its existence, with “them.”

Unable to communicate this, with neither his city, nor his fellow officers; Gun decided that heading back to Crow, may be the only way to protect it -and there were a finite number of furnaces- there was no longer a point in killing people, the word was out. He couldn’t afford to be absent any longer. Despite fear of repercussion for disobeying orders, he began his drive.

The hours seemed longer, out alone on the road. It was never easy tell what time of day it was. It had been rumored that the Sun and Moon had become a single entity, bred to punish mankind’s wickedness. Pondering this Gun exclaimed “Moron’s. Forgettin’ bout’ clouds.” Talking to himself, helped him keep focus, on these long drives. In his “heart of hearts” he knew couldn’t completely rule out an apocalyptic catalyst for this hell on earth. “Moron’s” he said again.

Gun could tell from his own abhorrent stench that it had been just about a week since the drive began. “Pulling over for a shit and a refill might be .”, a blockage in the road interrupted his outward monologue.

Outside the vehicle he sees a pile of burning wood in the center of the road, just big enough to block his way. He checks to ensure that his gun is still loaded and exits. Examining the debris, he feels a chill in his spine. One he hadn’t felt since this all began.

A girls walks out from behind the pile. Gun has difficulty making out her face through the smoke. He approaches with caution, ready to kill at first threat. She comes closer, and he sees her clearly.

“Emily?” he whimpers. “Emily is that you?” Hearing his voice she approaches slow and limping. “Emily baby, are you okay? Where’s your mother?” The little girl drops, the sound of her head cracking into the concrete is the last thing Gun hears.

***

The visions were brief. Gun couldn’t decipher whether they had been reality or a vivid dream. He saw Emily -bleeding from her skull -on the ground, lifeless. This, he knew for certain. The sound of his own body dragging, echoed through his subconscious. “The smoke!” He exclaimed. “I remember the smoke!”

All at once his mind had thrust back -to absolute lucidity. His body was bound. Struggling to free himself, he heard the clanging of chains, and the thud of a heavy lock. He darts his eyes in all directions, searching for hint of light  – to no avail. The irony didn’t escape him.

A match strikes against the floor. The smell of it’s ember is hauntingly familiar. He hears “You still talk to yourself” the voice said amused “How cute “. Gun remains silent but thinks I know that voice.

” Well, manners or not, it’s damn fine to have ya.” He hears a hard object roll over to him. “Now, eat up.” The voice begins to depart. “Oh” the voice laughs “I’d almost forgot.” Gun hears a squish hit the wall beside him, a pouch bounces into his lap. “Boss said don’t give ya any water. Guess bourban’ll do ya no harm.” The voice exits.

They must expect I’d break through these chains he thinks. “Wouldn’t wanna disappoint!”he exclaims to no one but his yell’s own echo. Gun reaches into his glove and pulls out a small sharpened rod. “Bastards used to tease me for this.” He says -smiling, as he presses the rod into the keyhole.

“Shit!” While fiddling with the lock Guns shoulder dislocates. “Guess that’ll work to.” He jokes, squeezes out of his binds, and stands -the chains dropping beside him as he forces his arm back into it’s socket. “It’s gotta be Monday. I friggin’ hate Mondays.”

Rubbing his shoulder to ease the pain, he finds the pouch and drinks. He scans the room as he listens intently with his ear against the wall. “No Windows. No sound. This just may be hell.” He picks up the hardened bread that he was given. The devil’s a lie, he thinks as he enjoys this impromptu meal.

Hours pass. Gun quite enjoyed the solitude, years on the road had forbade tranquil peace from his life. He leans against the wall and continues drinking -humming a tune as he dives deeper into drunkenness. The room begins to spin, this is what he had been chasing -an escape. “It could be, it could be, as we dance -the dance of demons” he sings until he falls asleep.

The inebriation triggered memories, memories of himself before the collapse. Though sober they escaped him, now they were clearer than they’d been in decades.

***

Gun was eighteen when it happened-preparing to attend university and enjoying his first summer of true freedom. He and a group of friends ,(most of whom would later become soldiers for Crow themselves) decided to drive out to the beach, and drink to the serenade of the rising tides.

It was a time Gun would hold dear until he was forced to give up that part of himself. They woke up on the beach much later to the blasting sound of sirens. Miles from the city, they could see it burning -even this far out -the smoke was thick and wafting.

They panicked, and tried to get home. Police officers prevented their re-entry. The only information Gun had, was the brief mention of the word, quarantine.

Officers funneled the group and all others into a small town near us, allowing no one out, once entered. This area became known as the Central Recovery and Operations Ward -commonly referred to, as C.R.O.W.

The first night was the worst. Screams throughout the site kept Gun awake on his cot. What the hell happened? he thought as he tossed and turned. Giving up on sleep, he whispers to his friend. “Blazer. Blazer, get up” Blazer answered ” You mean stay up?” “Blaze we’ve gotta go to the city. We have to find out what happened.” Blazer agreed – the two left the tent, and surveyed the site for points of exit.

***

“Blazer “Gun said, awaking from his drunken stupor. The voice came from across the room ” Very good.” Gun stumbles to his feet and begins to approach, when he hears the click of his shotgun. “Sit back down” Blazer commands, Gun complies.

“You left me to die Gun” Blazer accuses. Gun doesn’t respond,  instead grabbing the pouch of bourbon and taking a swig. Blazer continues “You have no idea of the hell you forced me to endure. The screams still haunt me.”

The room is quiet for a moment while the two men stare at one another in a cold trance. Gun breaks the silence “I heard them too. Do you think I’ve had even a moment’s rest since?” “I honestly don’t give a fuck.” Blazer says . Gun maintains his leering stare.

“Just let me out of here Blaze” Blazer laughs aloud, to Gun’s dismay. “Even if I wanted to, it’s not my call.” Blazer stands and rolls another hard piece of bread to Gun. ” And if it was, you’d be dead.” He lowers the shotgun and heads toward the door.

“You should’ve ran” Gun says plainly. Blazer again aims the weapon and approaches an unflinching Gun. Face to face with him, Gun can make out Blazers raised scars and missing eye. He presses the weapon against Guns chest, concluding”I did.”, then smiles. Gun would’ve normally mocked Blazers missing teeth, but deemed the moment inappropriate.

Blazer exits the room, without another word. Gun grabs the bread , leans against the wall, takes a bite, and says to himself “He smells worse than he looks.” He finishes the meal, and listens; while Blazers footsteps start to fade, he again lowly sings “It could be, it could be, as we dance -the dance of demons.”

***

The door crept open. Gun awoke from his drunken stupor to a growing blare of light. He pulls himself up against the wall, as Blazer enters the room -with two accomplices. Gun takes the final swig of bourbon from his pouch. He wipes his mouth with the sleeve of his shirt, grunting as Blazer approaches -shotgun in hand.

“Wakey,wakey, you piece of shit.” Blazer antagonizes -kicking Guns limp legs, as his men pull him up. “Now is that any way to treat a friend.” Gun slurs. They drag him out of the room into the dusty corridors.

Seeing the multitude of machinery, Gun realizes where he is. “The factory. How the hell is this place still standing?” Blazer resists the urge respond. “Hey ugly, I asked you a question.” The men all pause. Gun laughs amused “No. the ugly one -with one eye.” He concludes.

Frustrated, Blazer commands the men to hold Gun straight up, as he pulls out his knife. Gently running it across Guns face he answers “When Crow fell the survivors sought refuge here. This is all that’s left standing for miles.” Gun freezes and is all at once sober.

Blazer continues -the knife now to Gun’s throat. “They’re all dead. Your mother, your father, your daughter; your wife hung in there for a while. Long enough for a few of the fellas to-“

Enraged, Gun headbutts Blazer, collapsing what had remained of his nose. Breaking free of the men, he snatches his shotgun from Blazer’s holster and opens fire.

The buck shot scattered hitting Blazer in his side, disabling him. Turning the Gun on Blazer’s henchmen, he shoots one in the head, and aims the weapon at the second -who’s now cowering on his knees. Blazer’s screams of agony fill the factory,alerting it’s occupants.

Gun grabs the living henchmen by the collar, presses the barrel against his head, and demands he lead him to the exit. The men proceed. Blazer lays squirming bleeding out from his lower half. “Good catching up with you Blaze.” Gun says as he rushes past him.

Crow couldn’t have fallen Gun thinks to himself “Lies, all of it!” He exclaims, making the henchman ever more fearful for his life. Blazer’s screams could still be heard from floors away. “Shut up!” Gun yells.

The henchman starts to “Shh” Gun, but stops. He knows insanity all too well to finish making that mistake. He feels the barrel dig into his skull. Gun takes a deep breathe, after calming down they push forward.

***

“You know, you can’t just keep running Gun. At some point you’re gonna have to face your problems.” Mystic had often chastised Gun’s uncaring facade. Though it annoyed her greatly on occasion, it was part of why she loved him.

After the collapse, he swore to protect her -equally she swore to care for him. The two spent nearly two decades doing precisely that. Their love was one, that had spawned hatred among the loners, and envy from the other “breeders”. Despite this, their notorious (and equal) reputation for retaliation had kept the angst at bay.

On the day Gun was to be sent on his five year mission, Mystic had supported the cause (they needed people). She opted to stay behind with the rest of the family. It was a humbling departure, albeit devoid of the traditional emotion. Gun knew he would be back, and once assured, Mystic believed it as well.

***

Don’t worry Misty. I’m coming home. Gun thinks as his hostage wails over the sound of reciprocated gunfire. “Would you pull it together, they’re gonna kill.” A bullet ricochets off of the machinery and through the henchman’s neck, disrupting his pleas. Gun releases dives behind a corner “Whups.” He snides, firing back at random and injuring several assailants.

Running low on ammunition, Gun decides to make a run for it through the hall’s -testing the doors for an unlocked knob. Cornered he thinks fuck it, and shoots through the knob of the second to last door -he rams his shoulder into it and enters the room -bullets following his path.

He barricades the door with a metal rack, and searches the wall for a light switch. “Well, I’ll be damned.” He hadn’t seen ultraviolet lights -since before this all began.

***

“I’m telling you Gun -by the time you get back to Crow, you won’t even recognize the place. We’re gonna have hydroelectric power, running throughout the whole city.” Merlin said optimistically -as was his way. “We may even have a few greenhouses going. Just wait and see. We’re all gonna bounce back from this.”

Gun stared at his family as they tried to maintain their composure -barely listening to Merlin. Noticing Guns disengagement, Merlin looks back at them as well; before concluding “That’s a beautiful family you’ve got there. Don’t worry, we’ll take care of them. Your this town’s hero now. Your family will reap the benefits of that. You have my word.”

Gun coldly answered”If not, I’ll have your life.” Merlin placed his hand on Gun’s shoulder, and nodded in approval of this arrangement. He jumped down off of the truck -Gun pulled away, heading East.

***

Gun pulls a tomato from the potted produce and bites into it. “Damn good.” A timer buzzes. Nervous, Gun aims in its’ direction, a sprinkler goes off and the room is doused in water.

Gun finds this refreshing, tilting his head back to drink, he hears “He’s in the green room!” Followed by a rush of footsteps. He takes cover behind one of the tables and prepares to exhaust the remainder of his ammunition.

“Cease fire damn it! I said cease fire!” A voice cuts through the array of fire. “Merlin, he’s in the green room.” A voice screams. Merlin replies , “So is our food, now -Stand Down!” Gun hears the group recede; but remains vigilant.

“Gun! Gun is that you in there? It’s me Merlin. You’ve got a lot of us nervous out here. Please surrender.” Gun hesitates briefly before responding “Merlin?”

“Yea.”

” How about you get your ass in here. Just you! And you can tell me just what the hell is going on.”

“How can trust, you won’t kill me Gun?”

“You can’t Merl. As per our agreement. You’re just gonna have to have fate. If not, you can trust that I’ll kill everything in here, before you can get through that door.”

Merlin is quiet. “Gun continues, it’s real nice in here Merl! Wouldn’t wanna ruin it!”

“Okay” Merlin answers “We speak through the door.”

Gun agrees.

***

“Fear the man who knocks on the door of God -his sanity, betrays him.”

“Gun. Gun are you alive in there?” Merlin queried.

Gun leans against a wall, near a table of planted marijuana  -in the green room. Realizing he’d dozed off, he screams back “Yea!” He tries to jump to his feet. He falls hard, face first, into the ground. The pain in his leg has immobilized him. Inspecting the source of his paralysis,  he discovers a bullet hole in his calf. The blood has dried, but the bullet remained. “Just taking a five.” he says -exhausted. He thinks, how the hell am I gonna get this out.

“Do you need medical attention? ” Merlin asks, concerned.

Gun drags himself around the room “No, I’m fine. Just a scratch. Give me a second.” Gun listens for a moment, to gauge the hostility of the soldiers -just outside the door. They banter calmly. Sensing no danger, he pulls himself to his feet -using a table for leverage- and surveys the room. He eyes a tool cabinet, hops over to it, takes a pair of pliers and a nearby first aid kit.

He hops back over to the door with his equipment. “You wouldn’t happen to have a pipe, would you Merl?” Merlin laughs, and answers “Is this really the time?” Gun laughs as well and answers, “I suppose not”.

Reaching up, he pulls one of the stalks of marijuana from its pot, dumps the dirt, picks the budding flowers from the plant, and throws them back into the empty pot. Completing this: he lights a match, tosses it into the pot, and breathes in the smoke. “You may as well go ahead and start the story Merl. I’m gonna be here for a while anyhow.

Gun grabs the pliers and digs for the bullet, while Merlin starts his tale.

***

Gun has been gone for nearly  a month. His wife -Mystic, is melting down metal for ammunition near the armory. She’s been quiet since Gun left, however productive. She spends most of her time preparing for a potential attack on Crow (her and Gun were the most weary of this possibility.). Her increased amount of ammunition worries Crow’s other occupants. Merlin, has been asked to speak with her. Fearing the loss of his power, he complies, though he feared her nearly as much.

“Hey Misty, everything…. Okay?” Mystic doesn’t answer, as she leans a shotgun barrel on the table (toward the door) and begins to saw off the front end of it. Intimidated, Merlin takes a slow step to the side, (away from the shooting end of the barrel) and continues. “You know, we missed you at dinner last night. It was beautiful , everyone made a little something from their crops. Emily, and some of the other girls sang. It was…”

The shotgun barrel hits the ground -Merlin pauses. Mystic picks it up, and throws it into a cauldron, with other scrap metals she melts down for ammo. She picks up the remainder of the weapon, puts the butt of it to her eye (to check for symmetry) and says “You know, if Gun were to see me doing this, he’d be making all sorts of corrections.” She tosses the gun to Merlin. ” What do you think, Merl?”

Unnerved, Merlin checks the symmetry of the barrels (as Mystic had just done.) “It, looks good.” he rushes, as he puts the gun down. “Look, Misty.” Merlin tries to speak, as she walks over to a table, and pulls a cloth off of it -revealing several more sawed off guns -along with dozens makeshift bombs and knives.

Merlin surveys the table, shocked. “Mystic, what is all this?” Mystic smiles at Merlin and says “This? This is the war table. If anything happens, anything at all, I know where to come. Now” Mystic throws Merlin a grenade concluding “You do too.”

Merlin is at a loss for words, as he inspects the bomb. Both impressed and frightened, he attempts to shift the conversation back to his original intent. “Look Misty. You’re scaring folks around here. I mean it’s one thing if you want to build an arsenal fit for a country, but you’ve got to socialize with everyone. These are dark times, and dark times need togetherness. You keep this up, and people will talk.”

Mystic charges up to Merlin, stopping just inches from his face and says “Then let them talk. Because when shit hits the fan, and oh it will hit the fan -I’m the one they’ll be begging to protect them.” Mystic arms herself with two handguns and a belt of ammunition before concluding “Now if you don’t mind, I’m gonna’ hit the range.”

“It’s supposed to be a parking lot!” Merlin exclaims as Mystic exits.

***

“That was the last time I saw her. Later on that night, I woke up to screams. She was the first person I looked for, but in the chaos of it all I…” Merlin is paused, ashamed of his own actions. “I did go to the armory. When I got there, all that was left was a shotgun, and a few rounds. I took them, and led a group of us here, to the factory. That was a few months ago. All we’ve tried to do since, is rebuild. I’m sorry Gun.”

It’s silent for a few moments. Merlin swallows his emotion, and tries to further explain himself “Gun. Gun.” One of the soldiers points out to Merlin that smoke is coming from beneath the door. “No!” Merlin screams “Shoot the locks! Now, do it!” The soldiers hesitate for a moment before following his order. “Gun!” He screams, warning him of the incoming bullets.

The soldiers shoot the knob off of the door. Merlin throws a shoulder into it -forcing it open. The halls are consumed by marijuana smoke. The men enter, coughing and wheezing in the thick cloud. They find the source -the pot that Gun had thrown the flowers into. The rest of the crops were generally unaffected. Leaning down under the table, Merlin sees Gun, passed out, with a bloody pair of pliers in his hand; and a bloody bullet not far from it.

Merlin douses the fire with water, and orders the men to take Gun to the medic. Two men carry Gun out of the room. Merlin walks around to ensure, no other damage has been done. He follows the trail of blood that Gun left, before returning to where he found him. Kneeling down under the table again, he finds something scribbled into the floor. He looks closer, Gun had scribbled the word Pulse into the panel. Merlin jumps back up – pale white- and runs out of the greenroom, ordering his men to “Seal it off.” as he exits.

***

“It was our code. Before it all fell. Before Crow. We were boys in the thick of life, searching for a purpose. We couldn’t have known – purpose would hunt us down.” , Merlin confides in Susannah – as was his daily ritual- though the two had been sporadically involved , the mutual attraction had proven mute to their emotional connection.

“So, why pulse?” Susannah asks.

Merlin smiles. “It was just a bond among brothers. A word that represented our loyalty. ‘Until there is no more pulse.’ We vowed to hold our word to one another in high priority. We did, until I….”

“Until you what?”

“I shouldn’t have let her leave Sue. He trusted me to protect her. I just let her go” Sue places her hand on his shoulder. ” You did all you could’ve Merlin. We all knew how stubborn Mystic was.”

“How stubborn she could still be.”Merlin answers.

“Merl, you don’t think?”

“It’s not impossible. Regardless of whether or not she is, he’s going to go look for her.” This reality nauseates Merlin.

Susannah’s reassuring smile dips into a frown, “But … we need him here. What about the colony?”

“As long as there’s a chance, there’s nothing I can do.”

The two sit in silence for a few minutes – quietly concocting alternatives.

“What if you made a deal with him?” Susannah suggests. Merlin lifts his head, curious of her proposition. “Tell him you’ll help find her, in exchange for him helping us rebuild.”

Merlin’s doubt is evident. “He’ll kill everyone here if I give him that ultimatum.”

“Make something up. Tell him you expect her back at solstice. Tell him it was a secret plan, or; anything!”

Merlin toys with the thought in his mind. The doctor assigned to Gun knocks. “Come in!” They say in unison.

The doctor opens the door. Barely leaning into the room, he informs the two that Gun has awoken and exits. Susannah kisses Merlin passionately, “Please don’t let him go. We’ve already lost so much.”

Merlin doesn’t respond, instead lightly grabbing her hand. The two lose themselves in each other’s eyes before Guns echoing profanity prompts Merlin to go to him.

***

Gun struggles in his bed -gnawing on his binds- intermittently screaming profanities to Merlin.”Show yourself , you limp son of a bitch!” The soldiers giggle at his ranting.

As Merlin approaches, they stand at attention and salute him. Dismissing them he enters the room. “You know, you could bite at those all day, and you still couldn’t get them loose.” Merlin jokes -pulling up a chair beside him.

Unamused by his quip Gun asks “So this is what our bond has become? Strapping me to a dusty mattress?”

“Well, what would you have me do? Let you run amuck on the compound. You’ve lost it Gun. I understand you’re in pain. I get that. But these were once your people too.”

Gun tugs at his restraints one last time, looks away and murmurs “I should kill you.”

“It’s exactly that kind of talk that got you bound”, Merlin says -releasing one of the knots.

Gun calmly reaches for the glass of water placed on the table next to him. “You know I have to go find her. Don’t you?”

Merlin flinches – as Gun places the glass back on the table and continues “We can do this one of two ways Merl. You fill my truck, give me a bag of rations, ammo, and the last direction you saw her go.”

“You know I can’t do that Gun. If I let you leave, then everyone will be asking for the same. That would break everything we’ve built here. We’ve all lost people. This is not the time for heroics. It’s a time for preservation.”

“Alright, option two. The second I get out of here I’m going to string you up (Gun gestures toward the window) to that crane outside, and test out my aim on your corpse.”

Angered, Merlin begins to storm out. Gun screams “We’re supposed to be brothers Merl!” Merlin grips the knob, and freezes, as he thinks of Susannah’s plan.

“Is this how you treat your brother?” Gun antagonizes. Merlin releases the knob -still staring at the door he says, ” what if I told you that this was all part of the plan?”

Curious, Gun sits up “What?”

Merlin turns to Gun and concludes “Mystic and I had an arrangement. Before Crow was attacked. There is a safe house not far from here. We agreed that should we survive, that’s where we’d go to wait for others. It’s my guess that she’s there. About four days out.”

Gun looks out of the window, at the vastness of the desert surrounding the compound “Bullshit” he says. Merlin shrugs and heads back toward the door. Just as he’s about to close it behind him, Gun yell’s “Wait!”.

Knowing that his ruse had worked, Merlin takes a moment to think of the consequences of what he’d begun.

“Wait!” Gun says angered to tears. Merlin re-enters the room and fabricates a story of he and Mystic’s plan.

***

Travelers log. It’s been weeks since the fall of Crow. I’ve encountered no survivors. At least no “normal” ones. They seem to have learned to mobilize as a group. Food is scarce. I should have enough water to make it to Blood Lake. I’ve discovered a nearby rail -way, that appears recently used. I’ll follow that to the lake . I am by all accounts alone, but still sane. The road is rough, but I have to find him. I know he’s out here. I know that Gun’s alive.

Mystic completes her journal entry and continues to plow the sedan she’d stolen from the colony through, the slews of bodies that had littered the streets.

She looked to her sawed-off shotgun in the passenger seat, then to her wedding ring. Thoughts of Gun in peril-filled her heart with woe but drove her ambition to find him. Her need to see him just once more” outweighed her fear of being captured -by the horde that had been stalking her- since her escape from Crow.

***

“Three days. Give me three days to get this all together Gun.” Merlin pled. “Then, I’ll help you track her down myself.”

Merlin presents Gun with his weaponry, and a flask -filled with bourbon. Gun takes a gulp from the flask and cuts his binds.

Gun jumps off of the bed and re-arms himself with his various blades and firearms. He walks past Merlin and stops at the door. “I’m gonna need a hat,” he says. Merlin gives him the one atop his own head. Gun puts it on and while exiting states “Show me around”. Merlin follows.

****

” Some say god’s turned his back on us. I ain’t never been much for religion. But the things I’ve seen would make an atheist think twice.” Gun sits around a fire across from Merlin and Susannah. Unable to eat, he opts for yet another satchel of bourbon, as he informs the two of his time away from Crow.

” Any idea what happened?” Susannah asks.

” Not sure. There are signs. ” Gun takes a huge sip of bourbon before continuing. “I’d been bouncing from town to town for quite some time. Rumors really – if you can even call them that. Everywhere I went, someone had a story, someone had a solution, more often than not – that someone -ended up dead.”

Susannah gasps.

“Easy Sue. For the most part, it was their own fault. You’d be surprised how quickly people are willing to follow nutcases – when they’re afraid.”

Merlin interrupts ” So it was?”

“Sacrifice. Mostly. I’d say about a third of the camps on the outside -had formed some kind of cult. The rest, are pretty much run by the biggest and the strongest. Even then. Sacrifice. Mostly.”

“And you?” Merlin asks.

“And me what?”

“Have you?”

Gun looks up from the flames and at Merlin – disgusted. “You’re kidding, right?”

Merlin looks away, to avoid eye contact with Gun – whose leers dismantle his otherwise confident demeanor. It’s silent for a moment before Gun answers – “Yes Merl. I’ve had to kill some folks. A lot of folks.”

The three go silent once more, as Gun throws tinder onto the fire. Merlin breaks the moment by saying  “Welp, that’s enough for me. Susannah?”

Susannah responds “Just a minute honey. I want to talk to Gun for a little bit. See you at your place?”

Merlin looks at the two curiously. Dismissing his instinctive jealousy “Yea, sure.” he smiles and shakes Gun’s hand “It’s good to have you back brother.” Gun doesn’t answer, instead simply nodding. Merlin leaves the two and resigns to his room – in the compound.

” He really is happy to have you back. You know that?” Susannah says.

Gun is silent. She continues. “We all thought that you were dead. Don’t get me wrong. We had hope. But after Crow fell…”

“Don’t talk about Crow.”, Gun says.

“Okay.”, Susannah says nervously. ” We’re all just happy to see a familiar face return home to us. Do you mind?” Susannah reaches her out and points to Gun’s satchel of bourbon.

“Free country.”, Gun says, handing it to her.

Susannah takes a large gulp and coughs for several moments after. She tosses the satchel back to Gun and responds “Used to be.”

It was the first genuine smile, Gun could remember himself having in years.

“So what happened with you two? When I left you guys hated each other. I half expected one of you to have killed the other by now.”

“It was all a front.”, Susannah says. “Some of the elders found out what was going on between us. They disapproved of ‘extramarital relations’. We had to come up with some way to quiet everyone down, before they had me stoned.” Susannah jokes.

“They probably would’ve tried.” Gun jokes in return, and the two laugh. “So, Richard. He’s?”

Susannah hesitates before answering,

“Merlin and I had been on patrol one night. No funny business, just a legitimate security check. A group of those… things; had gathered around the perimeter. They were trying to climb the gates. Merlin and I shot them down. I don’t know if it was fate, or god, or (Susannah stops again, holding back tears) the devil. But as we shot, there he was. He looked like himself and something hellish at the same time. I couldn’t shoot. I just watched him climb.”

“Sue, you didn’t…” Gun says.

Susannah continues. “`He just. Kept climbing. Before I knew it he was on the other side. Our side. I called to him. He didn’t even recognize me. I shouldn’t have let him get that close. “

Susannah reaches out for Gun’s bourbon again. Handing it to her, Gun warns “Don’t finish it.” Susannah agrees and drinks from the satchel before proceeding.

“Merlin shot him. If he’d gotten any closer, I wouldn’t be here. I owe him for that.” Susannah says while wiping tears from her eyes.”

” Then the funny business?” Gun jokes, attempting to push away the sadness.

Susannah laughs, and nods, yes – while wiping the remaining tears from her face with her sleeve.

Susannah stands, hands Gun his satchel and concludes. “I’m just telling you Gun -when you go out there – if you find Misty, just be ready to do what’s necessary if the worst has happened. I know you may not feel like it, but you mean a lot to all of us. We need you here.”

Gun nods. Sue kisses him on the cheek and leaves him alone by the fire. Staring at it, Gun thinks to himself  –Bitch drank all my bourbon, as he shakes the pouch.

About an hour later, a sleeping Gun- is awoken by the reeling screech of tires coming in from the distance. He gets up and walks toward the gated perimeter. As the screeching sounds grow louder he removes his shotgun from its’ holster and places two rounds in the barrel.

Slowly approaching the gate -he waits. The sounds grow louder, but there are no headlights, and at this time of night – the without those it was near pitch black. Gun grows anxious, as now in addition to the screeching of the tires, the smell of burning rubber overcomes his senses.

He darts his eyes back and forth, in an attempt to isolate the direction that the vehicle is coming from. West, he thinks- aiming his shotgun toward the sound. Gun waits – as the screeches grow louder and louder. Seeing the vague outline of the car in the darkness he shoots. The vehicle careens into the fence- nearly toppling over.

A woman’s voice screams from the car “Please! They’re coming! Please help us!” Gun would normally ignore her shrill pleas, but deemed this serious.

He places his shotgun back in its’ holster and climbs the fence. On the top – he looks off into the distance and sees several dozen headlights – all converging toward the base. The woman’s voice screams again “Hurry!”

Gun’s frozen in a stare, as he watches the cars speed up.

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