Home > Creative Writing Exercises, Fallen Earth, NaNoWriMo, Writing > FE NaNoWriMo 2010: Installment No. 8

FE NaNoWriMo 2010: Installment No. 8

June 22, 2156

By daybreak, the creepers had slipped off into the prairie grass to the east to lurk in whatever hole they could claim as shelter until the return of night.

They’d picked the dead horse clean and then some, crushing the bones to get to the marrow after they’d chewed off all the flesh and muscle. Before the sun climbed too high in the sky, the remains of Coleman Vassar’s caravan maneuvered along that western ridge overlooking Mowbray Basin to avoid any further sandworm burrows.

“I should never have left Watchtower,” the caravan leader said, watching with a grim demeanor as the dune buggies, Interceptor, scout cycle, and horseman closed on our spot next to the roadside monorail pylon.

“That’s no way to talk,” I said. “You’re alive. You lost a couple of horses and a truck, but your team’s healthy.”

“For now,” Coleman noted. He shook his head, retrieved his canteen, and took a long sip. Then he said, “Since we left Watchtower, I’ve seen a man killed on the side of the road like he was nothing more than a mad dog. My truck and horses got wrecked by a sandworm. And I had to spend the night hiding on a high, narrow concrete rail from those damnable creepers.” The bearded man fixed me with his weary gaze. “I’m sorry, Mr. Denton, but I’m insufferably superstitious about some things. My caravan arrived in Watchtower three days ago after spending a week on the road from Mumford. We traveled from the Lower Plateau, up through Pass Chris and on to Watchtower without so much as a horse coming up lame. Then, in Watchtower, we take you on as a passenger. Within hours, violence and mayhem ensue. You’re bad luck, Mr. Denton. I won’t put the lives of my colleagues in further jeopardy on your behalf. I’m sorry.”

So, there it was. Fern cut me loose because I made stupid mistakes. Coleman didn’t want me around because he thought I jinxed his trip. Maybe neither of them were wrong.

“My tooth, Coleman – it’s not getting any better,” I said. It occurred to me then that before too much longer I might be lying on the side of the road like that lunatic Cog, writhing in the sun, screaming at the sky, and waiting for someone to show up and put a bullet in my brain.

He nodded, but he didn’t relent. “I am truly sorry. I wish I could do something more for you, but I can’t.” The dune buggies and Interceptor rolled up behind him, accompanied by the rider on the scout cycle. A few hundred yards back, the rider on horseback lagged behind.

“Fine,” I said. “I guess I won’t be the only one answering for his sins someday.”

“That is true enough,” he agreed. “However, if I recall correctly, you were primed to abandon the caravan when Mr. Dundy arrived yesterday. He might still be an option for you.”

***

Scribbled in the right margin: UNLUCKY YOU.

***

Brock Dundy owned a truck. Before embarking across the prairie of the Upper Plateau to hunt for elusive sandworms, he had parked it in a nearby settlement built around a played out copper mine.

The old Reyes Mine No. 4 was home to about sixty men, women, and children. The wealthiest among them lived in the nicer pre-Fall structures. Less affluent residents huddled in shanties and hovels with small campfires. The poorest among them had little choice but to settle for accommodations inside the honeycomb of caves within the old mine – taking their chances with critters and the occasional tunnel collapse.

But as we walked into town just after noon, it seemed that the old mine had become more popular for everyone all of a sudden. Several denizens of Reyes Mine hauled supplies from town down the path toward the entrance to the mine. Men and women armed with rifles and pistols stood watch on the town perimeter.

“What’s going on, Lydia?” Brock asked a dark-haired woman with a scarred face.

“Rider came through the other day and told us the Night Wolves overran Murphy and put Pass Chris under siege,” she said. “We’re hoping for the best, but preparing for the worst.”

“Rider?” I asked, smiling a little at the suspicion. “A girl? Curly hair?”

“Said her name was Fern,” Lydia replied. “Yes. Why?”

“Nothing,” I said. “Just glad to hear she’s getting the word out.”

And, honestly, glad to hear that she had made it this far. She’d be a full-fledged Franklin’s Rider in no time. I looked around the town, my brow furrowed. “No offense,” I said, “but what’s here that the Night Wolves would want? The mine’s tapped, isn’t it?”

Lydia nodded. “It is. But they might want our strategic location: last town before the roads fork up north. Any traffic coming to and from Watchtower and other destinations would be subject to hijacking, theft, or worse.”

Brock frowned, asking, “Who kicked their goddamned ant hill? That’s what I’m dying to know. I’ve never seen them on the offensive like this before.”

“I suppose you can ask them if you want,” she said, raising her pistol to sight down the barrel as she aimed southeast at the dust cloud roiling behind a line of riders on dune buggies, motorcycles, and horseback. “Incoming!” she shouted over her shoulder, but the alert wasn’t necessary. More riders were closing from other directions, within easy view of all the sentries.

Not my problem, I told myself. If I got pulled into this town’s problems, I’d be stuck in Reyes Mine for who knows how long. Too long, certainly. The infection would spread. Untreated, I’d suffer hideously and go batshit insane before I died. “I can’t stay, Brock.”

“No, you can’t,” the hunter agreed. “I can’t leave these people to fight without my aid, though.”

“Why the hell not?” I asked. “Jesus, why do people like you think it’s so damned noble to fight a pitched battle that you KNOW you can’t win?”

That earned me an icy “Fuck you very much” from Lydia before she shot the first rider who came into range. The bullet struck him right above the nose. His buggy jerked hard to the right, slamming into the car next to him. Both vehicles went tumbling in spirals of dust and spinning metal.

“Take my truck,” Brock said, drawing a pistol from the holster at his side. “I want to go back to Depot 66 when you’ve finished your business up in Picus Ridge. Don’t want to see a scratch on the truck when you bring it back. Got it, Denton?”

“Got it,” I confirmed.

***

Stopped to refuel in a little desert outpost called the Oasis. It’s run by the Riders. They say Fern made it this far, at least.

Night’s not far off. I shouldn’t keep going today, but the tooth hurts like hell and I can feel the fever simmering. If I push on, I can reach Picus Ridge before dawn.

***

I swear to God that I didn’t fall asleep.

The two-headed deer loped across the road out of nowhere, directly in the path of the truck. Panicked eyes glowed bright in the headlight beams. I tried to swerve, but I just didn’t have time to avoid the collision.

When the truck came to rest, it was parked at an angle across the road about thirty feet past the crash site. It had spun almost all the way around after I slammed on the brakes. The headlights shone on the twitching animal on the broken asphalt.

Dazed, I climbed out of the truck and checked the damage. The engine still chugged healthily, but the hood and grill were caved in from the impact. Didn’t take long to break that promise to Brock Dundy, did it? Then I thought maybe some preserved venison might be just the thing to compensate Brock for the trouble. Just load up the deer, haul it to Picus Ridge, and ask someone there to prep the meat for a share.

Genius idea, I thought. I knelt beside the double-headed deer, resting a hand on the creature’s twitching flank. Blood frothed from its mouth. I’d need to finish the deer off before trying to drag it to the truck. I didn’t have a knife, but maybe I’d find one in the hunter’s truck.

I stood, turned toward the glow of the headlights, and took three steps before I heard something skittering on the old pavement.

Christ, I thought. Creepers. Well, it had been a good run, hadn’t it? Almost made it to Northfields, didn’t I? Practically within shouting distance of Picus Ridge. Now, I faced the prospect of having my skeleton picked clean. On one hand, I just felt like closing my eyes and waiting for the end to come. On the other, I heard the voice of Old LaRue in my mind: “When someone wants to kill you, face them down and give as good as you can for as long as you can. Never go quietly. Never go running the other way.” I’d always kind of wanted to call bullshit on that particular suggestion, but I did it this time just the same.

It wasn’t creepers.

A giant hairy-legged spider, about ten feet tall, loomed just beyond the fallen deer. Its deep black compound eyes glittered in the glow of the truck’s headlights. I saw myself reflected in those eyes. They were like clusters of vile grapes. Greasy green toxin oozed from the great arachnid’s fangs. It drew back, preparing to strike.

“Sorry, LaRue,” I muttered. “Running the other way. Right now.”

The spider wasn’t after me, though. Once I had slid under the truck, I watched as the fangs sank redundantly into the dying double-headed deer. The spider then proceeded to spin a silky blue-white web around its victim before dragging the deer off through the high grass toward the canyon.

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