After some feedback I realized that the chapter I posted yesterday does not bode well for readers who do not have the backstory, so prepare for a long email.
you can download the word doc here:Static-First Two Chapters
Or you can read it just below in blog format.
Green Beans, Motherfucker!
Halloran shoved Eli into the dilapidated cement wall of the Academy harder than he had intended. He realized this when Eli bounced off the wall and crumpled down into the gravel. Eli breathed deep and started to steady himself to get back up. His foot dug into the loose rubble momentarily, but then skidded out, crashing him down once more. A chicken protested all the noise with a squawk and flap. Somewhere a bird cawed.
“Stay down old man,” Halloran said. He meant it. Eli was well into his second century by now and Halloran didn’t want to hurt him.
Halloran was a towering six feet and five and three-quarters inches tall and had arms and legs like a cutting horse. His abdomen looked like a shallow edge of the creek with thin water roiling over perfectly placed oval stones.
“What do you think will happen if you go out there?” Eli shouted from the dusty pile of gravel and litter he’d fallen into.
“I don’t care anymore! It’s been too long. I can’t just sit here behind these walls and wait for the Apes to come pick us off one by one. I’m ready, Father!” He meant that, too.
Halloran was only one hundred and seven, still spry compared to his father, but he’d spent all of his days on the planet in a fenced in stronghold community made up of survivors who tinkered about with electricity all day and spoke of the good old days with robotic servants and plentiful food, and entertainment and all that.
Halloran reached into the metal box attached to the wall of the academy, grabbed a shiny flask that connected the wires and yanked the fuse out. The wires within shot sparks out. The fence stopped humming. Halloran didn’t even remember that the fence hummed until it stopped. He’d grown used to it.
He wanted to do more than just survive inside an electrified fence reciting scriptures from brittle old leather-bound books, and he was too young for nostalgia in any real sense. He only knew how bad he had it because of what he’d been told in school and felt just fine about life on most days.
Eli, on the other hand, had spent a great deal of time on the planet, before it had gone dark and gotten its new name, and had nostalgia to spare. He was a pining mooner with a lazy eye and a beard filled with lice. He’d been Halloran’s primary teacher, but Halloran suspected he’d still not taught him all that he should’ve, or even wanted to.
For example, Halloran didn’t know that he was over one hundred years old, nor that that was odd for a land mammal of his size. He just assumed the prophecies of the old books to be true: that those who remained pure of heart, and made the sacrifices which God demanded lived fuller, longer lives, like the man with the big boat from Eli’s stories.
He and Eli had buried many of their fellow Men of Faith… and their children. They had all seemed fairly pure, yet all but he and Eli had perished or withered into the grey, nonetheless.
People who had survived the death of all the electricity and robots and other fun gadgets kept track of time very loosely. Time is a slippery thing to hold, so the planet had gotten a lot simpler.
Halloran’s people grew food and raised livestock. Other than that they mainly just fought the Apes to keep that food.
Halloran wiped his cheeks with the back of his hand and began to climb the wrought iron fencing. He had a heavy pack slung across his back and a week’s worth of dried meats and a dense loaf of bread. No water, though. He didn’t want to be weighed down.
There was a stream that ran across the ridge of mountains surrounding the Men of Faith’s stronghold where he intended on filling his water skins as needed.
It took him longer than he had expected to reach the stream, and when he did the water was brackish and hard. He regretted not bringing a bladder of the fresh well water from home.
He filled only one of his skins in order to carry less weight and followed the stream until dark fall. The waterway became more and more obviously man made the farther he followed it. There were rusted poles with holes throughout them suspending rectangular sheets of featureless metal. Occasionally they had symbols slightly visible under the patina, but they meant nothing to Halloran. He looked instead at their shadows to help determine his heading and the time. Suddenly he realized maybe why the elders had cared so much for keeping track of it all.
The shadows were growing long and he needed to rest. He sat in the shade provided by a small tumbledown building that flanked the stream. It had a busted placard over the door with a crudely drawn image of a man with circles for legs and the word ME. Halloran knew this likely said MEN, like the lavatory at the academy, but didn’t recognize the hieroglyph.
He ate some of his dried meat and drank the horrible water.
His feet were sore and he removed his boots. In the fleeting light his feet were mother of pearl. The heels and balls of them were starting to blister. The cool evening air felt good on his nacreous toes. He examined his surroundings, the roof of the building was littered with holes. Beyond the entrance were sinks and stalls for excreting waste. The commodes, unlike the brushed metal ones he was used to, were fantastic. They were tall and smooth. He wiped away a layer of dust with his palm and it was sparkling white. The one furthest from the door was filled with collected rainwater. He was incredibly thirsty and knelt down at the bowl. He smelled the water. It disgusted him to imagine drinking from a toilet, but it seemed less offensive than drinking any more of the calcified brine in his water skin. He cupped his hands and pulled a scoop of the water into his mouth. It was fantastic. He took more of the water and sat with his back against the wall. There was a tiny roll of paper. He wondered why anyone would use paper to wipe their ass. Paper was very hard to come by. He removed the paper and placed it in his bag.
There was a poem written on the wall in there. It contained words that were very strange to him.
Here I sit all broken hearted, came to shit but only farted!
Halloran opened his pack and removed his bedroll and lay down.
He didn’t sleep well. He made no campfire for one, so his body was forced to expend much of his energy to keep him warm somehow. He shivered and let his imagination run wild. He figured it to be nervousness, but a fire seemed an unnecessary gamble.
When he finally did doze off, thought, he was haunted by dreadful nightmares of the terrible plague that God had sent to try and save the people of Earth. Eli had told him all about it, The Proxy Virus. It had wiped out many of the heathens who refused to adhere to God’s will, he had said. It hadn’t worked, though, so God had been forced to do much more abominable things in his attempts to save the humans. God didn’t like to smite, but hated confrontation. Since human beings were so confrontational by nature he found it easier to avoid face to face conversation and instead smote from home. It also saved him the commute, so there was that to consider.
He would simply receive a report of how poorly people were behaving and wave his finger in a loose circle, pointing towards Earth and say something like, “Eh… pestilence,” or “tsunami,” or genital warts.” And so on.
No one understood the motives of the Creator of the Universe.
His whole life, all he could remember anyway, Halloran had been training to fight, and survive in the wilds, and go outside the walls to find her, but Eli said he still wasn’t ready yet.
“Why do you want to go out there and fight when we have this place?” Eli had said, referring to the Academy of the Men of Faith. Halloran knew he was just terrified. What he wasn’t sure of anymore is if Eli was terrified of losing Halloran the way he had lost Jolie, or if he was terrified of finding Jolie.
The next morning Halloran awoke to a small furry ring-tailed animal that he couldn’t recognize rummaging through his bag. He tried to shoo it away. It snarled at him. He bashed it to death with the white stone plate that topped the commode tank
He produced a long hunting knife from the very same pack and skinned and quartered the critter on the spot, but didn’t cook it right then. Something was telling him he needed to get moving.
Instead, Halloran placed the beast in a leather pouch in his pack.
“Well,” he said to the deceased ringtail, “you wanted in here.” And closed up the pack and continued along his way.
When his thirst and hunger started to become paramount he moved out of the sun and satiated himself with a chunk of the dense bread he’d brought along. It tasted fine, but he was curious what the animal would taste like.
He walked more, still following the concrete stream from which he’d been gathering his drinking supply, and which had grown even more briny as he marched.
Halloran had started to notice a faint thrumming in his mind. It was so slight that he assumed it had been there his whole life, like the hum of the electric fence at the compound, but it had gained amplitude almost as soon as he’d scaled the wall to leave the Academy. It grew still. Though scared a little, he wanted, needed, to keep going towards whatever was causing this thrumming. He assumed at this point that it was a thrumming that everyone could hear. Figured that its rhythmic pumping had been dampened by the cement walls within the Academy and that the pumps and generators and buzzing electrons had muffled it. That he’d simply grown accustomed to it and forgotten about it until now, but the sound of it awakened memories of him and his sister from over 100 jaars ago. A jaar was twelve maands, no more, no less.
Halloran was wrong, of course, in assuming that all creatures could hear the thrumming, but he wasn’t wrong in assuming it had been there his whole life. He and his sister had played near the source when they were children. The source wanted him to play there once more.
As Halloran continued, more and more of the landscape was replaced with the cinderblock walls and rusted metallic outcroppings. The structures were growing taller, and the piles of rubble were gaining mass as well. These buildings belonged on Earth, but a few had survived the journey to Alles Aarde, which had taken hundreds of jaars but required no locomotion.
Halloran saw a glimmer from one of the taller structures ahead of him. He stopped moving in order to get a better look at the shiny moving thing that had caught his eye. He saw a long metal tube, and didn’t know what to make of it. Suddenly he felt a tingle which started at the base of his skull and whizzed down his spine into his asshole, which instructed him to drop to the ground immediately. He didn’t have time to argue with the tingle, and just as his body slammed into Alles Aarde he felt the vibrations from the air and heard the whistling of something fast buzzing overhead, like an angry wasp. The bug impacted the concrete channel just behind him at great velocity. The wasp had this to say about the impact: “Zing.”
It was the strangest bug he’d ever encountered and for some reason he was somewhat petrified.
A small distant thunderclap followed. It doesn’t look like rain, Halloran thought, looking for clouds.
The tingle now made him jump to his feet and run.
He darted to his left towards an opening in the brick wall at first, but for no apparent reason, something in his asshole told his body “no,” so he jerked to the right back towards the creek and rolled headfirst down the embankment. His legs were now burning from the intense bursts. Just then another zing, but this one accompanied a crunch as another angry wasp buried into the cinderblock wall. A second thunderclap and Halloran thought, I guess maybe it will rain, I better get inside.
The second wasp had buried into the wall right where he was heading before he’d decided to change course. This evidence told Halloran that the wasps were definitely mad at him for some reason, and wondered if the small ring-tailed meal in his pack had anything to do with it.
He felt warmth on his forearm, his hand was wet and heavy. He looked down to find he’d been cut. It seemed like a pretty deep one but he didn’t have much time to look before he felt the tingling tell him to move erratically, and now.
Since it had worked so well last time, he decided to swing back to the left once more, climbing up the embankment towards the wall and dove through the open window in the cinderblock building. He’d known it was time to jump because the tingle started in his asshole and went the other way this time, which seemed to propel him farther and faster than he’d ever moved up to that point. It was exhilarating.
“Wow!” he shouted as he tucked and rolled into the building.
Another angry wasp buzzed overhead, having chased him through the window, but this one didn’t zing when it hit. The walls inside were crumbly and soft. The wasp just went right through with barely a “puff” and fell asleep. A third thunderclap and he thought, Well at least I’m dry, but then checked his pants to make sure that wasn’t just wishful thinking.
Turns out he hadn’t pissed himself, so now he had two things going for him. It was a load off his mind.
He inspected the cut on his hand and was relieved to see it was barely more than a scratch. He was shocked as to how much blood had come from the tiny wound, but assumed it might have been his elevated heart rate from the vigorous exercise. In any event, he felt fine.
The tingling was everywhere now. Radiating out from his back, through his ribcage and into his extremities. He hunkered down and went deeper into the darkness within the building, keeping an eye peeled for that third wasp. He could see just fine, somehow.
It was cool and musty within the darkness. It smelled like when he and Eli would use tools to turn the Aarde after harvest. There were no other windows aside from the one Halloran had dove through and four more along that same wall. Those four were all boarded up and encased in metal bars, along with the doorway. Someone from some time had removed these prophylactics from the window Halloran had chosen.
The impenetrable windows looked like a prison, which had been known as a correctional facility for some reason, and made Halloran feel right at home.
When Eli and the other founders, all since dead save for Eli, had established the Academy the building was not vacant. It was filled with incorrect humans. Eli had released those savages to do as they please. Some had stuck around for fear of finding new shelter, which had been very expensive back then. Eli read scripture to them along with the rest of his followers and kept his good eye on them.
More of the released prisoners had gone into the woods, running free for the first time in decades and had joined the Apes. Others still had wandered out of the compound slowly and had likely been killed and eaten by newly free. Halloran wasn’t all too sure when the Apes started the all-out cannibalism.
The walls of the building Halloran now found himself within proudly boasted that this was not a prison and was instead “Baker’s Supermarket”. The lone opened window faced Oos, which was where the sun awakened each day, so the interior of the building only received early morning sun, and very little at that. Still, the light of the day would silhouette anyone else who came in through the window, so Halloran sat with his back to the wall and kept his eyes on the opening.
He had only a sword and the long hunting knife that he’d used to skin the critter in his possession, which did him little good against the buzzing wasps.
He gathered bottles and cans from the shelves surrounding him and pulled them onto the floor loudly. The bottles were all empty and light. They each had an image of the same sort of pirate looking man, who wore a giant golden hoop in his ear and had a head as smooth as a placid lake. It glimmered in the imaginary sun over his shoulder. Also, for some reason the pirate held a long staff, which had a glorious mane of white hair. Halloran laughed wondering what this could mean and discarded the useless bottles. The cans had a depiction of some sort of discolored hulk who was apparently a farmer. He tossed one up and felt its weight crash into his palm, which satisfied him. Halloran decided this was the thing he would throw at an intruder: it was heavy and dense.
He never took his eyes off the window, not for longer than a second or two while he gathered ‘ammunition’, but no one came.
He read the label of the hulk’s can. The contents were green beans, which he’d had before, though his people called them seed beans. He liked his version better.
Halloran’s stomach began to rumble as he sat there on full alert. He wanted to cook the meat in his pouch before it went rancid, but thought that a fire would attract more wasps, and likely burn down Bakers Supermarket trapping him inside. Besides that, the thrumming sound was calling him again. He tried to block it out. Palpated the can of beans, feeling its ridges and running the ads of his fingers across the folded steel lip. He thought of all the reasons he would just return home and apologize to Eli. Imagined what he’d say. The thrumming wouldn’t let him seriously consider this idea, though.
After what seemed like the lifetime of one of his many dead friends, Halloran could stay in the supermarket no longer. He was entirely too anxious and figured that the coast was probably clear by now anyway and that he needn’t hide out anymore, but he brought the cans of Farmer Hulk beans with him just in case. He flipped the can, spinning it in his palm as he strode across the aisles of the grocer’s freezer section.
Before he reached the row of windows and the boarded up doorway something caught his eye from very far off. It seemed to have summoned him supernaturally, and he walked over to the wall. There was glass case filled with small colorful books, one of which’s cover broadcasted a strangely familiar face. The title of the floppy book said Tribune. The text below the face said this: The Purifier’s face. See it! Remember it! Fight it!
While Halloran attempted the second command of the photograph’s text, his tingles came back with fervor.
He turned and saw the shiny tube enter the window. It suddenly got much darker as though a fire had been doused. He could no longer see the image of “The Purifier” or make out the giant hulk on the can of food. There was no longer sunlight filtering in through the window. He’d been reading the bean can and the Tribune longer than he thought. He made a mental note to wonder what had happened to make it suddenly so dark if he survived the tube in the window.
There was a hand supporting the tube, which now entered the building via the window. The hand was attached to an arm, which was tethered to the rest of the Ape. Halloran was simultaneously relieved and terrified. Relieved that the tube wasn’t coming after him of its own accord—he felt he’d already seen enough odd shit for one afternoon—and terrified to see an Ape carrying whatever the thing was. He deduced that the tube had to have been where the wasps had come from. He’d seen pictures of rifles. This one was crude and clunky, but seemed to serve its purpose.
This Ape, like all others he’d seen, was wearing a crude mask made from scraps of human flesh… possibly the flesh of someone he had known.
Halloran pulled the can up past his ear, further, as far back as his arm could reach. He felt the bends of his muscles stretching and tightening, and then, like the snapping of a branch, suddenly twisted his torso and flung the can past his head, releasing its mass only after his arm was fully extended. The green beans had but only to travel a short distance before impact.
The can made a ‘whop’ sound as it was interrupted by the Ape, and ruptured. The Ape’s head caved in under the weight of the can. The leather mask split at the seams and ruptured as well, and he fell to the floor, stiff and jerky. The tube exploded and fire blasted out one end. This was the thunderclap he’d heard. No one had told him a rifle was dangerously loud.
Halloran’s ears rang and he was disoriented. He saw spots in his eyes from the sudden blast out the end of the tube. He could barely hear the gurgling and moaning of the bean blasted savage who lay writhing on the floor. He unsheathed his hunting knife and plunged it into the Ape’s heart quickly. It made a crunch that Halloran felt in his marrow.
Without making note of it this time, he was able to see again. The photograph of The Purifier was plainly visible, as well as the tiny green cylinders which had sprung from the destroyed can. Also visible was the meat that made up the inside of the Ape’s face, which Halloran didn’t like seeing.
His body wretched. He stopped thin gruel with his teeth and bit back another spasm. He swallowed hard, but was no longer starving. He tried not to look directly at the lumpy wet mess as he freed the tube rifle from the grip of the dead Ape.
The thing was tethered to his shoulder with a thin leather strap. Halloran used his hunting knife to sever the leather cleanly and then pulled it from under the Ape’s body. He was holding his breath and his chest began to feel hot and tight. The rifle came up with one last tug and he carefully tied the severed strap back together best he could. There was a second belt on the corpse which held tiny metal cartridges. Halloran didn’t know that these cartridges were the wasps and although they seemed important to the Ape, he was losing control of his will to not vomit, so he exited the supermarket, running as fast as he could while carrying his pack, the fire tube, and one can of something called creamed corn, which he had grabbed by mistake, and two more cans of green beans and the Tribune news magazine.
He kept telling himself it was kill or be killed, and that he had no choice, but that did little in alleviating his nausea from dispatching his first Ape.
His only comfort came in knowing that he had never, and would never, kill a human. And that they were definitely not the same thing, regardless of how similar they seemed. Humanity was a gift from God, Eli had said.
Halloran came to a small patch of woods and veered away from the concrete stream toward it. He gathered a few dried pieces off a dead tree and shoved them into the bag lengthwise, setting them on top of the stolen rifle. Just beyond the wooded patch was a tall structure with partially open walls. It had pillars and ramps spiraling up toward the stars. It seemed unfinished to Halloran. He supposed it would never be, sadly. He entered under the metal flag that guarded the main gate and began carefully ascending the ramp. There was a staircase in the corner at the top of the first level. He peeked his head in slowly, his eyes falling onto empty dilapidated stairs, which made him cautious.
He wanted to take the stairs so that he could be under the cover the well provided, preventing further wasp stings, but likewise, he sought to clear each level of the structure along his way to the top level to ensure he was alone before setting up camp.
There were dead cars sporadically placed throughout the structure. It would take him days to properly clear the area, as he had been trained at the Academy, while Eli read from the Solar Confederacy Field Guidebook and threw stones at him at random to test his reactions.
Halloran’s belly rumbled at this agonizing thought and he made a gamble on this decisive issue, which was to take the stairwell up, blockade it, find some sort of obstacle to place on the ramp to the top level and properly clear the upper deck. From that vantage, any other rifles would pose little threat other than the direct line of the access ramp.
There was a fair amount of moonlight filtering into the parking structure, which Halloran deduced it to be based upon the sheer volume of vehicles and lack of any other features such as toilets, but the stairwell was as darker still than the supermarket had been. He slipped on a broken step and crashed down, sprawling forward onto the crumbly cement steps and slamming his head on the wall. He cursed. His eyes watered as he tried to bring the world into focus. He could make out the steps more clearly as he rose again. His hands were visible, almost bright. He ventured a guess that maybe he’d been knocked unconscious in the fall, giving his eyes more time to adjust, but dismissed it for a different theory: he was delusional from lack of food and a head injury.
The thrumming he’d been dealing with for a couple days was now joined with a throbbing from his head smack. They seemed to be on alternating wavelengths so that the throb was preceded by the thrum, then again by the throb, ad infinitum.
He reached the top and the metal door screamed open when he pulled against it with his considerable weight. If there were any Apes in this structure, they surely knew of his presence now
He ducked slightly coming through, out of habit, which he had been doing for most of his life at the Academy, before Eli, who was also taller than most men had adjusted all of the doorways. He gave the rooftop panorama a quick glance for movement before noisily tugging the door back into the jamb.
He laced the rifle through the door handles and braced it against the cement wall of the doorjamb to secure that entrance.
The ramp had already been blocked off by some other traveler, who had managed to move five or six cars to the narrowest part, and somehow stacked them three high. Anyone crawling through there would be considerably slowed and it would create a choke point for Halloran to chuck canned vegetables at them. If you think I’m good with green beans, he thought, you should see me with creamed corn!
Satisfied that he wouldn’t be eaten by a cannibal Ape, Halloran placed his pack in the back of a truck called a Dodge Ram. He opened the little hinged door on the back of the thing and started digging around in his cache. He placed the branches he’d collected on the ground, along with some leaves and other twigs which had collected in the corners of open air building, particularly near the stairwell entrance.
He lit the fire and pulled out the meat from the ring-tailed critter. His mouth was literally watering. The throbbing was dying down. The thrumming was not. He jabbed his sword through the carcass and hung it over the fire, balanced between the open door thing on the back of the Ram and the front of a different vehicle. He rotated it from side to side periodically.
Halloran went into the cab of the truck, pilfering through the contents. There were some books in the small compartment opposite the wheel. They were technical diagrams and he was bored stiff with them immediately. Under the seat he felt something calling to him. He explored the floorboards impolitely. His hand felt a cold steel object. It was dense and heavy. In the light he recognized it immediately. There were placards with silhouettes of them all throughout the Academy. This was a gun. He turned the revolver over in his hand and marveled at its heft. He opened the action to find four unfired cartridges and two hollow brass tubes. Dead wasps.
The ringtail popped and hissed in the fire. He closed the action and put the pistol in his pants pocket then ran to go turn the spit.
He carefully watched the ramp and drank most of his water while waiting for the meat to cook, which turned out to be a mistake because the meat was oily and coarse. Still it was delicious.
He thought absently that he might have taken more of the toilet rainwater had he been in less of a frazzle.
He ate the whole beast and slept peacefully under the stars.
He dreamed of her. For the first time ever, he dreamed of her as an adult. He saw her now, the same age as he. She was beautiful. She didn’t look much like him, though. He’d never noticed before, but she was very dark. Her eyes where sparkling grey and her skin was rich brown and supple. So different than the other Men of Faith, which incidentally included the women as well, but they hadn’t been allowed to vote on the name (or anything else).
In the dream she forced him to the ground and mounted him. He became aroused and uncomfortable, shoving her aside and forced himself awake.
He awoke in the bed of the Dodge Ram with a boulder in his pants. It was painful, uncomfortable, and something very new to him. In all his sunrises on the planet, thirty-six thousand or so, he’d not experienced this. He wanted to rub it against something but that seemed very dirty, so he thought about a game he’d played with Eli when he was a boy. Eli would throw a rock and he would smash it with a club of some sort. They would also sit around for hours on end talking about how each and every person in the history of the Men of Faith had fared at the game.
His pants were no longer ill-fitting and painful. The diversion had worked.
He fell back to sleep.
“Jolie” or “Bananas”
Jolie sat bolt upright. She pushed Marwick’s arm away from her and leapt from the platform on which they slept twenty feet above the community, their place as pack leaders. She landed silently. The moon, at its brightest phase, illuminated her breasts and lined her legs and body in silver; her womanhood on display. Many of the male Apes were pretending not to notice, but their mates would be sweaty and sore soon, thanks to her.
She’d been awakened by a vision of the other one. She’d seen him many times before in the memory pod, but hadn’t felt his presence in ages. They were familiar once.
She conquered him in their dreams. She knew he shared the vision. She had been told this might happen if he still lived.
She secured her robe and pulled the tacky leather mask over her supple brown skin and shot into the darkened woods.
She ran with the speed of a gazelle and the nimble footfalls of a tiger, bounding over and around sleeping Apes and dying fires.
She reached the fence line before she ever broke stride and bounded ten feet in the air before grabbing onto the rope which dangled from the guard tower. Her ascension was effortless as she pulled herself up hand over hand. She rocked her body, tensing her back muscles and pulling her heels back, before tightening her abdomen into a tight crunch and swinging her legs forward and up. She used this momentum to vault her legs onto the platform above and then pulled back on the rope quickly and snapped herself to standing as though she were weightless.
Feckus, the Ape who was manning the tower for this watch, stared at her slack jawed with a piece of poultry dangling from his raggedy teeth. He closed his mouth and swallowed hard.
Jolie waited for him to acknowledge her.
“Is everything alright?” He asked finally.
“Have you been beyond the wall?”
Feckus motioned to his mask. “Aye, earned this the hard way, I did.” This referred to the Ape tradition of using the hide of one’s victims to craft a respectable mask.
“Not this wall, you fool! The Great Divide! How far have ye ventured, yet?”
“Nay, not that far by a long bit, but I’ve seen many sunrises out in the open wood, and I’ve been to the blowjob shack a dozen times’r more.” He winked one eye and did a little check click after he said that bit and Jolie flicked her hand out fast as a toad tongue, rapped his Adam’s apple with rigid knuckles and sent Feckus into a coughing tizzy.
Bits of the masticated bird meat flew from his nasty chompers and whizzed by her face. Feckus continued to cough and folded in half at the waist, placing his palms on his knees to keep from falling over. Jolie reached to his scruffy hair and gripped a firm handful from the back of his skull, then pulled his face up near hers. His lips were pulled back into a painful grimace He was wheezing through his putrid teeth.
“Mind your fuckin’ manners eh?”
“Sorry mum, forgot my place is all.”
She released him and he slowly returned to his normal posture, which was poor.
“You’re being sent on assignment. There’s someone coming, looking for me. He’s far, but unrelenting. He’ll reach this camp by the next bright moon if we don’t stop him…You don’t stop him.”
“You’ll leave at once. Take only that which you must to survive, tell no one you’re going. Ask no questions.”
Feckus argued none. He began gathering his satchel and rifle.
“No weapons,” she said.
“What exactly am I doing out there if I’m not bringing a weapon?” He was beginning to show his disobedient self once more.
“This one will not be your new mask, you hear? Your place is to keep him from Marwick. From me. The light tunnel, you’ve heard tales of it, no?
“You’ve seen it?”
“Marwick told us never to go looking for it, and never go inside,” he said, “threatened to rip out the spines of anyone who did.”
“So, of course you all know where it is then?” she said.
“Well, how else would we know how to avoid it, mum?” she flashed a smile to him for this candid response.
“Because you’ve shown some spine, I’ll let you keep it.”
“So the tunnel of lights is a week’s travel towards the sea, and one day towards the setting sun. What of it? You don’t want me to go there.”
“Aye, I do, actually.”
“Fuckin’ bananas, Jolie, truly?”
“Aye, and bring some back if they’re in season.” she said. What they were both referring to was that the tunnel of lights was surrounded by a huge crop of bananas. Marwick loved bananas. This was the primary reason Eli had named them the Apes, though Marwick considered himself more of a monkey, truth be told.
“Any other weapons in your bag?” she asked.
“Just a knife. S’pose I oughtta’ keep that, yeah?” he said, neglecting to tell her about the compact handheld explosive he’d been lugging around for months while contemplating the murder of her husband, Marwick the Great.
“Carry on,” she said and motioned him on with a blasé backhanded wave. “Not a word,” she said, and he threw down a second rope, which unfurled and hit the dirt outside the compound’s fence. He descended the rope with none of the grace and athleticism that Jolie had displayed on her way up and vanished into the deep dark wood.
Jolie sat at the now empty seat and picked at the bird carcass, awaiting the arrival of the next shift’s watchman.