Wasteland

I figure that I’ll post some more Wasteland stuff. I’ll do it in 1-2k chunks. Hope you enjoy.

I recall the junk town that sat a few miles from the land-bridge. I do not know if it exists anymore. It was called FindePunte, Bridge End in the local tongue. I think it may have been destroyed in the second Meta War, when Koran brought his legions down from the north. I never went back there. In the grand scheme of things it was a very normal place, but back then I had no idea of what normal was, so sheltered had been my upbringing. Memory, however, turns it into a place of horror.

 

The sky is clear for once, last night’s rain having drained the sky and churned the dust to mud. That makes me happy. I sit on the firing step of the rig and let the cool air blow away my tiredness. The air tastes like oil and stagnant water, but it is better than the close, thick heat of the cabin below me. Mother is driving, Father taking his turn to sleep.

The sun sets behind the silhouette of FindePunte. We have been driving there for several days. Mother says we will not stay long though. I don’t know how to feel about that. A town sounds like the best place to start a new life. It is a cruel reminder that we can’t simply go back home to the farm. All that will be there for us are the raiders and their therapod beasts.

The town grows larger as we get closer. I can see towers made of wood and metal rise up from amidst a huddle of cheap looking buildings. I can see gate arches and the walls that support them. They look brown from a distance, but as we draw nearer I see that they are a deep red, corroded and lumpy with rust. Glyphs and clan symbols have been painted onto the decaying metal. I do not know any of the tribes they represent.

We continue through the muddy slush, our tyres kicking up spray. Finally Mother slows to a halt at the closed gate. At the foot of the wall a guard leans on the metal.

“Who goes there?”

“We seek shelter inside.” Mother leans out of the cabin window, peering to see him where he stands in the shadow of a wall support.

“That’s not what I asked, friend.”

I cannot see mother from my perch atop the rig, but I hear her voice through the roof beneath me. We are all tired, she more than most.

“Do I need to tell you? Is it important?”

“It’s important to me, friend,” the guard says.

“Why?”

“I’m curious.”

“And our safety relies upon your curiosity?”

“For the moment, yes.”

Mother does not speak. Her metal fingers drum against the door. I don’t know what she will say.

“Ortega. We are the Ortega family from across the mountains.”

“And during the War?”

I can hear the anger in mother’s voice.

“In the War we were nothing.”

“Expensive augmetic you’ve got there. Military issue by the look. Tech like that costs. You were someone I’m thinking.”

I know without seeing that Mother has gone still. I know too that Father and my sister, Susanna, are awake and listening.

I peer down at the man from my perch on the roof, seeing him properly for the first time. He is short, wide in the shoulders and with a long moustache. A wide brimmed hat covers his head and a poncho of grey wool keeps out the damp chill. I also see the junkyard gun he carries.

Mother leans out of her window, her dark hair lifting in the slight breeze.

“Then maybe I’m not someone to fuck with.”

The guard looks up at me then and then back to Mother. Without another word he raps his knuckles on the gate and shouts in a language I do not know.

Dirt shifts and the metal hinges protest as the gate swings open for us to enter.

 

“We’re not staying?” I almost drop the sack of supplies.

“No,” Susanna snatches the bag before someone else does, swinging it onto her own shoulder. The mass of people shove us from side to side in the bazaar, the press close as a tight fist.

“Why?” I know the reason, but I still doubt whether it is the right one.

“It’s not safe here.” Susanna, my fearless sister, drops her voice low. “You’ve seen the people here.”

The way she says people reminds me of the way she says spiders.

The people that fill the streets are not like those we grew up with. A hunchbacked woman with speckled flesh rears up from behind her stall, haggling with a man covered in long brown hair. Two creatures, cowled in what looked like leather rags waddled through the crowd, forked tongues flickering from under their hoods. A horse and rider try to force their way through the throng and I realise that the rider is in fact a growth sprouting from the creatures back. Here and there the pale skin of northlanders mingles alongside the rich darkness of the western kingdoms.

Susanna hands me the pack back and we continue towards the truck. The ground underfoot is thick with a slurry of mud and whatever it is people are throwing from their windows. The sky seems grey and the buildings mirror it, all washed out by dirty rain and corroded with filth. I never knew towns smelled this much.

We turn down the street and head through an avenue filled with the cries of squealing animals, the butcher sounds of metal striking meat and gloopy splash of liquid hitting the floor. My boots are red and clogged with offal before I am halfway down the road.

“There’s a boy,” someone yells behind us and people turn to look, voices rising in a squabble.

“And a girl,” someone else calls and now the crowd are really looking, all of them turning to stare at us, the chorus of trapped animals drowned out by the squalling of the crowd.

Something reaches out to touch me and I turn to see a man, grey skin lumpy and sagging under the weight of warts, his eyes red with broken veins.

“Come with me, son,” he says, his mouth opening in a smile, his eyes desperate.

I pull away, falling against Susanna. She is fending off hands and touches as well. An old woman, three armed and three eyed, is holding her hair and sniffing it.

“Get the hell off me!” She roars, swinging a wrench from her overalls, the heavy metal smacking the woman across her hand. The mutant woman screams.

I grab Susanna, yanking her as hard as I can, pulling her away from the wall of people now reaching for her. I shout so loud that I fear my throat will tear.

“Run!”

I dodge and dive hands that reach for me. I hear my sister scream and a man yelling.

Ahead of me a giant in a bloody leather apron tries to bare my path. I will not be captured, not again, not like I was with the moth cult. Never again will I be shackled in darkness and be food for some nightmare.

I swing my bag of supplies into his face, using every ounce of my strength to power the blow. His teeth break with a sound like smashing bricks and his apron is splattered with more blood.

I run on, Susanna behind me, the sobbing and shouting of the frantic crowd behind us. We keep going until there are no hands reaching for us, no fingers trying to claim us or voices raised in challenge.

Panting, I slide down the short brick wall of a well. Sweat stings my eyes and each breath brings pain that tastes of blood. Susanna flops down next to me.

“What happened back there?” She asks.

I shake my head, my throat raw.

They wanted to touch us. They wanted to snatch us up and steal us away and throw us in some dark place of horror.

Never again. I will not be caged or captured again as long as I live.

“Where are we?”

I don’t know, but it’s as open and empty of people as we could wish. The well at our backs sits at the centre of the bricked square, tall buildings ringing it in grey silence.

“Why did they want to touch us?”

Susanna has curled up, her arms held around her, her knees drawn close, yet there is a fidgety energy to her. Her eyes move left and right, looking for trouble.

I put my hand on her arm and she flinches.

“Are you ok?”

“Yeah, I’m fine.” She holds up her wrench, “I’ve got this.” After the mountains she has been keeping the heavy tool with her at all times.

I close my eyes, letting the adrenaline pump through me, my heartbeat a low boom in my chest.

Behind us, wood grinds on stone. The door of one of the great buildings opens. I pull myself up to look but Susanna pushes me down again.

“Don’t let them see you, idiot.”

But I see them. Just a glimpse, but that is enough.

Seven men heave the door open, each one glistening with sweat as they push the thick layers of wood and metal. Each of them is a mismatch of skin tone and scar tissue, their bodies looking like ploughed earth mixed with corroded metal. Tattoos mar their bodies like insane cartography and the guns and blades they carry are rusted and ramshackle.

Father, the largest man I ever knew, would stand no higher than their chest.

But the figure that commands my attention stands relaxed at the centre of the group. He is not tall or as lumpen as the others, but he is no less monstrous. I cannot be sure, but I think I see long fingers that move in ways that they should not and a neck that seems far too long.

They turn, not seeing us crouched behind the well, making their way down the butcher street and throng of people there. I can hear the crowd again, but now their voices are raised in fear. Beneath the screams and the yells I can hear the sounds of metal on meat once more.

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