Tate squeezed his trigger finger just a bit tighter. Shotgun blast through my lung, heart and liver… Probably won’t walk from that one. He raised his empty left hand in the air to speak to the stranger behind him. “There’s a good chance I’ll pull the trigger after you.”
The man behind him replied, “She’s a blood drinker. What’s a bullet gonna do?”
Tate looked down his arm to his pistol hand. The scrawny blonde he knelt over was already in bad shape. Twisted crossbow bolts had bent into random angles outside of her chest, and her steaming left thigh was missing a good chunk. “I don’t know dude, she looks pretty rough, and the sun’s still high.”
The vamper spoke up, “Just do it James. I’ll make it.”
Tate let the pistol spin by the trigger guard until it hung harmlessly. “Whoa, whoa. You need me.”
James asked, “How’s that?”
“I crushed your truck. If my tribe is up and walking, my other two trucks will follow our tracks in no time. I can call them off with the radio in my roller.”
James slowly stepped around to Tate’s right. “Pretty sure they ain’t walking.” The scrawny young man with bed-hair wouldn’t have been so threatening, but he had a fresh splatter of blood over his stubbly face and chest.
The trespasser’s weapon was about as long as a thigh, though the man had extended the skeleton stock for better recoil control. It was a little scratched up, but Tate had seen it work just fine a while ago. The drum magazine could probably hold twenty or so twelve gauge shells. That is an awesome shotty. “Glad to see you really had a gun at least. Woulda felt stupid if it was just the end of a pipe. How many shells you got left?”
“Enough for you.” The other man slowly retrieved Tate’s semi auto pistol full of custom nine millimeter ammunition. It was loaded with two hollow points with armor piercing pins. Under those were three normal lead rounds that may or may not fire properly. The clip could hold fifteen shots, but Tate had never scavenged enough to fill it.
The vamper pleaded, “Help me up.”
James gave her a stern look. “Won’t that make it worse?”
“No. The infection’s stopped the bleeding already.”
Tate stared down to the steam rising from her wounds. Is she lying? He stayed on a knee as James helped his vamper girlfriend to her feet. His pistol was tucked behind the front of James’ belt. The trespasser’s shotgun wavered as the vamper struggled to stand. He took a tumble too.
Tate was a little stoned, so he was confident he could dodge a blast, grab his pistol back, and kill these two for lunch. The leader of the Red Bone Tribe rolled left, feinted left, and rolled back to his right. He drew his fist back to slam James in the face. James stomped Tate in the testicles.
The leader of the Red Bones fell on his back and gasped for dry air. Fuck. Tate huffed some air as he rolled on his side, failing to spit out most of the sand he inhaled. The scrawny vamper leaned on James as he let the shotgun dangle. James raised his chin over his shoulder to the tank. “Key.”
Tate held his groin, and his voice cracked. “You. Can’t drive it… Has to be me.”
James didn’t buy it. “Key.”
Fuck. Tate closed his eyes as he reached in his left pocket. James raised the shotgun, so Tate slowed his movement. With his pointer finger and thumb, he carefully removed the pinky-length pin from his pants. A strand of hand-woven hemp slid out with the key ring. “Can I keep the string? My dad made it for me.”
James and the girl shared a glance. The gunman shook his head, “No. Come on, we’re in a hurry.”
“If you were in a hurry, you’d just shoot me.” Tate furrowed his brows instantly. He had just enough sense to know he shouldn’t have said that. He shrugged with a forced grin after he tossed the key. “Just kidding.”
The vamper whispered in James’ ear. The gunman raised an eyebrow and nodded to the tank. “Start it.”
Tate’s grin slid into a genuine smile. “See? You don’t have to be shy. Just ask for help, and you shall receive.”
“Shut up. Move.” James motioned with the gun.
Tate lead the pair the short walk to the cockpit. Beside the raised glass bubble on the passenger side was a small ladder. Tate turned around with his hands in the air. “Only room for one. Did I mention that?”
James was already laying the vamper down, letting her lean back on the side of the passenger side treads. Tate would’ve made a move, but the girl already had Tate’s pistol trained on him. He chuckled and under his breath and said, “Never thought a vamper would grab my pistol.”
She looked disgusted. “Shut up.”
Tate’s eyebrows rose, “Good ears, huh?” Good legs too. He looked back to James, “Shall I jump in captain?”
The rough-looking man turned around with his barrel aimed at Tate’s waist. He looked up, just a little, to Tate’s eyes. “After you.”
Tate plastered another fake grin and started climbing up the small cavity between the tread and cockpit. Fucker.
Tate rolled his eyes and obeyed. “You slow down.”
“What? Just move.”
Tate stepped into his soft, cracked leather seat. Before he could hit the button to close the hatch, James’ shotgun rested along the edge. “If you try anything, that seat’s gonna be your final resting place.”
“Oh yeah? Think that sounds real scary huh? Well if you do that, I’ll make sure I vomit, shit and piss all over this shit! Then no one gets my baby!”
James just stared back. “I don’t have to kill you.”
Tate squeezed his face together, “Oh how noble. Fucker.” With no hidden weapons or traps to activate, Tate couldn’t stall anymore. He accepted the inscribed pin key from James and hovered it over the starter panel by his left knee.
Before he inserted the key, Tate sighed and let his head fall back in his comfortable chair. “Listen, we weren’t going to kill you.”
“And you didn’t.”
Tate stared into James’ eyes. “Listen, this tank is the only thing I have left from my old man. You’d be taking away the last piece of the most important man in my life.”
James shook his head with a shrug. “I really don’t care if that’s true or not.”
Tate scoffed, “You, are the most hideous person I’ve ever met.” Before James could reply, Tate jammed the key in place and switched the knob above it from left to right, but only half way. “That’s it genius. Any questions?”
“That’s not a ques—”
James swung some kind of rod into Tate’s forehead. He grabbed his head by reflex, then felt the world spin upside down. The young man landed on his back in the sand, and blacked out.
A muffled voice called out, slowly fading from obscurity. Sharp slaps finally woke Tate up; his eyes rolled in the back of his head. He focused after a few more slaps with his old man hovering over him.
“Dad? I thought you were dead!” Tate couldn’t remember the last time he cried. Now he didn’t know if he’d ever stop.
Tate’s old man had a few deep wrinkles surrounding his blue eyes. His thick brown and white hair dangled to his broad shoulders. He smiled down to Tate, “You’re high on your own supply again. Ain’t ya.”
Tate knew it wasn’t a question, and he knew better than to lie. “Yes.” He tried to sit up, but his father forced him back down.
“Not so fast.”
Tate tried to wipe the tears from his eyes, but his hands were missing. Just fresh, bloody stubs. “Dad?”
The old man’s eyes were red now. Blood caked his mouth and chin. “Had to drink son.”
Tate’s eyes shot wide as his father’s fangs snapped at him.
Tate jumped awake and sat up in a blink. He wiped salty sweat from his brow. Tank’s gone. Gun’s gone. Sun’s gonna set in… three or four hours. The tall teen clasped his dizzy head as he stumbled to his feet.
He scanned the sand, seeing his tank’s tracks lead toward sunset. Tate walked up the small slope to the gathering of mismatched stone pillars. No dust cloud. I’ll never catch up.
Back towards camp, the sky was getting darker. Storm. Tate sighed as he walked over to the debris from James’ demolished truck and began scavenging. He found a rough looking light machine gun with no ammo. There was also a mangled aluminum canteen with a few drops of water that Tate eagerly sucked up.
He removed a rag filter fiber from his pocket. The yellow, spongy material was as wide as Tate’s palm. He dropped to his knees and worked the largest section of canteen into the sand until it was close to level. Then he undid his pants and aimed his piss into the filter, carefully catching every drop he could.
Green piss? Probably from the shrooms. Tate proceeded to squeeze the filter like a sponge until clear liquid filled the bottom of the makeshift aluminum bowl. The last few drops were squeezed directly into Tate’s mouth. Balling the filter together, Tate pressed his lips to suck out the remaining moisture. Love this thing.
Tate lowered himself as if he was doing a push-up, and sipped at the gulps of water left in the bowl. He remembered finding the filter in a merchant’s personal supply. Then he remembered the merchant’s mother’s thighs. Would’ve kept her alive if I was in charge.
The marauder pushed himself back up to his knees and examined the rest of the wreckage. One of his snipers had told Tate that the truck was completely bullet proof, glass and all. He picked up a warped door from the driver’s side. Too heavy. He noticed a section of glass with a handle in it. Must’ve been a rear window they slid open. He held the handle and let the glass settle on the top of his forearm. Light. Good shield.
Tate continued to find small, broken strands of ammunition for the machine gun. The longest strand was nine rounds. Seventeen more lay scattered in other strands of no more than five, a lot were singled out. Before working on reattaching them, he glanced back to the sun. Still gonna be dark before I get back, might as well be armed.
A few mechanical parts from inside the truck’s crushed console worked fine as makeshift screwdrivers, pliers and a few pins for belting the machine gun’s rounds back together. He smirked to himself, noticing how creative he could be. This is why I’m the leader. I got the smarts, the smile and the muscle.
He lost the smile when he remembered his father’s usual bit of advice. “Herbs and fungi are for the customers. A little puff here and there’s fine. Too much will make you dull and slow. Who survives in the sand?”
Tate cocked the machine gun’s breach and repeated his dad’s favorite moto, “The quick and clever survive.”
He set the gun gently down and picked up a lengthy piece of pipe frame. It was almost as long as Tate’s arm, with a ninety degree angle of warped pipe sticking out at each end. He scrambled to the shards of windshield and picked through it for the windshield wipers. One was intact, and just long enough to make into knots.
The rubber strand was tied to the back of his belt as a makeshift holster. He let the rod rest in the loop and tested a few motions for drawing it quickly. Then he tried drawing it with his new shield in hand. Satisfied, he holstered the pipe, hoisted the gun over his shoulder and let his shield dangle in a loose grip.
Tate turned to walk back to his people, but looked over his shoulder in the direction of his tank.