Puncture 1.9

Gonzo was a broad man in his late twenties. He had a naturally solid tan, thick black hair, a wild goatee, and a mustache that covered his top lips. Standing in the back of his jeep, he aimed the spotlight into the nighttime desert.

Six of his people were searching through the warped and flattened metal. One of the women yelled back, “Looks like it was a truck!”

Gonzo rolled his eyes, “No shit. Any bodies?”

“No boss.”

Gonzo took a swig from his flask and gritted his teeth. Definitely Tate’s handiwork. Fuckin’ tank will trash anything. The man was too tall to comfortably slide under the jeep’s roll bar to get to the front seat. He jumped out instead and walked to the driver’s seat. Grabbing the radio handle, he signaled back to the village, “Still following the tank’s transmitter. No survivors, found another truck. No sign of Tate, nothin’ ta salvage. Movin’ on.”

Whistling wind began to kick up sand. Gonzo leaned out of the jeep and yelled, “Storm’s comin’ back! Roll out!” He then unrolled the tarp from the roll bar so that the sand wouldn’t blow in from the rear.

The other six scavengers ran back to the jeeps. Blair plopped her narrow ass in Gonzo’s passenger seat. She was as fanatical as the rest of the tribe. The temperature was already dropping fast, but Blair and the others still insisted on going topless. Just to show off the Red Bone tattoos. Who the hell can we even show them to out here?

Big Don and the lanky Gero jumped in the back. The other three joined Pina in her jeep. Gonzo buckled his seat belt and glanced back to make sure Gero pointed the spotlight to the ground at the rear. Pina could usually follow the spotlight in bad storms.

Blair turned the monitor back on. “Go around the rocks to the right.”

The moon gave the sand a bluish-white glow, but the approaching storm stole what little light there was. Gonzo carefully made his way through the darkening storm. The headlights were almost useless when the sand blew hard enough.

Gonzo kept the jeep to a crawl. A few clear pockets in the storm let him see a few yards ahead at a time, but he wasn’t going to rush.

Don and Gero on the back were buckled in with breathing tubes connected to the inside of the cab. Their breathing sounded artificial, and it was annoying to Gonzo. “Tate better be out here.”

Blair nudged Gonzo’s shoulder, “He knows how valuable that tank is to the tribe. He ain’t comin’ home without it.”

Gonzo scoffed with a grin, trying to hide his distaste. “You’re right.” More like he ain’t leavin’ it out here ‘cause his daddy gave it to him. He plastered a fake smile and nodded back. “We’ll find him.”

Pushing through the storm carefully, Gonzo stopped when he thought Pina’s jeep was falling behind. It was Gonzo’s call to stay radio silent, and he was surprised the rest of the rescue party had agreed.

Gonzo knew it was possible someone could’ve stolen the tank, and using the radio might tip them off. His crew had found two trashed trucks from home, five Red Bone corpses, and a foreign vehicle flattened by the tank.

The only wrecker crew missing is Tate and Genie. They hooked up a few times. Would he really leave the whole tribe for her? Gonzo tightened his grip on the wheel, he felt his left eye twitch. Doesn’t matter why he’s gone. He ain’t fit to lead. Damn brat.

Blair seemed to notice Gonzo’s declining mood. “Don’t worry. Tate rarely gets out of the tank when he doesn’t have to.” She hesitated before speaking again.

Gonzo caught it, “Something wrong?”

“I — I just thought maybe we should try the radio. Tracker says the tank’s parked further up. Whoever got it ain’t goin’ nowhere. Tate will answer, but a thief might run off.”

“Wouldn’t you rather kill a thief? Otherwise we’ll just be warning the bitch so they can run off and sing ‘bout how incompetent the Red Bones are. Or maybe they’ll set a trap. Radio silence Blair.”

The beanpole of a woman nodded with a sigh. Blair was brought up by the old ways. She was just young enough to follow blindly. If Gonzo was going to retake the tribe, he’d have to keep an eye on people like Blair that were brainwashed by Tate’s drug-religion.

Maybe I should just start my own tribe. I got enough supporters. Not enough to wipe out Tate’s cult though. Shit, no. We need the oasis, and we need the numbers to keep it safe. Fuckin’ teenager in charge of the whole operation.

Gonzo braked as hard as he could, slamming himself and his passengers into the jeep’s frame. Through a few quick lulls in the sandstorm, the headlights had hit a stationary object ahead. He squinted at what looked like a black tarp or blanket whipping in the wind.

Blair yelled, “The fuck?!”

Gonzo grabbed the radio, “Got something out front. Looks like its lying down.”

Blair rolled her thick red scarf from her collar up over her nose, and lowered her yellow lens goggles over her eyes. Gonzo followed suit with his dust filter mask and clear goggles. He slapped the rear tarp.

As signaled, Don or Gero shined the spotlight ahead to the black fabric blowing in the wind. It was still hard to see through the howling sand, but it was weighted down by something.

Blair cocked her crossbow, “Looks like a scarf, maybe a sleeveless shirt.”

“Look like somethin’ Tate would wear?”

“Not sure.”

“Take Donny. And be careful with the bow, that fuckin’ wind won’t let you shoot straight.”

Blair tapped the machete on her belt and forced the door open to the lashing sand. Gonzo cringed as the topless woman got out. That sand can’t feel good on the nips. After Blair latched the door, he grabbed the radio, “Pina, pull up beside me. Get the light up.”

He glanced in the rearview mirror to watch Pina’s headlights pull up to the left. Gonzo’s jeep shimmied as Don jumped out of the back. Gonzo drew his revolver from his hip and placed it on his lap. I don’t like this.

In the spotlight, Gonzo watched Don and Blair approach from the right, joined by two others from Pina’s jeep. The four Red Bones circled the person or object, they seemed to be yelling. Then they pointed to each other and back to the jeeps. Wish we had hand radios for everyone.

Don lowered his axe to the base of the wailing fabric and poked it. Blair dropped to a knee and felt around the thing with one hand. She kept her crossbow aimed at it with the other arm.

Gonzo absently gripped his revolver. He barely registered the movement. A scrawny blonde erupted from the ground and fired a muzzle flash in Blair’s face.

*

Flat on her back, Deborah had allowed the sand to partially bury her. After tracking the remarkably slow jeeps for a while, Deborah could tell they were driving straight for the tank. She had removed her black tanktop, and let the storm whip around as a signal for the jeeps.

Her position had been near perfect, and Deborah had just shot a Red Bone raider in her flat chest. The petite woman fired her crossbow by reflex, putting the bolt through Deborah’s left lung. It’s nothing.

One of the bigger men had raised his axe overhead. Deborah fired her pistol into the man’s midsection, and quickly followed up with one shot each to the other two men. The axe wielder had stumbled, but was on his way back. Deborah pulled the trigger for the last round, but it was a dud anyway.

Deborah waited for the axe to fall, rolled toward the large man’s feet, and gripped him around the knees. The axe man fell on his face as Deborah rose to her feet, then slammed the butt of her empty pistol into the man’s groin.

One of the other men she had shot was grasping his wound, retreating to the jeeps. The other was already charging at Deborah with a machete and a hatchet.

Knowing the wound wasn’t serious, Deborah yanked the crossbow bolt out of her lung ahead of her. If she was worried about minimizing damage, she would’ve pulled it out the back. She waited for the man with her new weapon.

Deborah arched back to dodge the long reach of the slashing machete. Her attacker coiled, and rushed forward with a stab. Deborah jumped forward, allowing the man to impale her through the abdomen.

The man’s eyes shot wide open, and rolled back after Deborah head butted her forehead into his nose. She retrieved his hatchet and swung all of her momentum to slam its edge into his neck.

The man’s head flopped to his opposite shoulder. A spray of bloody sand pelted Deborah’s face. For the first time all day, Deborah felt her heart pumping. Shit. The man’s blood was overflowing, his body twitching over her. She felt like she was watching someone dump a canteen of fresh water while she was dying of thirst.

Deborah’s mouth quivered and widened at the same time. The storm cut out the jeeps’ spotlights, but she still caught the movement of the axe man. She shoved the corpse to the side; the hatchet stayed with him.

The large man charged with a vertical swing, too easy for Deborah to dodge. With a low grip on the crossbow bolt, Deborah felt the bolt’s arrowhead dig into the bottom of her hand as she quickly stabbed the man’s side more than a dozen times.

The attack was shallow, causing more long term damage than a stunning pain. A wide elbow caught Deborah in the face, sending her to the ground. One of the jeeps was running straight at her. She tried to roll, but the machete was still sticking through her guts.

The jeep’s undercarriage scraped some skin and muscle from Deborah’s right arm. She felt the machete force itself through her body at a different angle, and get pushed further into the ground beneath her. The jeep’s tires also ran across Deborah’s legs.

Since nightfall, Deborah had felt a calming sense of numbness, but also a stronger sense of awareness. No pain. No adrenaline. Just… here.

The axe man lumbered towards her, taking his time. Deborah was still holding the bolt. She shifted her grip to hold it at the end with wings, and whipped it through the air. It spun like a disc, but the big man dodged it with a surprised glance.

Deborah quickly yanked the blade from her body and tried to stand. Her left knee snapped in the wrong direction. She stumbled back to the ground on both hands.

The axe man raised his weapon, “Fuckin’ vamper.”

Again, her attacker used a completely vertical swing. Deborah caught the axe just behind the head. Her palm cracked. Fracture.

Before he could pull the weapon away, Deborah chopped into his ankle with the machete. The tall man let go of the axe and fell on his side. Deborah crawled over and landed the machete into his jaw.

Deborah tried to scan the area. The jeeps’ spotlights aimed wildly through the sandstorm. They lost me. Then she saw the axe man’s blood soaking into the sand. Deborah felt like vomiting. She wasn’t disgusted by what she had done. She crawled further to the man’s face.

More tears welled up, and she felt the infection swallow the tears almost instantly. The face full of sand didn’t slow her down. She slid the machete out of the man’s face.

Her assailant’s eyes were closed. The blood pulsed from his face, giving Deborah an idea of the man’s heartbeat. She scraped her tongue clean of sand and pressed her lips to the axe man’s unhinged jaw.

Sucking the blood from the man’s face felt right. Oh shit. The blood quenched her dry mouth better than water ever had before. God dammit. Deborah felt her body absorbing the liquid even before it reached her stomach.

Deborah felt her victim’s pulse weaken. Can’t drink a dead man’s blood. Her former father figure had taught Deborah the danger of a vampire drinking dead blood. In a slight panic, Deborah tried to suck more blood out than she could handle. He’s not dead yet, stay calm. Oh shit. I used the machete with my blood on it. He’s infected!

She fumbled through the darkness for the machete. The weapon was nearly buried in sand when she found it. Deborah raised it high and chopped until the man’s head fell off. She tried to remember if her blood had gotten into the other three somehow.

Seeing in the dark was easy now, but the sand was still capable of blinding any vampire. Deborah closed her eyes and tried to retrace her steps mentally. The jeeps’ spotlights were nowhere to be seen. Doesn’t mean they left.

Deborah reclaimed the machete and started crawling to where she thought the first man had fallen. As she made her way, she realized her knee was already healing. She patted her body for the other wounds and felt the infection crusting over the gaps, pulling the tissue together. Wow.

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