A camp fire threw light and shadow on the leafless branches by the tree line a mile off from the grocery store. Around the warmth giving light, two men sat, and argued while in the darkness of the woods two leashed dogs wrestled, and a shadow whittled at a chunk of kindling.
“If you say that shit one more time, Jirry, I swear to god I’m going to suffocate you in your fucking sleep.” Raz said, his wild eyes fixed on Jirry. His skinny, stringy muscles tensed.
“Wot yew on bout den?” Jirry said, his voice a foamy slush.
“You know what, you cunt!”
Large and wide like a titan from fairy tales; Jirry stood and cast a shadow on the considerably smaller Raz. “Yew’ll be wuntin ta watch yer mout.”
“Or what?” Raz shot back.
“Or you’ll kiss?” Said Burke, pushing up the brim of his bowler hat, then throwing another log onto an already high flame.
“Yeh fookin twat yeh! Kill da fire!”
“That’s it! I said it. You heard me. Don’t close your eyes tonight you big dumb fuck.” Stepping back into the dark, Raz leaned his body against a tree. Bark crunched as he slid against it to sit in the dirt.
“Yeh lettin em know e’re coming.” Leaves rustled in the darkness as the dogs paced, looking for a place to sleep for the night.
“So?” Burke asked calmly.
“We want them to know.” Raz added.
“We sit out here for a bit. Wait them out. They’ll be so paranoid waiting for us to come that they’ll be exhausted from not sleeping when we finally do…” Burke lit a pipe from the end of a smoldering twig, and let out a plume of smoke.
“Nothin for it I guess. Sure dey know by now yeh?”
“Whatever.” Raz added, looking off to the dogs that were snuggled in a twisted pile together.
“Why don we we jist git in der now den? Fook the wait.”
“What do you suggest then?” Burke asked.
“Listen. Da longer we wait out ere, da longer dey gots ta plan. Prepare. Tha boy ain exactly elpless is e? Savvy? Tink on dis ere fer a moment lads. Wot if e gots up and done left den? Wot if es ready down the road leafin us be’ind like a bunch a ol soppy twats yeh?”
The sounds of denial came and went. Teeth were sucked, air was sighed out heavily, but in the end their faces all showed a mutual appreciation for facts.
“Roight den. So kin we agree den dat it’s in our best interest to get in ere afore es off den? Or worse?”
Fire crackled, wood moaned as it was bent, and eaten by the heat. The silence between the three blanketed them in contemplation.
“He’s right.” Raz said.
“Wot’s dat now?” Jirry asked, one hand at his ear. “Did aye ear a sorry den?”
“Fuck off.” Raz ran at the brick wall of a man, threw his body into him, and bounced off. Jirry laughed, Burke laughed, and Raz laid on his back howling up at the sky waking the dogs, and sending birds fleeing from their nests.
“What do we do about him?” They looked to the shadow whittling in the woods.
“E’ll do wot e pleases I magin.”
“I’ll wait here.” The shadow spoke with an easiness to his voice. “Don’t hurt the boy you hear?” A spit came from the woods, and the voice was silenced.
“Git yer shit toget’er den.” The fire was kicked out, packs slung around backs, weapons holstered, and sleeping bags rolled. Out into the desert in the cover of night they went.
No more than twenty minutes passed when they came around to the store entrance. The windows were thick with a brown smear.
“What’s this on the windows?” A bit of the sludge was wiped away, and coated Raz’s hand in a foul smelling ooze that caused his nostrils flare. “The fuck?”
“I can’t see inside.” Wiping at the gunk with his fore arms, Burke was forced to put down a long pointed weapon, like a rapier, but thicker. They wiped the goop on their pants, and shirts, then went at it some more until it almost coated them in its fine grease. Farther back, Jirry watched as he tried to control the dogs that were going nuts.
“Shut those fucking mutts up!” Raz shot a threatening look to the dogs.
“Stop!” Jirry tied the dogs to an old rusted bike rack, and smelled them. “It’s shite.” Another whiff of the stuff brought out another scent. “And oil…”
“What?” A look of horror flushed all the color from Burke’s face.
“Da kids shite I magine.” A smile worked its way into Jirry’s face, but soon wiped away when Raz beat at the window with a long and worn looking machete. “Cut dat yeh noisy fooker.” He pulled the two of them away from the windows, and knelt down. “Well da dogs’ll be useless.”
“Why?” Burke asked as he smacked the goo from his shirt.
“Kids smell is ever’were now. Fooking ell.”
“What do we do then?” Burke asked.
“Let the dogs loose inside.” Raz smiled, and then frowned as he wiped his hand in the dirt.
“No.” Jirry protested, but Burke was already untying the leashes from the rack.
“It’s just the kid Jirry, and some fat old fuck politician. Two dogs will be more than enough.”
Jirry didn’t look so sure. “Were not supposed ta urt da boy.”
Burke shrugged, led the dogs to the door, knelt down along the wall, and placed a foul smelling hand in front of their noses. “Smell him? Smell it? You gonna get him. Yeah!” With a free hand he opened the door, and let dogs loose.
Skittering across the linoleum, the dogs jumped the counters, and ran down the conveyor belts into the rows of old food. They sniffed at the air, but were confused, and surrounded by the same smell they were hunting for.
Whistling echoed through the grocery store, and confused the dogs more. Turning, barking up at the ceiling, trotting down the aisle, back to the door where they came in, they searched up and down, but the dogs still had no sign of the boy. Click clack their clawed feet plodded on, but the sound of footsteps made them stop. Running along the front of the aisle dividers, the dogs found Iggy standing in the middle of an aisle.
He turned to run, but they were on him quickly, soon gnashing at the back of his calves. Iggy picked up speed, jumped over a something lying on the ground, and grabbed onto a rope hanging from the ceiling. He rode it down just as the dogs were about to leap, and latch onto him. A razor wire net wrapped around the pups, and pulled them into the air. The sounds of their pain blasted through the store.
“Fook! Idjits! I told yeh ta wait didn’t I?” Jirry said, giving a hard shove to Burke which knocked him to his back…
Another yelp of pain. Cries. Howling. Burke’s face wrinkled up, and fists tightened. “Fuck this. I can’t just sit out here and listen to this shit. You coming Raz?”
“No yeh fookin idjit. Git yerself killed.”
“He’s just a boy!”
“E’s not jist a boy!”
“Fuck that you big pussy. I’m going in!” Raz said, getting in front of Burke.
“Yer makin a mistake boy’o.”
“Get fucked!” Raz said. Burke looked to him, and counted down silently. On three they disappeared behind the front doors.
When they entered however, Randon was there, holding a rag dripping with flames.
“The fuck are you?” Burke asked before the rag was thrown onto his feet, and the flames quickly climbed up his body, igniting his stinking oil, and fecal lined pants, engulfing him in flame. He screamed: “Put it out!” As he rolled on the ground, but the moment that Raz tried, the flames jumped onto him, and soon both were rolling around slapping at fire.
Randon took up his spear, and pierced it through Burke’s ribs, pulled it out, and thrust it again. This time into Raz’s outstretched arm. The end of the spear caught fire, but was quickly extinguished in Burke’s chest, which caused him to spit up blood. In a rage, Raz lifted his weapon, still on fire, and swung at Randon’s knee, and caught it. As he fell, Randon lunged with the spear into Raz’s eye socket, which cracked his skull causing a grey ooze to come sizzling out of his brain box. Randon silenced Burke’s gurgling screams with a single clean thrust to the neck, and the two of them laid dead on the ground, smoldering.
Outside Jirry listened.
“I heard screaming.” The man in the trench coat asked as he took the turn around the corner. “Did something happen?”
“Yeh. I tink… Tink dey’re all dead.”
“That’d be the patriot.”
Jirry overflowed with rage. “How many people are in dere den?”
“It’s just one guy. How did you…” The man walked to Jirry, put his finger in his chest, and was actually able to move the big wall of meat with a simple thrust. “Fuck up so badly?”
Jirry flexed his giant muscles, but the bounty man wouldn’t move, wouldn’t blink. For a moment they looked ready to fight. Jirry’s fist clinching tightly around his sledgehammer. The man in the trench coat did not move. Did not blink. Didn’t even seem to breathe.
“Are you going to stand there, or are you going to finish what you started?”
For a moment Jirry looked unsure. Unsure if he should try his luck with a bounty man, or go into the store where someone just took out two attack dogs, and two of his friends.
“You didn’t tell me e’d be some kinda fookin killer. You said e’s a politician!”
“He ain’t no politician. He’s a lobbyist.” He rubbed his fingers together. The universal sign of money in the bank.
The fire seemed to light up in Jirry’s eyes. “Yeh don fookin say?”
“Big money on him should we bring him back to camp alive.”
“Yeah. The way I see it.” He put out his hand, and pretended to count on his fingers. “Your cut went from a four way, to a two way.”
“On top of wat yer payin me fer da kid, yeh?”
The bounty man smiled. “Yeah. Exactly.”
Jirry considered it, and then considered the significantly smaller man almost face to face with him. “Okay. Are you coming?”
“No. Remember… Leave the boy be.” He lit a cigarette, and walked off.
Randon limped off into the shadows as the front door opened. Carefully he closed the door behind him. Crouching low, knees bent, sliding across the linoleum, Jirry backed to the checkout lanes, and peered over the counters. The bodies of his travel mates were splayed out on the ground, skin still smoldering, and smoke rising like a funeral pyre.
Two sets of footsteps bounced around the room. Jirry scanned, but saw nothing. Footsteps again and something slid in the darkness. Something loud. Rope grinding against metal, wheels turning, squealing. Metal clanging…
Jirry stood to a low crawl, and rushed to the dividing partition for the aisle, and put his back against it. Peeking around the bend he saw a figure. A shadow pulling on something from the ceiling. The cries of the dogs filled the room with agony. Sounds that made Jirry grind his jaw. He took the turn, low crouched; making his way to the figure, when he saw it was the boy, Iggy, a rope in his hand. Every step that Jirry took forced the boy to tug at the rope, which in turn caused the razor wire net to jiggle, cutting up the dogs inside even more.
“Yeh fooker!” Jirry took a run at the boy. Iggy waited. A sidelong swing from Jirry’s sledgehammer caught on the shelving, and while he tried to pull the hammer loose, the rope on metal sound caused him to look up. Randon came down off a rafter in the ceiling holding onto a rope. A series of sharpened spikes controlled by a pulley protruded towards Jirry, while another pulley tipped the counter over onto him, pinning the big man to the ground in a wall of sharp wood.
He landed on the floor with a wet splat, and spit out a gob of blood. One last effort to move only caused more blood to squirt from his wounds. Everything from his arms to his legs were pinned to the floor.
“Ignacio!” A voice called out from somewhere in the store. The voice, familiar, and calm made Iggy turn white with fear.
Randon limped over, put a hand on the boy’s shoulder, turned him, and saw that his eyes were already coated, and wet. “What’s wrong?” The question seemed stupid, but it had to be said. Something other than the obvious was bothering the boy.
“It’s my father.”
“I thought you said he was dead.”
A shadow in a long trench coat walked to the end of the aisle, and stepped forward. His boots clacked on the linoleum. “That’s a one way share son.”
“Stay where you are!” Randon held out his spear, but the man just laughed, and kept right on walking. “Iggy.”
“What you gonna do with that stick Patriot? You gonna stick me?”
The boy couldn’t look to Randon because his eyes were transfixed on the man stalking forward.
The boy trembled, and backed into Randon, nestling himself under his arm.
“Iggy! What do you want me to do?”
“Don’t fight him.” The boy said, looking up at him from his waist. “You won’t win.”
Randon brandished his spear, and pointed it towards the man. Iggy’s father watched, and waited with his hands resting easily on his hips. He laughed, and Randon stepped forward. In the time it took for Randon’s foot to land, the bounty man had a gun at the ready, sights aimed at Randon’s chest.
“Listen to my boy. You ain’t gonna win. I’d rather take you alive, but dead’ll be just as good.”
The boy backed away, and shouted: “No!”
“Why we playing this game Iggy?” He waited for his son to answer, but Iggy only backed further away. “Do it!”
Randon pushed Iggy behind, out of harm’s way.
“Keep your hands off him!” The Bounty Man’s anger flared. “Iggy… We talked about this. Just do it.”
It was then that Randon felt that fear in the back of his neck. Hairs standing up on end. Goosebumps rising to the surface. That was the first moment he felt vulnerable around the boy. Randon turned and saw the boy’s knife pointed at him.
“What are you doing Iggy?” Randon asked, unsure of which direction to go.
“I’m sorry.” Iggy said as he took small steps towards him. “Just drop your spear. Please.” A tear cracked his dirt caked skin, and fell to the floor.
“Iggy… Why are you doing this?”
I’m sorry.” Iggy said as the hammer on his father’s revolver cocked back.
“Do you know what they are going to do to me if I go back to that camp?” Randon asked, and the look on the boys face told the story. He knew. Horrible things waited for Randon. “I trusted you.”
“Don’t!” Iggy pleaded with Randon, knowing that he was going to fight. “Maybe they won’t.”
“Don’t be stupid Iggy.”
“Alright, fuck this.” The Bounty Man took aim.
Randon thrust forward with the spear, but it was dodged easily. The Bounty Man fired off one deafening round, and sent Randon to a knee, grasping his stomach. Iggy grabbed him, screamed out in protest, and shook Randon back and forth trying to keep him awake.
“Leave me alone!” Iggy yelled back to his father who was holstering his gun.
“You’re my son; I ain’t never leaving you alone.” The bounty man kicked the spear out of reach, and knelt to hug his son, but before he could, Iggy turned to meet him. The bounty man’s eyes went wide; lips trembled as he pulled away from a bloody knife sliding from his heart. Word’s tried to form, but shock was setting in, and all that escaped his mouth was a grunt, a laugh, and blood. Eyes rolled back into his head, and he swayed back and forth trying to find the air to stay alive, but his mouth was full of blood. He fell to the floor flatly, and died.
Randon laid there, his breathing slowing from the bullet that ripped shards of metal through his intestines. “Don’t!” Iggy’s tears forced Randon to look away, and pull the boy’s head into his chest. “I’m sorry.”
Randon grimaced, and then frowned. The longer he laid there, holding the boy’s head, the softer his expression became.
“Don’t leave me alone.”
That was enough to force a wince, and a tear from Randon. He stiffened his lips, forced the sadness from his face, and ran his hands through the boy’s hair. “I’m trying not to Iggy.” Breathing was getting harder. His voice sounding more underwater, like he was trying to keep his head above sea level, but the waves kept pulling him down. “Help me up.”
“Where are we going?”
“I want to go outside.”
They stumbled into the storeroom. The gate opened, rattled upward, and Randon walked out to sit on the edge of the loading dock. The sun was going down casting a subtle orange across the ground. Iggy sat next to him, and wrapped his arms around him tightly.
“How do we fix you?” He asked, his eyes coated, and wet. Snot dripping from his nose, and onto the back of his wiping hand.
“We don’t.” Iggy’s sadness marked premature lines in his face. “We wait until nature does what it does.” Over by the wall something was happening. A plant was growing out of the rotting remains of a dog. “Look.” Randon pointed at the plant, and Iggy looked over. “That’s the start of something. That’s why we die.”
“Why?” The question was a protest.
“So that something else can live.”
They watched the sun fall until Randon’s body was so cold that he was shivering. They went inside, and Iggy never left the bedside. Eyes were getting heavier every moment, breathing shallower, and labored like he were breathing through a snorkel. Blinks became longer, so Iggy shook him awake, but within moments no shake was enough to wake him again, and all that Randon ever was became meat, bone, and hair. Just another object.
Ignacio left Randon laying on the bed for days, unable to enter the store room for fear of seeing him lying there, stiff, and lifeless. In Randon’s bags he found his journal. His last entry was:
“I haven’t been able to write lately. I used to find comfort in the lonely art of spilling my guts out on paper, but things aren’t so hollow anymore with him around. I don’t think I need this thing anymore.”
Iggy dug a hole for Randon behind the store near the newly blossoming plant. He remembered what his wishes to his wife were. An orange tree. In the grocery store he gathered what was left of the orange seeds, and planted them inside his grave, and in a couple of months something grew. The start of a new life. A baby tree.
Something for Randon to live on as.
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