Those That Remain

Weekly story day is here again and with it is a short (for me anyway at around 10,500 words) tale set in the post-apocalypse. Not committing to anything but might do more like this. Perhaps even make it a series (if and when I get suitable ideas) that are set in the same world. Maybe involving characters from this story, maybe not. Have to wait and see. Anyway, that is more than enough rambling from me and so without further ado here is, Those That Remain.

A heat blasted and sun scorched muscle car devoid of paint roars across the surface of an area named the Basin. Not along a road as there are no roads in the Basin, but across the pancake flat expanse that spans thousands upon thousands of miles in all directions. Inside the vehicle, a man with short dark brown hair, several days’ worth of stubble and amber coloured eyes, named Ade, is settling into what will undoubtedly be a long drive. Everything is a long drive in the Basin and having recently departed a place known as Freetown, it will be a good while before he finds civilization again. That is if you can call Freetown civilization. By the old definition of the word it isn’t, but in a world where maybe a few thousand souls exist it is about the best you are going to find.

Freetown is named such because unlike many other small scrap walled erections that have cropped up around the Basin it has no clan or faction allegiances. That in itself makes it an anomaly amongst the enormous dustbowl as most, in fact as far as Ade is aware every other, area labelled civilization has a leaning in one direction or another. But not Freetown, and because of this it is seen as neutral ground to any and all who visit. Though, truth-be-told most that visit remain there. It’s an island, in the metaphorical sense, of peace and order in a world where violence is the answer to everything. But Ade would never stay there. He hates the place. He hates all places that dare call themselves civilization as they could not be further from that definition. He still remembers, just, the world before. Yet, he would not be able to say how long ago it was that the world transitioned into dust, decay and death. Not that it matters as he pushes the accelerator of his car harder. His foot almost flat to the floor as the stubbed tyres bite into the dust beneath the rubber of the four tyres. The engine, a V10, roars and spits as the car builds ever more speed. While the car is still fast it isn’t as fast as it used to be. Ade can tell. He still remembers when his baby had been able to trounce any and all, not just in terms of speed but also manoeuvrability. Those days are long gone, like many other things in this world. Still, he will never get sick of being behind the wheel of this monster, blasting across the dust, free from the oppression imposed upon you, even by a place like Freetown.

After all Ade is a nomad. At least that is what a decent percentage would term him. In his eyes he is simply a man living amongst the ugliness of the world. Few would be able to question and argue against that. If they remember any shred of the world before that is. Ade had been young when everything changed, but he still remembers enough.

His amber eyes scan the horizon beyond the windscreen before him. It’s the only piece of glass still present on the vehicle. In many ways that is a positive as it gets exceedingly hot out in the Basin, while things like Air Conditioning have become a thing of the past, lost like the vast majority of the technological advancements that humanity had made before it fell it ruin. In fact, even vehicles are becoming a rarity. Not their presence, but their usability. With no oil refineries left in the world, those that remain scavenged any and all fuel they could. If any still remains then it is long lost, like the world beneath, the old world. You see the world from before the fall of humanity did not crumble and collapse. Rather, it became buried beneath the dust that swept in. Ade isn’t sure how but for some reason it gathered and formed like a crust over everything that had been built. Still, he would not be able to tell you what place lies beneath his car now. Locations are lost and with them the names they once held. Not that anyone ventures down into those tombs of old humanity. To do so would spell certain death because of the presence of Ferals.

Ferals were once humans but for whatever reason they sought refuge underground out of the harsh light and dust storms that rage across what is now the surface of this world. As a result they devolved into beings of hyper aggression who will not tolerate the presence of those from above. Though, Ferals themselves would never venture up from the dark depths of below because since the fall of mankind they have developed an acute sensitivity to light that seems to burn them even under the relatively mild glow cast by the night sky.

Ade’s seen a few Ferals, dead, up close. He vaguely sees the similarities between himself and them. But only vaguely as they are little more than bones wrapped in overly pale, almost transparent, skin. It’s sickening to see, especially when you factor in that overly ambitious movements can rend their skin. That is why they tend to scoot about on all fours, like dogs, accept far more ungainly and in a manner that would best be described as creepy.

Ok, not all Ferals Ade has come across were dead. Some he glimpsed through the glass of an old world building. That too was some years ago but to this day recalling what he saw sends shivers down his spine. Though, he does not speak of what he saw. Doing so would only lead to questions as the common belief is that venturing into the old world, if you do somehow best the unbeatable odds of becoming Feral food, is that you will have become infected and that will lead to you becoming a Feral. Ade is walking proof that such things aren’t true. However, when others have claimed to have survived like Ade has, they have been put to the torch. It isn’t a pretty sight, which is not surprising when there are no pretty sights left in the world. Everything is shades of grey. Or to be more accurate shades of red for that is the colour of the dust that is the world.

Beyond the boundaries of the Basin the dust storms that rage and swirl are enough to shred even the strongest vehicle like they are fashioned from materials no stronger than slips of thin paper. Not that those who remain know what paper is.

Minutes have passed during which time Ade has settled into a comfortable position. One that he will maintain for hours and why he is relieved that he possesses things that few others do, which is a vehicle that does not have to rely on petroleum. Instead, Ade converted his baby to run on anything containing ethanol. It is what permits him his freedom as he seeks a purpose, a meaning. He doubts he will ever find it but he searches nonetheless, using his wits to survive in a world that is determined to extinguish what little life has thus far resisted.

Unlike many other romps across the Basin Ade, on this occasion, has a destination. Its general heading is south. But the place he seeks is claimed to possess one of the most valuable assets in the world, water. Not just water, clean water to be precise. He doesn’t believe the stories, though feels he must survey such a place. If it did exist then it has likely been plundered and desecrated by now. Such is the way of this world. Never has he arrived before the destruction, only after. It’s saddening but unsurprising each time it happens and only helps to reinforce his belief that humanity are hell-bent on bringing about their end. In his youth he might have hoped they could change. Such beliefs are lost to the man now. Yet, still he seeks, perhaps not all his hope as lost as he would believe it to be. And if he finds this place, this oasis, will he keep it for himself? Or will he build something a new? A place that is free, that is civilised, that is like the old world but better. He cannot say.

All of a sudden he hears a whoosh of air. His ears pick up the sound immediately, even over the sound of his bellowing engine, and bring him out of his thoughts. But it’s too late. He can do nothing to stop what comes next, an almighty burst of pain in his left shoulder. The force of the impact sends the whole left side of his body forward.

Ade screams but manages to stop his shoulder from crashing into the steering wheel, somehow. He slams on the brakes of his car right after the sudden pain. Memory and experience registers that he’s been shot. The burning throbbing in his shoulder is familiar enough. His car’s rear end swerves left and right, in a way that would more accurately be described as fish-tailing. The movements a direct result of how hard he’s slammed on his cars brakes. The studded tyres struggling to dig into anything to gain purchase and limit the fight he has to have, one handed, with the wheel.

Finally his car grinds to a halt. He winces and wheezes as he turns his head and looks down at the wound. Blood is spilling from it. He growls but is thankful to find that it is at least a through and through, so it means he won’t have to go digging a bullet out of himself. Such a thing would be particularly tricky as he has been shot from behind. Though where the bullet went when it exited he cannot say, except for it did not shatter his windscreen. He counts that as a blessing and then begins to survey his surroundings. He can feel the burn of pain starting to blur his vision but knows he must fight it. He can’t afford to black out. If he does he will die, that is for sure as whoever fired the shot will descend upon him soon.

His first reaction is to pull the modified flare gun from a holster strapped around his right thigh. Loaded into the flare gun is a single shell. It’s all that the flare gun is capable of taking. But inside that shell are hundreds of tiny fragments, shavings and shards of metal. That is one thing that is abundant in this world, metal. It lies discarded, forgotten and rusting wherever you go. Much of it forms the broken remains of once much grander things and because of that it is easy enough to harvest and manipulate for more useful ends.

With his initial scan of his immediate vicinity complete he concludes that he can see nothing however and not just because of the red dust that is swirling around. Thankfully, that is already beginning to clear. Ade just hopes whoever shot him does not have another round to finish the job. It undoubtedly came from range. That much the traveller is sure about.

Still, Ade knows he cannot stay where he is and if not for his wound, spinning head and narrowing vision he would race off again. He can’t and doing so might spell disaster, which is why he instead kicks open his car door and waits for it to be hit by another round. It isn’t which confuses Ade who’s brow furrows in the moments before he throws himself out of his muscle car, his balance unsteady as he raises his outstretched arm ready to fire. His other arm, with the shoulder wound, he keeps in close and limits its movements. Trying to use it unnecessarily will only cause him worse pain and likely more severe damage. Dust stings his eyes forcing him to scrunch them shut and rely on his hearing. It isn’t the first time he’s been forced to do such a thing yet he cannot hear a sound. That unnerves him. He cannot be alone. That is not possible. The wound in his shoulder still biting and stinging as painfully as it is is not imagined, it is real. Then he hears a whistle. His head turns toward it and he risks opening his eyes little more than a sliver. It’s enough and Ade catches sight of a shredspear sailing toward him. His eyes spring open with realisation and he dives to avoid the weapon that would take his head off with its jagged edges if it hit. It misses, much to Ade’s relief, but the assault doesn’t end as he hears the whistle of more shredspears inbound. He hasn’t a clue where they are coming from, only that they are undoubtedly aimed at him. He quickly concludes that he needs to seek cover and the only cover is his car, so he breaks into a scramble that sees him complete a half lap of his muscle car.

As the wounded traveller slides into cover shredspears clunk and boom against the dusty ground narrowly missing him. The sounds from the impacts are those of metal on metal which means that below Ade and his car is one of the mighty old world buildings. That discovery fills Ade with more concern than the shredspears themselves, until he hears a sudden release of air and curses. He doesn’t need to look to know exactly what the sound is; it’s one of his baby’s tyres deflating. He wonders how much worse this day can get. A couple seconds later his answer comes with a howl of a war cry. He sighs unsurprised that it is one of the Basin war clans that are assaulting him. He can guess as to what they want, everything. They are the law out here, if there was law that is. In truth they are groups or factions of survivors who prey upon the weak and lonely who dare to traverse the Basin and who do not, or in Ade’s case refuse, to stick to places like Freetown. They are without remorse and in some instances feed upon those they catch. Ade’s fought their ilk before but he has to admit this band are a little more organised than most. It’s concerning but something he has to put out of his mind as he focuses on what he can see and hear around him.

Suddenly one of the clansmen appears, bare-chested covered in dried blood applied like war paint, his expression mad and bloodthirsty as he wields a spiked club in one of his hands and howls like an animal and beats his chest with the other. The noise reminds Ade of a gibbon, but more primal and less evolved. After all, the clansmen are the dumbest of the dumb. Fanatics who follow whoever it is they deem worthy of their brutality. Not that it makes a difference to Ade’s reaction and stops him from bringing his flare gun to bare as the clansmen charges recklessly straight toward him before he fires.

Whether the clansmen did not understand what was being levelled at him or deemed it a ruse no one will ever be able to say, but the shot has the desired effect of turning the attacker into a bloody mist and an eviscerated chunk of instantly dead meat. The remains of the body, shredded and torn to ribbons, flops to the dusty ground with a dull thud about two metres out from Ade. He does not, however, pay attention to the gore as he breaks the flare gun open, dumps the shell casing and then slides another into place from around his waist.

With a fresh shell loaded, Ade snaps the flare gun back together just in time to fire on a second clansman, who leaps over his car with a misshapen blade held high over his head that the attackers clearly hopes he will be able to bring down on the injured traveller. The clansman doesn’t get the chance due to Ade looking over his left shoulder, raising his weapon and firing, point-blank, into the still mid-air clansman. The blast taken full force to the clansman’s’ gut, punches a gaping wound straight through the exposed flesh of the attacker who is in turn flung limply backward.

Again Ade pays no mind to the mass of dead meat as he begins the process of reloading his flare gun. However, before he gets the chance a clansman rolls into view and charges headlong toward him. The brown haired traveller in response offloads the flare gun into his left hand which allows him to rip the six shot revolver from its holster toward his back, level the weapon at its target and then fire once. A .357 bullet explodes from the fifteen centimetre long barrel with a deafening boom. The clansman’s eyes go wide in surprise. He clearly didn’t believe that the weapon brought to bear was loaded. It’s the last mistake the war paint covered man will ever make and one he can do nothing to avoid.

The bullet slams through his right eye, sending a spray of blood bursting outward like a fountain. However, the bullet does not stop there and continues its path through his brain, which it cleaves a tunnel through until finally exploding out the rear of his skull leaving a ragged hole about three times the size of the bullet. Chunks of shattered skull and scraps of brain are sent flying as the lifeless body thumps to the floor with its arms and legs splayed.

Unfortunately, Ade is unaware of the second attackers behind him until it is too late. The brown haired man only manages to register the presence and achieve about a half-turn prior to the blunt end of a club being smashed into his temple. It renders him unconscious immediately and happens before his body even hits the dusty ground.

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