Welcome back folks! As promised last week, I’m acting selfishly today (and Thursday). I have the final edit version of the short fiction I wrote between Wednesday and Thursday last week. A post-apocalyptic western full of radioactive mutants.
Due to the length of this short, I will post it in two parts so no one gets stuck with 5k+ words to sift through. That being said, I will add the short in its entirety to a newly added short fiction page on Thursday also. So without further ado, here’s the first half of Easy Money. Read the full short story HERE.
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Easy Money (part 1)
By Joseph D. Stirling
Dust hung in the afternoon breeze catching the brown light that spilled through the open windows. Outside, shadows from a few thin clouds tracked across the ground though they did little to abate the heat of the noon day sun. Tucker sat in his chair leaning back and peering over the top of his cards at the others around the table. He was sitting on a pair of Jacks, it was something at least. He took the chewed bit of cigar from his mouth with a puff of thick smoke and spit flecks of tobacco onto the floor. His stubbed third arm replaced the cigar and scratched absently at his ear. Heads turned as the cooling unit grated and choked then quieted again with a few kicks from the bartender behind the counter.
“Call,” said the thick skinned fellow to Tucker’s left, large crooked teeth clicking as he spoke. Dust clung to the creases between scaled patches on his arms and face. A row of shinney black spines ran down his head like a mohawk, diminishing in size down his back.
Cards dropped around the table. A pair of nine‘s from the dude with thick bone plates on his back and head, full house of eights and fours from an ugly man with eyes like a snail, three-of-a-kind to the scorpion-like tail, and Tucker’s pair Jack. Tucker blew a stream of smoke from his nose and stood taking his empty mug with him.
“That‘s five hands solid. I gotta inklin‘ that you ain‘t on the level son,” said Tucker.
The scruffy, dirt coated face drew back a sneer as he stood, eye-stalks narrowing. “Whatcha say ta me?”
“I think ya heard. I say yer cheatin‘ somethin‘ awful,” said Tucker.
The man reached for his belt, forgetting that the saloon was a ”check your weapons at the door” establishment. Tucker smiled and flung his empty mug, busting the mans nose open with a yelp. The man cupped his face, his eye-stalks pulling down into his head as blood pumped through his fingers. The others around the table laughed, each man taking back his money.
“Cards ain’t wit me today,” Tucker said. “An’ thanks fer the drink partner.” He tipped his hat to the spike-headed man.
He reached down and took the last few coins he had bet and tucked them into the pocket of his jeans. He snugged up his pants and headed to the bar as a shadow filled the door to the saloon. Hinges creaked as the slender form of a woman slid through into the place, quite literally on a long snake-like lower half that took the place of her legs. She knocked her hat back, letting it hang from her neck on the bola cord. She fingered the polished bone grip of her pistol under the watchful eye of the poker players.
“Figured you’d be here Tucker, time to go. Doc’s got that roller refueled. We movin’ out,” she said.
Tucker set the mug on the counter, “Lemme get my things,” he said to the bartender, flipping him a coin. “Hell, gimme one more shot o’ whiskey ‘for I leave.” He dropped another coin and slugged back the amber liquid he was given.
The bartender passed him a gun belt with two large frame revolvers and a bandolier lined with dozens of long, fat bullets. His long rifle clunked noisily on the counter as he buckled the belts, adjusting them to sit comfortably. He took the rifle and replaced the bolt, which he had in his pocket, tipping his hat to the bartender with the stunted third arm that grew from his right shoulder.
As Tucker joined Sara at the door there was a loud rumble of an engine thrumming to life, a deep throaty growl as the roller made ready to leave town. Sara pulled her hat back on and slithered across the street coiling herself into the top chair behind the mounted repeating rifle. Tucker took one last long pull from his cigar watching the hitched riding roaches step nervously as he flicked it to the ground. He straddled the seat of his speeder and with a loud whine the turbine spun to action, the airflow lifting the bike from the ground. Looking back he made sure the flaps were all in working order before throttling up and spitting a trail of dust into the air behind him. The roller thundered into motion on six fat knobby tires, Doc Shoemaker’s bone-plated, clubbed arm resting on the door frame from the driver’s seat.
Tucker squinted into the wasteland ahead of him, a toothy smirk on his weathered sun beaten face. A whole five hundred a week just to play ‘escort’ for this crazy doc and his lady friend. A trip east into the wastes for scientific research. Bah! Research was just fancy talk for looking at crap through a scope and scribbling in a book that no one was going to read. Tucker chortled a short laugh, it was easy money. He spied a pack of rattle backs to the north, wild dogs covered in dangerous quills that shook like a rattlesnakes tail, and slowed to pace with the roller yelling out to be heard above the engines.
“Damn rattle backs, if they come runnin’ you jes’ keep on rollin’. They can throw them damn quills but they ain’t got no aim.”
“If we get a chance to collect one I would love to dissect it, it would make an interesting chapter for my book!” Doc Shoemaker was beaming, searching the scoured landscape for the pack. “Maybe we’ll get lucky and these rattle backs will follow us! They might try and eat us during the night! Wouldn’t that be wonderful?”
“Crazy sum’bitch,” laughed Tucker as he sped out in front again.
He could feel Sara watching him, she seemed to always be staring at him when she thought he wasn’t aware. Tucker had to admit, she was a pleasant looking thing. Smooth skin, slender curves, lovely breasts, and a pretty face. It could be a fun time, though to be honest with the snake-tail-in place-of-legs, he had no clue where to put it.
They rode well into late afternoon. Doc Shoemaker watching expectantly for Tucker to find them a good spot to camp for the night. Tucker eased off the throttle as he closed in on a cluster of boulders drawing one of his pistols free and firing a single shot into the rocks. No movement. He returned the gun to its holster and brought the speeder in for a landing near the group of rocks, the roller crunching through the stone and sand of the wasteland behind him. The roller’s engines grunted to a stop as Doc shut them off, the speeder slowly cycling down with a dying whistle.
Tucker fished through the saddlebags on his bike and removed a flask, taking a short pull before stowing it again. Doc opened the door of the vehicle and climbed out with a slight groan, stretching. He flexed the hands of his two skinny right arms and shook dust from his clubbed left. His left foot was also heavily clubbed and he walked with a limp, though mostly from the prosthetic scrap metal peg leg he wore on his right side. He breathed deeply through the hard fleshy snorkels that rose from his back, a strange wheezy sound.
Sara dropped from the back seat of the roller and slid along to the passenger side, pulling the rolled tent and collapsible posts from where they had been packed.
“We gonna be safe here,” she asked.
Tucker cleared his throat and spit into the dusty ground, “Safe as anywhere I s’pose. Ain’t no sign o’ rock shells in them boulders, so that’s a plus. S’long as them rattle backs ain’t on our tail, we should be right fine.”
“Wonderful. Though I would like to open one of them up,” said Doc smiling. “Perhaps we’ll have a spot of luck and find something else then. Plenty of time, we still have another day on the road, by my calculations, before we reach Delphia. As I understand that’s the last town before we get into the deep wastes, is that right Mr. Tucker?”
Tucker nodded, “Jes’ make sure ya fill all yer gas cans. Y’all don’t wanna get stuck out there.”
“My pa disappeared in them wastes,” said Sara. “But he didn’t have no guide,” she smiled at him.
Tucker grunted, he had no real family. “My ma killed my pa fer filanderin’ about with some hussie. Can’t rightly say I got no other family.”
“No one at all? That’s awful,” said Sara. She genuinely meant it too, such a sweet girl. “Everyone should have someone.” She was smiling at him again.
Damn, thought Tucker, that’s a smile that could give a sandstorm pause.
He cleared his throat again and turned away, watching the light slowly change to a deep orange as the sun dropped to the horizon. His cheeks felt warm and if he didn’t know any better he would say he was blushing from that smile.
“Did you know that a few hundred years ago this land was said to be covered in grasses and such. Green fields of food as far as the eye could see! That was of course before the bombs fell and killed everything off. They also say that along the western coast, I believe you called it the Iron Ribs, Mr. Tucker?” Doc Shoemaker stared expectantly though waited for no reply. “Yes that’s what you called you them. Well that is merely what’s left of a vast city that sat at the water’s edge! That’s right my dear fellow, the sea came up that far they say!”
“I ain’t never heard no one ever say that. Sounds like a might tall tale there, Doc.”
“No, it’s true,” said Sara feeding a length of pole through the tent cloth. “I read about them things in one o’ the Doc’s books. Saw pictures even. They had a bunch of strange lookin’ folks too, all fleshy and such. Didn’t look rightly human, not like proper folks anyhow.”
“Huh. That’d be a sight I reckon.”
Tucker took a fresh cigar from his shirt pocket and wedged it between his dry lips, lighting it with a struck match and a few generous puffs. He walked the perimeter of the camp grabbing up a few dead bushes and scraps of thicker branches for a small fire. The flame and smoke would help keep the needlers away- nasty bugs, blood drinkers, with a mouth full of needles-like suckers. Damn things were nearly the size of a house cat and could suck a grown man dry in minutes. He stacked the larger branches around the dry brush and started the small fire with a match. When the wood had caught he stood and noticed Sara eyeing him again as she stood the tent up and began driving stakes into the ground for the tie-downs.
Tucker untied the bedroll from the back of his speeder bike and pulled his long rifle from its sheath along the seat. He unrolled the thick mat and blanket a few feet from the fire and eased himself down with the rifle across his lap. He racked the bolt open and slammed it shut, dry firing the weapon and listening for the smooth click. He slid one of the large shells from his bandolier and opened the bolt, dropping the round in and slamming it shut again. The shells he used packed a hefty punch, rocket propelled explosive ammo. The kind of thing that made most anything think twice about staying alive. Almost anything; maed’er, rock shells, and wild bullvone seemed to need more convincing. Most bands of raiders however, would flee after two or three of their friends exploded in front of them.
Tucker laid back with the rifle at his side and slid his hat down over his eyes. He didn’t quite doze off, and in truth he never fully slept either. His heightened senses of hearing and smell kept him in the realm of half-sleep, sure it left him cranky and tired but it kept him alive. He did find it strange that he felt so worn out though. A hand on his shoulder roused him from his rest and he smiled apologetically as he pulled the knife away from Doc’s gut and re-sheathed it.
“Some food for you Mr. Tucker,” said Doc nervously.
“Thanks Doc. And it’s jes’ Tucker, I sure ain’t no Mister.”
Tucker sat up and took the plate of meat, or beans, or whatever it was with a nod of his head. There was a heavy feeling in his stomach, maybe just gas, but he welcomed something to eat all-the-same. He shoveled the hot food into his mouth and tossed the empty tin down beside him. Doc and Sara ate quietly watching the stars twinkling overhead. Tucker stretched himself out on his bedroll again, hat covering his face.
“See you folks at sun-up,” he said.
“Do we need us a watch? Make sure nothin’ bad happens?” Sara had a touch of worry in her voice.
“Nope,” said Tucker. “If’n anything comes ‘round this way, I’ll know. Y’all get some rest.”
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To be concluded with Thursday’s post.