Post-apocalyptic-western novel I’ve been working on. Somewhat violent and not for everyone.
The name’s Beamo Roamer. I’m a scavenge man just like my dad Vauk Roamer was a scavenge man before the new pit he was excavating caved in on him. His funeral had sparse attendance. He left me the business the winter of my twenty-seventh year.
Five weeks after he got killed, I had a crew digging near a mound of factory rubble I discovered way out past the trace of the Merican freeway in the tall-grass wildlands north of the Iwa River.
Old Tone and the rest of my seven-man digger crew got us down ten feet, just below the half-inch-thick layer of ash that meant everything neath would be from ancient Merica before Doomtime. Old Tone reached down with his wrinkled walnut hand then brought his fingers up to his tongue to taste the natural black dirt that’s below the grey line. He knew steel was close just by the taste.
Sure enough, we dug some more and uncovered the greatest big-rig ever found. Gargantuan machine wrapped up in thick plastic tarp, buried over eleven hundred years ago. Back at the beginning of Doomtime, the Nils Brigands were burning down what was left of civilization after the Slow Pox Plague swept through the entire world. Whoever tried to cache the big-rig under the protective, fine-textured soil never came back for it.
Almost too huge to dig out with the two piddly excavators we towed in with atvees. I’ll never forget the sight nineteen days later when our tackle of ropes, chains, and pulleys finally dragged the treasure-trove up into the clear, cold March afternoon sunshine. Each of the six tires stood over two stories tall; this big-rig had been a giant hauler they used in ancient days to strip-mine the land for coal. The beast was still partially covered in flaking yellow paint. Two sets of metal ladders led up to the cab.
Right inside on the brown leather seat before the controls was an even greater treasure. Just like the dude left it there five minutes ago was a fragile device in the original box, an iPhone X19, the Merican script read. Lucky for me, I went to school all eight grades. I was well taught to read our Zark script, which is real close to the ancient Merican script that I was now expert at ciphering.
We built a massive timber barge to float the big-rig down the Missysip River to my salvage yard. I had them moor it next to my well-built, two-story houseboat on the east bank of the river just inside the metro limits. Payday Metro, population now thirty-seven thousand, was my hometown. It is the fourth largest metro in the greater Zarkaria and the capitol of Crans County, the nation I was born into.
The seating in front of the auction block at my sprawling salvage yard was crowded that last Saturday in April despite the gulley washer rolling in. Appeared to me the entire metro came out to view what I birthed out of the earth. When the hammer came down that rainy morning, I landed the biggest payoff in the three-generation history of the Roamer Venture Company.
My perfectly preserved glass iPhone and four-hundred-ton steel finds went to Tem Tang, our salvage rep from New Sing. The dapper Eurasian man shipped the big-rig down the slow flowing, bronze Missysip, over the oil-slick Carib Sea, then dragged it up a jungle tow-road to traverse the narrow isthmus of Panam. When they made it to the nuuk-dead Pacyfic Ocean, they put it on a lead-lined steamship. The final destination was the island continent New Sing, the most advanced nation in the world.
I never heard what they did with my finds, but the deal left me with more silver than I ever had before. I pay my crew in profit percentages not salaries soas to get the best. The smiles and wide eyes on Old Tone and my other men’s mugs made my heart pump joy blood. Hoped they would invest it in their families and not go fall into the jug and the bawdyhouse, but that was their business.
My haul was enough coin to buy passage through the wrought iron Heights Bluff Gate; get inside that forty-feet-tall security wall that mocked us who grew up down in the metro alleys. Common citizens in Crans County lived under the shadow of the rich Big Men who ran things from behind the Gate.
The smoky haze hung low over that patchwork of properties in my hometown–no paved roads, no electriky, and no plans. More yards than not were full of refuse and puddles of shi water leaking out of broken brick-lined cesspools. Cur dogs barked at everything and nothing. A good portion of citizens lived crowded inside ramshackle houses. Some families kept well-tended gardens and artful landscaping like the home I grew up in. Rows of shops and cottage dustries crowded against each other on the bank downriver from my place.
Out beyond the border where they paid no county tax there were some big ranches and bacco-reewana plantations, but mostly there was nothing but desolate wilderness sprinkled with isolated settlements of dirt farmer and moonshiner clans keeping low profile in the clay soil bottomlands and dark forest hollows.
If I wanted to, I could walk uphill past the machine-gun goons manning the Gate, buy my way into a new mansion in Heights Bluff and become a Big Man….
A few months later, on a hot-pot late August evening, I was coming back on my brand new custom 725 cc cycle from a solo scouting pedition in the Illnoise Swamp. Found nothing that day but poison sumac trees growing in a gnarled tangle up against hundreds of miles of black stagnant water that was full of toxins from those ancient factory ruins.
First shot rang out when I slowed to go around a broken sycamore blocking the trail. I lay my cycle down and flattened out on the ground. Three more shots made sawdust jump from the dead wood in front of my face. Small caliber–but what digger wants to get shot up even with a small caliber–so I belly crawled into an eroded rut. Crawled back out, smooth, perfect timing, slid my Ak from its scabbard on the right side of the cycle, fed a bullet into the chamber from the curved paw-mag.
I shot back aiming where the muzzle flashes came from then ducked back down behind the termite-rotted tree. Battle music started thrumming inside my head.
The shooting ceased. I crawled off into the underbrush in the growing dark. Stood to a crouch then doubled back slightly to the right. Behind the hill where someone shot at me was open sandy ground. Came upon a wreck of a beat-up atvee with an old woman lying on prickly pear cactus. Her little .22 semi-auto was next to her, and I saw she was hit.
Never felt bad about gunning somebody doing the same to me until then. I got to her and she was still awake. Her hair salt-pepper grey and long, handmade raggedy dress soaked with blood. Close-up, I saw she had a hand-carved fake nose and fake lips strapped with thin leather strips wrapped round the back of her head, which meant she had been a captive of the Mutant Angels.
“Yous afta ma map, ant yous?” she spit out, wiped the blood leaking out of the gash in her pale forehead to clear her eyes so she could get a look at me.
“What daum map? Woman you shot at me, did a worm crawl inside your brain?” Then I recognized her. “You shooting at me for your grandson Bonehead? Tee Sal put you up to this?”
“Yous workin’ wit hem! Hem ones tryin’ to kill me to git the map.” She died then, open mouth wanting to say more, old blue eyes surprised. Most common look on a newly dead’s mug is surprise.
I pulled out my flashlight, set it to red filter to keep low profile, then felt around for what she was talking about inside her bag. The loose fabric lining next to the old cracked leather had something. I carefully cut it out with the small knife I used for fine work. It was an ancient military topo map of Nevada, a state that was once a part of Merica. Each mountain with its elevation along with the ancient freeways, back roads, small towns, and giant metros of that Wasteland country were there in faded print. Way more durable with better detail than the remnants of road atlases that I’ve found. Even so, I unfolded it very carefully, the paper so worn it was coming apart in my fingers.
I studied the map and the script written on it. Plain what it was supposed to be: Area 51, spooky Merican phantasms, otherworldly lights flying around day and night protecting the Lost Fort Knox gold.
Legend said after the Nils started firestorms in most all the metros and the poison grey soot rained down, the despairing Merican Government loaded all its gold bars on giant flying machines then flew its treasure two thousand miles west to its secret military base. People said the desert canyon base was hidden from the world so the ancient scientists could do periments on crashed a-ilian spaceships. Obsess stories for the brainsick, I never thought of pursuing those old tales myself.
Bright white lights hit me then. If I had shot they would have blown my shi smooth clean away. When I dropped my rifle they flicked off their flashlights. Hands up, as my eyes cleared I watched Tee and Bonehead stride out of the woods. I had to give it to them; they had come a long way if they could ninj me after I was hyped up just after a firefight. This was not my first boogy dance, but it was true I hadn’t seen real action since the last Mutant Angel raid a couple years ago.
Tee stood taller than me by an inch, six-two, and younger than me by a year. He held his Ak by the pistol grip with one hand, aiming at me just like Bonehead as they marched up to my position. Tee promoted himself as a black-flagger genius now. Him and me partnered as best friends in school but after we grew to manhood and slogged through the quired militia service, we parted ways. I voted to stay in town. Lean and swarthy, his sable moustache and long wavy hair under his black beret made him the most popular outlaw in the Midwest. He grinned at me but not as big as the sneer that split Bonehead’s mug. Lowiq Bonehead still used his red-blond bangs to cover the bony ridge that ran above his eyes. He had been a major small-animal-torturing psycho even before his teens. Now twenty-five, he seemed none the worse for wear since I shot him twice four years ago.
Their smiles instantly turned down into frowns when they saw me scarf the eleven-hundred-year-old brittle topo map. Tasted mildewy but I managed to chew it up before they got to me.
They worked me over, but not as bad as I figured they would. Had worse from my dad and worse than that from other situations. They put me hogtied on the back of an atvee then drove me over rough trails to their hideout on a peninsula deep in the Illnoise Swamp. Surprised Tee would be hiding out this close to Payday Metro.