Beamo’s Gold part 7
Beamo and the Sawbird Gang ride the Snake Road and get a close-up look at the mysterious Giant Four Faces.
For the rest of the daylight we eluded the MA fiends. Bonehead’s off-road cycle sagacity combined with my intimate knowledge of the Iwa terrain must have driven the Mutant Angels’ captain kookoo trying to figure out where we were going and why we were there. We played foxhunt with them, slipping up into the brush-covered hills where they couldn’t follow, then back out again, sometimes not far behind them on one of their roads of compressed broken stones. More than once the skull-faces looked back and we were there sneering at them, but before they could whip around their over-sized choppers they had to watch us dirt-cycle-riding foxes speed off again up into the wooded hills.
The problem was as we worked our way northwest the patches of forest grew scarcer and the creeks flowing into the Misery River grew bigger and harder to cross. By late afternoon we finally made it to the banks of that giant, jagged death trap of a river, and Tee ordered three timber rafts made.
Outlaws are by nature lazy creatures, which is why they turn to thievery to begin with. But the understanding that thousands of enraged, two-legged MA wolves were hunting us down gave the Sawbird Gang some serious motivation. As the chopping of trees commenced, I stretched out with my rifle on top of a green knoll with a weed between my teeth and watched. After a bit I threw the chewed-up weed down and started nibbling on some beef jerky and dried fruit, taking long draughts of cold water from my canteen. I looked up to watch the odd, human-face-looking white clouds cruise across the big blue sky. I closed my eyes and started to doze.
A moment later I felt a presence. I opened my eyes; Tee was standing over me in his dusty, black-leather riding gear. His mouth was set in a deadly grimace, his eyes still full of murder-hate, mourning his Soosey and blaming me for the Mutant Angels tailing us and all his other troubles. I smiled up at him.
He reached down and grabbed me by my heavy-duty work shirt collar, dragged me up to my feet. I just kept smiling. He let go and I brushed myself off. A big tree hit the ground downhill from us right then.
“Something on your mind, Tee Sal?” I asked, dropped my smile.
He didn’t talk back for a moment. Eyeballed me and I eyeballed him back. From out of somewhere a pang of regret crept into my mind. I should be mourning with my former best friend. The other thing was my tender feelings for his sister were growing despite my will against it. Still, I couldn’t look like I was backing down.
“When we get to the Snake Road you stay in front of me five cycle lengths,” he said with a straight mouth. “If I go down, I’m going to shoot you in the back before the rattlers kill me.”
“Good thing I’m your bruhkus,” I said as he walked away.
Late afternoon and shadows growing ominous, we launched the three ugly-rough but sturdy timber rafts. The current threw us around and rocks hitting under the lashed-together logs bounced us up into the air. One big rock hit right under Sass. After she came down she turned back to the jutting rock and shouted, “Waz’t good for yous?”
When we were almost across, a gigantic catfish head emerged from the frothy murk and tried to swallow one of Major Kaim’s buzz-cut goons crowded next to the tied-down cycles on the back of our raft. The gnarly head belonged to the biggest fish I ever saw, its mouth humongous enough to swallow the dude. Probably hundreds of years old; no commercial fishing on this wide river let the geemo fish get as big as they could get. The whiskers surrounding the maw of the monster were like the tentacles from an octopus illustrated in one of the books about the ocean I had in my collection.
The panicking goon kicked at the monster catfish, cut loose then pushed his comrade’s cycle into the water to scare it. At least he had sense enough not to try to shoot from the rocking raft and probably hit one of us. The ancient, twenty-feet-long-plus monster fish looked us over with its fierce and strangely aware eyes then ducked its massive head back under water before shirtless Bonehead could hit its snout with his raft pole. All the Sawbird Gang moved away from the young goon because he sacrificed a cycle. They treated him as jinxed from then on.
By nightfall we were riding across the rutted pavement of the highway winding through the badlands, bizarre rocky cliffs looming up at us in this barren waste that had little tree cover. Pockets of prairie rattlesnakes could be seen now in the red headlight beams moving across the road before our cycles. The Dezret work gangs had built this highway on top of the trace of the ancient Merican freeway two decades ago. The northern trade route had been open back then. For a few peaceful years for us, the Mutant Angels had been busy with their civil war to determine which boss demon they were going to worship.
We weren’t alone. Behind us Mutant Angels on their fast scout cycles stayed just out of range. No way we could go off-road here. There was almost no cover. Now it was a race.
It was a little less than an hour to midnight when we finally rolled up in sight of the Giant Four Faces. Nobody knew who the giant faces carved high up on the side of the great cliff were supposed to be. Mutant Angels had blasted the noses off and cratered the mouths of each of the Giant Four Faces with recoilless rifles or other light artillery hundreds of years ago. Probably once they were white granite; the Giant Four Faces now looked a dingy dark grey under the full moon.
Behind us the Mutant angels were closing in. No way to see how many. Their headlights merged into a glowing red serpent blob that kept growing longer. Now the road ahead appeared to be moving too, writhing and undulating like some endlessly lengthy living thing in the bright moonlight. Tee halted us. All the Sawbird Gang and Major Kaim’s goons started wrapping their legs with blankets or cowhide or other protection. When I finished wrapping up my legs with strips of horse leather I always carried around to make patches, Tee pointed at me to speak.
“I did this five years ago and you all can do it too!” I raised my voice loud enough but not too loud. “Keep going no matter what! Don’t try to help anybody; you’ll just end up dead. Those of you riding double will have it the hardest if you go into a rut. When you get past the rattlers, be careful not to touch the broken-off fangs your tires will collect. Scrape them off with your knives; they still have venom.”
The closest MA started taking potshots. I alternated keeping one eye closed to keep muzzle flashes and flares from giving me night blindness, revved my engine and sped off. The road a roller coaster series of hills, and then I plunged my cycle into the living river of rattlesnakes. Hundreds of thousands of four to five-feet-long rattlers, some much bigger, they swarmed on the old rutted pavement to keep warm at night this time of year. Five years ago when I tore up this road to escape the MA, it had taken about six miles to get past the snakes. I had no idea this time how many miles they would cover the road, sometimes a foot deep. Maybe for a hundred and then none of us would make it.
I kept my cycle at sixty-seven miles an hour, leaned back and rode on top of the coiling, roiling flow that was alive and collectively pissed-off. Snake heads striking up at my cycle tires and my legs the whole way. The million rattling snake tails merged into a sinister buzzing filling up the entire Kosmos and seeping inside my head. The Snake Road veered uphill, running close to the Giant Four Faces on our right. The MA was shooting flares and tracers and rocket propelled grenades at us now. In the flaring light flashes I looked up with one eye open at the close-up giants looking down at us insects on cycles. Their blasted-out mouths silently screamed some kind of great terror or rage against us.
Despite the mayhem all around the music inside me grew. It was the steady pulse that I use to concentrate. “If you listen to the music inside you, you’ll never go wrong,” was what my eighth-grade teacher Viol Iver told us. At the smallest micro level below an atom to the largest expanse of outta space, the Source, what makes up the entire Kosmos, is based on musical vibrations just waiting for you to tap into.
Seven miles in and the snakes started thinning out. The Giant Four Faces were out of sight now. Another two hundred yards up another curvy steep hill and there were no venom reptiles left on the road. I halted and put my kickstand down. With both eyes open now, I slipped out my Ak from its scabbard and cocked it.
Tee pulled up next to me. Sass on her multicolored cycle and then Bonehead right behind her lay down his gaudy cycle and started dancing. Sass joined in and they both looked like they were going to leap up into the night sky, powered by the sheer joy of still being alive.
Little Bit was the seventh rider to roll up to safety. I couldn’t suppress a grin, despite her brother Tee standing right next to me. She got off her cycle sporting her own exuberant, lovely smile, the thick cloth wrapping her pointed pixie boots soaked in snake blood. She shook her long, luxurious hair, looked straight at me, yelled out a victory cry, “Wooooyeah!”
Tee flashed me a snarl and then eyeballed Little Bit.
“We made it!” She called out ignoring her half brother. “Beamo was right!”
Little Bit gave me a saucy look but then Retry Ewls, the oldest Sawbird Gang rider, rolled up and halted with an eerie groan.
The old fat biker’s face looked like a rot-purple peach, swollen and split from snake venom under Little Bit’s flashlight when she examined him. He told us he had gone down into a deep rut. Rattlesnake bites were all over his body. It had taken an enormous force of will to get back on his cycle and ride as far as he did but Little Bit couldn’t do anything to save him.
“I hat snaks,” Retry said in a raspy voice. He fell down moaning, went fetal. Bonehead put his pistol to Retry’s temple, waited for Little Bit to look away then pulled the trigger.
More bad news arrived. Major Kaim, agitated and then growing furious as he told us that his two goon troopers riding together on a single cycle fishtailed and then went down after a near hit from an RPG. The young buzz-cut, bad-luck goon avoided being eaten by the giant catfish but ended up screaming to his death, dozens of rattlesnakes hanging by their fangs all over his face and body, his buddy dying with him the same way.
“Skull-faces coming!” Chuckles hollered out. About a hundred Mutant Angel fools had followed us. They had their red headlights off but some fading flares they shot off earlier still lit them up for us.
The MA berserkers were almost out but were still coming through the snakes less than a quarter of a mile away when we opened up on them. This time I knocked every one off his chopper I shot at. We cut them down and continued to cut them down when a couple dozen survivors slowly turned their 1400cc choppers around. The downed MA waded through the rattlers to help each other up even though they were covered with bites. Kind of surprised me they would try to help each other. Also, they didn’t make much noise even while dying extreme-pain deaths.
Again it was over before my battle music could set in. We all set to scraping the broken snake fangs from our tires and leg-wraps.
Without further adieu, Tee mounted up and roared out with some vengeance satisfaction in his voice, “We ride!”
I lead them up into the Blills, the tree-covered Black Hills, to my secret waterfall campsite.