Beamo’s Gold part 19
Beamo and Tee deal with an entity menacing the camp.
We ate our midnight meal mostly in silence. No biker orgy this night. Despite being drained to the core no one went to their tent. We all wanted to see if Bonehead and Major Kaim made it back.
After an hour of waiting around the big campfire, Chuckles spotted a bright orb levitating down the switchback trail. What appeared to be a lightning ball turned into a glowing phantasm. It formed into what they call a Hungry Ghost, one that is driven by some base need that never got satisfied in life. It sported a distended potbelly and big head with an unnaturally long, narrow neck. The gruesomely grinning ghost must have followed us all the way here, over seventy miles from the FEMA camp mass grave pit.
It hovered around the perimeter of our camp like an otherworldly beggar. The face showed distinct but see-through, large shifty eyes looking for the weakest or the strongest of our party who would be the best source for whatever it craved. What it wanted to swallow probably wasn’t food. Taking what it wanted could be lethal to person it got it from.
I cleared my throat then said: “Ignore the phantasm. Let’s get a friendly conversation going then maybe our visitor’ll back off where it came from.”
“Yous gonna give us some mo stories from hem antchit books?” Hopper Leap asked, hesitant because he didn’t want the phantasm focusing on him.
“Naw, how about I ask you outlaws some questions?” I proposed. “Promise not to query into anything sensitive.”
They all looked over at Tee Sal. The big campfire of softwood logs and branches sparked and gave off a perfumed resin scent. “Go ahead, Beamo, ask them what you want.”
“Who all here has been shot?” I asked. “Raise your hands if you’ve been shot at least once.”
All the men but Tee, Chuckles, and the two leftover goons raised their hands. Sass Hootie and Smooth Sharp–the olive-skinned, dark-haired dollmoll the brothers Kholo and Joro Rise shared–also raised their hands.
“Who’s been hit the most?” I was grinning, hoping my amusement would be contagious, drive the Hungry Ghost elsewhere to find whatever it wanted.
“Ious’s hit twice,” Sass bragged. “Both times pistol-shot by my ol’ ex Oban Tachet. Ious was so mad didn’t hurt at first but then it was like a giant wasp stung me. Bonehead put ‘em down with hems’ chain belt. Made a mess outta Oban’s head, brains everwhere. Thas when Bonehead and Ious gots together.”
“Ious gots it three times,” Hopper said. “Hurts like a demon worm crawled inside yous guts every time.”
“Yeah, Ious gots my first today and it’s like someone took a hammer and drove a red-hot spike into me,” Bo-Rat said. He seemed okay despite the rough riding we just finished. The bullet passed clean through his left side so it looked like Little Bit’s care would allow him to avoid fection.
“Bonehead gots hit four times,” Sass said, her chin high.
“I shot him twice myself.” I leaned back and put my hands behind my head.
“No, yous only shot hims once,” Sass insisted, her round face amused but her eyes still carried rightous anger. “That happened four years ago when wese hit that salvage yard outside Ha-Ha Metro. Hims knowd yous gonna bring up that lie.”
I didn’t say anything back right off, de-sheathed my famous Bowie knife and its wetstone, started sharpening the wide grey blade. I was allowing time for humor to build. We didn’t need to get into a shouting match that would encourage the Hungry Ghost still studying us off at the edge of the firelight. Packit and Smooth, now both smirking, got up. They went to the tri-cycle that carried the extra go-juice and food, hefted out the last oak poneykeg and wooden cups. The outlaws lined up fast because they knew this was the end of the liquor.
“Well, I still think it was twice. I know for sure the one shot struck just a few inches left of where I aimed. Your man does not have the good graces to lie down and die when I shoot him. He just has no manners or good graces at all.” Everyone cracked up at that except for Tee.
“We’ll see what good graces yous gots when hims shoots yous, Beamo Roamer!” Sass pointed at me, smiling.
Packit and Smooth were having trouble tapping the ponykeg but the outlaws in the queue were still in good spirits. I glanced over to check and it looked like the Hungry Ghost was fading just a bit.
“You been hit yet, Beamo?” Tee asked. He stood up and stretched.
“I am averse to lead slugs penetrating my internal organs,” I said. “As you well know, one of the main reasons I choose to lay my head down in town and not go in for the outlaw life is my aversion to bullets.” Of course, I bore some deep slash-scars from knife fights. First time at Knife School graduation, dealt out by my instructor, Phama Nium who used his special bent-blade Kukri handed down from his ancient ancestors. Everyone who graduated got his first scar from Phama.
“Yeah, but you were in the Sand Bar Battle eight years ago,” Chuckles said. “My dad told you snuck behind their line up on Turkey Creek Bluff by yourself. He said you took out a half dozen skull-faces firing artillery down on our trapped main force trying to cross the big river. You saved Crans County.”
“I did my duty that day. Captain Kaim did his duty and Tee Sal did his duty and your sharp-shooting dad Lar Jangos must have shot down twenty MA at least.” After I said that, Chuckles got downcast, forced to relive his dad kicking him out of his house after catching him in coitus with the mallard hen. I figured it would be best to steer the conversation in another direction. “That was the time I got a close-up glimpse of General Wound.”
“Yous really sawed that wizard skull-face?” Joro asked. For once that bad-attitude outlaw sounded more than half interested in what I was saying.
“Yes, I did. That Mutant Angel is a different bird than the usual charge-straight-at-‘em, no-retreat, MA beserker. He plans out advanced strategy, employs tactical thinking outside the box.”
“Is it true what they say about his injury?” One of the buzz-cut goons asked.
“I saw it with my own eyes. General Wound has a bulletproof, see-through glass plate inside his chest where his sternum bone is supposed to be. He doesn’t wear skins so you can see his heart beating through the glass. Legend is Mand Sal, Tee’s dad, got him with a grenade the day the Gate Massacre went down twenty-one years ago. He was awesome and terrifying to behold.”
“Keg’s tapped!” the girls called out.
Tee strolled over to the front of the queue for beer. After he cut to the front of the line to take the first cup, the Hungry Ghost appeared right in front of him. The gasps everybody let out at once made even me shiver. The lurid, toothless mouth opened wider than any person could have. The phantasm shuddered in brightening white light, looked to me like a desperate alchie who gets a little taste of whiskey that wets his throat but won’t ever be enough.
Tee held himself steady. He called over Bo-Rat and let the wounded boy have the first cup after all. The phantasm got to raging, rocks and branches flew up around it. The thing wanted to feed off of somebody getting special treatment, in this case Tee getting to cut in line. Denying it what it wanted was what Tee needed to do, and he knew to do it.
The Hungry Ghost shot up into the air fifty feet at least, coalesced into a lightning ball again then streaked off east back in the direction the FEMA camp mass grave.
Tee got his cup filled then casually stepped back over to his log. Staring me down the whole time, he sat then tipped his wooden cup to take a long slow chug.
“Well done, Tee.” I decided not to partake in beer drinking this night.
“You’re not the only one who can handle situations out here.” Tee wiped his mouth with the back of his sleeve and leaned back.