I think I’ve been here for about fifteen minutes now. Honest, I wouldn’t lie to you. I’ve had enough time here to, quietly and with much ducking, move aside the sharper rocks and make a bit more room for my less-than-ample posterior to rest comfortably in the dust. It’s actually not that bad once you get used to it, but, admittedly, my legs are going to sleep. “Hey,” I shout over the rock that is my cover, tilting my head a bit, “Your legs going to sleep, too?”
My enquiry is met with silence. Go figure. I don’t actually expect him to reply — “You shot it off.”
Oh. I didn’t expect that.
“What,” I shout back.
“My leg,” he replies for, yes, it is definitely a masculine voice. Could always be a bearded lady, radiation does wonderful things, but I doubt it. “You shot it off. It’s lying over there.”
I risk a peak around the rock, careful in case he tries a potshot at me, and I see that yes, indeed, his leg is lying a good distance from where he’s set up. “Well,” I reply, “that’s unfortunate.”
“Unfortunate? Un-fucking-fortunate,” he screams back, “You’re a fucking sociopath, you know that? You could have just killed me, but no, you had to make me suffer.”
“To be fair,” I said, as I lean back against the wall and try to find a warm spot, “You were running. I had to make sure you didn’t escape.”
There is more silence. Wonder how long it’ll take until he bleeds out. “You,” he replies, a little more quietly, “You have a point.”
“I know I do.” This is one of those moments that really defines who you are in life. If this were a video game, it would define how other characters respond to you through the rest of the game. A life-changing moment, really, that rests entirely on one word. “Prick.”
More silence. “Yeah,” he responds, eventually, almost inaudible due to how quietly he says it, “Yeah I suppose I am. Sorry for the third degree.”
I laugh, he laughs, the reader laughs, we all laugh, really. We’re laughing because it’s been a while since anyone was really ‘burned’. The global temperature dropped drastically after the war, and most electronics broke. Flamethrowers were never really popular in the first place, and so few of them remain that they’ve gone into myth and legend. You think I’m exaggerating, but I’m not. There is actually a legend about Brian the Baker, a man with a flamethrower whose heat is so intense that he can turn anything into bread, including people and small reptiles. Everything else just sort of gets hot. “You ever hear of Brian the Baker?”
“Oh.” Uneducated slob. “So what now?”
“Well,” he replies after a pause, “You could always come out.”
“Yeah,” I say, adjusting my rifle, “But if I do you’re liable to shoot me.”
“Have to admit, the idea crossed my mind.”
“Oh. That’s nice.”
More waiting. I can already tell there’s going to be a lot of that. “So,” I say, moving my rifle down in to my hands, “If I can’t come out without getting shot, do you want to come out?”
“Will you shoot me?”
I think about lying, I really do. But he told me the truth when I asked him, so I consider it rude not to return the favor. “Yeah,” I reply, sighing, “Yeah I would.”
“Huh.” Oddly enough he didn’t sound upset. “I suppose,” he begins, stammering a bit, as though working through a complex idea, “I suppose… I suppose that if… I suppose that if we come out together, we’ll just shoot each other?”
Drop head, lower rifle, sigh, continue, “That is a likely turn of events, yes.”
“So we… Shouldn’t do that either.”
“No. No we shouldn’t do that.”
More silence. I can’t take it any more. “So I suppose we’re at an impasse.”
“There’s not a road for twenty clicks.”
I turn my head to look at the entrance of the square, which I had kept meticulously clean and inviting to goad anyone with a lot of supplies to enter without a care in the world. The arch hung between two buildings over the entrance framed the road just beyond quite nicely. “How long,” I begin, “Is a click?”
“Bout two miles, by my watch.”
“Huh. So, what, twenty clicks is forty miles?”
“I guess, though arithmetic were never my strong suit.”
“Doesn’t matter, an impasse has nothing to do with a road.”
“Yeah it does,” he replies, “Look, I can tells that you’re not really educated, and that’s alright. You know what an overpass is, right?”
Admittedly I have an inkling of where this is going, but I wish I didn’t. “Yes,” I reply, hesitantly.
“Well look. An overpass is what happens when one road is above another one, like a bridge. An impasse, through a compary-son, is a road that goes under another road. See? Easy as that.”
The apocolypse has made people stupid, I keep telling you. “Pretty sure that’s an underpass.”
The man snorts, “An’ I’m pretty sure you ain’t the brightest tool in the chest.”
“You ever hear of mixed metaphors?”
“Yeah but I don’t have any steel on me.”
Wait, what? How does that even — oh. Metaphors. Metal-phors. Mixed metal-phors. Alloys. If he was smart, I’d think it was a clever little joke. “Whatever, look, you ever pick up a dictionary?”
“Yessir, my place of education had one.”
“Cool, so you know how one word can have different meanings sometimes?”
“Yeah, like they’re.”
I want to kill him. “Yeah, like their. So an impasse can also be a quandary.”
“There’s no stone for fifty clicks.”
I slap my hand to my face strong enough that it actually hurts a bit. Apparently he also heard it, “You okay over there? Hate for you to be hurt.”
“I’m fine,” I mumble through my fingers, “Just trying to squash a fly.”
“Oh,” he replies. There’s more silence, followed by, “I had a flyswatter once.”
“I’m sure you did. Look, a quandary is not a quarry.”
The man laughs. “An’ I’m pretty sure you need a good schooling.”
I have had enough. Roaring, I leap over my rock and bum-rush his hiding spot, screaming at the top of my lungs, bullets be damned. My mouth is open so wide I could probably eat anything he shoots at me, but as that would be counter-productive to life I swerve, moving in a serpentine fashion to avoid him drawing a bead on me, until I’m only ten feet away. Perfect. I throw caution to the wind and run straight at the rock, when my roaring begins to quiet. There haven’t been any shots.
I close the last five feet between to the rock by walking, my breathing a bit heavy from the physical exertion of my mad-dash. Still no shots. Eventually I get to the rock. “You still there,” I ask, voice a bit hoarse.
“Why didn’t you shoot me?”
Curious, I rest my right arm on the rock and lean over. What I see is a man in a gas mask, seriously I don’t know why they do that, staring back at me, pistol in hand. “You do know,” I begin, “That that, right there, right in your hand, is a gun. You probably can’t even miss at this distance.”
His voice, from this distance, sounds a bit distorted by the mask, I didn’t notice before. “Yeah,” he says, “But I ain’t got no bullets, see?” He holds his magazine up to me and I see that, yes, indeed, it is empty.
“So that bit about shooting me. That was a lie, wasn’t it?”
The man looks down at his magazine like a kid caught in a lie. “I suppose it was, mister. Sorry.”
“No, no, that’s fine,” I sigh, reaching into my pocket. “Here, I have the same kind of pistol, and an extra magazine. Load this in and we’ll try again.”
He looks up, and takes the magazine that I’m offering. “You really mean that?”
“Yep, I do. I’ll just walk back over to my rock now, okay? Get that loaded up.”
“Thanks, mister,” he replies, almost cheerfully.
Magazine in his hand, I begin the long walk back to my rock, stop ten steps out, draw my pistol and level it at the top of the rock my adversary is hiding behind.
“You ready,” he shouts.
“Yep,” I aim down the sights. “Ready.”
“Ok, then.” I see his hand grab the top of the rock and pull the rest of him up. His head’s lowered at first, but he, eventually, looks up to take aim. “Oh bugger.”
I shoot him right between the eyes.