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.
Apparently, bang, the world used to be a relatively nice place, bang. There wasn’t as much, bang, violence as there is now, but apparently, bang BANG, there was still quite a bit. I release the catch of my rifle and remove the magazine, realizing to my rather diminutive dismay that I still had a round in it, thus mitigating the need for my current reload. Ah well. I grab out a few shells from my pocket and push them in, anyways. The poor sods down there still don’t know where I am, and I’m questioning if they even know I’m using a sniper rifle and can see them just fine. The apocolypse made people dense. Fortunately not dense enough for an anti-armor shell.
A few clinks later and I’m ready to go. I grab my binoculars first, the wider view is great for spotting, and survey the so-called, “battlefield.” Yep, they’re still there. Obviously I’m no mind-reader, the radiation sadly didn’t gift humanity with the superpowers we were hoping for, but I assume they believe I’m in that building over there, rather than the building here. I assume this because not only have they not moved further away from me, but they’ve actually shifted around the rubble they were crouched behind so as to provide more cover from the windows of the aforementioned incorrect building while simultaneously providing me a better of their soft giblets. Their heads. One of them lit a cigarette. Yes, the apocolypse made people stupid. Well, stupid-er if you believe my father.
Sighing, I drop the binoculars and feel the cord around my neck go taught. Their funeral, really, if they want to make it this easy. They’re rather unimportant characters anyways. I line them up in my scope and pull the trigger, targeting the smoker first.
It’s a bit funny, really, watching someone’s head explode. It forms a sort of bird or flower of sorts if it’s close enough the wall when it happens, and it just kind of… Fans out. Like a painting. That would make me a painter. My canvas is every concrete wall I see, and my paint is the rather necessary bodily fluids of those whose lives I determine are worth using a bullet to extinguish. They should feel honored, and my father should be ashamed, claiming that I’d never amount to anything. Take that, dad, I’m an artist!
Almost immediately after viewing my masterpiece, the other two start panicking. One stands up to run, bang there goes his leg, while the other sort of stares at the first corpse, expression unreadable due to the gas mask. That’s another thing, really. When the apocolypse happened, everyone threw on gas masks and strapped every bit of metal they could find to their soft bits, as if that would help them. There are no more chemical weapons, making the gas masks obsolete, and if you’re in an irradiated area you probably have more problems than breathing in ketchup gas or whatever. Naturally, I aimed for the breathing bit of the mask, sparing his life for a few seconds due to his head being in profile. I couldn’t help but chuckle as he began panicking even more, apparently because he thought he was breathing in evaporated condiments. His friends were all wearing the things too, maybe they thought this area had a cafeteria. I clocked him in the head, shouldered my rifle, stood up, and grabbed my duffle bag. As opposed to those morons down there, who thought black was true apocolypse chic, my gear was all tan or grey. Even my rifle, Shelly, was painted tan, which was not easy with the acrylics I found. Eventually I think dust ended up sticking to her more than the paint, but the effect’s the same so I don’t really care.
I knocked over the piece of sheet metal I covered the doorway with and went down the hallway, boots making satisfying clopping noises with every step on the old, dust-covered tile of the building. Pretty sure this used to be a high class apartment or something, maybe a law firm, some place that used tile instead of carpeting for flooring. Makes walking through it alone with a big gun seem a lot more bad-ass, anyways. I can’t help but wonder if this is how lawyers felt all the time. What if they were all packing heat back then and we didn’t notice because of their well-tailored suits? Well-tailored, I bet, to hide their uzis.
I passed the elevator, which probably hasn’t worked since the bombs dropped, and went to the stairs, whose doorway was still open from when I, well, opened it. I needed to get in somehow, after all, and windows seemed too troublesome.
The little armor I wear is lightweight, more for helping to keep my knees getting scratched up when kneeling than actual bullet protection, but it’s still old and still metal, and it’s been getting a tad bent out of shape. Some blacksmiths have popped up now that things are starting to level out a bit, but not many, and fewer, even, work for free, even if it’s just to re-bend some old kneepads. They make going up and down stairs a bit uncomfortable, as they dig into my leg a bit with every step, but my knees would probably be sorer with them off than on so they remain. Even so I try to avoid stairs if at all possible.
Eventually I reach the bottom and say my goodbyes to the metal staircase behind me. Though this is the apocolypse, my father taught me to always be appreciative to those that help you. I don’t see why inanimate objects should be any different. The air is a bit more stagnant down here, what with no giant hole in the wall to let the breeze come through, so I quickly make my way to the front door and out into the wasteland that was once one city somewhere or something.
It isn’t hard to find the guys I killed. Dead guys don’t move much, and I’d been watching them for a solid hour before I decided to use the ammo. Even then there wasn’t that much here. Used to be some business park or something, a big square surrounded by buildings that provide ideal vantage points for shooting the odd passerby or occasional cat. A lot of them are a bit on the collapsey side now, which provides some cover for people who think they can hide from those that use the buildings for vantage points. It never works. Like shooting cats in a barrel. Fortunately nobody ever goes into the bank, where I kept the bodies, otherwise they would leave before I can kill them, loot their stuff, and leave their bodies with the others. Money quickly loses its value when you can’t buy food with it, and so now the green paper and shiny little discs of metal aren’t much but green paper and shiny little discs of metal. Some people, of course, still want them; many believe that, given enough time and with enough bright-eyed optimism, the apocolypse will go away and the world-as-we-know-it will return with a smile and a little, “Oh, you thought I was dead didn’t you?” Fortunately there are few enough of that type to be ignored entirely, and, so, so is the bank. Ignored, that is.
I walk over to the last guy I killed first, the one with the gas mask front that I shot off in a clever bit of skill. Hole in one side of helmet, check. I reach out my gloved hand, grab his head, and turn it around so I can see the other side. Hole in other side of head… Oh. Oh dear. Yes, yes check indeed. Maybe two checks. Bleck. I drop his head and wipe my glove on his coat. After a few seconds I pick up my hand again and look at it some before going back once more to rubbing it. Shit’s just not coming off. Christ, this isn’t going to wash, is it? Bastard. I kick the corpse, knocking it over, and decide to set him on fire first.
Quietly muttering curses, I walk over to the one without a leg. Well, I meant to. Instead of walking over to him I walked over to where he once was, only to find a pool of blood and no carcass. Either my shot hit him harder than I thought or — pew. The sounds of a bullet ricocheting off the ground in front of me sent me sprawling backwards, tripping over the gas mask guy who absorbed a bullet for me. Maybe I’ll burn him second, then, but I can’t burn anyone if I’m dead so I drag myself up and forward, jumping behind a rock when I inevitably ran out of ground. Three more shots ring out against the rock I’m behind, blowing little concrete chips and dust over it and on top of my hood. Then… Silence.