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Cody J Leigh

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Long Walks
by Cody J Leigh   

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Copyright:  5/25/2012

I inted to make a series out of this post apocalypse short. If it appeals to an audience of course.

8836 words
Cody Leigh
7138 Mountain Brook Drive, San Antonio, Texas, 78244
Long Walks

Cody Leigh
            The shot was perfect, everything was perfect. The wind had died. The target couldn't see him, and the angle didn't allow much drop if any at all. He had the sweet spot lined up, a perfect shot on the perfect prey. All that remained was to keep calm, and have a slow trigger pull. Calm breaths, and pull the trigger slowly....
            The loud bang, followed by a thud signified a victory for Kendrick Almaeus. Hunting for his village of Vacan, he had found a deer in the endless waste chewing on grass. Walking up to his kill, he began to smile. He had nailed the buck in its brain. His smile only grew bigger when he calculated that it was a one hundred and fifty meter head-shot. His personalities began to congratulate him, even the pessimist.
            It was a long walk home, the endless expanse of dirt and decaying bones making it feel even longer. Kendrick began to play a game with the bones, guessing what they belonged to. Some were quite obvious; a human skull is very distinct from all other things. He noticed a lot of skulls on this afternoon, poor travelers who had been ill-prepared for a journey during the day. Or those who prepared were just unlucky enough to bump into the Night Terrors. He felt a chill up his spine at the mere thought of encountering one of those hunch-backed monsters.
            After many hours of trekking, he saw the outskirts of his village. The sign still had it's letters, though the “T” was beginning to fall off as the rest of the sign was. “Fast Track Tavern” could be seen behind the sign, as busy as ever. The townspeople looked like little ants from this distance, but there were many ants and many goods passing between pincers. Lugging this massive buck began to take it's toll on Kendrick's knees, but with salvation so close he just struggled on. A figure approached from the road ahead.
            “Ken? Ken! Let me help you with that!”
            Morgan ran up to him, happily assisting. Her small frame didn't offer much in the way of relief, but her smile could inspire a man to move mountains. And she was his. His and all of his personalities found comfort with her. Not one of them had a bad thing to say about her, nor could he find any flaws. The other men often spoke of her being too skinny, or too naïve. The other women called her a tomboy or midget. But Kendrick only called her his love.
            The two of them came into town strangely coupled, Kendrick's towering height and build to Morgan's micro-size. The carver, Brondo, walked up to assist the carry to his shop. Brondo was a good friend to Kendrick, their jobs going hand in hand. They greeted each other and shook hands once the kill was put on the table. Morgan ran back off to keep the plants alive, as per usual. As Brondo and Kendrick worked, the mighty hunter shared his story of the perfect shot with the carver.
            “I see you haven't stopped boasting about all the great work that gun does for you.” Brondo said. He smiled as Kendrick began to defend his skill and honor with curses against the carver and other stories of victory. The two went back and forth with the teasing and taunting until a serious man approached.
            “You were gone almost too long. We were expecting you back way sooner.” Jack Culter said.
Culter was the leader of Vacant, a position well-earned and well kept. He was serious, intense, commanding, but fair most of all. His ability to control his people and maintain them through harsh times earned him a lot of respect, though not a lot of people wanted to be in the same room as him.
            “These knees are going bad, old friend. You may have to get this idiot his own gun.” Kendrick replied.
            Culter said he hoped that Kendrick's knees recovered, but reminded him to try harder to be on time. Kendrick nodded, and Culter walked off. Kendrick understood that his job was important. There were only four hunters in the group that were capable enough to go out and deliver on food, as game and fruits. Kendrick was the best of these four, and therefore the most was expected from him. But his age was beginning to catch up. Twenty years of hunting was tough, his youthful and charming wife and his devotion to the town were the only things really keeping him going.
            But he grew tired of these long walks, where he would be gone almost days at a time. This time, he was lucky. He had only been two hours away before noticing one of the tracks of a deer. It took another four to track and then fifteen minutes to kill. Six hours and fifteen minutes of hauling a huge buck to a town in the middle of the barren wastes of the New World was not an easy task. He wished more people understood that.
            The time for understanding was not the time that he lived in however. Living in harsh times because of our forefathers mistakes had left many people with a bitterness that was permanent. People who knew history of the bombs and the floods shared them with their children, and then the stories continued to pass. The stories of people turned inside out by radiation, of mutations that create so many of the gruesome killing machines that terrorize the New World had made people angry and ashamed of their lineage. The emergence of the Night Terrors also contributed to the misery in these lands. This is why he was so happy with Morgan. She had the personality of someone from the Old World, according to some of the older people in the town. She was so happy and charming to be with, and this gave him hope that one day those feelings could spread and return alongside more glorious days.
            But for the moment, he would have to be happy with his situation. After completing the skinning and carving, Kendrick shook his friend's hand and returned home. Morgan would return home shortly after, but until then he would satisfy himself with a slice of deer jerky. He had specially made this jerky, a much desired recipe by the town chef. Kendrick was hesitant to disclose his formula however. He was all for sharing, but the chef was a weasel. He'd probably charge double what they were worth, and Kendrick wouldn't even see a piece of aluminum. The chef would be rolling in tin and copper, probably buy his way into one of the bigger cities too.
            Chewing on his second piece of jerky, his lovely wife walked into the house carrying some bread and fresh fruit. She jumped into his lap and gave him a great kiss on his cheek. It was all a ploy however, to steal what was left of his jerky. She was a clever woman.
            “Smooth moves. Next you'll take my heart and soul.”
            She smiled and claimed that she already had them, but he could have hers in return. The woman knew how to play this game of words. He asked politely for dinner, and she obliged. The meal was great with the jerky, bread and fruit. The water was cold, and the tent was warm. He relaxed with his wife in their makeshift bed, blankets on top of blankets and a few sheets. He kissed her goodnight even though the sun was still up. She cuddled tight to his chest. He smiled, and to sleep he went.
            Awakening early, it was time for him to go to work. He had risen before even the sun to begin his tasks, and onward he went into the dark. He walked carefully, remembering stories of the Terrors. Fresh in his mind were the vivid imaginings he'd had as he heard them, and they now ran on replay with each step he took. He'd walked for about three hours, when he heard a noise that was unfamiliar. A noise unfamiliar to a hunter is a noise that should not exist.
            But there it was. A terrible noise. A heavy breathing, seemingly blocked by mucus or spit seemed to echo all around him. He couldn't tell where the source was, but he knew that it came closer. He could not see it, but he could almost feel it. He looked behind him out of instinct. Nothing. To his side perhaps? No. He checked to make sure it wasn't himself. Once again, he was wrong.
            A terrible roar came directly from behind, and as he turned he looked into the face that belonged to Death. A face blackened by night, but eyes of black ice.. He had only a moment to observe before being launched into the air by a terrible throw. He must have traveled twenty-five feet. He landed hard on his back against a rock, a hard hit but not a wounding one. The pain only awakened his survival senses.
            He felt the rush now. It'd been so long since he felt this, the last time being against an UnderBear. The tunneling bear had thrown him for a loop with it's tactic of attacking and disappearing under the earth, but he was able to trick the beast into cracking it's skull on a rock bed. He had felt the rush then, and felt it now.
            He could not see his foe's features, only its immense size and bipedal movement. On two legs this creature began closing the distance, and in a hurry. He raised his rifle that he'd managed to hold onto, and fired into one of the eyes. A direct hit caused the creature to call out in pain with another terrible howl, but only delayed it for a moment. He then fired again, into the other eye. That did the trick, as the beast lost its sense of direction and began to flail wildly about.
            Kendrick arose and began to look for a way to defeat the beast. His eyes adjusting to the darkness, he began to see some of the features of the creature. The fur told him it was likely some kind of mammal, or at least it had been crossbreed or mutated with mammals. But its arched back and reptilian hands gave a different indication. This information didn't give him much to go on, but he had to think quicker now that the beast began to use its ears to locate him.
            The beast's senses had to be immense, because it knew where he was even as Kendrick stood still. His heart had betrayed him, but now it would propel him to victory. He fired another bullet into its thick skull. No real penetration as he had predicted, and now the beast charged at him full speed. It was frightened, and knew that it had to seize victory soon. Kendrick aimed at the very same spot he had fired upon, taking a calm breath. He let the creature close just enough, and fired again. He nailed it.
            What a sight Kendrick must be, a Terror strapped to his back for a grand feast. More pride overflowed with Kendrick than had ever before, being the first man known in the village to kill a Terror. He would get see the shock of all of the people, followed by pride and smiles from Brondo, Morgan and even Culter. He would feel the love from all of Vacan, maybe he could even revive the Old World feelings with this single act of victory. This showed that a once unbeatable force could be beaten, and man could prevail over insane odds. He smiled as he saw the edge of the village, but then his smile began to fade.
            He saw smoke and fire rising from the village, and many ants lay strewn about the ground. His pride and smile faded, his grip loosened and he dropped his trophy. His weak knees gained the strength to sprint the entire distance between him and Vacant, and then gave out when he reached his friend Brondo. His poor friend, his old friend lay dead in the street with gunshots piercing his chest and stomach. In his hand he clutched a bloody knife, drenched in the blood of an assailant no doubt. 
            Brondo was a skilled fighter with knives, and also with a pistol. One of the best next to Kendrick, Culter, and a hunter named Ian. Ian and his hunter friend, Cole, lay dead next to Brondo's shop. A third woman was headless next to them, but her body was similar to the fourth hunter named Bekka. All of the best had died first, their wounds older than the rest. These men were smart.
            Terror suddenly gripped Kendrick, and he sprinted off towards his own tent. He burst through the door, where a man looked up from on top of Morgan. He let out a curse and charged Kendrick, who threw the man into a table and knocked him out. He ran over to Morgan, and fell to his knees.
            She was clearly dead. Her eyes devoid of the vibrant happiness that she had always exuded in life, and her skin cold opposite to her warm touch when she walked on this plane. She was bloodied, most of the blood leaking from her mouth and nose. She smelled of salt and fish, a smell of filth and sin that Kendrick had known before from his run-ins with bandits. He dared not look to see if he was right about his notions, as the man who had mounted his wife was proof enough that she was an unfortunate plaything.
            The filthy man grunted, and immediately Kendrick was by his side and kicking. Kicking him as hard as he could with his strong boots. He kicked the man six or seven times as hard as he could before he grabbed him and turned his bloodied face to meet Kendrick's rage.
            “Why?!! Why here? For what reason?”
            The man just laughed at Kendrick's questions, and was met with a hard punch into his nose. Kendrick heard it break with a sick crack, and the man cried out. Kendrick grabbed the filthy man's nose and began to pinch the broken bridge as hard as he could. He kept screaming at the bandit to tell him, throwing all manner of curse and threat behind it. The man finally lamented, and Kendrick let him speak.
            “The chef put us up to it. He said it was easy money without you here. You didn't like him, so when you were gone it all fell into place. He got all the tough fellas in place, the hunters, the leader and the carver. Then we sprang into action. Killed all them folk. All of 'em. Went pretty damn quick too....then we took turns with that wife. Pretty good in the sack, you taught her some good things. Even better as a dead fuck though. None of that screaming or squirming. Real easy to---”
            A bullet ended the man's last words and account, shot from the pistol of a ruined man. Kendrick sat for a long time next to the dead man, watching him twitch until he no longer twitched. With the life now gone from the cretin, he turned his attention towards his wife. He got up and walked over to the water barrel and grabbed a sponge, then proceeded to clean his wife and give her a proper burial.
            He proceeded in this process until all forty-six people in his village had been cleaned and buried with a personal belonging and a proper sendoff of biblical grace. Kendrick was not religious, but the murdered pastor had a bible that he used to recite the proper burial rights to each and every person individually. After doing this, he read another. It was for himself. He asked for forgiveness at the end of it, that his suicide is only for lack of a better idea.
            But a voice came to him, not from god but from within. It began to twist, turn and force its way into the fray. A voice that he did not recognize but one that he learned quickly to fear and respect now spoke within him. When it spoke, it spoke with rage and aggression. It spoke of hunting down these fools who would dare ruin all that he loved, and it spoke of killing each and every one of them slowly and painfully. His voices spoke freely now.
            Sorrow asked the voice who it was. It responded that it was Vengeance, friend of Anger and lover of Death. Reason told it to go away, that it had seen this fool before. Reason was then killed by Vengeance, and Vengeance proclaimed that all who do not speak with Vengeance fall by him. All fell in line but Doubt and Defeat. And the two of them left Kendrick's mind forever.
            “We WILL have our revenge, and you WILL NOT stop until you have done what you are now destined to do: KILL. ALL. OF. THEM.”
            Kendrick gathered all of the ammo and guns from his former friends and family. He said prayers for Culter, Morgan, Brondo, and all of those he cared for. He gathered food and drink for many days and nights. Then, he began to follow the tracks of the men who ruined his life. At his back were his friends, being led by Vengeance and Anger.
            He walked farther than ever before. Things that he had only heard of from other hunter's now lined his sights. Magical things like trees and running water were in his eyes, the green grass being legend in his mind. He had no time to enjoy these things. Wonder told him to, but Wonder was shut up by Vengeance. There was no time to enjoy life's pleasures when all of life's agony brought him here.
            He began to close on the end of someone's tracks, one pair of footprints and gear deviating from the rest. Instinct spoke, stating that the man had gone home and was now reveling in his victory. Anger and Vengeance agreed that it would be time for Death to join the Council of Kendrick, and to evoke him with the death of one of the bandits. Kendrick left behind markers to make sure he didn't lose the main trail, and then proceeded to evoke Death.
            A structure lay in the woods, seemingly constructed by trees. The footprints lead in that general direction, but Kendrick dare not move yet. He had never seen one of these things before, and he didn't know what secrets it held. What if it was alive, tree's contorting and protecting their master within? He had no desire to be ripped to shreds by nature.
            “What should I do? Any ideas?
            “Walk right into the front door, and crush the man who ruined your life.”
            Kendrick felt Vengeance begin to take hold, and let him take over. He stomped hard, almost trying to announce his presence. Approaching the door, he raised a leg and kicked the wooden door down. A pistol raised on a man eating a stew, and a bullet piercing his chest were the next two things that happened. Kendrick did not intend to pack any stew.
            Kendrick walked over to the man and lifted him up to look him into the eyes. He told him where he was from, and the man began to sob. He dragged the man over to the burning cauldron that held the stew, a large cauldron and black as night. The bubbling savory delight of meat stew inside made it very clear that this was unsafe for bathing. The man pleaded with Kendrick for his life, but was only met with burning stew in his eyes, mouth, ears and nose. He pulled the man's head out, his head burnt and smoking.
Kendrick kicked the cauldron over and then forced the man's face into the fire beneath. The screams were long and terrible, Kendrick's face was unchanging. He was stoic, and unnaturally calm in spite of what he was doing to this man. But this kind of pain was so relative of Kendrick's inner feelings, that he really didn't care how much pain this useless soul felt. When the screams stopped, he finally dropped the man.
            Kendrick was preparing to leave after taking the man’s ammo. He looked at the magnificent structure of this House of Wood, the ingenuity of this man had been brilliant to use the cabin. But then, this might even be a relic of a lost era of humanity. This could be the last wooden structure on the face of the planet, and Kendrick now stood in it. Wonder took hold, only for a moment. He wished he could stay here with Morgan, her beautiful visage appearing in his eyes on a chair in the room. He longed for her touch again, for her smile.
            But her apparition faded into a more devious character. It had been light only moments ago, but a darkness of pitch descended over the House of Wood. The figure sat in the chair, features undistinguishable for the moment. Only the light from the fire gave some indication of its looks. The random flickers of light showed only shadow, a manifestation of darkness. And then it spoke to Kendrick.
“Kendrick, you have called for my aid as many have before. As soldiers prayed for victory, as murderers asked for enjoyment, as politicians demanded war, they had all asked for me. But you are not alike them Kendrick…you sought me out because my cousin Vengeance told you to. You did not ask for other things. So I ask you Kendrick Almaeus, what do you seek from Death?”
            As it delivered its last line, it looked up into Kendrick’s eyes. Fear told him not to be afraid of friends, but he had no choice. He looked into the devil’s gaze, eyes with a white glisten covered in a shroud of black. He could almost feel the malevolence in his soul simply by looking at this creature, a creeping feeling of hate and discord for everything around him. But he knew that he needed to ask Death for help, so he did.
“I need you to avenge my wife’s death, and the death of my fellow townsman. The city of Vacan has souls that deserve to rest in peace knowing that their killers will feel the same pain they have already inflicted.”
Death chuckled deeply. It made Kendrick uncomfortable, and its echo seemed to continue on and forever even as Death spoke again.
“So Vengeance wants me to help in one of his own personal wars again….how typical. But I see that you might be put to good use. I will follow you Kendrick. I will follow you forevermore. I see that you will not fail me. All I ask in return is that you feed me Kendrick. Feed me and I will never let you down.”
As the figure spoke those final words, it faded and the world brightened up again. But not Kendrick’s mind, as a looming presence of gloom and malcontent now presided over his Council. It infested all with its presence, and all of them were slowly being phased into silence by Death. Only Vengeance, Anger, and Hate remained unclouded.
            While the four of them spoke and reunited as old friends, Kendrick walked out of the house. Hate stopped him. The yelling rang inside of his head.
“What are you doing?! You are forgetting something! To rid yourself of this man completely, you must destroy him completely! Burn this abode, and purify your memory of this asshole FOREVER!”
Wonder interjected, even covered in shroud.
“Wait. This house did not choose to house a killer. We should leave it stand, a testament to the Old World ingenuity and origina-“
Death silenced Wonder forever, and told Kendrick to listen to Hate. Kendrick felt so sorry for Wonder, and now felt no pleasure in the scenery of the house. Hate commanded him to burn and so he did. He laid a torch at the base of the House of Wood, and watched it become the House of Flames. He could not help but feel the mistakes of the past, the fire seeming so familiar to the stories he once heard. But now how could he care about these things without Wonder, or Love? He hid tears from the Council, and began his tracking of human beasts.
            He was covering the distance very quickly. He had caught up to only being about six hours behind from being almost two days behind. It was night. The men probably slept as he kept trudging away, the forest starting to give way to the familiar desert he had come to know. This desert was not like the one Kendrick had come to know however.  It was dead quiet, unnatural. Not even insects chirped as they usually do. There was something wrong here.
            Movement behind some desert shrubs caught Kendrick’s attention. He raised his pistol from its holster, and cocked the hammer. This revolver had not let him down so far, and he intended to see how long that would last. Kendrick heard rustling behind him and swung around. Something moved away quickly but he caught a glimpse of a humanoid shadow. But now he was frozen. Fear began to take hold, the cold breath on the back of his neck instilling a sense of dread. He swung around with a fist cocked but did not swing.
            Here before him stood Morgan, pale and stoic. She looked into Kendrick’s eyes, unblinking. There was no way this could be true. Her pulse was gone. Her breathing was nonexistent. She had been dead and buried. But here she stood, his shocked reflection in her eyes. He did not know what to do. But then he started to see other.
            Slowly, other figures began to approach him. Kendrick saw Brondo, Cutler, the priest, other hunters and the townspeople from Vacan all slowly begin to crowd around him looking just as pale and lifeless as Morgan. Fear spread to each part of his body, freezing him. Even Death had no answers for this. And then came all of their voices. They all spoke to Kendrick. Pleading, angry, sad, spiteful and disappointed were only a few of the sentiments they echoed. But Morgan’s voice and her feelings of being abandoned hurt him the most. He crumpled to his knees and buried his face in his hands. But then Instinct pushed through all of the frozen Council.
“Remember your reading, fool. This is a trap. Behind you!”
            Kendrick snapped out of it immediately and turned to shoot the Manipulant trying to pounce on him but did it too late. The claws of evil sunk into the flesh of his arm, blood sent out in a spray. Kendrick cried out in pain but used his hips to swing the terrible creature from atop him. He forced it to the ground, avoiding its claws and gaze. He had lost his revolver in the struggle and had no way to reach for the rifle on his back or the knife in his backpack without opening up for an attack. His eyes searched the ground and found a large enough rock. He grabbed the rock and proceeded to bludgeon the Manipulant to death, ending the struggle and ruining his clothes.
            The familiar sound of chirping bugs and wind now returned to the desert. Kendrick stood over top of the defeated assailant for a moment in proud victory. He looked into its smashed face and thought that this new look was an improvement from what he had read about. He had read a book called “Stories of The Hunt: Recollections of a Traveling Hunter”. It was given to him by Cutler, who claimed that he had met the writer personally in the great city of Mart. The Manipulant was likely from radiation doing its part on certain people, since they heavily resembled adolescent children. Most of the changes were to build them as a primitive predator with claws and improved hearing. They had two more dangerous adaptations: A gas they let out that causes hallucinations and dementia at prolonged exposure, and their eyes. The creatures could freeze people simply with their gaze. It didn’t matter how tough you were or if you had encountered them before. Their gaze could freeze anyone.
            Kendrick searched the creature after removing its eyes. He was able to find the boil that secreted the gas. Carefully removing this boil ensured that it would not cause people harm after death. He used his knife to carefully cut it at the base and was able to fully remove the boil from the fallen creature.
            Attending to his arm, it was not a bad cut. It had not shattered bone or hit any vital structures. It was more superficial. Taking his time, he applied some disinfectant he had scavenged from the Vacan doctor. He remembered seeing the doctor do it to him many times over the years, especially in his early days of hunting. He smiled at the thought of the doctor, a woman who was always so concerned over the little scrapes and cuts but never being worried about the gashes and bigger injuries. He wondered if maybe that was her way of calming him while also showing concern, that she would handle the life threatening injuries with nothing but calm but treat the bruises as though they were the greatest threat she had ever faced. He was so sad however, when he realized he could not remember her face.
            Sadness was slowly swept out of the way by Death.
“I am sorry Kendrick. We will not fail you like that again. “
Those were his only words for now, which Kendrick obliged with a silent nod. When he closed his eyes, he felt such a deep inclination to keep them shut. He wanted to relax and take just a small break. He knew he shouldn’t. He might never catch them at this rate. But then Vengeance chimed in.
“Rest Kendrick, gather your strength. We will take over while you close your eyes. You will be so close to your enemies when you awaken, that you will feel their breath.”
Reassured, Kendrick kept his eyes closed and went quickly to sleep. He began to dream. A flashback almost, all of the memories he had made before losing what he loved. It started off with his meeting of Morgan. He had been in the desert, hunting so long ago when he saw a trade caravan being attacked by UnderBears. It was not the usual. UnderBears were solitary animals. Yet hear they were, attacking a small caravan of traders in force. Kendrick counted seven total, two of which were dead. But then he noticed that this small caravan had been forty large instead of the fifteen he now saw standing and fighting. He contemplated whether or not to jump in; UnderBears were so fierce. But his bravado would not allow him to miss out on delivering this tale of possible heroics. He rushed in quickly, his rifle drawn.
Two more caravan guards were killed by the bears before he got within range. One guard was launched into the air by a first bear, and then a second bear flew up from under the ground and cleaved the man straight into halves. Kendrick killed the second bear with a single shot to its head before it could get back underground. Both parties stopped for just a moment to acknowledge this new presence that Kendrick provided, and then continued the battle. Two bears swarmed at Kendrick, realizing that he was the real threat in this sortie.
He could feel the rumblings in the ground from the bear in the lead, so he timed its movements. As it was about to emerge, he dove to his left and fired as it had risen from the ground. It was only halfway up out of the ground before it died, a bullet ripping through its chest and heart. But he had made the mistake of losing the second. It now came at him with full force from above, having launched itself in the air next to the corpse of its fallen friend.
Kendrick drew his revolver and fired four shots into the beast. It still landed on him with claws but not at full force. This opened up only small cuts but he was now trapped under an eight hundred pound animal. He pushed furiously to force it off, but he could not. Two caravan guards helped him push it off.
The bears had all been killed, but at the cost of thirty of the caravan. More bodies were strewn about the field than Kendrick had ever seen. The lead guard, a man with a knife, approached Kendrick.
“Thanks for the help. Without you, we might not have made it out. I just wish you coulda got here sooner.”
Kendrick wiped the sweat from his brow.
“No problem. You guys must have food. Those UnderBears….they never group up like that unless it’s worth-“
One of the caravan guards was pulled through the ground. He was screaming, his body being jerked around in the hole until he was completely pulled under. There was one more bear, and it was a smart one. They looked around, to no avail. This bear made no noise and made no sounds when it moved. Another guard was snatched right in front of their eyes, his head being split open on a rock as he was slammed around.
Kendrick realized that it was going after the more isolated guards, so he proceeded to isolate himself as fast as possible from the group.
“Don’t follow me. I’ve got an idea.”
He knew this land very well and the compositions of it rarely changed. He kept walking further from the caravan until he began to hear the rumbling of the bear. This rumbling was deeper than the others, and faster. This was an animal that had developed much differently from its brethren, a Darwinian evolution from an irradiated species. He began sprinting now, but he tripped and landed hard on his chest. Spinning around out of instinct, he saw the creature come from under the earth.
It was a huge bear of blackened fur, quite unlike the typical UnderBear coat of sand and dirt colors. One of its eyes was missing, and scars were evidence of many victories in battles long passed. It roared with ferocity that he had never heard before. But it was not as smart as Kendrick had once thought.
As he rolled to the side to avoid the bear’s leaping attack, he heard a brutal cracking noise shortly after. He turned to see the bear’s skull fractured on a rock bed, its tongue sticking out and body twitching. Blood seeped onto the rocks, and Kendrick let out a sigh of relief. These rocks had almost done the same to him during the Season of Rain, but he was able to keep his footing. Now, he was glad to see them cause such a terrible accident.
He approached the caravan leader again. This time the man simply extended his hand.
“Brondo Jacobs.”
Kendrick shook it.
“Kendrick Almaeus.”
            As Kendrick walked with them back to his camp, he discovered that their town had been destroyed by bandits. They only survived because they had been out trading while it happened. The chef in the group was actually present during the destruction and received life threatening wounds until he was saved by the doctor and botanist. Kendrick was amazed at the resilience of this group, especially the botanist.
            She was a small woman, petite and tomboyish. She was so short he wondered if this was what a midget looked like. He exaggerated of course, but there was a beauty to her. Her eyes, her perpetual smile and her cheery attitude kept the spirits of this caravan from sinking even after all they had lost. And now she approached him as well.
            “You know what you did was very brave?”
Kendrick blushed.
            “Well I knew it would work. Not much bravery in a guarantee, but thank you ma’am.”
“I wasn’t finished. What you did was very brave, but very stupid. You didn’t have to risk your life for a bunch of people you don’t know.”
            Kendrick laughed at her bluntness.
“Well I appreciate your concern. But if the whole world just worried about their own, I don’t think we’d be around to have this conversation right now would we?”
She thought for a second.
“ No. Probably not…I’m Morgan by the way.”
“And I’m Kendrick. Kendrick Almaeus.
            The flashback froze. Everything went still as a shadowy figure darkened the bright day in his memory to jet black solitude. The shadow looked at Kendrick, and then began to wrap its arms around Morgan.
            “Wake up dammit!”
            Kendrick awoke to Anger’s voice. He was standing up and walking when he regained his consciousness. He was back in another forest with the trees and a small river flowing next to him, the light shining down onto him from above. Anger had been in control of his body this entire time.
            “I hope you slept good because this whole trip has me pissed off! Take control of this damn body! I need rest!”
            Kendrick obliged. And Anger went immediately to sleep. Vengeance whispered to Kendrick that they were so close to their goal. They were so close to victory. Only minutes away. The bandits had made camp only just up the road. Kendrick began to make plans on how he would handle the bandits. Not by how he would kill them but in the order.
            The cronies would die first. That was a given. He would try to distinguish the leader from them, and save him and the chef for last. He wanted to inflicted nothing put pain upon the leader, and the chef would receive something very special for his part in this. Kendrick and Vengeance schemed of such elaborate tortures and methods that they nearly gave themselves away to their prey. Hearing the closeness of their voices, he hopped out of sight.
            He stalked the group. He counted six men, possibly more in the tents behind them. All of the men were gathered around a campfire. They were eating stew and talking about their conquest. Most were gruff men, beards and tough gazes. But one man appeared very refined and clean cut. He was also very quiet from the rest of the group. He began to distinguish each man by his thoughts on their appearance.
            The first bandit he named Gramps. He was an older man with missing teeth. He wore a patchwork cowboy hat and had one dead eye. He had grey hair in a ponytail, and a beard that went down to his neck.
            Bandito had an accent, much like the brown skinned people at Vacan. He spoke very fast and ate fast. He thought fast too, catching his fork from falling several times. He had unsure hands, as he nearly dropped his plate and fork several times. He had brown skin, a thin mustache that led from under his nose to his cheeks and all the way up to his sideburns. He wore a bandana around his head, and his neck had several cuts on it.
            Lumberjack had an axe on his back and a beer in his hand. He wore sunglasses and a baseball cap. He was another older man, with a beard down to his neck. He didn’t have any hair on his head from what Kendrick could tell. Each time he laughed, he revealed more gum than teeth.
            The Twins looked exactly alike. Each one even had similar mannerisms from what Kendrick observed. They seemed to do things at the same time on a couple of occasions, like scratching their nose or taking a drink. They both wore similar t-shirt and jeans. The only differences were the shirt colors and the missing eyeball from one of them. There was a cheek scar that started from the bottom of the eye socket and went all the way down to the jaw. That was the expert work of a carver, and a good friend. The eyeless Twin had a bandage on his arm as well.
            And of course there was Clean Cut. He appeared to be the leader of this group. The whole of them had been chatty until he opened his mouth. And silence followed as he spoke.
            “Enough bullshit. Are we about ready to get moving?”
“What’s the rush youngster? We just now got here. This is pretty good camp for a couple days.”
Gramps took a swig from his cup after he spoke. Bandito nodded his head in agreement. Lumberjack also chimed in.
“Yeah, boss. Why we movin’ so fast? We killed that whole lot, had a damn good time. Something you ain’t tellin’ us about this gig?”
Clean Cut was thrown off by the insinuation. He grunted.
“Hmph…you already know that we didn’t get all of them. There’s one asshole left from that village. And it happens to be the worst one. Lenny never got back to us either. He was supposed to finish up with the woman and then kill the other man once he returned.”
Gramps laughed when he heard mention of Lenny.
“Hahah. You know Lenny, boss. He probably already handled that hunter and is still tending to his trophy if you catch my drift.”
Clean Cut looked disgusted, as did the Twins. Neither face could match the rising anger and disgust on Kendrick’s.
“So are we moving or what, boss? I’m gonna need to check for guard patrols soon if we are.”
Bandito asked as he now cleaned his pistol.
            “No, give it a couple of hours and then let’s move. Lenny had better be back by the time we move or we aren’t taking stops anymore. “
            Having formulated his plan of attack, Kendrick waited for them to go back to their meal and tasks. Their guns were either being cleaned or were not within reach right away. He figured he would be able to kill about two or three by the time the remaining bandits were able to get their guns. He would take out the biggest threats first and then improvise from there.
            Gramps and the Twins were both right out in front. He could get them easily. Lumberjack was further to his left, but the man was old. He couldn’t react too fast. Bandito sat across from Gramps with the campfire between them. He was quick, but he was busy cleaning his gun. Clean Cut was to the right of the Twins. He was a wild card. He looked soft, but you never knew with bandits. Kendrick took a deep breath to calm his nerves.
            His revolver cocked with six shots in his right hand and his knife in his left hand, he sprang into action. He aimed at Bandito’s head, and fired one shot that splattered the man’s brain on the ground behind him. He jammed the blade of his knife into Gramps’ throat. He could hear the man gargling and choking while trying to pull the knife out, but his struggles were pointless. He shot the first Twin in the head, ending his life immediately. The second Twin had to move to see him with his other eye. This was good timing for Kendrick but it also threw off his shot. He wasted one shot, and fired two more into the second Twin’s remaining eye and nose. Clean Cut tried to go for his gun but Kendrick shot through his wrist. His cry of pain echoed through the woods as he reeled back and grabbed his wound.  Instinct exploded in Kendrick’s head.
            “Look out!”
            Kendrick’s realized he should not have underestimated Lumberjack. The man was as quick as a cat with that axe and was on Kendrick in moments. Kendrick was barely able to tie with the man, grabbing his axe and beginning a primal struggle for it. Lumberjack threw headbutts and knees into Kendrick, some of the knees landing flush on Kendrick’s groin. He was in extreme pain but he knew he had to kill Lumberjack. He had to focus. Lumberjack then bit Kendrick’s lip.
            Kendrick was shocked. The man bit ferociously and pulled hard. Kendrick felt a horrible burning pain on his lower lip’s right side. Blood trickled down onto Lumberjack’s face as Kendrick realized in horror that this man was eating his lip.
            “Can’t wait to cook the rest of ya. You’ll feed me for days, boy!”
            Lumberjack screamed at him, seeming excited and happy. He was smiling as he struggled, and was beginning to get the upper hand. But Kendrick pinned the man’s axe to his chest by using his knees, and freed his hands. He took both of his thumbs and jammed them into Lumberjack’s eyes. The old man’s agony could have been heard across the world. Blood poured more as Kendrick dug deeper into his skull. It seemed to take an eternity, but the man finally stopped his screaming. His body twitched, and then went lifeless.
            Kendrick heard a gun being loaded and quickly used the lifeless body for cover. Five shots hit Lumberjack’s corpse, the sixth grazing Kendrick’s shoulder. Kendrick sprang up and jumped onto Clean Cut, removing the gun from his hand. He punched him over and over again, the man’s face beginning to swell up from being hit so much. And then he stood over him.
            “You led them?”
Clean Cut was still and then nodded.
            “Where is the chef?”
Clean Cut leaned up against the log he had been sitting in, Kendrick’s foot in his chest.
            “The chef parted ways with us to go with a military patrol. He gave us our cut and just left. Said he got what he wanted. Wasn’t much though. “
            Kendrick grew suspicious.
            “Why’d he let you keep so much?”
            Clean Cut explained that the chef had wanted an item from the village more than money. That was what made the deal so interesting to them. They could take more than the usual bad splits that they got with random deals or the seven way splits from robbing trading caravans. Kendrick didn’t think the man was lying.
            “I don’t know where he went, alright? I just needed my cut to feed some mouths.”
            Kendrick admired the man’s honesty. He could even appreciate the man’s reasons. But he could not forgive his methods. He could not forgive his barbarism, and he could not forgive the blood on this man’s hands.
            “I will see that they get it. I will offer you a courtesy that you could not give me. I will see that your family lives and prospers.”
            Clean Cut was thankful. He gave Kendrick the information to get to his village, a place called Hospi.
            “I won’t get to see it again will I? Please sir….please don’t do this. I know I’ve been wrong. I should have never done this…please.”
            His pleading made this easier now. Kendrick lost respect for the man. A man who knows his wrongs must own them and live with the consequences. Men who beg and grovel are not strong enough to live in this world anymore. This is a New World, not the Old World. So long did Kendrick cling to the old values instead of living like all of the others. Maybe if he would have been like them, things would have been different. Maybe these things would have never happened to him.
            And so began his tortures. With each pleading cry and scream, Kendrick took pleasure. Boiling water on the man’s legs seared the flesh. Cutting off the man’s toes with his knife, stabbing through the centers of his hands and cutting in between his fingers all served a purpose to cause the man considerable pain. His grand finale though was interrupted but a familiar face.
            He thought maybe the boil from the Manipulator had busted, that he was hallucinating again. But it hadn’t, and yet Morgan stood in front of him. He could sense that Clean Cut could not see her, as he looked with a furrowed brow at Kendrick and where he was staring. Yet there she stood, in all of her petite glory.
            She was in her gown and had vibrant eyes again. She looked happy and alive, like she had right before he had left her. Where she was usually covered in dirt on her face from her work, she was clean. All looked well, but she looked so very sad.
            “Kendrick, I miss you.”
            He still could not believe what he saw.
            “I miss you too.”
            “It’s not bad here Kendrick. I don’t want to lose you forever.”
            “I already lost you Morgan. I can’t ever get you back. I failed.”
            “You lost me hear Kendrick. You didn’t lose me forever. This is not the way to find me again.”
            Kendrick’s mind was in a whirlwind. All of the voices were talking now, Death had lost hold over them for some reason. Each one offered different opinions, Vengeance was fading, Anger was dumbstruck, Sadness was happy, Wonder revived and was intrigued, and Instinct was mistrusting. He felt like his head was about to explode. Finally, he made his own decision.
            “I love you Morgan. I love you more than anything in the godforsaken world. And because of that….I can’t forgive the men who took you from me. I’m so sorry. Rest easy.”
            A knife pierced the top of Clean Cut’s stomach, followed by a cry of pain. Slowly but surely, the knife worked all the way down to the top of the groin. Kendrick reached in with one hand and pulled some of the contents out. He looked into Clean Cut’s eyes, tears and snot running down his face. He watched him a long time until he died, face frozen in agony.
            When he turned back to Morgan, she had tears as well. Movement from the bushes behind her drew his attention. The shroud of darkness began to surround him, the day growing colder and the light disappearing. The figure emerged from the trees, and made his malevolent walk over to the body of Clean Cut.
            “A fine display. Vengeance can inspire men to do truly beautiful things. This is no less than this man deserved…. I must say Kendrick. You have sacrificed so much for victory. So now we must talk again, and I must take again.”
            Kendrick looked at Death, the shroud and shadow moved closer to Morgan. He reached out to push him away, but Death only phased through his hand. Closer and closer to her Death came until it began to envelop her in darkness.
            “You made a fateful decision to be my instrument, Kendrick Almaeus. You have sacrificed being reunited with your love for vengeance. I can promise you only that your path will lead you to the man who you seek. Vengeance will lead you, I will watch over you….and Madness will motivate you. But say goodbye to your love Kendrick. You will never see her again.”
            Kendrick’s tears and horror at the revelations matched no other feelings he had ever felt. The fact that there was no escaping the reality of it made it that much more intense. Death was right. He had given up all hopes and dreams for only vengeance. And now, that was all he was ever going to get. He stopped and thought for a moment. He laughed. He laughed long and loud, and then began to sob while he laughed.
            “I’ve made a horrible mistake. What a terrible damn fool I am, huh Morgan? What a damn fool. I loved you and I always will. I will always treasure our times. And wherever you are, I hope you’ll be happy to know that your killers will feel more pain than they could ever imagine.”
            “I will never be as happy as I could’ve been.”
            Those words shocked him….and he went back to realizing his mistakes. But he had no time to do so. A red mist began to swirl around him, a red shadow appeared in front of him, and it put its arms upon his shoulders.
            “Hello Kendrick…..Madness am I, I am Madness. Kendrick, Hello. Vengeance worth Love, Love worth Vengeance. Welcome me to the fold, to the fold welcome me.”
            Kendrick welcomed the beast as Death and Morgan disappeared slowly. With this new friend in tow, Kendrick walked to the town of Hospi. To the town of Hospi walked Kendrick. He is coming to say hello. Say hello, he is coming.
The shot was perfect, everything was perfect.

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The Lion And The Young Boy by Albert Megraw

Set in Africa in the late 1890's tribal law dictate boys of sixteen summers must kill a lion to become a man.With the tribe diminishing year by year as the youth of the nation neve..  
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