The Prodigal Son

Karma!

The trip back to the BLVD was uneventful, the way it was meant to be. No mutants gnawing at my ankles, no radiation storms, no dehydration induced hallucinations, and most importantly no bandits. The caravan guards were silent and stoic, but Saul Fore kept me company. I’m worried I’ll jinx it, but it’s true! Nothing bad has happened to me in a whole week!

We pulled up to the BLVD’s gates sometime after dusk. The guards greeted Saul Fore like an old friend. They didn’t even rough us up! I guess he’s a pretty popular guy around here.

Unfortunately, we had to go through customs. All my weapons, including knives, had to be shoved through a slot that said “BOOK RETURN.” For some reason, our guards were allowed to keep their shiny chrome rifles. My stuff was confiscated, tagged, and stored in an old bank vault. Saul Fore assured me it was standard procedure. Sure it is.

After a thorough pat down by two guys in S.W.A.T. armor, we were finally allowed inside. The BLVD was a long street illuminated by the alluring glow of neon advertisements. My ears immediately lit up to the slow strumming of a guitar. The sound was coming from a crowd had gathered around the rotting body of a car in the middle of an intersection. I couldn’t say how long it had been since I’d last heard music. I wanted to see what was going on, but Saul pulled me aside.

“Listen boy.” He whispered. “Boulevard ain’t kind to newcomers. Don’t go lookin for trouble.”

I gave him a thumbs up and wandered off into the night.

What’s the worst that could happen?

-Joe Junkman

Familiar Faces

Upsetting.

The doctor left me alone to “get over” my radiation sickness and broken arm. Without tags, I was out of luck. My contaminated water had been confiscated by the soldiers. I had nothing. No one would want to trade with me. All that time spent out in the desert was for nothing.  All that hardship and dehydration was worthless.

I now sat alone in a corridor-like room of the fortress hospital. The walls were lined with beds, mostly unoccupied. At prices like these, I can see why. I wish the doctor had given me a blanket or something. It was downright chilly in this place. A cloud of frozen white air bellowed from vents on each side of the hall.

A raspy voice caught my attention. “That you kid?”

I looked over at the next bed to see an older guy with horrifically burnt skin. His face was discolored and covered in scabs. I almost didn’t recognize him until I saw the faded anvil tattoo on his forehead.

“Saul?”

The other patient smiled at me. “What are you doing in here?”

“Radiation sickness.” I replied, raising my puke bucket.

Saul chuckled softly “Went off into the rad-lands, didcha?

I nodded and explained that I had been captured, robbed, and captured again and that all I had to show for it was a few gallons of irradiated water. Saul suggested that really write a “wasteland survival guide” to help people like me. If anyone was going to do that, it would have to be James Gray. He seems to be the only one who knows what he’s doing out here.

I rolled my eyes. I then told Saul that I couldn’t afford the anti-radiation medicine or surgery on my arm. The old man lifted an eyebrow; or he would have if it hadn’t been burned off. With an elderly groan, he reached down onto the floor, picked up a small felt pouch, and threw it at me. The thing was heavy and jingled with every movement.

“Take whatcha need.” he said, giving me a toothy smile. “It’s the least I can do.”

Good things come to those who suffer!

-Joe Junkman

Unlucky Charm

I don’t feel so good.

I couldn’t believe it. I went through hell and back to get my measly jug of water, but somehow that bearded bushman had beat me to it. So there I was, looking like an idiot in front of the old soldier and his entire army. To top it all off, my arm was still in excruciating pain after being broken in three places.

It would have been nice if Gray had just let me walk away, but he had to go the extra mile to “help” me. The Australian pulled a chrome tube out of an old leather bag and waved it over my water jug. Surrounding soldiers started chuckling as the tube produced a violent ticking sound.

The bushman raised an eyebrow. “I sure hope you didn’t drink any of this.”

“W-why not?” I stuttered. I honestly had no idea what Gray was talking about.

“It’s contaminated. Radioactive. I’m surprised that jug ain’t glowing.”

Unfortunately, I had already drank about two liters before leaving Urmit’s cave. I was literally dying of thirst, after all. When I told Gray, he and the old man just stared at each other for a few seconds. The old soldier called for one of his men to escort me to the fortress hospital.

Half an hour later, I was placed in a bed and put under observation. I didn’t understand. I felt fine, except for my aching arm. Maybe I was immune to radiation or something; that would be a pretty cool superpower. The doctor told me to wait, said radiation sickness gives you a false sense of security or something.

Turns out he was right. A few hours later, I was puking my guts out. I couldn’t even move. Doctor said he had some anti-radiation medicine, but it was going to cost me a few hundred dog-tags. I tried to explain that all of my money had been stolen by a tribe of spider women.

The doctor shrugged his shoulders and said, “Such is life in the wasteland.”

I just hope this doesn’t get any worse.

-Joe Junkman

The Straw That Broke the Camel’s Back

It’s not even funny anymore…

After suffering through the perils of the wasteland, I finally made it back to Abundance. I was beaten up, almost eaten by giant mutant spiders, had all my stuff stolen, wandered through the desert without any water, was captured and almost eaten by a disgusting mutant, AND to top it all off I had my arm broken in three places before I was set free.  So…what do I get for my trouble when I walk into town with a full five gallon jug on my back? Nothing. Absolutely friggen nothing.

I walked into town to find that the town was basically empty. The saloon was all locked up. I heard some hustle and bustle from the fortress wall at the end of the street, so I went to check it out. A line of some hundred people stretched out onto the street. Soldier boys all dressed up in black armor and rusty red fatigues kept the peace from the fortress’ battlements. Something big was happening here.

With nothing else to do, I decide to get in line to see what’s up.  I quickly realized that every person coming out of the fortress was proudly carrying a canteen with a funny looking 47 on it.  Over an hour passed before I passed the fortress gates. I couldn’t believe the inside of this place. Everything was just like the old times! The streets were freshly paved, not a pothole in sight. The buildings were blocky, made of white concrete, and electricity flowed freely. Oasis had nothing on this place.

Another hour passed before I finally got to the front of the line. I came before a table in front of the only two story building on the base. Two guards fumbled with paperwork. The first asked for my canteen. With sharp pain in my arm, I removed my pack and presented the five gallon jug. The two soldiers turned to each other with smarmy grins. One of the goons spoke into a walkie talkie then asked me to step out of line. A few minutes later he showed up.

The notorious James Gray appeared, along with a bald old man wearing a black leather greatcoat covered in medals. The Australian recognized me this time.

“Hey there little buddy, you’re not lookin’ so good. Whatcha got there?”

I presented my jug once again and explained that I had discovered a sustainable water source. I told them that I would just need some workhands to assemble a caravan. The old man let out a light chuckle. His voice was roached out, like he hadn’t had a drink in ages.

“Old Gray here beat’cha too it, son.” He said, placing a fatherly hand on the bushman’s shoulder.

My eyebrow still hasn’t stopped twitching…

-Joe Junkman

The Negotiator

That was close,

Witnessing the great cave lake behind me, I turned back to the hulking horror and asked him if we could make a deal. I would start a caravan: taking water from the cave, bringing it to Abundance, and then paying Urmit with some dog-tags on my return. The mutant did not like that.

“Eh, I’ve got no use for tags.” Urmit replied. He licked his lips, “It’s been awfully hot. I’ve been dryin out, losin a lotta mass. Need me some protein to get back to full size.”

At that moment, I realized why I was in the cage. He had planned on eating me, at least initially. However, I could tell from the modern comforts of his home that Urmit was educated. That meant he could be reasoned with. I just had to lead him to my way of thinking.

“Tell ya what, big guy,” I began. “You let me go, I’ll bring you some protein. As much as you want. Maybe a nice plump chicken?”

The horror snorted “Heh, there hasn’t been no real chickens in da Mo-Javi for a long time. Just tacultia these days.” His gaze narrowed. “What game are you playin, boy?”

Mentally, I slapped my forehead, but kept a calm expression. One farmer at the bar in Abundance had offered me tacultia meat if I brought him water. Turns out I really did have the advantage.

“You haven’t seen the tacultia I get. Not from Abundance at all.” I lied. “They taste just like the real thing.”

The mutant licked his lips, but his eyes winced. He could tell I was lying, but a small part of him believed me.

“Look, I’m in the caravan business, see?” I said, only partially lying this time. “You let me leave with some water and I’ll send my boys up here with two tacultia per shipment of water. Sound fair?”

Although it was true that I didn’t have a caravan yet, I would be able to hire as many people as I wanted once I controlled the water. I stuck my hand through the cage to make a deal.

The horror inhaled deeply through his piggish nose. His eyes stared off into the darkness. Finally, his mouth opened slightly. He had an idea.

“Tell ya what?” Urmit began. “I cripple you. Break onna your arms, maybe a hand. You come back, I use my…gifts to heal you, good as new. It’ll be like it never ‘appened.”

I’m no expert in mutants, but I didn’t believe this creature could heal broken bones. This prompted the horror to give me a show of force. Urmit gripped my extended pinky finger and jammed it to the side as hard as he could. A sharp pain shot out from the base of my finger to the end of my wrist. I was almost laughing in pain as the mutant let me observe my broken hand.

With a grotesque squish, like a wet towel smacking into tile, the horror’s own hand turned into an indistinct mass of glowing mucus. The mound opened up like a toothless mouth and Urmit guided my hand into the maw. The mouth closed on my wrist. It was unpleasant and warm. My hand felt like it was submerged in a bowl of gelatin. The good news is that the pain in my finger instantly vanished. After a minute or so, the horror released my hand and molded his own to a more familiar humanoid shape.

I held my wrist in awe. It was a bit slimy, but otherwise miraculously repaired.

“So…” Urmit said, breaking the silence. “I’ll break ‘ur arm, letcha go, and then fix ya up when you come back.” He smiled ear to ear, exposing a mouthful of needle-like teeth. “Whadda shay?”

“Could we do something a bit less painful?” I asked. “I still need to defend myself on the way back to town.”

“Alrighty, which hand do you write with? I’ll leave that one intact.”

This is going to hurt….

 

-Joe Junkman.

In the Belly of the Beast

Well, this isn’t so bad,

10f7365ae3a83129b412f4aeb2ba0b0d  There I was, trapped in a cage like a common animal. My captor was busy nursing a crackling fire. With the cave illuminated, I was able to orient myself to the exit portal. Looking around, I found a mattress, a chessboard resting on a table of stacked car rims, and even a carved china cabinet full of knick-knacks.

I was then distracted by an unpleasant pattering sound that scratched the back of my mind and caused my eyebrow to twitch and my neck muscles to tense. Turning away from the fire, I spotted a collection of drying pots and pans. Licking my cracked lips, I watched as precious water droplets rhythmically plopped into a tin dish. Though my head was still pounding from dehydration, I knew that my captor had must have a sustainable water source if he was willing to waste such a valuable commodity on washing dishes.

A monstrous humanoid shadow appeared on the wall in front of me, growing larger and larger as the sound of crunching sand grew louder and louder. Trembling, I turned around to formally meet my kidnapper. I don’t know what I was expecting.

Grabbing the iron lattice, the mutant revealed himself in all his horrific glory. My captor stood nearly seven feet tall. His flesh was a sickly yellowish green that had the consistency of fresh mucus. His whole body unnaturally oozed and festered, yet not a single drop of slime fell from his body. An odd explosive glow churned in his bloated belly. He wore little more than leather boots, tattered cargo shorts, and a pouch bandolier that seemed fused to his chest.

My captor introduced himself as Urmit, apparently of a race called the hulking horrors. My teeth chattering, I silently nodded my head. Suddenly, the mutant’s body made a grotesque crunching sound, similar to splitting wood. His muscular left arm atrophied until it was little more than a five fingered stump, while his right arm turned into a tentacle, slithering into the cage to meet me with a handshake.

Retracting his right arm and re-growing his left, the horror noted that I was extremely dehydrated. He picked up the tin dish full of drippings and slid it into my cage. As I emptied the curved plate, Urmit asked what I was doing out in the desert without any gear. I plainly told him that I was looking for a water source to help the people of Abundance. It was the truth after all, mostly.

“You mean like dat?” the mutant asked, pointing behind me.

I turned around once again to find a reflective pool that stretched as far back into the cave as I could see.

Now I just need to play my card right and get out of here.

-Joe Junkman