Vengeance in the Badlands, page 1part #2 of Badlands Trilogy Series
About the Author
Vengeance in the Badlands
A Badlands novella
Brian J. Jarrett
Copyright © 2017 Brian J. Jarrett
Elegy Publishing, LLC
St. Louis, MO
All rights reserved by the author. No part of this publication can be reproduced or transmitted by any means without the written consent of the author.
This book is a work of fiction. Any names, people, locales, or events are purely a product of the author's imagination. Any resemblance to any person (either living or dead), to any event, or to any locale is coincidental or used fictitiously.
For my old SDL team. We had a hell of a run. Good times, bad times, but in the end we came out in the black.
If you prick us do we not bleed? If you tickle us do we not laugh? If you poison us do we not die? And if you wrong us shall we not revenge?
- William Shakespeare
While seeking revenge, dig two graves - one for yourself.
- Douglas Horton
Revenge is a dish best served cold.
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A dilapidated army Jeep rumbled along the defunct highway, its engine growling as the driver navigated around dozens upon dozens of abandoned vehicles; the rusting relics of a civilization long since vanished from the face of the planet. Tall weeds sprouted from widening cracks in rotting concrete as saplings took root along the shoulder, proof that Mother Nature was working hard to reclaim her land.
Dave Porter sat in the Jeep’s passenger seat, warm wind on his face as he watched the ruined landscape pass by. Johnny Ratliff sat behind the wheel, both hands on the steering wheel as he swerved in and out of the cars blocking the road.
As they went around an abandoned Ford pickup truck, Dave glanced inside the cab. A skeleton sat behind the wheel, the exposed skull resting against the side glass. Like so many of those who’d tried to outrun the virus, in the end, the infection overtook their minds wherever they happened to be. Often that was inside of a locked car from which they no longer understood how to escape. Now insane, they starved to death where they sat.
Dave had seen so many bodies over the last five years that he hardly noticed them anymore.
A murder of crows took to the air at the sound of the Jeep’s approach. They cawed angrily as they lit collectively on a towering power line running alongside the highway, watching the vehicle closely as it went by. Dave eyed the birds as they passed. He wasn’t one to believe in omens, but seeing a dozen of the things watching in concert had an unnerving effect on even the staunchest realist.
As they left their feathered audience behind, Dave’s mind wandered. Awash in memories, he found himself face to face with Calvin Summerville again, listening in disbelief to the words coming out of his mouth. All it took was a tiny cut, Calvin had said. Right through the femoral artery. With bitter clarity, Dave remembered the way the grin had spread across Calvin’s face as he described murdering Dave’s pregnant girlfriend. She bled out quick if that makes you feel any better.
It hadn’t, and Calvin knew that.
Dave felt the familiar rage begin to build. The virus took nearly everything Dave held dear. And then Calvin came along and took the rest.
Head south. Those were Calvin’s departing words before he left Dave lying on the floor with a broken ankle. The ankle had taken its time to heal. Weeks. But when it did, Dave did precisely as Calvin suggested. While the other survivors from Glenn Summerville’s prison camp headed west, including Dave’s friends, Dave went south.
That’s where he hoped to find Calvin Summerville.
And when he did find Calvin, he’d kill him.
“How’s the ankle feeling today?” Johnny said over the din of the Jeep’s engine.
Dave pulled himself out of his thoughts and back into the present. He shrugged. “It’s fine.”
Johnny nodded, his eyes fixed on the road. “Been a while since we’ve seen one of his calling cards.”
Dave’s thoughts drifted back to the calling card in question. As he made his way south, Calvin had been killing prisoners and posing their bodies, arms extended and index fingers pointing the way. They’d run across six of these poor souls so far, their bodies rotting in the hot sun as the birds picked their bones clean.
“We’re catching up,” Johnny said. “The bodies are getting fresher.”
“Not fast enough,” Dave said.
“We’ll find the son of a bitch. Don’t you worry about that.”
But sometimes Dave did worry. Each day that passed without a sign of Calvin made him wonder if they’d gotten off track. Calvin had a few weeks’ head start on them, and it seemed that no matter how fast Dave and Johnny went they’d never be able to catch up. One wrong turn and they could lose him altogether.
But most days he held out blind hope that they’d find him. After all, Calvin wanted to be found. It was all part of his sick and twisted game.
“Look at that,” Johnny said, pointing ahead into the distance.
Dave squinted, shielding his eyes from the worst of the overhead sun. Johnny had a sniper’s perfect vision, so it took Dave a little longer to see it. When he did, his spirits lifted while his heart simultaneously sank. Another calling card from Calvin meant they were on the right track.
It also meant another dead body.
Johnny navigated the Jeep around a jack-knifed tanker trailer with a crumpled Honda Civic wedged underneath the tail end. The body in the car had gone to skeleton years ago, picked clean by the birds that had merely flown in through the smashed windows. The semi’s driver’s side door sat ajar, the remains of the driver nowhere in sight.
Johnny downshifted, and the Jeep’s engine groaned in protest. The vehicle lurched
Johnny shook his head. “Jesus Christ,” he muttered. “What a sick fuck.”
Dave took in the horror before him. The little girl’s body had been fastened to a large sheet of plywood nailed to a rotting utility pole. Her blackened skin had been mostly picked clean by the birds, the remainder rapidly rotting in the hot sun. Her blonde hair danced in the breeze as the folds of her dress flapped like a flag. Dark-brown blood splotches stained the dingy-white dress.
Like the other victims before her, she’d been posed with her arm extended and her index finger pointing the way. Above the child’s body, a smiley face had been spray-painted on the plywood’s rough surface, two Xs for eyes. A dead smile. It stared back at them with the murderous intent of a psychotic clown.
Calvin Summerville’s calling card.
The wind changed direction, bringing with it the unmentionable stench of death. Above them, perched high on the single remaining electric line still attached to the utility pole, the hungry crows waited. Dave had to fight the urge to unload his M16 on the entire lot of the winged bastards.
But that would do no good. The crows were only surviving the way they always had. And the bullets needed to be saved for Calvin and his men.
“Let’s go,” Dave said.
Johnny gave him a quick nod before shoving the Jeep into gear. He hung a hard left onto a crumbling two-lane road, following Calvin’s macabre signpost.
Behind them the crows took to the air, lighting on the corpse to resume their feast.
The branching, two-lane side road led Johnny and Dave into what had once been the main street of typical American small town. Where corner shops, restaurants, and grocery stores had once thrived, only burned-out hulks and glassless windows remained. Weeds and saplings grew in the ever-widening cracks in the faded asphalt. Grass had begun to spread on the thin layer of soil deposited over the road’s surface during the past four years.
Flapping madly in the wind, a tattered banner attached to a concrete streetlamp announced the town’s planned observance of Oktoberfest, an event that would never come to pass. Beside it, a defunct stoplight swung from a suspended line, nudged by a gentle breeze, its lights now dark and dead. A street sign shuddered as the wind breathed on it, the death rattle of a town that would never again be what it had once been.
The rumble of the Jeep’s engine echoed off the battered faces of the dilapidated buildings lining Main Street, brazenly announcing Dave and Johnny’s arrival. Not much to do about that, so they kept their rifles handy and hoped for the best until they could find a suitable place to park the Jeep before setting out on foot.
They’d been playing this cat and mouse game for weeks now; following the months-old messages Calvin left in his wake. As the miles and the bodies piled up, Dave’s frustration grew. He’d spent weeks nursing his broken ankle, stuck at Calvin’s father’s compound, impatiently waiting to track and kill the man who murdered his wife and unborn baby. Meanwhile, Calvin was still murdering people, all in the name of his sick and twisted fucking game.
Killing Calvin Summerville couldn’t happen soon enough.
Johnny pulled the Jeep off the road and onto the graveled shoulder, killing the engine. The resulting silence rolled in with surprising ferocity, interrupted only by the ticking of the Jeep’s cooling engine and the occasional sound of the wind slowly teasing apart the buildings of the lonely town.
A crow cawed from an impotent power line suspended above the street as it studied the two men with interest. Dave slipped out of the Jeep’s passenger seat, gently closing the door behind him. He shot a hateful look up at the crow, seriously considering the risk of putting a bullet between its beady little eyes before ultimately deciding against it.
Save it for Calvin, he thought. Save it all for that murderous sack of shit.
“Over there,” Johnny said, his voice quiet to match the air around them. He pointed up the crumbling street, toward one of the forgotten buildings.
It didn’t take Dave long to see it. Ahead of them, a faded white building sat alongside the road, its windows long since shattered. A large plastic sign hung above the door, a massive cracked hole near the bottom corner. Wainwright’s Butcher Shop, it read. Below the words a caricature of a crudely drawn pig stared blankly ahead, the corners of its mouth turned up into an oddly sadistic grin.
Below the sign, spray-painted on the building’s dingy white exterior, Calvin’s calling card adorned the wall. Another huge smiley face with dead eyes stared back at them, its expression dripping with insane malevolence.
Dave nodded to Johnny as he unslung the rifle and gripped it. Butterflies took flight in his belly as his heart picked up the pace. He wondered if today he would find Calvin instead of only discovering more of the rotting remnants of his latest murderous ploy.
“Look alive,” Johnny said, motioning in the direction of the butcher shop. “Follow me.” He headed toward the building, rifle at the ready.
Dave followed, his M16 pointed downward, a round already in the chamber and his index finger resting lightly on the trigger. Their soft footfalls echoed off the face of the buildings as they maneuvered around stalled-out cars and the waist-high weeds that had taken root in the street’s widening cracks.
They crossed the street quickly. Once on the other side, Dave and Johnny backed up against the brick façade of what had once been a music equipment store. Visible through the empty window frame, a Fender Stratocaster lay shattered on the floor, its pieces intermingled with rotting leaves, strewn garbage, and chunks of disintegrating ceiling tile.
Johnny moved stealthily toward the butcher shop, staying close to the wall. Half a minute later, they made it to the door.
It stood wide open, as if it had been left that way intentionally.
Johnny motioned toward the door, indicating that he’d go first and Dave would follow. Dave knew the drill well enough by now. The doorway was a chokepoint, a fatal funnel that allowed an enemy an easy shot. The less time they spent there, the better. Once inside, they’d sweep the interior and see what—or hopefully who—they found.
It occurred to Dave as Johnny slipped inside the building that they very well could be walking into a trap. But he’d already come to terms with that. Any way he could get to Calvin, he’d take it.
He had no expectations that he’d walk away from it.
Dave took a deep breath and closed his eyes as he readied himself.
Exhaling, he stepped through the doorway and into the abandoned butcher shop, ready for whatever waited for them inside.
Inside the shop, a dilapidated lobby room greeted them. Discarded wrappers, paper cups, skeletal tree branches, and piles of rotting leaves littered the floor; the waste products of both humanity and nature blown through the store’s broken windows.
Johnny kept his back to the wall as he leveled the rifle and began sweeping the room. Johnny had called the maneuver slicing the pie, or something like that. Dividing up the room into sections before sweeping it to ensure no hostiles awaited them. Johnny was damn good at it, too. A born soldier. He’d done what he could to teach Dave some of those skills, but how much of it stuck was debatable.
Dave kept his distance behind Johnny with his finger resting patiently on the trigger’s edge, covering Johnny while he finished scanning the room. Once that task had been completed, Johnny backed up against another wall and gave Dave the thumbs up before slipping behind the front counter. Now in the cutting room, he navigated between a couple of hulking stainless steel meat slicers placed on sturdy tables before disappearing out of Dave’s sight.
Rifle at the ready, Dave stepped quickly across the room, moving to t
Dave kept an eye on the rusted front door as he continued to scan the rest of the visible area for any sign of a threat, be it man or carrier. Thankfully, the room remained eerily quiet. Only the sound of the rattling street sign could be heard as it drifted into the shop through the shattered front window.
The seconds passed slowly as Dave waited, each one accentuated by the loud beating of his heart. He tried to swallow, but his mouth had gone dry. He held his breath and listened hard. The whistling wind had died down now, and the street sign had taken a break from making its infernal racket. The resulting silence loomed thick around him, the air pregnant with it.
His eyes and his ears told him they were alone, but his gut told him they were being watched.
Dave tightened his grip on the rifle’s handle, his palms clammy. Johnny should have been back by now. It never took him that long to sweep a building, especially a small corner shop. Dave peered over the counter and into the cutting room floor behind it. He saw nothing but the defunct machines on their tables, jutting up from the floor like tombstones in a forgotten graveyard.
No sign of trouble and yet Dave couldn’t shake the feeling that something was wrong. He needed to know for sure, and there was only one way to do that.
He’d have to follow Johnny.
He took a step forward and noticed movement from the back of the store.
Johnny appeared. Dave sighed with relief.
Then he noticed that Johnny no longer carried his rifle.
A moment later a second figure appeared behind Johnny, pointing a semi-automatic pistol at the back of his head.
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