By Geoffrey Smith 01/07/12 to 02/09/12
3:26 P.M. Unknown desert, United States
Sand blew through the air like a thousand
minuscule darts, seemingly hell-bent on stripping the skin off anyone foolish
enough to venture out into the light of the afternoon's blazing sun. A fact
that did not seem to bother the small figure trudging through the embankments
of sand formed by the storm, with a ragged cloak tied around it's lithe shoulders.
The unknown figure continued to walk forward through the biting flurry of sand
and debris kicked up by the wind, carrying on with a steady pace seemingly
unaffected by the storm of sand, or the blazing sun still high up in the afternoon
Finally, after hours of wandering through the empty, lifeless plains of sand, the silhouette of a low to the ground structure could be seen, if only just barely. The stranger's pace quickened as the distant sanctuary became clearer through the sandstorm, even as it grew more and more severe, as though attempting to deny the wanderer a refuge from its hateful gale.
Up close the building was extremely low on one side, barely a story in height, while the other side was twice as tall. The roof was like a slope, most likely to minimize the profile of the building so as to protect it from the wind while still providing ample space for its occupants. A squarish sign stood on a pedestal on the higher portion of the roof, facing towards a road of gravel which was almost completely buried by sand. The sign was a blank white color, smudged with years of dirt and grime, and had the image of some sort of rodent sticking it's head out of a hole next to the barely readable name; "The Prairie Dog".
The Prairie Dog was built on a slight hill, with the road starting at the high side then curling around the hill to the low side and behind the building before vanishing into the sandstorm. There were several vehicles parked at what had to be the front of the Prairie Dog. Most were motorcycles, black with decals and paintjobs too garish and numerous to even describe on this one page. There was also a big rig truck parked near the motorcycles, although the buildup of sand on the truck suggested that it had been there longer than the bikes. As the stranger walked past the truck, the words and images on the side so worn that they were unrecognizable, it noticed the smaller pick-up truck parked behind the building; most likely the proprietor's.
The metal door at the front blew open the moment the knob was turned, sending the newcomer stumbling into the darkened room. A shower of sand began to fly through the opening, only to be cut off by the stranger slamming the door shut immediately after entering. The stranger then turned and slumped against the door, and after catching it's breath finally removed the pulled-up portion of the cloak protecting the strangers face, revealing the identity of the stranger to be a woman.
To be more exact she was a girl that looked to be in her late teens, and was barely over five feet in height. Her hair was cut short, the tips jagged and uneven, as though she had cut her own hair, and it was very oddly colored; pure white starting at the roots and darkening incrementally until becoming pure black at the spiky tips. Her face was, if anything, even more unusual. For one, she was wearing a mask; a white mask that was eerily lifelike with streaks of blue beneath her eyes and on the bridge of her nose, which formed into a cross on her forehead . The eyes were visible, blue and strong, with the exposed skin around her eyes a mottled mix of red and black, as though the flesh beneath the mask were charred. Several plates made of the same material as her mask also covered her neck and hands, and most likely covered her whole body. The clothes she was wearing were rugged and functional, such as the hard boots which almost reached her knees, the worn out jeans, and the long sleeved shirt partially obscured by her tattered cloak.
Straightening up from her position against the door the girl brushed some sand from her hair before violently shaking the rest off. She then put a hand to her mouth to cough out some more sand. And as she coughed it became apparent that her mask WAS her face, showing a look of disgust as she spat the last lingering grains of sand onto the dirty mat on the floor.
The Prairie Dog's interior looked just about as good on the inside as it did on the outside; most observers would have thought it an abandoned wreck were it not for the vehicles parked up front. Most of the lights on the low ceiling were either burnt out or flickering, and the storm of sand blowing outside prevented most of the sun's light from showing through the few grimy windows not boarded up. The air was choked with the smoke of half a dozen cigars, with the rounded wood tables and chairs occupied by a motley crew of tattooed, piercing laden, black leather dressed men and women.
The array of glittering metal and sinister ink exposed on the leather clad patrons was almost as dizzyingly diverse and crude as the icons on the gang's rides standing outside of the rickety building. Some of the bikers were big, especially a seven foot tall monstrosity with big, hairy arms and a wild mess of hair. The smaller men wore more piercings and tattoos than the others, as though compensating for their lack of muscle. The two girls were totally different from each other, with the tomboyish punk girl being attractive but dressed like a heavy metal album cover, while the other one looked more like a man wearing a long, black wig. There was a heavily tattooed, vicious looking man who looked like he had his teeth filed to points, and there was even a midget in the group, dwarfed by the young newcomer who had entered.
The only people who didn't fit in with this vicious looking group was a mousey man sitting at an unoccupied table as far from the others as possible, wearing a ball cap with an insignia labeled on the ragged rim that matched the worn-out symbol on the truck outside, and a young Latino woman who was clearly a waitress. She was moving through the minefield of lecherous hands and crude comments like a pro, collecting empty drinks and delivering new ones, all the while ignoring the advances of the menacing crowd.
The crew hadn't looked up when the new girl had entered, too caught up in their squabbling and harassment of the waitress to notice the cloaked figure as she made her way through the crowed tables to the bar at the end of the Prairie Dog's low-slung interior. The ceiling was slightly higher on the bar's side of the room, and a ladder set to the left of the counter led up to a second floor. There were only five metal stools affixed to the granite floor , a couple of which were already occupied. The girl headed towards the central stool but, upon picking up a whiff of the bruiser sitting next to it , instead chose to take the seat to the far right of the counter. The tabletop was covered with old water marks from sweaty drinks and dents from pounded cups. The newcomer sat down but was nearly jolted out of her seat when she came face to face with a stuffed rattlesnake, coiled in a striking position with its dry fangs bared and empty glass eyes staring into the girls own. "Don't mind ol'Jake there." said the gruff old bartender washing a glass cup. "He ain't been very talkative since I introduced him to the sole of my boot!" he said jokingly as he pointed to his foot with the hand holding the wash cloth before placing the cleaned glass on a shelf beneath the counter.
The snake's head did look a little flatter than usual, which wasn't surprising considering how muscular the bartender was, even with his big beer-gut and the wispy white beard on his lined face. Despite his deep voice there was a kind hearted air to him, and the girl couldn't help but smile in response to the bartender's comment. "So," the bartender continued as he clapped his hands together, "welcome to The Prairie Dog Inn. She may not look too good, but she's a hell of a lot better than the mess out there." He gestured to the room in general, which made it hard to tell whether he was talking about the gang sitting at the tables or the storm pounding against the walls outside; probably both.
The ceiling creaked ominously as the wind kicked up slightly, briefly drowning out the crackle of static emanating from the television set on a shelf to the right of the counter. The girl looked to the ceiling before looking back to the bartender questionly. "Ah, don't worry about that old ceiling, it's held up to storms worse than this for twenty years and it'll still be up for another twenty if I have my way." the bartender said reassuringly. "Now, what'll you be having to drink today?". The girl pursed her lips as she wondered whether or not she was thirsty enough to buy a drink. After the nightmare outside she decided it would be worth it. "Wine." she said to the bartender. "Any preference?" he asked with a raised eyebrow. "Whatever you have that's cheapest." she said before turning to look at the motley crew behind her.
The girl had a very pronounced French accent, and though she looked young there was something in her voice that suggested to the bartender that she was older than she looked. "You read the sign outside? You know the one that says you have to be at least twenty-one to have a drink in here?" The girl looked down in embarrassment before answering, " I can't read, though I know that I am over twenty-one." "Well, as long as your sure," the bartender admonished with a grin before turning to the cabinet behind the bar lined with glasses of wine and beer. "And as long as you don't plan on driving for a couple of hours..."
"I walked." the girl responded matter-of-factly. "No shit!" the bartender said in disbelief as he placed a clean glass in front of her. "I guess you've never been to these parts before huh?"
"No." she answered as she watched the bartender pour some reddish wine into her glass. "I didn't think so. Nobody that's been here before would risk getting caught in a storm like this."
"Does this happen often?" she asked. "About a couple times every three months or so. Last year we had a storm that lasted almost a month."
"Just like this?!" the girl responded incredulously. "Ah, not quite as bad, although the walls did need one hell of a new paint job, let me tell you!" he said jokingly as he handed her the glass. The girl cocked her head to the side before asking "Why would I need to let you to tell me when you've just told me?"
Clearly she didn't get the pun, which the bartender got a real laugh out-of, to the girls continued confusion. "You haven't been in the states long have you?" he choked as he wiped a mirthful tear from his left eye. "I suppose not." she answered, looking down at her glass she was holding in her small, armored hands. "Well, miss...?"
"Well, Miss Jeanne," the bartender continued with a slight grin at the irony of his previous statement ["Jeanne" being pronounced like "John"]. "We Americans have a habit of putting unnecessary comments in our sentences to live-in up a conversation, know what I mean?" Jeanne nodded, even though the confused look on her face suggested otherwise.
"So what brings you to these parts?" "I was on my way to..." Jeanne stopped midsentence, trying to find a way to explain to him to what truth be told she couldn't understand herself, but the bartender interrupted before she could explain. "...To the old sci-fi convention in the town up north?" he suggested, pointing to her masked face. "Yes!" she answered hastily, preferring his explanation to hers. "Well, you just go up the road, that is once the storm blows over, for about two miles and you'll find the highway. There's a bus that goes by everyday at ten in the evening. Just wait for the bus and it'll take you right into town." "Thank you, mister...?"
"Ralph." Jeanne smiled at the amusing turn around as she took a sip from her glass. "You're welcome to stay until the storm passes; should run its course in an hour or two. You can stay in Mioly's room if things get too rowdy down here." He gestured to the waitress, just as she slapped one of her would-be suitors before storming off to the table occupied by the skinny trucker.
"Have you had to deal with these men before?" Jeanne asked, jerking her head in the direction of the hooligans behind her. "Most of them, no, but I have met their boss." Ralph said darkly, glancing at the man sitting to the right of the foul-smelling fellow with whom he was having a heated argument. "That moron over there's started more fights here and in town than I can count, not that I'd want to either." "Then why not just throw him out?" Jeanne asked. "I used to." Ralph responded, "But the only thing worse than a drunk Brick is an angry Brick. I learned that the hard way last year." Ralph lifted his right hand, showing several wicked looking scars on the back of his palm. He flexed his index and middle fingers, but it was obvious that his other digits were paralyzed.
"Why would you let him do this to you?!" Jeanne exclaimed, horrified. "Against that lot," Ralph growled as he nodded his head towards the crowd of thugs lining the old tables spread haphazardly on the dusty floor. "Then call those that are charged with..." Ralph raised a hand to cut Jeanne off before she could finish her sentence. "The sheriff doesn't bother himself with trifles like this, and the deputy's in Bricks pocket." Ralph explained.
Jeanne gave Ralph another confused look, before leaning back on her stool to get a better look at Brick, and Ralph realized from that she was trying to figure out how a man could fit another man into his pocket.
"I mean that Brick is paying the deputy to ignore him." Ralph explained hurriedly as he pulled her back to the counter before he could spot her. "Be smart and keep your head down. This is my mess and I'll deal with it MY WAY." Ralph emphasized the last two words in a desperate attempt to convince Jeanne from getting involved. Unfortunately Brick had noticed Jeanne before Ralph could pull her out of sight, and had joined the conversation before Jeanne could utter her angry retort. "So Ralph, who's the little misses here? Your little daughter I suppose."
Brick was a big man, about a foot taller than Jeanne, and had a balding, disconcertingly brick-shaped head. His chest and arms were both exposed under his leather jacket, with several vicious looking scars decorating his arms, along with a swastika on his left shoulder. His cruel, dark eyes scanned Jeanne's body up and down before settling on her glaring face. "My daughter died in the war, Brick." Ralph responded, drawing Brick's gaze back to him."She's just stopping by until the sandstorm passes."
"Is that so?" Brick wondered as he sat down next to Jeanne, who didn't take her watchful gaze off of him. "I could give you a ride to anywhere you want. You ever ride on a bike before?"
Brick's sickening attempt to charm Jeanne clearly wasn't working, as she continued to glare at the oblivious moron in a way that suggested she'd like nothing more than to scratch his eyes out of their sockets. "Well?" Brick inquired, already irritated by her lack of response. "She only speaks French, Brick." Ralph interrupted, giving Jeanne a look as she glanced at him that said shut up and play dumb. "That so? Well I happen to speak a little French myself." Brick than repeated his previous question in French; or at least what he must of thought was French, although it was likely that no one would have understood the gibberish that came out of Brick's mouth. Jeanne smirked at Brick's horrendous attempt at speaking her native tongue before turning to the table and stating flatly, despite Ralph's silent warnings, "You should spend more time learning how to understand another language before attempting to speak it yourself. It may have saved you some...humiliation."
Jeanne hadn't bothered to keep her voice down, and her response to Brick was quickly followed by an ominous silence, save for the wailing of the wind outside. Brick's brain seemed to take a couple moments to comprehend the fact that 1: Ralph had lied to him, and 2: that he'd also been insulted. Ralph closed his eyes with a look of impending doom on his face. Apparently Brick didn't have any sense of restraint, because when he finally realized what had happened he gave a roar and lunged a hand toward the back of Jeanne's head, most likely trying to get a hold of her hair;
trying being the optimal word...
Brick's left hand hadn't even gotten within an inch of Jeanne's head before she caught his wrist in an impossibly strong grip, turning Brick's war cry into a cry of pain. Jeanne then smashed his hand into the table, let go, and gave him a backhanded slap which sent Brick flying a couple feet across the floor; all without ever turning around in her seat. Jeanne then chugged the rest of her drink down and slammed the empty cup onto the table before turning to the stunned crowd and shouting, "Come and get me!"
Ralph barely had a second to snap out of his state of shock and shout to Mioly to take cover before all Hell broke loose. The smelly man that had been sitting next to Brick was the first to reach Jeanne, much to his regret. Jeanne flicked her left wrist, sending the glass she was still clutching into his face. He screamed as the shattering glass ripped into his pudgy features, which was quickly cut off as Jeanne spun in her seat, her outstretched leg connecting with his head with a sharp crack. He went down, just as two Asian looking savages, carrying knives in each hand, struck.
Jeanne ducked their wild swings and caught them by their belts, flipping them onto and over the counter. They smashed into the cabinet of drinks, sending bottles crashing down to the floor. As Jeanne straightened up a high pitched cry emanated from her left. It was the bald midget, who had somehow scurried up onto the counter and was charging Jeanne full-speed, swinging a battered nun chuck wildly. As the kung fu midget swung at Jeanne's head she simply leaned back to avoid the first swing, ripped the nun chuck out of the midget's hand on the second swing, then grabbed the little pest and swung him clear across the room.
The vicious tattooed man with his gnashing, filed teeth ducked the incoming human projectile as he lunged at Jeanne with the sharpened brass knuckles on each hand. Jeanne was forced to flatten herself horizontally on the stool to avoid his wild punch. He then managed to drag her to the floor, only to have Jeanne yank his feet out from under him. The back of his head smashed into the granite floor as Jeanne sprung to her feet. The Asian brothers had recovered and were jumping over the bar to rejoin the fight... or at least one did. The other brother was caught in a headlock by Ralph, but even as the goateed man's face began to turn blue his hand tightened its grip on the knife that the he was still clutching.
As Jeanne fended off a greasy haired, one eyed man, the symbol on her face bean to glow. In that instant Jeanne sensed that if she didn't act now then the brother trapped in Ralph's stranglehold would drive his knife into Ralph's eye. She kicked the one eyed man off and spun around to catch the other brother mid-leap. She then threw him back over the bar, sending him flying into the cabinet again, aimed perfectly enough to knock the knife out of the other one's outstretched hand. Before she could turn, a glass bottle crashed into the back of Jeanne's head. Most people would have gone down with a concussion, but Jeanne barely winced before driving her elbow into the one eyed man's face. As he recoiled, blood spewing out of his nose, she grabbed his arms and smashed his hands together, breaking both wrists. Jeanne then swung him into a Mohawk clad man who was waving his own knife.
She then took a second to glance across the room to see how Ralph was fairing. The first brother was out cold, and Ralph knocked the second brother out with a well placed punch as he tried to get back on his feet. Ralph then started heading towards the open side of the bar counter to help Jeanne. "Stay there!" Jeanne screamed to him right before a metal wire wrapped around her neck. The punk rock girl had snuck up on Jeanne while she was distracted, and was now doing her best to strangle Jeanne from behind. Their struggle led the pair to a wall, which Jeanne took advantage of by backtracking straight into the wall with the punk girl caught in between. With the wind knocked out of her, punk girl didn't have enough time to let go before Jeanne crouched and jumped up into the low ceiling. After landing onto her feet, Jeanne threw the unconscious punk girl over her shoulder and into the still recovering Mohawk man.
A long-haired man laden with piercings rushed Jeanne from the left with a chain, while the ugly dominatrix came at Jeanne from the right, brandishing a whip. Jeanne spun around the man's swung chain, catching his arm with her left hand before driving her right fist into his elbow, snapping it.
As he doubled over, Jeanne then grabbed the woman's incoming whip, ripping it out of her hand. The woman then tried to drive her stiletto heel into Jeanne's stomach, only to have Jeanne catch her outstretched leg and drive her elbow into the woman's knee with a wet crack. Swinging her agonized opponent over a table, Jeanne braced her arms in front of her face to shield herself from the chair being swung by a short, fat man with a limp. The chair splintered against her outstretched arms, sending Jeanne staggering back into the table. Catching herself, Jeanne then flipped onto the table to dodge the fat man's punch. Landing on her back, she thrust her legs under his armpits, and flipped him first into the ceiling, and then into a neighboring table with a wood shattering crash. Jeanne rolled off her prone position on the table and back onto her feet. Both the brass knuckled and chain swinging men were back up, despite their injuries, and were charging her side by side. Jeanne took a defensive stance on the table, her legs spread with one foot behind to brace against the incoming attacks, both arms up front to catch any of her opponents' blows.
The two men grabbed the edge of the table and shoved it over onto its side, knocking Jeanne onto the floor where she rolled back to her feet. The vicious knuckle man began to throw one wild punch after the other at Jeanne, while the man with the chain lashed it at her, wielding it in his uninjured arm. Jeanne simply dodged each punch and chain swing, pushing aside every blow she couldn't dodge. The brass knuckle man was still afflicted by his concussion, and seemed to be having trouble keeping his punches on target. Jeanne jumped back to dodge a wild swing from him, which instead drove his brass knuckles into his hapless comrade's cheek. The man with the chain crumbled, clutching his gashed face as the knuckle man staggered drunkenly towards Jeanne. "You should rest before you hit yourself in the face!" Jeanne laughed, taunting him into action.
Jeanne's mirth was short lived, as a hairy arm smashed into the side of her head, sending her sprawling to the filthy floor. The seven foot tall, mass of muscle for a man then reached down and picked her up with one arm before clasping her in a massive bear-hug, while the brass knuckle man closed the distance. As he threw a punch straight at her face, Jeanne raised her legs to shield herself. The sharpened brass knuckles ripped into her lower right leg, drawing glowing, bluish blood as Jeanne gave a pained shout. As the knuckle man stepped back, starring in shock at the inhuman blood splattered on his brass knuckle, Jeanne kicked out with her undamaged leg, shattering his jaw and sending him flying into a short somersault before crashing back to the ground in a heap. Jeanne then swung both her heels into bear of a man's kneecaps with a loud crack. The brute bellowed in agony as he fell onto his fractured knees. With her feet back on the ground, Jeanne used the leverage to smash her head into his jaw. The second blow loosened his grip enough so that Jeanne could wriggle free. Spinning around she delivered a final punch to his face, sending him crashing to the floor, followed by the light clatter of several of the brute's liberated teeth hitting the floor...
And almost as quickly as it had begun, the fight was over. The only sounds now permeating through the dark room was the moan of the storm finally dying down outside, accompanied by the occasional groan or sob from Jeanne's few still conscious foes. Jeanne herself stood in the center of the mess that moments before had been an intact [though thoroughly unkempt] roadside inn. As she closed her eyes, and tried to control her breathing, the cross on her face began to glow seconds before she heard Ralph call out. "Behind you!" Jeanne ducked to the ground just as the audible click of a revolver's safety being pulled back, followed immediately by the crack of the gun as it fired into the empty space where Jeanne's head had been a second earlier. Brick must have waited until she had finished flattening his gang before getting up and taking a shot at Jeanne. In a murderous rage, Brick turned his gun on Ralph, who barely managed to duck behind the counter in time, though Ol'jake the Rattlesnake wasn't so lucky, as he vaporized in a cloud of scales and stuffing.
But Jeanne was through playing games, and as she turned towards Brick, her left hand began to glow with a bright energy. The bluish light coalesced into a sharp blade, about a foot long with a triangular point. The blade was essentially an extension of her hand, and as Brick swung his gun back to her she struck. The gun fired a third time and even as the bullet tore through Jeanne's hair, just nicking her left ear, Jeanne's blade found its mark. The glowing blade sundered through Brick's gun-toting right hand, slicing through the wrist like it was nothing. Brick screamed and fell onto his back, clutching the smoldering stump where his right hand used to be as he rolled on the ground.
"Ralph?!" Jeanne called out as she sprinted past Brick to the bar, the blade instantly fading away with a flex of her wrist. Ralph grumbled as he put himself back up from behind the counter, before responding "I'm fine, what about you?"
"Yes, I'm alright, and as for your waitress..." The pair looked over to the corner where Mioly and the trucker hid during the brawl. The girl was fine, although clearly in a state of shock, clutching the unconscious head of the trucker who had most likely fainted after Brick started shooting.
"Ah, they'll be fine. When he wakes up I'll have the little guy use his radio in his truck to call the hospital for this sorry lot!" he muttered, staring in disbelief at the carnage that this single little girl had wrought. "Jeez... poor bastards didn't see that coming, did you?!" He gleefully shouted to the defeated gang, shaking his fist in the air.
Jeanne smiled at Ralph, relieved to see that his dry wit was still intact. "So... judging by all this," he gestured to the room, "You weren't really heading to a sci-fi convention, were you?"
"No." Jeanne shook her head apologetically. "And truth be told, I don't even know what a... sci-fi... convention is." she continued, struggling to pronounce the word. "Well, whoever you are, you'd best get going. Don't need you trying to explain how a five foot teenager wearing a mask managed to beat up a dozen armed bikers."
Jeanne nodded and turned to the door, then turned back around to Ralph, an apologetic look on her face as she rummaged through her pockets for money to pay for her drink. "It's on the hou..." Ralph stopped mid-sentence with an amused snort before continuing. "It's free. You've done more than enough for me to pay your debts." Ralph pointed to Brick's prone figure, still sobbing over his severed hand.
Jeanne walked over to him, and grabbed Brick by the back of his leather jacket, lifting him up with one arm until the tips of his boots were only just touching the ground. "Listen to me well. Tell all those like you that if they ever come here to seek retribution on Ralph, his family, or his home, then they will face Jeanne La Pucelle; spread these words, and never come back." she said coldly, the cross on her face glowing ominously as she glared at the broken man before her. Brick shuttered and nodded his head repeatedly, blustering like a terrified child. Jeanne than gave him one last hard stare before dropping him to the floor and walking to the door.
As she bundled her cloak around herself, preparing to re-entering the sandstorm outside, Ralph called out a question to Jeanne from across the room. "What's so special about your name?" Jeanne paused, with her hand on the doorknob, before looking back to him and answering, "It means Joan the Maid." Then she gave a final smile from behind her beautiful living mask, before opening the door and disappearing back into the sandy gale. As the door slammed shut behind the young maid, Ralph the bartender gave a laugh of realization before stating to the room at large...
"Hot damn! I think a saint just walked outta my bar!"