“Garfield, come back boy!” A young girl in a moth eaten yellow sundress said, short of breath as she chased after the six legged mutant mutt as he ascended a mountain of garbage.
“What have you got over there you dumb mutt?” A boy behind her in a torn duster two sizes two big for him said as he watched from the base of the trash mountain. Resting his weight on a cracked Louisville slugger like a walking cane.
The sun beat down unimpeded by the any cloud cover at all, a big yellow beam of light baking a mound of garbage left by the circus convoy that passed only the other night.
The two children reluctantly chased the mutated dog-like creature up the mountain of garbage. Ranging from empty food containers, popped balloons and ripped posters to bone fragments, broken blades and needles. Until they reached the object that so interested their faithful companion.
“Eww what is that?” The little girl said as she skipped up the trash pile to find the dog barking and gnawing at something or other, a mass of rags and garbage.
The boy got to her elevation using the bat as a walking stick, he adjusted the googles on his face to look closer at the thing the dog was distressing. “Ahh just some dead guy” The kid sighed.
The little girl paused and blinked a few times before she said “Can we eat’im?”
“Nah, he’s probably rotten, no telling how long he’s been out here.” The boy said as he lifted his cracked goggles up from his dirt and soot caked face tossing the bat over his shoulder. “We gotta keep looking”.
“But I think he’s still moving, gotta be super fresh.” The little girl said smiling through her two missing front teeth, freckles fighting for their place with dirt and muck on her tanned face a shock of dry dirty red hair sticking up on her head in all directions.
Lying face down in a pile of hot garbage a corpse lay still, it’s skin waxy and pale and almost yellow. The dog wasted no time in sniffing and licking and trying to devour the corpse feet first.
“Errrrggghhhh” An unknown voice echoed.
“What was that?” The little girl asked.
“Probably gas escaping, dead people poop their pants sometimes.”
Garfield the dog didn’t seem too discouraged as his two tongues went to work licking the corpses feet, chomping at them playfully
“Errrgghhh!” The voice said again.
The corpse seemed to jostle suddenly and then shambolicly roll onto it’s back.
The two kids froze in terror as the corpse seemed to reanimate right in front of them it’s horrible face covered in sticky icecream wrappers forming a horrifying multi-coloured mask that looked like desiccated mutant flesh.
“Ahhh” The girl screamed “It’s a zombie!”
“Zombie?!” The boy yelped.
The dog was seemingly less worried about the zombie and kept licking it’s stinky feet.
The zombie moved as if it was in a dream, rising to a sitting position in a most unnatural fashion, almost flopping forward like a fish with no bones in it’s back. Slumping into an open indian sitting position it said “That tickles.”
By this time the boy had worked his way around the back of the slowly reanimating corpse and delivered a decisive blow to the back of it’s head.
“So it’s not a zombie?”
“Nope, it’s not a zombie.” An old man said as he leant over a makeshift cook stove made of truck gas tank cut in half over a fire of burning cardboard and plastic making a gnoxious green smoke. Something unidentifiable gently simmering in the pot.
“What part of he’s breathing and bleeding and farting in his sleep makes you think he’s a zombie?” The young boy said.
The girl made a face and touched her chin as she thought about it pursing her lips in her dry tanned freckled face “Does that mean we can eat him now?” The little girl chirped smiling broadly.
“Efron, we talked about this, you can’t just go around eating folk you find out in the wasteland.” The old man said scratching his beard and tugging at his red suspenders over his dingy white shirt as if he was grappling for a good reason to why that was the case but coming up with nothing and changing the subject. “Well we gotta talk to him first, that seems like what decent folks would do” The old coot said.
“What’s with his face?” The boy said as he leaned over the unconscious man.
“Yeah what’s with that?” Efron said as she joined the boy shoulder to shoulder bending over the unconscious stranger as he lay on his back on a bed made of old truck tires and unidentified furs, his breathing shallow.
“I think he’s one of them ladymen, they got in the city- although I wouldn’t know nothing about that” The old man blushed.
“So it’s like paint?” The little girl said as she prodded at the sleeping the stranger’s big red rose.
“They won’t come off” The boy said puzzled as the makeup wouldn’t so much as smudge.
The old man stopped stirring whatever it was he was cooking and readjusted a stool made of an old motorcycle seat and joined the kids in inspecting the unconscious man.
After a moment of contemplation he sighed heavily and said “They’re tattoos.”
“What are tattoos?” The little girl asked?
“They’re like drawings under your skin” The older boy said “Jeez don’t you know anything?” He sneered.
She scrunched up her face and stuck her tongue out at him making a raspberry noise. “I know more than you Zach buttrat brain!”
“Shut yer pieholes!” The old man shushed them harshly as he took his suspenders off his shoulders and took a closer look. He opened one of the man’s eyes and then took a closer prodding inspection with his fingers along the man’s side and found a small stab wound in his midsection. “Zach, get my sewing kit, would ya?”
The boy bolted out of the door and after some scuffling and breaking noises he came back with a needle and thread and the old man went about stitching the wound and then putting a bandage over it.
“Hmm, bleeding already stopped, nothing good must have been hit, lucky bastard”. The old man scoffed.
Efron looked on, downtrodden “So we’re really not gonna eat him?” She whined.
The old man looked at her and then at the unconscious man and said “Someone’s gonna be looking for that boy.”
“How you know that gramps?” Zach said.
“Tattoos on his face, I’ve seen’em before – means he’s connected”
“Connected to what?” The little girl said.
“Circus folk, I haven’t see one for a long time but I think those markings on his face mean he’s one of them clown gangers”
“What’s a clown?”
The old man sighed deeply and said “A cold blooded killer.” An icy chill running through his words and down his back.
“Then why’d you help him?” The boy said in a harsh whisper.
“Ya see a long time ago, before all this, before you were born, in the bad bad times just after the almighty badness. Folks were wild, worse than they are now, I know it’s hard to imagine but it was fucking chaos-
People raping and eating eachother in the street, no law, no god, no judgement. Just blood and pain and mutation and suffering and out of that came a travelling circus lead by the devil himself and bound by some obscure code.
They purged the land of mutants and freaks and crazies and they united the bandit tribes of the wasteland into one travelling militia. The clowns were just one band of gangsters they recruited.
One man brought them all together, he called himself the ringmaster, he was worse than all of them combined, more terrible than any hammer or sickle. He lead a gang called the ‘Third ring’ and He beat the wasteland into shape and it limped on ever since.
The circus trying to hold it together moving from town to town putting on their show. Purging the wicked in a woodchip ring that’s what they were doing up in Woodsmoke, they take all the food they need and move on.
I hear they even snatch kids now to make bolster their ranks.” The old man paused and sighed as the two kids looked and listened silently. “That’s probably what happened to him. After the second food war, the chaos, lots of kids were left without parents and had no choice but to join.”
“How do you know all this old man?” The boy asked
“I used to be a carny – it’s like a really dirty person that does all the dirty jobs but I got too old, too tired, sick of cleaning up all that blood.”
“Then why help him, if he’s a monster?” The little girl asked without a hint of malice in her voice, instead a curious optimism eking out.
The old man let out another sigh “What else can we do? ’Sides if he dies and they found out we just let him, and they have their ways mind you - no telling what they might do.”
Both the kids looked at the sleeping man with the silly crude smiling face drawn over his real face in a fearful awe as he began to stir.
The kids ran out of the shack. The shack itself was small and bare and made of rusty scrap corrugated iron so wobbled and bustled with every breeze. The whole thing clanged and banged as they ran around it and climbed on top of it.
The clown let out a groan and his hand listlessly touched his bandaged head.
“Ow” The clown said dreamily.
“Err ya bumped your head pretty bad, and I guess someone stabbed ya, I bandaged you up best I could but I’m not a magician”
“Look buddy, you were like this when we found ya, no sword, no shoes, no name.”
“Yeah we haven’t been introduced, they call me Gramps” He said with a sigh like he’d told a million people already and this was the million and first.
The shack rattled with the wind and banged with little footsteps on the roof.
The clown groaned as he tried to rise to a sitting position, seized with pain and fell back down and went limp.
“My name’s Pookie” He said breathlessly.
“Pookie?” A little girls voice rang with glee through a hole in the roof.
Surprised the clown looked up at the ceiling but she was gone before he clocked her but he could still hear her giggling.
“What was your name before?”
The clown didn’t respond.
“Look, I know what yer thinkin’. I didn’t take your stuff, we’re not the only scavvers out here. There’s a place over the mound, I traded with’em a couple of times but I wouldn’t trust them with a jar of warm piss.”
Pookie breathed in deeply and shifted his weight to the side of the makeshift bed and painfully levered himself off. Not accounting for how stiff he’d become just lying there, falling flat on his face.
“You can’t be movin’ around like that, you need to rest, you’ll get yisself killed foolin’ around like that.”
Pookie groaned again and tried his legs getting his knees up under him, holding his side.
The old man bit his lip and started looking around the shack and digging under a pile of clothes and hats. He pulled out a long dried looking stick with a little Y shape at the top.
“Here, if you’re fixed on getting yisself killed you might as well do it on yer two feet.” He lifted Pookie up to a standing position and slipped the stick under his arm. “Put your weight on that stick” He said as he clasped him by the shoulder. He looked weak, bandages wrapped all around his waist and head. He was skinny but lined with sinewy muscles and deep inset scars that looked decades old on top of obscure tattoos that danced up his arms and peaked up from out of the bandages on his back, the tail of a fish swished in a stream.
His face was a boy’s but hard, carved from sheet rock with red and white ink. A grotesquely large smile tore across his real mouth which was small and downturned. It flecked out almost like a brush stroke in a brutal crimson, red lines made an arc over his eyes and there was some bluing around the top lids on his forehead and a pair of black diamond shapes under each eye forming a disturbing mask, his face covered in war paint he could never take off. His hair was mostly shaved off in seemingly random patches and tied up into a high dark brown top knot on the back of his head.
He shifted his weight onto the stick and stood up on his own strength and the old man stepped away.
“Thanks” The clown said as he started to limp towards the opening of the shack.
The old man watched him go with a puzzled look on his face. “Yer welcome- and brush yer teeth!” He shouted after him.
The two kids watched him as he slowly limped and hopped his way over the mound as the sun reached its highest point, getting full and fat and ready to drop.
“Really think we should have eaten him” A little voice said from the hole in the roof.
The trappers house looked like an old station building the tracks that used to run parallel, long dug up and cannibalised, made into weapons or defences of some sort. Only the circus had use for trains and other such vehicles, it was for simple folk to use beasts of burden and their own two aching limbs. You saw some on bikes and even in cars but it was rare, fuel was more scarce than water in the wasteland. Nothing grew here anymore, it was just barren, open country.
The house wasn’t much to look at, just an old wood building that looked like it was in constant disrepair, covered as it was with different coloured wood patches and wire mesh where the window glass used to be.
The yard was full of empty rusty cages and broken down tractors and train cars and junk. The house itself was situated at the bottom of the mound in a hilly region so there was no doubt he was seen coming over and down the shallow hill. But surprise was never on his mind.
He made his way slowly down the hill trying not to fall over his own feet watching for the windows. He walked through the yard trying not to get tetnis, looking at all the rust and junk. Everything from the old dead world lovlingly collected and allowed to rot right here.
Pookie didn’t get within a fifteen feet of the house before a stout bald man wearing nothing but a pair of dungarees kicked open his own door like he was gate crashing a barn dance.
“Wh-th-hel-re-wht-ya-wnt? He warbled, all his words trying to get out of his mouth at once and coming out as a garbled mess running together and bumping into eachother.
Pookie breathed heavy leaning on the old stick but said nothing.
“Cnt-ya-tlk-ya-tarded?” His head was thick and round like an egg and he had no neck to speak of, his head was just a seamless, sweaty, greasy transition to a stout little body and stubby limbs.
The man got impatient and slammed a chair leg full of rusty nails against one of the support of the porch making a loud sound and gouging a chunk of old wood out of the strut.
“What’s the gaff pops?” A younger version of the man in front of him stepped out of the house. He had a full mop of greasy black hair under a black and white striped moth eaten fedora and he wore a long black leather coat a shirt underneahe with a cat on it but most notably he wore a sword on his back.
“What’s all the racket paw?” Another voice said, but it was a softer and what looked like a woman stepped onto the porch with a frying pan in her hand. The ‘woman’ was the tallest of the bunch with a chin and stubble that could cut glass. She tossed a waft of toxic green wig hair out of ‘her’ face and said “Who’s this handsome man?”
“Nobody” Pookie answered.
The three looked at eachother confused and then laughed.
“Wow bro, you’re super edgey, like your edge cut me over here” The kid said scratching his patchy neck beard. Pookie watched the sword jangle on his back as he spoke.
They stopped laughing and got serious. “Teh-hel-ya-wnt?”
“The sword” Pookie said.
“Eh?” The older man said.
“You wannit, you gotta come and get it” The kid said. “I aint afraid of some crippled heshe.” He said as he cockily dismounted the porch and made his way towards the still Pookie.
“Kek” The boy smirked and reached for the handle of the sword. It was an odd design, coloured like a red and white lollipop, or a candy striped barber poll with an evil laughing clown face as a pommel it’s mouth open wide.
“Daaaad, I can do it, I’ve been practicing in the mirror!” The kid said as he turned around to yell at his father.
The kid took a firm grip on the handle and tugged hard but it dragged the scabbard with it. He only managed to choke himself with the strap he had around his torso.
“Hawhawhaw!” His dad laughed.
The kid blushed and then remembered to grab the bottom of the scabbard. He rounded the blade out of the sheathe making a scraping noise and then the blade laughed. The handle let out a cheesey clown laugh on repeat and LED lights on the pommel in the clowns eyes lit up for a few seconds before shutting off.
“Hahahahahaha” The man and the ‘woman’ were now in hysterics laughing at the boy and his ridiculous sword.
“Wut-a-stpd-pisa-crp!” The older man snorted almost crying.
“Daaaadd, you’re embarrassing me!” The kids face got red as he craned his neck to chastise his father but then as he got no response but more laughter he turned his red freckled fat face at Pookie who stared straight passed him as if he wasn’t even there.
“You think you can fuck with me?” He swallowed loud and puffed up his chest straining his kitty t-shirt with his man boobs pulling it apart. “I’m your worst nightmare!” The kid took up a firm stance he must have seen in an old comic book and put two hands on the sword as tight as he little fat hands could and he ran straight at Pookie with the blade in the air.
He swung it down with both hands like a baseball bat and hit nothing but dirt.
Pookie stood right over him and breathed in his face.
The kid reeled back pulling the sword with him, the mirror polished blade tossing loose dirt as it retreated.
“Your breath stinks!”
Pookie smiled and stuck out his tongue.
“The fuck is wrong with you? I’ll kill you!” He slashed for Pookie head in a rough semi circle. But it was slow with no care for edge alighnment, just swinging away like he was hammering a nail, so each strike was getting too much wind resistance. With every missed strike he it took more out of him. Each clumsy miss left him more out of breath.
Before long the boy was toppled over fighting for breath. Pookie was watching the sun go down not having broken a sweat. He stared at that big ball in the sky with his back turned to the boy as he heaved for air vomitting on in his own lap.
“You know- kind of suck at this” Pookie said without looking at him.
The kid instantly flew into a rage and staggered to his feet running with all his strength, the sword tip held high determined to run Pookie through.
It was then that he felt it, the rushing tide, the blood pumping, his muscles awake and supple, the need. The desire to kill that spurred him, the roar of the crowd, that sound it made when air escaped a perfect cut.
He was lost for a minute and then the kids heavy footfalls reminded him of where he was. He turned to see the kid trying to skewer him in slow motion and not a thought crossed his mind before he turned the blade around and impaled the kid on it. He didn’t even think about it, it just happened.
Pookie pulled the sword out of the kid. It was covered in blood all the way even past the hilt and he slumped into the dirt to join all that junk in the old world.
“Sonofabitch” the vaguely feminine creature shrieked with the frying pan overhead.
Pookie still leaning on the crutch, his bloody laughing sword hanging loose at his side as the crazed he/she charged at him, Pookie limped slowly closer.
She/he/it over shot their attack and Pookie had cut them three times before frying pan came down. They walked a few steps before the dress they were wearing seemed to peel off in sections and the green wig fell off, blood slowly seeping as he fell forward.
“Fkn-pissa-sht” The older man said as he loaded and cocked some sort of makeshift cross bow made from animal gut and car parts, tears streaming down his egg-like face.
Pookie looked up at him, his face covered in blood, his eyes sad and empty. “Just the sword”.
The old man swallowed and stared for a long time at the bodies and at Pookie and he shook and after a long moment he lowered the crossbow and watched Pookie limp away.
Pookie collapsed in front of the old man’s tin shack, Efron and Zach stared at the odd figure through the door.
The old man approached him, the sword fallen in front of him in it’s pin stripe scabbard covered in weird stickers and he saw the blood.
“I told you not to go”
“Did you?” Pookie said into the dirt. His eyes open and clear staring at nothing.
“You’re close to death, you should rest.”
“It’s not the first time” He said dreamily.
The old man cleared his throat and eased the stranger to his feet and helped him into the shack.
When the stranger woke up again it was light and the old man was again leaning over the makeshift cooking pot an odd smell was emanating from it.
“Thank you, again.”
The old man let out a heavy breath and said “You told me it wasn’t the first time you’d been close to death.”
“You wanna tell me about that?”
“Ha-“ The old man paused and breathed deeply raising his back as he stirred. “You didn’t have to kill them ya know”
The old man sighed again. “I think you should clear out as soon as you can”
Pookie groaned and peeled himself off the bed. He looked around the inside of the tin shack catching glimpses of the kids sneaking peeks at him through the holes. “I think you’re right”
“Nearest town, is north west over the ridge”
“Thanks” He groaned as he got to his feet and breathed heavy and sore like two planks of unplained wood rubbing together. He looked around for his sword and he saw it resting against the door next to his walking stick. He stopped for a second to think and then picked up the sword and walked out the door leaving the stick behind.