Into the Storm
The wind screamed loudly as it passed by Maenad’s ears and face. Weightlessness took effect on his body, as his stomach shot up into his throat. Sand particles mixed with gray ash collided with his skin at a hundred miles per hours from every direction. Maenad steadied the nuclear machine underneath him as it shook from the strain of the storm. His eyes caught hold of the slanted rocky bench below; he eased up on the throttle as he made his approach. Maenad pulled up on the handlebars and rocked the machine backwards with his body. He was trying to lessen the force of the landing by coming in at a different angle. The sound of screeching metal rang out as the underbelly of the horse scraped along the loose gravel at the base of the cliff. Lightning and small rocks flew everywhere as Maenad stabilized the horse and rocketed into the chaos of the valley in front of him. Small lights could be seen flickering from the side of the Bullet Train in the distance. Each individual bulb looked like a terrible firefly caught up in the arms of a dust devil. The ground at Maenads feet seemed to be jumping with electromagnetic fervor. It felt like the earth’s pulse was ringing out from its iron veins.
Maenad knew very well that falling off his horse at this stage in the game would burn his body to ashes. He smiled at the dark thought of throwing Jessica Maxwell head first into the ground. He wanted to watch her scream out in pain at the deadly currant. He would watch her suffer for all the things she has done to him and any man that got too close. He would have his revenge for his brother’s death and the world would be right again! Maenad weaved skillfully around a few small boulders and looked backwards to see if Jim was following him. To his surprise the kid was hot on his trail mimicking his every move with the steel horse.
It looks like the boy has got some spirit in him, thought Maenad proudly. He just needed a little push in the right direction to see his true potential. He was going to call out to Jim when a massive boulder tumbled in-between the both of them. The thing was the size of the hover stagecoach from top to bottom; jagged rocks stuck out from its collective mass like a ball of razor wire. Huge chunks of gravel and dirt flung from its ominous surface as it slammed into the ground and bounced up into the sky. In seconds the thing disappeared into a section of the storm that was raging. White lightning exploded from somewhere beyond the swirling clouds as a loud crash was heard over the chaos. The boulder had collided with something just as massive as itself and it didn’t sound good. It was as if it had appeared from nowhere.
Maenad had almost slipped off his horse at how quickly the thing had come and gone. It had been so quiet; even to Maenad’s enhanced senses it had been hard to detect. He turned around in time to see a similar boulder not thirty feet in front of him. His eyes widened as he jerked the mechanical horse to the left. The machine roared loudly as it swerved and missed the jagged rock by inches. Maenad turned hard right and maneuvered around another jagged rock on the opposite side of the first; this time brushing his leg lightly up against one of the iron spikes that protruded from its surface. He gritted his teeth as pain shot up his legs almost instantly. It felt like someone had dropped a cast-iron safe on his thigh.
Maenad was going to look down at the damage when the world around him went black suddenly. Cool moister splattered against his rough face as he struggled to realize what was happening. He had dropped into a deep land crater made by one of the huge boulders coming out of the ground. Lightning from his horse jumped into the sediment and pulled him forward to the edge of the ditch. Maenad’s muscles tightened as he came jutting up from the other side of the hole. Smaller pebbles began pelting his right side as he straightened up and went around another jagged boulder. It’s like riding through a darn tornado full of iron razors blades, thought Maenad bitterly. Thunder roared out overhead and shook the earth like a snow globe.
Maenad’s horse was jerked suddenly into another direction as a small boulder collided with the front of his vehicle. The sudden shift in direction almost caused the outlaw to lose his balance and fall off into the chaos. Maenad held on tightly as he cork-screwed into another direction; his feet were swinging wildly in the air now. The cathodes underneath the horse groaned loudly as yet another huge boulder came rushing up right underneath him. The massive thing collided with the under belly of the machine and sent it skyward almost instantly.
The sudden shift in direction caused Maenad’s knees to buckled and slam down into the brute. He was now doing back flips somewhere high above the chaos taking place below. His eyes caught hold of the terrible landscape for only a second; it looked like some giant from ancient history had dropped his marbles into a whirlpool. Maenad forced his feet back onto the bearings and watched as the ground approached rapidly. He had to think quickly if he was going to land this one without dying. Maenad leaned forward and stopped the horse from flipping just as it came in contact with the ground. Blue lightning shot out as he pulled up on the handlebars and jerked the horse out of the way of yet another oncoming boulder.
His heart was racing as he regained control and looked around him for Jim. Through the tumult he spotted the kid trying to push off a very large boulder. By some kind of dumb luck his battered horse had gotten stuck in the rock’s magnetic field. He looked frantic and scared as he tried to break free. In the distance another massive rock came careening straight for the kid. It’s momentum and density was shattering anything and everything in its path. Its sheer size would grind the life right out of the boy on impact. There would be nothing left.
“Jim, watch out!” yelled Maenad as he pressed down on the accelerator and rushed forward to help. Rocks the size of apples were now pelting Maenad’s sides and arms. Sand was tearing brutally against his cheeks causing little dots of blood to appear and run down his red handkerchief. Thoughts of his brother’s death ran through his mind at a hundred mile an hour. I can save him, thought Maenad, I did this to him.
Jim looked up to see Maenad coming straight at him. He could see the outlaw screaming for some reason; his face looked battered and dirty.
“Maenad! I need help!”
Jim watched as Maenad frantically pointed to something in the distance. He turned to see what it was the outlaw was pointing at and nearly fell off his horse. The dirt clouds parted just in time for him to see the massive boulder careening straight for him and the rock. The thing was crushing anything and everything in its path. Jim turned back to the rock he was stuck on and pushed against it with all the strength his body could muster. It wasn’t budging. He kicked franticly at the thing. It still didn’t move.
“Jim, we don’t have time for this!” yelled Maenad over the storm. “Jump!”
“I’m stuck somehow!” yelled Jim as he looked over to Maenad. His eyes were beginning to water from the sand and dust in the air. His lungs burned with the smell of the carbon coming up from the ash on the ground. “But I can’t see what it is I am stuck to! It’s as if someone nailed me to this thing.”
“Jim, forget about your horse and jump!”
Jim looked up at Maenad incredulously.
“Do you want to implode?” yelled Maenad.
Jim was in the process of standing on his horse when the massive boulder collided into the core of his machine and sent sparks flying. The sudden impact threw Jim forward into the chaotic atmosphere. In that moment nothing existed around him but empty space and swirling dirt. Maenad reached out as far as he could and caught the stupid kid by his leather jacket. He pulled Jim in close to the machine and hit the throttle. A strange sound was heard suddenly from between the two massive boulders. It sounded like nothing Maenad had ever heard before in his life. Without warning the two rocks suddenly broke up into a billion pieces and began to swirl in a cascade of four dimensions. Light particles of all colors shot out in all directions as the suspended matter collapsed in on itself and disappeared from the world forever. A huge impact crater was left in the dark earth below the chaos. The boulders had imploded.
“Wow,” whispered Jim
Maenad pulled the kid up and helped him get situated on the back of the horse. This job was going to be a little harder than he had previously thought. The storm had almost killed the both of them right off the bat. Maenad wondered how the others in the group where faring through the chaos. His eyes squinted ahead for the taillights of the Bullet Train; after a second he spotted them in the distance. It appeared like the train was slowing down for them, as if it wanted them to catch up. The whole thing was part of Jessica’s plan.
Maenad looked back at his young companion as his face went rigid. “I am not going to keep saving you this trip, kid. I have more important things to do!” He yelled so that Jim could hear the anger and hurt in his voice. He wanted to make a point. “Next time you’re on your own! Outlaws don’t need help from anyone!”
Jim didn’t say anything; he was internalizing the statement.
Maenad pressed down on the bearings at his boots and shot forward into the storm. In the distance could be heard the sound of long range gunfire; it was coming from off the top of the Bullet Train. The fifty caliber guns were now breathing their deadly steel on the small company much like a dragon would breathe fire on a town. Weird sounding explosions were now taking place somewhere out in the distance near the Bullet Train’s far left side. It sounded as if someone had lit a stick of dynamite and thrown it into a cave; bright lights and colors shown out through the dirt clouds. That can mean only one thing, thought Maenad darkly. The company was dying quickly and soon their window of distraction would be gone. They were all being killed by the gunners. Soon there would be nothing left.
“Where’s the train?” asked Jim. “Is it those lights up ahead?”
Maenad didn’t respond as he listened to the third and final weird sounding explosion take place over the planes. A bright light lit up suddenly from the left side of the train and then, as if by magic, it was gone. The long range gunfire stopped and the only thing that could be heard was the eerie howling of the wind in their ears. They’re all dead, thought Maenad. They had tried to get to the safe zones and failed horribly. It was only him and Jim that remained.
“What were all those flashing lights about?” asked Jim.
Maenad didn’t respond his eyes were focused on the lights of the Bullet Train in front of him. His mind was working at a hundred mile per hour. He pressed down even harder on the bearings and zoomed forward at an incredible speed. Rocks and debris began to pelt them from all over as he maneuvered toward the lights of the Bullet train. It was oddly quiet.
“What’s going on?” asked Jim
“Shhh,” whispered Maenad.
The dust and debris slowly parted from their view and the Bullet Train loomed before them like a terrible incubus from the bowls of hell. They had come up from behind the thing; without being noticed? It all seemed odd to Maenad.
“Something’s not right,” whispered Maenad.
Jim didn’t speak he was still holding on for dear life.
“It looks like the train has been deserted.”
“What?” asked Jim with surprise; he looked over Maenads shoulder at the back of the steel locomotive. His eyes shifted all over the gun slits on the first boxcar. There was no one in them. It looked like everyone had abandoned ship. “Did Paco and the others take them out?” He shifted in his seat to get a better look. “Are the others already on the train?”
“I don’t think so, kid.”
Jim’s heart was pounding in his chest again. “Where are they then?”
Maenad was quiet.
“Maybe we should go back.”
“No,” said Maenad. “I still have something to do here.” He pulled the horse up to the back of the Bullet Train and gripped one of the steel sidebars. Its texture was rough and cold; just like the state of Maenad’s mind. He turned back to the kid.
“Stay here and keep quiet. I’ll be back in a few minutes.”
Jim nodded his head.
Maenad pulled himself up on to the platform and checked inside the gun slits, being careful the whole time not to get a face full of lead. Nothing but darkness existed beyond the light of the slit. He listened for any signs of life; nothing could be heard coming from inside the boxcar. He pulled away and checked the steel door on the back of the train; it was locked tight. What kind of trap are you trying to set, thought Maenad darkly? He looked over to Jim with puzzlement. “It appears to be empty.”
Jim nodded his head. “I don’t have a good feeling about this Maenad.”
“I am going to check the top of the train. Stay here and don’t move,” whispered Maenad as he gripped the railing and pulled himself up to the roof. Thunder rang out suddenly from the storm and shook the earth with its ominous presence. Lightening and rain began to dance all around the landscape as Maenad peered out over the top of the Bullet Train. His eyes caught hold of a dark figure sitting on one of the turret’s domes. The wind was blowing the figures clothes all around. The person’s face was hidden from view by a dark leather cowboy hat; the Balballing symbol of two brass guns crossing each other could be seen on the brim. Rain water was now dripping from the silhouettes clothes.
Maenad lifted himself up onto the train and cautiously took his stance a few paces away from the stranger. The wet cowboy didn’t care that he was being watched; he was as stiff as a statue. The whole scene seemed fishy to Maenad. He was getting an ugly feeling in his guts right now; he hadn’t felt this way sense his brother’s death five years ago. A quiet whisper was ringing in his head. Its message was clear: betrayal.
“Well, well, well, look who survived the long journey from Wichita prison,” a familiar voice rang out from the dark figure on the turret mount. It sounded oddly cheery and inviting; he knew the voice almost instantly. Maenad was shocked to hear it coming from the figure.
“In the flesh,” said Paco as he looked up into Maenad’s dark eyes. “Did you miss me?”
“What are you doing up here?”
Paco laughed his annoying laugh, but this time it didn’t sound ridiculous or overdone, but natural for the man. “Why, waiting for you, outlaw.”
Maenad got tense at this. He had walked into a trap.
Paco’s voice began to change slowly as he spoke up again; his Balballing accent began to melt away from his throat. He sounded more sophisticated this time around. “It was sure hard to get you to think I was a stupid city-slicker from Balballing, Maenad. You are one hard person to convince I must admit.” He smiled devilishly and brushed the water from his dark sleeves. “But most outlaws are pretty hard to convince when you first meet them. I figured if I was the loud, cocky, annoying cowboy from the city you wouldn’t think much of it, and hey, I was right.”
“Where’s Mitch and his brother?”
Paco laughed at this. “I didn’t need them anymore, Maenad. They served their purpose as pawns. I made sure that they imploded before they even got to the train. I wanted to finish you off myself. Heck, I’ve been finishing off outlaws like you for years and when I heard that the great Maenad was going to be robbing the infamous Bullet Train I just couldn’t resist having you as a trophy. Jessica Maxwell said I could have you all to myself, and here you are.” His face went hard, “I bet you think you’re fast and cunning. I bet you think you know what’s going on and how to get out of it right now. Well, so did the fifteen other outlaws I killed.” Paco reached in his coat and pulled out a small chain with white teeth on it, each one represented a dead outlaw. They all clattered together as he jiggled the chain.
Maenad could sense the gravity of his situation growing heavier by the minute. Jessica had hired a professional assassin to take care of him, and no doubt Paco was trained in the art of killing outlaws. He had probably studied all of Maenad’s moves before this moment arrived. It was rare in the Tarmac Desert to have an outlaw hunt another outlaw for sport, but it did happen. “You were an outlaw the whole time and I didn’t even see it.” He thought back to Bill. Maenad had thought the stupid fat man was the spy. He had never thought that there would have been two.
“In the flesh, Maenad.” Paco leaned over and spat off the train. “I saw what you did to poor old Bill last night. I also saw how the desert wolves ripped him to shred’s when they found him; they tore at his face and throat. Bill kept calling out to me for help. I just had to smile at your style Maenad. You are one sick son-of-a-gun!” He paused and thought for a second, “but then again, Bill had to die didn’t he Maenad? It was all part of the plan to make you think you were in control of the situation.”
Maenad was quiet. His eyes were hard.
“I just can’t believe your tenacity in all this. All of this,” said Paco as he pointed to the scenery around them with his hands. The Bullet Train was still rushing through the desert but not as fast as it normally did. The rain had subsided slightly, “All of this, just so that you could avenge your brother’s death and get even. You are a sick fool!”
“You have to live for something.”
Paco smiled, “I guess so, but killing Jessica is not going to get your brother back.”
“My fight isn’t with you, Paco.”
Paco stood up slowly and loosened himself up at the shoulders. “I think it is, cowboy, and I am dead sure that I don’t need to teach you the rules of engagement when it comes to an outlaw standoff.” He looked around the storm as if in thought. “Where did little Jim get off to, Maenad? Did you kill him too in your lust for revenge?”
Maenad was quiet; the last thing he needed was a talking-to from a man that had killed fifteen outlaws for no good reason. His feelings were brewing in his chest.
“I didn’t expect you to get the kid involved in this. Heck, I myself, wouldn’t have stooped so low as to get a little kid involved.” He looked over to Maenad and shook his head as if in shame. “This was supposed to be a man’s mission and you brought a boy into it. Why I bet you would kill anyone to avenge your brother wouldn’t you Maenad?”
“Yes, anyone,” whispered Maenad to the cold air, “even you!”
Both men drew their weapons with lightning speed and fired a round once into the air. Hot steel screamed passed Maenad’s right ear as he side-stepped Paco’s assault. Two gun blasts were heard as both men dodged the next assault from each other. Maenad ducked the third time and nearly lost his balance on the slick train. A well directed bullet from Paco’s gun tore straight through his jacket and split the skin on his right side. Most outlaws had a style of fighting that made them unique and deadly. This rebel outlaw appeared to be well trained in his stances; any normal man would have died with the first two shotgun blasts from Maenad’s guns. He would have to get tricky if he was going to survive this encounter. Let’s switch things up for you, thought Maenad. See if you like this.
Maenad released one of his hunting knives into the air and fired a shotgun blast at Paco’s exposed feet. Paco laughed at the attempt and jumped over the buck shot easily. He hadn’t anticipated the blade however; the hunting knife split his right cheek in two as he landed. Blood poured freely from his face and splattered on the train.
“You are one tricky son of a cow pie!” growled Paco with anger as pain lit up his face. He lifted a hand and wiped the blood off his cheek. “But that’s not going to save you!” Paco drew his other pistol and started firing rapidly at the outlaw. Gunfire and lightening lit up his dark features as he ran forward. Rain water pelted his back from behind.
Maenad dropped to his back as hot steel flew past his head and body threatening to take his life at any moment. He rolled away from the bullets as they dented the top of the Bullet Train and flew out into the landscape. Each shot was getting closer and closer to its mark as Paco ran along. Maenad slid to the back edge of the train; his heart was pumping at a hundred miles an hour. He struggled frantically to keep from slipping off into the electrically charged Tarmac below. Just as he got control again, a bullet grazed his left leg and tore through the muscle of his thigh. A second bullet tore through his left shoulder blade. Pain and blood erupted in both places almost at the same time. Maenad cringed and bit his lip.
Paco laughed at the tragic scene before him. It was almost too pathetic to behold; an outlaw at his wits end. His hands were shaking with excitement. He often got this way before a kill.
“So much for being a legend, Maenad.” He pointed the gun at Maenads exposed head and pulled the trigger. The revolver turned and clicked but nothing happened. He was out. Paco’s heart sank into his gut as he reached for the bullets at his belt.
Maenad swung his other shotgun out from behind his back and pointed the barrel at Paco’s exposed feet. Paco caught the action just in time and jumped into the air as hot buck shots sang out over the top of the train. Maenad had missed his toes by mere millimeters. He smiled as the rebel outlaw fell back to the Earth; the fool had done exactly what Maenad had wanted him to do. He slid the shotgun right under Paco’s feet as he came back down. His thick boot hit the stock of the gun and slid backwards.
Paco cried out with surprise as he lost his footing. His back hit the edge of the Bullet Train as his body slid off into the lightening storm. Maenad heard only a muffled cry of pain on the wind and then it was all over. The rebel outlaw had lost. Maenad sat up slowly and reached for his shotgun. Paco had kicked it a good distance before falling off the train. Rain was now pelting him from all sides. Blood from his wounds was pouring out onto the top of the train. He clambered to his feet and grimaced as he put pressure on his wounded leg. It felt like someone was taking a hot poker to his thigh. Maenad reached inside his coat and pulled out one shotgun shell. He was in the process of loading it when he was violently shoved to the ground. He dropped the gun as he tried to lessen the fall.
“I knew that Paco didn’t have the guts to finish you off, but I guess that’s what you get when you hire a moron from the city. All talk and no action!” Jessica pulled back the wet hair from her face and stared down at the man before her. “You’re too stubborn to die like a regular outlaw! You’re just like your brother, Maenad!”
Maenad turned and looked up at Jessica. Her eyes were cold and unforgiving.
“Why the long face, cowboy?” Jessica was now pointing her gun at his head; the hammer was cocked back in the firing position. It would be an easy kill from here on out. Paco had at least done something good before he died.
“I believe you owe me something,” growled Maenad bitterly.
“Oh, and what would that be?”
Jessica laughed at this ridiculous statement. It was obvious that the situation was not in his favor; he would die just like every other man that crossed her did. Maenad was still living in a dream world; she was much faster than this fool could even imagine. “You’re a fool Maenad for coming here. You’re just like your brother was before I put a bullet in him. He was always blinded by his passion for love.” She smirked devilishly at the wounded outlaw lying before her. “Can you believe he said he loved me, Maenad? He said he would buy me a ring and then we would get married in a little white chapel somewhere in the Tarmac.”
“Shut up!” yelled Maenad as he reached for his shotgun.
Jessica saw the pitiful gesture and wanted to laugh; it was too sad for words. She moved quickly and shot the weapon off the top of the train. She walked over to Maenad and kicked him in the face for even trying to make a move. Maenad rolled over and cried out in pain. It felt like every muscle in his body was on fire. Jessica holstered her firearm in one fluid movement. She grabbed Maenad by the back of his jacket and pressed his face into the train. She bent down close so that her soft lips were right by his ear.
“I blew his brains out.”
Maenad struggled to get up.
Jessica forced her knee into his back. She was loving every minute of her victory, “I blew his brains out, and you know what I did with the reward afterwards. I spent it all on cloths and perfume; just like a lady should do after a victory.”
Jessica pulled away and stepped back. “You’re nothing special, Maenad.” She was quiet for a moment. The rain seemed only to come down harder and harder. She pointed the gun at his head again. “And you failed!”
Maenad reached into his coat and pulled out another knife.
Jessica pulled the trigger but missed as the boxcar lurched backwards suddenly. A huge explosion erupted from the front of the Bullet Train causing her vision to go white. The boxcar underneath her shook violently as the massive locomotive broke up into a billion different pieces and swirled violently in the air like a hurricane. Light in all colors sprang out from the chaotic matter and lit up the air like the sun. On the other side of the train, Jessica could see the silhouette of a boy holding a revolver. A strange sound was heard on the air. It sounded like the Earth was falling into the Earth.
“No!” screamed Jessica.
The Bullet Train’s huge engine contracted suddenly into a single point in space and was gone. The boxcars dropped into the dessert below and jackknifed violently. The sudden change in velocity caused Jessica and Maenad to go flying off into the storm.