2136 — A Post Apocalyptic Novel

All Rights Reserved ©

CHAPTER 3

We were skeletons on the hairs of a brush, ready to strike the canvas, without a painter to guide us.

The well diggers were all sitting along the rim of the fallen fountain, resting in the shade of the Market. Their shovels stood like a row of scarecrows along the edge of the road, sand dripping down from their lips as the hot breeze blew in. The sun was nearing its first scorch mark, so people were shuffling down the roads towards their shelters, or going into the buildings and shops. Treasures of the Earth always got the most business when the radiation flares were at their apex. Roxx was the wealthiest man in all of the thirty precincts in our area of the country for this very reason. He had a knack for bringing people together and persuading them to risk their lives for the sake of bringing him back something of value he could sell or use himself. His shop bled over into three shopping centers. One still had the sign dangling from its banisters. Some market from fifty years ago that had been run down when the shipments stopped coming in. Not even corn.The invincible food.Even they couldn’t survive in the heat without an abundance of water.

Even though it had nothing to offer us other than space and shelter, the old grocery store lent us its name for our precinct’s town square. A young boy thought it up. And ever since, we’ve called it the Market. It kind of stuck after awhile. You know, considering it was the center of our precinct and most of the daily exchanges took place within its corners.

The fires in the Smith’s Armory scorched my sleeve as I neared. I could feel the wave of melting metal before I smelled the burnt copper. My mask blocked most of it and that was a good thing. As I neared the porch leading up to the two swinging doors to the Market, I removed my gas mask and stashed it in my sack strung over my shoulder. The plastic nozzle dug into my shoulder blade with each stride.

The hinges of the doors squeaked as I pushed through. Instantly my ears went numb from the multitude of voices ricocheting off the walls. The Tavern didn’t have many tables so the sound carried. Wood was a luxury now that trees were extinct in this section of the world. The radiation fallout had seen to that. And any remaining fragments of forest or wooded creek beds were quickly devoured and stripped to the bone. Not even the core and all its out stretching root systems were immune. The Earth was plucked bare leaving only the after effects of war and pilfering as a sign of its passing.

I strolled passed the group of Metallics huddled together along the walls and into the adjoining crack in the wall to the Market itself. Roxx was in a heated debate with another customer. I sauntered around the shop for anything of use to me while they concluded the trade.

“Two bolts and two feet of rope,” Roxx was saying.

“These panels are worth at least five bolts and three feet of rope. I pried these off myself in the Pit,” the man said.Did he know whom he was talking to?

The Pit was a massive crater between precinct 11 and the dark ocean to the east, the scar of a stray missile during the war. Fortunately, it wasn’t nuclear so the radiation levels weren’t any higher than walking in the middle of the street during high tide. But where radiation slacked, the steep cliffs and deep rugged slits in the dry rock more than made up for it. Many had slipped and fallen to their deaths. From what I hear, at the bottom of the Pit was the biggest stockpile of metal and spare parts that would make even the Others up in the sky salivate. The missile had hit an old oil refinery and the subsurface reserves of oil had caught flame and imploded on impact. Thus, the huge gapping hole covered in black tar. All its obliterated body parts lay at the bottom, including the black oil. Well, what was left of it that was. The majority had been disintegrated into smoky ash and debris or walled off by the explosion. Beneath hundreds of feet of hardened clay and soil, the black blood of the earth lay dormant. Just waiting for the next wanderer to come along and drill her out. The only obstacle was getting to it.

I pretended to examine an old rusted pipe and some wire shillings while I propped my ear to their estate.

I saw Roxx shaking his head before the man even finished.

“I have men go into the Pit all the time,” Roxx said.

Was that true or was he bluffingI wondered.

“What makes your metal any more valuable than the pieces they bring back? Besides, what am I going to do with an automobile door handle and siding?” Roxx said. “Do you have anything else to offer?”

The man fidgeted with something in his pocket. I could see his face flush red under the burned skin and heavy beard. His eyes were sharp, unwavering.

You got to give that to them. Sifters never backed down.

The man dropped something on the counter that I could not see, but from the reaction it drew from Roxx’s wide eyes and drooping lips, it had to have been something good. I tried to maneuver closer to get a better vantage point, but bumped into a barrel of tin and set the whole load skidding across the floor.

The shop erupted into clashing metal.

Sorry!!I heard myself thinking.

I could feel my face catch fire as I tried to shield my face from view. I kneeled down and gathered the loose pieces as quickly as I could.Clumsy fool!

But Roxx didn’t even bother. His eyes were locked on the object the man had presented.

“Where did you find this?” I heard him ask.

“I stumbled upon this two days ago on our way back.”

They were both whispering now and I strained to hear what they were saying.

“In the scorch?” Roxx asked.

“The Fields,” the man corrected.

“Why were you in the Fields? That’s off limits. What if you had gotten caught?”

Roxx started pacing.

“What if the Pavers had seen you—”

“But they didn’t,” the man interrupted. “And there’s more where this came from.Lotsmore,” he added.

I peered up from the ground to see what Roxx’s expression was, but the shelving blocked my view.

“Is this all you have?” Asked Roxx.

He must have shaken his headnobecause Roxx’s voice got low.

“Does anyone else know about this?” he asked.

“Just me, and now you.”

“Good. Let’s keep it that way. How many do you have on you right now?” Roxx asked.

I heard the man’s feet shuffling along the base of the counter with a tap-tap, tap-tap-tap rhythm then several things tumble onto the counter. It sounded like hollow parts with a soft thud. I had no clue what the man had found and that turned Roxx into an infant schoolboy begging for candy.

“What do you want for all of them?” Roxx asked.

The man was shuffling again. The rack of excavation gear next to me rattled as the man played with its wares. I scooted away quietly, allowing the nearby tub of linens to shield me from view.

“Ten feet of rope, three skins, and...” the man paused, “and one of those.”

“No way! The gas is worth twice that. What about something else?” Roxx said.

“Gas, rope, skins, and three machetes,” the man said.

I could almost feel Roxx’s anger boiling. He hated being played for a fool, but his next words surprised me.

“A quart of gas, six feet of rope, and two machetes,” he countered. “That’s my final offer.”

He paused then added, “This is in direct violation of Statute 27 Section 113 of the Restricted Materials Act of 2103. They hang people for less...”

He allowed his words to hang in the air.No pun intended.

I stood slowly and saw the man fidgeting with his hands as if he couldn’t make up his mind. His eyes dashed from the sack on the counter to the gas, then back to the sack.

Finally he yielded.

“Deal. But I’m taking an extra quart of gas for my trouble. It’s not easy to get to the Fields unnoticed. And if you want the shipments to continue...”

Roxx held up his hand to stop him there.

“If you keep these shipments coming in, I’ll be sure you’re the wealthiest man to walk the ground.”

They both exchanged grins and the man seemed to like the sound of that. Like I said, Roxx had a way with people.

The grin vanished just as quickly as it had come, “But if you cross me, or you get caught...”

“That won’t happen,” the man said.

“It better not,” Roxx said. “When will you get some more?”

“Umm...three maybe five days,” the man said.

“Bring me the next shipment in two, and then every Tuesday from then on.”

“But, that’s crazy—”

“Do you want my help or no? I could very easily hand these over to the Pavers the next time they’re in town. Is that what you want?”

The man was shaking his head vehemently. I thought it might have fallen off had he not been wrapped from head to foot in patches of joined fabric.

“Good.”

Roxx measured out three arm lengths of rope, and filled up a small red bottle of fuel from the thirty-gallon tank, and wrapped the machetes in an old skin. He placed them all on the counter and stashed the sack in a compartment behind the counter.Probably a hidden one I’d imagine.

“See you Tuesday. Good doing business with you.”

Roxx waved the man off with a flick of his wrist.

The man stashed the machetes in his belt, strung the rope around his shoulder and grabbed the fuel with his free hand. He nodded his head then shuffled out of the shop as quickly as he could. The door jingled as he left. I straightened up and walked around the shelving.

Roxx was busy wrapping the rope up as I came closer.

“How much did you overhear?” he asked. I stopped in my tracks. I could feel a thick wad of sandy mucus lodge its way into the back of my throat.

“Umm...not long. I didn’t hear the whole conversation.”

He finished wrapping the rope and tossed it on the shelf with the rest of the salvaged thread.

“Mhmm,” he said.

I swallowed my fear.

“So, what did he find?” I asked.

Roxx’s forehead furrowed as his eyes peered up at me.

“I don’t know what you’re talking about.” he said. He placed the cap on the thirty gallon barrel of fuel and walked to the other side of the shop acting as though he were counting inventory.

“I’m not stupid, you know,” I said.

“Is that right?” he chuckled.

“I know he gave you something illegal.”

“What makes you think that?” he said.

“Because you said...”

“What did I say?” he snapped, turning to face me suddenly. The urgency in his tone and the sharpness of his gaze made me wonder if he might hit me.

“Uh...” my words got tangled on my tongue. His intensity stunned me. I had never seen the expression on his face in my entire life.Fear.

“Never mind. I don’t need to know,” I conceded, and let my chin fall towards my chest. I fumbled with some of the headgear on the table.

Roxx tossed the nylon sheet he had been folding onto the pile and walked over towards me. I felt his strong hands on my shoulders.

“Willow,” he said. His voice was soft again.

His finger lifted my chin so our eyes met. The fear was gone, replaced by the familiar half-grin I was accustomed to. The way his top teeth overhung the lower row made him look goofy. It was the only flawed thing on him. His entire body was chiseled in muscle, his skin like dark leather from the sun, and his deep blue eyes that eroded the remaining strands of doubt.

“Yes?” I asked.

“You don’t need to worry. I know what I’m doing. Your father—”

“My father wouldn’t be meddling with illegal contraband. He would have turned that man in,” I said.

I was surprised by my defiance. Apparently, so was he.

He let out a sigh.

“Maybe you’re right. But times have changed since your father was around. I’m sure if he were here, he would do the same thing. Life is different...”

“How? How is it any different than when my parents were alive? They died because of stuff like this. If they knew you were resorting to...”

I couldn’t finish the sentence. I felt tears welling up in my eyes, but I fought to hold them at bay. I didn’t want to give him the pleasure of knowing his words stung.

Roxx’s hand fell from my shoulder. I instantly wanted him to put them back on me, but I stood defiant in my bull-headedness.

“You’re right,” he said, the strength in his shoulders giving out. In seconds he aged ten years. The lines on his forehead were deep caverns. The crows branched out in all directions from his eyes from constant squinting. For the first time in my life, I saw Roxx’s mortality. He was fragile just like the rest of us. And that made me afraid.

“Do you really want to know what he brought in?” he asked.

I thought he was joking, but he motioned for me to follow him behind the counter. My resolve weakened with each step. By the time I made it to the counter, I could have toppled over if someone blew on me.

Strong as a feather, quick as a bee. No fear shall ever touch me.

I recited the familiar rhyme my father had taught me from a young age. Fear was your only weakness in a world run by death. And if you let it, it would consume you too.

I stood next to Roxx as he knelt down and unraveled the brown burlap sack. I felt my heart stop and I must have gasped because he looked up and said, “Breathe.”

He retied the sack and hid it beneath the floorboards a few seconds later.

“Was that what I think it was?” I asked.

He nodded.

“I thought they all burned in the fires.”

“Apparently we were wrong,” he said.

My mind was racing with the ramifications of what this could all mean for our futures.Had the government been lying to us this whole time? What else were they hiding? Maybe the ozone never split until they launched their nuclear war. Maybe this was all some master plan for population control since the birth to death rate had reached 30:1. Or, I could just be spitting conspiracies that held no weight. Who knows.But what I did know was, what lie in the sack would changeeverything. And it very well may send us all back into war. I needed to move my trees ASAP!

Our attention was stolen from the contraband in the sack by the blaring of another horn. I glanced at my watch.1405.It was too early for the flares. Something else was adrift. Three more short bursts sounded to alert the town.

Roxx stood and placed his hand on my shoulder.

“They’re early,” I said.

“Mhmm.”

“That’s not good.”

We both walked over to the swinging doors just as the first Humvee looped around the fountain. The Sifters all stood as more trucks flowed in, sending a cloud of dust into the air. The Pavers were here.

All I could think was,they know. They had to. Why else would they have come three days early?The knot in my chest returned as I felt my hands start shaking. Roxx grabbed them and held them firm.

“I’m right here.”

But I could hear it in his voice. He was worried too.

Continue Reading Next Chapter

About Us

Inkitt is the world’s first reader-powered publisher, providing a platform to discover hidden talents and turn them into globally successful authors. Write captivating stories, read enchanting novels, and we’ll publish the books our readers love most on our sister app, GALATEA and other formats.