Archive for the ‘Wasteland Wednesday’ Category

Makara and her older brother held each other in the dark corridor of Long Angels’ HQ. They were watched over by Miss Robles, one of the teachers, who nervously stared into the darkness as the rattle of gunfire sounded on and off, as the building itself shook from impacts of God knew what.

“Don’t you worry, children,” she said. “We’ll make it through all right.”

Makara might have only been ten years old by then, but she was old enough to know that Miss Robles was trying to convince herself as much, if not more, than the children she was tasked with guarding.

“Maybe we should get lower in the building,” Samuel said, his hand tightening over his little sister’s. Makara snuggled closer to him – her big brother had always kept her safe.

She could only hope and pray that remained me true. The only thing Samuel hadn’t saved her from was when Bunker One fell, back in ’48. She had believed him dead, and he had been living among the Bunker survivors on the outskirts of Angel territory all this time. She hadn’t spoken to him much since Raine had ordered them both back into the relative safety of the building, but she did talk to him enough, in between happy tears and vise-like hugs, to find out that much.

“Lord Raine said to stay here,” Miss Robles said. “This is the back of the building. It’s safer.”

Makara tried to discount the fact that Miss Robles had said it was “safer” and not “safe.” The teacher had always been a source of steadiness in her life. She taught her, along with the other kids, almost every single day in the single school room on HQ’s first floor. She had a tough job – the sons and daughters of Angel gang members were not an easy bunch to teach. She managed, though, somehow, because despite her young features, she was tough as nails herself.

It was then that a sudden explosion rocked Makara from her thoughts. The sound was deafening, to the point where it felt as if her head would split open. Samuel grabbed her, pulling her away from the blast, even as Miss Robles fell amidst the sound of gunfire.

“Miss Robles!” Makara screamed, not hearing her own voice due to the blast.

She fell backward next to Makara, her face staring lifelessly at the ceiling. Blood dribbled out of her mouth, though the bullet had entered her somewhere below that – Makara knew not where. All she knew was that her teacher was dead. Staring into her vacant blue eyes, she realized for the first time that Miss Robles had been young – maybe only ten years older than she.

And if she hadn’t been standing where she was, the bullet would have gone into Makara.

As her hearing returned, as hot tears streamed from her eyes, she became aware of the sound of Samuel urging her back above the the tromping of boots, the screams of men and women, followed by yet more deafening gunshots. Some whizzed overhead. Samuel pulled her to the floor, but Makara could have cared less.

“Miss Robles…”

“We have to get away, Makara!” Samuel said.

Makara nodded – the only thing she felt beyond the numbness was fear. All it took was for Samuel’s hand to pull her for them both to crawl on their bellies across the rubble that had fallen from the ceiling, in the opposite direction of the gunfire. Makara turned back to look, but what had been left of the lights had been fully knocked out in the blast; her dead teacher was already lost to darkness. The troop of Reapers was going the other way down the hallway, but Makara knew they might follow them at any time.

“What’s going on?” Makara asksed. “Why are they here?”

“Quiet,” Samuel hissed. “Do you want to get us killed?”

Makara decided that she didn’t want that. She was still stunned. The life of someone who had taught her so much had just been snuffed out like a candle. Alive one second, dead the next. Makara had seen death before, but she had never seen anyone die like that. It seemed unreal. Miss Robles hadn’t so much as screamed.

Makara could only hope that it had been as painless as it had been quick.

Makara snapped back to reality when Samuel pinched her shoulder, pointing to a staircase leading down into darkness.

“No,” she said. “Not the Basement.”

She had always been deathly afraid of the Basement. Sometimes, when she walked the halls at night, she could hear screams emanating from below, so soft she could hardly know whether they were real. The other kids said the basement was haunted, or that they had seen people go down there in the dead of night, never to come back up.

And it was where Samuel was taking her, but it was either the Basement of the Reapers.

It got very cold as they went down below; nonsensically cold. It must have been seventy degrees in the building itself, but down here, it was at least fifty. When Samuel pushed open the door at the very bottom, the door squealed incredibly loud, echoing into a cavernous space lined with rows of boxes, shelves, and disused machinery. After the echo dissipated, they were left in harrowing silence, broken only by the sounds of gunshots still emanating from above.

“Let’s find a place to hide,” Samuel whispered.

Makara allowed herself to be led by the hand, afraid that if she let go, Samuel would lose her in the darkness. She felt paralyzed with fear, and that fear culminated in a scream as a tangle of spider web stretched across her face, a scream that only became sharper as a giant spider crawled on panicked legs through her hair.

“Get it off me!” she shrieked, punching more than brushing it off her black hair.

“What?” Samuel asked. His fingers came up with a silvery thread of the web. “All that noise for a spider web?”

That was when a door from the other side of the room slammed open. “Who’s in here? Show yourself!”

Samuel pulled Makara toward a row of boxes, kneeling down behind them.

They could do nothing be as quiet as the dead that were said to haunt this place.

Raine roared past the open gates of Lost Angeles HQ on his Harley.

“Close the gates!” he yelled.

Though his voice was lost to the din, the guard signaled for the thick, wooden barrier to be shut. Raine looked over his shoulder to make sure his command was followed. It was important that they were followed and enacted within the minute. To his relief, the gates began rolling shut.

He just prayed that they would hold.

A large group of people stood in the center of the dirt yard, foremost among them Lieutenant Green, who only betrayed his surprise with a slight widening of his blue eyes as Raine braked hard, sliding to a stop just feet in front of him. Everyone, Angel and citizen, stared at him in mute shock.

“Sound the bell!” he shouted. “Reapers!”

At once, everyone sprang in different directions to their assigned tasks. Riflemen ascended the high towers built into the perimeter defense that was composed of rough sheet metal and salvaged wooden planks. Raine took note of the huddled group of some fifty refugees that stood in front of Green. They were mostly women and children, though a few men stood among them. They had fled to HQ just hours ago at the sign of a Reaper force they could not hope to contest.

“Any man who can shoot, get behind me!” Raine said, his voice almost a growl. “The rest of you are on buckets!”

“Buckets, sir?” a bespectacled, older man asked from the throng.

Raine resisted the urge to scowl at his softness. Despite the fact that these Bunker survivors had been living under the Angels’ vassalage for over a year, he still managed to maintain doughy cheeks and a look of softness.

Raine turned to Green. “They’re not trained yet?”

“They had no firefighting protocol at their own base,” Green said. “This is the first time they’ve ever been allowed inside HQ, so they don’t know…”

Raine was about to respond when several fiery streaks streamed over the outside perimeter.

“Scatter!” he yelled.

The Molotov crashed in the center of the bare dirt yard — kept bare for just this reason. The Reapers were fond of Molotov cocktails, and whatever they didn’t drink turned into instruments of their terror. When the firebomb exploded not too far from the Bunker survivors, the screams of women and children filled the air. The fiery heat of the blast licked at Raine’s black, sweat-slicked skin even as shards of hot glass shot outward,

“Buckets on that blaze, now!” he roared.

He hefted his M-4, one of the few in the Angels’ possession. Most had been confiscated from the Bunker survivors; they were put to better use in the Angels’ capable hands than in what his troops often called the “moles.”

It took a minute for the refugees to respond to Raine’s order, but at last, several were going off to the water pump, where already the freedmen and women were throwing water on any blaze that lit up on the yard. A shed was up in flames, being the target of several of the flaming bottles, and some dozen women were throwing as much water at they could on it, even as more brought buckets from the pump.

“Green, get these men outfitted and on the south wall.”

Before Raine could even see that his order was fulfilled, he turned and ran toward the main gate. Through the crackle of flames and the screams of women, he could hear the roar of the Reapers’ bikes outside the wall. There must have been dozens of them that had nearly pincered him on his patrol. Raine knew he was lucky to even be alive, as scouting was a task better left to someone more expendable. But Raine always liked to see things with his own eyes, but even he had to admit the risk hadn’t been worth it. At least he got an accurate count, since the moles hadn’t thought to do so at all, thinking of only saving their own skins.

One thing Raine knew for sure: with this amount of troops, the Reapers meant to end the Angels with this attack, an attack that the Raine’ spies had never found out about. By Raine’s count, there were at least one hundred bikes laden with firebombs, and hundreds more on foot, bearing anything from rifles, to handguns, and at least a thousand armed with shovels, axes, and crudely made metal clubs and maces. With the end of the world, not every one could have a gun, but Raine knew Carin Black meant to use these levies as cannon fodder. He must have drawn this army from all of his vassals, and may have even armed some of his slaves.

When Carin wanted to win, he did so with overwhelming force.

Men from the wooden ramparts fired down against the swarming bikes. There was little the Angels could do but hope for a lucky few shots. The one heavy machine gun mounting the tower near the next gate was already up in flames. That gun had been the Angels main line of defense against the bikes.

And still, the bombs rained down. At least a third of the yard was a roaring inferno.

The heavy bell tolled for the first time from the bank building behind, a bell which had been procured from a local Catholic church. They needed God, or something miraculous, to survive this onslaught against numbers Raine could scarcely even imagine. Most of the smaller fires were already dying down, even as they were being replaced by new fires, and not that the shock of the initial wave was over, his men, at last, were remembering their training. The bombs fell fewer, either due to the Angels’ return fire, or the fact that the Reapers were beginning to run out.

There might be hope yet, Raine thought. I still got my ace.

But timing was everything.

“Samuel!”

That voice. Raine snapped around, to see that little Makara was running past the flames toward…someone.

“No!” Raine shouted. “Makara, inside, now!”

She didn’t even look his direction; she had to have heard him. Either that, or what she saw was more important than even he.

Raine charged forward, heedless to all danger. A Molotov fell from above, and Raine dodged just barely, skidding to a stop and backing up. The nova-like burst of flames nearly blinded him while his skin crackled at the heat.

“Agh!”

He skirted around the conflagration, running to bar Makara’s path, his eyes seeing spots that made her difficult to pick out.

“Samuel!” she cried. “Samuel!”

Samuel? Makara had told him about her big brother, but how could he be here?

“Impossible…”

Makara, now nine, was oblivious to the danger around her. She pumped her arms, running as if she were crazed.

But Raine was just in time to intercept her, scooping her up in her arms. “You need to be inside, Mak! Now!”

“Samuel!” she said, tears streaming down her face. “Put me down, Raine!”

To Raine’s surprise, she suddenly bit him on the ear. The pain nearly made him drop her.

“What the hell! Knock it off!”

He held her at arm’s length, even as she flailed like a fish, her tearful eyes never even looking at him. Raine followed her line of sight to see the object of her attention.

A boy, no more than twelve years of age, who was ringed by a circle of flames.

 

A year after the day she was rescued, Makara Angel, as she came to be called, hardly ever left Raine’s side. He raised her like his daughter in those first years as she adjusted to life under the Angels. Raine was a busy man, but still, he always found time to spend with her, and took little Makara with him whenever he could.

It was one cool, spring day when Raine, for once, had a bit of free time, and he took Makara with him on his patrol. He usually did these alone, or at times, with one of his officers. He rarely had time for solitude, so riding on his Harley to check on things was the closest he could ever come to finding inner peace.

The Angels’ had carved out a vast swath of territory in South L.A.. That part of the city had laid largely abandoned since Dark Day, and even the Reapers had had trouble taming a lot of the smaller gangs that made it their home.

Ever since Raine and Green split from the Reapers, taking with them over a hundred of their slaves, Raine had used those gangs as a buffer between himself and the far more numerous and powerful Reapers. It had worked so far – but barely. Given time, Carin would find a way to break through and end the Angels.

The Angels needed more men. Trying to recruit from the smaller gangs was hard, and often drew their ire. And a lot of the warlords were proud and resented the Angels’ influence. There’d even been a few turf wars, as there always was in post-apocalyptic L.A., and even before. Only the Angels’ resilience and absorbing of some of the smaller gangs had won them the right to stay, as well as tripling their slave count. The more slaves a gang had, the more power. That meant for food to be grown, more scavenging parties from the city ruins, more men to build walls…

Still, though, the Angels weren’t strong enough defend themselves against a gang like the Reapers. And Carin would never forgive Raine for his cessation from the Reapers, just as Raine would never forgive Carin. His blood boiled at the mere thought of…

No, Raine thought. I won’t think of that today. I won’t give him power over my thoughts.

Raine needed something, though, to grow his gang…only he didn’t know what. Recent months had been slower, the other gangs had grown wary of the Angels’ presence, not wishing the challenge their position.

And yet, no opportunity had presented itself to Raine. Not in recent months.

Raine pulled the chopper to a stop next to a large, open field sitting below the highway. That field was filled with slaves, working hard under in the cool, cloudy afternoon. They paid little mind to the armed Angels watching them over.

Raine did everything he could to give his subjects a good life; the Reapers often worked their slaves to death, seeing that gaining new ones was easy, as lightly defended settlements were numerous within the L.A. ruins, and not all of them fell under the influence of a rival gang. Many of the slaves here were grateful for the kinder life and going to bed with a full stomach.

Being a slave of the Angels certainly beat being out there, prey to any gang that happened along. Prey to starvation, or freezing to death, or countless number of things that got people killed these days.

“Why do you have slaves, Raine?” Makara asked.

Raine blinked at the innocence of that question. He didn’t turn to look at Makara…not at first. He realized then that Makara, who mostly stayed at the base, had seen very little of slavery. It was the childlike simplicity of the question that shocked him most.

“We got to eat, baby,” he said. “Without these people…we’d not have bread, corn, beans, potatoes, cabbage…all the things that’ll make you grow up big and strong.”

“But slavery is bad,” Makara said simply. “Nobody at Bunker One was a slave. They could do whatever they wanted.”

They had the luxury to, Raine wanted to say.

“Out here, Mak, things are a bit different.” How to explain that to an eight-year-old?

“They taught us in school that there used to be slaves in America a long time ago,” Makara said. She looked at Raine strangely, and Raine could guess the reason: he was black. Not all kids these days knew that, in the past, black people were slaves in America. Makara had had at least something of an education in the Bunker, and this brute fact put Raine in something of an awkward position, even if this present form of slavery wasn’t tied to race at all.

“This is different,” Raine said, trying to sound more sure than he actually was.

“Why’s that?”

“They live a good life here,” Raine said. “They got food, water, a place to lay their heads for the night. That’s worth a lot these days.”

“But why can’t they be free, too?”

None of us is free, Makara. None of us. Not even me.

Raine lifted Makara from where she sat behind him, and lifted her until she was sitting on his lap. She looked up at him with big, green eyes.

Raine was surprised to see she was almost shedding tears.

“Don’t cry,” he said. He smiled wide. “It’s like this. This might sound kind of strange to you, but sometimes, I envy them.”

Makara’s brow scrunched up in confusion. “Huh?”

“They don’t got to worry about anything,” Raine said. “They just wake up, work a few hours in nice weather like this, and go home. Spend time with their families. They get off two days a week.” Raine chuckled. “Even I don’t get that, and I’m Warlord.”

Makara laughed, too. “So, why don’t you become a slave?”

Raine shrugged. “That’s a fair question. You might be right; it’s better to be Warlord than slave. But not everybody can be me.”

“That doesn’t mean they have to be slaves. Why not make them free?”

Makara’s tone was argumentative. She was so sure she was right; her green eyes looked up at him in challenge.

Not too many people found the courage to argue with Raine these days, but this eight-year-old girl sure did. Raine found the difference to be refreshing.

He also found that he didn’t have a good answer for her.

“Say I free them,” Raine said. “What then? How do their lives change?”

Makara thought for a moment. “Then they can leave.”

“I can’t let them leave, Mak,” Raine said. “If they leave, they die.”

“Then they will stay,” Makara said. “Why does it matter if they are free or not? If you give them a good life, they will stay. Right?”

Raine frowned in puzzlement; it was a thought that had never occurred to him before.

And just from those words, he saw everything laid out before him.

“That’s it, Makara,” he said. “We’ll free them!”

“Really?”

He lifted her and kissed her on the cheek, an action which caused Makara to giggle.

“This is our way to survive,” Raine said. “If we free them, they won’t leave. They’ll fight for me. And the word will spread. More slaves will come, and when they do, we give them their freedom. And they fight for us.”

This was just what Raine needed. It wasn’t guaranteed to work, but already the Reapers’ raids were making him bleed. The Angels had everything – good territory, the will to survive, plenty of guns and ammo. The only thing they lacked was manpower.

“We can save a lot of people,” Makara said.

“Yeah,” Raine said. “I think this is it. This is how we are going to grow.”

Makara probably didn’t understand what she had just done, but with a single question, she had done more for him than all of Raine’s lieutenants combined.

So, I’m deciding to experiment with a new thing called Wasteland Wednesday. I’ve been interested in doing backstories for of the characters of Wasteland Chronicles for a long time now, but wasn’t really sure of the format.

I’m going to try this thing out, called Wasteland Wednesday, where every Wednesday I’ll post a new flash fiction story no more than 1,000 words, to be written in about thirty minutes or less.

You can think of it as episodes. These episodes will be written quickly and definitely won’t be edited to the extent as my novels (maybe just a single pass through). It’s completely winging it, and it’s more of just to do something fun rather to to write a novel. 

Could be once I’m done with a completed story, I’ll polish it up and publish it properly, but as it is, this will just be for fun and to give you guys an idea of what my unedited writing style is like.

The first character I’ll be writing about is Makara. This is the first episode, “From the Flames.”

“Get a look at that, Raine.”

Raine lowered his sunglasses, so dark that his eyes couldn’t be seen behind them. “Came close to hitting the perimeter,” he said, gruffly.”We’re lucky.”

“Who is it, you think?”

Raine shrugged. He toyed with the thought of getting out a cigar, but those were few enough as they were. Better to save it for a rainy day.

“Round up the men,” he said. “They’re might be survivors.”

Lieutenant Green looked doubtful of that, but he wasn’t going to argue with Warlord Raine.

“Hand me those binocs,” Raine said.

Green passed them over, and Raine raised them to his eyes. He squinted as he adjusted the lenses, and the field of view homed in on the site of the helicopter crash. The thing was on its side, belching black smoke into the cloudy red air. The dark column dissipated, but only a mile or two up into the red atmosphere, where it created a smoky, gray blotch on the otherwise sandy red sky.

“Who the hell can fly a helicopter these days?” Raine mused.

“Reapers?” Green opined.

Raine scoffed, then spat. “I’ve never been one to underestimate our enemies, but it’d have to be someone from the Old World.” Raine considered. “One of those Bunkers, maybe.”

“Why would a Bunker have a ‘copter?” Green asked.

Raine was about to answer, but something caught his eye in the binocs. Something…or someone…was moving, crawling away from the flames.

“There’s someone alive,” he said, not believing it even as he said it.

“What?” Green said.

Raine looked again. He could have swore that it wasn’t an adult, but a…

“A girl…” he said, lowering the lenses.

As much as he didn’t want them to, thoughts of Adrienne crossed his head.

I couldn’t save her. I couldn’t save my daughter…

“But I could save her…” Raine said.

“Boss?”

“Round up the men. Go!”

Before Green could even respond, Raine ran forward, ignoring the lieutenant’s shouts of warning.

* * *

The heat was unreal. Raine shielded his eyes and face, even as he began to hack at the fire’s fumes.

The girl wasn’t far. She was a small thing – about the same age as Adrienne when she had…

Don’t think of that, Raine thought. Focus.

The girl lifted her tiny head, her black hair a mess and filled with cinders. Her smooth, olive face was smudged with dirt, and she crawled along only using one of her arms. The other might have been broken or otherwise disabled.

How did she survive that?

He pushed himself against the heat of the flames, feeling them crackle on his skin. If it was this bad for him, then the girl…

“Got you,” he said, scooping her up in his strong arms.

And then, he ran. The emanating heat waves licked at his back, and a sudden burst pushed him forward, nearly sending him stumbling to the ground.

The girl cried in his arms. “Daddy…”

I ain’t your Daddy, girl, he thought. He’s dead, unless he somehow got out like you.

“It’ll be all right, Angel,” he said. “Hold on tight.”

The girl obeyed. Raine chanced a look back to see that the helicopter was fully ablaze now, burning through the last of its fuel like a star going supernova. The heat was incredible; if Raine hadn’t arrived in the nick of time, the girl would have burned beyond all recognition. As it was, she had a few blisters. They would hurt, and fill with nasty pus and pop, but she would live with nothing more than a few scars. Assuming those didn’t infected, but they had antibiotics back at base.

Not enough of those as is, Raine thought. For this girl, though…I’d use them all.

Then, another thought argued: She isn’t your daughter, you damn fool. Nothing will bring Adrienne back!

She’s daughter enough, Raine responded. She has no one else. If she has no one, she’s a lot like me.

Raine only stopped when out of breath, which only took five minutes. He wasn’t much of a runner, and never had been. His strength was of a different kind, good for bashing a man’s face in or cracking a neck. He’d done that a few times in his life. And now, those some hands cradled this little girl who now whimpered against his chest.

“You’ll be okay, sweetie,” he said. “You’re safe, now.”

Her tinny voice came out at a rasp. “I’m thirsty.”

Raine reached for his canteen; he watched in amazement as the girl downed the whole thing without pause.

He looked up at the sight of Lieutenant Green returning with the patrol – two men bearing rifles, and another a first aid kid.

“She’ll be all right,” Raine called out as they approached. “Just a little burnt and beat up, is all.”

Lieutenant Green looked at the downed ‘copter with disbelief in his eyes. Raine watched the inferno blaze, reflected by those blue orbs. It had been twelve years since he’d met the Lieutenant. A former Marine, Dan Green and Dark Raine had been working together for the past twelve years – first as cronies for the Black Reapers – and then for their own gang, the Lost Angels, which they’d founded together. The pairing was unlikely – even twelve years after Dark Day, the Lieutenant was still as straight-edged as they came, while Raine had run the streets with Los Lobos as an enforcer.

The two men had one thing in common, however: they were hard as nails, as were all men who had lived this long after Ragnarok fell.

Raine surrendered the girl to the medic. Her green eyes had long closed out of sheer exhaustion. Raine stood and watched, standing next to Green.

“You can’t just do that, Raine,” Green said. “You’ll get yourself killed one of these days, charging in like that.”

The girl opened her eyes, much to Raine’s surprise. Those green eyes were haunted, but even so, she gave a small, innocent smile, the kind only children are capable of.

“What’s your name, girl?” Raine asked.

He tried not to think of his dead daughter…twelve years had passed. Twelve years, and his daughter’s eyes still haunted him in his dreams.

These eyes were green, too. So much the same.

But the hardness in this girl’s eyes were different. They belied her age.

No girl should be this tough.

“I’m Makara,” she said, her voice high, yet firm.

As the girl closed her eyes again to sleep, it was if her life were laid out in prophecy. Raine saw that he had done well in saving her. A girl as tough as this, if raised well, had great potential.

“Makara,” he said. “Welcome to the Lost Angels.”