Adam Stier is a writer and editor that resides in Portland, OR. He is an established columnist and contributor to websites and publications.
The Long Highway
He held the pedal to floor. The cold night air bellowed in through the rolled down window his arm rested on. He pulled a cigarette smoke filled breath in and exhaled to the side. His bloodshot eyes stared forward, never faltering from the long stretch of blacktop ahead. He hadn't listened to the radio for the last two hundred miles, his mind was too focused. The town ahead, his goal, that was all that mattered. He flicked the butt out the window, and then gripped the steering wheel tightly. His teeth locked together, grinding and building a small pile of dust in his mouth.
The road only could be seen as far as his headlights allowed. It didn't matter. The desert offered no scenery even in the day, and the road stretched on straight forever. The drive had been dull in the past, no turns or anything to look at he had almost fallen asleep those times, but, now he was on high alert, full adrenaline flow. The sweat flowed down his scalp and over his face despite the cold of the desert air. He saw a signpost up ahead, his next stop was Desolation.
On The Line
He had came to a screaming stop almost precisely on the town line. He got out of the car and walked to where he was standing right on it. He had his hands on his hips and stared down the road, as if he had been waiting for someone and was looking for a sign of them. He had to think of his approach. It would be difficult to get in town via the obvious route. He had grown up there, knew it well, all the same, his mind was blank, as if the town had transposed its layout. Everything was coming up backwards. He slapped his palm to his forehead in frustration, cursed himself for not thinking straight. After closing his eyes and drawing in a deep breath, he got to work.
He pushed the car behind the old billboard and opened the trunk. Inside was his bag of clothing, a shotgun, two Glock .45 handguns, a .50 rifle with scope, and a suitcase with a shitload of diamonds and gold pieces. He stood over the layout soaking it all in. The current situation brought a brief half-smile to his rugged face, it was like a movie. He thought of himself as an action hero against immeasurable odds, shoot outs, car chases, and even the damsel in distress. From an outside perspective it would appear cheesy or even scripted. The smile faded has he loaded up on weapons, grenades along his belt and the rifle slung over his shoulder, the shotgun in its custom hip holster and finally his two sidearms in holsters under his arms.
After he grabbed the suitcase, he slammed the trunk closed and started walking through the desert towards Desolation. The moon was bright that night and it cast its subdued glow across the desert floor. Like the headlights, it only brightened the way so far, but, also like the drive there was nothing to see here either. Scorpions, tarantulas, snakes, sure, but obstructions to trip on, nothing to fear. For the first two miles he was able to continue on normally, as he drew closer, he began being more tactful. He would move from side to side, crouch and wait, then move again.
Around the half mile mark, he knelt behind a large rock outcropping and took inventory. He set the sniper rifle up on the top of the largest rock and peered through the scope towards the town of Desolation.
The town resembled something out of an old western movie. Since it had tried to jump on the Old West Tourist Trap bandwagon it had shifted from a rundown 1950s style town to an 1850s style rundown town. Desolation had tried many Put Us On The Map ideas throughout its existence, having an old stone tower from England brought over, building condos in an Oasis fashion, dune buggy adventures, ghost tours, and then the old west theme. After that the town went bankrupt and most left.
Those that remained were bitter, not because of what happened, but because their camouflage was gone. They had blended in with the town, it covered them and kept them from discovery. Now that the town was all but abandon, they stood out. He had known all along, however, when he went back to finish it, he had lost. Now, they had the upper hand and waited with baited breath for his arrival. He would make it look like he would give them what they wanted, however, he had another idea all together.
As he watched the town he saw few lights, save for the two buildings he expected. There was no movement on the streets and even with the wind traveling from the town, he heard no sound. He pulled his head back from the scope and sighed. He was certain they were watching, from the stone tower they could cover 180 degrees in his direction. In the open expanse of the wasteland they would spot his shape moving behind the moon glow.
He climbed down the rock, buried the rifle and the suitcase the best he could at the base of the outcropping. Brought the slide home on both handguns that chambered a round in each, closed his eye for a moment and then ran off into the darkness towards something even darker.
Desolation Welcomes Y'All!
He made it to the first structure, the post office, on the far side of town. Panting as silently as he could, he rests his back against the wall of it and starts mentally mapping his approach. Unlike previously, he can remember clearly now, he can see all the storefronts, government buildings, and the diner with a gas station, as if a maps program was installed in his brain. He knew it would take thirty seconds for him to sprint from his current location to the elementary school in the middle of town. Once there he could scale the wall and access the clock tower on the roof.
He took a couple of deep breaths as if preparing to free dive and then spins around the corner and sprints in the shadows. As he focused on controlling his breathing he could feel the eyes on him. Watching from windows and darkened alleys, what were they waiting for. But, the eyes had been in his mind, watching from the inside out. If it was them watching, there would not be such reprieve. A few trickles of sweat poured out and his large muscles flexed as he moved. Like a machine, everything was in sync and completed its task.
Suddenly, a noise stopped him dead in his tracks. He slammed against the wall of the liquor store and dropped to a low crouch. His eye darted from left to right scanning the area for movement, his ears perked up for any noise, even his nose sniffed at the air as if to smell someone coming at him. Fully primal mode. Then a shadow manifested on the street, the silhouette stretching out indicating the producer of it was coming his direction. He tensed against the wall, his eyes dropped as he focused. It was time to go to work. Time to make the doughnuts.
As the shape drew near he knew it was one of them. He could hear the swoosh of their loose fitting robes rubbing fabric against fabric, the heavy footfalls of one who is wearing boots, and the speed, their constant movement as if an automation, a robotic likeness of a human. He cinched up to the corner of the building as he removed his knife from the small of his back. Then the hooded figure walked by at the metered pace and he slipped silently out behind it, and in quick stealth, came up directly behind, grabbed its forehead tilting its head back, and slitting its throat. All in about five seconds.
After dragging the body to the darkness of the alley, he continued moving towards his original objective. The low hum could be heard now, he had not noticed it when he first arrived, however, it was prevalent even at a distance from the town proper. It was one of the many downfalls of this place, there was a low hum that no one could find where it came from. There was no power station nearby or even a secret military base. There was just this low hum that never stopped. Drove the few visitors that happened to arrive, crazy within minutes, for those that lived there, they were use to it.
He knew better now. It was Them, they created the hum. It was their way of control, after awhile the hum got to you. Few were able to break free until the threat of starvation had overpowered it and the citizens had been freed at last. Well, almost all of them. That's when her scream pierced the night. It started at a fevered pitch and slowly died down like a Whistling Pete on the Fourth of July. Then only the robotic Buddhist mantra could be heard; hmmmm hmmmmm hmmmmm.
Hearing that scream had sent his blood into boil mode, hearing the hum that had driven him and everyone he knew from their home made it turn molten. As his face turned a dark crimson he walked with purpose to the wall of the school and in one swift move was over the wall and jogging towards the building's fire escape to access the clock tower.
From the tower he could see directly into the Town Hall. It had large picture windows that they hadn't bothered to cover and in the pitch blackness of the desert and absence of street lights, the candles they used created enough light to show him what he wanted to see. A group of them stood in the main chamber, it looked as if they were talking, before they moved off towards the back of the building where the administration offices were. There they had left her alone, chained to the podium. He had no idea who she was, however, he had also known that nobody deserved what those bastards had in store for them.
He practically had ran down the stairs, skipping two or three as he descended, shoulder rolled out the door, sprung up guns aimed in opposite directions and trotted to the Town Hall. He had figured only about twenty or thirty remained, well minus one, after the confrontation in Bigsby. He had used the chain gun there and mowed down fifty of the fuckers as they came out of their supposed church. Realizing defeat, the rest had fled, not before grabbing the young girl from the stock they planned on taking. From there he let them feel escape, since he had known exactly where they would run to.
The time for subtlety was over. He threw one of his size 13 boots toward what at the time was a side door and now was a pile of kindling, and it exploded on impact. He walked through the door as if he owned the place, as the two shapes in black hoods moved on either side of him, he drew his .45s and put a bullet in each of them. Without breaking stride he found himself in the commissary where three more were introduced to the feeling of hot lead on their minds. The humming was getting louder, they all knew he was there, he could feel a warm trickle on his ear, had he bothered to check, his fingers would have been pulled away with blood on them.
Like a linebacker, he slammed into a set of doors and burst into a large chamber room, the hall of Town Hall. There twenty of them stood in a semi circle once facing each other now all turned with curiosity towards to sudden disintegration of the doors. The beautiful brunette lifted her tired head to see the large man standing in the debris, with a shotgun at hip level in one hand and a black pistol in the other.
At first, no one moved. As if they had been sizing each other up, waiting for the other to make the first move. They began to spread out, slinking down to a crouch, the hissing noise coming from the darkened recesses of the hoods draped over their heads. He smirked, old tactics is what these things used. It almost resembled a football play, his smirk broadened. His fingers tensed slightly on the triggers, just a moment longer.
Then one plunged towards him, flying through the air, his aim ever true, the bullet went through its face before it even hit the ground. The others were enraged by their fallen friend and all came at him at once. Believing that overwhelming him was the trick, one by one and in a matter of seconds, he laid them all out with lead and they crumbled to the floor, the crimson shit poured out from their new ventilation holes. With smoke still coming from the barrel, he ran through to the other side of the room and through the final doors.
In The Court Of Desolation
After he slammed into the main room and eerie silence overtook him. The hum had stopped and even the raging fire on the far wall seemed muted. Besides that fire, nothing else lit the room, it cast large shadows across the room and across the face of the hooded figure sitting in what surmounted to a throne in the center of the room. It sat with its shoulders hunched and its head hung low. The arms draped over the rests named for them and its feet were flat on the floor, as if ready to return to standing position within a heartbeat. He could hear it breathing it had become so quiet. Then, its head raised up and, with its hood pulled slightly back, he could see its face.
"So. You had to bring us to the brink? You couldn't let go after razing our church, stealing what little valuables we had remaining and drive us back to this desolate place? I imagine the irony of that statement is lost on a creature like you. I would imagine there is much you don't understand still. Since, you have driven us to extinction before even asking the obvious question. Why? How was it decided that an intelligent, social, logical and loving species was worthy of eradication? Tell me, creature, how does a civilization come to such a decision, the decision to commit mass murder on a global scale?" The old man's face asked with a pleading look.
"That was a long time ago." He answered, his forked tongue reflexively whipping out at the air, it's scales glistened, and its one eye stared at the frail man in the chair. The last of them, after five hundred years, finally would end here. He looked over and noticed the brunette female was shaking, her scales where flexing up and down, her eye slammed shut. "I am not responsible for what my former elders did to you. It's a matter of survival. Our planet had been attacked, we were going to die. Your planet matched ours, we took it. Sorry. There, better?"
The last human being shook his head. Staring at the ground he began; "There in lies the problem. This is nothing new, even in my species brief history, we practiced the same disillusion. Strong over the weak, survival of the fittest, take what we needed. Countless cultures eradicated, entire civilizations razed to the ground, even whole countries taken from the natives, who were systematically rounded up and slaughtered. The few who survived, rounded up and placed in camps. It's a pity, really. If you think about it, it's poetic justice that humans have found themselves in this pickle. We had it coming. It was to be our turn soon enough. Have you heard of poetry, Mr. Creature?" Old Man asked with a childlike questioning face.
"Yes, I have seen this poetry your kind wrote. We have something similar, a way of singing our words. You would not comprehend my language, as easy as yours is to master. Besides, does it matter?" The naturally armored cyclopes asked.
"It's not really." Old Man responded with a wave of his hand, his eyes shifted to the corners, "I am merely reminded of a popular poet, Englishman, well, he was born in America and then he moved to England, his name was T.S. Eliot. Do you know of whom I speak?"
"Yes. As we did with our clan villages, we mocked your educational system as to better understand you. That is, when there was still a war and not a hunt. However, like your clans ours have a hard time changing, so the knowledge was and is continued to pass down from mature to young. Now, however, the language will not be necessary, only for scholars and storytellers, but, not anyone else every again." He finished raising the gun level with the senior's forehead.
Old Man lifted his arms and removed his hood, under was wispy white hair and pale white skin, a long beard matching his hair's color grew haphazardly on his wrinkled face. Piercing blue eyes penetrated the dark and bore into the Cyclopes's mind. "Go ahead then, Mr. Creature, do it. Be the final solution. Destroy a species, something that is rare beyond measure in this universe. Something that comes along maybe every hundred trillion planets. Do it quickly, as quickly as that species was alive, even over hundreds of thousands of years, it's just a blink of an eye as far as Time goes. Do it without compassion, without foresight, and with reckless abandon. Bring about the end, Mr. Creature. Be the extinction event."
"Why did you mention Eliot?"
"Hollow Men. 'This is the way the world ends, not with a bang, but, a whimper.' While not the world ending, it's most dramatic chapter is. We have learned all too late the price of arrogance, of believing we couldn't be defeated, that nothing would ever find us here in the backwoods of the cosmos. Arrogance. Fear. Ego. No, Mr. Creature, maybe you are right. Maybe it's for the best. Maybe humans were the problem. Maybe in our attempt at making amends, of being more trusting and allowing your kind to co-inhabit our planet we sealed our fate. Perhaps, had we been the way we had, we had blown you miserable bastards out of the stars when we had the chance. I'll be damned if I will not stand one last time for my race! For Humans!!" Old Man stood just in time to catch the .45 caliber bullet to his forehead. He stumbled back and landed in the chair as if sitting again, ready to continue his speech.
He walked over to the machine against the wall. Unplugging it he felt a final victory. That hum that had plagued his clan for years had been here all along, it the chamber of the Forbidden Building. He examined the object and smiled when he realized what it was, how stupid of us! he thought. Of course, they would have needed it. He pawed dust of the door and read the emblem on it; "Mae -- Tagg. Maytag." He shurgged and walked over to the female. He loosened her restraints and they both walked out of Desolation, former Old West theme town for clans from larger collectives to visit and see how the primitive native clans had lived. A failed idea for them, a familiar refuge for others.
Desolation: Aw, Shucks, Leaving So Soon?
The wind whipped around the abandon structures. Tumbleweeds rolled down Main Street and window shutters that were unsecured, banged on the exterior walls. A few remaining candles burned still in the Town Hall. The last of the human race lay in death poses, as a macabre display to their last stand. The Church in Bigsby had actually been a military complex, where they had been driven after the last Clan Hunt. Then this lone man, driven by revenge, came and slaughtered men, women, and children, while the scientists had been close to a toxin. Bullets would not penetrate the scaled exterior, their skulls were too thick as well, and being over seven feet tall, hard to win a knife fight. The toxin was the answer to winning. This one man, creature, thing, shape, rolled in and slaughtered mostly everyone then trailed those left and finished the grisly task.
All for a humming sound of a refrigerator. A nuance that in turn drove his clan into shame, having no camp, and drove him to begging in the streets. A refrigerator where the last human beings on earth had kept a few small morsels of food while they hid from the invading force that was systematically killing them.
A refrigerator; responsible for the extinction of the human race.
© 2016 Adam Stier