You may have noticed a slight change in the look of FlashTold. I was sick of the white on black with the red header bar. The picture I used for this header bar is one I took several years ago of the Mayflower sitting in Plymouth Harbor (yes, the Mayflower of pilgrim fame. For me, it’s right around the corner).
This story is sort of a response to a comment someone wrote a while ago. In the comment he mentioned peasants in the Mexican countryside referring to me as El Nocidar, and I started writing this. I put it away and forgot about it, only to find it this week while rummaging. It’s one of those with the same beginning and ending lines, another style I like. And it is post-apocalyptic.
He wondered, as he walked into the desert east of Yuma Island, how much longer he would do this. The setting sun turned the sky a violent pink. Cactus jutted out of the scrabble and scrub looking like odd stalagmites in silhouette. He was dressed in black to blend in with the coming pitch of a moonless night.
The Great Quake marked the beginning of this part of his life. The San Andreas ripped California apart and rendered Arizona a coastal state. The desert ended at the Pacific Ocean, an odd juxtaposition of geography; beach for as far as the eye could see.
He was headed south to get into position. The sky was fading to a shade of purple that always reminded him of the low point of a corpse.
He thought of his wife.
He lost his wife during the Great Quake. She was heading to a symposium in California and simply disappeared. That is how he thinks of it. Swallowed up is just too graphic for his sensibilities regarding her. His eye sockets burn with the memory.
The looters arrived with the aftershocks. They came across the border in groups looking for basics like food and medical supplies. Parts of Mexico sheared into the Pacific as well and they didn’t have the wherewithal to deal with it.
The U.S. Army stepped in to help until the funding ran out. He doesn’t understand that. The army is still the army and their base is not far away. So it’s not funding that’s the issue; it’s interest.
Several hours of sitting at the top of the cragged rise overlooking the rest of the desert and he sees a juddering light in the distance. It is a flashlight. He stands for a better view in time to get a sense of where it is before being switched off. He begins walking toward a location that he feels will place him just ahead.
He doesn’t use his night vision goggles until he needs them in order to conserve the batteries.
He switches them on when he feels he is close.
The border-crossers used to be a minor inconvenience before the Great Quake; crossing for jobs, health care and anything else they could get without ruffling too many feathers. In the aftermath the United States has nothing to offer them—nothing to spare; yet they still have less. So they come to steal whatever they can from whoever they can. They’re called night-raiders and coyotes. They ransack homes, stores, and hospitals stealing everything and selling what they don’t want.
Survivors are his best weapon against the war he wages. He started with heavy fire power that usually killed right away. But they kept coming. No one was left to warn others away. Then he started carrying his paintball gun and things changed.
He developed his own weaponry.
The sixteen inch barrels strapped to his arm, extend out beyond his hand and are fired by flexing his wrist downward. The firing barrels are fed from a backpack hopper of paintballs and a co2 tank.
To the uninitiated, he looks like an errant paint-baller gone rogue and ready to run the gauntlet.
The peasants talk of la marca del Diablo, or the devil’s mark. At night he can hear the terror in their voices when they see the signature red mark of his laser sighting system. They scramble when he starts firing.
The paintballs are his very special reloads. He carefully removes the paint and replaces it with an acid solution that reduces organic matter (like flesh, for instance) to a jelly-like state.
It scars them for life.
He’s seen them around during the day. Just a few days ago he saw a woman with his mark on her. The skin of her ear was fused and shiny and the scar extended below the collar of her shirt. Her normally cocoa-tan skin was an ugly mix of white and pink. She was working at a gas station in Gila Bend when he noticed her, which means she no longer crosses at night to loot.
She’s gone legal.
With his night vision goggles on he sees the group easily. They are heading north, single-file, and look to be mostly men. He begins firing, aiming at the guide first.
Soft air sounds punctuate the night as the balls of acid hurtle in the dark at nearly four hundred feet per second.
The looters begin to scream in Spanish. What he hears most is the name they’ve given him.
“Ohhh, El Malo.”
“AAAAaaaiiieeee, El Maligno!”
“Santa Madre de Dios, mis ojos.”
The group scatters mostly south and he watches, sure that most of them were hit. There is a sudden swish sound behind him and he drops to his left. He brings up the barrel and tips his wrist. A forty round burst spews out. At least thirty of them pepper a would-be attacker.
The man drops to his knees, a machete falls, and his hands move up to his face. He mops at the acid; at first like so much sweat on a hot day. Moments pass and he starts to wail in pain.
“Puta,” is the only insult El Malo knows in Spanish.
That was the first time he ran into a flanking guard.
Later, he wondered as he walked home how much longer he would do this.
Comments on the story, the new look, or pop tarts as a memory enhancer are all appreciated.