“You ready to go?”
It’s with sodden hands and soaked-through boots that he climbs into the back of the faded old pickup. Red paint’s peeling off everywhere, but he barely cares. Bullet holes and scattershot clusters show every few feet, but he still loves his ride. Despite the shattered world and slightly shattered rear-view mirror, it still takes him places.
He’s got a gruff voice; his baritone erupts from his throat like gunfire or gravel across a chipped highway. Torn rubber boots slosh in the highway’s broken shoulder. A burning wind catches his hair, runs through his stubble and down his open shirt. Runoff from the road splashes his faded jeans.
His coat whips in the wind, green and patched more times than he can count on his fingers. At least he has all of them; staying intact is an odd bonus in his line of work. The tools of his trade click and shift in their holsters just above his wide hips- twin .44′s tempered smooth with hundreds upon hundreds of quick-draws.
Ash crosses his tongue; the leavings of the burning city behind him. No point in turning around. Eight hours of his day have just been spent cramped inside his cab, gripping the wheel, feeling the gearbox grind and the shifter disintegrate under the adrenaline, the pressure, the fury of the ride. Guns have been fired, blood has been shed today, and all he can do is sit and stare into the blood-red sunset.
He reaches into a pocket. An old, faded silver Zippo, salvaged from a dumpster somewhere, snaps into his rough-shod palms. Snaps. Embers flare to his cigarette. It’s the last one he’s got. The settlement trading post will have more, down the road and behind a proper rampart. Cannibals crawl this country and slither through the remains of suburban basements.
He can’t stay long.
“I’ll be there in a sec” he calls over to the top of the cab. He’s had a hard bitten, hard-talking, hard fighting life, but tearing him away from a sunset is as impossible as dragging his six foot two, hundred and ninety pounds of muscle soaking wet.
If there are cannibals, they can wait. He’s dealt with them before and can deal with them again.
It’s only as the cigarette drops to the road that he asks himself why he’s still running a truck, running goods, killing, and getting paid for it. He should have left those days in the dust. He’d run over his dog days spent drinking and fighting long ago, when he’d been young and the world’s wounds were still fresh.
It’s ’cause I’m scarred over, he reminds himself. It’s because I’m forgetting the pain, and testing my own nerves as I grow old. I’ve got to see if I can stay going. My younger self won’t ask for less.
After the memories had washed away like the rain upon the hood, he slipped his legs in and slammed the truck into third.
It’s only ’cause I enjoy it, isn’t it?
Illustration by: Mark Reihill