Vengeance In the Badlands
a badlands novella
Brian J. Jarrett
Copyright © 2017 Brian J. Jarrett
Elegy Publishing, LLC
All rights reserved by the author. No part of this publication can be reproduced or transmitted by any means without the written consent of the author.
This book is a work of fiction. Any names, people, locales, or events are purely a product of the author’s imagination. Any resemblance to any person (either living or dead), to any event, or to any locale is coincidental or used fictitiously.
For my old SDL team. We had a hell of a run. Good times, bad times, but in the end we came out in the black.
If you prick us do we not bleed? If you tickle us do we not laugh? If you poison us do we not die? And if you wrong us shall we not revenge? – William Shakespeare
While seeking revenge, dig two graves – one for yourself. – Douglas Horton
Revenge is a dish best served cold. – Unknown
A dilapidated army Jeep rumbled along the defunct highway, its engine growling as the driver navigated around dozens upon dozens of abandoned vehicles; the rusting relics of a civilization long since vanished from the face of the planet. Tall weeds sprouted from widening cracks in rotting concrete as saplings took root along the shoulder, proof that Mother Nature was working hard to reclaim her land.
Dave Porter sat in the Jeep’s passenger seat, warm wind on his face as he watched the ruined landscape pass by. Johnny Ratliff sat behind the wheel, both hands on the steering wheel as he swerved in and out of the cars blocking the road.
As they went around an abandoned Ford pickup truck, Dave glanced inside the cab. A skeleton sat behind the wheel, the exposed skull resting against the side glass. Like so many of those who’d tried to outrun the virus, in the end, the infection overtook their minds wherever they happened to be. Often that was inside of a locked car from which they no longer understood how to escape. Now insane, they starved to death where they sat.
Dave had seen so many bodies over the last five years that he hardly noticed them anymore.
A murder of crows took to the air at the sound of the Jeep’s approach. They cawed angrily as they lit collectively on a towering power line running alongside the highway, watching the vehicle closely as it went by. Dave eyed the birds as they passed. He wasn’t one to believe in omens, but seeing a dozen of the things watching in concert had an unnerving effect on even the staunchest realist.
As they left their feathered audience behind, Dave’s mind wandered. Awash in memories, he found himself face to face with Calvin Summerville again, listening in disbelief to the words coming out of his mouth. All it took was a tiny cut, Calvin had said. Right through the femoral artery. With bitter clarity, Dave remembered the way the grin had spread across Calvin’s face as he described murdering Dave’s pregnant girlfriend. She bled out quick if that makes you feel any better.
It hadn’t, and Calvin knew that.
Dave felt the familiar rage begin to build. The virus took nearly everything Dave held dear. And then Calvin came along and took the rest.
Head south. Those were Calvin’s departing words before he left Dave lying on the floor with a broken ankle. The ankle had taken its time to heal. Weeks. But when it did, Dave did precisely as Calvin suggested. While the other survivors from Glenn Summerville’s prison camp headed west, including Dave’s friends, Dave went south.
That’s where he hoped to find Calvin Summerville.
And when he did find Calvin, he’d kill him.
“How’s the ankle feeling today?” Johnny said over the din of the Jeep’s engine.
Dave pulled himself out of his thoughts and back into the present. He shrugged. “It’s fine.”
Johnny nodded, his eyes fixed on the road. “Been a while since we’ve seen one of his calling cards.”
Dave’s thoughts drifted back to the calling card in question. As he made his way south, Calvin had been killing prisoners and posing their bodies, arms extended and index fingers pointing the way. They’d run across six of these poor souls so far, their bodies rotting in the hot sun as the birds picked their bones clean.
“We’re catching up,” Johnny said. “The bodies are getting fresher.”
“Not fast enough,” Dave said.
“We’ll find the son of a bitch. Don’t you worry about that.”
But sometimes Dave did worry. Each day that passed without a sign of Calvin made him wonder if they’d gotten off track. Calvin had a few weeks’ head start on them, and it seemed that no matter how fast Dave and Johnny went they’d never be able to catch up. One wrong turn and they could lose him altogether.
But most days he held out blind hope that they’d find him. After all, Calvin wanted to be found. It was all part of his sick and twisted game.
“Look at that,” Johnny said, pointing ahead into the distance.
Dave squinted, shielding his eyes from the worst of the overhead sun. Johnny had a sniper’s perfect vision, so it took Dave a little longer to see it. When he did, his spirits lifted while his heart simultaneously sank. Another calling card from Calvin meant they were on the right track.
It also meant another dead body.
Johnny navigated the Jeep around a jack-knifed tanker trailer with a crumpled Honda Civic wedged underneath the tail end. The body in the car had gone to skeleton years ago, picked clean by the birds that had merely flown in through the smashed windows. The semi’s driver’s side door sat ajar, the remains of the driver nowhere in sight.
Johnny downshifted, and the Jeep’s engine groaned in protest. The vehicle lurched as the transmission caught, RPMs spiking before leveling out again. As they closed in on the gruesome scene before them, a half-dozen tar-black crows that had been feasting on the remains took to the air, cawing frustration at having their dinner interrupted.
Johnny shook his head. “Jesus Christ,” he muttered. “What a sick fuck.”
Dave took in the horror before him. The little girl’s body had been fastened to a large sheet of plywood nailed to a rotting utility pole. Her blackened skin had been mostly picked clean by the birds, the remainder rapidly rotting in the hot sun. Her blonde hair danced in the breeze as the folds of her dress flapped like a flag. Dark-brown blood splotches stained the dingy-white dress.
Like the other victims before her, she’d been posed with her arm extended and her index finger pointing the way. Above the child’s body, a smiley face had been spray-painted on the plywood’s rough surface, two Xs for eyes. A dead smile. It stared back at them with the murderous intent of a psychotic clown.
Calvin Summerville’s calling card.
The wind changed direction, bringing with it the unmentionable stench of death. Above them, perched high on the single remaining electric line still attached to the utility pole, the hungry crows waited. Dave had to fight the urge to unload his M16 on the entire lot of the winged bastards.
But that would do no good. The crows were only surviving the way they always had. And the bullets needed to be saved for Calvin and his men.
“Let’s go,” Dave said.
Johnny gave him a quick nod before shoving the Jeep into gear. He hung a hard left onto a crumbling two-lane road, following Calvin’s macabre signpost.
Behind them the crows took to the air, lighting on the corpse to resume their feast.