Authors: Paul Tobin
Tags: #Science Fiction
Prepare to Die!
© 2012 by Paul Tobin
This edition of
Prepare to Die!
© 2012 by Night Shade Books
Cover art by Anthony Palumbo
Cover design by Claudia Noble
Interior layout and design by Amy Popovich
Edited by Ross E. Lockhart
Night Shade Books
For anyone who has ever saved someone else.
And, always, for Colleen.
pulled off Interstate 184 into the parking lot of the Minute Marvels convenience store and turned off my iPod. My toes ached from how long I’d been pressing down on the gas pedal. All I wanted was some water, a bathroom break, and of course some caramel crab cakes, but the instant the music was gone I could hear the woman’s screams.
Her voice was keening and sharp, like a laser’s hiss when it cuts through damp air, or the kiss of metal scraping on metal, and I was out my car door and wishing I could take a piss before dealing with whatever was happening, with whoever’s life was being shredded, with whoever was acting the part of the asshole.
I say acting the part of the asshole, but of course for so many people it’s not an act. They really are assholes.
The parking lot smelled of gas and confections and soda pop, and my feet stuck a bit to the pavement with each step. The screams were coming from a blonde, too overweight to be considered as pretty, but well dressed. She didn’t look like a bad person. She wore a red business skirt with a white top and a dark blazer, and three convicts were in the act of stealing her car, one of them punching her again and again, trying to force her to let go of the steering wheel, which she was clearly holding onto for safety. If someone could have explained the reason she was being hit, she would have let go of the wheel, slid out of the car, and stood aside. Take it from me, though… most people don’t have any reasoning abilities during a fight. It leaves them entirely.
I said, “Hey.”
Nobody did anything.
I said, “Knock it off. Right now.” One of the three convicts stopped what he was doing. I swear to god he was cleaning the windshield, right in the middle of the car-jacking. Another one was topping off the gas while the third man was beating the woman. It was a full-service crime.
All three of the men were in orange jumpers from the Athens Penitentiary. I’d heard a report of the prison break. Two dead guards. Thirteen dead convicts. Three men on the run. Looks like they were tired of being on the
and were now trying to be on the
The man punching the woman was huge, and clearly a member of some Aryan brotherhood. He was probably the worst threat. The man pumping the gas was a squirrely type, like a Holocaust survivor about halfway through his stay. His jumper was ripped and bloodied near his left calf: he’d taken some damage during his escape. It didn’t look too bad, but he wasn’t putting much weight on the leg. The man cleaning the windshield, the one looking at me, had a big mustache and a bald head and his mouth was full of beef jerky he’d obviously stolen from inside the Minute Marvels convenience store.
With all the food in that store, he’d stolen
. The criminal mind at work.
“Stay out of this shit,” he said. I nodded, and walked closer. All three of the men were now looking at me. The woman was slumped down in the driver’s seat, bleeding from a wound on her cheek, mumbling “
Nine One One
” over and over again. The Aryan Brother who had been beating her reached to the top of the car and picked up a Glock. I hadn’t noticed it before. It was probably something I should have seen.
He said, “I’m in prison for killin’ a man. They goin’ execute me. Nothin’ to lose by killin’ one more.” The gun was pointing at me. It was a Glock 19, one of the compact types, and it looked like it’d been dug up from a ditch. I wondered if he’d buried it before going to prison, or if somebody had planted it for him prior to his escape. I could hear sirens from far away. Too far away to make much difference. We were surrounded by cornfields, with corn that was dick height to a midget. Three cows had somehow gotten into one of the fields and were munching on the growth. It was anybody’s guess how they’d gotten there. Cows will often go somewhere just because they’re too stupid to know they’re not welcome.
I told the Aryan, “You’re not in prison. You’re in a convenience store parking lot, making bad decisions.” I tried not to make it sound like a threat, but I’ve heard people say that everything out of my mouth sounds like a threat… that I could ask someone if they’d like some whipped cream on top of their pumpkin pie, and they’d crap their pants and run off. I do try to smile when I talk to people. That mostly goes wrong, too.
“Just kill him, Bigger.” It came from the man pumping gas. He’d topped off the tank and was now purposefully spraying gas onto the pavement. It was running in a stream along a dip in the parking lot. I watched an empty corn chip bag get caught up in the flow. I like the smell of gas, but understand it’s not good for you.
I said, “Bigger?” to the man with the Glock. “Your name is
?” He straightened to attention, like a dog that’s been called by name. The Glock dipped up and down, but the aim remained more or less at my head. He had tattoos of weaponry. White-trash heraldry. Women’s names. Hash marks.
“How the fuck you know my name?” he demanded.
“Jesus, Bigger,” said the man who had been cleaning the windshield. “The Colonel just said your name. That’s how this asshole knows.” He was wiping the windshield clean with a paper towel. He threw the towel towards the trash. Missed. Picked it up and put it in place. The woman in the car was still groaning about
Nine One One
“Put the gun down,” I told Bigger. “Put it down and we can end this.”
“Who the fuck are you to tell me anything?” he asked. He fired a shot towards my feet. The woman in the car sat up straight and looked around like she couldn’t believe what was happening, and maybe that was true. Her mind was shutting down. Full fetal in the brain. The other two convicts barely flinched when the shot went off. The windshield cleaner pulled at his mustache, as if in thought. The bullet hit less than a foot from the stream of gas that was flowing across the parking lot. There’d been a spark. We’d almost gone to hell. I wondered about the clerk in the convenience store. I hadn’t seen anybody moving around in there. A car, parked some thirty feet away, had a man peeking his head up at intervals. Maybe he had a cell phone. Maybe he had called the police. Maybe the sirens I was hearing were coming closer. It didn’t seem like they were, but we were in open country and sounds play tricks.
“Who. The fuck. Are. You?” Bigger asked me again. I took a step closer. He didn’t like it. He shook the gun, trying to force me to look at it, to acknowledge it, to understand its power. I refused. Looking at a gun just makes these people happy. Instead, I was thinking of Adele. She was still three hundred miles away. That’s if she was home. I should have called. I should have told her I was coming. I wondered if her life would change when I knocked on her door, and I wondered if that change would be good or bad, and I, mostly, wondered if I had any right to knock on that door and create that change. I really should have called. I really should have given her the chance to say “
.” But… without calling, the whole time I was driving, I could pretend that she would be happy to see me. I needed that dream.
“Answer me!” Bigger yelled. He was flexing his muscles. I admit they were big. The day was hot and his muscles were covered in a glistening coat of sweat. His orange clothes were badly stained. If I walked any closer, I’d probably start to smell him, even over the scent of the gas.
“Who am I?” I said. “You don’t recognize me, do you?”
Bigger said, “Wha…?” He was thinking about firing another shot. He looked back to his friends, confused about how I wasn’t afraid. When he turned, I could see that he had Hitler’s face tattooed on the side of his neck.
I said, “I suppose it’s true that I’m not in costume, but hell… my face has been everywhere. Though, to be fair, maybe you haven’t had a chance to keep up to date. I hear you’ve been in prison for killing a man.” I was getting mad. I usually do at about this time. It always starts calm, but something about the moment when I decide that things have gone too far, it gets my blood raging, and I start to feel like my heart is outside my body, egging me on, pushing me towards these fights.
Bigger said, “Jesus.” I think he recognized me, right then. I think my face came back to him. He fired a shot and I’d been right; he’d been aiming at my head. The bullet struck the side of my nose, just below my eye. It ricocheted up and through my hair, tugging at the strands. I stood looking at Bigger. The Glock is a powerful weapon. He’d made me mad.
I said, “I’m Steve Clarke. I’m Reaver.”
Two hundred miles back down the road, the night before, I’d stopped at a motel after spotting signs for it during a ten-mile stretch. The first billboard had no more than the name of the motel, which was, strangely enough, Bates Motel. The next sign had read, “Our showers are safe,” which I thought was a nice touch. I was in a mood where I needed some humor. It’s a mood I’ve been in for… let’s say a few years, at least.
The next sign just read, “Aren’t you tired? You look tired.” I’m not sure if I had been tired, or if the sign had talked me into it, but I found myself on the exit and then on a country road waiting for three boys on bicycles to cross ahead of me, with them ambling out of a cornfield where they’d set up a small ramp and had been doing tricks. The corn was trampled and destroyed in that area. I appreciated that. I remember when I was a kid, long before responsibility was a factor in my life. It would have been a wondrous thing to go out and ask those three boys to show me some tricks. There were maybe seven years old, maybe eight, maybe nine, but definitely an age where they wouldn’t care if they fell on their asses. I miss that feeling.
When they came out of the field I stopped my car, only about twenty yards past a stop sign, in respect for their youthful arrogance. They took a lingering time going over the road, talking about… something… I couldn’t hear. My iPod was blasting Johnny Cash and he was joking with the prisoners at Folsom and making the guards angry. I didn’t like what he was doing but at the same time I admired his balls. Still… it was naïve. Most men in prison are there because it’s where they belong. Of course, it’s equally naïve to think that all of them are there for that reason.
But… the boys’ conversations were lost to me. They were probably talking about sports. School. Parents. Food. Maybe even about girls. They weren’t at an age where girls were a factor in their lives, but they were at an age where they knew girls were on the horizon, and that in itself needed to be discussed. The girls in their lives would still be lanky, beanpole things. It was hard to believe that Adele had ever been that age, even though I could remember when it was true.
I checked into the Bates Motel, where they had a rubber knife on display behind the counter. The clerk joked a short spiel about the movie,
, but didn’t want to do it, and was happy when I didn’t play along. My room was about twenty feet square, with a bed, a table, a chair, a television that was already on when I went into the room, and a bottle of fifty-cent water with a note that it was complimentary, with an exclamation mark. I walked into the bathroom, faced the mirror, and lifted my lip in order to look at my upper teeth. The left front tooth had been broken in a fight. The tooth was healing. It had the usual green tinge of these things happening. In a few hours the tooth would be whole again. I looked into my eyes and there was nothing wrong with them, but it didn’t seem possible that they would ever be whole again.
The shower pressure was surprisingly strong and the water was pleasantly warm and I allowed myself a shower piss, one of man’s greatest pleasures. If women could see us pissing in the showers, the way we’re not bothered by it running down our legs, I’m not sure they’d ever sleep with us again. Looking at myself in the shower, gleaning what I could from a partially opened shower curtain and a largely steamed-over full-length mirror, I couldn’t understand what draws a woman to a man anyways: we’re ungainly creatures. My hair was a ragged mop on my head, looking like I was trying for one of those old Tintin haircuts, but my receding hairline couldn’t pull off the tuft. I was in good shape, of course; the mirror had no problems with me in that area, though it did reflect the green tinge on several wounds. There were also discolorations. I stand about one inch under six feet, and about thirty percent of me had a bruise of some color. The blows had been deep. I don’t usually bruise.