Friday, May 22, 2009

After the Rapture: Jack’s Prologue

Jack looked on as five bandits terrorized several families. The parents’ hands were bound to their feet, and they were propped on their knees. The children were all huddled together, cowering and crying. No one else had seen Jack approach, and if he left that moment, no one would know he’d ever been there. Jack didn’t want to get involved, but he somehow knew he was going to.

It wasn’t that Jack was a fatalist, nor was he particularly god-fearing. Jack had never cared much for the “divine plan.” From what Jack understood, God’s “plan” was to send all the bad folks to hell, send the good ones to heaven, and leave the rest who weren’t worthy of either place, people like him, in this barren wasteland to fend for himself. What kind of shit plan was that?

The Rapture had been some ninety years ago. The once bustling metropolises were now graves and junkyards. The landscape was littered with cracked, unusable roads, broken-down vehicles, ruins of buildings, and trash, everywhere. All that could be known of the old world were stories told by his ancestors. Jack knew only what his father had told him, which had been learned by rote from his grandfather, which had been taught by his great-grandfather, supposedly a police officer in the pre-Rapture era. It was perhaps this cop instinct, passed on through the generations, that would inform Jack’s actions.

“Please,” one of the fathers cried out, “just take the food! Take anything else you want too, but let us go.”

“Shut-up!” shouted a red-faced bandit. “Did I say you could talk? I’ll say when you can talk. One more word, and I start capping kids!”

“Jesus Christ, man,” started a fellow gunman. “They’re just kids.”

“Don’t you get all moral on me, you whiny little pussy!”

“Hey!” came an authoritative voice, presumably the ringleader. “That’s enough. Nobody dies ‘til I say so. Let’s see what we’ve got first.”

As the bandits rummaged through the families’ effects, Jack recalled the first time he’d crossed paths with bandits.

It was fifteen years earlier. He was only eight years old. Those were the days when he and his father roamed this American wasteland together, in the hopes that they might someday find his mother. He remembered the countless times his father told him about how beautiful she was, and how perfect everything would be once they reunited in a quaint little village called Haven. They would find a home there, and be nomads no longer. For a time, Jack believed they would someday find this place, but as time dragged on, Haven increasingly seemed to be nothing more than a mirage on a barren, broken horizon.

Jack and his father had been making their way through a wood when they had heard a woman scream. Cautiously approaching, they saw a man holding a woman at gunpoint. Her hands were tied behind her back. She was begging for her life. At the time, Jack was too young to realize what he had planned for her, but old enough to understand the distress she was in.

As they hid in the brush, they also spied a second bandit who had a man tied to a tree, dousing him with something out an old jerry can, presumably gasoline. As the bound man begged the second bandit not to burn him, the first bandit dragged the woman into a tent.

“Son,” his father said, “I want you to stay here and don’t make a sound, you understand? Here, take this.” His father handed him a pistol. “If something happens to daddy, you just stay here, and don’t do nothin’ unless they see you, understand? And if they see you, you just start shooting, you got me?”

“No.” Jack grabbed his father’s arm, tears in his eyes. “Don’t go, pop. This ain’t a good idea! What if they hurt you too?”

“That ain’t gonna happen, son. Trust me. We’re gonna save those folks.”

“Why do you have to go?”

“It’s the right thing to do, son.” This would be the answer that would ring in Jack’s ears for the rest of his life.

His father really did save those folks. He started by shooting the douser, right as he was about to strike a match. The shot rang out through the air. Everything froze. The man tied to the tree looked like he might pass out from either surprise or relief at this impossible rescue. Jack’s father’s eyes glanced around for movements elsewhere, but mainly, he was focused on the tent. He kept his pistol trained on it while he pulled a knife with his free hand to cut the man free.

The gunman came out of the tent, using the bound woman as a shield. He said he’d shoot her unless Jack’s father dropped the gun. So his father slowly lowered his gun to the ground, never taking his eyes away from the panicky gunman. Jack’s father calmly stood up, his hands in front of him.

“Now let the poor lady go!” he said calmly.

“Yeah, right!” The gunman hollered, shoving the woman to the ground. “You’re dead, shit-for-brains!”

What happened next was completely a blur to Jack. What actually happened was, the instant the gun had left the woman’s temple, Frank ejected a quick-draw pistol from his sleeve, and shot the gunman through the forehead. The bandit’s gun fired a shot into the ground, partway between where the woman lay, and Frank’s feet. Jack smiled. His father was the fastest gunman in the west.

The couple was so overjoyed that they traveled with Jack and his father for several weeks, sharing what little in the way of rations they had to offer. They finally parted ways when the couple found a cottage on a riverbank, with a steady supply of fish and a working stove, where they wanted to stay. Jack’s father wanted to move on in his quest to find Haven.

Two weeks later, Jack and his father doubled back to the cottage, hoping they might be able to rest there for a few nights. Instead, they found the couple deceased. The place had been ransacked, and their bodies lay in pools of blood. They had both apparently been shot, and had bled to death, side by side. That was the only time Jack ever saw his father cry.

“What the hell’s the point of doin’ right if it just comes to this? Are you listenin’ God? Them people ain’t never done nothin’ wrong to nobody! Nothin’, you hear me! How could you let this happen? How could you…” and he trailed off into quiet sobbing. “Why is God doing this to us?”

Little Jack wasn’t sure what to do. He was crying too, but that was a daily occurrence for Jack. He took another look at the bodies of the two lovers. They were holding hands. He wondered what was that last moment must have been like for them. Did they feel love? Were they just taking consolation in not having to die alone. No one should die alone, Jack thought. Nobody.

Seeing his father like this scared him, but it was this moment that Jack realized that his father was just a man. He was tough, loyal, and courageous to a fault, but he couldn’t save the world alone. No one ever could.

Jack snapped back into his present situation.

“We gotta kill them all,” one of the bandits insisted.

“What, the kids too?”

“Yeah, We don’t wanna break up any families.”

Jack thought about his own family. He looked down at the crucifix his father had given him. He would never have thought a man like his father could ever die, but in a world with no running water, no doctors, and bacteria everywhere, the smallest infection often meant death.

Now all Jack had left of his father was the dream. Haven. This was the only thing that kept Jack going. Jack believed that if he could find his mother, that his father would never truly be gone. He would have someone to remember his father with. His mother. He didn’t even know what she looked like, but he somehow felt that he would know her when he saw her, and that she would know him too. Jack didn’t know if Haven was real or not, and even though finding it wasn’t even his own dream, it was the only dream he had, and the only thing that kept him going.

“If we let them go, they’ll tell their people we’re here. You’ve seen that village! There’s like ninety of them there. There’s five of us. You do the math.”

“We got guns though, man.”

“You think they don’t?”

His father’s words kept echoing through Jack’s mind. It’s the right thing to do. Haven could wait, and if Jack died doing this, then he supposed it would just have to wait forever. Jack stood up, and revealed himself.

“I think y’all better just let them folks go,” came Jack’s loud, unwavering voice.

The red-faced bandit went for his gun. With lightning speed, Jack pulled a pistol from his coat and fired a shot into the red-faced bandit’s head. Jack swiftly pointed his pistol at the ringleader, whose hand was on his gun, but it was still holstered.

“You got kind of a slow draw there, amigo. You sure you wanna do that?”

The ringleader took his hand off his gun.

“Here’s the deal. I’ll put my gun down if y’all put yours down too. Let’s talk about this like men.”

“Fine,” said the ringleader, and they all carefully put their guns down. “Now, who are you, and what do you want? You want a cut or something?”

“No, I don’t want no cut or nothin’. I just can’t stand by and let y’all do any more harm to these here folks.”

“Oh yeah? Just who the hell do you think you are, anyway?”

“I’m Jack Frost.”

Jack Frost had also been his great-grandfather’s name. Some clever irony had gone into the name, yet its humor would be lost on Jack. It would also be lost on the men who stood before him.

“I don’t care if you’re Billy-fucking-Holiday. Nobody tells us what to do. Nobody. You understand?”

Jack remained perfectly still, except for the raising of a single eyebrow. Jack clearly wasn’t impressed. Neither was the ringleader.

“I guess you think you’re some kind of idealist hero, huh?”

“You could say that.”

“You willing to die for those ideals?”

“Sure am.”

The ringleader snapped his fingers. Everybody went for their gun, and a chaotic barrage of bullets ensued. The entire fight took less than a second, and at the end of it, the terrified families saw the five gunmen collapse, and Jack standing perfectly still with his pistols drawn. Jack surveyed the scene, allowing his eyes to catch up with what his hands had done. Five gunmen were dead, bleeding out, lifelessly.

“’Course, it ain’t like that’s my only option.”

Jack twirled his twin pistols and re-holstered them. He untied the parents and made sure they and the children were all right. They offered him food, but he declined.

“Nah, you got growing boys and girls with you. They might need extra.”

“Why don’t you come with us?” asked one of the fathers. “We could use a fighter like you.”

“Nah, sorry, friend. I got somebody I’m looking for. I ain’t gonna stop ‘til I’ve found her.”

“You should come with us to Haven then,” one of the mothers replied. “There’s a community there. Maybe someone will know something. And you look like you could use a decent meal and a change of clothes too.”

“Haven, huh?”

Jack needed no further convincing. For the first time in his life, Jack finally felt like his years of wandering were coming to an end.


Shadowthorne said...

Erm.... at first your story reminds me of the PS3 game "Fallout 3" - a hero travelling the American wasteland killing everything in his path except NPCs.

Then later, ha ha ha, it's "Resident Evil - Extinction" with that beautiful Milla Jovovich, seeking Haven and finally got there.

Tell me where you got the inspiration.

Oh, and it is a great short story. :)

Malice Blackheart said...

Thanks, Shadowthorne!

Funny you should mention Fallout 3 - both Ema Nymton and Parasite Eve keep telling me I should play it. I'm sure it would be very inspiring.

I'd say I got my inspiration from Firefly, Mad Max, the old spaghetti westerns, and Of Mice and Men, of all things.

Ema's hosting a post-apocalyptic D&D game. This is the backstory for the character I'll be playing as.