This is my Friday Fright for DarkMedia City this week. Our prompt was Steampunk.
Finite dirt particles shake loose from their moorings on the ledges above, signaling the beginning of another cycle, one more in a never ending parade of events which always culminates in the realization that this time could be the last. Sometimes I think that wouldn't be a bad thing, but then again, we are the ones who survived.
As the shaking begins from deep within the earth, and the small wisps of dirt become larger, I laugh. If this is survival, the spoils are meager.
The winds, not having much left in the way of natural buffers since the day of the big cataclysm, roar across the top of us, and we are trapped between two worlds struggling to become one but separated by fear and distrust. When last we stayed up there for any length of time at all, our numbers were cut in half. I was a young boy then and only survived because they thought I was dead.
Grizzled men, unkempt, with scraggly beards, and dirty clothes, roared into what town we had left on great machines, powered by steam, looking like small versions of train engines, but not needing tracks to run on. A series of gears shifted the power ratio somehow so that even as rusty and unstable as the vehicles appeared to be, they moved forward easily. They rammed the machines into our ram-shackle homes, completely destroying some, and sending our people out into the streets.
Not everyone survived the demolition. Trapped inside as the machines roared over them, they were crushed to death, their blood running on to the street, forming rivers of red in the dry soil.
I lay under a collapsed wall, unable to move, something wrong with my spine, all the nerves in my body seemingly no longer functioning. From my vantage point, I helplessly watched as the dirty bastards tortured the men to find out where our supplies were kept and raped the women in the street, in front of the children and their husbands. Before they left, they set fire to the remainder of the houses, and sprayed a barrage of bullets on whoever happened to be close to where they were. It mattered not if they were men, women, or children.
It took years before I regained the total use of my body, and it was only because of Ruth. Somehow, even without schooling, she knew about the healing arts. She had been one of the women raped in front of her husband and children, and she had suffered even more when they were ruthlessly gunned down. Post-apocalyptic Cheyenne, Wyoming of 1888 was not kind.
And me? I was orphaned when my parents were killed in that battle, but not for long; Ruth took me in and made me whole again, refusing to quit, working day and night to massage my muscles, to open the nerve passages once more. She became the Mother I had lost.
But now we're stuck living down in the old tunnels below the streets of Cheyenne. Basically, these underground passages were built so the "gentlemen" cattle barons and politicians could journey from the Capital building and other fancy homes and traipse over to the red light areas without being recognized. No matter: they serve as a dandy place of refuge and keep us away from whoever might wander through the next time to loot, plunder, and rape.
Ruth leans next to me, knowing the thoughts on my mind, and trying to calm the savage beast which rushes to the surface whenever I remember; whenever I relive the pain.
"It's okay, Bob. You're safe now. No one else is here."
I shudder. Not from fear, but from the need to do something. What, I didn't know, but the pain in my heart for my people, both living and dead, is tearing me apart, driving me to find something, some way of living that is better than living in a world of eternal darkness.
Ruth beckons for me to lie down on my pile of old blankets, and I do as she asks. "You need to rest, my son. Save your energy for when the time is right."
She lies down next to me and moves my head to her ample bosom, caressing my hair, and reassuring me with her sweet touch that she is there. That she will always be there.
* * * *
The silence when I wake is artificial; it's too quiet. Someone or thing, or, perhaps more than one, is making certain that we detect nothing out of the ordinary. I feel them, yes I sense more than one, and it's obvious from the way the hush remains that they know we're here.
Ruth stirs and starts to talk, but I motion for her to remain quiet, pointing up towards our ceiling. Together, we alert the others to what I'm certain is waiting for us. Through the thick ceilings of rock and brick, and the dirt tamped down on top of that, the reverberations of feet moving down the street can be felt. So much for stealth.
They're heading towards one of the entry ways to our home! Will they actually find it, or are they merely looking around for a way down? And how do they even know that we're here? Pointless questions. The time it takes for them to find us, if they do, will give us an edge.
We all know the drill. Since the great machines burrowed down into the calderas to capture the energy locked within and unleashed devastation on the planet when the eruptions and world wide ash reduced the planet to a vast wasteland with most of the inhabitants perishing, it has not been a hospitable place to live. The strong rule: small bands of marauding outlaws consumed by their lusts are in charge now. There is no one to stop them. Weapons are few and far between. But after what happened to us the last time, my people have prepared for something like this, knowing that sooner or later, it would revisit us.
There are four openings to our dwelling remaining, and we station men at each one. The sounds of their approach intensify, and we know for sure they are coming now. We have fifty men and twenty six women to fight whoever tries to do us in: and it is assumed they will try. Humanity has been reduced to that. Our enclave is not violent, but we will not allow ourselves to be slaughtered, either. We deserve better.
Closer they come, the sound of their boots alerting us to their every step. They stop at the opening I'm at, the boots and the swish-swish sound of what I assume to be leather clothing no longer making a sound. They have found the opening. How, I don't know. We have always taken every effort to camoflauge the entrances and to make them a strong bulwark against the fierce climatic changes and horrific winds that can come at any time.
Yet, they know.
Still, with minimal sound, the advancing forces clear the trap door of the natural vegetation, rocks, and such that we have piled there. The one opening not needing concealment, and our usual means of departure and arrival, is not touched, probably because it naturally blends in with the topside picture of destruction that is everywhere: fallen and burned timbers, bricks, and other building materials that were once a part of the town. Even the ash from the great eruption covers much of the landscape.
The door creaks as they lift it, and they stop, waiting for the sound to completely vanish from the air before they resume. No more sound this time, and the bright moonlight washes down the stairs built into the wall and spills on to the floor.
We hold our breath, waiting for all of them to get below before we act. The metallic glint of the guns and rifles sends sparks off against the walls of the tunnel, sending us a message that the battle is to begin.
And still we wait. Just a little more, you fools. A few more steps.
They're almost on us and I flick the switch. Bright light fills the entire area, but it does not bother us for we are wearing special googles I have constructed to protect us from the blazing sun on the surface where an ozone depleted earth intensities its rays. But our would be pillagers are not ready for this and blindly wander about. Another flick of a switch and it moves towards them, blades swishing around, expanding to fill the diameter of the tunnel, relentless in its search for those it is programmed to destroy.
On and on it goes, a seemingly mindless piece of machinery propelled forward by the very source of energy which almost destroyed the planet. Steam power, fueled by the very magma beneath us, trapped and harnessed to provide our energy needs, sends my little machine towards the interlopers. Ever closer it moves, ready to clean the tunnel of the vermin ahead. On and on and on.
The men in their leather jackets, resplendent with many metal snaps and buckles, are torn to shreds by the uncaring machine advancing towards them. Blood and guts fly everywhere as the bastards are reduced to pulpy masses of crimson gore, their intestines adorning the stairs that they so recently descended upon.
I fly after the ones who have managed to escape, grabbing the weapons on the floor of the tunnel, dropped by those who are now mince meat at the hands of my invention. As I reach the ground above, the bright moon light shows me where the survivors are heading to: the weird machines, the same ones that were here on that fateful day all those years ago- the day that this town was almost wiped out.
One by one, I send bullets into the men, making them fall before they reach their escape vehicles. One of them makes it to his machine and leers at me before heading straight at me. His eyes and mine lock on to each other, and I reach in to my waist band for a fresh gun.
"Roast in Hell, mother fucker!" I say, as I steady myself and fire all six bullets into the demon's head.
His smile fades as he flips over and over again before he and his super machine change to a burning visual of defeat. I stare at the man who slaughtered my parents so many years ago and I find a kind of peace. It has taken many years, but justice has been served.
"What now, Bob?"
I turn, look at Ruth, and I give her a little hug. "Mom, we just have to survive as we always have. We have some retribution, but the world is still an unsafe place."
We hold hands, and I stare across the desolate landscape.
"Things can only get better," I think.
The ground rumbles, and the sky darkens . . .