Archive for Mark McEachran

The Last Bar in Buffalo – Part 4

The Last Bar in BuffaloClip closed the door slowly, he wanted to catch a glimpse of the first blow to Bob. When it hit, the sound of mallet on muscle and bone snuck into the building giving Janice another taste of fear and bringing a small grin to Jacko. Clip chuckled as he finally closed the door enough for the latch to catch.

The bears had surrounded the fox, broken him, and were likely going to eat him. the violence of this world came to Buffalo, came to Bob’s outpost, and he was not ready for it. Neither Bob, nor Janice, nor Kevin spent enough time imagining the possible cruelty of their fellow Man. The notion of such behavior was so abhorrent to them that anytime the thought of it occurred it was stricken from their minds. Such is the way that people become complacent and ripe from the plucking by a violent aggressor.
Had they given their minds the freedom to explore the horrors of the new world, at the very least in their imaginations and dreams, they would have prepared. The bar would have been fortified, it would have had a panic room, some escape routes, weapons, and booby traps.

It might not have made a difference for Bob and his friends. They may very well have been killed all the same, and eaten. But it would have improved their chances of survival against an aggressor like The Dragon, for much like Bob and Janice and Kevin, they too were becoming complacent. They expected people to cower in fear, or to fight back with just what they have on hand, and as individuals. Had they encountered an equal force of men ready to battle with cunning and familiar surroundings, they might not be such dominant conquerors.

They didn’t encounter such resistance from Bob and his friends. They encountered a people more focused on comfort, a people lazy of mind. The Dragon despised their complacency. To them, Kevin’s fingers had no value, not even to him. Breaking them was not a horror in any way, it was merely destroying a worthless set of things attached to a worthless man.

Jacko, Oz, and Clip stood over their prey like a pride of housecats over some nearly dead mice. “What about the helicopter, Janice?” Oz asked. “What about the flying man. He’s been here, probably more than once. Did he go west too?”

Janice understood that she and Kevin were already dead and that any more information given up would do nothing to prevent it. But she couldn’t bear the thought of watching them break more of her Kevin. What did it matter to the helicopter pilot if she told them or not, they would eventually find out what they wanted to know by torturing someone else. Once she realized this, that they would keep hurting people to get the information, her conscience freed her to tell them everything, and she did. She told them how the two women came into town with nothing but the last bits of water in their bags, how they traded medical services for provisions and a safe route west. She told them about the outposts along the way where they likely stopped for supplies, and told them where they likely ended up, at least for awhile. She went on to tell them how the helicopter used to make frequent stops in Buffalo, and how it flew west as well, one last time, and never came back.

She told them this so that they would stop mutilating Kevin, and so that they would kill him quickly. Once she started singing Oz’s demeanor softened. He could see plainly what she wanted in exchange for everything she was saying. He grabbed Jacko and Clip by their necks and pulled them close, whispering in their ears. They nodded in agreement.

With Oz standing between the predators and prey, Janice and Kevin couldn’t see them brandishing their clubs, though she did see them wind up for the swings. She had just enough time to close her eyes and tell Kevin that she loved him. Kevin didn’t have time to form any words. The shock of what was about to happen only gave his mind time to flash panic and horror across his face, and inhale deeply one last breath into his lungs.

* * *

They ate well that night in Buffalo, and they smoked the rest of the meat overnight to soften it up. Bob had quite the kitchen, it turned out. It was all burned as they departed, moving west. Even though they weren’t taking the city, the small part they were able to tear down was fully torn down. No new tenants would take up residence in The Last Bar in Buffalo.

The Last Bar in Buffalo – Part 3

The Last Bar in BuffaloThe screams of Bob’s knees were overruled by the horror that was unfolding before him. Knees be damned, he thought. I’ve got working fingers, two legs that work, and despite my drooping eye I can still see. That poor bastard. I wonder if they’ll let him live, or any of us.

This is how they feel, the animals. With steel jaws clasped tightly around their ankle and no hope of pulling it out. The harsh, rusted metal digging into their flesh, grinding and scratching their bones with every move. Do they gnaw it off, or just struggle until the metal teeth tear their limb in two? Either way it’s a desperate move borne out of panic and despair. Did the foxes contemplate their predicament? They probably thought they had been captured by a sleepy bear and were desperately trying to escape before the animal woke. A trap was not part of their DNA, not part of their instincts. It wouldn’t have made any sense to these creatures. All they knew was teeth, and pain, and the fear of being eaten. The fox didn’t know that they could bleed to death, or die of infection, or be killed by the other slumbering bears nearby. All they knew was the immediate threat and that it meant certain death if not dealt with.

So the fox gnawed or struggled until the leg came off, and hobbled, as best it could, through the nest of bears or wolves or whatever happened to be around. And hopefully, if the fox was clever enough, or lucky enough, it would escape and become a three-legged fox and that would be good enough. It wouldn’t be graceful, and it might not be able to catch the faster prey, but it would survive. Good job, fox, good job.

Good luck, Bob. He thought as he rose to his feet. Like the fox, Bob only saw certain death by staying in the trap. He didn’t have to lose a leg to escape, not at first anyway. But Janice and Kevin were on their own, and they were things that Bob could live without. He wouldn’t be proud, but he’d be alive. His three-legged hop would be caused by the loss of these two good people. People wouldn’t notice the a physical disfigurement, but they might know how Bob ran out on two people who were certainly going to be eaten by the bears. It would have been three, otherwise. There was no escape for any of them if they stayed in the trap.

To that point in his life Bob felt he had lived as honorably as he could have, as any man could have in the desert world. Everyone had at least a little something they weren’t proud of, but it was usually tolerable. Theft mostly, or ignoring those in need. There were good reasons for those behaviors. Steal to survive, and ignore the needy lest they become dependent and invite other needy people. There are just too many in need and they swarmed the generous a long time ago, driving them out of every possession until they too, became needy. The needy were extinct, only the survivors remained, and they were shades of selfish.

This was the worst thing Bob had ever done, abandoning friends like this. He barreled ahead and knocked Clip down, giving him a swift kick in the head as he bolted for the door. Bob envisioned open sands on the other side of the door, a clear path to freedom. He strode foot over foot with whatever speed he could muster with sore knees and hands tied behind his back. I can make it, he thought. Right on the other side of that door I can make it. They don’t need me, I don’t know anything. Janice knows things. They won’t chase me, she might escape.

He could hear his own breathing getting deeper to pull more air in for his heart and muscles. His body knew that the adrenaline would carry him for a moment or two, but he would need oxygen to power him across the sand on the other side of the door. Go, Bob!

The fox didn’t tip-toe either. The bear was right there, right behind it, so it thought, not knowing that a steel trap was never in any position to give chase. The trap just sat there, not thinking about the fox, or how delicious the fox’s leg might have tasted. The trap is just a trap, but there might be more than one. Sometimes there are traps nearby, just on the other side of the tree, or the hill, or the door.

Bob burst through the door and the sun blinded him for a moment, but he kept on running. After 10 or 15 yards, his eyes cleared. No one had chased him, just like the trap didn’t chase the fox. But no one chased him because no one had to give chase. There were more traps just outside the door. At least a dozen more men were standing around Bob, brandishing their clubs and knives and teeth. What do you do now, clever fox? There are not enough limbs to chew off to satisfy all these hungry bears. Do you snarl and attack, or cower and ask for pity from the colossal threat? What do you do now, Bob?

He wouldn’t have to make that choice. In the next few moments it would be settled for him. One of the men outside shouted toward the building, “Do you need this one?”

Bob’s breathing slowed and the sweat that had been beading up on his forehead was now dripping down his face. Instinctively, he pressed his head against his shoulder in an attempt to remove some of the salty water. As he did, he gazed around the semi-circle of young men with their clubs and knives and hungry teeth. They were fit and ready for battle and Bob knew that, clever as he was, he was outmatched by even one of them.

A voice emerged from Bob’s building with a word that stopped his heart, “No.”

The Last Bar in Buffalo – Part 2

They went after Kevin first. Maybe they thought he had the lowest chance of survival from his initial injuries, or that he would be easier to break. Bob was a little jealous of Kevin because they let him sit on his butt instead of his knees, even if he had a broken femur. It’s a new low, Bob thought. I envy a man for his broken femur.

Bob figured they wanted information quickly so rather than torture Kevin a whole bunch they just started breaking his fingers, left hand first. They every so quickly snapped them one by one. For a moment Bob couldn’t feel his knees. He could only sense his hands as he clenched them, watching Jake or whatever snap Kevin’s pinky all the way up to the thumb. That must be his reward for subduing us so quickly. It didn’t seem to bother Jerko to be snapping away at them. The guy in charge stopped him between hands and repeated his demand for information. Kevin didn’t know. Kevin cried. He really didn’t know.

Janice knew. She had heard of the two women who were abandoned by the helicopter man. She heard how there were to dead men along with them. Janice knew, and Bob figured that she knew by the sad, sad stare she was giving Kevin, like she was trying to decide how much damage they would have to do before she would talk. She hadn’t told Kevin about them, for she was asked not to tell. Bob could see it on her face.

“You’re next, shopkeeper.” Clip said to Bob. “I see you clenching your fists. Maybe we’ll start with your toes instead, just to keep it interesting.” Bob just stared over at his friend getting mangled mitts where once there were hands. His disregard earned him another kick to the chest. “Worry about you, shop-boy.”

Bob was hardly a boy. He was about to turn 60, which was amazing giving the situation the world was in. He imagined himself younger, faster, and more nimble before this day. Jake had proven that he was getting old, and maybe foolish too. He was too trusting. But he had never seen bastards like this before. Dammit, Bob. You’re old and stupid. These young asses go the better of you, and you’re done after this. He thought.

Jerko snapped through Kevin’s right hand as quickly as the left. This time he stared at Janice the whole time. He skipped Kevin’s index finger. He wrapped his hand around the other mangled digits and extended the finger toward her. He leaned in close to Kevin’s ear and whispered, “She knows something, Kevin. She knows and she’s letting your fingers go. How long you think she’ll let go before she tells us?”

“How long, Janice?” He turned his attention to her. “Are those people worth more to you that sweet Kevin here?”

He grabbed Kevin’s index finger with his other hand and snapped it in two. Despite his horror at the vision and pain of his shattered mitts, Kevin would not look at Janice. Whatever pain he felt, he had respect enough for her to make her own choice on keeping her secret, at least for now.

They didn’t bother with his toes, but for his forearms a weapon was required. The clubs came out and quickly smashed Kevin’s left arm. “We’re going to wait now, just a few minutes. Your body will tighten up a bit and this will hurt a lot more.” Said the one-eyed bastard.

“Janice,” he continued but didn’t quite get her attention enough to satisfy him. “Janice! At a certain point you’re going to ask us to kill him quickly, rather than let him live. I think we’re almost there. What about you, Kevin? Do you think we’re almost there?” He paced a bit around the room while Kevin continued to cry in agony.

“Janice!” Bob echoed. “You know something, tell them!”

“Bob,” One-eye said, “I think you know something, too.”

“Nothing useful. I’m just a shop keeper. I trade.”

“Sure, Bob. But you probably trade with the pilot, right? He’s a man who likes to do business.”

“Yes. But that’s it. The guy doesn’t talk about stuff. He doesn’t tell me when he’s coming or where he’s going.”

Jacko turned his attention back to Janice, “See? That’s not hard. Bob spilled his guts. You can spill yours. Or I can spill Kevin’s. What’s it gonna be, Janice?”

He raised his club over his head and came down on Kevin’s collar, smashing his collarbone on the right side. Kevin toppled to the ground, unable to raise himself back up. Nothing was working quite well enough.

“Janice! He’s only got one more left in him.” Jacko raised the club over his head once again.

“WEST!” She cried. “They went west. They were chasing after him. After the pilot. The went west.”

The Last Bar in Buffalo – Part 1

The Last Bar in BuffaloBob’s knees hurt. Of all the parts of his body that had taken damage over the last half hour, his knees were crying out the loudest. Punches to the face were temporary, and although they had shattered his left eye socket, it was too soon for the pain to have settled in. Besides that, he knew that more was coming because he wasn’t going to talk. He didn’t give much thought to his knees before that particular day. Sure, he never spent a lot of time on them, and certainly not on the hard floor of his outpost. The broken rib didn’t hold a candle to the pain of the flat surface grinding the flesh into his kneecaps and the tops of his tibia and fibia. I wonder if I’ll be able to stand up again? He thought.

With his arms lashed behind his back and the watchful eye of this bastards keeping tabs on him, he just had to endure the pain. Maybe that’s why they hurt so much, because he was physically capable of relieving the pain by standing up, or even falling flat on his face, or to the side even. But this one eyed prick would just batter his body some more. Bob’s knees had no recourse other than to help the cyclops torture him.

They showed up at the door, not all of them. Just a few at first. They had meat to trade for water, so they said. Bob let one of them in, but only one. He had two other regulars in his makeshift outpost. He felt safe enough. It was built as a sort of brick church with small windows. Bot wasn’t religious and didn’t really care if it was Jehovah’s Witness, or Mormon, or Baptist. It had lots of brick and small windows making it a small, solid structure that could keep out the heat as well as the riffraff.
Described by most as an outpost, Bob kept his shop stocked with whatever he could, whatever came by. He had the tab list with debts owed in his head, most of the debts were to him. Bob was generous.

He found hand tools in the basement and he set upon tearing apart the pews over the years. They became countertops, shelves, stools, and weapons. He traded for some solar panels which he used to power the lights. The LEDs were quite a bit cooler than letting the sunlight in.

Bob had built himself a nice little outpost.

He had a surplus of water, but not much in terms of food. Even with the rough look and a party of friends, he couldn’t pass up the opportunity for trade. So he let the one guy in, he didn’t quite catch the name, but it was Jack or Jerko or something like that, and he only had one eye. Bob didn’t care about his name, only that he came in with dried meat and was going to walk out with a few gallons of water. It was simple enough.

The other two in the bar, Janice and Kevin, they were a couple, maybe even married. Bob didn’t know for sure, but he had known them for a few months and they seemed nice enough. They somehow managed upon a stockpile of foodstuffs so Bob was ever willing to trade with them. Sometimes they brought in cookies.

Jake, or whatever his name was, didn’t waste anytime with trade talk. Bob’s eye socket was immediately shattered. Janice suffered a broken arm and Kevin lost a femur. He was so fast. He identified Bob as the owner and hit him first. Such a smart move, Bob thought. The owner’s the one who has the booby traps, who knows where the weapons are. He doesn’t tell the patrons that stuff. That’s his secret.

As they were reeling on the floor Jake let his friends in. First just the five new faces, they wasted no time tying up Bob and his friends. They even tied up Janice’s broken arm as she screamed. They didn’t seem to care about her pain. But Bob could feel it in her howl. Before his knees overcame him, he felt her pain instead.

Then some more showed up. Probably not all of them, Bob thought. You’d want some outside keeping an eye out for anyone else. Damn that guy was fast.

One guy came in and started asking questions about some women and two other thugs and… and a guy that Bob knew. The helicopter pilot. Bob only knew one guy that flew such a contraption, only one guy that seemed to be able to keep such a thing flying, Angel.

He wasn’t going to give up Angel for his knees. They understood. Angel may have been quiet, but that was well regarded in the afterworld. The quiet guys keep quiet. They don’t tell your secrets and you’d best not tell theirs, not that Bob knew any of his secrets. Angel never talked about where he got his stuff. He must have traded with everyone though, Bob thought. The guy could get you almost anything out there that still existed. Knowing Angel wasn’t going to do Bob any good if he couldn’t point these bastards to him. It would just piss them off and drag this out. He wondered if Janice or Kevin knew Angel, or if Angel only traded with outpost owners. Seems like a good way to do business, Bob thought. Deal with the brokers, not the end customers. Dealing in bulk. If you’ve got a whirlybird you have that luxury. That guy must be loaded, if there is such a thing as being loaded anymore.

To Buffalo

Redemption was waiting. The desire for acceptance and forgiveness from an authority, or a mentor is inherent in the human condition. Praise sits along with them in a sort of trilateral set of acknowledgements. They’re on the opposite side of the coin from criticism, discipline, but not the self kind, and punishment, which is not quite the same as discipline. These are the three correctives. Any parent, at any given moment interacting with their children is either giving a corrective, or acknowledging. In more colloquial terms these are referred to as the stick and the carrot.

The coin flips. It’s never sitting on one side for long. The energy it takes to hold state is too great and by will alone it flips itself. Overindulgence in carrots leads to the presumption of carrots, which leads to a change in behavior and the requirement of the stick. Conversely the stick’s extended use defeats all manner of bad behavior and will bring about an acknowledgement.

Jacko had felt the stick. For days the horror of the blade approaching his eye haunted his thoughts and dreams, when he could dream. They say the recovery is always worse, but the daily alcohol clenses did nothing to compare to the sound of his eye exploding in his skull and the memory of the blade.

On his goggles he blacked out the lens used over his missing eye, and carried with him a pirate’s eye patch for when he didn’t have his goggles on. He liked to call it his Friday Patch.

He was not yet redeemed, but he was on the path to it. Tynon assigned Jacko’s detachment to a search party. Oz was put in charge and they were on a mission to find Angel, The Birdman, the helicopter pilot who killed their comrades. Their orders were straight forward: Bring back the head of the pilot. Oz brought four detachments, a total of 21 men including himself. 21 Dragon.
Upon completion of the mission Jacko would find himself returning a hero. Blame for his failure would be laid upon the head of the pilot, which would further elevate Jacko’s accomplishment. Killing the man who took down not two, but six Dragon would be incredibly heroic, if not entirely true. The deceit did not bother him nor his men. As Tynon put it, “Why worry about the nuance of the truth? What does it matter so long as justice is served?” Tynon’s justice was served from an advantageous point of view. To him, the lives of two, or six Dragon were not the issue. The justice he was after was revenge. Angel had agreed to do a job, to repay a debt owed, and instead he betrayed his debtor. He wasn’t even sure if Angel had done the job he agreed to do. Where did the women really go? It was all too much of a mystery for Tynon, and besides, one more dead man was a fine solution.

21 of the finest killers in Toronto had set out to retrace the steps of their fallen, to the south. Not having had a chance to speak to them hampered the journey as navigation was always a question of where they might have come from. Based on Jacko’s recount of the events that led to their demise, Oz determined that they were most likely following the ridge of the dry lake bed for at least part of their journey. West-by-southwest in nautical terms, was their heading. The 21 walked single file, each carrying two waterbags and a bag on their back, full of dried and cured meat. Anticipating spending days and days in the open desert, they all wore light robes and head scarves to limit their exposure to the deadly sun.

Talking was discouraged, as it cost the body water when it wasn’t necessary. So 21 quiet men walked through the desert with only the wind to keep them company. It was at their back now, carrying with it an occasional tumbleweed. Sometimes it would hit their ears at just the right angle and howl. The desert was its own animal and that was its cry.

Buffalo - Last BarThey walked slowly for days until they reached the western most bank of what used to be Lake Ontario. From that point they were nearly forced to turn east lest they run into another lake. Oz wasn’t certain if it was the right direction, but it felt right. There was a city that way, he recalled. It was famous for being cold at one time, long ago. He recalled that there was legendary snowfall, and somehow people still decided to live there. Most of The Dragon had never seen snow, they were too young and didn’t live in places that still had any snow. Some of the youngest of them hadn’t even seen rain.

They wouldn’t know how Buffalo got its name, they had never seen a buffalo. Still, some of them knew the name of the place. The city had a name that only conjured the city into the minds of these young men. And none of them had ever been to Buffalo either.