April 30, 103 PN
"On your knees."
With the rifle barrel digging into my spine, I reluctantly obeyed. I dared not reach for my weapons; a rare time when my gut feeling could get me killed. His voice was young, around my age. He took a step to my right and kicked my foot.
"Take out your weapons."
Slowly, I pulled my revolver out and set it on the ground. Then the knife concealed in my boot. He kicked them from my reach. Then, "Your other weapon."
"That's all I have."
"I wasn't born yesterday, sweetheart. Other weapon."
Sweetheart? "Look, I told you, the knife and revolver are all I have."
He let out a frustrated sigh. "Alright. Here's what we're going to do. See the wall in front of you?"
The butt of his rifle smashed the back of my head so hard I couldn't even cry out as I fell to the cold floor. A faded figure walked over me and bent down. Everything turned black.
"Lynn... That is a ridiculous middle name. Lynn, Lynn... I take it your parents didn't exactly love you?"
The throbbing in my head brought me awake. Squinting against the harsh light I managed to raise a shaking hand up over my eyes, fighting to focus and get my bearings. The diner had vanished, the cold air replaced with polluting dust. That smell...
"Cigarette smoke," I groaned. I threw off the small blanket draped over my body and sat up, immediately regretting my decision. The room wavered and wobbled, with black and white dots dancing in the air. It looked to be an apartment building, and a small one at that. The windows were boarded shut; any trace of wallpaper had been stripped to nothing. In the center of the room lay a small couch, splotched with dried blood, cigarette burns, and what looked to be mold crawling from the bottom.
"Good morning, miss Edahsra."
A young man walked into the room, tossing my badge in the air and catching it with one hand. He stood six feet in height, dark hair, brown eyes. He wore the typical waste outfit: brown overcoat, black shirt, dirty jeans, boots. In his other hand, he held a crumpled pack of cigarettes and a blue lighter. Two fingers were bandaged together, probably broke them recently. However, my eyes were more focused on what rested on his shoulder.
I glowered. "You were the one who hit me."
"Congratulations, you're not as dumb as I thought you were." Placing the rifle against the couch, he smirked and slumped onto the cushions, pulling out a cigarette and placing it aside. "Really now, what the hell kind of middle name is 'Lynn'?"
"It's my middle name. Who the hell are you, anyway?"
"Well, with that attitude, I don't think I should tell you. Daddy didn't teach you manners?"
"My manners should be the last thing on your mind..." I pulled my right pant leg up for my pistol, but found it and my holster gone.
"Looking for this, sweetheart?" He reached into his coat pocket and pulled out the pistol, still smirking. His face then turned into mock shock. "Ooooh, it appears that the little Crosser was trying to be sneaky. Maybe if you told the truth, I wouldn't have had to use necessary force."
"Necessary force? You smashed your damn rifle in my head! I should arrest you for assault." I tried to stand, but the throbbing in my head brought me back down.
"You might want to lie down for a bit before trying to get up." He leaned in and whispered, "Smart people would know that."
"And smart people would know better than to piss me off," I hissed. "Why the hell am I on the floor?"
He stretched out on the couch, his feet resting on the arm. "Because this is my bed. Also, you're heavy and you smell like sweat. I don't like foul odors on my bed."
"You want foul odors? Can you not smell the smoke in here?"
"Something you get used to, little girl." He rolled to his side and stared down at me. "What brings the Crossers to Hagerstown, anyway? There are no Irons here anymore."
"I was on my way to Baltimore. I was staying here for the night, but there was a change of plans." I crawled over to the couch and leaned against it. "Let me guess: I'm now a hostage, and you're the captor? Demanding some sort of ransom?"
He scoffed and shook his head, fighting the urge to laugh. I raised an eyebrow. "What's so funny?"
"You. It's amazing how people can put words into other people's mouths. You call me a captor, when all I have done is brought you to safety. The Irons might be gone, but there were bandits all over the place. I'm surprised they didn't find you before I did."
"Bandits? But, the whole place is empty. They couldn't have populated the town this quick."
"That's where you are wrong. Never judge a book by it's cover, remember?" He rose off the couch and walked over to one of the boarded windows. "It might look abandoned on top, but you also have to think about what's under."
It took a minute for the realization to hit me. "The sewers..." I managed to stand and stumbled over to his side. "Clever."
"But not smart. The Irons are catching on to them trespassing on their turf, and it won't be long until this place becomes a fancy crater. Pity, and I was just getting used to this apartment." He ran his fingers through his hair and sighed again. "Ah well, I've always wanted to go to New York."
I looked to him. "How long have you lived here?"
"Couple months, give or take. The people before me certainly had some fights..." He gestured at the holes in the walls, then to the three shotgun shells on the floor. "I'd pick them up, but it adds some atmosphere to the place, y'know?"
I looked to the two doors that were nailed shut. "What about those?"
He shrugged. "What about them? They're a waste of space; I sure as hell don't need them."
I decided not to argue with that logic, then a feeling came over me. "Ah... do you have a bathroom?"
He looked to me. "Why?"
My scowl returned. "Apparently, women have bladders, too. Where is it?"
He pointed behind him."The only door that isn't shut. Try not to back the toilet up."
"I'm... I'm sorry, what?"
"Try... not... to... back... the... toilet... up." He leaned against the wall. "It has a tendency to do that. If you need any help, I can..."
"Oh, shut up!" I pushed past him and rushed into the bathroom, slamming the door with a loud bang. Never before had I had such a strong urge to hit someone. I looked around, grimacing at the filthy sink, tub, and... oh God, the tub. I yanked the curtain to shield my eyes from the blood and grime, grabbing the small washcloth off the counter and wiping my hands. Disgusting! I risked a glance at the toilet. To my surprise, it was clean.
I slowly sat down on a small stool, eyes on the broken mirror on the counter. God, I was a mess… Large, dark circles rested under my blue eyes, my blonde hair looked to have been stuck in a fan. I licked my hand and tried to flatten it down, but the only good it did was give me a cowlick. With a loud groan, I shut my eyes. It sounded as if a firing range was going off in my head; it didn't help that I could feel a small lump where that idiot struck me. The mission was going from 'alright' to 'rock bottom'; never before had I wanted to go home so badly. I didn't want to go to Baltimore, I didn't want to look for this Jack West-whatever character, and I didn't want to be here. He was probably already dead, found and killed by the Hangman for betrayal.
A knock at the door broke my thoughts. "Doing alright in there, sweetie?"
"Alright, just checking. Remember, you have to actually sit down!"
Now I wanted to shoot him. I looked to the cloth, then at the toilet. Without warning, I stuffed that and whatever else I could find into the bowl, grabbing the plunger and using the stick end to make sure everything stayed before flushing. My bladder could wait a bit longer, just long enough to enjoy my victory. I stepped back and watched the magic unfold. In a matter of seconds, water erupted over the sides and poured onto the tiled floor.
I opened the door and walked out. "Toilet's backed up!"
Before we knew it, night had fallen. We sat on the front room floor, eating a package of beef jerky he had hiding under the couch. It was rough, but it did the trick. I still had no idea what his name was. He told me that he came from central Vermont, in a slum-like town called Bellston. I remember my father telling me that slums were the primary target for bandit attacks and had the highest rate of murders. In slums, survival was worth more than family. Ever since he was a child, like most wastelanders, he was able to properly fire a weapon. At age eleven, he killed a bandit with a knife, then was almost killed himself by a scavenger. At fourteen, he left Bellston and went in search of a safer place. The more he told me, the more I saw my life as a walk in the park. He said nothing about his family; I figured it was best to stray from that topic.
"So, what about you? Daddy's little girl turned gunman?"
"You know my father?"
He lit a cigarette and took a long drag before speaking. "Nicholas Edahsra, the one man no bandit or Iron would dare cross. Why would you want to risk your life when you have someone like that around?"
"To be like him, mostly. If I have a family of my own, I want to guarantee the same safety my father gave his family. I hate to say it, but... he's not bulletproof. If he ever..." I cleared my throat. "If he ever leaves, I might have to take his place."
"Touching, but that's bull." His face came close to mine. "Your eyes tell a completely different story. Something happened to the princess, yes? There's a unique fear in your eyes, and it's not going anywhere. It's like a deformity, a little mutation. It's bouncing all over the place right now."
"What... what the hell are you talking about?"
"We have the same fear."