(If you want, buy their previous rampages for $2 by clicking on the covers below.)
The world spins as Lloyd scrambles for his canteen, the cap feeling like it has been welded shut. Ignoring the twisting of his stomach and the desire to vomit, he gets the container open and gulps down every drop. His head continues to ache, so he crawls toward the jeep in the hopes of finding medicine. A belch nearly costs him the battle, the only thing saving him being a strong swallow to keep everything down. Reaching the vehicle, Lloyd stretches for the door with a quivering hand. With as tight a grip as he can muster, the serial killer yanks on the handle and finds that the jeep is locked. The man whimpers and slumps to the ground, his face falling into a pool of mud. He can only turn his head to the side and gasps for air, bits of muck dripping into his mouth and immediately getting spit out. A surge of pain roils in his stomach and he curls into a ball, his watering eyes searching for the person who poisoned him.
“For fucks sake, I didn’t screw up dinner that badly,” Cassidy says from the nearby campsite. Stirring the large cauldron, she takes a tiny taste and shudders at the powerful taste that hits her tongue. “One of the ingredients must have gone bad, but wasn’t stinking yet. That or I added too much cayenne pepper. The jalapenos and ghost peppers might have been over the top too. You never complained about me cooking spicy food before.”
“That shit isn’t food! It’s culinary napalm!” Lloyd cries from where he is sprawled on the ground. No longer able to hold back, he scrambles to the nearest bush to vomit and pray for relief. “Might as well bottle it and use it as a weapon. I’m seeing colors that no human has seen before. Oh god, my skin is either melting or trying to leap off my bones. Don’t even get me started on my teeth. Actually, I will bring them up. They hurt in a way that I didn’t think, teeth could hurt. My tongue might have dissolved since I can’t feel it. You’re lucky none of that went down the wrong pipe or my lungs would have exploded.”
“Big baby,” the mercenary mutters while settling for a granola bar. She tosses their last ice cream bar to her friend, who greedily tears the package open and devours the cold snack. “If you eat too fast, you’ll . . . Not on my baby! Do you know how hard it is to find a working water hose around here?”
Lloyd spits and coughs before crawling back to an abandoned lawn chair. “Easier than finding a replacement colon. Seriously, it can’t be that hard. Kentucky seems to have a few farms nearby and we saw a sprinkler when we went through a town. Almost feels like parts of this place didn’t get the memo about the collapse. Then again, we haven’t seen any people. Weird that we found an abandoned campsite too. Maybe there’s a mad killer in the woods and we’ll be his next victims.”
“You are the mad killer in the woods.”
“I don’t have a monopoly on the role, kid.”
“Uh, your eyes are blinking out of sync.”
“Sweet death, I welcome thee into my ample . . . high A or low B-cup bosom.”
“I know. I just called for sweet death. Pay attention.”
Hearing footsteps crashing through the nearby bushes, the pair go for their weapons and prepare for a fight. They relax at the sight of a seven-year-old child pushing her way out of the underbrush. Her crimson dress is torn and missing one sleeve, the exposed arm dotted with thorns. There are twigs sticking out of her sneakers, both of which are missing the fronts to show off her mud-caked socks. Seeing the strangers, she moves her long, black hair in front of her face instead of talking or trying to run away. The girl cries without making any noise, the only signs being her convulsing body and the drops falling to the ground. It is only when Lloyd abruptly lets out an echoing burp and rushes by the child to throw up in the bushes that she stops. Peeking out through her tresses, she watches the once scary man double over and make the strangest noises she has ever heard.
“Well, there is a nearby dot on our map,” Cassidy whispers to herself. Putting the weapon away, she approaches the girl and hands her a partially melted chocolate bar. “Sorry if it’s mushy, but I had to keep it in my back pocket. Otherwise, Lloyd would eat it when I wasn’t looking. What’s your name?”
“Mommy called me Eleri,” the girl timidly responds. She jumps at the sound of a footstep in the distance and darts behind Cassidy. “Please help me. The Lawmakers took me to clean their tubes. I got scared and ran away to find my family. They live in Radcliff and they miss me. I can lead the way. Hurry before growling lady shows up. Is that food?”
“That’s a war crime on the digestive system,” Lloyd announces while he goes in search of a drink. Finding two juice boxes, he claims one and gives the other to Eleri. “Maybe you can help us out with something first. We’re supposed to find a place connected to Johnathan Custer and kick it over like a sandcastle. I’d bet my superhero ring collection that our path heads to these Lawmakers. Why else would we run into you? I mean, coincidences and happenstance makes many a plot go ‘round.”
The girl remains behind Cassidy, but peeks out to smile at the serial killer. “I can do that, but you have to promise to take me home. Adults lie too much. I bring you to Fort Knox and then we leave. The Lawmakers are-”
Eleri screams when a snarling woman leaps out of the forest and lands a few feet in front of Cassidy. Drawing two curved blades, the stranger takes a step back while keeping an eye on the gun that is aimed at her face. What they previously mistook as the woman’s brown hair turns out to be a furry ruffle that mimics a lion’s mane. Her shirt is orange and black-striped, which clashes with her dark brown pants. Yellow paws have been painted on her combat boots, the designs having dribbled down the sides. Rising out of her crouch, the woman clears her throat and rolls her shoulders in an attempt to appear more majestic. Instead, her back crackles and she winces at a mild burst of pain that quickly subsides.
“Give that runaway slave to me,” she sternly demands, pointing her weapons at Cassidy and Lloyd. The woman grins at Eleri and licks her lips at the look of fear on the child’s face. “There is a lot of work for her to do. She can go home when the debt of her family is paid. You know the rules, child. All who stay in Kentucky must send a representative to work in Fort Knox or their entire clan shall be exiled. These are unbreakable rules like death for those who kick turtles and a fine for those who bring a knife to a gunfight. This situation doesn’t count since he has a knife too. So says The Lioness, great hunter and enforcer of the Lawmakers.”
“But the male lions are the ones with manes,” Lloyd mentions while he puts his machete down. He pulls out a smaller knife to juggle, the blade rusty from being used to cut fruit. “I feel obligated to point out that your entire outfit is wrong. You have five toes on the paw symbol, which is closer to a bear than a lion. One big pad and four little ones would be correct. That could be forgiven, but the tiger stripes are idiotic. Show some effort into your motif. Don’t just pick a cool name and screw up the visual.”
“I look terrible in tawny!” the woman shouts before tearing off her fake mane. Her stringy hair is a tangled mess, which she desperately tries to fix. “Names and appearances don’t matter here. Just give me the slave and be on your way. There’s no need for you to incur the wrath of the Lawmakers. Only God is above them.”
Cassidy groans and is about to shoot when a disappointing thought occurs to her. “As much as I’d love to put you down for terrorizing this child, we probably need you for information on Fort Knox. Be nice to know the defenses and any secret ways in. A person like you would know such things.”
“Uh, so would a slave who works there,” Lloyd interjects while pointing at Eleri. He pats the girl on the head when she sticks her tongue out at The Lioness. “Less chance of this one turning on us or giving these Lawmakers a warning. Especially since we have candy in the jeep, which sounds a lot creepier than I expected. You’d think that phrase would lose some of its cringe worthiness in a chaotic wasteland, but it actually feels worse. My real point here is that we don’t need two guides, so I vote for the one that can be won over with chocolate.”
The Lioness growls and is about to pounce when Cassidy fires her handgun and Lloyd throws his knife. Both projectiles hit the woman in the face, the impacts sending her stumbling back into the bushes. She trips over her own foot and falls, leaving only her twitching feet exposed. Not wanting to upset Eleri any further, Lloyd goes to drag the body into the forest while Cassidy hands the girl another candy bar. They patiently wait for the serial killer to return, but he can be heard groaning near the trees to their right. Realizing that he might be a while, the mercenary stretches out on the grass and tries to enjoy the stars in spite of the sounds of agony from her friend.