Savage Nights: Scene Four – The Treasure Hunt Begins

Popped the air-tank, inflated the tires, gazed up into the blanched sky, where the sun like a burning soldier seemed to hang in the orange haze like a bloody fist, red and devilish. As I scooted into the truck, and flushed the ashes from the seat, I kept my eye on Matthias Bowden who seemed to be eyeing me from across the street with his sawed-off shotgun. Didn’t have any slugs in it, not even sure why the bastard carried the rusty thing around with him, unless to scare the street riff-raff who hadn’t yet heard about the poor bastard and his tale.

Twisted tales seem to run rampant on the streets of the Grunge. The city seemed to be a sponge for the darkest materials of the universe. Things fold into it as if the force of the cosmos were invaginating within it, folding back into a nightworld where nothing but the folds of gravity and temperature plunged from deep space, falling into the broken ruins where things old and terrible lived in it’s cold and molten core. Sound, light, pressures, air, all of these things were folded into it and it unfolded these things like a spider twirling out its silk net of death to capture unsuspecting bugs or humans. Yea, the Grunge lives up to its name alright. There is a festering life just below the streets, a froth of ancient capitalism, like a smudge, a noise rumbling below in the sludge of former lives, a hum of energy erupting here and there in spores bursting from the dew laden stones, and rusty, broken steel; caged desires that seemed ready at any moment to find their way back up from the roots of civilization’s graves like ghosts ready for war and revenge.

Matthias was only one of thousands of blaggards who’d lost their minds in this sorry ass labyrinth. Poor bastard lost his wife, kids, and sanity long before the war was over between Mexico and the States. They’d been out picnicking from what I hear one bright day, minding their own business when a Zli’soto biker-cult drove up to their campsite. Needless to say rape, mayhem, death, and torture seemed to be the modus operandi of these thugs, ritual borgs – slicers, slayers, and fugmeisters: general all-around bleeders if you’d asked me. But no one was asking me at the time. Felt sorry for the poor bastard, but wasn’t much to be done but put him out of his misery. But the Consilient had taken care of that, those guardians of Law and Order from the Assemblage. Don’t worry, I’ll get to that soon enough.

Mind-wipe and deneuralized back-wash of his sub-autononomic systems I hear tell. They’d tried to rememorize him: plant new memories, or false ones, the story goes. But they’d not taken, something about his patterns didn’t match the known perimeters of the AI’s datafeeds, etc.. Bungled the job, they did. Waste of a man’s life…  Deadly stuff those technomic’s have. Now Matthias was a sort of glued together salvage-borg, not much good to himself or others except to dig through the ruins, leftovers scattered across the Grunge.

That’s the thing about the Grunge, it’s what’s left of what they used to call Southern California. Exotic territory that once blessed civilization with Hollywood and the accoutrements of a vast mediatainment empire. That was a laugh now I come to think about it. Gazing out over this wasteland is like wandering around in someone else’s apocalypse, maybe one of those old movies from the turn of the century. Yea, in 2187 all that was buried in a pile of rubble ten feet down so thick it’d take a salvager years to get to it now. And, believe me some have tried… treasures down there the Consilient Aristoi would pay high cred for, believe me.

I backed out and drove past Matthias slowly, saying: “Hey, Matt,” smiling easily, “what you styling there buddy.”

He frowned, then grinned ear to ear his idiot smile, and laughed: “I got me a treasure, Rider.” Seemed happy with himself.

Most people knew me by my nickname. Very few knew my real name. Not something I liked to broadcast. Didn’t matter much, anyway, if ConTel’s Enforcers wanted you all they had to do was read your neuropattern. The Assemblage was a massive datastore spread across the planet like the old net once was but different, now it held the patterns for every living human left on the planet. The day of your birth you were chipped and patterned. Nothing you could do about it. The Law was the Law. Reason why I’m on the Outside now. Life’s a bitch then you die. Old cliché but worse now, because they had your pattern: death was just another word for rebirth. Yea, you might not come back the same Joe Schmooze, but your pattern could return over and over and over like a bad dream. One more reason to hate the Aristoi and their Assemblage.

Curious I asked: “What kind of treasure you got there, Matt?”

“It’s mine, and you can’t have it.”

“Okay, bud, don’t get all worked up about it. I’s just asking… that’s all, I  don’t want your treasure. Forget I asked.”

“Nah, nah… that’s not what I meant, Rider…” he seemed uneasy. “I mean… I need to talk to someone about it. I think it’s dangerous or something. But I just don’t know.”

Now I really was curious, so I said to him: “Well, hop on in the truck, Matt, let’s go see if we can find out.”

He smiled at that and hopped in. I gave him some jerky to chew on, and some Red Man to plunk in his mouth. He seemed obliging. Then he pulled out a piece of paper, saying, “I wrote the address down here, close by where it’s located. Problem is it’s beyond the DMZ.”

He looked at me then kinda scared, his eyes blinking and his breath a little short. I said: “Okay buddy, what were you doing there fore anyway?” No one was allowed beyond the specified barriers, stepping beyond into the Dead Zone was crazy and real dangerous. Mechs patrolled the area day and night. Caught by a Mech and your ass was grass. No… if’s, and’s or but’s… dead, blam, finito…

Oh, sure there were ways around it, but those were as illegal as getting caught, and meant torture if you did get caught. Blinders, drone-splicers, radar-repellants, all the tools of the smugglers trade could be used to roam at will in the Dead Zone. I’d done it myself a time or two and luckily never gotten caught. Had my tools in my shop where Red and Bow ran things for me. Yea, I’m a salvager. About the only means of living in this world left to us outside the Consilient. Just the way of things… survive or perish. No one else much cared which, it was all up to you.

“Matt, I got to make a run to the shop, and get some things. Alright?” He nodded. I started the engine and headed down a side street toward the RedLine. Back of my mind I wished I had the creds for an x-tra fliptop iGalaxy for Betsy. Dam! She’d have to wait for a bit. Knew she’d be pissed by the time I showed up, but it couldn’t be helped. Matt might be on to something… something big, and I’d not know till he showed me what it was. Dam!

I’d need the creds to find Talia, too. I was sure of that.

* * *

One | Two | Three | Four | Five


– Steven Craig Hickman ©2016 Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author is strictly prohibited.

 

Savage Nights: Scene Three – JoJo’s Diner

It was raining hard and heavy by the time I got back to the Grunge. Drops pelting the windshield and hood with splotches of black and yellow dribble; probably acidic chems from China or some blasted industrial system on what was left of the Pacific. Each drop seemed to congeal and create fissures here and there like lepro-pustules on a dying cow. I edged up to JoJo’s Diner down on Cobain Dr., sat there for minute or two deciding whether it was worth it or not. My stomach growled after a while…

Yea, it was worth it.

Pulled an old AV-Poncho from behind the seat, made sure my hunting rifles and other weaponry were still set and locked in the welded cage I’d had specially built after the war. Pushed the button on the tire-sieve, and gently let out all the air from back tires just in case. Yea, had to be careful, didn’t want the jackals to snip my ride before the night was over. They’d killed my dog, Lester Young last month. Dam, son-of-bitches! Needless to say I’d found them. Let’s not talk about that.

I studied the clientele through the grimy windows of the old converted bus JoJo used for a neighborhood eatery. He’d made this metal trap out of a couple old rusty greyhounds: pre-war jobs; welded them end-to-end. Looked more like two trains passing in the night that had ended in an apocalypse, teeth bared to the world like two wolves in heat. Wasn’t anyone to worry or fret over I could see. Two young guys, hoodies, sitting back playing and fiddling with electronics; flip-scale gibs, prongs, floaters – the usual netcrackers. Nothing much. Two-time bitcoin traders most likely. Otherwise it was a quiet, lonely night. Everyone else looked normal. Working stiffs either coming on, or going off salv-shift. Short for salvegers, scrammers, diggers and shovebone men. Too dead tired to cause any trouble.

Saw Tully at the cash register. She smiled. That old woman been there from eternity it seemed. Still had those missing buck-teeth smack in the center of her mouth where she’d been kicked by a couple of Bogan’s Boys way back. Those boys looked worse after it was over. Six feet down worse. Didn’t bother Tully none about the teeth; in fact she grew used to it, and kinda liked it after a time. She could whistle through the empty space between her teeth like a siren on a dog patrol. She had a laugh that would make you jiggle right along with her, a  gut slinging cackle laugh that reached all the way down and grabbed you, and wouldn’t let go till the tears dropped like flames, bitter and painful.

“Sup, Tul?” She eyed me cautiously. Old eyes. Then I saw the slow recognition seep in as she snickered, then said: “By God, Jonah,” she motioned to the kitchen, banging the pot down a few times, “Jonah, wake up, it’s Rider he’s come home for a visit…”.

Jonah – or his facsimile, peered around the corner of the serving iron: “By dam if it isn’t,” he said. “What the hell you doing out in this mudslide, Jessie? And so far from your Lady?”

“Business, Jo,” I said. “Just business…” And, left it at that.

“Humph… talkative bastard tonight aren’t you…” Jo said, and smiled, then slapped his hand down, yelled at Pris to pick up, then turned back to his fry-line, turning a row of burgers over – or something that passed for burgers. With Jo you just never knew.

Tully motioned me to the far seat next to the window. My usual spot. I didn’t like my back to the door. She knew. She walked up with a pot of steaming coffee, sat a big mug down and plopped the whole pot down, saying, “Guess you’ll need this, Jessie…”. She knew I would. She knew things about me I didn’t know myself.

After the war when things had gone south, it was her and JoJo had fixed me up with a place out back in a tool-shed. Wasn’t much, but hey it served the purpose. And, at the time beggars couldn’t be choosy. Even if I wasn’t a beggar. I remember one night when we were all alone, probably 2 a.m or so, she was watching me. Gave me the creeps, as if she was reading my soul or something. I kept spinning an old dollar piece while sipping some nasty dregs she’d laid before me. After a while I finally just said: “What the freck you looking at old woman, giving me the hebe jeebies.”

Those coal black eyes set back real far in her skull focused to a point on me and she spoke softly, saying, “Jessie there’s death in your body: a ghost, a terrible thing riding you like a hellborn.” I had no idea what the hell she was talking about. She spoke again: “It’s following you, Jessie, its got its mark on you. I can see it. It’s like a small black knot on your heart, sucking at you, a parasite eating away at your mind.” She coughed. Went on: “If you don’t get rid of it it’s going not only kill you, but kill everything you ever loved. You understand?” I didn’t. Thought she was whacked.

After that I kept pretty much to myself. Didn’t eat there unless the place was so busy she’d have a hard time looking at me much less talking to me. But that was all history now, as they say. Water under the bridge. After a few years I discovered what she meant. The hard way – the dirty, nasty, screwed way. The way a man screws over his best friend after he’s gone and fell in love with his girlfriend. A sort of sucka-punch to the throat kind of screw. Not pretty. But who ever said life was pretty was an idiot. And I knew: I was one, an idiot and a sucker. And, yes… a killer, to boot. That, too, was another piece of the puzzle, a piece of history that had brought me to this moment. One doesn’t fight fate so much as hinder its success. Fate and freedom are just the sisters of some turnstile mobius-strip on the road to hell.

After a while the Kid – as I called Pris, walked out from behind the counter and laid that patch of vittles down across the formica tabletop. Lunch-loaf was the blue-plate special today with mashed, green beans and cauliflower, and a side of cornbread made with spiced peppers (hot ones!). She smiled at me, popped a bubble, and smacked her lips: “Hey, Jessie, you never come by anymore. Why? I scare you away or something?” I laughed. “Nah, Kid, I’ve just been to blame busy doing what a guy’s got to do out there.” I shook my head toward window into the night rain.

Pris was another reject, another lost soul on the mend. Tully and JoJo seemed to have a knack for such things. Acting like magnets for the detritus and misfits of the world. She was a good Kid, still a little innocent around the edges. Wore her hair in a pigtail. Smiled and laughed too much. Came from farm country farther south and east of Grunge City. All wastelands now. Parents had died years ago. Left her with her Uncle and brothers. They’d abandoned her here one day, driven off without her and never come back. Guess they had their reasons. Who knows? Probably the best thing for her though. At least now she ate, had a bed, warm clothes, a place to rebuild her life. Even if it was a anti-life. What else would you call it?

After eating and finishing off the pot of coffee. I sat there brooding. That’s what I do, brood. Helps me forget things. But not tonight. Tonight I was thinking long and hard about ghosts, about Talia, and most of all… about Falcon. That bastard was back in town. My best friend, or what used to be my best friend. Now he was my enemy. Probably had always been my enemy.

So I sat there all night thinking about what I’d do next. Tully didn’t mind. She kept refilling the pot. Clucking away about all the nonesuch crap going on in Grunge. Didn’t bother me in the least. By the time the sun came up I knew what had to be done. I also knew I needed to check in on Betsy. There was an order to things, even if one didn’t always know what it was, or how to act on it.; and, one of them was to make sure your woman knew you were still alive. The other was to make sure she was alive…

** ** **

One | Two | Three | Four | Five


– Steven Craig Hickman ©2016 Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author is strictly prohibited.

Savage Nights: Scene Two – Chabin Beach

Chabin Beach Pier

“Okay, Bobby Lee, give it to me straight!” We sat at the edge of the pier,  legs dangling over the edge, looking out over Shark Bay where nothing at all lived or could live. Everything was coated in bronze, the clouds flowing down over the waves like thick honey as if the world were being dipped in amber for some eternal grave plot for the anonymous souls of some watery Apocalypse.

Bobby sat there like a stone, a stone at the bottom of the sea, that is. His eyes seemed glued to something far out beyond the horizon, blank and lifeless. He wasn’t ready to say a dam thing. I knew that. He knew that. Yet, it had to be done.

“Bobby, I liked Talia, you know that, we were close for a long time. She needs help, and I can help her. But I need to know what happened. I need to hear that from you. You understand. I know it’s hard. I know you’re hurting. Pain isn’t a nice thing. We all know that.” His eyes softened, his lips began to tremble, he was coming back from whatever dark place he’d been to. He’d speak to me now.

“I told her not to go…” he stuttered.

“Go where, Bobby?”

“You know, down there…” He turned his head as if I could see the place his mind was taking him. “Down by Tol Glavin where they keep the ghosts.” He spoke like he was a ghost himself. Voodoo. Dead things that wouldn’t stay dead. Wired freaks. Old war tunnelers, drone frogs. Mind merged and brain dead ghosts who gave their all for a lost cause. Half-lifers now in a frozen world. A city below a city where dreams affected the real world.

“What the hell, Bobby,” I almost hit him. “Why the freck you let her go there? What kind of idiot brother are you?” He jumped, and slammed his head against the pier’s break wall. “Why? Why’d she go there, Bobby?” He sat back down, rubbing his scalp, and started to weep all over again.

“She… she met him,” lips moving like a robot. “Falcon.” He said that like it was an ultimatum; a death warrant, a judgment.

“When the freck did he get back in town?”

“Two days ago,” his tears turned to anger now. “Called her up, asked for a place to stay and some money.” His lips curled back now: “Said he had a job in the enclave waiting for him. Fucking lie that’s what it was…” he sat back for a second, eyes almost epileptic, the whites drawing up into his skull as if he were having a seizure, then he slumped down and passed out.

I sat there for a few more minutes watching the muddy water, the sloshing of the kelp and dead fish eddying around the old pier’s logs. Trash and poisonous waste in globs of oily slime lay on the surface. Only thing alive in these waters was the bottom feeders, everything else kept to the outer banks except what the current swilled in. I remembered swimming in these waters long ago. No one would do that ever again. At least not in as many generations as I could count on my fingers. Nuclear waste. Biochem warfare… the detritus of governments gone wild. Politics as usual. Things lived under those waves that had no names. Things that even horror writers never dreamed of in their worst nightmares. No one gave a shit until it was too late.

I wasn’t going to get anything else out of Bobby Lee. I left a few bucks in his jacket pocket. Nothing much else to do for him. I wasn’t going to carry him back. He didn’t have much left in him anyway. He knew it. I knew it. All he had was his sister, nothing else. I was going to find her. Not for him. Not for myself. But for a woman who once gave a shit. A woman who pulled me out of the abyss of my insanity. Gave me my life back. I owed her in more ways than I’d ever be able to repay.

I sat in the truck for a while watching the scorched sun go down under the brown haze that always seemed to settle over Grunge City. By the time it was dark I was out of cigs, out of patience, and out of time…

** ** **

My old man used to tell me things, things that would curdle the back of your head right off.

“You know, boy,” he’d say, a little devilish gleam in his eyes, “Utopia’s a state of mind, a no-man’s land between reality and hell, a sort of infernal zone where people go who need to know things, terrible things, things that can kill. Yet, in this zone one can find other things, too. Beauty and life and magic…”

He’d smile then, knowing I was hanging on every word: “Living sentient beings: buildings and sculptures, alive and full of wondrous power and music. Things that speak to you of ancient worlds, time’s out of mind.” He’d wink: “Sometimes if you dig real hard, go way down into that darkness you find things: treasures, thoughts and ideas so powerful they’ll haunt you, deliver you to the ancient powers of time, space and destiny. Ideas, immanent forces before the world of light, old things living in the sea of chaos and night, things that can move out and shape the world, change things, move people and assemblages. Ideas are magical living machines, abstract things that eat away the darkness and replace it with knowledge and light. Things that can think, living intelligences, that come to us from the far shores of the future sending us messages, luring us onward into the final push: the convergence of all things toward that point, a singular place, an empty site, a kenoma. Here, just here, everything that has ever been, everything that will be, and everything that now is comes together, and in the blink of an eye changes, transforms, mutates into something else, something wild and free. A metamorphosis like the chrysalis of a butterfly that turns to beauty and flies away from the hard encrusted armor of its earthly existence into the purity of space, and light, and time…”

He’d get real serious then and his eyes would narrow down to two thin slits, and he’d lean over and whisper in my ear: “I’m the keeper of an Idea, a treasure that’s been passed down from the beginnings of Time, an Idea so terrible it could eat our planet alive; or, it could transform it into a paradise, a garden world, a place so beautiful and full of wildness, untamed life: animals – tigers, elephants, zebras, antelope, and, yes… even horses roaming the empty lands, the wastelands, the western lands where love and peace still find their abode.”

He’d wait. Silent. Knowing I was too afraid to ask the question, yet patient, knowing that sooner or later I’d get up the courage to finally ask it, demand it, cherish it: “Dad, what’s this terrible Idea you hold way down in the crawl of your Mind?”

He’d laugh, then. His eyes would begin to glow with those nanofilaments they’d been made with, sparks of gold and blue light twittering in out of his pupils, then say: “It’s a secret, son, one you must earn. I can’t just give it too you. You’ll discover it down the way, when you become a man. It’ll find you, you want have to go looking for it. It’ll come so swift and powerful it’ll hit you right between the eyes like a shotgun blast. You’ll know it by its dark power, the edge of its magical light will enter you, change you, make you one of those who know things, terrible things. You’ll know what I mean son. Someday you’ll know what I mean.”

He’d leave it at that. His eyes would turn fierce – and yet, there would be in the midst of those flames a pain and joy at the same time, a sense of sadness for all things, a sense that this was a knowledge, a burden, an Idea he hoped I’d never have to carry in my head.” He’d turn away then and go quiet, meditative, and still as a predator.

I now know what he meant. Yet, one thing he left out, one thing he never mentioned: such knowledge comes with a terrible price. Yea, he never told about that.

** ** **


One | Two | Three | Four | Five

China Miéville writes that “[w]e need utopia, but to try to think utopia, in this world, without rage, without fury, is an indulgence we can’t afford […] we cannot think utopia without hate.”

A Near Future post-cyberpunk “Grunge” or “Salvagepunk” Noir: bleak and pessimistic, yet full of hope for all that. A broken world full of our own world’s dark truths, dreams, and nightmares. Schizoanalytic psychoscape of tears done up in dark humor and cataleptic laughter. An anti-hero you can hate and love at the same time. A sort of Warren Ellis Spider Jerusalem reject bound to a anti-consumerist / anti-corporate media-scape slippage. It goes against consumerist society and fights for our rights to be free from the ownership of corporations, media and society.

Grunge is about freedom, pure and simple. It’s stepping away from self-absorption and starting to care about the people around you. It’s protesting against the fixation of beauty and perfection and letting us know that appearance doesn’t matter. Ugly is the new beautiful. It’s realizing that happiness doesn’t come from fortune and fame, rather the opposite: the guttersnipe dreams of fools and madmen, lovers and old hags, children and mothers. The punk of salvagepunk is what makes it revolutionary.

Punk is not the commodified and commercialize image of Mohawked teens with pins through noses. It is certainly not the PVC slick technological wet dream of cyberpunk with its Deleuzian ‘intense’ nomadic multitudes and immaterial labour. Nor is it the “false dream image” of steampunk,where “its falseness lies in it being the wrong dream image, the ideological blind that is the dream image proper to the liberal escape plan for the contemporary crisis and its envisioned fall-out”. Punk is thus the “deep fidelity to its historical moment and the fact it no longer believed in a future – the present is already the hollowed out present of that future”.

– Steven Craig Hickman ©2016 Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author is strictly prohibited.

Savage Nights: A Salvagepunk Novel

 

China Miéville writes that “[w]e need utopia, but to try to think utopia, in this world, without rage, without fury, is an indulgence we can’t afford […] we cannot think utopia without hate.”

A Near Future post-cyberpunk “Grunge” or “Salvagepunk” Noir: bleak and pessimistic, yet full of hope for all that. A broken world full of our own world’s dark truths, dreams, and nightmares. Schizoanalytic psychoscape of tears done up in dark humor and cataleptic laughter. An anti-hero you can hate and love at the same time. A sort of Warren Ellis Spider Jerusalem reject bound to a anti-consumerist / anti-corporate media-scape slippage. It goes against consumerist society and fights for our rights to be free from the ownership of corporations, media and society.

Grunge is about freedom, pure and simple. It’s stepping away from self-absorption and starting to care about the people around you. It’s protesting against the fixation of beauty and perfection and letting us know that appearance doesn’t matter. Ugly is the new beautiful. It’s realizing that happiness doesn’t come from fortune and fame, rather the opposite: the guttersnipe dreams of fools and madmen, lovers and old hags, children and mothers. The punk of salvagepunk is what makes it revolutionary.

Punk is not the commodified and commercialize image of Mohawked teens with pins through noses. It is certainly not the PVC slick technological wet dream of cyberpunk with its Deleuzian ‘intense’ nomadic multitudes and immaterial labour. Nor is it the “false dream image” of steampunk, where “its falseness lies in it being the wrong dream image, the ideological blind that is the dream image proper to the liberal escape plan for the contemporary crisis and its envisioned fall-out”. Punk is thus the “deep fidelity to its historical moment and the fact it no longer believed in a future – the present is already the hollowed out present of that future”.

Now on Wattpad: Visit me!


 

Grunge_01

Savage Nights

Woke up with a savage hangover, my head throbbing like a viral strum from a Nachtmystium bass-drum. We’d partied down hearty last night, and I was paying plenty for it. Oh well… serves me right for drinking that Klos’rek Wine Beau brought back from the Serengeti Folds. The liquid scarlet looked more like the blood of Limbonic Selptura. Don’t even ask.

Slapped Betsy on the ass. She looked up at me with her one good eye cocked and ready, and the other – a purple and pink syntech eye rotated in its socket like a twisted nanctopus, twitching feverishly with a warped anti-life all its own. Both eyes eyed me closely as if she might infest me with virulent dose of mutagens: the whizzing and buzzing around the black pits of her irises were screaming a loud “fuck you and the horse you rode in on,” but on second thought she just punched me in the shoulder, rolled back over and started to snore again.

Yea, never wake your lady up too early.

Problem was I had to be gone soon. She knew it, too. Hell she’d been the one kept telling me to come home last night. So it goes, I’d probably never learn. So I reached over and this time gently bit her on the ass. She laughed. “Jess, why you up so early? Can’t a girl get a little shut-eye these days?” Yep, she was alive alright, and I knew if I didn’t pop out a bed and into the commode she’d wallop me right back… and soon.

Couldn’t quite say the same for me self, though. Looked in the fractured mirror in dilapidated bathroom and saw death staring back at me like a broken toy somebody left out in the mud for a little too long, all caked and mutilated. Reminded me of an on old black vinyl record I’d once had, got stuck in a rut playing some black metal tune from Infernal Paradise’s last album – the one just before they were shot down over the DMZ – till I thought I’d entered Pandemonium and winged things were pulling me apart piece by piece. Not a memorable site to say the least. Standing there scratching myself I studied the twisted gunk in the white-enamel basin, something running around the black hole, creeping listlessly like a rusty bot-slug – hungry as all get out, waiting to feed. It wasn’t going to be on me. I lifted Betsy’s toothbrush out of the coffee-stained mug, her burnt orange lipstick traced around its rim, and watched as a cockroach popped its head up and over the squiggly teeth of the brush. It sat there a second wheedling its antennae as if to say, “Hey, sucker, put me back down and get the hell outta here.” I obliged him.

Instead I walked over to the bedside, grabbed a fifth of Jim Beam and my cigs off the end table, took a long slug, gurgled and chugged it down clean as a whistle. Reminded me of my Old Man’s favorite drink: Napalm Sally, a mixture of Beam and dirty juice from Joe Kragen’s rusty gin still down by Smith’s Hill. Something about the mix of juniper berries and corn mash churning in me belly was sick, but it worked just fine, and I just loved the after-bite. I felt like a dead man warmed over, one who’d been given a reprieve, a short respite from the Day of Worms or Judgment Day. That was alright with me. Hell was a fine place to visit but you wouldn’t want to live there.

By the time I’d gotten my jeans on Betsy was already at the hotpot skittle cooking us up some eggs and bacon. She liked to cut a hole in the center of the wheat bread and pop those eggs right down in the middle of it. Sweet stuff. A little butter and yolk goes a long way. Slabs of raunchy bacon dripping out of the package to the side, smelled like a bad day in the sewers; kind of yellow and buttery, slimy to the point I could imagine those Salmonella or E. Coli mating with each other on that hot skillet, happy suckers, singing to themselves that they’d soon be crawling around in my intestines scrummaging through my life like a bad dream.

My iGalaxy ripped an old Tom Waits tune on the uptake, vibrating across the floor like a squig yelping on the getaway. I could see Betsy thinking about reaching over an popping it till I said: “Don’t!”

I grabbed it off the crusty floor and walked out the front door and down the rickety stairs, almost stumbling over my neighbor Joey Qix’s youngest son’s freaking scooter. Stubbed me toe. Kicked it across the chipped asphalt, it fell into a sink hole and down into a mud pit. That’d teach that fat boy a lesson or two. Okay, maybe I shouldn’t be such a bastard, but sometimes I just feel like being mean. Can’t help myself. Comes with the territory.

I pried the slip-case, peeled back the facing, and I slid the ampule in till I could see a wormy face jut into view, a slithering voice came out of its pod on the screen: “Yeah, what the freck you up too Bobby Lee?”

“Com’on Jessie,” his voice squirmed down the electric flyways like a scared rabbit in heat. “I need your help, Jessie; real help.” A slight chill came over that cold tube-light. I grinned, it was like a blessing seeing someone else in so much pain. I’d had enough of it myself for a lifetime.

“You’ve always needed frecking help, Bobby Lee: How has that changed?” His face went blank, turned a little yellow, almost rancid; then white as a sheet. I asked: “So what happened, did that dipshit screw-girl you hang with slip you? Run off with your last wad?” Bobby Lee was a natural born loser, one of a kind screw-up. They didn’t make his kind anymore. No. He was a reject before rejects were a bad name.

“Nah, man… it’s not like that at all.” His voice was cracking. “It’s my little sister, Talia.” Tears flowed down his grimy cheeks like the coal black treads on an old 64 Pontiac muscle car; couldn’t fart so he bled it thick and hot from those bloodshot eyes. He choked.

Dam! I’d heard she was having a bit of trouble with the gang down on Hollis Avenue. Bad crowd there. Bunch of sorb-biker types always shaming the gals as if they were just meat puppets. Slice and dice bitches. Dead Girls with trodes and bleeder fangs. She’d hooked up with Wolf Davidson. Mean son-of-a-bitch. Ran the Choko Vagars between Meat Town and Grunge City. Low life’s, one and all. But hey, what could I say, people had to survive. Frecking U.S.A.’d become Dog Bone Nation soon after the Civil War. Yea, the one between the U.S and Mexico. Not pretty. All that low-tech Biomech. Brain food. Neuroservs. Bangers and Neurocaine drug-sliders. Gave me the chillies just thinking about it. Freck it I was a made man, one of the Changu Hitters (short for sinrunner… run the Bog to ShaTau run so many times they’d finally had to slipfeed ‘plants in my neuralnet relays to keep from becoming a full tilt zomb).

“Okay, Bobby, meet me down at Drake’s, hear me?” He shook his head like dead fish, up and down. “Yea… yea, man… I’ll be there.” Heard tires screeching in the background. The amp tooled out. Flicked the screen shut. Took another drag. Sky white and deadly. Ozone world circling above, empty, refined to merciless radiance. Silence.

I looked at the time. Scaped-eyed the lot and streets for signs of movement. Nothing living out there for sure. Made me remember things…

I’d gotten lucky after the war, caught a Neocorp gig with SynTech Global, worked the pac-rim NGO Circuit, oceanic partials mainly; none of those quick feed-packs either, no – this was legit, had the code for egregore intakes that would sink a Sec-Corp AI without even cracking an electrosweat. Could turn a whole Zomb-Unit into pus against its own CEO in jig time. Easy money. That is if you didn’t mind squeezing the fryboys on the GovPol vessels. International Police. Global Governance. Dickheads. By the book skinheads. Fascists. Everything had gone fine till I slipped up and lost a package in Tokyo. My Shagen Director told me to patch it or die. I patched and went under for good. Heard the SynTech AI took down Tokyo’s Yakuza’s mainframe in Okado for laughs. Deadly. Couldn’t get the bitch back in its cage after that. I was cooked. A wanted man without a way out. They took my SecCard offline, I went rogue. Black market shave, stapled pass. Cost plenty, too. So now I was slippage for the outworlds, an excluded man; exile. A man without a name, and most of all without Security SimCity implant. No clearance, meant no city life within the enclaves. I’d been a bad boy. Stuck out here in the cold wastes with everyone else.

But I had a plan. I always had a plan.

I went back upstairs. Betsy had finished cleaning up and was sitting on the bed brushing her long auburn hair, cute as a pixie; her grin and her strange eyes. She was the kind of gal a guy could marry someday. She’d stuck by me for two years. Seen the rugged tumble with me in the Grunge. I didn’t love her, and she knew it. Didn’t bother her much. She’d seen too much death to worry about love. No. She just liked having a warm body next to her in the night, a hug here and there. She liked sex but it wasn’t a priority, she’d had a hysterectomy at the age of sixteen. A rape gone bad, hurt here real bad. She’d never really gotten over it, either. Too bad for us both, I wasn’t the marrying kind. She was a good woman, and I tried my damnedest to keep her healthy and happy best I could. What the hell else could you do in this dead world? I reached down and gave her a peck on the cheek, she grabbed my crotch, said: “Why don’t you pull those off and come here to mama?”

We both laughed at that knowing why that wouldn’t happen. War. What else should I say. Shrapnel. You get the idea.. “You know I’d love to baby, but I got business to attend too.” She shrugged.

“Hell, you always got business. What about me? I’m not going to sit here all day waiting for your sorry ass to show up. No, siree.” She grinned, saying: “I’m goin’ find me a good man, that’s what I’m going to do.” We always did this, a sort of ritual so the pain between us wouldn’t come out.

“Good!” I said, smiling. “Maybe he’ll bring in enough dough for us both.”

She kicked me in the chin, laughing. “Okay, get your ass outta here before I change my mind.” Nudging me… “But remember you’re taking me to Chou Ling’s tonight… or, did you forget that?” Dang, she had me there. I’d forgotten all about that.

“Uh huh… you know I wouldn’t forget a thing like that honey.” I gave her one of those looks.

She frowned. “Well, if you come in late just don’t expect me to be sitting here with food on the stove.”

Nada. I knew better than to think that. She was fiercely independent. I sometimes wondered if she were my sidekick or I was hers, everything being copacetic. “I know,” knowing I better have something for her, a gift or I’d be sleeping on the floor, too. “You know me better than that.”

“Uh, huh…” she grinned again. “I sure do!”

I grabbed my satchel and my gun, slipped my cap on, patted her on the ass again, and reached down and gave her my tongue this time. She squirmed, then punched me again, lovingly. Didn’t need to say anything else. She knew. We both did.

* * *

I found Bobby pacing the cracked water pipes down on SimCity Blvd. Eyes bloodshot. Hands shaking, he was about to sit down on the steps outside Drake’s when I drove up in my old Chevy truck. Sad. I grabbed him and we took off down toward Chabin Beach, about the only freezone left in the Grunge.

* * *

(Note: Comments welcome! Just the opening sequence in a new work cross noir and grunge – a  Salvagepunk – Necropunk novel… thanks!)

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– Steven Craig Hickman ©2016 Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author is strictly prohibited.

Future Updates on Wattpad – I’ll be adding a chapter per week:

https://www.wattpad.com/myworks/62864832-savage-nights

China Miéville writes that “[w]e need utopia, but to try to think utopia, in this world, without rage, without fury, is an indulgence we can’t afford […] we cannot think utopia without hate.” Working a new Near Future Grunge Salvagepunk noir: bleak and pessimistic, yet full of hope for all that. A broken world full of our own world’s truths. Schizoanalytic psychoscape of tears done up in dark humor and cataleptic laughter. An anti-hero you can hate and love at the same time. A sort of Warren Ellis Spider Jerusalem reject bound to a anti-consumerist / anti-corporate media-scape slippage. It goes against consumerist society and fights for our rights to be free from the ownership of corporations, media and society.

Grunge is about freedom, pure and simple. It’s stepping away from self-absorption and starting to care about the people around you. It’s protesting against the fixation of beauty and perfection and letting us know that appearance doesn’t matter. Ugly is the new beautiful. Evil is Energy unleashed, creativity from the bottom-up, gutwise. It’s realizing that happiness doesn’t come from fortune and fame, rather the opposite: the guttersnipe dreams of fools and madmen, lovers and old hags, children and mothers. The punk of salvagepunk is what makes it revolutionary. Punk is not the commodified and commercialize image of Mohawked teens with pins through noses. It is certainly not the PVC slick technological wet dream of cyberpunk with its Deleuzian ‘intense’ nomadic multitudes and immaterial labour. Nor is it the “false dream image” of steampunk,where “its falseness lies in it being the wrong dream image, the ideological blind that is the dream image proper to the liberal escape plan for the contemporary crisis and its envisioned fall-out”. Punk is thus the “deep fidelity to its historical moment and the fact it no longer believed in a future – the present is already the hollowed out present of that future”.