We were lost somewhere in Arizona. The heat was better than the cold now. It was all about survival mostly, but maybe it was more about the ability to live off the streets and the rough land — which was all that was really left unless you lived high in a glass tower in one of the protected cities. We did not live in a glass tower. There was a privileged dude with us named Rob Muggins and he used to live in a glass tower. He was one of the rich guys who took a tumble down the ladder there at the end. Rob was scared most of the time — him being so damn out of his element. Sometimes though, Rob could step up in a time of heated crisis and do something really noteworthy and admirable — like the time he snatched Daisy from the grips of certain death.
Daisy was a crazy chick from Hazelton, Pennsylvania with black hair and black eyes but pale white skin. She had been working as an apprentice in an upscale tattoo parlor in Philadelphia when we picked her up. She had been trapped in a wishing well after seeking a place to hide from the monsters. Two days later Rob heard her soft cries for help. So now she’s with us. My name is Ed Dick and I’m the leader. I’m a good-looking oceanic cowboy from Maine. Like I said, we were lost in Arizona when things got very weird and ethereal.
The sun of the southwest could make a man parch in no time at all. We needed water. Water was our sweet salvation. Without water we wouldn’t last long. It was when we reached the apex of a dusty ridge that Daisy pulled out the spy glass and picked out a town way down in the rusty valley of corrosion. I took the spyglass from her to get a look for myself. “That’s a town all right,” I said to them. “I don’t see anything moving around. I think we’d be foolish not to check it out.”
Daisy was all for it, but Rob was being a whiny prick as usual. “I’m not going down there. The place could be totally infected with them. I’m not risking it and I don’t think you two should either.”
I stood up tall against him and looked down. “You know we’re going to die if we don’t get some water. What are you going to do… Hunt the desert for a few more days? You’ll never make it. Your throat will swell up and you’ll die.”
“I didn’t know you were a doctor, too,” Rob sniped with sharpshooter precision. He eyed the landscape and he wiped at his sweaty face with his hand and looked in all directions. “There’s got to be a river or pool or spring around here somewhere. There must be.”
I shouldered my rifle and started to move down the other side of the ridge. “Trust me. There’s not,” I called back. “That town is our best bet for survival right now.”
Daisy followed me down a cut in the ridge toward the floor of the valley, more of a dusty alley in a dead city. “You’re not going to leave him behind, are you?” she asked me.
I stopped and looked back up. “He’s smart enough to know to come with us. If he isn’t well then that’s his problem.” I continued on and Daisy had to work hard to keep up.
“You don’t like him very much, do you?” she asked me, in a tone that sounded like she was defending him. Maybe she liked him. Maybe she wanted him.
“No. I really don’t,” I answered. “He knows nothing about the real world. He’s been hiding behind a desk and a computer screen his whole life. He’s not my kind of people.”
“What is your kind of people?” she wanted to know.
We reached the floor of the valley and it felt even hotter as we ducked down in some dry brush and looked in the direction of the town. Daisy was close and I could feel her breath in my ear when she asked “What do you think? Is it safe?”
I turned back to her, and our noses nearly touched. My moustache wiggled with sexual excitement. “It’s never safe, but sometimes you got to take a chance. Are you locked and loaded and ready to shoot anything that moves?”
She looked nervous as she double checked her firearm. “I’m ready.”
We emerged from the brush slowly and started our trek toward the town. I stared straight ahead as Daisy scanned our perimeter for any signs of monsters. “It’s as dead as the world,” she whispered.
I nodded and we pressed on until the first building was not more than 100 yards away. We crouched near a cluster of fallen boulders. That’s when Rob Muggins came sloppily jogging up from behind us panting like a dog from hell. “They’re coming,” he told us as he collapsed in the dirt. “I saw them from the ridge. They’re headed this way.”
“Monsters?” Daisy quivered.
“Yes. And more than usual,” Rob answered, a tincture of fear in his voice.
I twisted my head back and forth in a panic. “We need to make for that higher ground. We’re raw meat down here.”
We dashed across the floor of the valley until the land began to crest upward. We scrambled through slippery rocks until we reached a dip beyond a hedge of desert brush and stayed low. “All this running around is no damn good for our dehydration situation,” I said to them. “No damn good at all.”
“Be quiet,” Daisy whispered, and she focus her eyes through the brush and scanned the land beyond. “I don’t see anything. Are you sure they were coming this way?”
“Maybe he’s hallucinating,” I suggested.
“I’m not hallucinating. I swear I saw them,” Rob said in his defense. “Why do you always doubt me?”
“Because you’re a polished desk jockey with no real life skills,” I snapped.
He turned away, offended by my blunt assessment of him. I waited for a reply, but none came so I just went back to dealing with our present situation. “I say we lie low here until it gets dark and then make for the town and try to find some water, or whatever else to drink.” I commanded. “It’s our only chance.” The other two looked at me and agreed. “Good. Now let’s try to conserve some energy. Daisy, you keep watch.”
Rob sat down next to me. His clothes were torn, and he was burnt from the sun. He looked terrible for a guy who used to be pretty sharp. “I don’t think I’m going to make it, Ed,” he surprisingly confided in me. “I feel like I’m about to drop dead… And I almost wish it.”
I spat at the ground, adjusted my hat, and looked at him. “You need to get over that. We’ll make it. You’ll feel a whole hell of a lot better once you get something to drink inside your guts.”
Rob stared at the ground and the sweat dripping from his head dotted the sand. “I once heard a person could drink their own urine to survive.”
“If that were true people wouldn’t die of thirst,” I pointed out. “And not only that, it’s disgusting and unsanitary.”
“Have you ever done it?”
“Hell no! What’s the matter with you!?”
“I once saw a guy do it on a television show.”
“Then he was a dumb ass. Television is for suckers.”
“I think he threw up.”
“I don’t doubt it.” I turned my attention to Daisy. “What’s going on down there?”
She turned and licked at her burnt lips. “Nothing. I don’t see a thing.”
“They must have turned,” I decided.
Rob scratched at his unruly bustle of curling hair. “I need to see a barber,” he said. “Do you think there’s a barber down there?”
“Could be… But not the kind of barber you want,” I warned him. “Not the kind that cuts hair.”
Once the day began to fade we made our way down and into the town. There was a ghostly moon hovering in the dying light and the streets were broken and overgrown with prickly weeds. The buildings were shattered, brick crumbling from years of the in-and-out of a blazing sun. The wind began to dance, and some tumbleweeds crossed our path. We saw no signs of life — monster or human. “We should split up here,” I suggested.
Daisy grabbed me by the upper arm. She squeezed a little. “I don’t think that’s a very good idea. What if something happens?” I looked over at Rob and he seemed nervous and fidgety. “What do you think?” I asked him.
“I don’t want to be left alone out here. I say we stay together.”
I was overruled and so we pressed on as a trio down the main thoroughfare of the town — what was left of it. We came upon what looked to be an old grocery store and we went in. It was fairly dark inside except near the front by the broken-out windows. I illuminated our way with a small everlasting flashlight I kept in a pocket. The shelves were decimated except for a few cans of those vegetables no one likes — stuff like okra and asparagus and Lima, Peru beans. I didn’t even care that I was hungry, there was no way in hell I’d eat any of that crap. The coolers at the back were dead and empty. The storage room was picked clean of food as well. “It looks like we’re out of luck here,” I said as I swept my flashlight up against the walls and across the floor. Then I hit on something — a plastic bottle of water that had rolled out of ordinary view. “Look, there!” I said.
Daisy got down on the floor and reached her long and tatted arm underneath a worktable. “I got it,” she said, and she got back up and held it for us to see.
Rob snatched it out of her hand and uncapped it. He took a long drink. “Hold on,” I said. “There are three of us.” He reluctantly pulled the bottle away from his mouth and handed it to me. “Sorry. I was thirsty.”
“We’re all thirsty, you selfish prick,” I snapped, and I wiped the top of the bottle off with the sleeve of my shirt and took a few gulps. It was warm but tasted like water. I let Daisy finish it off and she tossed the bottle to the side. That’s when we heard a strange howl and we all instinctively ducked down and I shut off the flashlight. “What the hell was that?” Rob whispered in fear. The howl came again.
“It’s a lobo,” I answered. “Sounds like a crazy lobo, too.”
“Are you sure it’s not a werewolf?” Rob asked.
“What the hell did you just say?” I wondered aloud as I tried to see him in the dark.
He repeated himself. “I hope it’s not a werewolf.”
“Quit being stupid,” Daisy butted in. “It’s not a werewolf.” She reached out for my hand and squeezed it as if to say: Can you believe that? I squeezed back and smiled in the darkness. I was glad it was just a lobo and not anything else.
We left the cover of the store once the howling grew fainter and more distant. The animal had moved on. We resumed our stroll down the main drag when something off down a side street caught my eye. It was a light. I stopped and moved back into the shadows. “Come here,” I whispered. They ducked in next to me and I showed them. “There’s a light on over there in that shop.” Daisy pressed herself against me. “How is that possible?” I touched her back and I could smell her feminine side. “There must be someone in there,” I said.
I could sense Rob was trembling. “We need to leave now,” he said to me. “Right now.”
“No. It could be someone who could help us.”
“I think it’s a bad idea,” Rob said.
“Look,” I said. “There are three of us and we’re armed. I think it’s worth the chance. What do you think… Baby?”
I knew Daisy was looking at me strangely in the darkness. “Did you just call me baby?”
I was really embarrassed and avoided her question. I pressed them like a leader should. “Let’s go take a look.”
FIRST OF TWO PARTS