Episode 2 - Hammertown

Page 1

Maybe we're not in hell

A scrappy oak tree hung over the river, its leaves casting dappled shadows on the calm waters. Eddie lay slumped in his seat, watching the branches pass above. "Hey, look at that," he said. "A tree."

Bryce said nothing.

"That's the first tree I've seen since we got here. Maybe we're not in hell after all."

He glanced at Bryce. Bryce kept his eyes fixed ahead on the river.

"Are you still mad at me?"

Bryce scowled. His jaw grew rigid.

"I said I was sorry." Eddie waited. "I... I really am sorry."

"You puked in my car."

"It was an accident."

"There's a whole river around us, and you had to puke right on the seat."

"It's a leather seat. It wasn't that hard to clean—"

"It's contaminated now. I still smell it."

"I never drank beer before. I thought it was supposed to be good."

"One can. You drank one can, and you puked that entire can back on my car."

Eddie slumped further in his seat and scratched at his cheek. "I couldn't have vomited it all up. I'm still dizzy."

His t-shirt clung to him with a thin film of sweat. He wished he had sunglasses. The sun overhead hurt his brain. Cattails drifted by as he lay miserable in his seat. He wanted to be off the river.

The canyon had opened into a narrow valley the day before, the hills on either side peppered with sagebrush and yellow weeds. Eddie would have taken heart at the signs of life, but he was too miserable to appreciate anything. Had one beer done this to him? He vowed never to drink again.

"That's a big sheep," Bryce muttered.

Eddie pushed himself up in his seat and followed Bryce's gaze. On the left bank, a sheep the size of a small cow stood munching on river grass. It stared down from the bank at the floating car as its jaw worked, its dirty wool puffed out so thick it could have concealed a family of badgers.

"So if there's a sheep, there's a shepherd," Eddie said.

"Maybe it's a wild sheep."

Eddie shook his head, and it felt like his brain sloshed into the side of his skull. He swallowed back the pain. "Not that one. It's bred for its wool. It might be feral though. No one has sheared it in a long time."

"How do you know so much about sheep?" Bryce asked.

"I don't know. I might have worked on a ranch once or twice."

"Huh! I doubt that." Bryce glanced at him, frowned and turned to fully face him. "What's that on your face?"

Eddie slapped a hand to his cheek. "What? Where?"

Take a look at yourself

"Take a look at yourself." Bryce's brows drew together in concern.

Eddie sat up and leaned into the side-view mirror. What he saw there startled him. Sickly yellow blotches with grayish borders covered his cheeks, forehead and chin. The spot he'd been scratching at for the past hour had turned an inflamed orange. "What the...?"

"Man, what happened to you?"

"I... I don't..."

"We need to get you to a doctor."

Eddie swallowed. "I think I'm going to..."

The sunlight grayed, Bryce's face dimmed and everything went dark.

* * *

The voices sounded as if they were coming from under water. Eddie batted his eyes once, but the sun outside was brutal. He shut his eyelids tight.

"... do you know someone who can help him?" asked a familiar voice. Eddie tried to place it. Was he dreaming?

"Sure do," replied another voice—female. "But I'm not sure a couple of ragged strangers like yourselves will be welcome."

"Is there a doctor?"

"Nope."

"But look at him. He looks like he's dying."

"He isn't dying, but he'll be laid up for a few weeks in his condition. You too."

"What's he got?"

"Muskrat pox."

"You're kidding."

"That's what it's called."

Eddie sensed they were off the river now. He pried his eyes open. Through the dazzling sunlight, he could see Bryce's outline. Beyond him, a woman in a broad-brimmed hat sat astride a... What was it?

Jane

"You said you know someone who could heal him," Bryce said.

"I know several someones. My Loretta is the closest."

"She'll help?"

"If I ask her."

"Would you ask her?"

The woman didn't immediately reply.

Eddie tried to sit up and found himself too weak. His eyes refused to focus. It looked like the woman was on the back of a brownish green dinosaur the size of an ostrich. Its lazy orange eyes blinked at him.

"Strangers bring trouble," the woman said.

"My name is Bryce. This here is Eddie. There's no reason we have to be strangers."

She didn't reply.

"Please," Bryce said. "We're lost. We've been drifting down this river for a few days now, we've eaten all our potato chips, we haven't seen another soul and we're desperate for a friend. Could you help us?"

"What do you call this thing?" she asked, nodding at the convertible.

"I call it a car."

"And it scoots around by itself?"

"Give me a clear road and it can move at a hundred and five miles an hour."

She whistled. "Well that's something."

"So how about it?"

"You don't strike me as a bandit. You could be a con man though."

"I've got nothing to sell you."

"There's all kinds of con men. You look like a slick character, all young and pretty."

"You're not so bad yourself," Bryce said, his voice turning sly.

"Save it. I'm not interested."

"Why not?"

"You aren't my type."

"Why? Because I'm not white?"

"No, because you're not a woman."

"I see. And are you one hundred percent committed to that orientation?"

"You're an idiot. And it's a hundred and ten percent."

Bryce pulled up his sleeve. "What if I flexed my biceps?"

"A hundred and fifteen."

Bryce shrugged. "Fair enough."

Into the grass

The woman sighed. She tugged on the reigns of her reptilian beast. "Our house is over the next ridge. Follow me." The beast turned and plodded over the bank into the tall grass. "If you do anything I don't like," the woman called over her shoulder, "I'll put an arrow through your forehead."

Bryce threw the car into gear. He glanced at Eddie. "Good news. We're gonna get you fixed up."

"Did'jou..." Eddie began, his voice slurred. "Did you try to pick up on her?"

"A swing and a miss, but I'll get it right next time."

Bryce drove into the grass after the retreating beast.

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page published 8/11/2016