Dust covered lamps flickered overhead in the nearly empty bar filling it with a dim light. Closing time was only two hours away but it didn't mean anything other than the sign saying they were open would flicker off. Those who wanted to drink after hours would still come in for a drink and the owner wouldn't do much about it. He welcomed patrons of all sorts, it didn't matter what their alignment was in these tumultuous times.
The front doors swung open and the bartender glanced away from cleaning the musty glass in his hand to make sure it wasn't anyone he should worry about then back down to his cleaning. He had a shotgun hidden under the bar just in case things became unsavory. The man who had entered the bar was a regular he recognized and the bartender knew he wouldn't cause anything other than the usual trouble which he was perfectly capable of handling. There was little conversation in the bar at the time other than the quiet hum of the AM Radio as it rattled off advertisements and the latest news stories. It was required by law for all establishments in and around Battery City to have some kind of news transmitted in their place of business. Any establishment found without it would be shut down and the owner of the business punished to the full extent of the law.
"This just in! We have reports of terrorist activity within the walls of Battery City. For your safety we strongly recommend that you are indoors by sundown, which happens at approximately half past seven this week. If found outdoors after sunset our officers from Better Living Industries will be more than happy to escort you somewhere safe where you can rest until the daylight hours. And remember… Better Living for a better life…" The radio buzzed for just a moment as it often did at random then continued on about the recent terrorist activity within the city; fires at local storage buildings, children gone missing, the usual messages being delivered on the radio designed to fill its listeners with fear.
"Can you believe that bullshit? Those terrorists?" The man who had just entered the bar for the night said as he approached the bartender, grabbing the pint of beer he'd ordered and turning back to walk to the only other table that was occupied by a man who he was clearly speaking to. He didn't make any effort to keep his voice low since the only other patron that night didn't seem to be paying much attention to anything outside of her glass and something small in her hand. She looked too out of it to even notice he was alive nonetheless talking. The man who was already at the table didn't even raise his head to acknowledge his friend, but his mumbling echoed throughout the empty dim bar and was barely intelligible.
"Hmm? What about who?"
"Didn't you see the poster outside on the door?"
"Oh, what about it? Was hard to miss considering how damn big it is."
"Can you believe those fucking goons are still running around? Those Killjoys?" The instigator leaned back in his chair and ran his fingers through the black hair that was falling down into his face to push it away over a large scar that ran down from his forehead and beneath his right eye. His friend stayed silent but did manage to at least move his head so he was looking up at his friend through the amber liquid that only half filled the mug in front of him. "Fucking anarchists, that's what they really are, hiding behind some fake cause. They're always causing trouble in the damn zones and now inside the city? Nowhere is safe, I tell ya! I can handle it outside the zones, but when Battery City isn't even safe from their pathetic antics anymore, enough is enough!" His friend chuckled and pushed his long graying hair out of his face. He bore the marks of a business man who liked to pretend he wasn't one after work, wearing a way too clean leather jacket and sporting a well trimmed beard. He opened his mouth to speak but his friend interrupted yet again, clearly on a rant that he'd been thinking about all day, perhaps longer.
"We are constantly suffering for their crimes against Better Living… All these curfews, and the rations now too because of the food they steal for God only knows what! Like we don't have enough rules to follow already or anything so they have to go and screw shit up for the rest of us law abiding citizens! Kill every goddamn one of them I say! Let 'em hang! Set an example for the rest of 'em!" They stopped for a second, hearing the flick of what they would've described as someone using an old lighter. They looked around but only saw the woman at the bar and the bartender sitting there and neither seemed to be paying much attention to them.
The man leaning his head down perked up and picked up his beer after this. "Better yet, imprison 'em, torture 'em! Teach 'em a real lesson. Why should they be put out of their misery while we still suffer everyday for what they've done? Let them be the ones to suffer, not us! It's only right, only just." The two men burst into raucous laughter, amused by their own cleverness in the situation. It was an empty sort of laughter, that made even the bartender behind them make a face of disgust. The scarred man picked up his glass and held it out to his friend happily.
"Cheers! Drinks are on me for the whole bar when I see those idiots humiliated on the front page of the paper! Hell, I'll even buy a copy to frame." The clanking of the glasses seemed louder than it should've been echoing through the bar and they both took a hefty drink from them in celebration.
The bartender was still scrubbing the same spot off of the glass he held that he had begun to scrub ten minutes ago when the man with the scar had entered. He wasn't really scrubbing, he was listening and watching the reactions of the woman at the bar. She wasn't going to be pleased by what she heard and he was hoping that he could prevent an incident before it happened. This particular patron was one of his favorites but also one of his most dangerous. Over the years, he'd developed a particular nap for keeping her calm. He could tell she wasn't pleased by the way she was tossing her favorite lighter around in her hands. He hated that damn thing, she was always getting herself into trouble with it and he'd pulled her out of more than one scrape because of it, too. He saw her cock her head to the side and realized she was contemplating making some kind of move or joining the conversation behind her.
"Frenz, it's not worth it…" He muttered under his breath and then hung his head as she pushed her stool back just a little bit, the sound of the scraping against the concrete floor unusually loud. He had tried, not very hard albeit, but there wasn't much he could do once she had made up her mind.
"Excuse me," She spoke to the men without even turning toward them. She hadn't been drinking, not right now, but she held a lighter covered in graffiti of her own making and she was flicking it with a shaky finger so that it sparked every few seconds. It seemed more like a nervous tic than a threatening gesture. The flame seemed to calm her in a way. "Let me take a wild guess here… and say that you're both happily married, right? You both have safe… desk jobs that you work at reliably everyday with benefits and pensions. I'm sure you both come here every weekend and talk a good game but you never actually do a damn thing about the shit you complain about. You wouldn't actually do shit to a Killjoy if you saw one, nonetheless say any of that shit to their face. I bet you wouldn't even look them in the eye. You go right back to your cushy little lives and take pride in the fact that you're just like everyone else around you. Blind. You live in your sheltered little world in Battery City and you venture out into Zone Four, the last safe zone for people who don't know how to handle a laser and you call yourselves tough?" She flipped the lighter closed and leaned up so she wasn't hunched over the bar anymore. She tapped the bar in front of her to signal to the bartender that she wanted a drink. "You're worse than pathetic."
The bartender grabbed a shot glass and filled it up to the brim for her, the way that he knew she liked and she picked it up and downed it as quickly as he had poured it. She set it down, still not turning around to face them. She knew if she turned around she'd act on impulse and she didn't want to end up burning down that particular bar. She liked the place and that meant a lot since there were so few places she was even welcome those days. Her reputation often out people at unease.
Both men stared at the back of her in confusion for a moment, unsure if she was even talking to them or to herself. They were both light shades of pink on their cheeks in embarrassment and unsure of how to even respond to such a spot on assumption about their lives.
"Listen sweetheart, you don't know what you're talking about." The man with the scar managed to collect himself and stared at the woman with a false cocky smile. She flicked open the lighter again and lit the flame, staring at the orange and yellow hues as they danced on top of the metal item in her hand. She could burn them up right there and no one would catch her or even pursue her.
"Yeah, mind your own goddamn business!" The man with the longer hair chimed in much to the amusement of his scarred friend. They seemed cockier when they were working together.
The bartender winced at these words and furrowed his brow with concern for his bar. "Bad idea…" He turned to the woman and placed his hand down in front of her, nervous about the fate of his establishment, his eyes pleading. "Please don't burn down my bar…"
"Don't worry, Harvey." She pushed her barstool further back and got off of it, hopping a little bit as she got down, just to gain her balance. "I'm in control of this, for now." She kept the lighter in her hand, the sound of it clicking to life calmed her down. She didn't mean she had control over the situation, just over herself because often she found that she didn't. "I should mind my own business, hmm? Alright, I'll mind my own business but… let me ask you gentlemen something first." Flicking the lighter once more, she walked slowly toward them. They stared at her, trying not to seem intimidated but something about her unsettled them. "Have either one of you ever broken the law before?" Neither man responded to her, just merely exchanged glances with the other and turned back to her. She had more on her mind than these creeps and maybe that was why she just couldn't resist temptation.
Dirt flew up around her feet as she sped off road in the desert on her way to catch up with the caravan on her old motorcycle. She had her bandana over her face to cover her mouth and goggles over her eyes to keep the dirt away, her mask flipped up over her head. They wouldn't hear her coming over the noise of the diesel engines of their massive militarized trucks. With any lucky they wouldn't notice they were missing the very last truck until she had taken off long after. She needed supplies to build new weapons to sell, and she had received a reliable tip that she could get them on that caravan. She was known to take stupid risks to get supplies but this time her source was foolproof.
She sped to a stop and leaned on one foot, keeping the engine on her old motorcycle running. Pulling from the side of the motorbike she lifted what looked like an old machinegun, colorful and festive, covered in scribbles describing its usage. She held it on her shoulder, and unfolded a scope on the side. She glanced through it, saw the last truck in the caravan was lagging a little behind already and fired a single shot off. She lowered the gun, started to put it away and sped off before the tire had even popped on the truck. She knew there was no chance she had missed; she'd practiced shots like that far too many times. The truck swerved and came to a stop in a puff of dust and smoke as the other trucks drove away, not noticing they were missing their tail end. She watched as the rest of the trucks faded from view, as the sounds of their engines disappeared and made sure they didn't realize something had gone amiss. When she knew they weren't coming after the truck she approached it. She had a window of a half an hour if she was lucky.
"Have you ever even gotten close to any of the Draculoids? Have you even seen them in person before outside of on your television screen? Have you ever run into the Scarecrow on a dark night? Have you ever seen the whites of the eyes of one of those masked enforcers right before you blew their brains out all over their damn masks? Have you ever had one of them point a laser at your head and ask you to get on your knees and beg for forgiveness before they blew wasted you on the concrete?" She spoke low, low enough that they would have to listen very hard to hear her over the sound of the radio and they were. Despite her small feminine stature, something about her demanded attention. She was still slowly approaching, biding her time as she tried to decide what punishment they would receive for their misguided words tonight.
She ditched the motorcycle when she got too close; it was easier to aim her laser gun while she was walking rather than driving. She'd retrieve it on her way back with the supplies she needed. She fired two shots from in front of the truck and hit her targets with both. She walked over to the driver's side door and opened it, the body of the Draculoid who had been sitting there falling in front of her. She kicked him so he was on his back and pulled off his costume mask. She fired a shot into his face and then did the same to the Draculoid lying already dead in the passenger's seat.
She never trusted them, they were notorious for trickery. She'd once had one fake his death and ended up getting shot in the arm and nearly lost it due to an infection that followed afterward. She'd never let that happen again and always shot them in the head every single time even after she was sure they'd died from some other wound. Paranoia was sometimes a good thing, at least in this dangerous world. She dug through the papers scattered throughout the front seat, climbing in for only a moment, ignoring the blood splattered on the windshield in front of her. She wasn't squeamish, not anymore. Years ago after she'd made her first kill maybe, but those days of innocence had long since passed.
She slammed the glove compartment closed after she couldn't find the shipment invoice for that particular truck and leaned her head back against the back of the seat. She didn't want to waste her time there if the truck didn't have what she was looking for but at the same time she didn't want to leave empty handed. She looked around on the dashboard and found the button that would unlock the steel door on the back of the truck and hopped out of the front seat, stepping over the corpse of the driver casually. They wouldn't send an empty truck into the desert, not this far, so she would find its contents and reap what these fuckers didn't deserve. She glanced around to make sure no one was approaching quite yet, then walked to the back of the truck, reaching for the metal handle to help her lift the steel door, hoping she'd find her prize inside: one worthy of her efforts.
"Eliminating danger so you can sleep at night, Better Living, for a better life…" The familiar voice of the evening announcer echoed over the radio, bringing her back from her thoughts to reality.
"Have you ever found the body of a child in the back of a truck who choked to death on the fumes in Zone Six because the Dracs didn't bother with gas masks for them? Have you ever wondered how many of them died like that or just how many unmarked graves are out there?" Her eyes flashed dangerously, her mind was clearly elsewhere as she walked toward them. They had a feeling she was talking from experience and that frightened them.
The metal of the door creaked eerily in the quiet desert. The back of the truck was nearly completely empty, except for something covered in a sheet in the back of it. It looked like something soft, perhaps food or blankets or at least that was what she thought. She jumped inside without much effort, knowing already that the weapons and materials she wanted to obtain weren't in that truck but her curiosity got the best of her and if anything was of value in that piece of shit truck then she was going to take it and use it or give it to someone who needed I more than she did. Besides, she didn't want to make this trip just a waste of gas and valuable ammunition.
The closer she got the heavier the sinking feeling in the pit of her stomach became. She knew what it was before she'd even reached the pile over in the corner. She could see the forms beneath the sheet, they were distinct and she could only hope she was mistaken. She pulled the sheet off of the form beneath it and cursed under her breath. Two small boys, probably no older than nine years old, covered in dirt and worn clothes too big for them were lying there, looking quite dead. She could smell it now that they were uncovered, the all too familiar sent of death in the air. It was so thick she could taste it. She pulled the bandana away from her face and tried to breathe but panic gripped at her lungs. They were fucking kids, fucking kids and these bastards didn't give a shit what happened to them as long as they delivered them to god only knows where. She could only imagine why the hell they wanted them in the first place.
She turned and paced through the truck in an attempt to calm down then screamed and cursed and yelled in frustration. She slammed her fists into the side of the truck, punching it over and over again, kicking at the metal, then pacing back and forth, throwing her hands into the air. She then turned to face the desert which suddenly stopped her movements altogether, seeing how the sun was peeking in making everything a brilliant orange hue. She stopped yelling and pushed her hands back through her hair while taking a deep breath.
"Calm down, just calm the fuck down. Calm the fuck down or you'll die too, Frenzy."Her heart was still beating a mile a minute in her chest but she knew that she didn't have time to flip out. Her hands began to throb and blood dripped down onto her mask. She glanced up and saw that her knuckles were bloody and bruised. She barely remembered how many times she hit the side of the truck which was now dented where she'd taken out her frustrations. She turned back to the bodies of the two little boys there and knew she had to do something, despite her disgust with the situation.
"What are you? One of them?" The man with the longer hair asked nervously, trying to sound like he was joking but he was starting to fear that this woman might actually try to hurt them simply because they were joking around.
"One of them? A Killjoy? No, no I don't affiliate with the Killjoys." She raised her eyebrows, brought back to reality for just a moment, looking at the man in response. Her eyes were still distant, but it only made her seem crazier. "But at least they try to make a fucking difference while people like you sit around and criticize them even though you know damn well what is happening right outside your door after the recommended curfew. They at least try to live their lives, even if it's harder than just doing what you're fucking told." She spat at them. "You say they should be killed? Tortured? Punished? You should be fucking punished, all of you who sit around and joke about a reality you choose to ignore. It's people like you that make it necessary for the Killjoys to even exist."
The smell of gasoline was overwhelming but calmed her nerves as she poured it over the front seat and the bodies of the Dracs she had killed to get this truck under her control. She walked around it casually, splashing gasoline in the dirt, in the back of the truck, over the tires and on just about every surface she could find and reach. She stuck a rag in the gas tank, as she had gotten so good at, and picked up her container of gasoline. She brought one with her everywhere; fire was all she needed to cleanse the earth of these fuckers. It was what she needed to cleanse her mind more than anything. The fire was a purifying thing, a flame that didn't care about good or evil, or any of the bullshit they sold in fairy tales.
The can was empty, out of fuel, by the time that she had walked around the perimeter of the truck. She grabbed a soft rock and made a tick mark on the side of the gas can, next to nearly forty others, barely visible over the various graffiti she'd drawn on the tank over the years. She attached it back to her motorcycle with a custom clip and looked up, hearing the sound of an engine in the distance. She couldn't see the trucks or the vans but she could see the cloud of dirt they formed in the desert and knew they were approaching her now. She knew they were coming for the truck they'd lost in the caravan and she knew they would be coming with guns. It was now or never.
"What is it? Why are you defending them if you don't work for them? Just to bust our balls?" The scarred man spoke in a tone that clearly said he wanted to kick her ass, but his face showed an apprehension he couldn't shake. She knew at that moment he was exactly what she had accused him of being.
The lighter in her pocket was always there talking to her, reminding her that she needed it. It felt cool in her hands now, like it knew that it had a job to do with her. She kissed the side of it, flipped it over in her hands and flicked it open, holding it close to her face. She flicked the fire on and stared at it for a long moment, bewitched by the flame.
"No, I don't work for anybody… but tolerance for the abuse that goes on in Battery City and the surrounding zones pisses me off. You needed to be taught a lesson and Harvey's far too nice to say it to your face."
She had to go quickly and the extra weight on her bike from the bodies of the two murdered children she'd tied to the backseat was slowing her old motorcycle considerably. The dust flew up around her, and she narrowed her eyes through the goggles she wore to see her destination better. The last thing she needed now was to get in an accident and trash her motorcycle and her escape in the process. She knew that the oncoming assault would reach the truck soon and then they'd be on her tail. After a moment she heard an earsplitting explosion, one that she had expected to come. She turned the motorcycle and rested her foot on the ground, watching as the orange and red hue of the fire filled the air in the distance. She was further than she thought she had gotten in the time that had passed. She watched the fire, sure that it was enough of a distraction to get away safely, then turned the motorcycle back around and drove off, knowing the bodies of the children were secure. Even though they were dead, she wasn't going to let the Dracs erase them. She'd promised that to herself a long time ago.
Both men stared at her, afraid she was going to do something to them, she clearly seemed unstable, and the way she kept flicking that lighter over and over in her hand left them unsettled and fidgeting in their chairs. Her fiery red and orange outfit, outlandish as it was, made her seem like she could start a pretty decent fire and the soot scattered in her red and black hair seemed to suggest that she had indeed done so and recently at that.
"You're both lucky that I like this place, or I'd burn it to the ground with you tied to your fucking chairs." She turned away from the men, gathering her wits and heading back over to the bar, slipping the bartender a few dirty looking coins. As they spun on the counter the sound of them echoed throughout the bar. "Thanks for the drink, Harvey. I'll see you soon." Harvey let out a sigh of relief as she turned to leave, clearly thankful he wasn't going to have to combat a fire anytime soon. It wouldn't be the first time he would've had to because of the woman.
Nightfall came quicker now that the atmosphere had gotten so polluted outside of the city. The toxic waste that was dumped in the outer zones made the air poisonous and hid the sun as it got too close to the horizon in a haze, before the earth even could. She had been working for hours out in Zone Four, digging in the darkness. This place was always abandoned and no one wanted to be bothered with it so she knew it was a safe haven. She wouldn't stop even though her arms were aching and her body was dirty and covered in sweat. She kept digging the two holes until they were deep enough to bury the children she'd found. She stood up straight, her head peeking out of the hole, glancing at the makeshift tombstones she'd created for others in the past.
Maybe someday she wouldn't have to do this anymore; maybe one day she could end the body count once and for all and hopefully before she had to look for a new safe place to bury those kids. She realized that she'd just been staring at the tombstones, that all the moisture on her face was no longer just from the sweat and cleared her throat. She didn't have time to waste staring and getting lost in her own mind. She'd lost it so long ago she knew if she lingered too long she might not find a way out.
She threw the shovel out of the hole and pulled herself out of it easily despite the soreness in her arms. After years of doing things like this, she'd gotten pretty damn good at all the physical strength it took to do it, it was the emotional strength she lacked. She had wrapped up both the bodies of the boys before she had started to dig. She drew crosses over where their faces were and gently placed them each in one of the holes. They had been loved by someone once even if it had just been another orphaned child, and she refused to let them share graves. They deserved better than to be dumped into some mass grave without names. She didn't believe in God, the cross was more for luck, or in case they had once believed in something like that. Just because she'd given up hope in something better, didn't mean those children had and she hoped that they never did.
She stared at the holes for a long moment and had to shake herself free once again of the mental strife before she could bury them. She walked over to her motorcycle and pulled the photos out of the satchel she kept on the back of the motorcycle. She'd found an old Polaroid camera a few years ago and had managed to continue stealing film for it for years. She refused to use any other camera than that one; she was like that with a lot of things though. She shook them once more, even though she knew that she wasn't supposed to or the colors in the film could bleed. The faces of the dead boys reflected back at her, eyes closed, looking sound asleep but pale enough to see there was no life left in their little faces. She hid the photos, looking at them too long would make her lose it and she just couldn't afford that.
She walked outside and pulled her jacket tighter around her to keep out the chilled fall air. Even in the desert, the nights got cold. She looked around the parking lot and saw her motorcycle and the familiar old truck that Harvey had given her a ride in several times. She spotted two other cars parked on the other side of the building and casually walked toward them. She stopped at the outside trashcan and picked up an old shirt that had been discarded. She tore it to pieces and investigated the two cars. She closed her eyes and recalled the faces of the men in the bar she had just scared the piss out of. She'd teach them a lesson they wouldn't soon forget and she'd get her fix at the same time. The lighter felt like it was trying to burn a hole out of her pocket all night long.
She shoved the cloth rag into the blue sedan's gas tank after cracking the cap. She made sure that it reached gasoline and started to saturate the rag then went and repeated the same with the black station wagon next to it. She flicked the lighter and lit the rags then turned away from the scene, walking over to her motorcycle. She stared at it and decided to leave it there for the night then turned to walk down the street.
Steel walls covered in photographs, sketches, rants and various newspaper articles surrounded her as she flipped on the light overhead. She sat down at the barstool she kept in front of a poorly put together steel table and put both the photos in front of her once again. She found an orange marker and set it down on top of them. It felt disrespectful to give them numbers but she had never had any names for any of them. They were all nameless lost souls when she found them but she'd promised she'd never forget they had once lived. She drew the number seven on the bottom of the first photo, personalizing it in any way that she could with various doodles and symbols.
After doing the same for the next photo but with the number eight, she picked them up and got up from the stool. She walked across the room, and through a small door she kept hidden as well as she could behind shelves and boxes of ammunition without making it too hard to access. She lit her lighter and then the candle that was on the desk. It flickered across the walls that were all bare except for a few photos hanging in the back. She grabbed a couple of old rusted tacks and stuck the photos she had just decorated up on the wall next to the other six.
The dead children spoke to her, begged her to keep this from happening but she wasn't sure she could ever find a way to really make it stop even though she'd been trying for years. The task had nearly destroyed her mentally and physically on many occasions. "I'm sorry." On a shelf to the left held all her secrets and it was yelling at her too. "I can't right now." She quickly extinguished the candle's flame with her thumb and forefinger and walked out of the room. She instantly felt saner as she left the room. Closing her eyes, she leaned against the door and took a deep breath. She was losing it again. She needed relief before it got too bad. There was just one more thing she had to do before she went out to find a distraction.
She needed a different kind of fix now that she'd started the fire she wanted. As she heard the sudden burst of flames behind her a smile crept over her lips, she was satisfied that the overly confident men would learn their lesson. The flames warmed the air even from so far away and she couldn't help but steal a glance before heading off in search of some relief. Lovely hues of every color lit the sky but the bar remained untouched. She could hear yelling in the distance and knew that the men were likely frantically panicking about what had become of their vehicles.
As she stood still and watched, her hands trembled. She clenched her fists and glanced down her uncontrollably shaking hands. It wasn't adrenaline, and it most certainly wasn't caused by fear. Frenzy knew that she'd already waited too long and started walking again down the street, in search of something she'd only find in the party scene.