The Prompt: A minor character stumbles upon the mangled corpse of the protagonist and realizes the story is not going in the direction is should have been.
His vision became acute, not focused but rather black around the edges. It felt like he was riding through a massive tunnel, but he could not feel the bike beneath his legs. He glided over the landscape with impossible smoothness. The world elongated before him yet his body lay still. The gravel no longer bothered his cuts and bruises, the break in his arm ceased hurting. A haze emanated from the ground, the sun hung high in the sky, he felt sweat on his brow yet he shivered.
A chill ran through his bones when he watched the man walk from him. He went to reach for his Crosman on his right hip, an act he had done a thousand times in his life, but nothing happened. Despite his will to move, he could not. It was as if his own body was ignoring him.
Plumes of smoke, dark with malice hung in the clear blue sky. Fire erupted from the nearest, just a few hundred yards away. He watched Hugor walk down the desert road, a shotgun resting on his left shoulder, a motorcycle helmet in his right hand. That’s mine, he thought as the light faded from the world.
“Time is the one thing we don’t have control over,” Bradley had told him.
What I wouldn’t give for a little more time?
It had been two hours since the last check in, much longer than the plan allowed.
“At our speed, we can hit every forty-five minutes.” Owen could still see the map the Bradley had laid down on the desert floor at camp last night.
“They have stockpiles here, here, here, and here.” Bradley marked each target with his index finger. “Marsh and Brookings, you two will run a distraction here.”
The two had nodded in approval, their heads resting upon their helmets.
“Owen, you’ll pull the rear and keep any from creeping up on me.”
He had nodded in agreement as well, yet it gave him no comfort.
It all went to hell. His bike was too quick.
All the gas in the world wasn’t worth the risk, Owen reasoned. Gas was gold, yes, but what was gold without a life to use it? The world had gone to hell in a hand basket and despite drought, despite famine and disease they flocked to gas like it was life blood; like they could drink it as sustenance.
“It makes no sense,” he tried to reason with Bradley, “Why not just move on? Go somewhere else. We don’t need gas to live.”
Bradley looked him in the eyes and smiled. He rested his hand on Owen’s shoulder and looked at him as if he pitied him. He thinks I do not understand. He thinks I am craven. He thinks he’s indestructible.
There was no reasoning with him, and the other two were no help. A misplaced sense of pride and adventure had snaked itself into their hearts and minds. Can they not see the madness in taking on Hand Cannon Hugor Hill? And what of the repurcussions?
But the three had no mind for the world after their attack. They only thought to retaliate, to vanquish and destroy. To maim and make Hugor and his armada quake and quiver.
Time. I needed more time.
Hugor was powerful, they respected that, but he was also cunning. A characteristic thought devoid of his person. Owen had seen him come up behind him in his rearview mirror. He watched the massive bike break the horizon when it reached the top of the hill.
And he stayed the course. Massive tailpipes, nine of them, sprouted out behind Hugor’s bike in an asymmetrical pattern. In the mirror Owen saw the bullet proof plating around the gas tank, he could see the massive shotgun that had given Hugor Hill his name. Goggles protected his eyes from the heightened UV rays but other than that his head was bare of protection. The man wore no helmet, his wild hair moved twitching behind him. His face was as permanent grimace, what remained of his teeth were twisted in a queer smile, barely visible beneath the unkempt beard.
Owen’s hair raised on the back of his neck, his heart felt as if it was trying to leap out of his body. Bile crept up the back of this throat.
He had lifted his gun, it seemed a hundred pounds, and fired in Hugor’s direction. The speed and distance made the shot ineffective. A distraction, that is all you are. You are to buy time.
Time. We needed more time.
Hugor Hill overtook Owen before he could get a second shot off. He blasted past Owen and his bike, fire flared from his tailpipes and acrid smoke trailed behind him, its black color mingled with the billowing smoke plumes Bradley had created.
And that was it. It was over before they started. Hugor saw through their plan and went to cut the head off the snake.
Owen knew it was over when Hugor shot past, yet he blazed on, following the smoke trail Hill had left. His bike was no match for the tinkered and perfected bike the warlord had created. The smoke trail Hugor left behind began to dissipate; it was harder and harder to make out until it disappeared all together.
That’s when Owen saw a new smear of black. It was darker than the rest, darker than night or the malevolence of Hugor himself.
The heat blurred the horizon where the smoke originated. As Owen came closer he began to make out a blob.
Edges became more defined and the blob became a motorcycle. It was down, the engine aflame as the precious gold within it burned off into nothingness. Beside the bike was its owner, twisted and thrown to the ground like a sack of potatoes.
No….Please, no. It can’t be.
He slowed as he approached the fire. Not bothering setting the kickstand, he jumped from his bike and ran.
Twenty-five yards away he knew it. It’s Bradley, God damnit, it’s Bradley.
He fell to his knees, gravel ground at his skin unapologetically but he cared little now.
“Bradley! Bradley, get up!”
The body did not move, so Owen moved it himself. He grabbed him by the shoulders and lifted him onto his lap.
“Bradley, come on, you’ve got to wake up.” His head was cradled in his arms, Owen almost didn’t recognize him. His nose was misshapen, broken and bleeding. An eyes socket was already swollen closed, blood welled from its wound. Bradley’s chest did not move. Holes riddled his jacket the shirt underneath, blood had already started to dry and turn to brown. His lips had met the pavement giving him a permanent grimace that rivaled Hugor’s.
“Please…” Owen begged, tears welling up in his eyes, “You can’t be gone…”
This isn’t right. Owen thought hopelessly. This can’t be right… you were supposed to win. You are indestructible.
He rocked back and forth, holding the lifeless body in his arms as a fire raged on behind him.
It was his fault… He could see the asymmetrical tailpipes in his mind, they spit red fire like the mouths of dragons. Owen looked over his shoulder and saw the three black smoke stacks rising.
Three out of four.
He gently placed Bradley back on the ground brought his forehead to Bradley’s. “Goodbye friend,” he said and reached into Bradley’s holster and grabbed his Crosman .357 and flipped it open. Four rounds left.
I’m coming for you, Hugor Hill.