Introduction to Welcome to Beyond Science Fiction first draft.
It was a lonely existence, if you could call it an existence. He had spoken to no one for a long time. He knew if he had spoken to someone, that person would have hated him. He knew that as surely as he knew the sun would rise in a few hours. That thought made him sniff the air, keener than ever to find something to eat… anything to eat.
The hunger was gnawing at his very soul and he had been that way since the beginning, never enough to eat, not since the war and the death of his family. The war, how he hated it and though his memory of that time had faded, he was still full of hate for those who had wiped out his family.
He sniffed the air again and the smell of something familiar stopped his musings and his whole, thin, body stiffened ready to move at the slightest noise. Catching a Jack Rabbit was easy, finding it was harder. Humans, on the other hand were easy to find and easy to catch.
He looked up at the stars and sniffed the cold air again. Humans, he thought. More and more they come here, more so than before.
Dawn would soon blossom over the New Mexico desert, he told himself. Then a light wind blew the scent away. He smiled inwardly and silently waited.
The black Chevvy could be heard before it could be seen and as it hit the blacktop the far-side tyres squealed as Jack de Fleur floored the gas pedal and spun the wheel, straightening the car and gunning the engine for all he was worth. Jack’s teenage companions, Topper, Carmel and Jumba screamed in delight and shouted for Jack to go faster.
But for cars being what they are, especially stolen ones, it suddenly dawned on Jack that they hadn’t enough gas to get back to anywhere near Capper Creek.
“We need gas,” Jack shouted over the sound of the screaming engine. “Anyone got a buck?”
The inside of the car was suddenly quiet, and it seemed to Jack the engine too was sitting it out, waiting for someone else to pay up.
“Aw, c’mon. I got the car started, sure one of you guys got a buck at least.”
No one spoke, and Carmel let out a nervous cough.
“OK, we gotta long walk or we steal some juice from somewhere. Aw, man you guys are useless.” Of course, Jack was not going to blame himself for having no money. He had stolen the car so that made him and the world quits, in his eyes.
“Hey, is that a gas station ahead?” Jumba asked, from the back seat.
“In the middle of no… Hey, you’re right. It is.” Jack peered through the dusty windscreen and was amazed to see a gas station looming ahead of them. He spun the wheel and the car screeched off the road into the gravel and shale of the gas station and slid to a halt next to the solitary pump. The big Chevvy rocked back and forth on its axles and came to a stop with a noticeable squeak of well-worn rear springs.
“It’s closed,” Carmel said, rubbing the front side passenger window for a better view.
“Shit, Carmel. Are you sure?” Jack asked with unconcealed contempt.
“Well, yeah,” she muttered.
“Dumb broad. We stole a car, Carmel,” Jack said, flicking here ear with a finger, “now we’re gonna steal some gas.”
Carmel punched Jack’s shoulder as he got out of the car.
“He shouldn’t treat you like that,” Jumba said leaning into Carmel’s ear from his seat in the back. “But he’s like that with all his girls.”
Carmel turned to Jumba in the back seat and stuck her tongue out. “I’m not his girl.”
“Not yet. Give it time,” Topper muttered to no one in particular.
All three made to get out the car, the gas station was obviously deserted, and Jack seemed to be having problems working the gas pump.
“Can’t get this damn hunk of shit metal to…”
“Need a hand there, sonny?”
The voice came from within the gloom of the small attendant’s station and it made Jack’s spine tingle as though an icy tendril had been slapped on his back.
The door to the station opened and an old man walked out, slowly, but not hobbling. There was a barely perceptible stoop to his gait and he was slow for sure, but he held his head high. A battered old red baseball cap covered most of his features.
“Need a hand, is what I said.”
“You know how to work this thing?” Jack asked as his three companions sidled up to him, unsure of how Jack was going to get fuel with the old guy around.
“Ayuh,” the old man said, his east-coast accent sounding odd to the quartet of youngsters who had never been further than Roswell in their short lives.
“Show me how old man, or I’ll use this.”
The old man looked down at Jack’s right hand and Jack’s companions did the same.
“Where the hell did you get that from?” Jumba squeaked, fear evident in his voice.
“Glove box,” Jack said simply and smiled at the old man as he waved the .38 police special in the air. “It’s loaded old man, so no funny business. Fill the car with gas and we’re outta here.”
“Ayuh,” the old man said again and walked toward the gas pump. He pulled out the heavy metal gun and then loosened the gas cap on the Chevvy, shoving the pump into the car with a well-practised fluid motion. The old man pulled the trigger and the pump, despite appearing not having been used for years, chugged into life and the distinct smell of gas wafted toward the youthful quartet.
“Hey, this is pretty hip, man,” Topper said. “We could be robbing a bank if it’s this easy. Think of the money we could have.” Topper rarely got agitated or excited, but the scent of money was in his nostrils and he wanted some, badly.
Jack ignored his pals and eyed the laid back old man. “This gun,” he said, waving the .38 under the old man’s nose, “doesn’t make you nervous, does it?”
The old man wrinkled his nose and shook his head.
“Don’t say much, do ya?”
“Nah, done all my talking, sonny.”
“So, what’s the next town like?” Jack watched his partners in crime as they walked away from him, still fixating on robbing a bank.
“Aint nothin’ beyond, but pain and death,” the old man said, looking Jack in the eye for the first time.
Jack’s spine iced over again. “Death?”
“Hey,” Jack shouted his friends and walked over to them. “He says pain and death awaits us in the next town.”
“Who said?” Topper asked, looking over Jack’s shoulder.
“Him, the old…” Jack gasped as he saw there was no one stood beside the car. “Where’d he go?” Jack walked back to the car, looked around it. “Damn. He’s gone.”
It was then that Carmel noticed the gas pump. “I thought you said we were stealing some gas?”
“We are, the old man just pumped gas into…”
“There’s nothing on the damn pump, Jack.”
Jack’s mouth gaped as he saw there wasn’t even a nozzle on the rusty old device. He ran to the door of the small attendant’s station the old man had walked out of and noticed for the first time there was no glass in the door. The office was full of bird shit, dust and cobwebs. Jack ran to the car, got in the driver’s side and started the engine. The gas tank showed full. “Get in,” Jack screamed at his friends, gunning the engine. His throat was dry and palms sweaty and all Jack wanted in the world was to leave the abandoned gas station. As the last door shut Jack floored the gas pedal and the old Chevvy lurched forward, springs protesting mightily.
“Shit, man, that place is unreal,” Jumba said, his voice quivering with fright.
No one else spoke for a while until Jack suddenly hit the brakes and the car slid left, almost knocking down a road sign.
“What the hell, man!” Topper screamed.
“Jesus,” Jack muttered.
“What’s that,” Topper said quietly, but all the while knowing, somehow, what Jack was going to say.
“It’s a road-sign.”
“What’s it say?” Carmen asked in a quiet voice.
“Welcome to Beyond. Population 120 Dead or Alive”
As the words left his mouth, Jack heard the tell-tale siren of a highway patrol car in the distance and sure enough, when he looked in the rear-mirror he could see a glow of red over the horizon of the desert road.
“What do we do, Jack?” Topper muttered.
“Aint nothin’ beyond, but pain and death.” Jack heard the old man’s voice in his head and again his spine became ice. “No choice, Topper. We go forward, or we give ourselves up, like a bunch of sheep. It’s Beyond for me.” He turned and stared at the others, each nodding in agreement, one by solemn one. Jack put the car into drive and floored the gas again. As he looked up through the dusty window, he could see the night was giving way to dawn, but the dark was still speckled with bright points of light. “Beyond it is,” he said to the stars.
Copyright © Tom Kane 2018