A Paradise We Lost
By Blaise Ramsay
Our planet Earth began as a blue planet. The old ones tell stories of what it was like before the Wastelands took over most of the landscape. They spoke of great beasts that swam and sang in a vast sea. Songs that were so beautiful and haunting that it would touch the heart of the people that heard them. They spoke of monsters that fed upon the beasts with sharp teeth and skin that could cut flesh like the sharpest of knives; of great reptiles covered in armor that glided through the water. Such wondrous things that we have never seen.
The journey I started took me from home at the young age of 15. My parents had already died because of the remnants of the Fallout so I spent most of my time on streets anyway just trying to survive. My grandparents, who seemed to have been well off, left me some money once they passed away so I used it buy the provisions and transportation I would need follow a dream.
In order to understand what I mean, I think I need to tell you just what was in the safety box that my grandfather left me. He was an explorer himself and served some time in Army where he came upon something that could change the course of the future of the human race.
In the box wrapped with baker’s twine, was an aged rolled up piece of paper that turned out to be a map. With it was a note my grandfather wrote that stated that in light of his death, I had the option of following this map to a place that was unlike any other: where the past still lived in all its splendor.
I decided to answer the old man’s call. After all, it was either leave this dead-end city and head out in search of this grand adventure or to stay here and wait for my time in the city morgue.
Obviously, there really wasn’t a choice here, was there?
Coming back to the present day, I spent most of my time with my hover bike; gliding over the dunes of the Wastelands, only stopping to get the provisions I need in exchange for some treasures of the past I came across during my adventures. This habit of not staying in a single place for very long earned me the reputation of the Way-Traveler. One who roams the lands with no home.
In Backwards Trail, a larger city on the boarder of a mountainous chain I learned of a man that was dubbed crazy by the locals because he was “ranting about blue waters”. I decided to seek him out and find out what he knew.
Needless to say, he was in a “nuthouse”, the locals called them. I would come to know him as Jethro Gibbins. A miner who worked in the Fallout fields after things went to hell.
“Haha! Finally, someone who’ll b’lieve me! What’s yer name?!” He said enthusiastically despite his position.
“Way-Traveler. It’s the name I choose to go by. It’ll do.” I said with a stern reply; crossing my left leg over the right one as I leaned back against the wall. “Folks round here tell-tale that you seen a place. Somethin’ not like the Dunes or Fallout zones.”
Jethro, wanting to feel me out a bit more I guess, stroked his long white beard and let out a ‘hmm’ before continuing.
“I dunno stranger. See, mankind already messed up once. Why give them another chance to do so? Ain’t we better off just leavin’ things be? Sure, I thought I seen a place but after so many years held up in this hell hole; I dunno what I seen and what I ain’t.” His demeanor saddened at this last statement. “Look, if ya do find a place. Do ole Jethro a favor and don’ tell no one, eh? We made this bed and now we gonna have ta lie in it.”
I nodded a consenting promise. I knew what he meant. Mankind tended to mess up everything we touched and if a place like in my grandfather’s map truly existed then mankind probably would find a way to destroy it too.
I hadn’t been in the motel longer than a day when trouble came knocking at my door. I guess word had gotten around either that I was looking for something or that I had unique treasures. I didn’t know which but if it was the latter then folks were out of luck. I only kept enough on me to buy food and water and bullets for my side arm.
I had seen them sitting in the corner of the seedy bar. A strip dancer spun around on a pole with pink neon lights showing every drop of sweat on her body. I was enjoying a nice cold beer; not even paying her any attention. This is when the first one came to sit next to me.
“So, are you really who they say you are?” he said in a husky British accent. I hadn’t heard that kind of talk in a long time.
“Depends on who ‘they’ happen ta be?”
The man was dressed all in a purple business type suit. Clearly, he was one of the more elite folks. What he was doing here was beyond my understanding. He wore huge jeweled rings and a white hat that was clearly too big for his head. My answer didn’t quite seem to sit right with him.
“Look,” he said trying to regain his regal composure. “I’m not trying to cause any trouble. I’ve just heard so many stories about the legendary gunslinger who’s been roaming the Wastelands for almost two decades. Why don’t we start over?” He said holding out his hand. “I’m Benedict Churchill. No relation to Winston I assure you.”
I ignored his hand and sipped my beer. This must’ve made Benedict mad because he snapped his fingers and two big ole’ boys showed up; one behind each shoulder. I put my beer down gently and turned on my stool.
“Look, you bar loitering trash, I tried to be nice. Are you or are you not who they say you are? Answer and you just might live past tonight. Or we may just beat you up within an inch of your life anyway.” Benedict’s cool demeanor was now that of a frustrated child who wasn’t getting his way and of course he had the muscle he thought would back him up.
“Benny, you made two mistakes just now: 1) You called me bar loitering trash. Ain’t no one allowed to call me anything like ‘at. 2) You thought that Hanz and Franz there was enough to actually handle me.” I said, a smirk falling across my face. “You shoulda brought more boys.”
The bar fight didn’t last long. I left Benny and his crew at the bar; bloodied up and bruised but of course I bought em a drink to hopefully compensate for the trouble.
I spent the night at the motel room only to get up at the crack of dawn the next day.
As I said, I didn’t stay anywhere too long.
This was one of those rare days that the sky was actually cloudy and rain was a sure thing. You had to be careful though because after the Fallout; rain in some areas became so toxic and corrosive it could melt off skin. I decided to take my chances for where I was. Usually in the mountains the rain was pure so I relied on that knowledge to continue. Turns out I was right; thank God.
As nightfall set in, I decided to make camp. The rain had moved on by then and the clouds were mere wisps against the stars.
Nights like this would get lonely but I was used to it so I pulled out my side arm and decided to clean her up a bit. I decided to look at the map and found that I was coming up on the rim of Sin City; a place where you were lucky to get out alive because it was run by a mob boss called Big Red. Good news, I was getting closer to the place my grandfather had mentioned in his note and journal. I decided that in order to tackle the monster known as Sin City; I would need to get a full night’s rest and stop at the traveler’s post that lay between me and the City.
Sin City. To some it was called Heathen City. Innocent people died and the corrupt ruled over all of the resources that were needed for every day life. One might say it was the closest to hell on earth that you could find.
Not a place that I wanted my travels to take me. But I guess any journey worth taking has its necessary evils.
Travelers’ Junction was a trade post that lay on the outside of Sin City. It was a modest place with a single gas station and a diner on one side of the road and on the other side was a pawn shop where trading got more than money ever could.
The owner, Sal Jenkins was an old acquaintance of mine that owed me a favor so I decided to drop in and cash in.
“Well, well, well, tan my hide and call me Jesse James. How you been Cash?” It had been a while since I heard my old nickname taken straight from the man in black himself.
“Ain’t here fer pleasantries Sal. Fixin’ to head into Sin City. Gonna need some ammo, food, and supplies. Can you get all ‘at fer me?”
Sal scratched the back of his head, nervously. “Well, I do owe you for saving mah daughter’s life back before shit hit the fan, so yeah, sure can. Gonna take a day or two though.”
The thought of staying in Sin City without the proper supplies rubbed me the wrong way but I decided to take Sal up on it.
“Sure. I’ll be in the City. Just shoot me a holler when you get the stuff I need.” I said; tipped my head to him and went out.
Abigail Jenkins was standing outside her dad’s shop, waiting for me. She looked as pretty as ever, wearing shorter than life jeans and a shirt that may as well not been there at all.
“Hey.” She said in a flirty voice. “Glad you stopped by Cash. How you been?”
“Doin’ fine Abby. Just stoppin’ in for some supplies.”
She pursed her lips, disappointed at the lack of interest I seemed to show at her flirting but she knew after the first time I wasn’t one to settle down. Not while there was something I was searching for.
“Good to see you Abby. I gotta go, hun.” I said, got on my hover bike and took offer towards the City.
The streets were all lit up with neon signs just as they were before the Fallout. Casinos, bars and night clubs lined the streets on both sides as half naked women struggled to support drunken old men and mobsters.
I headed straight for a hotel on the better side of town in order to avoid trouble. Once I got settled in, I headed back out to go get some food from a nearby diner.
I sat in the corner watching folks as they came in. The feeling definitely was different than before things went to down. People were just trying to make due with what they had. I was so deep in thought I didn’t even notice the waitress come up and ask for my order. I settled on a coffee.
They came in in all black suits; there were about four of them. I could tell they meant trouble as the one in the front; a bald man wearing black sunglasses pulled out a silver gun.
“Hey miss.” He said in a strong, Italian tone to the waitress. “You needa tell that boss o’ yours that he’s head deep in debt to the Boss.”
The waitress shivered and yelled for her boss.
He was an older man, obviously failing in health. Not one to be able to stand up to boys like this. Funny thing was that he was holding a rifle in his hands. I guess he expected these guys to show up sometime soon.
“Ya ain’t getting no more money outta me! I was here before the Fallout and I’ll work here til the day I die! Now get out!” He said as he cocked the gun.
I could tell where things were going so I decided to step in.
“Hey boys. Hadn’t ‘at fat cat had enough fish to eat to ignore a lil ole man’s store? I’m thinkin’ ya’ll should head outta here.” I said from my table, loading Mad Dog (my sidearm), expecting trouble.
They turned their attention to me and started walking over. The bald man stood over me, hoping to intimidate me.
“What’d you say, Cowboy? You wanna start somethin’?
“Not really. Just want ya’ll to show some kindness and give the ole man a break.” I said scooting out of the booth and getting into his face.
He punched me in the stomach; knocking the wind out of me but only for a minute. I recovered and grabbed his arm, whirled him around and slammed his head against the table. He spat blood out to the side; some landing into my coffee.
“Now see, you got blood in mah coffee. I expect you to buy me a new one.” I said and slammed his arm up; a loud snap signaled that I broke his arm.
Another of the men grabbed me from behind. I used the table to kick away into the bar stools behind me. He hit his lower back so hard, he let me go.
I grabbed him and slammed my knee deep into his gut. He grunted and I elbow dropped him before slamming his face into the bar stool; knocking him out.
The other two pulled their guns and proceeded to shoot at me. I leapt behind the bar and ducked the shots. The old man and waitress had run out of the diner; she dragging him along with her.
I waited for the gunfire to stop. “Great. Here I was tryin’ to stay outta trouble. Go figure.” I said before grabbing a couple of trays from behind the bar and leapt out to slam both the men hard in the face with the trays.
Shaken, they stood up and started to back up. The shorter man pointed at me. “You….you’re the Way-Traveler. You’re gonna regret this! You hear me! Your dead!” He shouted and they hauled ass outta there.
I dusted myself off to find I had a few scratches on me and a bullet injury in my side. “Damn. Guess this means a visit to…him” I cringed at the thought of seeing Doc Ivan again. He liked to poke around a lot.
I made my way through the back ally; limping along the way from the blood loss. The neon sign showing a man screaming and a crazy doctor pressing the plunger on a rather large syringe signaled that I reached my destination.
Ivan stood over a rather bloody operation table; cleaning it up.
I cleared my throat to get his attention to which he turned around rather slowly.
After seeing who I was he grinned with twisted excitement. “Didn’t think I’d ever see you again.” He said in his thick Russian accent. “How have you been, my friend?”
He circled around me; analyzing me as he always did. “Look Ivan, got into a gun fight; wound up with a bit of a hole. I just need a quick patch up so I can go back to the hotel.”
Ivan shrugged. “Is too easy a task. Wound is…not to bad. Can you pay this time?”
I pulled out some treasures I found: a pair of goggles from the German military, a bronze pocket watch and a clockwork dragonfly. Ivan took all three of them.
“Pay is fair. Don’t see things like these around much anymore since accident.” He said and instructed me to take my coat and shirt off. “Still no radiation trouble? Is getting pretty bad around here. I’ve seen extra eyeballs on animals and rise in cancer in people.”
I sat down on the table. “No Ivan, still nothing to report since five years ago.”
He looked disappointed but removed the bullet and stitched up my injury before sending me on my way. “Take care, comrade. Is not safe for good people in this city.” He gave me a tight hug; causing pain in my injury and then bid me farewell.
After arriving back at the hotel, I decided to take a shower to get all of the blood and dust off of me. The warm water felt good on my muscles which were sore due to the fight at the diner and Ivan’s handiwork that hadn’t been covered up so it stung when the water fell over it.
I dried myself off; stopping as I saw the scar on my back that I received the first time I came to Sin City. I decided not to dwell on the past for too long fearing the anger may return to me. I knew I would eventually get to relive it soon enough. An event like tonight did not go unnoticed by the self proclaimed ruler of this city.
As. I laid in bed; only my jeans on; the phone rang.
“Hey Cash! Got the things you needed.” Sal informed me as Abby could be heard in the background yelling ‘Tell him I said hi, tell him I said hi”.
“Great. Thanks Sal. I think we’re square now.” I said and hung up.
Sleep took me at about 2am after a bottle of whiskey.
The following morning I headed off to Sal’s. He welcomed me and helped me pack up my hover bike while Abby cleaned Mad Dog up for me until she shined. I thanked them both and returned to the City.
In front of my hotel room door, on the floor, there was a basket filled with a very fine wine. The kind that only the elite could afford. There was also a card that smelled strongly of feminine perfume.
Meet me at the Red Devil
We have some things to discuss.
I hadn’t heard the name before but something struck me wrong. This ‘Baroness’ must have been the new mob boss in this place.
I arrived at the Red Devil at 6:45pm. The maitre’d looked me over with a disgusted and disapproving glare before taking me to a private dining room.
“The Baroness will be here shortly.” He said smugly before closing the double doors.
She arrived promptly at 7pm; not a minute before or after. She was adorned in a red dress with a white fur draping across her arms at the elbows. A younger woman; maybe mid-30s or early 40s; she carried herself very elegantly to sit across from me. There were pearls around her neck and pearl earrings in her ears. She was very easy on the eyes; for a pit viper. Her body guards stood with two at the door, two behind me, and two behind her.
Yep. The event yesterday didn’t go unnoticed and I was now facing the new “Fat Cat” herself.
“Alonso, a white champagne and soup please.” She said to the waiter that had stepped in. “Would you fancy anything Traveler?”
I shook my head. “No thank ya ma’am. Much obliged though.” I replied, trying to keep things from getting out of hand.
“Oh come now, there’s no need for pleasantries. After all, you are seeking something, are you not?” She said, crossing her legs and leaning back.
Alonso returned with a champagne and a coffee.
The Baroness took a sip of her champagne. “I believe I owed you a coffee.”
My heart jumped a bit and my wound ached with pain.
“Seems like you gave my boys some trouble last night. Rest assured the old man has you to thank as in exchange for you; I overlooked his debt.”
I sighed. “Can’t help no one these days.”
She nodded in agreement. “Sad but true but I think we can help each other.” She said as she slid out of her side of the booth and made her way over to me; leaning over my shoulders and gently nipped my ear. “I know what it is you are looking for.” She whispered; rubbing my shoulders.
I stood up; breaking off her attempt at seducing me. “I appreciate the hospitality ma’am.” I turned to leave only to be stopped by her men.
“I don’t think you get the predicament you’re in, Traveler. We both want what you’re looking for. If I get my hands on it, the World will pay for it.” She said, laughing.
I lowered my head. Once again, the greed of mankind reared its ugly head.
My arms were hastily restrained as the Baroness removed Mad Dog from her holster. She examined her silver body slowly. “A beautiful piece of craftsmanship. Tell me, where did you get it?”
I stood silently; not indulging her.
She sighed as she began unbuttoning my shirt and running her fingers over my chest. ” You know, you never told me what your name was the first time we met either. How is that scar by the way?” She asked as she squeezed my bullet wound.
I only remembered the pain before being knocked unconscious.
I awoke in my hotel room. The Baroness sat in lingerie on the bed. “Sorry about the rough treatment. I have to keep up the face in public.” She said, sarcastically.
I shoved her off. “It ain’t funny, Rosalie. I knew you were twisted but I didn’t bet on you turnin’ greedy.”
She sighed as she walked towards the window to look out.” Times change. I had to kiss up to that fat slug in order to get where I am. I poisoned the bastard after he gave me everything.” She turned back to me. “But don’t worry, beloved. I only slept with you.”
I kept my composure; something she had long tried to break. “You drugged me. You drugged me and then made me do things that. I didn’t want to otherwise. The next morning you looked a the map. It was low and twisted and I don’t tend to get in bed with pit vipers.”
She chuckled. “Think what you want. You think that finding this place will change things? You think that you’re on some grand pilgrimage that will somehow change the hearts of mankind and that you’ll find some sense of peace? You’re a hopeless fool!” She threw an old Bible at me.
“I have hope Rosalie. It may be just a fool’s hope but it’s what I choose to run on.”
She stomped off towards the door after grabbing her coat and purse. “You just keep in mind that I will never accept defeat. I will make your life a living hell. There will be no hole you can hide in that I won’t be able to find you!” She slammed the door and was gone.
Hell hath no fury as a woman scorned was what my grandpa used to say. Mad Dog was on the table next to the door.
It was almost 7am when the rain moved in. I pulled out the corrosive armor Sal had gotten me complete with a gas mask. I packed up and rode off and out of Sin City but not before learning that Rosalie had put a hit and bounty on me. She had been right.
Stopping to rest in a sand cave I dug out of the dunes, both to get my bearings and to escape the rain, I opened the map. The red “X” lay only about 100 miles to the West of me. I decided to check my provisions to make sure I could make it.
After the rain stopped, I was once again out on the Wastelands; a lone man in search of something that man had long forgotten: The Paradise We Lost.