*Author’s Note: “I'll be a Daisy” is a standalone story, set in the same universe as my other Reedsy short-stories, with overlapping characters/events.*
I was dead as soon as Cam said ‘No’. He hadn’t said it himself – he never addressed the line directly – but his second in command had repeated his decision; his glorified megaphone. It was a bullshit decision!
My price was fair. It was common knowledge that Cam hated greedy people (that weren’t him), and punished them severely. Even knowing this, my asking price was still practically theft. I knew he would say ‘no’ as soon as he saw my sample. His eyes gave away his thoughts; they twinkled, but not from seeing a great deal, instead it was the type of sparkle that men like him only have when they get something for free.
It took me three seconds to make my choice once my trade was rejected, but it should have been instant. I would die on my own terms, not his.
I had come to Cam because his Rolling Market was the only place that could afford to buy in bulk. His gang controlled this part of the Wasteland, and always collected their tax. That’s why we were leaving – me and my family – and this trade was meant to be our seed money. We had no choice; although barter made my stash of canned food a valuable commodity, we couldn’t travel with it all because it was too difficult to hide from raiders while on the road.
The Rolling Market controlled three locations along their motorway, and visited each one on the same day every week. Everyone knew their schedule – eventually we all needed to trade for something. The locations were safe against raiders because they were situated between the gang’s two strongholds. These strongholds were impregnable, and they had to be, as the electricity created by Cam’s steam generators made them shine at night like beacons. They were the closest thing to the old world I’d seen in the Wasteland, and his gang patrolled the motorway between them to protect their slice of civilisation.
I’d chosen the location furthest from our home to make my trade. But that wouldn’t be enough to protect my family now. They would torture me, and I didn’t know if I had the strength to resist. If I told them where my family were, my sons would be forced to join Cam’s ranks. I forced my mind not to imagine what they would do to my wife and daughter.
My daughter was the youngest of my three children, and my sons would keep her safe. She took after her mother in looks, and had always been a beautiful child. I was thankful that she’d only inherited my blue eyes and not my temper; she was a child far too sweet for the Wasteland. That’s why I’d come to my decision. It was the only way I could still protect my family.
Peaches was a high ranking member of Cam’s gang, and she always watched over him. Her reputation promised me a quick death; she never misses. Once I was dead I would no longer be a threat to those I loved.
I had left some of the canned food with my family, which would be enough for them to survive without the seed money. They had to…it was their only option. They knew not to wait for me if I didn’t return. I hadn’t even told them where I’d buried the cans I was offering Cam, so they had no temptation to retrieve them if the deal went south. I’d made Peter swear he would force them to leave; as my eldest he will be the man of the family now. I wish I had taught him more; I hoped there wasn’t too much good in him to survive.
Peaches was in her nest, watching through a scope. I knew her by reputation, but I had seen her once. She was young – like most of Cam’s gang were – and had the steam whistle tattoo on her left cheek, which told everyone who she belonged to. Her shaved head failed to hide her beauty, but her cold eyes showed that she wished it did.
The only thing about Peaches that mattered to me now was that her aim was true. When I saw her, she wore a rifle slung over her back, and that type of gun would have a muzzle velocity of approximately seven hundred metres per second – maybe less with low grade cordite. Her nest was positioned nearly a kilometre away, so she could see anything coming from the motorway, as well as watch over Cam. Once she took her shot, I would have less than two seconds left in this world to take him with me.
Time slowed in my final moments, which allowed me to take in the details of the scene before me.
Cam’s Rolling Market was a train of vehicles connected by thick chains, and pulled by a steam engine that his father had restored. The smoke danced over the engine’s chimney, in slow soothing movements; a carefree couple enjoying the music only they heard. Cam’s expression didn’t change as I reached for my gun. He looked like a man merely enjoying the midday sun. He was bald, but his dark tan blended his scalp into the blonde hair that remained around the sides of his head. He wasn’t a domineering figure – he had the arms and shoulders of someone that didn’t need to work – and looked more like a geography teacher than a gang boss. But he was one, and he knew his gang would protect him as it always did.
The first reaction to my hand reaching to my hip came from Cam’s megaphone. As with many dim-witted people, his mouth was the first thing to kick into action, but the sound moved too slowly for me to hear it yet. It wasn’t until my hand reached the handle of my gun that Cam’s face finally reacted to the situation, and it was curiosity rather than fear. I hoped his relaxed demeanour meant Peaches’s reputation wasn’t just spin.
The megaphone had a M16 hanging in front of him by a shoulder strap. My gun was already in my hand before he thought to reach for his. He’s lucky I only had time to fire once, and that bullet was saved for his king. Cam’s throne was an open top double-decker bus, which kept him at a distance from the line of traders he looked down on. But a bullet could still reach him.
I saw a puff of gun smoke come from Peaches nest in my peripheral vision. From the size of the cloud, the cordite must have been so low grade it was practically gunpowder. It had taken her over a second to get her shot off – I expected better.
My gun was freed from its holster, and the countdown begun. My finger anxiously rested on the cold metal of the trigger, waiting for Cam to appear in my sights. If I pulled the trigger now, only his bus would die. In its previous life it was an old tour bus, which shared the sights of London to countless people on its top deck. Now all it saw was Cam’s motorway, and his gang members were its only tourists.
Cam’s minions ducked for cover behind the handrails of the bus, except for the megaphone who still stood tall beside his boss. His thick black beard hid most of his steam whistle tattoo, but his clothes failed to hide his bulk. He was a powerful man, but moved slowly, and had no chance of beating me to the draw.
You never hear the bullet that takes you, and as my death came for me on silent wings, it was the others in the line that fled.
I stuck to my purpose; I wouldn’t let distractions, nor fate, stand in my way. My eyes were transfixed on Cam’s, as they waited for the gun’s sights to come between them and their target. The gun sights inched their way up the side of the bus; that’s all it was in the end, a matter of inches and seconds.
My arm was outstretched. The megaphone had both hands on his assault-rifle now, but was still losing the race. Cam remained calm. His lack of fear became my focus. I willed him to react with all my hate, but it was not enough. As my hate rose to the surface and oozed out of every pore of my skin, darkness consumed me.
I felt the rush of wind across my ears, but heard no sound. My sight was stolen from me as well as my hearing, as if I was floating in the vacuum of space without a single star to guide me. The ground rose up and jarred my body out of the vacuum, and I felt the ground against my back. My eyes were blinded, my ears were deafened, but I was still able to feel. I shouldn’t have been able to still feel. Then I heard the crack of Peaches’s shot, which confirmed I’d failed.
Time returned to normal speed to mock me. Each sense that returned to me reconfirmed my failure. The top of my arm burned, and the pain spread through my body like a wildfire. The only thing I wanted to feel was my gun in my hand, but I couldn’t even feel my hand. As faceless voices surrounded me, I forced my eyes shut; I couldn’t stomach seeing Cam’s face calmly looking down on me.
I knew Cam would ensure the remaining moments of my life would seem everlasting. The punishment he gave to greedy traders would feel like a spa day, compared to the suffering he inflicted on those that tried to kill him. His acts of torture were beyond the imagination of most men.
I vowed to myself that I would endure whatever he had planned. I would buy my family enough time to flee to safety, and would never betray them, but I wouldn’t suffer in silence. My fear and anger swirled inside me and then burst out in a guttural scream, like the juice flying out of a blender without a lid; drowning out the noise of the Wasteland.