American Fiction Science Fiction

She looked over at him and gave a silent look of reproach. He saw the look; he always saw the look. He asked her, “what?”

“Give me the keys,” she demanded of her husband. He did not have to put on a look of confusion, because he actually was confused.

“What do you mean?” he asked her, as he wondered what she meant. Shortly after they had started dating, years ago; his then -future mother-in-law, had made an off-hand comment to the effect that the man always drives. He had taken that sentiment to heart: so much so, that you could count the times she had driven a car with him as a passenger on the fingers of one hand.

She looked him in the eye and said, “I mean, I want you to give me the keys to the car John Henry.” This caused him to raise an eyebrow in the fashion of a certain Federation science officer. He knew she was serious when she used his middle name.

“Why do you need the keys my love?” he asked his wife. She looked him in the eye for several moments before she told him, “I don’t want you leaving without me.” She hadn’t thought it possible, but he looked even more confused than when she had asked for the keys to their dented solar car.

She held her hand out for the key fob which she could see in his weathered hand. “Babe,” she said, “don’t tell me that you weren’t thinking about meeting Fido’s owners by yourself.” She watched him do a convincing double-take, and then he said, “not until you just brought it up.”

“Really,” she asked. He still had not handed over the requested keys, and he offered, “that’s not a bad idea.” She immediately told him, “that’s not going to happen John!”

He really did think it would be best for him to meet Fido’s owners on his own. They knew nothing about the dog’s owners, and whether or not they would be hostile. The last person they had encountered had been a literal crazy guy. If he had not habitually carried his father’s pistol on his hip, they would likely both be dead.

They had such a good day off, and as they prepared for bed; a makeshift bedroll of sorts in the subterranean storage rooms of Savory Avery’s off the forty-four highway, he considered how to convince her. The key fob to their car was clutched tightly in his left hand.

“It might be best if I go alone,” he told her. He was going to continue but she cut him off, “no babe, we’re a team. That’s how we are going to handle this.” He looked a bit distressed at this, and hesitated as he looked at her out-stretched hand.

“Hand em over,” she said, and waited for close to a minute before he grudgingly put the key fob in her hand.

The next morning had started uncommonly sunny; but had devolved into a cool, misty day.

He stood in the roadway a half mile from the address on Depuy street that had been engraved on Fido’s tag. They had passed through the small towns of Waynesville and Saint Roberts and pulled off of the forty-four freeway to get here.

They had gotten to their destination a little before noon and he had parked their solar car in-between two small businesses a little more than seventy-five yards from where he was currently standing.

He had driven here, even though she had kept custody of the keys through the night. Apparently, she thought that he might leave her to come meet Fido’s owners on his own. Truthfully, he had considered doing just that; but couldn’t bring himself to leave her. He was still worried for her safety, but he knew that he could use the backup.

On their way to Fido’s home, they had gone over their strategy on how the meeting would go. He told her that he agreed they were a team; but that they would do things his way, or not at all.

They had dressed in their piecemeal body armor and he was fairly certain that they would be safe from any firearms the dog’s owners were likely to have. She had argued that it should be she who initiated contact with the strangers, with him giving support from a short distance. Her argument was that he was a much better marksman, and that Fido’s owners might feel less threatened by a woman.

His answer to that was no. he would be the one to greet the strangers for the first time. She would be less than a hundred yards away and was a good shot as well. He knew that she would be able to hit any target at that distance.

He had covered his body armor with a neon yellow poncho. The thing was seriously so bright that it hurt the eyes if you looked at it for too long. He did it partly to hide the body armor, but mainly so that if things went bad, his wife would have no trouble separating him from other more viable targets.

One thing that did worry him was that he had left her with the grenade launcher. The worrisome part about that was he hadn’t talked with her about the blast radius on the weapon. He was fairly certain she could put a round close to a target at the distance she was from him, but a grenade like that was deadly to anyone within about twenty feet of the blast. And anyone within about two hundred feet was going to get wounded unless they had some serious cover. He would probably be okay with his body armor, but he did not relish the thought of experiencing a blast like that.

A light rain had started after he had set off his first Roman Candle.

The previous summer they had come across a fireworks warehouse on one of their routine scavenging runs. As a result; they had several hundred pounds of assorted pyrotechnics stored a safe distance away from their future home.

And they were serious things: none of that safe and sane wimpy stuff. So he had brought along a box of twenty four Roman Candles, and each one held ten shots.

They had made their preparations and he had wandered into the middle of the road at about twelve thirty. He had set off his first Roman Candle at around twelve forty with heavy cloud cover moving in from the east.

He had decided to wait ten minutes between each pyrotechnic. He figured that should give the strangers plenty of time to come investigate.

A light rain had started right before he was setting up the second Roman Candle. Luckily there was still decent visibility despite the light rain, and he didn’t worry about getting wet because of his kick ass yellow poncho.

He had set off his fourth Roman Candle and was unwrapping his fifth before he saw any response.

He saw a vehicle coming slowly up the main road. He held his position in the middle of that same road while it approached. He had a hand on the grip of the pistol on his right hip, but he did not reach for the assault rifle at his feet.

His wife had been optimistic about meeting the strangers. She had told him that anyone who trained such a lovely dog as Fido, couldn’t be bad. He had agreed that the good boy was a great dog, but he still made sure to prepare for trouble.

The vehicle approaching was a short yellow school bus. It eventually got close enough so that he could read Waynesville East Middle School across the top of the windscreen.

He held his breath as the short bus rolled to a stop. He knew that his wife had a clear shot at the front and left side of the vehicle. They had talked about this, and if things went bad, he would retreat to the side of the road nearest their solar car. There was a handy ditch there that would provide cover.

He noticed movement at the top of the bus even as it came to a halt. He saw someone laying prone on the roof, and he had no doubt that someone had a weapon of some sort.

He had to admit that he was excited to see another person; even though the last man they had seen, had tried to kill him and his wife. He waited less than a minute before people started exiting the bus.

Five people came out of the bus, one of them had clearly been the driver, before a sixth individual exited the vehicle. The last one to exit was smaller than the other figures, and when she did, he heard a frenzied barking come from less than a hundred yards away.

Damn dog, he thought to himself.

September 24, 2021 19:13

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