This is a repost of my original Apocalypse Runner story (which has become my regular appearance in InMon). It was originally called God's Wrath and was done as part of a challenge I hosted over a year ago. Since then, Bernard the assassin has taken on a life of his own, so I thought I would share this once more.
"You should just kill every last one of them Bernard. You know this would all be a lot easier if you did." The dark cloud of pain and hatred hung around Felix, anyone looking closely could see it there, but most chose not to pay attention lest they become involved in something that might disrupt their peaceful little lives.
"Easier for who? You? I want no more blood on my hands Felix." Bernard looked in the mirror, trying to see past the dark black bags beneath his eyes to the soul hidden within them. Every once in a while he thought he saw it there, a faint glimmer of who he used to be, long before the darkness consumed his life.
"Little late for that don't you think? There's enough blood on those hands to fill a handful of blood banks Bernard. Why stop now? Shit, you and I both know that you'll be killing more people soon enough. They won't just let you go just because you want to." Felix's voice was sharp, filled with contempt for Bernard, who admittedly deserved every ounce of that derision. There were few men left on the planet who were as dangerous and deadly as Bernard, but he was broken and afraid, fearing an end that was sure to come, pricking the remnants of a conscience that he had thought destroyed when he was still a child.
"I suppose you're right, but killing the other residents and the owners isn't necessary and it would most definitely draw the attention of the magistrates." When had he started justifying not killing people? Bernard could barely remember a time when killing everyone in a room, or a building for that matter, hadn't seemed completely natural. Once the violence started, it was usually best to keep on killing until there was no one left, but lately he had started to show mercy, letting people live when he could have killed them, letting children remain hidden beneath beds or in closets. More than likely such leniency would cost him his life if he kept it up, but he was finding it harder and harder to be the mindless killing machine he was trained to be.
"True, but the magistrates are even more fun to kill. They are at least a challenge for you." Felix almost crooned with pleasure as he spoke, remembering the last time the magistrates had nearly caught up with Bernard. It was outside of a small trading post someone had established outside of the ruins of Old Chicago. Bernard had been running for three days and had only stopped at that one place; unfortunately, a group of magistrates dragging a prisoner with them had stopped in just after him and had caught him out in the open. There was a brief moment when the room had gone silent, then the world exploded in a wave of violence. Bernard may not have liked killing, but he was damn good at it. Felix's favorite part was when Bernard had grabbed a piece of rebar that had broken loose from the wall and used it like a sword he had seen in an old movie that had somehow managed to survive. How a black and white film that had been old when his parents had been born remained intact after the bombs had fallen he did not understand, but watching Bernard dance around with that hunk of steel like he was Errol Flynn had been amazing. The magistrates, and the prisoner, had all died and though Bernard had been shot twice he had come out of the confrontation on top. The owner of the trading post also dealt in illegal goods and had no love for the magistrates, so he bandaged Bernard's wounds and sent him on his way. Felix thought killing the man and his family would have been smarter, but he wasn't a killer himself so the trader lived.
“I could do with a few less challenges thank you very much.” Bernard was loathe to admit that perhaps he did enjoy the rush of adrenaline that killing and fighting produced as it went against everything he had been taught as a child. His parents had struggled to teach him right from wrong in a world where doing wrong often gave you the best odds at survival. Ultimately, their beliefs had cost them their lives. They had been unwilling to fight against the bandits who had attacked their little homestead. The rough men with their tattoos and weapons had raped his mother and murdered his father, but for some reason they had spared Bernard and took him in as one of their own.
Robert Gillroy had been the head of the bandits and had treated Bernard as a son. A beating followed each lesson that he had failed to learn. Robert had pushed and molded Bernard into a killer, erasing the gentle teachings of his biological parents, raising him in the mirror image of the world they lived in now, not the one that had existed before the end. In time Bernard had become exactly what Robert had wanted, an assassin without equal. He had stood in plain sight at his new father's side, disguised as a weak sadistic dandy who people avoided lest his father's guards grabbed him and took him to Bernard's workshop, where they would never be heard from again.
Bernard shook his head, trying to clear the memories away, now was not the time for such thoughts. His own guilty conscience would have to wait to be salved another day. He had met Felix when he had lived with the bandits. Felix was about his age and had the same penchant for sadism, but Felix's thirst for causing pain only got worse once they had left his bandit family while Bernard's had gradually subsided. He still killed, but out of necessity now and he rarely took any pleasure from it.
The last few years had seen Bernard and Felix working for a crime syndicate being run out of Terre Haute, Indiana. It was the closest thing to government in the mid-west and they had been very insistent on Bernard working for them as an enforcer of sorts. It was not a choice that Bernard favored, but it did offer a certain amount of security in a world where security was at a premium. Lately Bernard had been thinking of leaving and heading out west, trying to make a new start. He had heard that parts of Oregon were mostly radiation free and that real civilization had started to take hold there once more.
“I know what you are thinking Bernard. Oregon is a long ways away and odds are that the rumor is totally bullshit anyways.” Felix was happy with the life they had managed to scratch out here, but he had been happy with life as a bandit too, but when Bernard had killed Robert and a dozen other bandit leaders that life had quickly become unlivable. “Besides, you know there would be a pack of killers trailing after you the moment you failed to check in and no matter how good you might be there are a dozen more just as good.”
Bernard sniffed derisively, “nowhere near as good as me,” he didn't like the killing but he did take pride in his work, “but they are good enough in numbers that it would be difficult.”
“You know I hadn't thought of that,” Felix paused for a moment rolling the thought around before speaking once more. “You know running away could be pretty entertaining, a challenge unlike any you've had before. It would be epic! Let's do it! Let's get the hell out of here! We'll run away to Oregon and never kill again!” Felix's laughter could never be mistaken as mirthful. There was a persistent hint of menace laced throughout it that made people's hair stand on end.
“Well I imagine there would have to be a little killing, on the way, but once we were there I'd have to give it up. Maybe I could take up farming or something like that.” Bernard thought about growing things, working the land, being useful for more than killing. It made him laugh. “Well maybe not farming, but something like that.”
“Yeah, yeah...we can figure all of that out once we get there, so let's get going!” Felix was talking as fast as Bernard had ever heard him, his excitement practically spilling out onto the floor.
“You're only excited because of the killing and you don't think I'll make it out alive.”
“Well sure, that is a possibility, but it's not the destination but the journey that is important right?” Felix spoke the words and Bernard looked back at the mirror; the words reminding him of something from deep in his past. Perhaps they had been the words of his biological father or mother even, but they reminded him of something other than killing, something peaceful and desirable. How long had it been since he had desired anything?
Bernard pulled out his knife with the long thin blade and started to shave with it, grimacing as the blade pulled at the whiskers. This knife was one of his sharpest, but even it struggled with the thick hair on his face. It had been nearly a week since he had been near a mirror and water. His last job had required him to kill with a rifle at distance. He had stayed hidden in a small depression in the earth four three days while he waited for the opportunity to make the kill. The target had been a rather rakish fellow named Ethan Daniels who had started up a community in the middle of Flint, Michigan. The syndicate generally did not have a problem with ne communities and often encouraged their growth to a point, but this guy had set up a distillery in town and so Flint became a competitor to some of the interests run out of Terre Haute. The syndicate had sent in a delegation to demand the implementation of a protection tax. They had been laughed out of town by Ethan and a dozen heavily armed men. Normally the Syndicate would have sent in a group of bandits to raid the place, kill a few people and possibly even destroy the still, but the people of Flint were to heavily armed and the distillery was very well protected, so they decided to go down a more subtle road.
Normally Bernard to kill up close using his hands or one of the many blades he carried with him, but a couple of days observing the movement of Ethan Daniels had convinced him that such an approach would not be practical this time. Though he preferred an up-close approach, Bernard had trained long and hard in the use of firearms, and was a considerable marksman. Once he acquired the rifle, and ammunition, he positioned himself in a pile of rubble that had once been an automobile manufacturing plant or something like that. The bricks, pipes, and broken glass were pushed together in a massive pile, and became a dominant feature in the Flint landscape. For three days, he had barely moved from the little depression he had found. His view of the distillery and its front entrance was excellent, but being where he was risked discovery from people just happening by, so patience and discipline had been needed.
On the day of the assassination, the leader of Flint had approached the distillery, a glass full of a dark amber colored liquid in his hand, and a dozen bodyguards standing about eying the few standing buildings in the vicinity suspiciously. As Ethan reached for the door handle Bernard pulled the trigger. A bullet slammed through the man's chest, spinning him around before he fell to the floor, his mouth agape, and his eyes wide with surprise. The moment Bernard had confirmed the man's death he had withdrawn the rifle and remained in his hiding spot. When night fell, he had slipped quietly away, managing to kill only two guards in his escape.
He and Felix were now three-hundred miles to the south west in Remington, Indiana. There wasn't much to the town, but it did have a small inn with a roof that didn't leak. The rains would have been welcome if not for the way it seemed to burn anything organic. Anyone not securely protected from it ran the risk of burns, disease or both. Bernard had always supposed it had something to do with the radiation, but he had heard plenty of people simply call it God's Wrath, like it was His attempt to wash away the remains of humanity.
“So what are we doing boss?” asked Felix. “I know you like the look of yourself, but staring at that mirror isn't going to make the decision for ya.”
Bernard turned to face his friend, “I think we can make a run for it as soon as the storm ends.” Pacing about the room Bernard ticked off on his fingers the advantages he saw with leaving from Remington. “First, we're more than one-hundred miles from Terre Haute and no one will be expecting us to check for another three or four days and they may not get too concerned for a couple of days after that. Second, we still have our gear and some provisions co we can make a pretty good run before we really have to stop for anything more than sleep. Third, we can head west a little ways before swinging north. Once we get up into Minnesota we hang a left and just keep going until we hit Oregon. Fourth, I'm tired of killing Felix. I'll do what I have to for us to get out there, but I just can't kill another man who has done me no wrong.” Bernard sat down on the edge of the moth eaten mattress in his room, a remnant left over from a time when bedding wasn't manufactured by hand.
“Look Bernard, you and I both know that you're a killer. We might make it to Oregon, but you'll end up killing out there too.” Felix leaned against the wall next to the door, a smug smile creasing his face, “it won't be the Syndicate, but it will be someone else. You are a natural and the instinct won't die within you. Sooner or later, you will kill someone, and be noticed. Then you'll be right back to doing the same old thing, only with new bosses and on the west coast.”
“That is why I keep you around Felix,” Bernard stood and started putting all of his gear away, “you're such an optimist.” They both laughed at the joke, much to the discomfort of the maid walking through the hall outside their door.
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