In case you missed the memo, I started something new last week. That something new is taking $5 from folks to write a short story or flash fiction piece in which they get killed. Some people may call that selling out, I like to call it blood money myself.
Our first contestant on the wheel of death was Kat Folland in Kat Folland’s Early Retirement.
Number two is Julia Robertson (no, not Julia Roberts).
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With Kat Folland’s piece, I had (with permission) stalked her social media profile on Google+. It seemed to help me some, but I had also been in a circular relationship on Google+ with Kat for sometime as well. But with Julia, I chose to rely solely on the one image she provided me. We’ll see if this was a mistake or not. I have a feeling I probably could have written a more intriguing story for her had I done so. But that’s my initial feelings on the topic.
When I first saw this image (above) of Julia Robertson, my mind immediately drifted into some familiar territory for me. I’ve got a collection of ideas for various steampunk/western/scifi style stories that I tell myself I’ll write someday, along with ALL THE STORIES in my head. With only this image to guide me, I set off into the future of an icy Wild West frontier in Washington, D.C.
Julia is a Brain Tumor survivor, you can find her here on Twitter. She actively does what she can to try and help research a cure for Brain Tumors. So, similarly to Kat Folland in our first installment, she is tough as nails as well.
And now, without any further ado, the story.
Julia Robertson’s Last Call
In 2134, the Earth entered a second ice age. The entire globe was covered in snow and ice, and all of the technology of the 21st century and beyond was rendered useless. Satellites were lost in space, communication devices became paperweights. The entire world’s infrastructure shutdown and mankind had to adapt, or die.
Heat, shelter and light became the most valuable resources.
Solar power had dominated most of the latter 2000s, but as the new ice age spat down it became clear to some that solar was not going to last forever. Scientists around the globe visited large cities, pleading for politicians to invest in wind energy in advance of the oncoming ice age. Many ignored these warnings, which seemed like cries of a sinking Titanic before any icebergs had been spotted. When the ice age hit, those who had invested in wind energy were able to harness that energy from the intense gusts of wind that blew to and fro all day and night. The world had become a snow-globe of howling winds.
In the United States, the White House had been devastated by the first wave of blizzards, and future presidents were housed in a bunker style compound known as the White Brick by common folks. The destruction of modern communication and technology meant that politics of Washington were cut off from the rest of the country. The law of the Wild West seemed to rise once more. Local politics were where the law really existed, if it existed at all. But most towns and cities weren’t prepared, and didn’t survive.
Many lives were lost.
President Winslow sat in the Thomas Jefferson Bar of the White Brick, and savored a glass of tonic and gin. He looked up at Julia Robertson who ran the bar, which served as a reception area for politicians and foreign diplomats. That night they had entertained diplomats from a struggling Chinese economy. It had taken the Chinese diplomats three months to make the journey, and they had lost two comrades in the process. When stakes were that high, it made for some intriguing meetings to watch. And Julia had watched her share of meetings. Her family had been serving drinks in the White Brick for three generations, and she was the last of her bloodline. The meetings would continue for at least another month, as neither party was interested in parting ways until an agreement could be made. She would be seeing the same long faces day in and day out, pouring their drinks, hearing their pleas for compromise and refusals to budge. But, eventually, an agreement would be reached. An agreement would have to be reached, it was always the way. Going back empty handed after such a journey was never an option. And then, there was always the potential that the foreign diplomats could be shipwrecked before returning home with the news and the process would start over anew.
Julia dried off a shot glass with a towel, one which Vice President Milton had been using for his scotch on the rocks. She sat it down, and Winslow looked up at her. He looked tired with bags under his eyes. He had been arguing with his own men before the diplomats had even arrived. “How do you put up with us?” He asked her.
“Excuse me, sir?” She said.
“You have to hear all of this,” he gestured about the oval-shaped lounge, “And yet, you keep a cool head and never complain. How do you put up with it?”
“That’s easy,” she said, “I ignore it.”
“I wish I could do that.” He said.
“But you can’t,” she said, and picked up a bottle of beer and popped the cap off. “You’re invested in it. I’m not.” She took a long swig and leaned against the bar with him.
“I am invested in it,” he started and his eyes glazed over. He stared off somewhere into the distance, something catching his eye or perhaps a memory of days gone by, or a vision of the future. “I’m invested in knowing things turn out. Knowing that what we do here actually matters. And you should be invested, too, because what we do can impact you.”
“I doubt that, sir,” she said and took another swig, “I just pour the drinks. And when I’m dead, someone else will pour the drinks.”
“I’m trying to change that way of thinking,” he shook his head. “I guess I’m not prevailing.” He sipped on his tonic.
“We live in a snow globe, Mr. President,” she said, “Every time the flurries start to settle somebody comes along and shakes it up again. And besides, you’re better than most. I couldn’t stand the last three presidents.”
“That’s true,” he said and smiled. He turned and looked at the paintings on the wall of former presidents. “And I’m way better looking.” They both laughed warmly, and he finished off his tonic. “Thanks. I needed a sanity refresher. But,” he stood up, “I should reacquaint myself with my wife, as tomorrow is another long, long day. Good night.”
“Good night, Mr. President,” Julia said and picked up his glass. She dropped it into the soapy sink and quickly cleaned it. She rinsed it and dried it off, returning it to the shelf. She unplugged the sink and let the water drain.
Luther Crenshaw, a bodyguard to the president, came in and clocked in just outside the lounge. Julia watched him as he turned and stammered into her corner of the world. He barely looked alive much less awake, he stepped up to the bar and fell onto it. The barstool cried under the weight of his sloppy demeanor.
“Why, Luther Crenshaw, I believe you are skunk drunk,” she told him.
“I don’t need a drink.” He said gruffly, and then thought for a moment about what she had said. He looked confused. He shook his head and decided to start over. “Do you have anything for…” he gestured to his whole body with his open hand, “this?”
“What you need is coffee, Mr. Crenshaw.” She said.
“I have no idea what that is, but I’ll take it.”
“Unfortunately, it doesn’t exist anymore,” she said and picked up a pitcher of water. She poured him a long glass. “This is as good as it gets anymore.”
“How old is it?” He asked.
“I thawed it myself tonight.” She said.
He sighed and took the glass. “Fine.”
Crenshaw got up and walked over to a lounge chair and plopped into it. The water spilled a little on his hand. He cursed under his breath, and then took a sip. He frowned at the lack of taste and cursed some more. He put the glass on the table next to him. Within seconds she could tell he was starting to fall asleep. His head would slowly nod, and then jerk back up and repeat. She never understood why Winslow kept the drunk around. She was certain he would never prove his worth when the occasion called for it, and worried that one day she would be proven right.
It was about that time that the first of the gunshots rang out.
Her head darted up and she looked towards the hallway. She waited to confirm another sound, hoping it was just her imagination. But when the next burst of gunshots rang out she knew it was a siege. She looked back at Crenshaw who was already on his feet, pistol in hand.
“Those were gunshots, right?” He asked, still dazed from his drunken and drowsy state.
She nodded without a word, and reached under her bar without looking. She felt the cold of steel and wood. She pulled out her grandfather’s shotgun, and pulled the pump to cock it for the ready.
“Not your first siege?” He asked her.
“I’ve seen my share. You?”
“My first,” he said.
A series of gunshots rang out, closer and louder than before. The voices of men were yelling, some sounded like bodyguards trying to give out orders but no one ever listened to orders. Law of the west, everyone was a gunslinger and everyone was his own man or woman. There were other voices yelling, these were distinctively happy and psychotic in nature. Julia could tell when another bodyguard fell, because a voice would shout in acclamation at the victory.
“They’ve broken the parameter,” she said. “Looks like we’re gonna get some action.”
“I didn’t bring any protection.” Crenshaw said and chuckled. She rolled her eyes. “I read it in a book,” he explained.
“I know what it means,” she said.
“You do? What’s it mean?” He asked.
An explosion erupted and the door in the hallway went flying off, splitting into thousands of pieces as it traveled down the hallway. The sound of the explosion was piercing and Julia’s ears were ringing. She dropped down behind the bar for cover. Screaming and laughing voices came screeching through the smoke, and she peaked around the corner of the bar to get a look. A seemingly never ending group of men came running through, yelling and shouting with guns of all shapes and sizes. They were dressed in long trench coats, large brimmed hats and masquerade ball masks. She recognized the masks from a worn out book her father had borrowed from the Presidential Library when she was a child.
“Hey Julia!” A masked intruder stepped out of the smoke and into her lounge, calling her by name, “Hey Julia, I’m home! Now pour me a beer!” He lowered his shotgun from his shoulder to waist level and began shooting up the bottles of liquor on her shelves. The liquor and glass rained down on her behind the bar. All of it, every last bit, she or her family had brewed in the microbrewery underneath the lounge. She was enraged. Her family’s life work had been destroyed by a few gunshots.
She didn’t know who the masked intruder was, but as far as she was concerned he was a dead man.
She took a deep breath and rolled over, bracing her elbow on the floor. She peaked around the corner and he stood in defiance laughing at the carnage he’d just committed. She could hear more shooting off down the hallway, the intruders were making progress. She took aim and fired at his legs. The buckshot sprayed across his legs, tearing up his legs below the knee. He fell violently onto his face, his legs flying behind him from the force of the gunshot. He instantly started screaming in pain, and she waited to see if anyone came to his aid, but clearly the others had their own set of goals. She wondered how the intruder knew her name. She didn’t recognize his voice. She figured it might have been an inside job, that they had been given the layout of the compound, and told where everyone would be at what time. This was often the case during a political siege on the compound. Some politician who disagreed with the way the president and vice president were getting things done, so they’d send in guns for hire and overthrow the government in a matter of minutes. Typically, though, staff employees were not harassed during such raids. To have someone coming in, calling her out by name, and then taking aim at her bar was something different from the usual takeover.
She wanted to know why she was a target.
When she felt confident no one was coming back to aid their fallen comrade, she got off the floor and came out of cover. He had rolled over onto his back and was looking at his legs, screaming in pain and horror. She walked around in front of him and stepped on his right leg. He screamed and jerked his head back. She aimed the barrel of the gun at his face for intimidation.
“Who are you?” She asked. “How do you know my name?”
He jerked his mask off. “I can’t breathe, I can’t breathe.” She didn’t recognize him. “Please don’t stand on my leg, it hurts so bad.”
“How do you know my name?” She asked again.
“He told us names, gave us blueprints.” He said, still gasping for air.
“Who?” She demanded.
“I can’t say.” He said. She pushed her boot down harder into his leg, and he screamed so loud his voice broke. “PLEASE!”
Julian heard a lot of gunfire in the distance, and she could hear the voice of the First Lady screaming in horror. She knew it was about over. “I guess I’ll try my luck with someone else,” she said and cocked the shotgun. He stuck his hand out to block the shot, but it didn’t help and she destroyed his unfamiliar face along with it. She turned and saw Crenshaw leaning against a chair.
“I think I’m gonna be sick,” he said, “I’ve been moving around too much, too fast… too drunk.” He gave a burp in the back of his throat, and then he swallowed it.
She sighed and walked up to him. “I’m gonna do you a favor, Luther.”
“Yeah?” He asked, unsuspecting.
She hit him across the face with the butt of her shotgun, and he fell to the floor. He was out cold, and she figured it was best that way. He was no good to her or anyone in the state he was in. It was better for him, if the intruders thought he was counted amongst the dead. They’d be finished soon anyway, and after that they’d leave. They were just the hired muscle. Somebody else would be moving into the compound.
She wondered if should just hide and wait it out. But she thought about the man yelling her name. She was supposed to be dead. She reloaded her gun and stepped up to the hallway. She was too curious. She wanted to know who had ordered the siege and why she was a target. She didn’t like being roped into the politics of things. Her family had always remained neutral, why all of the sudden were they under attack?
She turned the corner and entered the hall. It was empty except for the carnage. The walls were sprayed with bullet holes and blood. There was a gray haze from the gunfire, looming in the hallway like fog. She slowly crept through the massacre, stepping and inching over bodies of the fallen bodyguards and intruders. The bottom of her flowing dress slid across the bodies as she moved along, collecting blood on its tip and weighing it down.
She stopped at the side of a bodyguard she recognized, he was the captain of the guard. She knelt down next to him and pried his handgun from his grip. She checked the clip, and it was only missing three of eight bullets. She searched the inner pocket of his jacket and found two more clips. She stood back up, and then slipped the handgun and clips into her leather belt she had wrapped around her dress. She took ahold of her shotgun with both hands once more, holding it at waist level and continued down the long hallway. She couldn’t hear any more gunfire. Either they were doing a final sweep or it was finished. Either way, they’d be coming back her way soon. She didn’t much feel like taking them all on by herself. She reached the first set of doors.
On the right side of the hallway was an open door, which led into the Presidential Library. Very few people ever set foot in the library at night, so she imagined it was empty. She approached the door on the left side, which was also left open. This door led into the dining room. It was typically empty at night, except for a few staff members finally getting to take in a late dinner. Since she had been targeted, she didn’t figure the kitchen staff had been spared either. She lowered her barrel some, and peaked inside and saw a stack of cooks and waitresses. They had been lined against a wall and gunned down.
Who assassinates waitresses and cooks? She asked herself, not sure if she’d ever know the truth.
She turned around just as a masked intruder stepped out of the library with a red book in one hand, and a pistol in the other. He looked up from the book and they made eye contact for a moment. Both startled, they froze for a second, and then each raised their weapons.
There was one, loud crashing sound of thunder.
She was tossed back into the wall, and he went flying backwards into the library. The book flew across the hallway and landed in her lap after she had crashed on the floor. She sat for a moment in shock with her back against the wall. Then, she felt the pain and it came on fast and piercing. Her neck was writhing in pain, and she reached up to it. He had managed to shoot her at the base of her neck. She felt a hole and it was pouring out warm blood. That was when she noticed she wasn’t breathing, but gasping for air and choking on blood. She heard voices yelling and coming closer.
She looked down and saw the book.
It was red and very old, but it had been kept in decent condition. The title, written in gold letters on the binding, was Wuthering Heights and had been written by an Emily Brontë. She hadn’t heard of either the title or the name. She wondered what it could be about.
The voices were getting louder.
She reached out and picked up the book, her hands smeared blood across the cover. She opened it and turned a few pages, making bloody fingerprints as she did so. It was a second edition print, printed in 1943. It had survived many years, including the time when The Order tried to burn all books. This book, like all of the books in the Presidential Library, was a door to another time. A time almost completely forgotten and trodden under foot with the progression of time and hate.
The voices had become much clearer, but suddenly they stopped. She couldn’t turn her head to look, but she heard footfalls coming towards her. She knew she didn’t have long. She needed to make these precious moments count.
She turned the pages and found chapter one of the book. She started to read.