The lead skiff smashed into the back of Shawn’s modified boat, narrowly missing the big four cylinder 50 hp motor, weakening the corner end struts. Another heavy hit and he would be in the water with the sharks. If that didn’t happen, it wouldn’t be long before the skiffs caught up to him and had their way with him.
Shawn ducked his head low and angled his boat towards the old skyscrapers whose blown out faces made them look like tall, toothless, silver men. From behind, the lead skiff slammed into the back of the boat again.
He was nearly thrown overboard from the impact but held on with both hands. When he looked behind him the marshpunk’s face twisted up with rage. Shawn knew the kid wanted to jump his wake and smash him again, finishing him.
Shawn bent his head low to cut the wind drag and watched for sunken debris. An old marquis from Boston’s glory days lay half sunk in the sea. He had half a tank left, at least. It was enough to get him out of the reef towns if he could lose his tail.
The trick to winning a race in close quarters was to use the landscape against his opponents. Marshpunk skiffs were wide to accommodate salvage. His boat was narrow.
A crossbow bolt sunk into the bow. They had overshot him. That would not happen again. The marshpunks were too good. He’d have to fight them.
He zagged across an old intersection that was now a reef town market. Above him, in the windows, little boys and girls sold their wares and traded mussels for woven goods. He heard chatter and cries as the kids rushed to the windows to watch the chase. Ropes hung between windows like webs.
His pistol’s ammo was too precious to waste. Behind the lead punk, six and three skiffs followed in two packs, their pilots armed to the teeth with spears and junk machetes. He’d use his shotgun if he could get enough distance between them to turn and aim.
The avenues and streets provided narrow channels for Shawn to navigate, and there was little danger of a skiff getting ahead of him. What worried him was what they could throw down at him from above.
Shawn banked the boat and turned towards what had once been Faneuil Hall. Now, it was a wide shallow bay between the taller buildings, the perfect place to get enough space between him and his chase.
He heard a thump. A sunken lamppost or other debris had knocked against his hull. From behind came a scream, as one of the skiffs struck something under the water and the boat flipped, the motor growling louder as it overturned in the air before smashing down. The pilot vanished in a spray of green-grey water. The sharks would be on him if someone didn’t bail him out.
The city marsh had taken hold of the edges of the open space that had once been the area around the T entrance at Government Center. Thick reeds and mud brought in by the tidefall had packed up around the building. He’d need to throw his weight to shift the boat so he wouldn’t drag in the shallow water. The skiffs would have no trouble, so he better make it count.
Shawn leaned his body to the left and turned the throttle up and winced as he skimmed over; the wake he left behind was black and strangled with thin reeds. Clear, for now, he headed towards the gut which would lead him to the North End, where the streets narrowed and he might lose them, or at least even the odds.
It worked. The skiffs had strung themselves out as he piloted the boat across the brief open space and into the narrow street canals. The tops of homes and buildings stuck out of the water like little red hats. He navigated by memory.
The buildings cupped the sunlight, and he entered the shadow and eased the throttle. From behind someone shouted; one of them had a bullhorn.
Banking right he accelerated and made a quick left. The old church rose up before him and he turned to go behind it, then zipped into a side channel where the tops of the old brownstones leaned from where tides or storms had undermined their foundations.
Something whizzed by his head and on instinct he ducked. Peeking up as he steered the outboard motor he realized two things: he was exposed, and the marshpunks had spotted him from above. A little kid poked his head out of a window and fired a slingshot bullet towards him. It rocked the side of his outboard, and he heard the unmistakable crack of plastic as the rock bounced off into the side of a building.
He pulled his pistol. He didn’t want to use it, but if he didn’t he might not make it out alive. What was the point of a firearm if you aren’t ready to use it? His father had drilled life into him time and time again. You must live, even if it means wasting your ammo. Many men had died because they were too shy to use the bullets they had in their pockets, or worse, in the breech.
How he wished his father was with him now.
He accelerated, half wincing, half praying that he would not run aground on some North Side landmark. The kid fired again but missed wildly. He risked a longer look above. People followed along the rooftops, their shadows like dark birds.
Gonna trap you in the cityway narrows; gonna wait till your boat gets stuck. Skin you, they will, for what you and yours have done to them.
It would be hard to get an angle on the runners, and he holstered his pistol, grabbing the shotgun instead.
He banked left, cut to a cross-channel, and accelerated hoping to turn himself around and work backward towards Faneuil Hall. Shawn might go towards the financial districts or to Commons Bay, taking him to the deeper water of Back Bay by the colony safe house. When he turned the boat again to reverse his direction, he narrowly missed a small boy on stilts water jigging towards him, spear in hand. The boy did not have time to throw. If he had he would be dead, for the stiltwalker had a clean shot. The punk’s spear glinted from where he had sharpened it with a stone.
Two more stiltwalkers stepped into the street canal, which he now saw was a junction of streets and alleys. Probably where one of the more fashionable Boston shops had once been, now serving as a crossway for the marshpunks.
“Ayah!” One of the walkers chucked a spear at him that hit the midsection of his boat, and stuck. Another fired an arrow that struck his wrappings, pinning them to the floor underneath him.
Shawn cursed, aiming the shotgun while he steered, which proved to be more difficult as he accelerated to escape the trap he’d fallen into. His first blast blew the midsection out of the bowman’s rig. His ten-foot tall stilt had leg braces and locks. The bow attached to the left stilt, his quiver to the right. The kid screamed as he wavered, and fell face forward into the dark water of the North Side channels. If he came up for air, he did not see it. The spear-thrower yanked the chain attached to the spear handle, and the weapon pulled away and sank.
Ahead was a dark narrow street, and he accelerated into it, praying it did not narrow enough to stick his boat.
He decelerated to a crawl, and his wake vanished; it made him feel a bit more invisible. It was how he liked to be, out of sight, out of mind.
Please let there be a way out.
He pumped a fresh round into the shotgun and came to where the alley canal banked left and right, forming a T.
Shouts echoed across the rooftops above him.
They were close.
The bow came to rest at the edge of the brick wall on a flooded building, at the head of the T. Through the mossy green glass, he could see where the seawater had taken the lower floors. Something white, and pale flashed against the scummy glass.
The T junction was too narrow to turn the boat around. He would have to abandon it, or back up, right into the knot of marshpunks and stiltwalkers.
He had little time to form a plan, grabbing the arrow that pinned him to the boat and yanking hard. There was a hole in his wrap, which he cursed. He grabbed the stern line in his hand and his duffel bag full of scavenged items. Above, two feet or less the fire escape waited like a black web. He jumped, scrambled up, and tied the boat off knowing full well it would be stolen. Still, if he were lucky, it might be overlooked as they hurried to find him among the buildings.
The climb left him exposed and he felt the sun on him, wondering if an arrow or spear or bullet would find him too. But, nothing came. He angled the shotgun so he could get a quick bead on anyone on the roof who might be waiting for him.
But there was no one, and he sprinted to the other side of the broad building where the rusting air compressors were housed and hunkered down to wait.
Shawn took in the surrounding buildings. No one was roof crawling ahead of him. He would likely find them behind him, tracking his motions. He peeked, and sure enough like spiders three punks carrying short stilts and spears leaped over the short breaks in the buildings about a block away. They moved quickly, carelessly, their spears on their backs, their stilts like pole vaults.
Children. Once again he was dealing with children.
It didn’t surprise him, only made him weary. He had five minutes, maybe less before they found him.
Inside of his duffel bag, he pulled out the fishing net he nicked from the old trawler he found on top of the TV station in Southie. The trawler had been washed up sometime in the winter, he guessed. How it perched on the old station roof had made it unappealing for the mosspeople, pirates, and punks. Their loss, his gain. He had found three boxes of rifle ammo, a nice ax, three bottles of penicillin, and a net. It had no food in the hold, nor bodies, which suggested that somewhere along the line the boat had been abandoned by the crew before the storm that wrecked it hit them full on. He would never know.
The net was weighted on the ends with lead, and though he had never used it on people before, figured the concept was the same. Hard cast and hope for the best. At least he could surprise them.
He heard them long before he popped out behind the compressors, his eyes shaded by his hat, his wrap catching the wind and whipping behind him. They had spied his boat and were arguing over which one should go get it.
“But I want to get him, not his fucking boat. Poppa has enough of them.”
“It’s not the boat you twit, it’s the motor, it’s always the motor.”
Shawn leaped up and threw the net, his shoulder going back as if he were throwing a spear. One of the weights struck one of the boys in the temple, and he fell off the top of the building. His splash was drowned out by the other boys’ yells. The net had tangled up the tallest, his spear, and his stilts, but the smallest of the three nimbly escaped underneath.
If he could have spoken, he would have warned the boy to stop, but his throat had been cut so long ago he did not remember the sound of his own voice. When the boy did not see or heed his palm going up, Shawn threw his dirk into the boy’s chest, stopping him cold.
The tangled up boy cursed, but his cries came out gargled with fear, anger, and tears.
Shawn dashed across the roof to reach the boy and make sure he would not get up again. Suddenly he was falling, his feet expecting to push off the rooftop, but there was nothing but a curious gleeful feeling in his stomach. Shawn fell onto the floor below, the air went out of him at once, and he turned over on his side, his vision turning into black spots of light.
When he came to he heard voices above him chattering. But he could not see them, and he did not know why. It was dark around him, and it smelled of mildew and rot. Above him, a circle of white and blue went in and out of focus.
Toes flex your toes.
He did not move right away and instead reached for his gun. He could not find it. His duffel lay behind him, the strap still wrapped around his arm. The pain in his back alarmed him. It was his belt; the skinning knife he kept was like a small rock in the middle of his back.
Fuck. How hurt am I?
He was able to move. First, his feet and legs, then his torso, slowly rolling over to his side. He had no idea how long he had been out, but he could hear an older voice speaking to a younger voice. They were discussing how they were going to kill him.
He wasted no time and stretched his limbs, seeking his shotgun. It had fallen a few feet to his left, and as he grabbed it he noticed the source of the rank mildew.
The shotgun had landed on a pile of bones, the old uniform black with gunk, the army insignia stained with blood, rotted flesh, mildew, and mold. Lots of mold. The smell of the stagnant water thickened the air. He guessed he’d fallen ten feet, no more, into the upper floor of the building. Shawn plucked his gun off the dead man’s chest and stood to fire.
“Get the chief! Run!”
He almost fired at them, but did not, ducked out of their sight line, and reached into his duffel for his flashlight. He turned the darkness into an owl eye and dashed towards what appeared to be a foyer of some kind. There were doors, and maybe a stairway. The water’s rank smell hung in the air.
How the mossfolk lived here he could not understand. The ocean had its own energy, and it scared him.
He peeked out a window. Two small girls sat in his boat and were pulling on the motor cord to start it up. He doubted they had the strength, but in this new world who could tell.
There was not much to salvage in the building, and if there were he wouldn’t have the time. Still, Shawn could not help but catalog the obsolete electronics, the copiers, the computers, and the phones. If he made it out alive, he could come back for wires, parts, coils, anything that would be of use in the colony. There might even be a fire extinguisher or antiseptic, but getting out alive was first and foremost.
The first door he opened was a storage closet, and the door came off the hinges in his hand. Inside, the must of the last ten years rolled out to greet him. He threw the door aside and chose the one behind him.
A staircase landing. Something wet, black, and dead lay on the top step, half covered in the still water. Shawn could descend and swim for it, but he hated swimming in the city. Dangerous work. In shallow places, pockets of bacteria waited for him, and the sharks and rays were thick. Visibility was limited, and he was too weighed down with his clothes and gear to swim far without exhausting himself.
His shoulders slumped, and defeat rose in his mouth like a copper penny. He was going to die.
Going up would not be the smartest, for by now his attackers would be looking to see if they could get in through the roof. Perhaps they could not attack him and the upper entrance was locked or barred, after all, they had not come to Shawn when he fell. But they would be coming, regardless.
He couldn’t go up, but there was a window below. On this side of the building, he could monkey out and leap to the next building.
He jumped down to the landing below him, the water only coming up to his heels. As he stirred up the filth, the stench of it gagged him. The window was large, but the wet air had rusted the screws so when he pushed, the frame came out in his hand.
He held the window with the tips of his fingers, fearing he’s make a sound. Shawn pulled it towards him, angling the frame up and to the side. Rust flaked off on his gloves, the powder covering everything. He lay the window down against the brick wall, and he pushed up. He pulled his knees up, duffel over one shoulder, shotgun over the other. He saw no one in the alley between his building and the next. The channel alley was three feet wide, and across the way was another fire escape—another brownstone.
Somewhere above people gathered.
He leaped, but missed the landing, bounced off, but held on. His legs splashed in the water, and his mind jumped, fearful of what might lurk underneath. He’d seen enough men be bitten by sharks in city canals. Up over the landing, he crawled and pushed against the first window he saw. Locked. He had no choice but to kick it hard and hope it gave.
He placed both feet in the corners of the window and pushed out hard.
The window came out in a square and fell against the floor. He scrambled inside as fast as he could. His feet hit solid ground, and he wiggled through and turned around to put the window back into place to hide his tracks.
But the smell hit him first, a mossy earth stench that he knew all too well. He spun around and found himself in a room with a dozen beds and in them, drowsy with sleep, old men and women, mouths open, struggling to breathe.
Shit. He’d ended up in a fucking reef town hospice.
They continued to snore as he gingerly placed the window back into the frame. It probably would not hold.
Time to jam.
The hospice beds had been rigged with bicycle gears, fishing lines, reels, a few proper bedside assemblages, and lots of care. He did not wish to wake or alarm them and sidestepped to the door. The door squealed when he turned the handle to peek. Heads moved, turned, and for a second, as he moved his hand to his pistol, Shawn feared he’d have to murder old men and women to live through the afternoon. He was glad he didn’t have to when he found the hallway was clear. The dying mosspeople did not awake.
He slipped out, put his back against the wall, and made his body small. Sweat sheeting off his back, and forehead.
I have to ditch the wrappings.
The building smelled more or less clean, but it was too low to be a place of healing. This was where they put people to die. During a hard storm, this floor would take on water.
Deep mildew and rot under everything. Death too.
Between the rooms were nurses’ stations, shelves of drugs, bandages, canned goods, bottles of alcohol, and disinfectant. He pocketed some rubbing alcohol, and a bottle of Tylenol. The good stuff would be locked away. He left his wrappings in the trash and moved down the hall in his dingy gray wool shirt, the collar black with his grime and sweat. A quick glance at him revealed his secrets: a long bowie knife angled on the right hip, his pistol on the right thigh, a machete on the left, bandolier box of cartridges on his side, and an adjustable wrench clipped to his belt. He’d miss the wrappings come nightfall, but it would slow him down.
He angled the shotgun before him and dashed on his toes, careful to avoid full heels on the floor. The building had once been a home to someone, or the office of a small family business, for pictures of the previous inhabitants still hung on the walls. He moved across the floor, working his way to either the stairwell or a back room on the other side of the building. He kept glimpsing the family pictures, and their happiness
distracted him enough that he was caught full in the face by an orderly who swung hard at his nose, but hit his cheek instead.
The orderly had come from nowhere, probably from a back storage room. He was smaller but quick. Shawn’s face rocked back, and he took a punch in the mouth. Blood blossomed on his lips before he recovered, but he swung the barrel of his shotgun into the orderly’s upper thigh.
The orderly cried out and grabbed the shotgun barrel, and the two of them wrestled with it, falling to the ground, turning like a corkscrew on the floor. The orderly was under him, and Shawn slammed his forehead into the man’s eyebrow. They grappled, and suddenly he was under the orderly. The man was trying to push the gun back on his upper chest, or maybe his throat. He countered with a push-up and knocked the smaller man back. The orderly, surprised, wavered for a second, enough time to take a fist to the ear. Shawn finished the man with a knife to the gut.
He pushed the corpse to the side. Footsteps vibrated through the floor towards him.
Someone was coming.
(End of Part 1)
He had shouldered his gear just as a nurse turned the corner at full speed. She walked into his knife and made a quiet muffled cry, he grabbed her, covered her mouth, and lay her down to die.
Fuck. Trouble had found him.
Bad mojo to kill a nurse, even an orderly. He had no choice. There was no way these two were the only people on the floor. He had little or no time.
The tin can alarms shocked him into action, he reached back, grabbed a handful of shotgun shells, and stuffed them in his shirt pocket for quick access.
They would be on him in moments. He expected a fight.
He backed into a little room in the corner—probably the station where the orderly and the nurse had come from. The room was stocked with goods, manuals, bandages, and the like. He took his fill and threw handfuls into the duffel. There was a smaller room attached, and as the approaching feet tramped closer, he edged into the closet; the old unpainted office had 19th-century hardware, including the windows which were iron, and locked into the frame.
He could not get them to budge, and he didn’t have time to unscrew the fixture. The room was about ten foot by ten foot and empty. It smelled old and unused, sun sick with motes of dust and dry heat.
At least the doorway was smaller, and he had some cover.
The first man that ran into the small office fired three 12-gauge buckshot blasts at him. It blew part of the door trim away and ripped splinters at his face.
“Give up, pirate!”
As he paused to reload, Shawn returned the favor but did not miss, and the man flew back dead into the next man who happened to be carrying a submachine gun.
The room exploded in flashes and spent shells as the man uncontrollably fired his weapon into the floor about him. A slug took Shawn in the shoulder, but most of the fire missed him, destroying the floor below him.
The remaining men entered a second later, leaning around, and firing their weapons into what they thought was their target but was only a shadow on the floor. A volley of bullets hailed down upon the small room.
Shawn dropped flat on his stomach and pressed his legs against the wall.
How he managed to miss most of the hail of bullets he didn’t know; the bullets tore through the doorframe, the walls, and the floor. The windows shattered, and the iron grillwork blew off. A cloud of horsehair plaster powder filled the air like smoke.
They stopped to unload, and without firing, Shawn stood and threw himself through the busted window.
He fell three feet into the water and started swimming as hard as he could, eyes closed, towards the other side of the channel. The cold water stunned him and dulled his pain. He kept his left hand out, wincing as the wound in his shoulder stretched and tore. He pushed hard with his right and commanded his legs to thrash.
Sharks would be on him before the men.
As if on cue he heard the muffled shots of the guns but felt nothing as he his feet found a low rooftop, and he ran aground.
The blast blew a chunk out of the submerged roof under his right heel, and he stood, soaking, wet, the chill already upon him. The roof was flat, he had cleared the edge, and lay at the start of its shallow broad reef. He started to run as fast as he could, with one hand shaking the water off his shotgun, his right arm pumping. The duffel bag over his shoulder drained, a fat braid of
water behind him and his load lightened in a few steps.
Please don’t be rotted, please, oh please.
They were shouting at him, and he expected a stiltwalker or two to amble out after him but
saw nothing. Only when he felt the first shark against his calf did he understand why.
The little reef on top of shallow roof beat and thrashed and boiled with fish, sharks—three and four feet long—and rays too. He had at least twenty yards to run before the street would open,
and the channel would become deeper. He could not pause and think, he had to keep running and
hope for the best. Where there were little sharks, there were big sharks.
He scanned the area for shelter or an escape route. The skiffs would be on him, stilters too.
A shark took a bite, and he swatted at its nose with the shotgun, knocking it back. In two steps,
another leaped, its head aiming for his upper calf. He fired the shotgun, blasting its brains open, sending the roof into flesh fury.
To the left, a few tall buildings two and three stories above the water, then the open sea. To
his right were more buildings, three, four, and five stories over the water’s surface, rows of them. The stain line on the closest building ahead told him the tide was going out. He stepped on a ray,
slipped and fell forward, arms out and skidded on the roof. He kept his head above water, but a
small shark slammed into his face and bit his ear. It was a small one, a dog shark, and as he
scrambled up he beat it off, he lost part of his lobe. The blood flooded his face and streaked into the
Get out or die. Shawn dashed towards the closest building, whose five stories rose above the
water, and ran parallel to the street. It was likely to be inhabited, but it wasn’t his destination, only his cover. He wanted them to think he went there.
When he found himself back in deep water, he swam, bleeding behind him, aching and
throbbing with pain. He pulled himself up a fire escape and smashed through the first window he
found, pistol out, ready to kill anyone in his way.
It was a moldy living room, wallpaper peeled back like skin. There was trash everywhere and
the sofa had been ripped apart by rats for a nest. There were two double doors, and through the
window on the other side, he could see another fire escape. He pulled out his flare gun and fired it at
the couch, setting it afire. He threw trash and other refuse on top, and backed his way out. He
scrambled out the window to the fire escape and made his way down the length of the block. He
didn’t stop till he spider crawled, hung, and worked his way to the end of the block of the
submerged row houses, and then half a block over.
By the time he reached a building, rising two stories above the water at the edge of the district, the rusted old subway rails were close enough for him to reach out and touch. Shawn rested,
pulling his water bottle from his duffel and drinking deeply. He couldn’t rest long. He had to boil water and wash out his wounds, cauterize the cuts, shake the chill.
If he lived, he had to survive their search.
Water boiled on the coals from the chairs Shawn found in the bowl of the room that had
once been a den. Now it held whatever fell through the ceiling from where the floor had given way. The room had not been used in a long time, perhaps before the government had decentralized. Back
when he had been a boy. Back when he could speak.
He doubted the moss men or pirates even used this building. The water line was a foot below, and no doubt the floor that he sat upon was weak, and could go any moment. It wasn’t often the floor itself, but often a load bearing wall that gave way, and caused the collapse. The hole above
him had been caused by something else entirely. Possibly lightning, as scorched pieces of floorboard
lay all around him.
Darkness shrouded his smoke, he had been forced to wait till nightfall to treat his wounds.
All he could do was hope the punks weren’t after him in the dark. He doubted it very much.
He’d treated his legs already, where the sharks had bitten him, and the wounds hurt, both at
the tender bite and where he had poured the boiled water over it. That had not been enough. He’d washed it with a bandage he’d nicked from the hospice, which he had begun to think of as the mosspital. The antiseptic he carried with him, mercurochrome, coated the bite like thin blood, and
he wrapped it as best he could. His ear hurt like hell, and he wasn’t sure if he’d cleaned it properly. The shoulder would be a challenge. He’d have to lay down, the floor was filthy, and he might pass
out from the pain.
He bit down on a piece of trim, which already bore his teeth marks, and tried not to think
about the paint chips he’d swallow. He laid down and held his tin cup over his shoulder.
Breathing through his mouth he prayed to his mother’s God, and poured the boiling water slowly, using all of his strength and concentration to make it count, to aim at the wound, and to
wash it out.
His eyesight trailed to star points, and he saw blackness.
When he woke up he shivered. The fever. I had the fever. The room was pitch black, though
the sounds he heard at first made him reach for his pistol. He thought it was the punks come at last, but it was the scratching of rats, close and far away, and he groaned as he pulled himself up,
fumbling for his lighter.
He lit a strip of newspaper and scanned the area for animals. He didn’t see any of them, but he didn’t trust his eyes and scrambled to relight the fire. He had no torch, so waited for his eyes to adjust. He holstered the pistol, took out his machete, and soon the shadows started to take their
proper shape. He saw eyes in the night, staring back at him. Long fat black sewer rats bred on each other. Dead animals and waste washed up in the wrecked homes that were once the North End.
They didn’t seem frightened of him in the least.
The first rat that attacked had to have been three feet long at least. When it leaped it did so with speed, urgency, and Shawn barely had time to slash the beast down with the machete before the next one jumped his wounded shoulder.
He panicked, grabbed it, dropping the machete but getting the animal by the stomach, and pulling it off before it could bite his wound. The moment of anxiety cost him, for a dozen of the
animals moved upon him with their hive mind, and jumped. He lost his machete as he punched, kicked, and screamed at the rats as they attacked. They had little contact with men. He could tell by
the way they looked at his food; the bloodlust was on them. They were like the sharks.
He crushed the fire out with his frenetic motions and killed three rats by stamping their spines flat. Their claws tore at his clothing, and he could feel the hot flashes of scratches bringing his
blood to the surface.
Running was his only option, and he retreated, grabbing only his duffel, leaving his tin cup and machete where they laid. The first thing he found was his flare gun, and he fired the shot into
the floor, scattering the rats, and catching the gathered trash alight. It crackled, sizzled, and he
smelled burnt fur in the air as rats caught on fire, running from the dazzling light.
There was no place to go but up, and as he turned the corner to barrel through the door to
the stairwell he took notice of the sky, and it was an inky dark blue; dawn was hours away.
The upper floor had a huge hole in it, so he could not stay there, and the fire had already lit up the room below, so he was forced to the roof. The stairs were trashed with cardboard boxes, old
clothes, peeling wallpaper, all molded, mildewed, and rotted into a wet mess. The fire would consume the block—Shawn foresaw it—the way the fire crawled up like a beast, the sound of the air
in the open space feeding the flames.
The door to the roof was locked. The punks would figure out where he was sooner than
later if they hadn’t spotted the fire already, so he pulled his pistol and fired at the lock, blowing the mechanism apart with one shot. A hard kick knocked the door back, and he stepped onto the roof
and breathed the fresh air.
The light from the fire made the shallow bay below the row houses glow and shadow dance. There was only one way to go and that was across the rooftops, which varied from flat to slant, and
everywhere between. The tiles would be weak, and he would lose his footing, but to stay was suicide, for fire or death at the hands of the mossmen awaited him. His energy would deplete quickly, and his wounds throbbed. He hoped the boiled water and mercurochrome had done its job, or he might
be running for nothing.
The first adjacent roof was flat. He stepped over the barrier and walked to the end, where he would have to jump to the angled rising slope that was next.
He steeled himself, and ran the last ten yards to leap to the next roof. He slid immediately, knocking his knees against the roof tile. The pain shocked him, his wounds taking bits of stone, and tile into their fresh pink hot gashes.
The slide took him down the roof to the edge, and he lost the shotgun but saved the duffel.
It pained him to hear the 12 gauge hit the fire escape below. Whether it cascaded into the water or not, he did not know. He had to dig his fingers, hands, knees, and feet into the roof to slow his
speed. When he finally stopped his toes were just above the edge of the roof’s bottom.
Fuck, the climb.
The roof tiles tore into his flesh with every inch. He left bloody prints behind him as he reached the apex of the roof. He scrambled down the other side, wincing, and clenching as he did.
He only stopped when the voices rose to a shout.
“Stop! You fucking deaf bastard.” The old man held a rifle. The two punks with him were armed with a pistol and baseball bats. One of them held a speargun. “You fucking deaf fool! Stop!”
“Just kill him, and be done with it.”
“No, they want him at the feeding. They want him to suffer.”
“Where’s his gun?”
“He doesn’t have it, does he? Do you see a fucking shotgun? You there,” the old man croaked and gestured to Shawn with his rifle, “Come on down.”
They had not seen his holster, and the flashing shadows kept his body more or less
camouflaged. But that would not last long, and if Shawn wanted to get away he had better figure it
out in the next few seconds.
Most who came across him were disarmed by his silence, but not always in a positive way.
He put his arms up to steady himself and slowed his descent. If he was lucky he’d be able to get a few shots off and take out the old man before the others could react.
Bullets were rare in the new world, especially on the East Coast, and he hated to use his
pistol, which his father had always said would be his downfall. What good is a gun, Shawn, if you can’t, or in your case, won’t use it?
He would not make that mistake tonight.
His feet skidded along the roof, and he made sure his face was twisted as if he were in pain,
reaching behind him to brace his back. When he got about three feet from the bottom of the roof
he paused for a second, whipped his gun hand around, and fired once before he jumped off.
The bullet tore through the old man’s face and sent his body back into the spear-thrower.
When Shawn hit the other rooftop he fired off the rest of the clip, aiming in the general direction of
those that wanted him dead.
He killed the spear-thrower with two shots. He shot the man with a pistol in the kneecap
and it exploded in a pink and white mess. The man screamed his guts out, grabbing at his knee and
rolling around like a beast.
Holstering the gun, Shawn pulled himself up and walked over to the squealing man. He
couldn’t waste time. He reached for his knife and plunged it into the man’s skull, the bowie cutting efficiently through his bone and brain.
He took the old man’s long rifle, a .306 single shot with a magazine. The old man hadn’t even taken the safety off. He took the spare cartridges, the man’s pocket knife, his flask of whiskey, and the speargun. He left the baseball bats and the pistol.
They had tied off a dinghy to the roof, and it was stocked with water bottles, some dried
fish, and a net. He took the oars and rowed, but in the dark could not tell where he was going.
When morning shied awake he was out of the North End, out of marshpunk territory, but
the fever had found him, and he’d sweated through his clothing. He did not wish to peer at the bandages but could tell they were swelling with infection. Such as it was in the city canals.
The mossmen had become immune to the most basic bacteria, living and breathing it all the time, but Shawn had not. His colony was miles above the flood plains, though he himself had not
seen it in some time. The city was to his right, the sun was too, and he lacked the strength to bring himself closer to shore. Likely, he would die out here.
He nodded off and let the current take him.
The dreams came, and he could speak. His voice was clear and tall as the skyscrapers he had once seen in Boston as a child, deep, full and sonorous.He awoke and the sun beat down upon his face. He smelled roasting meat somewhere. A gull cried out. A voice came to him. A familiar one.“Fucking eh, he’s awake.”
He awoke and the sun beat down upon his face. He smelled roasting meat somewhere. A gull cried out. A voice came to him. A familiar one.“Fucking eh, he’s awake.”
“Fucking eh, he’s awake.”
“Fucking eh, he’s awake.”
Max. Good old Max. The outpost doctor and cook.
He tried to get up but the pain was too great.
Max leaned over him with a jar of green paste. He knew exactly what it was, boiled down urine to pack into his wound. It would kill the infection if it hadn’t gotten into his blood already.
“Easy boy, thought you were done in. Done in, I say. Looks like you dun-in what tried to kill you instead.”
“Oh, that’s a good one, Max, a good one.” Little Bill, Max’s assistant.
“Fuck off Bill, can’t you see he doesn’t want to hear your shit.” Max laughed. It echoed around him. “Found you floating in your dinghy. Don’t know where your boat went to, and I don’t wanna. Not like you can tell me anyway, you mute fucker.”
Little Bill cackled.
“I like your rifle. I almost took it myself, but after the scrape you went through I didn’t want to challenge you for rights to it. Though you owe me for the antibiotics and the paste.” Max started to apply the crude salve, and Shawn let him, his eyes rolling up with the pain.“Is he ready to be debriefed?” The voice came from the outpost commander, Walter Maddox, a fat man with a blood lust for
“Is he ready to be debriefed?” The voice came from the outpost commander, Walter Maddox, a fat man with a blood lust for mossmen and marshpunks. “I want to see Shawn as soon as he is up for it.”“He can write it down for you after his nap. And call him the Dun-in man from now on. Shawn died out there. He’s rising in his place.”
“He can write it down for you after his nap. And call him the Dun-in man from now on. Shawn died out there. He’s rising in his place.”
“The Dun-in man, huh?”
“Cause he dun-in the men who would kill him,” Max laughed.
“And if we hadn’t found him he’d be dun-in, too,” Max finished wiping the salve and grabbed his bottle of homemade rum. And he laughed, and laughed, and laughed.
BIO: Stephen Scott Whitaker is a member of National Book Critics Circle, and the literary review editor for The Broadkill Review. All My Rowdy Friends was published in 2016 by Punks Write Poems Press, LLC; his previous chapbooks include the steampunk inspired The Black Narrows, the award winning Field Recordings, and The Barleyhouse Letters. His writing has won numerous awards, including the Pushcart Prize, and the National Press Award.