The Desert Ch. 01byHillbilly_one©
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Even before he fully regained consciousness Joe knew this was going to be a shitty day. He couldn't explain why, but he just knew it. Ever since the world had started changing, a good five years ago now, there had been fewer and fewer good days. But today was going to set the bar for shittyness, at least if his headache was any indication.
The world had indeed started to change - and exclusively for the worse. Water was getting more and more scarce, deserts were spreading like cockroaches and huge forest fires were killing most of the green areas. As far as he knew this was a global occurrence, but he didn't really know for sure. But in the part of the world he called his home, things were going from bad to worse quick, and no one knew what had set about the change.
Some of the more spiritually inclined claimed it was the Lord's punishment for the lives of sin we were all leading, while some in the scientific community claimed ignorance. They did however theorize that it may be some sort of global warming spiraling out of control, but nobody really believed that.
Joe didn't really care either way. All he knew was that people were dying left and right and the last time he had seen a functioning television, it had told him that more than two thirds of the world's population had perished under the increasingly difficult living conditions.
The day before hadn't been any kind of picnic either but he was getting more used to that by the day. Life out here kind of took the weakness out of you. Not that he was complaining though; he actually like the roughness of the world as it now was.
Slowly, hoping the pain in his back wouldn't actually kill him, he got out of his makeshift bed, grabbed his shotgun and put on his hat. He checked the gun, still loaded and good to go, and slung it over his back before he went to the so called kitchen to make some sort of so-called breakfast.
The only thing in the cupboards was, as usual, canned beans. It really wasn't his favorite food, but it was the only thing he could find that wouldn't go bad in this damned heat. And to be honest it wasn't the worst thing he had eaten since he took to this new way of living. He opened the can and put it directly on the wooden stove. It wasn't long before the smell of burned food began to fill his little cabin, but he found it oddly soothing. Even the burned taste wasn't too bad. It gave some variation to the incredibly boring taste that was baked beans. Breakfast could best be described as dull and uneventful. The sun was already scorching in through the glassless windows. His head reminded him of why he was going to hate this day, by starting to ache like crazy. He moaned quietly. It was just his luck too. Like the constant back pain wasn't enough, here comes the dehydration headache too. Thank you God. Thank you so fucking much.
At least he had the first task of the day clear - find water. He had already spent a number of days roaming the surrounding areas and was still to find any source of natural water what so ever. The little ghost town to the south had had an ample supply of bottled water when he first got here, but that was long since gone, and the water tower had been vandalized to the point of it actually falling down, crushing several large houses as it fell. He hadn't really searched the whole town, house by house yet, but he didn't think doing so would yield enough reward to compensate for the effort. Maybe after he found a good water supply, he could set out on some missions to scavenge for other things than food and drink, but right now he really, really needed to find something to drink that wasn't going to kill him or make him sick.
After putting out the fire in the stove and once again checking his trusted twelve gauge, he opened what remained of the front door and set out on his mission; to find the fluid of life. He grunted a cynical laugh at the wording and set out to the west. He checked so the water pouches on his belt were secured properly, checked to see that he hadn't forgotten his knife and ammunition pouch. All was as it should be. Well, except for the world, but he would deal with that when and if opportunity presented itself. First he was going to get what was rightfully his though, and he would enjoy every last fucking second of it. He went past one small road and crossed over another. There were hardly any cars this far out of what had once been civilization, and the ones that actually were scattered around were burned, crashed or both. Not that it really mattered anyway. Even if he was to find a functioning vehicle, he had no chance of finding fuel for it out here. But he didn't really mind the walking. It was the heat and the bugs that were driving him insane.
"When I find those fuckers I am going to make them pay. Oh yes, they will pay for making me walk through this fucking desert, sleeping with bugs, fighting ants for anything even remotely tasty. Oh.. I will make them suffer!"
Usually, Joe wouldn't let himself get into this kind of tiresome mental rant, but today he didn't care. He was way beyond annoyed, and by the time he took his first break he was actually seething with fury. If he wasn't so short on ammunition he would have shot the poor armadillo that scuttled by him until you couldn't find any traces of it. Instead, he put the barrel of the gun to his head. It would be so easy and so quick. He wouldn't have to go another day thirsty, not walk another step through the sand and not sleep another damn night in a bed made of nothing but wooden planks. But he couldn't. He wasn't done yet.
"They will get what's theirs, won't they? When we find them, yes. And I will fucking find them. One day I will find them and I will rid the world of their foul existence. Concentrate on staying alive first you idiot! Watch who you're calling an idiot... Or what? You know you can't kill me. Fuck you! And shut the fuck up!"
He mumbled something inaudible under his breath. When the voices had first started arguing with him he had tried to ignore them, to kill them with silence, but that only seemed to piss them off. Instead he had tried to reason with them but that had almost gotten him killed in various ways. Now he used them as he would any other tool in his belt. He let them fuel his fire when he needed energy, he let them calm him down when he was about to do something rash and stupid and he let them take the blame for whatever deeds he did where motives may be somewhat questionable. Today, however, they seemed to be hell bent on screwing with him. He wasn't sure how he was going to deal with this new, more irritating, side of them, but he was sure he would find a way. Or, he would just have to give them what they wanted until they just shut up.
When he raised his eyes towards the horizon he thought he saw the outline of a building somewhere ahead of him. He couldn't be sure of that, of course, without checking it more closely, but it seemed like a promising start. He lowered his eyes again to avoid the blowing sand, and started to walk in the general direction of the presumed building. He looked up occasionally as he walked, hoping that the whatever it was would be a bit closer, but it never seemed to be. Not until he practically walked straight into it.
It was indeed a building, and it hadn't been as far away as he had first thought. In reality it couldn't have been more that a mile or so away when he first spotted it. But even now, when he was standing just a couple of feet from it, he couldn't tell what the hell it was. That it was some sort of building was quite obvious, with its walls, doors, roof and all; but what it could have been used for was a mystery. It was too small to be any sort of commercial warehouse, too big to just be a storage unit and the completely wrong shape or material to be either a store or a home. Joe decided that he didn't really care what it had been in its prime, but what mattered was what he could find inside.
A quick look around the perimeter didn't reveal anything of interest and most on the windows were boarded over, rejecting any attempts to look inside. One of the doors, however, seemed to be unlocked, but blocked by something on the inside. One well placed kick made short work of whatever used to be blocking the light wooden door. Joe thought it was an odd choice for a door to such a facility, but didn't think much more of it. He led with the shotgun as he slowly walked through the doorway and entered the premises. The room he came in to was dark as night, save for the light coming in through the newly developed gaping hole in the wall where the door used to be. To his right he saw several large wooden crates stacked against the wall. He would make sure to search through them later. First though, he had to make sure he wouldn't get shot in the ass while doing so.
Along the left wall there were some miscellaneous rubble and lockers all thrown in a pile. He could also see some chairs, desks, window frames and doors scattered all over the room floor. He didn't see anything useful but he would check later to be sure. He swiped the gun across the room a few times just to be sure there really wasn't anyone in there, and went towards the far end and an open doorway that seemed to lead to the next room. Slow steps, carefully avoiding any pipes and potential traps, and even slower breathing eventually got him to the opening. He looked though; nothing. Nothing obvious anyway. The light from the busted door didn't reach this far in to the building and all the windows here were boarded up. Small slivers of light were crept in through the cracks and spaces between the boards, but not enough to reveal anything of the room's contents.
Joe turned on the small, battery operated flashlight at the end of his shotgun barrel. The strong, white light illuminated what must have been used as some sort of sleeping barracks quite recently. There were mattresses laid out all over the floor and in the near left corner was a bucket, stinking profoundly of human waste.
One body lay across three mattresses, clearly dead. It was quite obvious since half of his skull was missing and the massive puddle of blood surrounding what remained of it. If it wouldn't have been for that fact, Joe would probably have presumed him very much alive. He was dressed in a fairly intact pair of army pants and a dark green tank top. His feet were bare but Joe suspected that whoever killed him had just ripped the boots off his feet. No one walked around here barefoot and lived long enough to get his head blown off. A quick search of the man's pockets revealed nothing useful. A couple of coins were confiscated, the broken watch was not. Other than that the man was of no use and Joe left him where he was.
The next room contained nothing but a staircase leading to the second floor, and a stack of dirty towels, linens and clothes in a corner. He took the stairs up to the next floor, still leading with the shotgun, ready to obliterate anything that might show up in front of it. Nothing did. The upstairs was surprisingly clean when considering what he'd seen on the ground floor. There was no trash thrown around, no rubble piling up along the walls and, thankfully, no crap buckets or dead people.
"Thank heaven for small favours, huh? Maybe.. The day isn't over yet. Shut up..."
Joe didn't waste much time searching through the upper floor. The windows up here weren't boarded up, so the sun shone brightly through the open frames, revealing everything and hiding only the shadows. There was nothing of interest. The only thing even remotely worth searching up here was a big gym locker that lay beneath one of the windows in the last room. Joe approached it cautiously, never letting the shotgun barrel leave the target. The lock on the locker door looked was newer that most he'd seen, but it was still pretty shitty. One well placed kick from his army boots and it was gone. He reached for it with one hand and kept the gun steady with the other.
A quick snap of the wrist and the locker's lid flew open. He stared right in to the face of a beautiful, young woman; although she had seen better days than the one she must have had prior to Joe showing up. She stared up at him with terror in her eyes and her nostrils flaring. Her dirty blonde hair clung to her face and made her look even more pathetic.
A bit surprised, Joe stood up and let the gun hang at his side. What was he going to do now? He couldn't kill the poor woman. Sure, he had killed people, even women, before, but this poor girl was bound, terrified, unarmed and naked. He had no reason to kill her. He thought about leaving her where she was, but he couldn't do that either. She hadn't climbed into that locker on her own, bound and gagged, and whoever put her there would either be back to use her some more, or had left her there to die a slow, gruesome death.
With a loud sigh he reached down and lifted the gorgeous woman from her prison. He tried to get her to stand but the bindings on her ankles and the loss of strength in her legs, after lying on them for god knows how long, made that impossible. So instead he took her over his shoulder and carried her downstairs and put her down gently in the stairwell. He then fetched a mattress from the adjoining room and put her, very gently, down on it.
He thought about raping her. It shamed him to admit it, but he did. She was absolutely breathtakingly beautiful, she had no way to either resist or escape and he hadn't been with a woman since...
"Since my Grace died, I know. Hey man.. I didn't say a thing.. I heard you thinking it. That's because I'm in your head, moron. Go away...."
He hadn't been with a woman since his Grace died. But that didn't excuse raping this innocent girl, nor would Graces' memory allow him to do it. Instead he leaned down over her and removed her gag. She looked at him, puzzled and scared, but didn't try to speak, scream or cry. She was stoic in her captivity and seemed to take pride in not giving in to terror. Joe guessed she'd had lot of practice. With his knife he made short work of the ropes around her wrists and ankles and she was free. She still couldn't really use her legs very much, and her hand were numb from this tight ropes, so she just lay there, looking up at him with those pretty green eyes of hers. He didn't quite understand where the impulse came from, but he leaned down and kissed her on the lips. She didn't resist, but made no effort to respond.
"Can you walk?" His voice was warm and caring, but very matter of fact. "I can't really carry you in this heat I'm afraid. But if you need to rest, stretch and get your movement back, I'll keep you company if you'd like."
She looked at him, now more puzzled than afraid. He thought that was at least a step in the right direction. He wouldn't push the issue further, but would let her take the lead on her recovery. He would, however, stay and make sure no one came to make use of her while she gathered herself.
"If you just stay here, I will find you some clothes." He looked at her to see if what he said had registered. She nodded slowly. "I'll just be in the next room for a minute or two. Stay here and I will bring the clothes to you."
Joe hurried as best he could to gather the clothes off the dead man in the next room. It was no pleasant task, but he supposed he had done worst in the past. Nothing he liked to think about very much, and nothing he was going to think about right now. He removed the tank top and pants without too much of a problem, but he wasn't about to leave this, soon to be rotting, corpse laying there for the poor girl to see when they left. Instead he brought the stiff body over to the pile of rubble and buried it as best he could. It wouldn't keep him from rotting or getting eaten by the local wildlife, but at least he would be out of sight.
Joe went back to the stairwells and just handed the clothes to the naked woman. She grabbed them hungrily and started putting them on while Joe left the room and went towards the exit. He wasn't leaving, but rather searching through the crates stacked in the first room. Most of them were full of absolutely nothing, but he did find a good number of water bottles; at least twenty. How he was going to get them all back to the house he didn't really know, but he would just have to find a way. He started by placing them all in neat and tidy rows on the floor. Then he took them one by one and emptied them into his water pouches until they were filled. Eight bottles left. He could get three of them in his pants pockets but the last five were impossible for him to carry.
"I'm Jackie." The woman had come through the door and stood behind him. "Thank you for getting me out of that damn hellhole."
Joe turned around on a dime, looking at the young woman in utter shock. Now that she was up and walking, and clothed, she was if possible even more beautiful. She stood a good five foot eight and couldn't weigh any more than 130 pounds. He couldn't draw his eyes from her beautiful face, the swelling of her breasts, the rounding of her hips and her tender, bare feet. She was truly stunning. She saw him gawking at her and couldn't help but smile. He wasn't bad looking himself. A little rough around the edges, maybe not the picture perfect man, but definitely not ugly.
"Jackie, huh? Name fits you good." He smiled at her and extended his hand. "It's good to meet you ma'am."
"Ma'am? Really?" She cocked an eyebrow and looked at him with an unmistakable frown. "Do I look old enough to be 'Ma'am' to you?"
"Well, ma'am..." He smiled a sly smile and winked. "You look like a woman, and women should be talked to with the same respect as anyone else. Just as I would call a young man 'sir' I will call a young woman 'ma'am'. Quite simple, no?"
She couldn't really find any good arguments to debate that, but she wasn't quite ready to give in just yet. So instead of accepting defeat she strode up to him and stood close enough so he could feel her breath on his face. Then she smiled.
"Personally, I would rather you just called me Jackie, or if you have to throw titles around, how about Miss?"
"I could probably live with that... ma'am.." He winked at her and ducked out of the way of her exaggeratedly slow slap.
He could hear that her throat was both dry and sore, so he handed her a bottle of the water he just found and told her not to drink it too fast, lest it would just come back up again, especially since he suspected that her captors hadn't fed her in a while. She drank greedily, but paced herself when she felt her stomach screaming and rumbling as the unfamiliar liquid drenched it. She had never been this thirsty in her life, and at the same time, she really didn't want to drink any more.
Joe stuck the last four bottles in the various pockets of Jackie's pants and couldn't help but laugh when the added weight forced them to the floor. She blushed and frowned at him, but she couldn't really be angry. After all, this man had already seen her naked, had a chance to violate her as he saw fit, and he had not done so. She figured that earned him both respect and trust; she would cut him some slack about making fun of her. So instead of frowning at him she joined him in his laughter and, before he could react, snatched a piece of rope from his belt and used it as a belt of her own. She was really going to have to find a pair of pants that weren't made for a man of 190 pounds. The tank top however fit pretty well, to no small part thanks to her ample breasts.