Gaunt Rainbow by Matthew Sawyer

"Gaunt Rainbow" sample

© 2010 by Matthew Sawyer
All rights reserved

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Journey from Mourning


he color of the motorcycle looked neon purple, but Pamela ignored the salesman always saying crimson. The sweating man presented the hue of the bike as either the biggest or only selling point.
“Crimson,” he said again.
“C’mon, crimson is the color of hellfire,” he exaggerated, wide-eyed. “The same color as those things that ripped up Capital when you were a kid, remember 'em.?”
The sheer variety of color-names and an absence of brochures in the junk yard, and the lack of even a single Owner’s Manual, allowed him to title the color with any inspired word. During her hunt for a bike, here and other sales lots, Pamela heard exotic, made-up names like “eggshell” and “oxblood.” The color really didn’t matter. She planned to go into the desert alone. Too many people had grown old and died while she watched – just, stood and watched. Pamela knew she was an angel of death. Not the romantic, metaphorical kind, but a literal incarnation.
“I’ll even wash it for ya’,” the seller tempted Pamela. “But that’ll cost extra.”
Pamela squinted at the thin, dark-skinned man. She hoped he recognized the spiteful stare. The morning sun shone bright, but Pamela spoke to him in the shade of ramshackle shacks. They saw each other in perfect detail. Wrinkles around his mouth deepened. His eyes slowly sank into his prominent skull and Pamela recognized the signs. Her hunger aged the man.
Her body fed from his life force and he’ll feel famished and exhausted very soon. She was like a parasite. Pangs never pricked her stomach while she was around other people, and none bothered her now.
The motorcycle looked good for traveling the Shur desert. A rigid chassis and aluminum frame meant it will handle light and agile. Its high ground clearance would allow Pamela to stay away from roads. The machine promised enduring a long, purposeful life and the color remained incidental.
Winter will also be kind to both Pamela and the machine. The temperature in the Shur never dropped below freezing. Her exclusively black leather wardrobe looked good, protective and would remain comfortable for months. The season also meant plenty of rabbits and coyotes for food. Pamela didn’t worry about hunting and cooking them. They’d taste wild anyway, like copper.
Instead, she planned to automatically consume the animals as she crossed their paths, just as she did with this man now. Mercifully, instead of hurting him any further, Pamela decided to purchase the bike and find some genuine food.
“Seven thousand,” she offered low, under half the worth of the vehicle. She expected argument and barter will follow, but the negotiation won’t last long. Her body leeched the man’s energy. She hated herself when her mouth salivated. The reaction was probably some sick, unconscious acknowledgment of knowing her unconventional meal stood near.
“What?” the man yelled. Sudden weariness sabotaged his indignant outrage. He yawned. “I asked for twenty grand!”
That price was courageously high. The circumstances as to why an unused bike sat in a junkyard demanded a clearer perspective on its worth to the local population. She knew the value of the vehicle, especially here. A childhood spent salvaging the dead city of the Chosen had provided an education. Pamela used the facts to her advantage.
“You won’t get anywhere close to that price in the encampment. And it cost you nothing to drag it out of the cursed city.”
“I had to risk my neck against ghosts and demons,” the man protested. He tottered a bit, signaling the end of negotiations.
People living in the encampment made valid disclaimers like those the man listed. Many of them had watched Capital burn. Ghosts did not haunt the blackened concrete beyond the wall the city lay behind, but stories of demons were true, at least on that day when everyone in Capital was judged wonting of sin.
As a little girl, Pamela lived in Capital with her mother. She, alone, walked from the wreckage of the city, the legendary sole survivor. Pamela walked through fire, naked except for a thick coat of soot. People in the encampment rushed toward the cry of the little girl. Everyone believed she was a miracle, preserved though divine intervention. The absence of even a scratch on the girl served as testament of the messiah who was told to come to the Promised Land that day. Millions of Chosen then perished and yet the Living God preserved a little girl, a little UnChosen girl.
Capital had been smote almost twenty years ago. Ever since, people dwelling in the encampment have scavenged the lost and abandoned remains of the city. Existence demanded the brave forays into the haunted city of monsters. Pamela scavenged, too, until she accepted that she drank the souls of the people who only sought to give her shelter. Her curse filled her with remorse and she thought for a solution, long and hard.
The answer inevitably always seemed to involve exiling herself to the Shur desert. Dying alone in the sands made everyone safer, at least Pamela hoped. She died once before, in an explosion preceding the flames that engulfed Capital, and returned to life in a maelstrom of fiery bombs and monsters. Ever since that day, she’s never been sick or felt hungry. Any injury she suffered healed quickly – while the people around her suddenly aged and grew thin.
“There are no ghosts or demons,” Pamela insisted. She balled her hands into fists and pushed them into either side of her waist. The bartering required a dose of reality. “You got this bike for free, poking around in ruins. Anything you get for it is all profit. I bet a lot of people here in the encampment have bikes like this, and would trade them for a loaf of stale bread and fresh water. I got both and all day to look for that deal.”
“Are we gonna haggle the price all morning?” the man asked. He looked fatigued. Irritability kept him from taking Pamela’s offer then and there. Her comment about food most likely started the audible growling in his stomach. The man could have had a full breakfast already, but he needed to eat for two this morning. Pamela knew to always remind people to find food once they waned.
“Nobody in the encampment has that kind of money. That bike will sit here until it’s stolen or the military returns, and confiscates every looted thing they find.”
“The military ain’t coming back,” the old man grumbled. The tendons on the backs of his hands pushed against contracting skin. Stubbornness will be the death of him. Pamela took a step backwards, ready to walk away. She refused responsibility for any more death. When the dealer shrank further, she took a second step back.
“Okay!” the old man relented. He did not realize Pamela wanted to save his life. Only the preservation of a sale interested him “But you’re right. Nobody’s buying. How 'bout ten?”
“I said seven,” Pamela stated. She had already won. The man’s ridiculous counter offer sounded like a last gasp for air. He was fortunate to literally have one. In Pamela’s dark past, people fatter and younger than him have dropped dead. She held out a stack of bills in an assortment of large denominations.
“Fine,” the man answered with a gruff woof. He tossed the keys of the motorcycle to Pamela and took the money from her gloved hand. The man collapsed against a stripped car. He did not count the money.
“Hey,” the seller called as Pamela straddled her new bike then kick-started the engine. “I think there’s something wrong with me.”
“You just need to eat,” Pamela advised before she drove away. She had another stop to make before leaving town. Her supplies were stashed in a shack at the center of the sprawled and overcrowded encampment. There, Pamela will have a chance to grab real food for herself.
Navigating the streets might be difficult; they always changed direction and sometimes ended abrupt and unexpected. Before Capital burned, temporary hovels often cropped up spontaneously and streets redirected around the hodgepodge of obstacles without notice. The new buildings sometimes lasted only a few hours. The surviving shacks often became permanent. Tenants were always performing shoddy patches to the damage inflicted by weather and age.
Pilgrims no longer came to Capital. Consequently, nobody came to the encampment, but the people who remained still chaotically shaped their neighborhoods. The unorganized reconstruction originally continued out of habit but had become tradition before Pamela was fully grown.
The dynamic growth of the encampment once accommodated waves of people coming to Capital. That city’s foundation lay on the biblical Promised Land. A brilliant white wall protected Capital from thieves and terrorists. The wall still stood, but its gates lay open. The military had abandoned the city upon its destruction and the temporary return of the messiah.
Pamela decided she would seek the messiah in the desert, assuming he went into the Shur. She had heard stories that claimed he came out of the Shur on the shoulder of a priest. She met the messiah, a boy, years ago in Capital. He cured her blindness. The boy may have even brought her back to life after the explosion killed her. Nobody greeted Pamela to her resurrection. The messiah had vanished and everyone was dead, their smoking bones covered in ash.
If Pamela finds him, she will ask the messiah to heal her again. Once he lifted her parasitic vampirism, she will then ask him what happened in Capital. There were so many questions. Pamela especially wanted to know why she alone had been spared.
Everyone else was killed when the warehouse ignited. Why did the messiah allow the bomb to explode in the first place? Crucial questions included why he left the Promised Land and if he will return. Pamela could offer the messiah her service. She believed in him. Pamela served as living proof of his greatness, and disciples were a tough commodity to keep. The priest the boy traveled with, a man named Benedict, had also disappeared. Before then, Pamela’s mother learned of the messiah from an old woman at the indigo factories along the coast.
The old woman, the boy’s mother, announced the arrival of the messiah and was miraculously made young again, before the eyes of doubting witnesses. She was to announce the ascension of her son, but the woman never returned. The neglected ordination may have driven the Living God away. Pamela resolved herself to fulfill the praise for the returned messiah, if she ever found him.
The boy had been a little older than Pamela when they first met and must now be a grown man. She always dreamed of meeting him again. As a little girl, she imagined he would find her in the encampment, they would become friends and even more – the boy was the messiah after all. As an orphaned child, Pamela needed someone with strength and wisdom. Her mother had died in the same explosion that killed Pamela the first time.
Pamela never knew her father. Her mother never spoke of him. His memory made her cry. Still, Pamela heard rumors the man had problems with military patrols after curfew in Capital, when soldiers confined people to their homes at night. Pamela imagined soldiers had taken her father away.
Her memories of those childhood days in Capital consisted only of sound, touch and smell. Those sensations seemed to become irrelevant when her sight was restored. Pamela felt fine with that trade. Although, just the sight of poverty and crime in the encampment overwhelmed her. If her other senses remained as fine-tuned, as when she was a child, any additional sensitivity to the dismal stimuli would have crippled her. Life in the encampment did not change after Capital burned, which was the truly sad part of the city’s destruction. People had always lived like this. first, many people used drugs peddled from heathen sympathizers, but even that escape dried up.
Pamela did not bother to use streets to reach her stash. She grew up a native of the encampment. She knew shortcuts not subject to the changing nature of the place. Some people characterized her route to be a series of adjacent backyards, but calling any patch of ground in the encampment a backyard was generous and optimistic. Pamela exploited passages, between opposite-facing shacks, each with openings large enough to accommodate the jutting handle bars of her motorcycle. The growling short, fat pipes rattled awake any night owl.
The shortcut came to a dead end. A new dog house blocked Pamela’s path. She wriggled the bike back to the street, with her destination still twenty minutes away. Luckily, a cart selling burritos loomed ahead. Pamela recognized the cart. A family had pushed it around the encampment for at least a generation. Stainless steel panels preserved the business from rust. The rotted, hard rubber wheels looked like they verged on crippling the mobility of the business.
An old couple had sold hand-rolled burritos off the cart since Pamela came to the encampment. They became the encampment’s first victims of the little girl’s hunger. Both fell over dead while Pamela watched the woman heap tangy smelling shreds of meat into a flour tortilla. Pamela’s mouth watered as her meal was prepared, but her hunger was sated once the old couple died. The memory helped her recognize the involuntary reaction to the nature her curse.
The grandchildren of the poor deceased couple took over the family business, running the cart. Pamela appreciated young people and children. They seemed resilient against an automatic leech of their youth. Young people could eat a lot of food, too, which appeared the key to surviving an encounter with a hungry Pamela.
“Rainbow!” called a teenage girl from the cart. Kids in the encampment had given Pamela the nickname. They teased, in happy and friendly intent, her preference for black. Pamela thought about trying other colors but she never felt any hue suitable. Black worked perfectly, given her preference for a monochrome wardrobe.
Three sibling teenagers now ran the family cart business. The brother and both sisters attended the operation this morning; they probably stocked food for the next few days. Usually, a pair staffed the operation alone at any given time. The girl who welcomed Pamela was the youngest sister. The girl’s brother, nearly eighteen, was the oldest, but they all were just small children when Pamela was around their ages.
“Give me five egg burritos,” Pamela ordered when she stopped her bike before the food cart. The engine cut off sharp when she removed the key.
“Nice bike,” the boy complimented. “We got soda.”
“Thanks,” Pamela answered. “The soda from Capital?”
“Yeah,” the youngest girl interjected. “I’m making runs now, too.”
“I’ll take whatever you found, Patty.” Pamela addressed the young girl directly. “There’s not much left of anything in there. Did you find it yourself?”
“Nah, Sally did. We carried out. Paul had to stay with the cart.”
“Good job, Sally,” Pamela said to the second girl. Sally matured quickly. The girl already possessed the shapely hips and breasts Pamela will never grow. Sally’s figure made Pamela jealous, in a nostalgic sort of way.
“Thanks,” answered Sally. She stacked the five burritos on her left arm, braced against her ribs. The food this morning looked like it had been pre-prepared. The teenagers either innovated or got lazy. The quality of food from vendors in the encampment was never the highest, anyway. Still, cooked food from a cart provided the finest dining experience found in the encampment.
Paul, the oldest of the three kids, handed Pamela an opened bottle of warm cola. Pamela gorged herself with the burritos while he held the soda at the end of extended arm. She did not feel hungry, but with so many people around and near, she never did. Once Pamela rode alone in the desert, having food in her stomach will be a good idea. She could then ride all day, Pamela guessed. Legitimate hunger was still an unknown experience.
Paul and Sally stood the same height. Patty had already grown as tall as Pamela, and the girl will grow about two more inches. Knowing that the girl still had some growing yet made Pamela feel a little dejected, as well as short and skinny. Away from the encampment, her petite physique made Pamela a target, but her appearance actually lured the unwitting into a horrible trap. She once used her curse in defense, when she salvaged the ruins of Capital.
Pamela became rich the day a gang of raiders cornered the salvage team she joined as a little girl. In her youth, the only living people who visited Capital either hid or killed each other as they plucked the carcass of the dead city. Scavengers went into the cursed place as teams, for the sake of safety and to carry goods hauled from the grave. The kids on Pamela’s team were once the only friends, sisters and brother she had known. She will always feel guilty that her adolescent stupidity revealed their hiding places to murderous raiders.

The leader of Pamela’s fated, self-organized team was a young man name Jon. He could not have been more than seventeen, but wore a downy black mustache. The boy looked like a full grown man to Pamela, primarily because she was only about ten or eleven years old. Her short life in the encampment quickly blurred memories about herself, like her age and even her birthday. She suspected she was older than she bothered to remember and she grew very slow. The secession of her adopted parents all looked old, but she may have been eating them.
Jon had a girlfriend named Freddy. They scoured the ruins of Capital together with another girl named Juno. Juno looked much closer to idealized Pamela’s age, but she never shared details about herself. Like everyone in the Shur, Juno was suspicious of familiar strangers – but she had collected legitimate reasons. Everybody told lies and acted selfish, even before the destruction of the Promised Land.
Juno trusted only Freddy, so much that she emulated her androgynous role model in speech and dress. For a long time, Pamela assumed all scavengers pushed and yelled at each other, and bullied weaker team members. Scavengers acted assertive and butch, just like the Chosen people she remembered when she was a younger girl, before heathens decimated the caste.
When Freddy invited Pamela to join the team, Pamela first wondered why Freddy and her boyfriend were even interested in her. Despite the tragedy in her life, Pamela remained true to her station in the UnChosen caste – meek and unassertive.
“You’re lucky,” Jon proclaimed.
“You got out of the siege on Capital all alone,” he told Pamela. “If there aren’t any Chosen alive today, to tell the Mortal God what to do, luck is the only grace left.”
While growing up, luck seemed the only asset Pamela possessed. Her stunted growth left her short and skinny, not much larger than the girl that came to the encampment. Pamela just never grew the girth required for pushing people around. Her size did not stop Jon and Freddy from picking up their lucky charm, their mascot, that day the team went into Capital and died, the day Pamela ate them alive.
“Let’s go, Pam!” Freddy encouraged her.
Freddy, Jon and Juno always came to the shack where Pamela then stayed with a friendly middle-aged couple. The couple were from typical UnChosen people – poor, mild and tame, like her own mother. Pamela could not say she loved them, but they were kind people that deserved some trust and compassion.
Her adopted parents worked that day, trucking garbage into the desert – a common chore in the encampment. The dead often went to the same locations and the family’s flat bed truck performed the role of a mass-transit hearse.
Throughout much of her life, Pamela thought everyone called the Shur desert a waste because that is where trash went. She more recently learned the encampment and all the Chosen’s cities weren’t considered parts of the Shur. Oases, created by hand-dug wells, distinguished civilization from “waste.”
The team – Freddy, Jon, Juno and the newest member, Pamela – breached Capital through one of a dozen open gates through the shining Wall. A neat grid of parallel and perpendicular streets, crammed with scorched and abandoned automobiles, outlined blocks of burned out, concrete-block buildings.
Everyone split up, but wandered no further than the sound of their voices as the team combed through empty apartments and cars. The skeletal corpses of the dead tenants of the city lay where they suffocated to death, undisturbed until someone came along years later and turned-out their pockets.
Pamela shirked tasks that involved handling dead people. Looking at the gross bodies made her feel sick, but touching them always made Pamela throw up. Juno impressed Freddy and had no qualms about robbing the dead. At noon, the brave girl stopped looting, sought her teammates and found Pamela.
“Pam, where’s Freddy and Jon?” Juno demanded in a hushed tone. She carried blackened purses and a backpack. The boyish girl looked more nervous than usual. “I heard something.”
“I don’t know,” Pamela answered. “Yell for them.”
“No,” Juno threatened. “I heard people coming our way, they might be raiders, could be heathens.”
“Oh,” Pamela answered naive before Juno tugged her from the doorway of the empty ground-floor apartment the timid girl searched.
The two girls stole into bright sunlight and crouched behind wrecked automobiles. Outside, Pamela heard the echo of squeaking wheels on a shopping cart as someone pushed it, rumbling over cluttered and greasy streets. She knew neither Jon or Freddy had found the cart. Pamela spotted her older friends come out of a building together, across the street. The unnerving sound of the cart echoed from a block away, from the opposite direction.
Juno saw the pair of team members before Pamela alerted her mate. The girls looked at each other, made an unspoken agreement and sprinted between dusty and rusted vehicles. The team gathered on the curb before the apartment building that Jon and Freddy had slipped out. The two older kids looked disheveled, with messed hair and unbuttoned shirts.
“Fred, someone’s coming!” Juno told her model.
“I know, I hear them,” Freddy said. “I doubt it’s a demon, I don’t think monsters go shopping.”
“Heathens!” Juno insisted.
“Rival teams of UnChosen can be just as bad,” Jon reminded the team. “Quick, hide whatever you got.”
“Where?” Pamela asked, feeling helpless.
The team split up before she got an answer. Jon and Freddy went back into the apartment building and Juno hopped across the street again. Pamela trailed after the boyish girl, empty handed.
“Where are we going to hide?” Pamela braved and called to Juno, who decided to throw her haul behind the flattened wheel of an old flatbed, fumigator’s truck. Jon and Freddy slipped out of the apartment building a moment later, once they had secreted their unknown prizes.
“Too late!” Juno said loud enough for her team mates to hear while she dropped to her knees. “They’re here!”
Pamela crouched and lost the locations Juno, Jon and Freddy had gone. Assaulted by the sound of cart, reverberating and muffled like thunder in the ash-filled valley, Pamela grew scared and poked up her head. She feared being alone and needed to see if the street was clear, so that she might discover the hiding places of her teammates and join them.
Five men, dressed in tattered brown camouflage and carrying assault rifles, appeared over the hood of a gutted sedan. These men pushed the noisy shopping cart, and another. Both carts were overfilled with stuffed canvas duffel bags. The men dressed like Chosen soldiers, except for the disrepair of their clothes. The state of their appearance branded them as heathens, but UnChosen scavengers also often wore whatever they found.
“Stop where you are!” One of the suspected heathens shouted at Pamela. Once spotted, Pamela raced across the street, into the apartment building in which she saw Jon and Freddy disappear.
“Dammit, not in there!” Juno shouted at Pamela, giving away her own location.
“Grab 'em both!” one of the uniformed men ordered. Only one man went after Juno. The others followed Pamela into the shaded apartment building.
Pamela entered the apartment and was just about to search the second room for her friends when the armed men caught her.
“Pamela, what are doing?” Freddy scolded the little girl, with very unfortunate timing. The luck Pamela was supposed to bring to the team dried up and revealed Freddy, too.
“UnChosen kids,” a man in uniform mumbled as he and his cohorts entered the apartment. They brought Juno with them. The man pointed his rifle toward the direction from which came Freddy’s voice. “Come out, or we’ll kill these two, find ya’ and cut out your tongue. You’ll die choking on your own blood.”
Jon stepped from the second room instead of Freddy; the macho girl stayed hidden. After sliding into plain view, Jon promptly raised his hands and surrendered
“We don’t want trouble,” Jon promised the armed men. “We’re just exploring.”
“That’s a load of shit,” decided the man who first shouted at Pamela. “Where’s the other girl, the one that just spoke?”
A couple armed men shoulder their rifles and grab both Pamela and Juno. The man who held Pamela giggled and pulls her across his stiffening crotch. Tears well in her eyes while she bears the harassment without complaint.
“It’s just us,” Jon claimed.
“Hurt the tomboy,” an armed man commanded another.
The man who held Juno promptly snatched the girl’s right hand and bent a thin finger until it snapped with “pop.” Juno immediately wailed and all the armed men laughed.
“Please!” Jon yelled, then falls when a rifle muzzle is slapped across his forehead.
“Don’t!” Freddy begs and appears from a closet in the same room in which everyone stood. “Please, let her go!”
“Well, three girls,” chuckled the man giving orders. “There’s plenty to share. Put the boy out of commission.”
The man who knocked Jon to the floor dropped his rifle’s barrel and immediately fired a bullet into the boy’s groin. The armed men then join Jon’s scream and squeals with cheers and laughter.
Freddy screamed and jumped toward her boyfriend, only to be belted on the jaw by the man who shot him. She falls over, just out of reach of Jon. After her daze lifts, she whimpers and begs, but broken teeth and blood in her mouth make her pleas incomprehensible.
“And now the rest are all ours,” bragged the commander. “Go find hotel rooms, boys. I’ve got the big girl for myself.”
“But the other two are kids,” complained the shooter. “Besides, Ralph has crabs, and he’s already rubbed up against that one!”
“I’m marking my territory,” the man molesting Pamela claimed. “But you can visit. Besides, we all got crabs. They’re just not biting you sour assholes, 'cuz you taste bad.”
“Shut up, Ralph,” the commander said and turned back to the shooter. “Alright, you can have mine when I’m done.”
Two of the men had already pulled Juno from the apartment before Ralph twirled Pamela around to face the entrance. He had shouldered his rifle and now held a large serrated knife. Pamela heard the commander say one more thing before Ralph pushed her outside.
“Sorry, honey,” the commander told Freddy. “This means I’m not keeping you.”
Screams from Freddy joined Jon’s howls the moment Pamela stumbled into the bright daylight. The two men who had taken Juno were bent into the open doors on either side of car just outside the apartment. They chuckled and no sound came from the girl, but Pamela was certain Juno squirmed inside the automobile, in defiant silence.
Outside the apartment, Ralph pushed Pamela to the concrete sidewalk and dropped upon her. He pressed one strong hand on her throat, pinning the little girl to the ground, strangling her. Ralph used the knife in his other hand to cut her pants to ribbons. The wiry and stinking fiend tightened his grip as he stripped the small girl. All the while, Pamela gagged and watched stars wink in and out between her and her attacker.
The scraggly man pushed himself into her, like a fist through a drywall panel. Pamela felt paralyzed within a field of white light, so bright it dimmed the overhead sun. The bludgeon of light then suddenly extinguished, dropping the hurt and terrorized little girl into darkness. Pamela woke a moment later, staring into the blazing noonday sun. Everyone died that same instant.
Waking brought back the memory of the devastated warehouse the day Capital burned. New and horrible memories were now added to the vision. Pamela wanted to scream, but the little girl had already honed her instinct for self-preservation. She bit her tongue, hard. A dried-up mummy lay on top Pamela, between her bare spread legs. Only leathery skin, bones and clothes remained of the man who raped Pamela.
The small girl rolled the corpse off of her. Ralph tumbled completely away when Pamela sat up. Her crotch had been painted with sticky, but mostly dry, blood. Pamela debated pulling on her shredded pants or pouring out the rest of her canteen and washing the gore off her body. She unconsciously scraped blood from her inner thighs with her fingernails and panted.
Pamela sobbed as she scratched dried swathes of blood off her skin. Her crying rotted away the early hours of the afternoon, until all the blood had dried and Pamela rubbed the clots to dust, she brushed from her body without conscious effort.
After exhausting herself, she stood up shaking, looked around and listened. No sound came from inside the apartment. The shriveled bodies of the men who assaulted Juno lay halfway inside the car at either side. Juno made no noise. Pamela intended to look for the girl, but first wanted to see what became of Jon and Freddy.
Pamela crept to the door of the dark apartment. When she saw no movement, she stepped inside. Everybody was dead, her friends and the perverted raiders. They were all just dried up bodies, just like those she woke to find, years ago in Capital. Apparently, the man who waited his turn with Freddy had discovered the food the woman and her boyfriend found and hid that morning. Four open bags of dehydrated beans and pasta now sat near the entrance.
Pamela thought the messiah, his name was David, had returned for her. Not a single cut or bruise remained on her body, whereas everyone else had withered into mummified husks. Pamela stood alone. She gathered the bags of food her team had recovered and went back outside. Juno fared no better. The tough little girl was now nothing more than dry, papery skin and bones.
Pamela grit her teeth and unceremoniously claimed the pants her dead teammate wore. Once her nausea passed and she stopped shaking, Pamela inspected the luggage of the attackers. They carried money, gold, ammunition, and anything and everything else of value that remained in Capital. She spent the rest of the day alone and numb, hiding her inherited treasure.
A little after sunset, Pamela quietly returned to the encampment without her team. She never told anyone the truth of what happened that day in Capital. Instead, she spun a partial yarn. She reported an unknown gang chased her team and only Pamela got away. The fate of everyone else remained unknown. Years passed and she used the excuse that she looked for old teammates when she continued forays into Capital. She lied again and again. In retrospect, nobody believed the excuse after a week. But people in the encampment either allowed her a protracted period of mourning or minded their own despair. Survival consumed everyone.
Her horded resource kept Pamela’s currently adopted family – really, fond strangers – and friends well supplied for years. Pamela already had the reputation as the girl who came out of the destruction of Capital, alive. The dubious esteem always encouraged someone to provide her help. No one asked how she managed to find money long after Capital had been scoured dry. People spread rumors she ventured into parts of the city where demons made lairs. The whispers did not bother her. Rumors scared people against following her to the basement she kept her trove.

“Are you gonna, drink this or what?” Paul asked Pamela. “My arm’s getting tired.”
The boy’s bent arm drooped. Pamela couldn’t apologize because her mouth was still stuffed with eggs. Instead, she smiled, shrugged and took the bottle of soda from Paul.
“So, that’s the bike you’re taking into the desert,” Paul gestured at the motorcycle. “It looks pretty good.”
“You’re still going into the Shur, alone?” Sally asked scowling at the idea. The only criticism Pamela received was the girl’s pessimistic scrutiny of the plan. Pamela nodded her head. She had told the three too much already. Food made her chatty.
Pamela split the last of her resources and sent everyone she knew, as in whomever had been owed a debt or for whom she felt grateful, to the closest city – a place called Gomorrah. She kept a good chunk of the share for herself and paid for the motorcycle. Her friends and pseudo-family believed they would see her again in Gomorrah. They might still. That depended on her finding the person she went looking for. If blessed, she may bring back the lost messiah from the desert.
“It looks like fire,” Patty, the youngest girl, said. She commented on the motorcycle’s paint and stroked the bulbous fuel tank. The motion reminded Pamela to fill the tank before she strapped the spare container on the back seat.
“That’s something like the guy who sold it to me said,” Pamela answered with her cheeks stuffed with chewed burrito.
“Is that the color of your helmet, too? Did you finally picked one, Rainbow?” teased Paul. His sly sisters grinned at him. Pamela gladly disappointed their mischievous yearnings.
“Nope, my helmet’s black too. You can wave goodbye to me once I get it, and my gear.”
Pamela swallowed her last burrito nearly whole. The remaining soda washed down the dry chunks. She jumped back unto her new motorcycle and kicked it to life. Pamela revved the engine once and smiled.
“I’ll see you kids,” she said and raced twenty meters before slowing and swerve around dawdling trucks on the unpaved street.
“Ride, Rainbow!” cried little Patty. Sally and Paul waved at Pamela’s back. The three will miss the frequent visits of a good customer and an interesting woman and friend.
“She came out the cursed city by herself, when she was a little girl, younger than me,” Patty whispered to her older sister.
“And she always came back with lots of useful stuff and money, even after people claimed Capital was exhausted of resources.,” Paul repeated.
“I hope she didn’t get it all,” wished Patty aloud.
“Pagans, heathens and demons haunt the Shur,” Patty whispered to Mark, careful Sally would not hear. Talking about terrible things still gave their little sister nightmares.
“Rainbow always got away in the past,” Mark replied. “She’ll be fine and she’ll find the messiah. She’s lucky that way.”
“I hope so,” Patty replied. The girl had grown sharp with overhearing the secret discussions of her older siblings.

Pamela did not rush the drive to collect the rest of her stash, now that she had physical food in her stomach. Weaving in and out of traffic on a motorcycle went without difficultly. She often witnessed people do the same. Today marked the first time she rode a bike in town. She learned to ride in the desert. Her lessons involved traveling a straight line as fast as she could. Pamela intended to do just that after leaving the encampment. The destination lay south of Gomorrah. The most recent stories she had heard told a man wandered out there in the desert, performing miracles.
Pamela stopped once she reached a two story structure pieced together with wooden shipping palettes and covered with a huge, originally clear, plastic sheet. Age, weather and fungus permanently discolored the sheet a streaked gray. A single, angry man could knock down the rickety building. The kids living inside made certain everyone liked them. Being nice to neighbors and strangers not only preserved their home but also kept them fed. The palette structure, built by a gang of children, and became the encampment’s default version of an orphanage.
“All right,” Pamela called to nobody. “Get my stuff. You know the deal. I’ll give you half, but I first pick out what I want to keep.”
The structure creaked and rocked with the scamper of a dozen small feet. The excited noise and scene made Pamela giggle, amused by the happy elves in their magical house. She wondered if a place like this would have been available when she was a girl if the people in the encampment had not been so kind to her – certainly not this slapdash mansion, as the crates came from the shipyards in Capital. People had not gotten so far salvaging the city, not until almost five years ago.
“Rainbow!” a little boy called. All the kids used Pamela’s nickname. It caught on fast. Pamela liked the nickname when the kids laughed when they said it. The name might be the first sweet taste of irony for many of them. Life was already bitter and unjust for these kids. So many people suffered, and that is why Pamela needed to leave. But she would make it up to them, once she found the messiah.
“You got it,” the little boy said and passed Pamela a black motorcycle helmet with the visor tinted opaque. The snug seams made the helmet appear molded as a single oblong plastic ball.
“You saw me coming,” Pamela smiled at the boy. She twisted her long black hair into an unknotted braid as she waited for the delivery of the rest of her things.
“I watched you between the slats,” bragged the boy. He could have followed Pamela’s approach even if he had not watched for her specifically. The building was nothing but slats. Wind and dust blew straight through the place.
“Top or bottom?” Pamela asked. That’s how the kids distinguished the floors. The structure lacked a staircase, replaced by a ladder and a couple ropes.
“Top!” the boy declared as if announcing a strategic discovery. Proud of his lookout, he shared the location of his position with Pamela. He fit right in with the other kids.
“Now, you’re Ben, right?”
“Good job, Ben,” complimented Pamela. “Thank you for bringing my helmet.”
The little boy grinned and swayed. More children arrived, carrying a couple backpacks, saddle bags and a red plastic container. The child carrying the container arrived last. The full ten liters of gasoline made the load heavy for a boy his age and thin stature.
“Sorry, honey,” Pamela apologized to the boy carrying the container. “I need both, I’m going to fill the tank before I go.”
“Honey?!” the boy mocked insult. “My name is Tee!”
“All right, Tee,” Pamela corrected. “Can you get it, please?”
“You don’t even know our names,” an empty-handed girl accused.
“Sure I do,” Pamela countered, bluffing through her difficulty recalling everyone’s name. She was lucky to quickly remember Ben’s. “But you all call me Rainbow, so I’m going to make up names for you.”
A couple children groaned, but the game Pamela introduced excited most. Tee would miss playing. Touting a container with nearly twenty liters of fuel was tough work for any kid his age. The errand will take him some time. Pamela removed her gloves and pointed at each child.
“You’re Cometa, you’re Bailarin, and Feliz, Timido,” Pamela pushed out her bottom lip when she nicknamed the bashful boy. A frown darkened her expression when she reached the next child.
“Grunon and Sonoliento. Ben, you can be Narcotizado”
“I liked my other name,” stated one of the girls who groaned about getting a new nickname. Pamela now called her Bailarin.
“Well, now you’ve got a new one,” Pamela said. “But I’m the only one who gets to call you that.”
“But all the names are too long, except Grunon and Feliz,” complained one of the boys who initially supported Pamela’s game.
“That’s what I’ve got for you. Hey, where are the other kids? I know I heard more coming.”
“Soose and Dee went to hide. They’re afraid of you because you wear black all the time,” explained the girl now called Cometa. The statement made Pamela laugh. Most of the children living in the palette house now joined their grown friend.
“Here,” Pamela prompted the kids, “Help me tie this stuff on my bike.”
While Pamela tied on the saddlebags, Tee lumbered up with the twenty-liter container swinging side to side. His face and shirt had become wet with sweat.
“Thanks Tee,” Pamela said. “I need the water too.”
“Ah, c’mon! Somebody else get that. I’m tired,” Tee shouted. His comment made Pamela laugh. She expected she had exhausted little Tee. The boy now called Grunon sprinted up into the children’s mansion.
Pamela topped the motorcycle’s tank with gasoline from the smaller fuel container. The larger can went to the back of the seat. Her two canteens of water arrived on a military issued utility belt. An empty ammo pouch still hung on the middle. All gear the military issued to soldiers was camouflaged brown, so at least the belt would not clash with her outfit. When Pamela scavenged the belt, like everything else, she did not have a choice in color.
She inspected both the saddlebags and backpacks containing a light set of camping and automotive tools, clothes, blankets and, of most importance, food. Pamela packed the bags herself. Everything seemed intact. She already knew what she would leave the kids. A backpack with clothes and junk food went to Ben, a pity Pamela already forgot the nickname she gave him. She had thought to give the boy the most descriptive one she could imagine.
“Do you remember the nickname I gave you, sweetie?” Pamela asked Ben with a sly smile.
“Narcotizado!” Ben answered and pulled a candy bar from his inherited backpack. The boy had known the candy hid inside.
“See, you forgot the nicknames already” shouted the girl Pamela called Bailarin.
“I’ll especially remember yours, Bailarin,” Pamela answered waving her finger at the girl.
The kids stole the backpack from Ben. Everyone wanted a share of the junk food, but the stash wouldn’t be enough for all the kids. The game of survival awarded those you claimed a share first, or stole winnings from another player.
“That’s it, kids,” Pamela said, hoisting the brown backpack and sliding in front of the plastic fuel can, now tied on the seat. The kids cheered and wished her luck on the trip. They did not know she wasn’t going to join her friends in Gomorrah. Most did not realize she would not return tomorrow.
Pamela pulled her helmet from the handlebars. She tightened the loose braid in her hair before wrapping it on top of her head, before she put on the helmet. Cheers and well wishing instantly became muffled. The artificial handicap reminded Pamela of being blind as a little girl. The sudden lack of a sharp field of vision tempted her to leave the helmet behind.
She convinced herself the helmet protected her hearing against the drone of the bike. When wind blew sand in her face and the sun burned hot, she will also need the tinted visor. After a few seconds of thought, Pamela decided to leave the helmet on. The bike growled when it started and purred the few seconds it sat idle. Pamela left the encampment without another thought and tore into the desert while the sun was still low in the eastern sky.

Go back to "Gaunt Rainbow."

Pazuzu, Pamela, monsters, messiah, demon, pagan, heathen, alien, fantasy, horror, fiction, writing, ebook
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