Argent: Wanderer

On December 24, 2014 I published a paperback version of my first novel, Argent: Wanderer, on Amazon through Amazon’s indie publishing site, Createspace. The process was a learning one and eye-opening as well. I have learned much about myself during this process and am well into the process of writing the second book in this series. A great many friends and family have been with me on this journey over the past few years and most specifically during the last year and a half.

Trials and tribulations, they do assault us at many a turn. But it is our responses to them that make of us strong and enduring persons. I thank those of you who encouraged then and those who still do. I hope to continue on in my own journey of encouraging others as well. In all things where goodness resides there is the necessity to pay it forward. To paraphrase the Good Book, it does none of us any good to hide that light given you from the rest of the world: It is indeed meant to be shared with as many as will look upon it and see.

As I begin in earnest to work on the notes and outline of the second book, I did want to share some portions of the first book. It is a work of fantastical fiction with a wee bit of violence (I may be downplaying the violence a bit) and of course there is always the ever-present battle of good versus evil. There must be some sort of grand conflict, right? If it strikes your fancy then I shamelessly implore you to buy the book on Amazon.com, createspace.com, or you can get it electronically on the Kindle or Kindle app.

Thanks everyone, and enjoy the following excerpt from Chapter One:

Another gunshot, this one noticeably closer, brought Evan from his brief reverie. He felt the light touch of panic begin to caress his nerves. He felt an overwhelming urge to leave, but the voice whispered, Wait. He will come. Evan remained hidden, watching and waiting. Only moments later did he notice movement as the Wanderer approached the back entrance to the store. He wore a large hiking pack on his back along with two long guns. Evan was somewhat familiar with firearms having seen different types of weapons carried by the protectors in the village of his prior life. He had never used one but he had seen the damage they could inflict.

The Wanderer carefully entered the store and disappeared from Evan’s sight. Long moments passed. He was taking much longer than he had the previous times Evan had spied. Something must have gone wrong. Evan could hear voices in the distance as the marauders he had seen earlier made their way closer to him. Closer to the Wanderer. He wondered what was taking so long. Had something happened inside the store? He hadn’t heard anything, but that didn’t mean the man hadn’t fallen to some quiet, unknown danger. Evan decided to investigate. If he remained outside he ran the risk of being discovered by the marauders. Going inside the store he would definitely expose himself to the Wanderer, but that had always been an inevitability. He moved cautiously toward the rear entrance. Another gunshot, followed by rough laughter, sounded nearby. Evan paused just outside the entrance listening for any indication of movement within. Satisfied that no one (or nothing) was lurking near the entrance he quickly stepped inside.

He remained crouched just inside near the doorway, a large hole where the back door had been, waiting for his eyes to adjust to the gloom. Debris was scattered throughout the interior. Not much had changed since his last venture inside the large store. Innumerable shelving remained overturned throughout. Everything of apparent usefulness appeared to have long been taken. Some small wildlife had taken refuge in various nooks and crannies. Rats’ nests abounded and he made sure to steer clear. He was in what had been the shipping and receiving area. Broken wooden pallets and useless handcarts lay all about. Cardboard boxes of varying sizes were strewn about, some opened and long since missing their contents, others somewhat intact with unknown contents awaiting a future time when they might prove useful again. A dim light shown through the doorway into what had been the store proper. He stepped cautiously forward, stirring the ever-present dust that covered everything, leaving footprints in his wake. He stopped at the doorway and listened. This time he could hear movement farther within. His curiosity got the better of him and he moved through the doorway and farther into the store. He crept slowly through ragged aisles of toppled shelves and now useless items until he felt he could go no farther without being discovered.

He peeked over the top of the mound before him and saw the Wanderer leveraging a large slab of broken concrete using a metal pole. After just a few moments he seemed satisfied. He walked out of view and returned without the pole. Evan noticed a holstered handgun on the Wanderer’s hip before he slipped into a large duster. He retrieved his pack from the floor, placing it on his back. He picked up his rifles, shouldering them both. Then he stepped over to a large wagon loaded to capacity with two big Igloo coolers, three duffel bags, and several military-style ammunition boxes. He grabbed the handle and began to draw the wagon away from Evan’s hiding place toward the front of the store. His other hand held a battery-powered electric lamp emitting a blue phosphorescence. Evan’s heart beat loudly and fast in his throat. The Wanderer was leaving. He was going away. He had not ever removed so much from his cache before. Evan knew it was now or never. He had to go with the man. He had to leave. He could not survive much longer on his own. Too many marauders were entering this part of the land.

Marauders! He had to warn the Wanderer. There were marauders nearby. He had forgotten about the gunshots while inside the store. The Wanderer would be killed and his bounty taken. One of the wheels on the wagon hit a large stone and a duffel bag was dislodged, falling to the floor. The Wanderer stopped and sighed, not turning around. He remained facing forward, seemingly waiting for something.

“Well, boy, I don’t have all day. Are you going to skulk about forever or come over here and give me a hand?”

Evan ducked down, his heart in his throat. His pulse raced and a slick sweat immediately covered his entire body. How had he known? Was the Wanderer magic? A sorcerer? Evan had hidden well. He had been quiet. More quiet than a mouse. He thought he had been, anyway. He tried to calm himself. A few deep breaths and he steeled himself to look over the mound again. The Wanderer had turned to face him but had made no move to advance.

“It is time to go now, boy. It is no longer safe. If you want to live, come with me now.”

Evan stood up slowly. He looked intently at the strange man standing fifteen yards away. He made his way slowly toward the Wanderer wondering all the time what he would look like. The Wanderer turned away before Evan could get a good look at him. Speaking softly, yet urgently, and pointing towards several items in the rubble the Wanderer said, “Hurry and use those straps to tie down my supplies.” Evan quickly picked up the tie-downs and began to use them to secure the supplies. He was so intent that he didn’t realize the Wanderer was gone until he looked up. He was face to face with two strangers. Marauders. They wore ragged clothing and were armed with handguns.

“Lookit what we got here, Billy. A little bit of fun just tyin up a present for us. Whatcha got there, young fella?”

Evan stood slowly and looked about for the Wanderer, but saw no sign of him. Where had he gone? He couldn’t have left him here to die at the hands of these rogues. Could he? Evan didn’t know what to do. He had been careful to steer clear of marauders for the past two years, yet here he was faced with the two disgusting men before him. He stepped back and slowly looked over his shoulder toward the way he had entered and saw another pair creeping toward him. No going back the way he came.

“He ain’t thinking ‘bout leavin now, is he?” The second of the two in front of him grinned as he began to move to Evan’s left flank. With only the natural light entering through the broken front windows there were several dark areas inside the store, though Evan was well lit by the lamp sitting on the floor near the wagon. The marauders moved into and out of the lit areas as they encircled him. He knew he would not be able to escape them, but he would not go down without a fight. He slid one hand into his shirt and the other into his pocket, preparing to use his best weapon. He began to turn and track one of the rogues circling him. The slingshot was out of his shirt, loaded with the ball bearing from his pocket, and on target before the marauder was able to react. His shot flew to its target and struck the marauder just below the left eye, breaking the cheekbone instantly with an audible crack. The marauder went down screaming, and Evan moved quickly to hide behind a nearby pile of debris automatically reloading his slingshot. The downed rogue fired a shot in Evan’s direction, though it was well high.

“Motherlovin son-of-a-biscuit-eatin whore! Arrrrrgh!” He was thrashing about on the floor, making far too much noise.

“Shut your hole, Billy!” The first marauder snapped at the downed one. He was moving farther away from his injured cohort. Tracking farther into the darker areas of the store. Evan moved quickly and found a crevice through which he could see the hurt Billy. He saw him attempting to sit up. He was holding his rapidly swelling face with one hand and attempting to sight in on Evan with a small handgun in the other. He was looking in the direction Evan had been. Evan sighted in on the filthy man and fired another shot of his own. This time he caught Billy on the side of his head in the temple. The crack was even louder and there was no scream at all. Billy slouched over to one side. He was out of the fight. Evan briefly wondered if he had killed the marauder. He didn’t have long to ponder Billy’s fate as he felt the tip of a knife slightly break the skin on the back of his neck.

“Drop your toy, boy. I won’t tell you again.”

Evan dropped his weapon and was roughly dragged to his feet. He was turned about quickly then was face to face with the smelly ogre who had entered the front with Billy. The large man smiled wide, showing the few rotting teeth left in his head. Then he licked Evan’s face, seeming to savor the taste.

“Mmmm. Yeah, boys, we got ourselves a good one here. Jojo, check on Billy. We need to get these goodies and get the hell out of here.” He held onto Evan with an iron grip, the knife held at the ready in his other hand close to Evan’s midsection. Jojo knelt at Billy’s side briefly then stood up shaking his head.

“He’s dead, boss. Damn boy killed him. What the hell? I thought you said this kid would be easy.’

“Shut up, Jojo. Is there anybody waiting back home for you, boy?”

Evan was still trying to think of a way to get out of this. The sharp knifepoint in his side brought his focus back to the rogue, the boss.

“You got any friends that might be waiting for you? Anybody headed this way to meet you? This seems like an awful lot of booty for one little boy to be carrying.” He began to look around the store suspiciously. Evan shook his head quickly. The boss glared at Evan, then smiled. “Jojo, go check out back again. Slim, you go to the front. Both of you, hurry up and get back here to help get this stuff.”

Both men scurried off to their assigned locations. The boss squeezed Evan’s arm tightly, painfully. “Tell me who’s with you. You can’t be alone. No way, no how.” He was shaking Evan with each sentence, glaring at him. He slowly looked around the store again. Slim returned from the front of the store shaking his head.

“Nothing out there, boss.”

“You sure? Did ya look good?”

“Yeah, boss. Ain’t nobody here but us and this boy. I’d bet my life on it. We’re alone.”

“You better hope so, Slim. I’ll kill you myself if we get ambushed out there.” Evan noticed the look on Slim’s face. Apparently he took the boss at his word. “Where the hell is Jojo? How long does it take to scope out the back of the store?”

Out of the shadows of the rear of the store Jojo slowly came into view. He wasn’t alone. Walking slightly behind and askew, the Wanderer accompanied the marauder. Jojo looked at the boss, fear registered on his face. He also wore a fresh bruise on his cheek. Apparently the boss didn’t immediately notice Jojo’s new companion.

“What the hell took ya so-?” His eyes then focused on the stranger and he pulled the boy close, the knife seeming to materialize at Evan’s throat. “I’ll kill him, man. Let my man go and I’ll give him back to you. We’ll part our ways peaceful-like. No harm done, right?”

Evan watched as Slim quickly moved into the shadows, attempting to skirt around and get an angle on the Wanderer. He looked back at the Wanderer, noticing that he appeared focused on the boss. He hadn’t moved. Neither of his hands was visible: one hidden behind Jojo, the other behind his back. He cocked his head slightly then spoke.

“If you want to live, call your man off. The one trying to come about and get at me from the side. I’ll kill him and then you if you don’t. All I want is my supplies and then I’ll be on my way. As far as the boy goes…he ain’t mine. You can keep him for all I care.”

The boss hesitated just a moment, considering. Then, “You trying to pull one on me, ain’t ya? Of course the boy is yours. Why else you coming in here, risking your life? Ain’t nobody stupid enough to go one on three for supplies. A basket o’ goodies.” He glanced briefly at the wagon and noticed the boxes of ammo for the first time. He looked back up at the stranger and thought he saw a smile. “Slim, get that son-of-a-whore!” he yelled as he shoved Evan, hard, towards the stranger and Jojo; then he turned and bolted for the front of the store. Everything else happened quickly, though Evan’s mind absorbed the images with the clarity of slow motion.

The Wanderer looked to his left as he brought up his left hand. The semi-automatic handgun fired two shots in rapid succession as it was extended toward Slim who had raised his own handgun. He had been lurking in the shadows, slowly approaching the stranger. He was hit once in the chest and once in the face, the second round shattering the lower left half of his mouth. Teeth and bone fragments exploded along with a fine spray of blood as the round ripped through his jaw. He had been advancing on the Wanderer, and his momentum carried him face forward as he fell onto the dusty floor. The blood started pooling around his head and Evan could hear gurgling as Slim’s body tried to breathe. He wouldn’t live much longer; the first shot had severed his pulmonary artery from his heart. Another pool of blood was spreading from his chest area as well.

Jojo took the brief moment the stranger’s attention was diverted to make his own move. He had never seen Teddy run from anyone before. But here they were. Just one guy and Teddy had taken off running. What the hell? When the stranger’s gun fired on Slim, Jojo spun around and swung a wild elbow at the stranger’s face. He missed entirely as the strange man leaned back and punched him in the stomach. Doubling over and dropping to a knee he instinctively put his hands over his stomach and felt warm wetness flowing out of himself and onto his hands. He looked down and saw his own blood slowly staining his shirt. He looked up in time to see the barrel of a large handgun pointed at his face. He hadn’t been punched.

“Please, mister. Don’t-” The report echoed throughout the store. The gun in the Wanderer’s right hand was definitely a larger caliber. Evan saw the back of Jojo’s head open in a pink spray of brain matter and bone chips. His head rocked back and he immediately fell over onto his side, lifeless. Evan stared at the newly deceased Jojo, the gaping wound in the back of his head oozing blood and other fluids, no more than five feet from him. The Wanderer stepped past Jojo and made his way to the front of the store. Evan watched in wide-eyed wonder. The Wanderer was a giant as he stepped slowly beyond. Evan could see the tiniest particles of dust as they were thrust into the air by the Wanderer’s boots. Everything seemed to be moving too slowly. His ears were ringing from the gun blasts.

The Wanderer had holstered both handguns as he calmly walked to the front and was now readying the long gun he had removed from his shoulder. It was a scoped, bolt action .308 caliber rifle. He reached the front of the store and took a knee, bringing the weapon up to fire. He looked briefly through the scope, the stock up to his cheek. He fired one shot. The blast from the muzzle seemed louder than the three handgun blasts combined. Evan was still staring at the canyon that had been Jojo’s head when the shot rang out. Then everything went dark.

He must have passed out for a short time. When he came to, he was lying on the floor, his face in the thick dust, with the smell of gunpowder still hanging in the air. He sat up and saw the three lifeless forms in the dust. Hungry flies were already buzzing about the open wounds of Slim and Jojo. Evan looked into the open head of the latter and thought the brain matter looked a little like the maggots that would soon hatch there. That was if the scavenging animals of the land didn’t get to the bodies first. Coyotes and such seemed to always come in the wake of the marauders, feeding on what carrion remained. Not to mention the vultures. He turned his head at the sound of squeaky wheels moving across the dusty floor. The Wanderer was moving his wagon toward the front of the store, preparing to leave. Evan stood and took a quick second to be sure his legs were steady. Though he had seen death (and a fair share of it for one so young) he had never been so close as to be able to reach out and touch the dying as they gasped their last breaths. It was somewhat disturbing and unnerving, but the thing that resonated most in him was that he felt a little thrilled as well. He had killed a man today. And though he had always known it to be a possibility in order for him to continue surviving, he had not before known if he would be capable. And even though he greatly valued life in general, he felt the slightest hint of pleasure at the thought of taking the life of a marauder.

As he walked toward the enigmatic figure waiting near the front of the store, Evan thought about the day’s events. He had come to the store to await the arrival of this strange man, the one the voice had led him to, the one who would lead him home. He wasn’t sure about the last. He didn’t know where they were going. He had been hiding and surviving alone for the better part of two years, but now he was not alone. He was with the Wanderer. He was afraid, but he did not know why. He couldn’t know that he was now in the care of one of the most dangerous men left in the land. He couldn’t know it, but he felt it. It both frightened and thrilled him. He stopped just behind the Wanderer and waited silently.

“It’ll be getting dark in a couple of hours. We need to put a little distance between us and this place before then.” The man spoke without turning to look at Evan. He stood ready to travel, having donned what appeared to be an old, dusty Stetson to go along with the old duster he wore. He looked every bit the cowboy. An ancient gunslinger. All he needed was a hand rolled cigarillo and the picture would have been complete. “I’m sure you know there are worse things roaming the land than these bandits. The smell of blood will bring some of them here.” He turned slightly and Evan caught a hint of the steely grey eyes boring into him. He almost looked away but was too intrigued by the man to do so, even though his natural inclination was to avert his eyes. The Wanderer smiled wryly and looked forward again. “You’re a brave boy. I didn’t believe you would be until I saw it myself….” He trailed off as though he might have more to say but shook his head slightly and sighed softly through his nose.

Evan’s breath caught in his throat and his heart skipped a beat. He wanted to say something, anything. But his mouth wouldn’t cooperate. His brain wasn’t helping much either. He couldn’t think of anything seemingly appropriate to say. “I think I killed one of them, mister.” He heard the words come out without really knowing he had spoken them. He immediately wished he could take them back. Of course he had killed one of them. He was exhibiting his uncanny ability to state the obvious. Of course he hadn’t had anyone to talk to for a while, so his conversation skills were a bit lacking. The stranger seemed to take little notice of his small companion’s anxiety. Instead he motioned to the wagon.

“There’s a can of oil in that bag. Put a good amount inside the wheel joints. We don’t need the cart bringing any unnecessary attention to us before we get there.”

Evan did as he was told, thinking, Where is there?

The Wanderer seemed to hear Evan’s thought, and looking directly at him stated flatly, “We’ve a long way to travel, boy, and I don’t mean to walk the entire distance. You’ll have to keep up for the next few days until we get there, and you better hope my transport is still there waiting for us. If not…well, let’s just say you and I will get to know each other much better once the winter storms arrive.” He glared at Evan while he spoke and for a few more seconds once finished. Then he gave Evan that wry smile, somewhat sly and utterly chilling at the same time. He apparently hadn’t had very many dealings with children. Evan was almost certain he didn’t have any of his own.

Evan finished his task and repacked the oil canister in the bag, making sure all the gear was still secure on the wagon. He stood up and looked out the front of the store toward the rolling cascades on the other side of the useless interstate. Rusted carcasses that had once been automobiles littered the weed-covered roadways and even more were on the interstate several hundred yards beyond. The two travelers exited the store and began to make their way across what had been a parking lot. Evan noticed a figure seated on the pavement at the front of what used to be a four-door sedan. The occupants of the vehicle had long since turned to dust. As they got closer he realized the figure to be the marauder the others had called boss. Twenty yards before reaching the man he noticed the first large spattering of blood on the dusty ground. He then saw drying droplets and finally larger drops culminating in large smears of blood leading to the seated man with a small pool growing in his lap. The Wanderer’s round had pierced the upper right back and exited out the chest. The exit wound was a lot larger than the entrance wound. More blood was coming out the front, although there was a considerable amount vacating his body from the rear as well.

The Wanderer stopped Evan a few paces from the downed man. He then moved forward alone. The marauder’s lips were pale and he was struggling to breathe as his right lung continued to fill with blood. He coughed up blood and mucus. He dazedly gazed up at the Wanderer and the coughing momentarily increased. He seemed to be trying to speak. Evan couldn’t make out what he was saying, but he thought he heard one word: dead. No kidding, buddy. Yes, he was damn near dead. Evan watched as the Wanderer stooped down and removed the handgun from the dying man’s waistband. He looked at it briefly before storing it in the small of his back. He then removed some loaded magazines from the rogue and the Bowie knife with which he had held Evan hostage. The Wanderer turned the knife this way and that. He pointed it to the dying man and said plainly enough, “We are going our way now, friend. You’ll likely be paid a visit by some furry-” he looked briefly in the sky, “-or winged critters pretty soon. I’m sure you would have liked the ability to defend yourself with your pistol, but I don’t think I’ll allow it. I will, however, leave you with the knife.” He then leaned forward, tossed the knife deftly in his hand, and brought it down in a quick stabbing motion deep into the man’s left shoulder.

“ARRRHHH!” The scream seemed to go on for an eternity. When it stopped Evan thought the man would lose consciousness, and he almost did. His entire face had gone pasty white. The Wanderer wouldn’t allow him to pass out. He squatted in front of the marauder and slapped him severely across one cheek, then the other. The critically injured man stared into the grey eyes of his executioner. His breath was ragged, labored, filled with more blood. “Arrrhhh.” He moaned weakly as he vomited blood and mucus onto himself.

The Wanderer stood and looked up into the sky again. “You better ready that knife soon. I think the first diners have arrived.” Evan looked up along with the slowly dying man. The birds he recalled from his childhood circled above. At least a dozen. He remembered them very clearly: the winged carrion feeders, unequaled at stripping the flesh from their meal. Opportunists extraordinaire. Evan looked back at the marauder, the murderer. He saw death and fear. The man had pissed himself. His bowels had loosed. He tried to reach up for the knife with one hand and then the other, each time screaming in agony. Even if he could get his hands upon it he probably lacked the strength to pull it free. There would be no way to fight off the birds. The buzzards. They would eat him alive if he did not die before they began their meal. Evan hoped he would still be alive when they started. He felt the beginnings of a smile growing on his own face before he caught himself. He looked away somewhat ashamed. He found himself looking into the eyes of the Wanderer. There was no smile there. No hint of emotion at all. Or maybe there was. He just couldn’t tell which.

The Wanderer motioned for him to come along, and Evan began to follow. They trekked beyond the parking lot, across unused roadways, over the interstate, and to the beginning of the rolling hills beyond. They traveled that distance before the first few buzzards began to land in the Wal-Mart parking lot. Several of them gathered at the front of the store, scenting the meat lying within. They hesitated, apparently not wanting to risk the confines of the store’s interior just yet. A few of the large birds ambled and jockeyed for position as they began approaching the dying man in the parking lot. His name had been Hinton. Theodore Hinton. In a previous time, a better time, that would have been the name he would have been known by. But in this age, he became Teddy. A boy who grew up in a town of rejects and was prone to violence early on. A young man who learned quickly that in order to get what you wanted in life you had to take it. And in order to keep what you took you needed to kill. And in order to kill and stay alive afterwards you needed a crew to back your move. Now, his crew was dead and he was nearly there. What a day this had turned out to be!

He started crying when the first few buzzards landed in the parking lot. They were closer to the entrance, over fifty yards distant. But he saw them beginning to move toward him. He tried to yell at them, but he could barely take a breath. He was drowning in his own blood. The only problem was that he had not drowned yet. He was still alive and about to be eaten by damn birds. Eaten alive! His mind was spinning at the thought. He tried again to reach for the knife, already knowing it was no use. Grey spots immediately appeared at the edges of his teary-eyed vision. His hand dropped painfully into his lap. He didn’t have any strength left. Nor did he have enough blood to sustain him for much longer. He glanced down at the incredible amount of blood on him and on the ground. How much blood did a person have inside anyway? He had no idea, but if he was a gambling man he would have bet all he had on the probability that he had bled most of his onto the thirsty, dusty, God-forsaken ground on which he sat. He looked up into the face of what was clearly the ugliest bird he had ever had the misfortune of meeting.

Well, fuckface, what the hell are you waitin—. His thought was cut short as the first buzzard plucked his right eye out of his head, quickly devouring it. He had only the briefest moment to register the incredible pain before a multitude of additional large, sharp beaks began to tear the flesh of his exposed face, neck, and arms. They dug into the gaping wound in his chest. He felt the rending of his flesh and tried to scream as his lips were torn from his face. His brain registered the texture of a feather on his tongue just before the tongue was itself pulled out of a newly renovated hole in his throat. They were doing all kinds of fun shit to him and he was alive for a good bit of it. Finally his heart gave out and his brain quit working. It was just as well. They made their way to his heart not long after. And the brain…well, they could save that for later. They still had some goodies below the waist to attend to

Copyright © Wayne A Delk 2014

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