“What are you, blind? You fucking GASR,” the screamer’s disorientingly swollen finger pointed aggressively at a sign reading:
The screamer’s beard was huge, scraggly like a briar patch, and bright red, but more orangish than the red ball cap hiding their equally red hair and reading: “GOD. GUNS. TEXIDA.”
The cap’s bill was tattered and the wording on the crown had loose gold threads. A Texida flag patch seemed to have been recently sewn onto the side of the hat:
Terror Mustang simply kept walking after pausing briefly at the screamer pointing at the sign.
Terror came from a long line of Fords who had been living for many decades now in a huge automotive graveyard. The Ford name became such a stigma that a few generations ago, someone changed their name to Mustang, but it wasn’t fooling anyone, Terror knew all too well.
Everybody hated GASRS, people who sat at the bottom of the current food chain in Texida and continued to drive cars with combustable engines.
Terror’s grandfather told them often about the good old days when gas cars were normal, when gas prices were high, and when fear of running out of gas was always at the edge of people’s thinking.
And when there was one United States instead of Texida—where Terror was born, enveloping the Southern most part of the defunct USA—and the Northern and Western most area, New Cali.
Now, however, gas was nearly free for the taking, and Terror lived among hundreds of abandoned automobiles. They had rows and rows of old school busses that had been converted over the years into dozens of libraries and storage units—and of course living quarters.
Gas stations were rare, but the gas was really cheap or sometimes unattended and free. But Terror also had dozens of gas tanks around the automotive graveyard for their using.
Terror used to sit listening to stories of many ages ago when there were gas wars—prices for gas dropped at competing stations—and gas shortages that caused high prices and panicked lines for just a few gallons of gas. But the hardest part of the stories to believe were that people used to fear running out of gas, something that never happened and then gas became almost worthless.
In the school buses, books that had been banned and not burned, and thousands of automobile manuals that almost no one cared about were carefully stored from the elements and meticulously catalogued by several generations of Fords/Mustangs, and now watched over and used by Terror—possibly the last of the Mustangs for all they knew.
Among their stash, Terror had 37 bicycles as well—one of which they had been riding past the store when the screamer launched into their tirade, a store that Terror was, in fact, not going to enter.
But nearly daily mechanical work on the cars and the bicycles left Terror’s hands etched with lines of grease, and they usually smelled of gasoline, although Terror had long ago stopped noticing it.
Fuck. Off. MAGAT, Terror thought, but had learned simply to stay silent, not make eye contact, and go about their business.
Terror was nearly self-sufficient and could make it most of the time staying at the automotive graveyard, home. But trips into Town were necessary for supplies, usually food, and not becoming something of a solitary monster, they thought, often, lying alone in bed at 3 AM unable to fall back asleep.
Town had once been University before they all shut down after Texida formed and the Florida Education Act established School for everyone from 6 years old until their seventeenth birthday. After that, all were required to do Service—military, police, work, or the few who were urged to become doctors who needed Training for a few more years—for life.
Everybody gets Basic Skills, goddamit, the Governor said, and then you can just learn by doing it!
The Town was converted red brick buildings that had been the University, mostly Apartments and some Stores now.
Terror was heading to the Store when the MAGAT yelled, the Store where Apricot worked.
Terror and Apricot had been in School together, but they had never talked until Terror entered the Store one day many years after School and thought they saw Apricot with a book.
Not exactly Illegal but unusual.
Terror without thinking spoke, “Hi, I am Terror. Used to be Ford but it is Mustang now.”
“I know,” Apricot said. “Everybody calls me ‘Apricot,’ but my name is Apathy. We’re all Stones.”
Apricot held the book with their arm limp at their side. Terror recognized the artwork: The Very Persistent Gappers of Frip. Terror had three or four copies scattered among the libraries they had organized in several buses, books for reading mixed in with hundreds of automotive manuals.
For a long time, Terror assumed Apricot’s family were MAGATs, although they kept their Store open for anyone with the required Sign on their window: “Fucking. GASRS. Allowed.”
Before seeing Apricot with the book, Terror had noticed the sign had an ivy vine drawn in thin black ink snaking around the angry three words. The ivy was identical to the tattoo Terror noticed one day peaking out of Apricot’s tank top, across their collar bone, and then also, out the bottom of one shorts leg down their thigh.
That was the first day Terror regretted lying alone in the automotive graveyard, even with the books, even with no MAGATs screaming near them.
There had been other reasons Terror felt lonely, even abandoned, of course.
DK had been a talker, sometimes seemingly nonstop. Equal parts fascinating and annoying.
DK had died several years ago, But Terror could never keep very good track of time. Seemed really recent and forever ago. The thing that made it seem like maybe it was just yesterday was DK talking about a book they had read.
They never could recall the title and occasionally offered an author name but that seemed to change and DK often said they had no idea about that either.
Bradley or Raymond.
“Shit. No idea,” DK said most of the time.
All Terror had was a slightly changing plot that DK would ramble through when high as a kite. DK always added, “I am high as a kite” when rambling more than a couple hours.
Terror learned to grow Wana from DK, converted a few buses with DK’s help to make grow areas.
And Terror spent idle time walking through the dozens of buses that they had converted into libraries (the old kind) scanning every book hoping to find the one DK retold over and over.
Libraries in Texida were where everyone checked out their guns, each one nestled in a hollowed out book. All citizens of Texida had to either own or check out regularly a gun as well as complete target training and retraining.
DK had taught Terror about a glitch in the system, a way to fabricate checking out guns and registering for training and retraining. In fact, DK had shown Terror several Internet hacks, but they really believed the whole thing was a scam. DK could find no evidence that anyone monitored the training and retraining; bypassing the system and fabricating sessions were incredibly easy as well.
It was good enough that everyone believed they were being watched, that everyone was dutiful and maintained a system that ironically only continued because people believed it had to.
“So there is this book, you see, that is really very eerie, if you ask me,” and DK would launch into their retelling. It happened dozens and dozens of times for many years until they died.
Terror found DK dead beside one of the Wana buses, probably high as a kite and certainly dead as a rock.
The funny thing, DK narrated, was not all that funny but just clever as hell kind of funny was that the book had a bunch of firemen that didn’t put out fires but burned books because all books were illegal.
Terror noticed DK almost always started that way, but that huge parts were different and nearly incoherent at times. Maybe depending on how high the kite was that day.
But the other part that never varied was when DK seemed the most moved, sort of emotional and both really calm and deeply upset.
There were these fuckers, you see, DK slowly explained leaning forward and rubbing their gray beard, that dedicated themselves to memorizing whole fucking books to preserve them for the future or whatever. Jesus fucking Christ, man, that is really something. Really gets me, you know. Whole. Fucking. Books.
DK would pat their chest right at their heart. Usually triggering a cough and DK taking a long draw on his Wana.
That’s some kind of devotion, you know, fucking real devotion, DK often seemed about to cry. Son of a bitch.
Terror wanted to cry when they thought about DK retelling the story. But more than anything Terror wanted to find the book.
Maybe memorize it. At least know it better than DK’s rambling.
After falling deeply asleep while high, Terror had a recurring dream about finding the book. Usually it burst into flames as Terror opened it.
Then Terror would jerk awake, maybe screaming.
Terror wanted to tell Apricot DK’s version, but also wanted to find the actual book and share that. And Terror wanted to tell Apricot she was now in that dream many nights.
Apricot would find the book, hold it up to ask Terror if they had found it, and then, Apricot would burst into flame.
When Terror jerked awake from those dreams, they were in fact screaming.
[More to come … maybe]