I miss the old days of writing a serial. That’s what started my writing career, and I’d like to get back to that. To that end, I offer up “Hell on Rails.” An all new zombie-ish series. It’s a whole new universe, all new rules.
Nyko limped across the barren landscape, the remains of a junkyard in Fort Mojave, Arizona. To his left, a lone corpse stood up from behind a rusted out Buick Skylark and stumbled towards him. It had been a girl in its previous existence, but now it was just a corpse. Her clothes were torn to shreds; the junkyard was full of sharp pieces of metal. Her once white, spaghetti strap tank top was torn half off, one strap trying in vain to hold the tattered garment over her breasts.
Normally Nyko would take a second to admire a mostly topless woman, but the pustules on her body leaking greenish goo that covered all of the walking dead reduced her to an object of revulsion, however pretty she must have been in her previous life. Without missing a step, Nyko drew a wicked looking sawed off shotgun out of a thigh holster, held it out at arms-length and fired. Nine ball-bearing sized pellets erupted from the gun at supersonic speed, completely eliminating the corpse’s face and sending a spray of greenish zombified brain fluid across the hood of the Buick.
“I’m sure that’ll buff out,” Nyko said, holstering his weapon before calling to his friend. “Jonas, What ya got?” Nyko wiped the sweat from his brow with his sleeve and continued towards his friend.
“It’s a Chevy. Says Union Pacific Rail” on the side,” came the reply from behind a stack of crushed cars.
“How bad is it,” he called, making his way towards his friend.
“Body’s good. One tire is flat, the others look okay. Windshield’s in good shape and the doors open and close,” Jonas called as Nyko rounded the stack.
Jonas reached up on his tip-toes to grab the door handle, slammed the door on the pickup, and looked at Nyko. “Now we just have to figure out if she runs,” he said, drawing his gun and pointing it at Nyko. In one quick motion, Jonas fired, killing the zombie a few steps behind his friend and holstered his gun.
“Thanks, I just have one more shot in the over under,” Nyko said patting his thigh. “Pop the hood.”
Jonas was just over three feet tall, and constantly grease covered. Before the outbreak he’d worn glasses, but they’d long-since broken. He’d worked the lenses into a pair of copper-clad goggles, which now sat on top of his head, lost in a mass of tightly curled black hair. He wore the same gray coveralls every day, something he’d recovered from the local juvenile detention center, with a leather tool belt cinched at the waist. His boots were mismatched, the left was a cowboy boot with a two inch heel on the back, and the right was a red converse high top. Jonas’ left leg was shorter than his right, and without someone to make him special shoes; he’d figured it out on his own.
On several occasions, he’d shot a man for calling him a little person.
Jonas reached up to open the door and climbed inside the truck in order to reach the hood latch just as Nyko got to the front of the vehicle. He flipped the hood safety with his finger and raised the hood. “Looks fine. Everything’s here, no corrosion on the battery. Fuel’s gonna be shot though. Get the air filter open, I’ll bring my truck around to jump-start it.”
Jonas climbed up into the engine bay and began disconnecting the air filter to give Nyko access to the fuel injectors. When he was finished, he scoured the inside the truck, finally locating the keys in the ash-tray. Junk yards usually left the keys in the vehicle somewhere if they ran. He took that as a good sign. He sat in the driver’s seat, moved it all the way forward, and strained to reach the gas pedal. If he held his leg out straight, he could just barely reach it.
He was back under the hood, checking the oil and dripping with sweat under the noon-time sun when Nyko’s tan Chevy Avalanche rolled up. The whole crew had been searching for weeks for a Chevy truck with a rail suspension. All Chevrolet pickups from 2006 on were designed as “flex fuel” vehicles. That was the lynch-pin to the whole operation.
Nyko ran the Hell on Wheels Saloon, the only fully functioning casino, bar, and brothel left in New Vegas. He made all his own beer and liquor in the back, and had a special still for making ethanol. No one had any idea where he got the sugar, it was one of his most closely guarded secrets, but every week Nyko had a fresh five hundred gallons of fuel-grade liquor. Everyone knew that’s why the Governor of New Vegas left Hell on Wheels alone, Nyko gave him fuel.
This project was the future though, and this truck was the key to it. “Still look good?” Nyko asked. Jonas was his chief mechanic. He could fix anything.
“Yeah, I think it will. Oil doesn’t look too bad, no gas smell in it. Corporate trucks usually had good maintenance. That’ll work out in our favor, it’s getting harder and harder to come by motor oil, and this monster,” Jonas said, patting the eight cylinder engine’s head cover, “Needs six quarts.”
Nyko handed Jonas a small can that said “Pampered Chef” on the side. Jonas pumped the lid, creating air pressure inside, while Nyko connected jumper cables from his own battery.
“Three years of sitting here. Hope it’s not seized. Let me know when you’re ready.”
Jonas held the can down into the air filter bay and pressed the button, spraying aerosol fuel into the air intake. “Hit it!”
Nyko turned the key. The engine rolled over twice before roaring to life. “Ha! We got it!” he shouted over the engine noise.
“She’s missing on cylinder six,” said Jonas. “I’ll need to tear it down, probably needs a ring job.”
“Will it make it to the shop?”
“Yeah, I think so. Don’t get too far behind me though.” Jonas disconnected the jumper cables and tossed them to the ground while the truck idled. Nyko busied himself adding a second can of fuel to the truck. Ten gallons, even with reduced mileage for ethanol should be enough to get the truck back to the shop. “Oh shit!” exclaimed Jonas. “The fucking AC works!” Air conditioning was a thing of the past. There just wasn’t enough power to run it. Inside the casinos at night it was over a hundred degrees. Many inhabitants purposely smashed the windows of their rooms out, just to try and get some air movement.
The heat was one of the reasons Nyko lived above Hell on Wheels. He had real windows that opened. He ran his generators for three hours every night, half the patrons only came there to sit in the cool air. Anyone could sit in the saloon, as long as they could pay the door fee.
The front of the saloon was a store. People brought whatever they could find or whatever they could spare and traded them for currency that could be spent in the bar, at his gambling tables, on his girls, or for other things in the store. Nyko printed his own money and set his own prices. A jar of pickles was worth ten bucks, which would get you in the door with a cool beer. Five gallons of diesel would get someone a night with one of the girls, and ten gallons would earn the trader a cool shower afterward.
Nyko was the richest man in New Vegas, and for good reason. It was called Sin City before the apocalypse, and people hadn’t changed.
Once they were both satisfied the truck would make it back to New Vegas, Nyko followed Jonas back. Jonas was a terrible driver, in part because he couldn’t see over the steering wheel, and in part because he hadn’t ever been taught.
The drive back to New Vegas was harrowing in a couple of places, but Jonas managed to keep the truck off the guard rails and out of the ditch all the way back. Just before the steel gates of New Vegas, Jonas turned off and headed out across East Flamingo, now mostly covered in sand. The desert was reclaiming what remained of the city. A short way down the sandy street and the two men were at the shop.
The wall around New Vegas was impressive. Built in the first year after the apocalypse, it started off as the demolished remains of several of the big casinos. Anyone approaching the city could see the sign for the MGM Grand, upside down against a huge pile of scrap off to the side of the road. The scrap pile was the first line of defense. When the outbreak first happened, the day the White House declared martial law across the United States, the day of the last television broadcasts, Las Vegas acted extraordinarily quickly. They conscripted every man, woman, and child over age eight to work on the wall. The city demolished four casinos along the strip and the citizens dragged the scrap to form a circle around the city.
The day the scrap wall was finished was a day of celebration; people caroused in the streets, drinking and laughing, confident in their safety from the pus covered hordes trying to pick their way through the scrap heap. The very next day, work resumed, only now the residents of New Vegas were building a permanent wall. Anyone who came into contact with the infected ran a significant risk of infection themselves. If any of the pus that filled the blisters on the walking corpses got in their mouth, eyes, nose or an open wound would almost guaranteed infection, and a bite was a sure thing. Whatever the infection was, it most preferred the mouth of the host, that’s where it replicated the fastest.
Forty feet tall, made of steel reinforced concrete poured eighteen inches thick, the safety wall went all the way around the strip. City engineers designed a steel gate system at either end of Las Vegas Boulevard, the first just north of the iconic ‘Welcome to Las Vegas’ sign, the second just south of East Flamingo.
If a person didn’t work, they didn’t eat. Every living soul was given a room in one of the remaining casinos. Every night and every morning, people were checked for signs of infection. Anyone who turned in an infected person got a week’s vacation in a Bellagio penthouse for their whole family or themselves and three friends.
Hell on Wheels was a mile outside of the wall, down Flamingo in an old warehouse, chosen specifically because of the railroad tracks that ran directly behind it. In the old days, goods for the casinos came in on the train. The train was unloaded into this warehouse, where it was then re-loaded onto trucks to be delivered to the hotels. After the end of the world, Nyko owned all of it, including the train he’d found still on the tracks in the back. Thirty-five pallets of liquor, among other hotel foods came with the location.
Nyko and his crew worked on the train all day, until the saloon opened at six. Just before the doors opened, his whole crew changed clothes and worked the saloon. The warehouse was a gigantic half-million square foot “L” shaped facility. The railroad ran along the long side. They’d built a wall separating the short side from the warehouse, and finished the first half of the short side into living quarters for his crew, and the girls who worked in the saloon, twenty six people in all. The rest of the short side was the saloon.
He hated being cooped up, the idea of living inside the walls was ludicrous to him; Nyko was a man of the open road. The governor of New Vegas, Jim Ratton hated that Nyko was outside, but couldn’t do anything about it. One day, Nyko would be the first man to run the rails. He’d be free to cross the wasteland as he chose. Hell, maybe one day he’d find a nice little train station in the middle of nowhere and take up residence. But for now, he had too many people depending on him.
Jonas pulled the truck up over the curb and around behind the warehouse. Nyko hit the button on a remote inside his truck and watched the garage door roll up. He’d have to remember to charge the warehouse batteries tonight. The patrons would complain about warm beer, but fuck them; he had a train to build.
The warehouse was buzzing with activity. Brian and Andy were in the corner welding on a dune buggy they’d been building out of scrap car parts.
Derrick and Terrell were sitting at a table on the side, over by the door to the saloon. The parts of four different guns were laid out in front of them in orderly rows. The two men were scrubbing parts with tooth brushes.
At the back, near the rear door, the final two men were operating reloading equipment, pressing bullets into used shell casings.
Brian looked up from his welding. “You hear that?”
Nyko looked over at him. “Hear what?”
“I’d swear I heard someone…” Brian was cut off.
Everyone heard it this time. Outside, still a few hundred feet away. Someone yelled, “Buzzing a likes he for making a last day! Poop!”
“Stations!” Nyko yelled. The men in the warehouse all scattered. Andy climbed a long ladder to the roof. Jonas bolted to a door on the far side of the warehouse.
Terrell tossed Nyko a long, black rifle and a radio with two feet on the front as the pair of them ran out the side door. Derrick hit the door between the two roll ups, clipping his own radio to his shirt pocket.
“A tablespooonful of pizza, femur to eat!” The marauder appeared. He was wearing an old torn speedo, that once upon a time had been red, one sock, and a tattered “Hard Rock Las Vegas” tee shirt. His skin was horribly sunburned, everywhere except where his matted hair hung down around his shoulders.
As if his gibbrish was a call to charge, three dozen more, all in similar shape ran out from behind the neighboring building, straight for Nyko.
The big man jumped up on top of a trash dumpster, and then to a platform he’d added to the outside of the building specifically for this purpose.
His radio chirped. “All clear front,” Derrick checked in.
“In position,” Jonas said, closing the roof hatch and walking towards the edge of the gravel warehouse roof, holding a bag full of radio control car controllers. His goggles were down over his eyes as he peered into the setting sun.
“Wait for them to hit the line,” Nyko said, unfolding the bipod on his rifle. He laid down behind the rifle and flicked the covers off the scope. “How long has it been since the last attack?”
“Fourteen days,” said Brian from the rear corner of the warehouse, right at the edge of the railroad tracks.
“You’d think they’d learn to duck.”
As Nyko spoke, the first marauder ran over the words written in chalk-dust on the ground, ignoring their warning. He collided at full-speed with a thin piano wire stretched between the telephone poles at either end of the dry, rock-strewn field between Nyko’s warehouse and the abandoned one next door.
As the marauder’s legs flew forward, the wire bit into his neck, opening a huge cut across his windpipe. Seconds later, thirty marauders hit the same wire, all suffering the same fate.
“Fourteen,” said Brian into the radio. It never occurred to him that that was the same number he’d said a couple minutes before.
“Sixty one,” said Jonas.
“Seventy-two,” guessed Derrick. Andy and Terrell both followed suit.
Nyko spoke into his radio. “Today’s number was seventy-seven. Jonas and Derrick, you two were closest. Cold beer on me. The rest of you, clean this mess up.”
He was halfway down from his platform when he heard gunfire from the front.
Derrick called, “They’re hitting the front! Trucks!” Then more gunfire. Nyko recognized the sound of Derrick’s favorite assault rifle firing quickly.
I hope you enjoy this story!
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