“King me.”  Michael demanded.  He slid the black checker to the back of the board, holding a clenched fist halfway in victory.

“This game’s stupid anyway.  I never understood why they went and banned Chess.”  Devon replied.

“Because Chess requires you to think.”  Michael quipped.

They sat watch atop the wooden stronghold just east of the salt formation.  The plains gave a simple view of the surrounding areas that allowed men that worked for the commissars time to see anyone riding, even at night.  Their deliberate movements playing the game was in reverence to the precariously built watchtower.  Their benches creaked while the high winds blowing across the plains shimmied and swayed the wooden tower.

“Do you hear something?”  Devon asked.

“Yeah I do, actually.”  Michael replied.  He grabbed his Mosin-Nagant and looked around at the plains below.  When he was satisfied that it was nothing more than the perpetual wind, he sat back down and made his next move.  “Just the wind I guess.”

“So here’s what happens.  I move here, you jump this guy.  My next move is forward here, you jump with this king back here.  Let’s just stop and say that I owe you a cigarette.”  Devon complained. He wasn’t particularly good at checkers.

“I’ll take that cigarette now.”  Michael answer.

Devon pulled out a rectangular package made of thick paper.  On one side it was succinctly marked, ” cigarette.”  On the other was a simple worded statement: “use of this product is not prohibited nor is it encouraged.”  A faint buzzing sound grew louder and louder as Michael struck a wooden match against the wood floor.

“Do you ever wonder?  Wonder about what on have other side of that salt formation?”  Devon asked.

“What do you mean?”  Michael asked.  “Do you think there’s something’s there that shouldn’t be?”

The buzzing grew louder.

“Well not so much that we shouldn’t know what’s on the other side.  Okay…yeah, why would they never tell us what’s on here other side?”   Devon continued.

The buzzing sound was not as faint.

“I don’t know.  I’m not too worried about it.  Do you hear that?” Michael replied.  Almost like cicadas?”

“Wrong year for those I think.”  Devon answered after thinking about it for a few minutes.  ” I do hear it.  It sounds more like engines.”

“Engines?  What kind of engines?”

Both men looked up at the typical starry skies.  Michael shrugged and then turned back to look at the moon high in the night sky.

“There it is!”  Michael shouted.

“There what is?”  Devon asked with indifference. He looked up from the checkerboard and jumped in his surprise when saw the Zeppelin’s shadow move slowly across the moon.  His quick movements swayed the tower and both men stood gingerly, trying to gain their balance on the swaying tower.  Michael chambered a round in his Mosin-Nagant.

“They might be coming towards us.”  He said.  The Zeppelin turned south towards the stronghold.  Devon chambered a round in his rifle once it appeared in range.

“I’m calling it in.”  Devon said.  He picked up the rotary phone in the corner of the tower.  “Yeah, command?  You won’t believe this, we have a Zeppelin headed our way.  How do we shoot this thing down?”  Devon asked.  The other side of the line went on in gibberish that Michael couldn’t make out.  “Just a big balloon? Right, right.”  He hung up the phone.  “Let’s go to work.”


Devon cycled the bolt with some difficulty.  Only used to carrying the rifle, not shooting it.


Michael did the same.  A small searchlight from the platform under the Zeppelin began to move around.  It stopped to focus on the two men, bathing them in a dim, yellow light.  The yellow searchlight began to focus down towards the base of the tower.  The base erupted in flames as the Zeppelin careened over the tower.

“Ah!  This burns!  What is this?”  Michael shouted trying to swipe off the black, boiling liquid.

Devon looked up to see two men tipping over another bucket full of the black liquid with another lighting what appeared to be a small fuse.  The liquid fell around the tower splashing across the wooden planks, the intense heat radiated through the soles of his boots.  Not knowing what else to do, he chambered another round.



The shots echoed from under the Zeppelin.  The buzzing engines drowned out Michael’s screams, confirming that is what they were hearing the whole time.  The tower shook from beneath Devon’s feet.  The fire below cracking and breaking the beams below.  He watched as a man in a leather bomber jacket and a cowboy slide down two ropes behind the flaming wooden stronghold.

“Command!  We have intruders!”  Devon shouted over the rotary phone.  He tossed it down when he realized there was nobody on the other end listening and watched the two men slowly walk towards the salt formation as the tower’s base gave way to his fall into the inferno below.


“Ain’t nothin more than a bunch of flower wearin bastards round here.  All some kinda freak show we have no business being round if ya ask me.”  Wild Bill said quietly.

“Somehow, I don’t think you’ll fit in anywhere we go.”  Walter replied.  “Just try not to shoot anyone.”

“I make no promises.”

The bazaar was well hidden in the thick woods.  People of all types walked around the tables trading their goods.  Some wore animal skins to ward off the cold.  Others didn’t wear any shoes on purpose it seemed.  Whimsical performers danced and sang but few of the traders seemed to pay them any attention.

“It said we’d find him here and that we would know him when we saw him.”  Walter said.  “Only it didn’t say what he looked like.”

“One things for damn sure… That ain’t our guy.”  Wild bill replied.

The man stood casually waiting in line at the merchant’s table.  He wore chinos, a Hawaiian shirt with a tasseled leather vest.  He was barefoot like many others.  He had long mangy hair. Topping everything off with round glasses and a brightly colored feather boa around his neck.

“He fits in right?”

“I ain’t gonna work with some damned buffoon.”  Wild Bill said in disgust.  “Ah hell, I need a drink. You find the freak.”  He began to walk off.

“Hey hang on a minute.”  Walter called.  Wild Bill stopped and turned impatiently.  He tapped a S&W Model 2 resting comfortably in its holster along his right hip.  Walter explained.  “This could be him, these people are selling fuel.”

The ridiculously dressed man sat arguing with merchant.  He appeared to be an animated speaker, with many gestures to exclamate his assertions about their deal.

“I really can’t sell you my bio fuel if you won’t support the endangered TX longhorn.  They are native to the lands west of here and are quickly dying out. It’s part of our arrangement, and if you won’t abide by our arrangement they won’t let you back here anymore.”  The female merchant explained.

“I am abiding by our agreement; you threw the cow thing in at the end.  I’m not trading you more just so you can donate to save a bunch of cows.”  The boa wearing man explained.

Wild Bill placed a palm across his forehead, closed his eyes and breathed a heavy sigh.  “Not just freaks, a bunch of idiots to boot.”  He muttered under his breath. Walter snorted in agreement.

“Animals need help in this terrible world too, man.  Can’t you please help?”

“Screw it, I’m just going to take my spice somewhere else.”  The man threw up his hands.  “I need two barrels of fuel!  Who’s got it?”  He placed his hands back at his hips when another man walked out from the tent behind the merchant’s table.

“Something wrong?”  He asked.

“Who are you?”  The feather wearing man asked.

“Husband, brother, something like that.  Call me Julius.”  He replied.

“Well, I was just pointing out the terms of our agreement,” he motioned between himself and the merchant.  “are now void because she wants me donate to the TX longhorn.  You see I care not for the cows.  In fact once I’m done here I’m gonna stop by that trader down there and pick up some of that jerky for the trip.”  The boa wearing man answered.

“Don’t do that, meat is murder.”  The merchant pleaded.

“Delicious murder.”  Wild Bill muttered.

“You agreed what you agreed to, otherwise you have no place in these woods.”  Julius gave the tasseled man a shove and knocked over his round glasses.  Going for a knockout, his fist was parried and then pinned to the merchant’s table.  He was further surprised by the knife that came from under the feather boa and expertly placed between the bones in his arm.

“That’s our guy.”  Walter muttered.  Wild Bill grunted in agreement and continued to watch.

“You’re absolutely right, Julius.  I will trade this…lady…two bags of spice for two barrels of fuel.”  The man said, holding the six inch dagger firmly into the table.  A small pool of blood began to flow from beneath Julius’ pinned arm.

“You said three bags of spice.”  The merchant hesitantly replied.

“Did I say that? I did say that, but that was before your husband or brother or something like that attacked me.   I am however, a man of my word and thus you will receive three bags of spice for the delivery of fuel.”  The man with the mangy hair offered.  With his free hand he removed three bags filled with dried green leaves from a satchel and placed them on their table.

“You can pick them up at our booth at the end of the row.”  Julius said.

“Nope.”  The man twisted the knife, oozing more blood on the table.  “You will deliver it to the creek north of here.”  Both Julius and the merchant nodded in agreement.  “Good.”  The man pulled the knife out.

Walter and Wild Bill followed the man as he walked off.

“Pardon me, Friend.”  Wild Bill placed a hand on the man’s shoulder.  “Hows about we get a drink.”

“I’m not your friend; and I’d rather not today, cowboy.”  The oddly dressed man replied.

“I wadnt askin.” Wild Bill replied, fingering the S&W Model 2 resting comfortably at his hip.

”I see.  Call me Rufus.”


“Here’s what’s eatin at me. How is it that you traded switchgrass for fuel?”  Wild Bill asked the man.

“Good catch.  You know, if some people will fall for anything, why keep them from doing it?”  Rufus explained.  “What business do you have with me?”

The booth had two tables neatly placed in rows.  A server had set down three glasses and filled them from a mason jar.  People passed by on their way to the other booths in the woods.

“Just leave the jar.”  Walter instructed.  “This guy is hardly a temperate fellow.”  He looked at Rufus.  “We hear you’re the type of man that can get us places fairly quickly.”

“Who told you that?”  Rufus asked.

“You ain’t gonna believe us if we told ya.”  Wild Bill replied while he poured himself more of the clear liquid from the mason jar.

“I get that a lot.  Where do you need to go?”  Rufus asked.

“Kansas.”  Walter answered. “To the stronghold at the salt formation.”

“That’s a bit further west than I normally go.”  Rufus replied.  “Besides, I’m not exactly the fighting type.”

“After what I just saw, I suddenly think a bit less of you.” Walter replied.

“I traded switchgrass to people that I said was spice, for fuel.  Honestly, how much lower can I go on your scale?”  Rufus asked.

“Good point.”  Wild Bill muttered.

“Indeed.”  Rufus took a sip of the moonshine.  “Besides, for something like that I would have to charge you a tad extra since I will likely be shot at.”

“It couldn’t be the first time.”  Walter said.  “What do you have to shoot back.”

“That’s not something I am willing to get too far into.”  Rufus answered.  “Honestly, I don’t even have a gun on me.”

“Bullshit.”  Wild Bill stood in a blink of an eye and had both S&W Model 2 revolvers aimed at Rufus before he got his own broom handle Mauser halfway out, it was hidden beneath his tasseled vest.

“You’re fast, cowboy.”  Rufus conceded, wide eyed. Wild Bill holstered one revolver and half cocked the other, setting it down on the table.  Business end towards Rufus.

“What in the hell is that?”  Wild Bill asked.  “Some other self-loadin bitch pistol?”

“Alright, let’s keep this polite.  At this point. I am wondering how we can trust you.”  Walter said.

“My question is, are you dumb enough to think that cows are in danger of going extinct?  Because your whiskey fueled friend here has called my bluff twice.”  Rufus answered.  “So what do you have in trade?”

“I guess the question is how much do you want?  Wild Bill here can acquire almost any number you have in mind…”  Walter began.

“You’re probably taking about money.  There’s no use for such things as nobody in these woods has any money.  Trade is the name of the game here.”  Rufus interrupted.

“I found this on a rainy night from a man who couldn’t quite fight off his demons.”  Wild Bill reached under his coat and set a flintlock pistol on the table.  Followed by a powder horn, and a ball mold.  Rufus picked up the pistol and inspected it for a moment.

“Just enough of that…you know.  I’ll do it.  You should probably pick up some Greek Fire from Euripides on the corner before you meet me at the creek north of here.  You guys aren’t afraid of heights right?.”  Rufus asked.

“Of course not. What are you flying?”  Walter asked.

“Greek fire?”  Wild Bill was puzzled.

“A Zeppelin.”  He turned to Wild Bill.  “I’ve dropped it on hippies a few months back. Works great but terrible stuff, really.”  Rufus answered casually.


The Junction

The 8th of January

Aces and Eights

An Innocent Object

What They Call It