Hondo squatted without shame in the snow, pushing steaming clots of waste into a little heap. Ellis, disgusted, scanned the bushes for possible walkers. “Hurry up, you idjit,” he remarked.
The bushes rustled suddenly. “Oh, crap!” Hondo exclaimed. “Look at the size of this log! Ellis?”
But Ellis had levelled his 1897 at the bushes. Something was coming…slowly. He heard a barking smoker’s cough, and relaxed a little.
Walkers didn’t cough.
A bearded drink of water stepped from behind the scrub. He was wearing a jean jacket decorated with innumerable hand-drawn designs. An ancient camera hung around his neck.
“Uh – hi,” he remarked. “I’m Johnny. I guess I shouldn’t have made that left turn at Albuquerque, huh? Ha ha.”
Hondo stared in confusion. “Shoot him, Ellis!”
“I bet you say that to ALL the wabbits,” Ellis sneered, squeezing the trigger.
Ellis’s heart pounded in his chest as he did his best to steady the rifle. The beat pulsed loudly in his ears too, only wetter, so he didn’t hear the handsome stranger’s polite introduction. If he had, maybe he wouldn’t have pulled the trigger.
Ellis took a breath and let the hammer fall when the bead floated atop the brass snap on the stranger’s left breast pocket.
Aim small, miss small, said some nameless voice from the past. Or maybe that was all Ellis?
The shot thundered loudly and somewhere in the dark, a small varmint could be heard rustling its way to cover.
Hondo stared through the lifting smoke, horrified. Remarkably, the stranger was still standing, patting frantically at his jean jacket, just like he’d seen in the movies. Ah, movies. Hondo missed them.
It was only then that Hondo heard Ellis’s muttered curses. He turned to find him on the ground, wincing in agony.
Ellis would likely blame him for this, he realized. It was Hondo who had last loaded up the brass. He enjoyed doing this chore at night, just as the fire was dying. Along with the light. Maybe that shell had a few grains too many? He reasoned that he could simply blame Ellis for straining their endlessly recycled ammunition by shooting at trees “for necessary practice.” But that wouldn’t be until later, as his eyes were still shut in a grimace, unburned powder peppered across his face.
“I’m Hondo,” he said to the stranger. “That there’s Ellis. We’ve been together a while now.”
“Hey, good for you,” said the stranger, smirking. “I’m not closed-minded, you know?”
Ellis managed to open one eye and shared a glance with Hondo that communicated an instant dislike for the stranger. But he was no walker, and they needed him.
…and the stranger needed them.
“Quiet, Hondo, you’ll wake him up!” Ellis seethed. Doodles snored beside the fire, but Hondo had a habit of making unexpected noises.
“No I won’t, shut up,” Hondo groused. He eased closer to his victim. Ellis and Hondo had discussed this plan at length and determined that tonight would be the night. After supper, in the quiet hours while the fire died down.
Hondo edged closer to Doodles, staring at his face in frank expectation. Ellis was crouched on the other side of Doodle’s head. “Ready Hondo?” Hondo nodded grimly.
Ellis reached back and slapped Doodles in the face as hard as he could. Doodles’ eyes popped open. “Wha–!” In the same instant, Hondo farted luxuriantly into Doodles’ face.
“BA HA HA HA HA!” Hondo roared, while Ellis crawled around on his knees in hysteria. “That was so awesome!”
Doodles groaned in disgust, pulling his purple sleeping bag over his face. “I hate you guys!” he yelled.
Hondo and Ellis heard nothing.
“Sheeezus, is it ready yet?!” Hondo barked from down creek.
It was dusk, and a little over two days since Doodles had been so rudely awakened.
“Almost ready, Hondo!” Doodles replied, stirring the pot’s contents.
Since joining up with the other two, Doodles had taken over all the cooking duties. He learned quickly that Hondo would make any excuse to avoid doing the necessary camp duties, and while Ellis was willing to help, Doodles considered his cooking to be sub-standard. That morning, before their compatriot had risen, Ellis tried to convince Doodles that by throwing one of Hondo’s boots in a pot—along with some wrinkled potatoes they had been saving—and simply leaving it to cook the entire day, by evening the shoe leather would be “nice and tender.”
Doodles forced his will though, and managed to snare two plump rabbits, which he paired with a salad of dandelion and other edible plants from nearby.
Just then, Hondo clomped his way up the slope of the bank to the to the other men, scratching away at his neck. The mosquitos were plentiful in the thickest of brush where he had tucked himself away, not wanting to be seen scrubbing his one pair of soiled underwear.
“Here you go,” Doodles said, handing Hondo his bowl. “I made this special for you.”
Hondo took a sniff.
“Hmmph. Actually smells pretty good.”
Ellis and Doodles shared a knowing look. Earlier they had collected several of Hondo’s piles and added it to his broth.
“Mmmm!! Tastes pretty good, too!” Hondo exclaimed between heaping spoonfuls.
(Gross. That crosses the line.)
Ellis stared heroically at the sunset. The women were sleeping in the wagon again, as usual, taking for granted the safety he provided.
The new guy, Doodles, had turned in early as well – after effeminately arranging a layer of tarps, sheets, and blankets on his little patch of earth. “No reason not to be hygienic,” he sniffed, before slipping back into his Grimace-coloured sleeping bag.
Hondo typically flopped to the bare earth like a grateful mongrel, huddled beneath a wool blanket he’d discovered wrapped around a dying woman. “Yoink!” he’d yelled, tugging the warm wraps from the cawing figure. “Relax, lady – I’ll put this to good use.”
At this moment, Hondo was down at the creek, undoubtedly taking a dump in it. “It’s so organic,” he’d bragged earlier.
It was then that Ellis heard something rustling in the bushes. A thump…then a squeal. Before him staggered a walker.
Ellis stood bug-eyed momentarily, his muscles seizing in panic. Suddenly, natural instinct took over and he pointed at the lurching danger and sounded his alarm, which alerted the others: a womanly, banshee-like scream.
After scrambling awkwardly for his 1897 and fumbling it a few times, he cursed himself for having loaded only three rounds. The reserves were in the wagon, but the walker barred their path. Doodles and Hondo suddenly appeared and all three ran for the nearby high ground without speaking a word.
Moments later, the three men laid prone atop the crest of a steep embankment, overlooking the walker forty yards in the distance. They were confident it would be unable to follow them, but its proximity to the wagon and the women worried them.
“–Oh, God!” muttered Ellis. “He might chew on the ammo and ruin it!”
He levered a shell into the tube and took careful aim.
The shot ricocheted into the distance as a puff of dust appeared beneath the wagon ten yards away from the walker.
“Dammit!” said Ellis, racking another.
One of the shots had managed to strike the walker in the foot, and it now groaned even more pathetically, hobbling in a circle now.
“Christ, Ellis!” said Doodles. “You always hit the stumps no problem! Giver here!”
Doodles grabbed the rifle in annoyance while reaching for his boot.
“I was saving this for myself,” he said, “but, desperate times, right?”
He thumbed the polished round into the loading gate, and sighted in the walker.
All three men watched in amazement as its head then detonated below in a pink mist, its body collapsing awkwardly in a heap.
“Rwooww! Good SHRWOT!” muttered Hondo.
It was only then that Ellis and Doodles realized that Hondo had carried up his unfinished stew from the night before, and was digging at it with his carved cedar spoon.
“—you’ve really got to give me the recipe!” he said, smiling through eager slurps.
“Nice work,” Ellis complimented Doodles, holding out his hand for his piece. “Though – the 1897 you were working there is a pump shotgun I’d loaded with buckshot. With no choke on that sawed-off barrel – well, I’d guess even Hondo couldn’t miss a crippled walker at 10 feet with it. I’m sure that’s why you waited until the last second to plug it.”
Doodles glowed under the backhanded praise.
“What did you say about my feet?” Hondo asked, stew dripping from his chops. “Say, what’s all his brown stuff in the bottom? It’s good, like a mushy dumpling or something?”
Doodles kicked Hondo companionably. “Chow down, Wide Load.”
Hondo brightened immediately. “Lard-ass! Lard-ass!” he chanted, waving his spoon stupidly. Hondo was just happy to be there, really.
James, our lunch break narrator, suddenly realized he had made a foolish mistake and leaned back from the computer monitor in his office building’s (inexplicably) wooden attic, which was lit now mostly with candles. Why did they have to name all those old firearms after specific years? It was a little confusing. Of course he knew Ellis was referring to the 1897 “Trench Gun,” used to great effect in the first of the World Wars; but in his haste to complete his response on his short break, he had confused the shotgun for a rifle. But which? An 1894? An 1892? God, there were so many. Outside, he could hear the rain pattering on the roof, which relaxed him somehow. There was a way out of this. He simply had to will it into being. He took a deep breath, pulled the blanket over his head for warmth, rolled his chair forward, then began again. This time, in earnest…
“Of course it’s a pump shotgun!” he snarled, snatching the weapon back from Ellis. “Knowing that our ammo supplies are limited, last night I got to tinkering, and if you look closely, I modified the loading gate here to accept not only 12 gauge shells, but our more plentiful supply of .45-70 Government. That’s why the walker is now headless.”
Doodles tapped at his efficient creation and raised his eyebrows, expecting an apology. Ellis simply gulped.
“Yurrp! Sawrem do it!” choked Hondo. He was now licking the bowl, and a sudden wave of guilt overwhelmed Doodles.
“Hondo, listen man,” he began in all seriousness. “You have got to stop eating that, okay? I’m getting worried.”
Hondo stopped licking a moment and stared, confused.
“You’ve got to understand – I served you your own shit last night. You farted in my FACE! Don’t you think I have enough on my mind out here? Do you suppose I enjoyed waking up to that smell? That taste!? Just…stop eating, okay?”
Hondo spat at this, and wouldn’t stop for a while.
Just then one of the women approached. Ellis wondered if she was there to give them something or merely ask for a favor, as per usual.
“Wait a second!” Elliott yelled, sitting up in bed. “Grampa, your 1897 doesn’t even HAVE a loading gate! What would Doodles be ‘modifying’ beside the campfire? And why would .45-70 loads be more plentiful than the most common shotgun round in the WORLD? And how stupid can Hondo be if he’s eating his own poop? You just told me he liked taking a dump in the river, so where would Doodles even FIND it, and plus he’d have to TOUCH it, and…”
Elliott’s Grampa Ron grinned smugly. “You’re right, Elliott. Anybody, even a child knows all that! But this is a bedtime story and I want to get back to my beer, so lie down and shut up.”
The woman looked the men over clinically. “Just so you know, I got my monthly,” she hissed rancidly. “So no fun and games for you guys later.”
Ellis, Doodles, and Hondo exchanged looks, and Hondo had a rare moment of inspiration.
“No problem, Darla. Here – have some nice stew and go rest in the wagon.”
Darla strolled back to the wagon, chewing over a mouthful of stew, wondering what those idiots were laughing at over her shoulder.
…to be continued!