The red gate opened and the jeep rolled into the settlement of Queensmen. The Scalp Collectors drove over the Way Station where Georgie greeted them. “How was it?” Georgie asked, picking at some honey colored crust that was growing out of his left ear.
“A bust.” Kramer said sounding annoyed.
Since their massacre in Petersburg, the Scalp Collectors have been on a dry streak. The last three missions they took ended in no payment. The first was a three-day drive that lead to the jeep breaking down, it took them a week to walk to the destination. On arrival, they found the scalp had already been claimed. They paid what little money they had to be driven to their jeep and to have it fixed. The next mission was far closer and only an hour drive, that ended with the target killing himself before the scalp could be collected. They waited a month for the most recent contract to come in, and they found they were late again, as some other collectors have come and claimed their prized scalp. One of the residents in the town spat at them, and Kramer scalped him just on good principle and to let some frustration out.
“Well, look at it this way,” Georgie began, slipping his finger into his mouth to suck the scum he tore out of his ear. “You brought back all those extra scalps last time, that maybe the Gods in the world think you have had enough for a while. Maybe it is time you pick up some new work until contracts come around here?”
“Like what?” Jones asked, brushing the dirt and dust out of his long hair.
“Why, I just had a fellow wondering around here asking about you two! He’s looking for a driver and some extra protection to take two people to an Oasis for some trade he is doing. I gave him both of your names, and said you would be back in a day or two. You can’t miss the guy. Real ginger prick wearing an eye patch. I usually see him over by the Saloon on Cricket Lane. He seems to like that pretzel stand right by it. Looking at his size you would bet he loved him some pretzels. Damn, Head Hunters could have damn feast eating off his corpse. Nice fat and marbled just like my mum!”
Kramer and Jones looked at each other half amused. “We aint stagecoaches.” Jones said. Kramer nodded in agreement and added. “Why doesn’t he hire one?”
“He didn’t say. The day is still young, go find the ginger freak. I heard they don’t have any more dough down at the pretzel stand, so he is probably drowning his sorrows at the saloon.”
“Thanks.” They said and drove off. “You wanna do it?” Jones asked, almost disinterested.
“I guess. I mean, we could use some money. I mean I am almost broke.”
“Same,” Jones agreed. “Let’s just find out how much he will pay.”
When they arrived on Cricket Lane, they parked the jeep and avoided the small farmer’s market that was happening in the middle of the road. They stuck to the sides walks on the edge. Odd eyes from the town’s folk kept Jones hand on the butt of his gun, even though most of the stares were at Kramer carrying a ridiculous blunderbuss over his shoulder. The gun was so impractical Jones was surprised he carried it around.
They approached the pretzel stand and Kramer walked up to it. The girl working behind the counter was young with dead blond hair that hung in greasy strands across her face. She looked like she dove head first into five stages of depression. “What’s good here?” Kramer asked. “The girl looked up at him, her hand keeping her head off the counter. She didn’t answer him.
“Pretzels?” Kramer asked, stating the obvious for her.
“We don’t have any dough.” The girl said between her fingers.
“What do you have?”
“Lame.” Kramer walked back to the Jones and they entered the saloon. “Selling drinks outside of a place like this. Because people want watered down lemonade when they can have beer in here.”
“I guess, I don’t even know why you wasted your time.”
“I was just curious on what she would say.”
They walked around the saloon, heading towards the bar in the back, keeping their eyes open for Ginger Prick, or whatever Georgie was calling him. The locals at the saloon, surrounded the bar and all the tables. Waitresses were wondering around serving mugs and bowls of food. A sign pointed to the steps leading up the stairs in the back. It was a well-known brothel in town and was said to be far better than others in the settlements. Not that the Scalp Collectors themselves were familiar with it, even if they were they wouldn’t admit it, not even to themselves.
Finding a spot at the bar, they took their seat and ordered a couple of beers from the bartender. They drank their drinks in silence while Kramer talked a bit with the bartender. He eventually tapped Jones and whispered, “I see our guy over there at the corner table, laughing with some people, he has one of the waitresses sitting on his lap sliding credits down her shirt.”
Jones stared and saw a jolly fat guy with the most attractive waitress in the saloon on his lap. His face was flushed red and glistened in sweat, mouth surrounded in chunks of red hair, making up for the bald spot on the top of his head. The eye patch was the only thing that seemed intimidating about the man. She flirted with him, but that is because the guy seemed eager to spend his credits.
“That Fire Crotch Santa Clause is the guy who needs a ride?” Jones said.
Kramer laughed, “Let’s wait till his lap dance is over and we will talk to him.”
They went back to their beers and waited. Every few minutes they would order another round and Kramer would order a couple shots for them to take. When good and buzzed they still saw the girl sitting on his laugh, whispering into his ears, she kept moving her thigh into his crotch.
“Am I drunk or are her tits bigger?” Kramer asked.
“I think she just has her shirt stuffed with lots of credits.” Jones said, swallowing large mouthfuls of beer.
“This guy must be rich. Let’s go talk to him.” They stood up from the bar and walked over, glasses still in their hands. They slipped past him and stood on either side of his chair. The people at his table scooted back a bit and stared, fearing the worst. When the waitress got up from his lap she ran away as if she had forgotten she was working.
He turned and looked at them. “Good going you cock blocks! I was a few minutes away before I would put my cock ring on!”
“I think you were a few minutes away from giving her all your credits.” Kramer said.
“And you are going to need them, if you want to hire us to drive your ass around.” Jones said.
“Oh, I see your dog tags! Kramer and Jones! I heard about you two! You have driven through Devil’s alley! I heard you’re some hard-killing sons of bitches!
“We have great personalities, but no one ever brings that up.” Jones said, Kramer laughed and spilled his beer some. “Especially this one!” Jones said, pointing at Kramer.
“I am Spencer Walker, dealer of fine goods.” He said, holding out one of his fat paws to shake. “Chaz Kramer, Scalp Collector” Kramer said taking his hand.
“Alpaca Jones, Scalp Collector, not a driver.” Jones said, taking his large, soft hand.
“Well met friends, well met. I need your skill though. Need to get my package off to an Oasis to be picked up for transport. It’s located at the end of Devil’s Alley and I need a driver and protection. I can’t find a single soul to take the task, even when I throw butt loads of credit in their face!”
“Or down their tits.” Kramer added.
“Right! I need people who are not afraid, experienced in the alley, good killers, and in need of credits! Rumor has it that you two lads are who I am looking for.”
“Do you know what is in the alley?” Jones asked. “Do you have any idea what this is going to cost you? You are better off just trying to go around it.”
Spencer sat back in his chair and a loud crack escaped from the wooden legs. The Scalp Collectors were half expecting the chair to burst under the massive body. “Now, boys you know just as I do that the alley is in a No Man’s Land, and the Oasis is located between a mountain. It is nearly impossible to make it from the sides. The Alley is the safest way.”
“Why the fuck, do you have to deliver your package to the Oasis? Those are death traps!” Kramer said.
“I don’t expect you both to believe me, but I have delivered many goods to dangerous territories. Why do you think I wear this eye patch?”
“Because you think you are a pirate?” Kramer said.
“Old Halloween costume?” Jones asked.
“It’s because I had it cut from my face from a Head Hunter and I watched him eat it before me!”
“No, you didn’t.” Jones said, laughing.
“Bullshit, show us the hole!” Kramer yelled.
“I have nothing to show you boys, except what is in this bag.” He lifted a black bag that had been sitting under his chair.
“That’s where you keep your eye?” Jones asked.
“Better than that…” Spencer said and unzipped it. An untidy mess of rolls of credits took up most of the room in the bag. The credits were in large amount as most of the bills were in pink sheets, which were worth a thousand each. He had stacks of the pink sheets, ready to be spent. Neither of the Scalp Collectors even heard him ask, “How much?”
Kramer broke his trance, “What is this package?”
“That knowledge is only for me and my business associate. I will pay you to not ask questions.” Spencer said.
“Fair, but you must have a price in mind to pay us. I am thinking you have no idea what lingers there.” Jones said, guzzling the last of his beer.
“Thirty thousand seemed fair, I believe.”
Kramer looked at Jones wide eyed and looked back at Spencer. “Let us talk for a minute.”
Spencer raised his hand in the air to gesture a waitress over. “Will do, I’ll order all of us another round.”
They stepped back to have a bit of privacy. “We could probably ask for more.” Kramer began. “He shouldn’t have showed us the inside of the bag.”
Jones thought for a moment. “How much more did we need to join the Dwellers?”
“Fuck…. Let’s ask for more. A lot more. Show him that scar. Might be easier to persuade.”
“Alright, I’ll let you handle this.” Kramer said.
They came back to the table as the waitress brought three mugs and three more shot glasses.
“So, what did you boys decide?” Spencer said, wiping foam from the top of his upper lip.
“Fifty-thousand credits.” Jones said.
“Each.” Jones said, glaring at him.
“A hundred thousand credits to deliver a package. They said you were both crazy, and now I believe it. How about seventy-five for the whole package.”
“It’s called Devil’s Alley for the Dust Devil’s that linger there. Last time we should have been killed!” Kramer said, lifting his shirt to show a grotesque scar that went from his belly button to the edge of his left nipple. “I mean when you add in the risk, the discretion of the package, and with the cost of gas these days, it will be a pretty penny. It’s a fair trade, but of course you could try to find somebody else.”
“No, no. It’s a fair trade. I have never been much for trying to Jew people down their prices. So, do we have a deal?” Spencer said.
“Is that all? Anything else you need to mention, details, weapons at all?” Jones asked.
“I suppose you boys have your own weapons, they should do just fine, and I will need to mention I have a partner joining me on this journey.”
“Really? Well that will cost you more.” Kramer said, nodding to Jones.
“Seventy-five thousand each.”
“Jesus Christ! You two leeches are trying to suck me dry.”
“You don’t deserve it wet.” Kramer said.
“Fine! It’s a deal! I’ll get a lot more for this package anyways. Have a shot, cheers to our agreement?”
They each took a shot from Spencer and sealed the deal. “We ship out tomorrow morning at first light. Better call it early tonight, lads.”
“Buy a couple more and we will.” Kramer said.
In the morning, they sat in the jeep outside the saloon and waited for Spencer to make his appearance. They each had a hangover they needed to cure before the trip ahead of them. Their Scalping salt was always the best medicine. They each dipped the tips of their knife blades into the bag and took out a little mound of salt. They held it to their nose and snorted it fast. It burned their nostrils and throat, but sent a pleasant sensation through their bodies, curing the hangover sickness, and eradicating the headache, but it also caused dizziness.
Spencer approached them while into a fresh bump and froze in spot. “Drugs this early in the morning! You are going to get me killed!”
“Not drugs. Medicine. Helps with the hangover.” Jones said, taking another dose.
“It does get us high though.” Kramer said laughing.
“If you need to cure a hangover just go find someone selling breakfast! I had a big pile of eggs and roasted pig for breakfast and I feel great.”
Kramer looked at Spencer’s exposed belly sticking out of his tiny shirt. “We can tell.”
During their drug use, they didn’t even see the man standing behind Spencer. In all fairness, he would have been hard to spot behind Spencer’s fat ass. “Gentlemen, this happens to be the partner I told you about.” The man was wearing a tight black mask and garment looked uncomfortable and stuck to his skin. A slot was left in the crotch so his balls could hangout and a ball gag was in place so he couldn’t speak. A collar and chain was around his neck and the lead was in Spencer’s hand. “I proudly introduce, the package.” A large smile grew on his face, and the masked man moaned.
“What the fuck, man?” Kramer said, cackling.
“Are you fucking serious? A gimp! You want us to deliver a fucking gimp!” Jones said, stunned.
“Why, yes! It is very important, but I believe we agreed that I am paying you for discretion?” Spencer finished his statement with a spank on his gimp who he pushed forward. “Now, shall we go?”
“Alright, you both in the back. I hope to god you brought your money with you.” Jones said, adjusting his gun to make it easier to draw while sitting.
They drove on, heading west into the region that no one liked to go. An origin story for why the western area was worse, is undetermined, nor would it ever be explained to either of the Scalp Collectors, they just rolled the dice when the destination took them there. Everyone knows the area was distasteful all the way till California. Most who wonder in are never heard from again. The Scalp Collectors are one of the few who made it back, and are the only ones known to have done it twice. The less vegetation, the closer they were getting to their destination. They drove in silence, watching the barren wasteland as it began to appear, like a disease on the earth, ripping away the greenery until they drove on dried dirt and skeletons from long ago. Animals or people, the bones crushed all the same.
They approached a rock valley at midday. Two rock hills separated by a strip of valley. These hills were tall and impossible to cross with a vehicle. Numerous things that kill linger in the hills, a person’s best bet was to take the alley in between. Dust Devils lingered there, and occasionally Head Hunters.
“This is it.” Jones declared. “Last chance to turn back.”
“Ha! We are going in!” Spencer barked. The gimp had fallen asleep, his head was resting on Spencer’s shoulder. “Wake up, you bitch!” He pushed the gimp off him and adjusted himself in the seat.
“We have to trade seats.” Kramer said to Spencer. “I need to stay in the back to watch our tail.”
“Have it your way. Gimp! Stay here. Spencer got out of the jeep, taking only his bag full of credits with him. He crawled into the passenger seat next to Jones and his body odor slid in after him. A combination of musty corn.
They trade seats and Kramer reached underneath the seat for a suitcase that he laid in his lap. “Ready when you are.”
Jones laid his knife in his lap, sighed, and said. “Let’s go.”
The tires spun to life and the jeep jerked forward. The gimp moaned something in the back but no one could hear, nor they cared. Things were going to take a turn for the worse and it was only going to be a matter of minutes. Both times they crossed this region, it all began in the first two minutes. Kramer kept his handgun out, ready to jump shoot the first thing that flew their way. His arms twitched every single time they crossed a bump in the path. His knee was cramping up something terrible. Blood would be shed soon.
A gust of wind was coming down the alley and straight into the jeep. “Goggles!” Jones roared and he slipped his on and Kramer followed. Dirt slapped across the windshield of the jeep, Spencer cursed and covered his face, the gimp moaned. The wind picked and the jeep jerked to the left a bit. “It’s coming!” Jones roared. Kramer aimed his tommy gun and waited for it.
“The walls, they are moving!” Spencer cried.
Jones ignored him but Kramer paid attention. He watched sides of the rock walls and saw several sections moving, like a thousand ants moving across the ground, but then he saw more clearly. It was hordes of the Burned Ones, and they were wearing clay to camouflage into the walls. The crawled the sides of the walls like spider and they were looking towards the wind and the jeep. They all hissed at the same time. Jones heard it and looked up. “Oh, shit!”
“What are we going to do! What are those things?”
“That’s what’s going to kill us! Straight ahead!” Kramer pointed.
In a massive cloud body, frail and small corpses were riding the wind, hissing as they did, heading for the jeep, several more jumped from the sides of the wall and were landing all over the jeep. Jones ran a couple over that jumped to early. The ones riding the wind hit the glass of the windshield and broke their frail selves. One grabbed the top of the windshield and threw himself over onto Jones.
Jones caught him in the middle of his chest with his knife and chucked him out of the side of the vehicle. “We need to get a roof!” He screamed.
Kramer was laughing as he was jump shooting the ones trying to land in the jeep. He was a solid shot for a gun known for its inaccuracy. The Burned Ones split in chucks from the bullets and pieces of them landed all in the jeep. “Ah! It’s on me! It’s on me!” Spencer cried.
“Quit crying you ginger prick!” Jones yelled and sped up. He didn’t know how many of the corpses were landing all around him. The jeep jerked every time he ran one over, hoping one wouldn’t burst the tires. That’s all they needed. The wind grew worse, it was numbing the sound of the tommy gun. Jones struck at several of the corpses with his knife, sending them flying off course. Some hit the windshield so hard the cracked it into spider webs. The gimp lost control of his chain leash and the wind took it into the air. One of the corpses fell from the wall and took the lead when he hit the group. It hit with enough force the gimp flew out of the back of the jeep and rolled on the ground. Kramer not only noticed the gimp’s balls hanging but his ass was hanging out too. “My gimp! My gimp! Spencer cried. We have to go back for him!”
“We can’t turn back for him.” Kramer yelled and shot a few rounds into the gimp. “There, he won’t have to suffer what they are going to do!”
“You killed him! I was going to sell his ass!”
“I thought we were just transporting him!” Jones yelled.
“Fuck no! He was a slave! I was selling him to the Slave Underground.”
“The Queen outlawed slavery, bitch!” Jones yelled. “You’re going to get us killed for this!”
“Yeah, and I aint paying you a fucking thing!”
“Fuck you!” Kramer screamed. “This is what is going to happen! We are going to get out of here. We will take turns shooting your knee caps out, scalp you, then take that bag full of credits and leave you fat fire crotch ass to die! You hear me you ginger fuck! You are going to die today!” Kramer ripped the eye patch from Spencer’s face, revealing a perfectly good eye. “You are lying mother fucker!” Kramer struck him over the head with the butt of his gun.
“There is nothing wrong with his eye!” Kramer said. Jones struck Spencer in the eye with the tip of his knife. “AAAAAAHHHHHHH!” Spencer screamed.
“There is now.” Jones said.
The jeep jerked back and forth as more bodies hit the car. One landed on Kramer’s tommy gun, carrying it under the car. “Fuck!” He screamed, opening the briefcase.
“Should I use these?” He said, to Jones.
“You better!” Jones yelled. The dust devil was coming up on them and he was about to lose control of the vehicle. He could see two dozen more corpses riding it and more were coming their way. The wind in the alley was sucking the ground in, taking the car and the wind above began to circle. The dust devil was seconds away.
Kramer threw the ninja stars, little pieces of tin and metal they made to fight the flying Burned Ones. He threw dozens of them as fast as he could, letting the wind catch them, some broke against the rock wall while others found the Burned Ones. He threw handfuls of them, just letting the wind direct their course. One struck Jones in the arm, but he hardly noticed. He yanked it out and let it bleed freely.
“Hold on!” Jones screamed and everyone did the best they could. Jones jerked the jeep to the right trying to stay out of the dust devil. The bumper of the jeep struck the rock wall and he lost a bit of control. The wind picked the jeep up and turned it upside down, everyone screamed but held for dear life. The jeep rolled on the ground and fell out of the vortex of the dust devil as it rode on its way down the alley. The scalp Collectors were thrown out of the jeep during the rolls, but Spencer was still locked into place, all the way to end. He was stuck inside the jeep, with it being upside down.
More burned ones were still littered on the ground and began crawling towards Jones and Kramer, before either of them could draw a weapon. Machine gun rounds shot all around them, blasting the corpses into pieces, rotted organs and black blood spilled all around. Someone was saving them. At least that is what they thought.
The machine gun blasts came from a cave in the rock wall. One of the gunners was on Kramer before he could draw and pointed a bayonet against his throat. Another smacked jones in the back of his head and pushed the gun barrel into the back of his skull.
One of the gunners walked between them. Look it here! Look it here! We got some heroes trying to cross the alley. Lucky for us, because we haven’t had dinner yet! Jones could see Kramer on the ground. “Cannibals!” he yelled to him.
“Yeah….” He responded. “Shit!”