Psychonaut Book 1 (Chapter Sample)

Friday, August 02, 2013 K.Z. Freeman 0 Comments


“The world’s dead, and we killed it,” says the Bartender.
Cliché bastard, I think and gag on my second shot of Absinth. If I hadn’t paid for the damn thing I would’ve been convinced someone was trying to poison me.
“Not dead yet,” I say to him. “Not while we’re still dying in it.”
He smirks at that. Smirks the way men do when they don’t agree but have nothing to say. The so-called barkeep had deluded my drink with purified water and made the point, “It’ll cost you extrah,” quite vigorously. The cost of it didn’t matter, I had enough creditcards left to squander and wished for something which may take my mind off the ache in my feet. The alcohol never helped with that; when I drink enough of it, I realize the ache is actually in my head. I throw a card in the bartender’s outstretched hand. He checks the stamping on it with his good eye, the other looking past my shoulder. He sees the Mastercard logo and flashes his crooked teeth into a grin, then jams the piece of plastic in his coat pocket. I can’t help but imagine how easy it would be to rob the guy blind.
Apparently, he had come across a cache of the green, alcoholic spirit a while ago and had decided, of all things, to open a bar. I find it ironic how the only establishment of such kind serves drinks which look more radioactive than the sky. I toss him two more creditcards, both belonging to some long gone, local bank and tell him to bring me a bottle of water instead. He inspects each of the cards and nods.
Despite how it may seem, the bits of plastic are not easy to come by.
I had run into a bit of luck a few weeks back and the lady herself seemed to look upon me with grace as she lead me to a dead body. I had always thought the bitch to be a morbid one, but when I had taken note of what the dead currier had been hauling, my heart leapt. The brown bag was full of creditcards of all manner and design. Some were almost fully bleached. Whatever horde of fingers had groped them before my own, made sure the logos remained visible, intact. For the most part at least, so that value could be extrapolated from each. Mastercard and VISA cards held the most worth and could be traded handsomely for all manner of things. They were also the most difficult to obtain. I am told there had once been other ways to pay. But who would use something as fragile as paper must have never expected the world to burn.
I shift my eyes from the drink before me and look around the makeshift bar. I came to understand – for the guy sitting on my left wouldn’t shut up – that this place was as much an inn as anything else. Built inside a run-down and crumbling building – the only building for miles which still held any semblance of shape – the inn sported shady faces and people that, with their manner and posture, looked more like wet dogs than human beings. I knew each of them had a story to tell. I wasn’t interested in any of them. What I was after was the rumor that a bank, or more precisely its vault, still awaited intact, somewhere in this town. Buried under a landslide of some kind, the vault had evidently been waiting for anyone brave or stupid enough to try and dig through all the rubble to get to its presumably buried treasure. Some had already tried and, as the rumor went, a tunnel had been dug more than half-way to it. Why the digging had stopped no one knew, or as I have found to be the case in most instances like these, they simply didn’t want to say. Everyone I had talked to about the subject had a hopeful expression in their eyes. Someone even told me what they were all thinking, “That’s right, boi,” I took offense at being called boy despite being taller than anyone I’ve ever met, “you go and take that vault and we’ll be waiting for your body when you fail. That coat looks mighty fine.” I understand that desire.
I sip some water and look at the bottle. This thirst… it is a test like so many before. A test I am growing more tired of with each passing day. Thirst, my friends, is an ever-present thing, an unyielding reminder that I truly am alive in this world gone to shit and ruin.
It takes all of my resolve not to jug down the whole bottle.
The midday sun hammers on, its crude outline hiding behind the radioactive dust groping the air. A white sheen reflects off the building’s walls around me, chafing them with brightness.
The part of the “inn” where the rooms are located still has some roof left, but where the bar stands and where I sit, the building above looks like it had been bitten off by some vast beast. I smell more of the wind than I feel, and here, sitting behind the bar on top of a hill overlooking the wastes of what had once been a town with a population of no more than fifteen thousand, I think, “How did I end up here?” I wish someone could make me disappear.
How the war happened I have no idea. I wasn’t alive back then to witness the spectacle. I am what they call a rad-child. Born after the world had already gone to hell. I never got to see the planet as it once was. Blackened trees, broken ruins and broken people are all I know. Once in a while, I come across a picture or a half-burned photo of someone holding a fish or standing behind a beautiful vista. Such things are all that remind me rivers once snaked over the soil and that all manner of green had flourished in this world. A world that might as well have been another planet. The Ancients have built many wonders, but what they apparently failed to build was something to protect them from themselves. We forgot most things they had to teach, but what we didn’t forget and apparently never will, is how to kill each other.
The year lay somewhere in the thousands. Never did I discover the actual date, since everyone I ran into gave me a different one. Time flows strangely in places. The year was a number between some millennium most people wished they were never born in. In the end, it doesn’t really matter. Nothing would change for me, or anyone else, if I knew the actual date. I found dates important only when they hold meaning, and in this world, everything was as pointless as the people living in it. But my life isn’t. I feel there are things I must do, and this is what drives me.
Most that I have met couldn’t even tell me the season, since everything remained perpetually veiled in a golden twilight. Only in times between noon and three o’clock, a light behind the clouds comes that may resemble what the sun had once been. And if the date proved elusive, I know one thing, at least. I know I am not the only one who would give much to have its rays touch my face.
I had been told it would take generations still for humans to see the stars again. And to travel beyond and into the dark… probably never again. The Ancients have done it, I am told. Escaped. I never believed that. But if they did, the bastards are probably laughing down at us from their accursed vessels.
As for my story, I came from far up north; from a land they once called Norway. I had trekked for half my life, and found no one like me. Everyone else stayed put, no one wished to go places, see things. In their words, “It is all wasteland, boi, head for the sea down south if you’re intent on seeing the world, I hear good life can still be found there.” I imagined none of them even knew what ‘a good life’ might look like…
My name is not important, you wouldn't like it anyway, nor do I wish to remember my life when people still called me by name, but I am told people like me, even though we are rare, are called nomads. Never content in one place, always searching for a home. I liked the title the first I heard it and, in a strange, inexplicable way, it spoke to me, so I kept it. Some of the old gizzers I’ve come across who were kind enough to offer me shelter – which I figured had mostly been due the fact I carried an MP5 – had told me I look like a Viking.
As for my journey and its purpose, it is as much a spiritual search as it is a material one. Lately, however, circumstances have forced me to shift my priorities to a more basic kind of being, one centered around survival and the procuring of credicards. I loathe such a base existence, yet find I cannot escape the inevitability of it.
The first time I looked at myself in the mirror was when I was eighteen years old. I imagine my beard is even longer now. The old guy with whom I have spent a weekend with, helping him rebuild his shack – an act for which he was more grateful and happy than I had ever seen anyone since – had told me people of my kind are a rare sight.
About a week ago, I had passed a hill and its winding, half crumbled road to a town whose name everyone seemed to have forgotten. It took me almost a year to cross over the Eastern Alpines and arrive into a sub-alpine country, which I was certain had once been beautiful to gaze upon. I traversed its valleys, hunting what I could, making sure that every shot from my MP5 hit a bird or some animal which I could cook over a fire. They all tasted terrible. Everything did. I only had one and a half cartridges of ammunition left, and always slept with the weapon hugged over my chest.
Sometimes I dreamt the gun was a woman.
Many had told me, “That’s no way to live, son.” But it felt perfectly natural to me. I wouldn’t trade it for their static existence even for a whole sack of credicards. Perhaps I would trade it for a woman. But who would want me?
I halt in my introspective musings as a pang blips inside my head.
I like to think I had developed a sense about when someone is watching me. Such things tend to happen when you’re perpetually paranoid for most of your life.
A look at the bar’s far end reveals a man wearing a heavy overcoat and a wide-brimmed hat, looking, staring at me underneath the brim of it. His jaw and nose are covered by a brown rag stretching over his face in a downward triangle tied behind his head. His coat looks like something that would look better on me.
I elbow the chap to my left. His Central-Engleshe is bad, but good enough for me to make sense of his jabber.
“Who is that?” I ask, nodding to the guy on the other side of the bar.
“Dey call em Ty,” he grumbles, his face like something men should by all rights die from, “com in town last monthsabout, lookin’ for something. The vault is wut iz after.”
Movement catches my attention and I turn my head. Ty stands up and walks over to me. He doesn’t look at me or acknowledges me. He simply sits down on the stool to my right, the wood crackling under his weight, his leather coat swishing.
“I hear you’re here for the vault,” he says, his voice gruff but not wholly unpleasant, muted behind the rag on his face.
I figured it wouldn’t do much to try and deny it. I have been asking about the vault around town for a good part of the week. Not the best way of doing things incognito, if I’m honest. I nod, “Aye.”
“That’s a fine firearm you got there,” he notes, looking straight ahead. He subtly lifts the right side of his jacket to reveal a silenced pistol hidden underneath the heavy coat. No way of knowing if the gun actually has any bullets, or if it’s just for show. In any event, if the gesture was intended to intimidate, it had failed miserably. I snort a laugh. “I think you may have mistaken me for someone who cares about your weapon,” I say.
His reply comes laced with a subtle layer of venom. “Just a precaution, friend. I am not without protection should you decide to do something.”
“We have a thing in common,” I say.
“Good, then perhaps I can interest you in a quiet place to talk.”
“About what?” I ask.
“A partnership.”
I see I have met someone like me.
“You wish a fellow wanderer then?” I ask.
He laughs at that. It is a coarse but sincere thing. “I think whoever coined that phrase had never wandered in an apocalyptic wasteland full of people who wish to kill you and take your gun.”

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