HARD

CHAPTER 21

Rayna had never seen anything like it; spread out before her, and endless body of liquid salt, dense, and majestic. It was a mixed wonder- frivolous ripples kissed the sandbanks & giant waves bellowed in its deep. If she had learned something from nature, it was that it was a mighty yet compassionate friend. She dared approach, gently greeting the sea herself, sinking her toes into the sand as the foams greeted back by tickling the webs of her feet. Spraying a little surprise every now and then on her. ‘Salty,’ she licked the residue on her lips.

‘That’s because it mostly is,’ Kira dipped her finger in a small puddle and tasted. ‘Harmless in low concentrations, heavy in Magnesium but I can’t speak for the deeper parts.’

‘You got that from taste?’ Rayna was impressed.

‘It’s what I do.’ Kira responded with a proud smile.

‘Sure, why help?’ Kim approached them carrying a huge sac over her shoulder, almost twice her weight.

‘What’s in there?’ Kira gestured, ignoring the sarcasm.

They heard a blaring horn from the horizon; a towering vessel encroached from the seascape, growing into existence before them. It was a mere silhouette but it had the designs of ancient ships as Kira recalled from textbooks. They were called Ocean Liners, and they ruled ancient seas of ancient planets. They operated on fossil fuels and stretched up to thousand feet long, housed hundreds of people, animals and goods. There was a child-like glimmer in Kira’s eyes as she watched what she thought she would only get to see in the movies. She remembered their little family trip to a museum, watching Katie get as amused as she did when she was her age, lost in her own imagination and wonder until she went missing for a couple of hours. They searched high and low and got the whole museum in a frenzy until they finally discovered her hiding in the bridge of an ocean liner model, holding on to the steering, with a cute little sailor hat, playing “Captain”.

Kira sniffled thinking back. ‘How long ago must have that been?’ she wondered, her heartstrings tugged away to the ends of the universe, trying to connect with her daughter.

‘That’s the end of the road for me, ladies,’ replied Reike as laid his back on his motorcycle, cooling off after the little skirmish they had.

‘I look forward to our next race, pervert,’ Kim dropped her sack and reached out her hand. ‘And maybe by then, things will finally get challenging,’ she further remarked. Reike laughed it off, accepting the challenge. He passed a wink to Rayna and bid the girls farewell.

‘Where’s he going?’ asked Rayna.

‘Whorehouse,’ Kim replied casually. ‘You wanna go? Maybe you got friends you catch up with,’ she pushed her friends aside while heading straight to the truck to unload the sack.

The girls were invited by curiosity to follow. With the covers shut, the torch switched on, Kim unveiled the contents sack. The girls were impressed at Kim’s preparation.

‘Guns, food, clothes,’

‘Wow,’ Rayna grabbed the first garment she could find. It was simple, bland and unattractive as well as lengthy and unrevealing; not something Rayna would consider practical in all that heat.

‘That’s the whole point,’ Kim remarked knowing what was going in her mind.

Rayna had to ask, deeply bothered by her friend’s choice of apparel for them, ‘Is it some kind of a Monk’s Boat? No not them, please! I’ll do anything. They’ll kill me if they knew I what I was before all this,’ Kira chuckled at the girl’s innocence, assuming it meant the same here as it did intergalactically.

Kim grabbed one for herself too and Kira immediately commented on it, ‘That one has two layers, a netting, a corset and this other one has a hood, I’m guessing for the head?’

‘Why find us such unflattering clothes?’ Rayna still confused.

Kim lost all her patience, ‘Fucking ingrates! The whole ship is filled with horny dicks. You wanna look like the ship’s whores?’

Kira was incessantly trying to hold her laughter in, to which Kim only felt further insulted. ‘Not enough skin for the two of you, eh? Maybe while they’re taking turns raping you girls, you can ask them politely to tear off the parts you don’t like,’ and stormed out.

Kira burst into a hysterical fit and Rayna realised she was missing an obvious social cue, still worried at the back of her head if Kim had plans to sell her off to a monastery.

**

Reika, Chris and their new prisoner, Kade now found themselves in an unlikely conundrum. In their travels, they had fought off marauders, wolves and cannibals alike. Despite all of this, his hands were still cuffed, he was rationed water from their tumblers if they felt courteous and they allowed him 1 meal a day so he would die on them. They treated him as strict bounty and nothing more. ‘Don’t be friends with it, it’ll make it easier,’ was always the mantra the sisters grew up with.

They made camp in a lonely desert, surrounded by a calming fire, and nothing else around them

‘No gun for you,’ said Chris.

‘But what if I was under attack,’

‘No gun for you,’ replied Reika.

‘What if a cannibal gnaws at my leg?’

‘No gun for you,’ said Chris again.

‘What if wild cats try to eat me?’

Reika pretended to think, ‘Erm…No gun for you!’ She laughed.

‘What if?’

‘You’re still not getting it, are you?’ Chris threw an empty bone at his general direction to quiet him if not hurt him directly.

Kade blew an exhaustive loud sigh. ‘Look, it’s been a week we have been travelling together. Surely by now, even if you don’t trust me, just where the fuck you think I am going to run? Look around! Come on!’ He wriggled his bound wrists.

Christ finished gnawing on the last piece of chicken cartilage. She licked her fingers grotesquely and belched an unhealthy roar while the others watched her like she had put on a show. ‘Erm…’ she eyed her surroundings and quickly grabbed her whisky flask to chug it down.

Kade and Reika waited, watching her throat expand and relax while large volumes of whisky drained into her until emptied. She threw the flask to the sand and wiped the residue of reflux bubbling out of her nostrils.

‘Well, where were we?’ Chris pretended to collect her thoughts, ‘Ah yes, no gun for you,’

Kade moaned in frustration.

There was a rumble in the distance.

‘Horse trampling,’ Reika, expertly felt the ground move.

‘Stampede?’ Chris took out her binoculars.

‘No,’ Reika turned to peer south of them.

Chris adjusted her binoculars, surprised to see all that noise come from a single beast, and on its back, a rider, his hat, and all in black. He was coming straight for them.

‘Guns?’

‘Yep,’

‘Lemme guess, “no gun for me?”’ Kade sneered.

‘Finally, it’s learning,’ Chris retorted. She drew her sniper out and watched closely through the lens at the beast of a mare coming right for them at a ferocious speed.

‘Who the fuck is that?’ the girls were intrigued.

Reike took out her shotgun, cocked it and kept steady aim at the hindfoot of the horse. ‘Give me the signal,’

‘We can’t rob him, I don’t’ see anything. He’s just a man,’

The galloping became stronger and more violent. ‘He’s actually trying to shake us,’ Reika chuckled.

‘No!’ Kade tried warm them.

‘What? You know who that is?’

‘I mean… No… I don’t’,’ Kade evaded.

The horse came threateningly close, but neither of them fidgeted.

‘NEIGHHHHH!’ it’s forefeet danced above the ground, raising smoke and sand before it landed a thunderous clomp 1 inch before Reika and the mouth of her firearm, it’s raging eyes fixed on its assaulters’, both challenging each other to a defensive staring match.

‘She’s beautiful,’ Reika lowered her rifle.

‘Yes, she is. And the best a friend one could ever have,’ the rider spoke as he surveyed the camp. He got down and walked toward the fire.

‘Excuse me, I don’t remember welcoming you,’ Chris dropped the sniper, drew out her handgun, cocked, the barrel aimed at the nape of his neck.

‘I just wanted you to see me better,’ the rider approached the flames and smiled while he passed a nod to Kade. The prisoner was hyperventilating, his eyes wide open, wondering if the man recognized him but he wasn’t so sure he did.

‘This your bounty?’

‘Something like that,’ Christ warned. ‘If you’re thinking of stealing…’

‘No, no. I don’t get myself entangled in all of that. I’m just passing through. You seem like trustworthy individuals. So, I hope you don’t mind if I and my friend here just have a bit of R&R before we go our way.’

Christ and Reika passed a glance at each other.

‘I understand you are suspicious,’ he continued, ‘and you can keep pointing your rifles at me, but I assure you, there’s nothing you have that I want. So, might as well lower those things, and let us do what all weary travellers of the lonely dessert do; talk or sleep.’

‘What’s her name?’ Reika interrupted.

‘Mine?’

‘The horse,’

‘You can’t have her,’ he ignored the question.

‘That’s not why I’m asking,’

‘I won’t tell you,’ he replied casually reaching for the flask on the sand. Disappointed that it was empty, he dropped it right back and said, ‘I am Ben. That’s all the information you need to know. And I suppose I should, in turn, ask you.’ He started ominously at Kade.

‘Kade,’ he daringly replied, watching the rider’s face for subtle changes, but still, there was none.

‘Reika,’

‘Chris,’

The horse neighed.

‘Pleasure,’ Ben nodded.

The ladies decided to put their guns away and the three of them seated in conference around the warmth of the fire.

‘So, Ben?’ started Chris. ‘Just who the fuck are you?’

He turned a tired glance, uninterested for conversation. ‘I said talk or sleep. I choose “sleep”.’ He threw his torso flat on his back and used his hat to shut off the night and the sounds.

The others were dumbfounded.

‘I’ll take the first watch,’ Reika said.

‘No,’ Chris replied. ‘We can trust him,’

Reika was puzzled at her judgement. ‘You wanna bang him, don’t you?’ she whispered into her sister’s ear furiously.

‘No, I don’t wanna bang him.’ Christ whispered back at her sister immediately defensive.

‘Oh really?’ Kade rolled his eyes and shouted. ‘This guy you are fine with. What if he wakes up while we are sleeping and cuts our throats for the fun of it?’

Chris smiled at her bounty, ‘I think you know the answer.’

‘Shadow, her name is Shadow,’ the newcomer mumbled under the hat. ‘Now…Shhhhh!’ A sound resonated from underneath Ben’s hat, along with a deep unsettling rattling from his throat.

‘Well,’ Kade already feeling the auras of a throbbing vein on his temple, ‘I guess we are all keeping watch tonight.’

‘Hello Shadow! How are you girl?’ Reika got up and looked into the eyes of the mare, hoping to gain its trust. She slowly but carefully grazed its cheek and offered it some dried nuts from her palms. She watched as the hungry mare cleaned the contents of her palm like a rabid creature.

‘You have seen some things, haven’t you?’

Around its neck, it wore it many tassels, and with that bunch of strings and ornaments hung, including a necklace, hidden under its thick shrub of hair, with a brass locket that had writing engraved, “Dear Stallion, your longing Steed awaits,” it read.

Reike slowly removed it from the mare and kept it in her trouser pocket, careful not to raise alarm.

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