The jeep roared across the desert plain, tires crushing the skulls of a forgotten people, killed long before the birth of the two men in the jeep. The driver and the passenger wore ragged uniforms of flannel and leather, goggles wrapped around their necks just in case of a dust storm. The rusty pieces of metal served as dog tags hung halfway down their chests. On each tag was a number that was tatted on to top of their right wrist. Jones, drove like always, Kramer sat passenger, smoking a rolled cigarette he made before getting into the jeep. Specks of tobacco still lingering on his pants. The contract was to collect from a neighboring settlement, with a high price that could be distributed between the two of them. Jones had his fear since they only had seven bullets between them, 3 for Jones’s .45 and 4 in Kramer’s 9mm magazine. They still had the knives, elegant and fine, or brutal with dash of gore. All good Scalp Collectors had their knives.
“So, what happened with that girl?” Jones asked, flipping the strands of long hair off the front of his face.
“I don’t know. I didn’t like her feet.” Kramer said, scratching his thick but short beard. The hit a small hole and threw them around in the vehicle. It lacked doors on both sides or even seat belts so they held on as if lost in a sand storm. This was common place in the desert.
“What, she has like mutant feet?”
“Nah, not like that. They were kind of manly. A little bigger than mine.”
“Well, it’s not like you were going to get a foot job, or suck her toes or some shit.” Jones said, smiling. They would often talk on their journeys. Usually, about anything even during the scalping process. The job itself was common place for the both, their conversations kept things interesting.
“Nah, not with feet like that. It would be like getting a hand job with toe thumbs.”
“Didn’t that happen to you? Jones asked.
“Fuck no! I broke up with her too! We spend all day looking at broken shit, I don’t want to come home to a girl who looks like broken shit.”
They both laughed. “We are going to hell.” Jones said.
“Nah, I think we already did.”
“And we can do anything with impunity.”
“Yup!” They fist bumped as they approached a sign that read, “Meadows Sanctuary, No Guns, No Knives!”
“Why the hell do they always write Sanctuary on their signs? That won’t stop us, nor would it stop anybody else from attacking them.” Jones said.
“Like we are not going to bring weapons.”
The jeep slide through the entrance gate. One guard tower stood with nobody in it. “Real fucking safe.” Jones said, shaking his long hair back.
They rolled down the street, kicking up dust as they did. The street was crowded with old rusted cars and ragged buildings. Most looked completed with old pieces of metal and rotted pieces of lumber. Kramer doubted that any of the cars still functioned, but something sat sour in his stomach as they drove on. “If no one in the guard tower, you think someone picked this place off already?”
“No idea.” Jones replied as her drove the jeep into the middle of the town square. Burned out buildings surrounded a fountain. A statue once stood in the middle of the fountain, but had since fallen over. Only the legs remained and a plaque that read, “Ghost t,he First Survivor.”
“Ghost?” Jones asked. “That hero from the beginning? Wasn’t he a legend?”
“Thought so. Wasn’t he that albino guy who killed a bunch of cannibals or something?”
“Something like that.”
Jones parked the jeep in front of the old fountain. Kramer slid out of the vehicle, taking a look down into the old fountain and saw how dry it was. He spat into the bottom and adjusted the gun on his waist. “What about you, man? Any girls lately?”
“Fuck no,” Jones said, tying his hair back. “There was this one that followed me back to my place and started stealing my booze.”
“What do you mean?”
Checking the cylinder of his revolver, Jones replied. “I was all drunk down at the Way Station. Some older lady was talking to me about how her boyfriend was cut to pieces by some Head Hunters. Well, I was trying to go home, but the bitch followed me back to my place. I had just shut the door and was taking my boots off when she just kind of walked in and instantly took her top off.
“What!?” Kramer said, laughing.
“I mean this wasn’t anything good either. She probably had like 15 years on me and her tits hung in different directions. I yelled at her to get out, but she walked over to my bar and started grabbing all the jars of liquor I had and ran out the door topless. She left her shirt and everything at my place. She was fucking gross, man. Boils on her neck and cheeks. I’m sure there was one on her nipple. It was like she bathed in a tub of radiation. She wasn’t even worth a scalp.”
“Man…” Kramer said laughing.
They found a town hall sign sitting outside an old white house. It was rare to see a three-story building still intact in the world anymore. It could have been a nice property years ago, but the siding on the home was faded and falling off, accompanied by every window being broken. The dead grass was long and yellowed in the dirt. The skeleton of a young tree still stood like a corpse of hope. It somehow tried to grow in this world but was prematurely killed, thanks to dehydration. Very common in these parts of the world.
“We need more bullets.” Kramer said, wiping sweat from his brow. “Don’t get payed enough for this shit.”
Jones just scratched his head. “Especially if Head Hunters are inside that building. We got to spot them if they feed us a line.”
Kramer took the gun from his left and let it hang lazily from his fingers for a quicker draw. “Let’s just walk in. If anyone is even in there.”
They walked side by side. Kramer trying to hide the limp in his leg where shrapnel hit him in the knee. Kramer always used to drive them to the jobs till that bomb went off. His leg gave out quite a bit and made it difficult to step on the gas pedal. It was one of many scars that were drawn over the bodies of each collector.
“You fucked that girl didn’t you!”
“Fuck no!” Jones replied. “God damn, all the booze in the world couldn’t get me to do that!”
“You have picked some winners, just saying man.”
“Like you never been there.”
They walked the steps up to the town hall, barely glancing at the skeleton that sat in a chair as they did. The door swung open on its own and the head of a spear appeared in the darkness. The Scalp Collectors drew their weapons with lighting speed. They had been there, done that more than they care to.
“Drop your weapons and step out,” “Kramer said. “We are Scalp Collectors, show yourselves!”
“It’s alright Corey, drop the spear.” A woman’s voice said from the shadows.
A worn woman stepped into view, dressed in a dirty pink blouse, gray strands of hair were spread, throughout her brown hair. The Collectors had seen leather that looked better than her skin. Her eyes were aware, but tired all the same. “I am Gretchen, leader of Meadow’s Sanctuary. What brings collectors out this far from your safe zone?
“Contract to fill. One male, dead or alive. We mean to let him live if everyone cooperates.”
“If we don’t cooperate?” Gretchen asked, trying to show her strength.
“We take all your scalps.”
“Dead or alive.” Jones added.
Gretchen stepped more into view. They lowered their guns a bit. “Who is the contract for?”
“Arnold Jay Fletcher. Under Violation of propaganda publishing some 20 years ago, resulted in a riot that killed 7 of The Queen’s men.” Jones said this without a stutter. Kramer did most of the talking, but Jones memorized all the data.
“We follow no Queen but myself.” She said, a cold look overcame her leather like face.
“Treason, is it?” Kramer asked. “You know we could probably get more for your scalp if we say we got that leather from a cow.”
“Truth.” Jones agreed.
For a second they steadied the weapons higher, but shook with a magnitude of a fear they have once felt before. Jones saw from the corner of his eye that two more of her people had come out from around the building, spears in hand. “Give up Arnold or I will turn around and shoot both of your men in their spineless guts. You can’t trick us.”
For a moment, neither of the men thought she was going to give in. “Fine,” She finally said. “Stand down. We don’t have the fire power anymore to stop them. Follow me Skin takers!” She walked passed them down the steps with her head held high, as if this was to show she still had the power. Her spearmen followed her at her sides and the Scalp Collectors walked closely by.
“What happened to your firearms?” Jones asked. “You said you do not have it anymore? Was is Head Hunters?”
“No, it was a gang of your Skin Takers. Dressed and acted just like the both of you.” She didn’t show her face as if to hide her discomfort. A chill could be heard and felt from her voice that made both shiver somewhere deep within them.
“Scalp Collectors deal with skin, not theft.” Jones said.
“Well, maybe you should remind these men of who they kill and what they take.”
Jones looked over all five of the spearmen and saw they all had scalps. “They didn’t take any scalps, did they?”
“Just the guns and a couple of the children’s virginities.”
Kramer and Jones stared at each other for a slight second. They would keep this in mind later.
“How many?” Jones asked.
“Seven,” spearmen Corey said, “All had bigger guns than both of you. All took our guns and by night they took churns with some of the children and a couple of the older girls. Killed a couple of them that fought back. Still had their way with the bodies though.”
“You all just stood there and did nothing?” Kramer asked.
“They killed five of our own men from a great distance. Blew their fucking heads open.”
“Now I only have these five.” Gretchen added. “I admit we reacted poorly.”
“Got that right.” Jones mumbled. He felt Gretchen’s glare without looking.
They came upon on an old house that looked in better shape than the other ruined houses. Kramer thought it still looked like a piece of shit, but better than most. Jones checked all the windows, looking out for any snipers that Gretchen declined to mention.
“I’ll go in and get him,” Gretchen said. “Stay here.”
“Hell no! I’m coming in.” Kramer said, adjusting the grip on his gun. “You cool out here?” he asked Jones.
“I’m sure they would like to see my knife tricks if they get panicky. Drag his ass out of here. You guys are going to want to see Kramer scalp this guy all savage! You are in for a treat!”
They walked the steps into the house, Gretchen leading, with Kramer bringing the rear.
Jones sat back and looked at the spearmen who all eye fucked him raw. They all were skinny with scars and patches of hair across their bodies. Either shirtless or wearing the remains of once a shirt, Corey was a part of that category.
“So, what do you all do for fun around here?” Jones asked and felt the tension thick in the air. “You guys have any movies, like an old projector to show all those films they used to make a long time ago?”
“We don’t have electric anything.” One of the spearmen answered. He had a large gap in his mouth where his two front teeth were missing. Jones didn’t know what color those teeth were, but he guessed they were as brown as the others.
“Yeah, it’s a true wonder to live in a safe zone that our Queen gives us. It’s just as dangerous as this place, but it does have lights. Freezers to keep meat longer, and a movie is played every night. Giant walls to keep intruders out. It is real nice.”
“Those walls also keep you in.” Corey said, rubbing at a large sore on his shoulder, picking at it with a yellowed fingernail.
Jones had never thought it that way. His queen had always been good to them, providing them with contracts to make the land a safer place, showing that crime will not be tolerated. Since he was born, the walls kept Headhunters, walking corpses, and rabid animals out. As a child he felt safe, but now that he was older, it was the gun that kept him safe, and that little bit of paranoia that hung in his brain, kept his fingers on the handle of his revolver.
“GET THE FUCK OUT OF HERE!” Kramer yelled, dragging a short, round little man out onto the porch. The little man, Arnold, matched the contract description. The details were very elaborate, especially when it came to the pointed wart under his left eye, sticking out like a cone. His finger nails scratched at the porch as Kramer dragged him to the dirt. Gretchen stepped out of the doorway, her arms crossed with distaste.
“You got the wrong guy! I aint ever but had love for The Queen!”
“Maybe now you do, but 20 years ago you called her a robot!” Jones expressed. “Scalp him.”
Kramer removed his knife. A long crude thing that shined under the broken sun. The blade was zigzagged, almost like a lightning bolt. It was the same knife he had used since he started hunting scalps.
“Now, this will hurt a lot,” Kramer explained. “But if you don’t squirm too much, it will come off quick and easy as those sheep skin condoms you all wear. You know, the ones you make from the intestines. So, we will begin at the middle of your forehead and pull it all the way to the middle of your skull and cut it free. You cool with that?”
“No I am not at all!” Arnold said, tears begin to roll down his face.
“Let us begin.” Kramer said and dug part of his knife into the middle of the forehead. Fresh beads of blood rolled down his face and Kramer jerked his knife to an angle and began skinning up. The little man squirmed and yelled in pain, but he couldn’t alter Kramer’s skill. He was a pro at what he did.
“Jones, how do you feel about those sheep skin condoms?” Kramer asked, working the knife farther up the skull.
“I don’t know. He replied. “I only use the latex ones back at home, or none.”
Kramer laughed as he got to the hair line of Arnold. The skin was peeled back from his forehead, looking like a bloody rag, pushed into a roll. “I mean isn’t like fucking the animal too, since your using its guts to keep you-.”
“GOD, THIS FUCKING HURT!” Arnold interrupted.
Kramer dug his blade into the skull, scratching at the bone. “Can’t you see we are having a very important conversation here?
“I hate it when people interrupt us!” Jones agreed. “I am getting sick of his sobbing. Hurry up and finish him off!”
Kramer ran the blade across the top of the skull, the zigzags in the blade helped cut and peel back. He made it look as simple as slicing a hunk of butter. Kramer was a little uneven, but when Jones would perform the procedure, he was straightforward and had a perfect rolled scalp by the end of it.
One final slice and he cut the scalp away from the skull, dropping Arnold into the dirt. His bloody face caked the dirt and he looked like a ragged mess, shaking and sobbing like a child. Jones reached into a leather baggy that hung from the side of his belt where he kept the powder. “Keep rolling in the dirt like that you are gonna get a nasty infection. Hold still, this powder will clean it and stop the bleeding.” Jones took a handful of the salt looking mixture and slapped it across the open head wound. Arnold yelled so loud he made both Scalp Collectors step back with laughter. The power caused a burning sensation across his skull, white bubbles foamed over and rolled down his face as he screamed like a child. For a split moment, Kramer felt sorry for the poor man, but the he looked down at the fresh scalp and the feeling went away. They were about to get paid.
“Is that all?” Gretchen asked. She was still standing on the porch with her arms crossed, a look in her face like she wanted to draw blood.
“Of course!” Kramer said. “Best be leaving.”
Jones looked back at all the spearmen, but they looked away in utter disgust for what they just witnessed. Arnold had calmed down to just a light sob. Shock had quieted him down some.
They were on the walk to the jeep and Kramer threw their payment at Jones. “What do you think, like three thousand credits?”
Jones rubbed the skin between his fingers and looked over the fine black hair. “He’s got some silver coming in, got to count for something worth a damn.”
“Yeah, might actually get to buy some more fucking bullets.”
Hoping into the jeep, Jones rolled up the scalp and handed back to Kramer so he could start up the jeep. “If I hurry I can get us back by dark. Maybe get some tacos at the pub?”
Before Kramer could answer Gretchen walked in front of the vehicle with her arms crossed. Her spearmen surrounded the car, spear pointed as if to block them in. “New development.” Jones mumbled.
Kramer stood up and pointed his gun at Gretchen. “We got a problem?”
“I just wanted to let you boys know that you are not welcome here ever again. Just a little warning of what’s going to happen if you come back!”
“I will tell you what’s going to happen. Jones and I are going to shoot each of these savage motherfuckers in their dicks and rape them with their own spears. Jones will run you over and spin the tires across your rubber face. Then we are going to scalp all of them, drive home and have steak for dinner. How does that sound?”
Jones smiled and all the spearmen frowned. Gretchen held her ground and didn’t let up. Kramer and Jones admired her at that moment.
“You seem certain of yourselves. Tell me, what are you going to do about those rogue scalp collectors? Will you let them dishonor the codes you live by, or are you going to deliver them The Queen’s justice?”
“If we find them, we will scalp them too, but we are going to do it for us, not for you.”
“Well the leader had long white hair and two crosses tatted on both of his cheeks. He forced me to watch as he raped my daughter. Make it painful.” Gretchen eyes watered as if she was seeing it all over again.
Jones and Kramer eyed each other. Jones nodded and Kramer lowered his gun. “Let them through!” Gretchen yelled and the Scalp Collectors rolled by, kicking up dust and decay from a world once lived.
Once they were out of the Sanctuary Jones finally spoke. “Allocer.”
“The Great Duke himself? How the fuck are we supposed to handle him? The Queen lets him control thirty-six settlements. He could have an army after us even if we mention his name!”
“I know! I know!” Jones said. His head shaking the entire time. “We can’t let him get away with that shit.
“The last time we took on a gang of more than 10 we nearly died. The scars are still pink, and we both do not have anywhere close to enough ammo.”
“We could invest the entire scalp into ammo. We can skip the donation to the Dwellers.”
“Are you fucking kidding me? That is our ticket out of here! One missed payment might come unforgettable.”
“Imagine how much more credits we can get from killing rapists!” Jones said,
“We can’t risk it. This could backfire on us and The Queen might want our scalps. It would be us against the world and eventually some fuck could come along and feed us to the reaper.”
They drove in silence for several minutes. The sun was beginning to settle in the west and they were nearly home.
“I would be fun though.” Kramer said. “You know, taking them all on.”
“All in a day’s work. Let’s wait on it for now. We are close to buying our way in with the Dwellers.”
“True,” Kramer said. “Did you mention something about tacos earlier?”
“Yeah, they sound good.”
“They won’t be as good as Big Mikes. Remember when we shared the 20 pack?”
“Yeah, but then we found out he cooked human babies in the meat.”
“Oh yeah…” Kramer said and grabbed his own throat. “We did get a shit ton for his scalp and an extra bonus for his skull.
“A job well done, but someone needs to feed the reaper.”
(Chapter 2, Missionary Position coming soon!)