I woke up blind-folded in a moving van.
The men who’d kidnapped me were speaking Spanish and I couldn’t make out anything except for ‘del sol’ after hearing it a couple of times.
…The soul? I wondered.
Good luck taking that from me.
I felt that my hands were tied together.
Come on Houdini…give me a break.
Give me your own soul if you’re up to the challenge.
…I dare you?
There was a gunshot and the van bounced down on the road.
The men began screaming out orders to each other but another shot sent them to the ground with me. I could feel the wheels scrape along the asphalt and then the van came to a stop. Its door opened and the men inside began hopping out to join in a firefight while I rolled around trying to cover myself.
A few seconds later everything was quiet, and I did my best not to contribute a sound.
“Good work,” someone said.
I started to hear others talking and then their breathing above me.
“Well look at this,” the same person said. “Almost tagged their cargo…”
He turned me over and ripped off the blindfold.
“No tape over the mouth,” he noticed. “Didn’t care to be found, did you?”
I shook my head.
“Too bad kid…let’s go for a ride.”
The man pulled me up by my hands and threw me out of the van.
I got up with the wind knocked out of me but someone smacked me across the face with something heavy.
“This way,” he led me, and then cut my hands free. “Should we blindfold him boss?”
“For old time’s sake I suppose; I just wanted to see his face. Here…”
The cover was put over me again and I was carried over to a motorcycle with another man at the wheel.
“Grab on tight kid,” this one said. “Anything stupid’s the last you thing do.”
The bike started up and I held on to keep from falling.
“Got the plates yet?” the man who’d found me yelled out to the others.
“We’re good to go boss.”
The bike took off.
Your whole family…your girl, I thought.
They’re all dead…
As the bike slowed down the hopelessness began to sink in.
I lifted my head and listened to a mechanical door opening.
I was grabbed and sat down in a chair where the blindfold was taken off and my hands re-tied.
“Welcome, welcome,” the boss said.
He was sitting across from me in another chair himself in this garage with only empty space between us and equipment on the walls behind.
“The name’s Griffith Rhodri…Griff to some but that doesn’t matter. What does is that I’m the Wheel King. Now you’ve been a good listener but I don’t mistake that for loyalty. That’d make me a bad Wheel King now wouldn’t it?”
He stood up and began to slap me around while appearing to inspect me for injuries just the same.
“Sometimes you got to break someone to build their trust,” he told me.
“Are we going to rape him boss?” another man said; a fat bearded pig. “Haven’t had a kid before…”
“We don’t have time for that,” Griffith said.
“Not all of us but just me; one quickie before we pass over.”
“I said no Shaylyn; get the plates taken care of and wire us up.”
Griffith looked back at me and sighed.
“A morale boost before heading into certain death…seems pointless to me…anyway…where were we…oh right; you were going to try to convince me not to cut your throat.”
“I’ll do anything,” I told him. “Just not that…”
“Don’t worry,” Griffith said. “No one’s going to touch you unless it’s me and it’s with this knife.”
He flipped out the blade and traced it along my neck.
“Just let me know what I can do,” I shuddered.
“No,” he said hitting me some more. “I said ‘convince me’. Last chance here kiddo.”
If it’s bullshit he wants…
“My name is Artemis Madoc da Vili,” I said. “I’m Welsh…Artemis like ‘hunting’, Madoc like ‘fortunate’. The Vili part is Icelandic; it means ‘encounter’. My name is ‘hunting fortunate encounter’…what do you say?”
Griffith rubbed the swastika on his shaved head while my wrists circled in the rope, burning them all around.
“‘Vili’ more means ‘cheap’ to me in Latin,” Griffith told me. “Kind of like your story…I guess we all come from shit though. Can’t go too far back on our roots or we’ll both be tree-swinging. What sticks out to me is that you’re Welsh like me. That’s good enough. We’ll put you to good use after all.”
“What do you mean?” I asked. “You mean changed your mind about the rape?”
It can’t be that good that I’m Welsh…can it?
Griffith lit a cigarette and sat back down in his chair.
“I know you want to know why you’re here,” he said. “But first, I need to know why you think you are.”
“I was kidnapped tonight,” I explained, “first by some Latino gang then by you.”
“What did the spics want with you?” he wondered.
“I don’t know…I got some reward money. It was publicized. Maybe they wanted it or wanted to hold me for ransom…they killed everyone I care about in front of me…I have nobody left…”
I started to tear up.
Griffith moved himself up next to me and patted my leg.
“You have us now,” he said. “The last family you’ll ever need.”
He reached into his pocket and pulled out a clicker, pressing the red button a couple of times and then putting it away.
“For a bomb,” I understood. “One that I won’t live through…will I?”
He shook his head ‘no’.
“You see that clicker doesn’t go off when you hit the button,” he told me. “It’s held onto.”
“That is until you get through some sort of clearance,” I said. “That’s why you need those plates. You want to get in somewhere cozy by switching them with another van’s.”
“That’s right,” Griffith smiled. “One similar enough…I hope they aren’t as smart as you.”
“Who,” I wondered. “Who are these people?”
Griffith threw his cigarette butt on the concrete.
“Weaklings,” he said. “Men who killed my best friend…he was just out of the cooler for moving in illegals. Tried a fresh start in some piss ant mountain town…I guess if a man’s a criminal, crime follows.”
“It’s my fault,” he told me. “He found me out here and asked for work…hooked him up with this Del Sol…”
“What does that mean?”
“‘Of the sun’, Griffith explained. “He goes by Rey Del Sol too; ‘King of the Sun’. We call him the Sun King of the Sun King Nation. ‘Del Sol’ is just how his men introduced him.”
“You haven’t met him yourself?” I asked.
“Sounds like few have…that’s how he works. He was new to us but his offer said he wasn’t new to the game. Anyone willing to pay so well to take out a biker gang must’ve had his reasons, and since we were in a losing battle with those guys anyway it seemed like a no-brainer…fucked up big time thinking ourselves lucky. This little gang of five here; we’re the last of what was thirty after an ambush. The Sun King was arming both our sides; sent us into a fuck pit. This is why we’re going to take out as many of as we can with what little we have left. There’s moving on for us. There’s no getting your loved ones back either, is there?”
“No,” I admitted. “All I want is to make this guy pay for what he did.”
Griffith cut me loose, guiding me to his other men.
“We’re all here to die,” he said. “Go ahead guys; tell him who you are.”
One of the bikers coughed and moved forward.
He was skinnier than me and puffing on some meth.
“The name’s Mike,” he said. “Mike ‘The Whelter Whip’ Seuss-Patrick-O’Flanagan. Real IRA before coming here…this gang saved me when I was double-crossed by my own brother and gave me new purpose. This is why I’ll die with it tonight.”
“Truman ‘The Campaign’ Strenner,” another said.
He was a tall man in his mid-thirties whose face had seen some battle.
“They call me ‘The Campaign’ for two reasons; one I killed a politician and two, I killed another,” he grinned. “It was more of ‘skirmish’ really but that don’t stick. Anyway, needless to say, I turned to who could hide me, and that was the Wheel King here’s best friend, who we mourn over now more than the others. This is why I’ll die tonight.”
“Now for the worst of us,” the last man laughed.
He was darker-skinned than the rest, his hairline receding, but he rubbed his head like it was full.
“Amon Gol,” he said. “‘The Suthain Cràdh’…means ‘the eternal torment’. I’ve been killing since I was younger than you; parents, drifters…never knew I could get paid for it until I met the gang. Tonight I’m told I’ll get to kill again, so that’s what I’ll do. Lose everything but what I am. This is why I’m here.”
Everyone looked to me for a response.
“I’m Artemis…” I said. “Artemis Madoc da Vili. Call me the True Light Advocate. I’ve been that since I was made to lie down and die. I’ll do my part in casting down the Sun King as a false god and crippling his nation. I’ll die with you gladly.”
The men praised me and began to assemble their plan.
I stood by myself while they loaded explosives into their van until Griffith came up behind me.
“You alright?” he asked.
“Yeah…just trying to pull myself together…”
“Help Shaylyn wire those bad boys.”
“…The one who wants to rape me?”
“Like I said he ain’t going to, so get with the program already,” Griffith ordered.
I nodded and walked over to the would-be molester.
He was lying on his side in the back of the van so I climbed in to see what he was doing.
“Jesus,” he yelled, trying not to move.
He looked up and saw it was me.
“Oh…the cute one,” he sighed. “What do you need? You want to hop on-board with me more than in the back of this thing?”
“A van’s not that atmospheric,” I told him.
“I bet a lot of other missing kids would disagree,” he said.
“Um…Griffith said if you needed help with the wiring that I should—”
“That you should what?” he asked. “Griffith doesn’t know shit about demolitions. Letting you touch anything here except for me would be a pity rather than a pity fuck. Like they say, don’t worry your pretty little head over anything…unless you’re going to give me head that is.”
“Stop it already,” I yelled. “I’m not some fuck toy.”
“Of course not,” he laughed. “You’re a fuck tool; big difference.”
“Yeah well call it like you see it.”
Everything’s a tool to biker mechanic; that’s my call.
“Not too far now,” Shaylyn said when he saw me leaving. “Griffith’s right about one thing; I do need you over here. Truman said we’re hooking you up to the clicker.”
I got back into the van and watched Shaylyn at work.
“So what do they call you?” I asked him. “The Rapesmith…the Grand Wizard of Charge-setting and Sodomy; which is it?”
“Shaylyn ‘The Grave Matter’ Meredith,” he told me. “When things get rough I’m the one who eases it in. Surprising huh?”
“Kind of,” I admitted. “I’d figure ‘grave matter’ for digging up and fucking the dead.”
Shaylyn rolled his eyes.
“They wouldn’t struggle the way you’re doing,” he said. “You’re here against your own will no matter what you’ve said to stay alive. The last thing I’ll see is you fight to hold onto that button, and whatever it takes, I’ll make you let go. Let’s just say the pleasure will be all mine.”
We’ll see about that, I thought.
Amon and Truman both came into the van with a handful of C-4 and added it to the pile.
They both took a seat on either side of me and began loading their guns.
“That’s all Shaylyn,” Amon said. “We’re ready when you are.”
I looked down at his rifle and saw its grenade launcher attachment.
“That’s an M203 isn’t it?” I asked. “My parents were killed by one I think…got that from one of the bodies, didn’t you?”
He shook his head ‘yes’.
“It’s a shame their leader never shows his face to open wide for one. He’s the sun that never shines.”
“Maybe not yet,” I said. “Maybe he’ll rise as soon as tomorrow. We’ll never find out though.”
“That’s right,” Amon nodded again. “His men as dispensable to him, his money a means of destruction; we don’t care about our own lives the way he does; that’s why we’re not the same.”
Don’t I deserve to do more damage for my suffering? I thought.
Not to be blown apart in the belly of a Trojan Horse?
“Why not be patient and hit him where it hurts?” I argued.
“A real man dies for a cause when he’s called upon for it because he knows he can do the job,” Truman said. “It’s not about doing the most or being a hero. The sun can’t rise tomorrow if you don’t live to see it.”
In the meantime I suppose I have some growing up to do.
“It isn’t about getting ahead, it’s about getting even,” Amon added. “He killed our men, now we’ll kill some of his. Why wait to settle the score?”
“He’s taken everything we have,” I explained. “Tonight he had my whole family killed. They weren’t dispensable like his men. I want to make him feel what I have.”
“Our lives are pointless without our loved ones,” Shaylyn said. “The longer we live the more we suffer.”
“It wouldn’t hurt to shut up though,” Truman told me. “You said you’d die with us gladly and now you’re going back on your word. We’re doing you a favor; letting you die for a good cause you should appreciate. Instead you’re daydreaming your last few hours away, trying to put doubt in our mission. You do it again I’ll look the other way while Shaylyn has his way with you.”
I spent the next few minutes staring at the charges, wondering if this was really it; this was how I was going to die.
It didn’t seem fair.
I thought Shaylyn was the worst but they’re all the same.
They all think I’m a fuck tool.
Shaylyn shut the back doors loudly and the van started.
“Go time,” he grinned.
We left the garage and were back on the road.
I thought of more to say, hoping it wouldn’t end in Truman’s indifference.
“That other van was yours too?” I asked Amon.
He looked up from a butterfly knife he was flipping in his hands, his bike lying down behind him.
“That’s right,” he said. “The day laboring banadoochies that killed our brothers stole the one they kidnapped you with.”
“Butt fuckers, that’s what I meant. After they told us it was time to flex and slaughter this other gang we’d been at odds with they stole that van from our garage. Thought they’d swing into town and grab you I guess…didn’t it check for a tracking device though…”
He scooted in closer to me with his knife still in-hand.
“Come to think of it…I don’t get why they’d ditch their trucks for a van of ours just to pick you up and head home…you a bio-experiment of theirs that ran off?”
I shook my head ‘no’.
“They probably just knew they could use the ride,” I told him. “If there are freaks running around like you say, maybe there’ve been some budget cuts for the average José.”
“Maybe,” Amon nodded. “Then again, maybe you’re one of those freaks already…or you’d like to be. Maybe you’ve got to prove yourself first…lead us into another trap.”
I gave him a look of disbelief but he quickly slashed his knife across my face and got on top of me.
He began ripping off my shoes and pants while Truman pulled my shirt from over my head, checking for a device.
“Where is it kid, under your skin?” Amon yelled. “Is it up where I think it is? Shaylyn why don’t you knuckle-burrow for some truth?”
“Get him to scream a little first,” Shaylyn said, showing his rings.
Truman began to tear my underwear but I jammed my shoed foot into his mouth, bringing him to the ground where I stood above him and began stomping his head into it, snapping his jaw. Shaylyn pulled out of his mouth by my chest.
The van stopped suddenly and we fell over, unsure of what’d happened.
Griffith and Mike opened the back door with shotguns pointed at us.
“They’re going to rape me,” I yelled. “You promised they wouldn’t.”
“We’re just doing a cavity,” Shaylyn clarified. “He can’t be trusted boss, I’m telling you. We need to check his—”
Griffith pulled out a hand gun and shot Shaylyn in the kneecap.
I jumped back, putting my hands up while Shaylyn spilled out in pain.
“The next is your head Shaylyn,” Griffith yelled. “Consider your need to walk decommissioned. You make sure the kid releases the button when the time is right. That’s it. Everyone keep your hands to yourselves. If I have to stop again I’ll shoot the C-4 and you can say goodbye to a better death.”
Griffith slammed the door and began to drive again.
I walked back over near the charges, grabbing a screwdriver that’d fallen off of someone with my foot and then stuffing it in the back of my underwear when I sat down.
Just as soon as I had, Truman turned toward me, holding his jaw.
He walked over slowly, grabbing a roll of duct tape.
“No,” I shouted, but I was silenced too soon.
He sat back for awhile after he’d taped my hands together in front of me as well.
“How many scars are there on him?” he asked Amon. “Aside from the one you made on his face…let’s see…what’s that—two? I think three…no that’s a birthmark there…where’d you get them kid?”
I breathed heavily, the tape at the line of my nostril sucking in and out.
“Help me,” Shaylyn cried.
Amon went to his aid.
“One from a bad day learning to ride a bicycle, huh?” Truman guessed of my markings. “The other…mommy clawed you with her nails on accident…tried to turn you around to spank you for spilling some chocolate milk powder. That’s that the one on your arm right there, isn’t it?”
I began to glare.
“You got it kid…three’s the answer. Three or four…five for that look…you know, come to think of it, you could use a big make-over in becoming a man. Seems a little silly don’t it; prettying you up to put some hair on your chest.”
“What was that?”
I jerked to motion that he remove the tape.
“I said you talk a lot for a jaw broken pussy,” I told him when he had.
Truman laughed as best he could.
“Don’t put that tape back on if you’re testing my manhood. Don’t worry…I won’t scream none; not for you bitch.”
Truman put his hand on my shoulder in a paternal fashion and then began to cut away with his knife. I squeezed my eyes together as his it slid down my rib cage, catching on each notch. He lifted my chin then and started up in a straight line from my collarbone to the butt, making me feel a final pinch as it split-ended and released back toward him in a spew of blood. The next went through my scalp above my right ear but got stuck, resulting in a re-dig that followed over my cheek and into my lip.
“You’re doing well,” Truman admitted. “From a kid to a teenager…the type I hate most.”
The next cut flew up my face, nearly gouging out my eye.
I almost noised but I bit my lip.
“How about your tongue?” he asked, grabbing my cheeks.
I spit in his face.
Truman wiped the salvia away from his eye with the knife.
“You’re right…that’d be rude.”
He held open my upper lip, exposing my gums, and dragged the tip of the blade from one side of them to the other. I pulled away when he’d stopped; not realizing he’d kept the knife in my mouth, making me cut my lips from the inside. Truman grabbed me like he had before he’d started and watched me drip for awhile.
“Well, look at you now,” he grinned, standing up to leave. “Ready to die a man…who would’ve thought it possible…Shaylyn, get over here and set him up.”
Shaylyn crawled to me, picking up the roll of duct tape and prepping me to suicide bomb.
“It’s cold for now,” he told me. “I’ll turn it on when the time’s near and then all you’ve got to do is let go.”
I shook my head to tell him I understood.
He sat back against his side of the van while I stared at the explosives, fighting off the urge to sleep that I eventually lost.
When I re-awoke, it was because my head was being shaken.
“Rise and shine,” Truman whispered. “We’re outside the gate.”
I moved a little to see if my ass was sore from anything, discovering that it was only my tail bone hurting from sitting on the screwdriver for so long. I was freezing and covered in goose bumps that popped their heads through the dried blood.
“We’re hoping they open for us based on the plate,” Amon explained to Shaylyn who seemed concerned. “If the wetbacks read off their numbers already, an overhead camera will give us the OK.”
“That’s assuming a lot,” Shaylyn said.
“If it comes to it we’ll bail out with you; leave the kid and shoot to detonate everything. That’ll at least get us in.”
We heard the gate open.
“Well what do you know; a last bit of luck.”
As soon as there was the room for it, the van sped up for a second and then came to a stop.
We heard Griffith and Mike’s doors open and then Amon and Truman jumped out of the van with their rifles, beginning to open fire. Shaylyn had dropped his handgun when the van halted and stooped over to grab it.
“Don’t even think about it,” he yelled out.
I thought I’d missed my chance but bullets began to tear through the van, sending Shaylyn to the ground to avoid being shot. I began tearing away the tape with my teeth, working quickly so that he wouldn’t see me and then stopping when he was looking up again, pointing the gun at my head. It appeared to be on fully but I’d freed my left hand a bit from the bottom.
“Okay…making you hot now,” Shaylyn said, lighting my clicker green. “No going back now, got it?”
There was an explosion near us, moving Shaylyn closer to me.
While his gun was lowered I ran into him, my finger pressed down hard on the button and the other fighting the tape. Shaylyn grabbed me into himself from behind and laughed a little, but I threw my head back into his and then turned to face him, jabbing the screwdriver through his throat. He tried to lift his arm to point the gun at me but I twisted the handle in another direction to make him jolt, my elbow deep in his shoulder and busting his shattered cap with my own knee. I pushed the steel through his circuitry, scuffing it apart and covering myself with his blood.
“I’m the fuck tool?” I screamed in delight.
I left the screwdriver in and let him fall forward, rushing to Amon’s bike.
I ran back to Shaylyn and picked up his gun, sliding outside of the van onto my bare feet and looking for Amon. I was inside of a massive walled compound filled with sand and there were guns firing down from above from what seemed like every direction. I quickly got underneath the van and tried to look for the bikers. I saw that Griffith and Mike were dead, the front of their bodies exploded, but the other two were further up, using a strip of cement wall as cover; one that was soon to close-in on them.
I have to make it to them first…I have to.
I made a run for it, the fifteen feet it must’ve been feeling like fifty.
There was another explosion from behind and I turned for a second to see if it was the van. It turned out to be much closer, and by stopping, I saved myself from a hail of bullets that came down in front of me. I fell backward and then got up again to run. Amon looked back too and saw me just as I came up and shot him, followed by Truman in the back of the head.
I ducked then, seeing that there was a group of men below the cement firing.
The bikers had been standing above a stairwell leading underground.
Have the keys…have the fucking keys, I thought, searching Amon’s jacket while he gasped.
Something jingled from inside of his pocket.
I never turned around or looked up again after that but through my whole serpent run to the van I felt the eyes of the whole world watching, ready to destroy anything to get to me.
I came to the back.
Amon’s bike was heavy but I spun it around in a fit of adrenaline, starting it up while bullets barely missed me and the explosives.
Here’s to being an action hero.
I burst out of the doors of the van; recovering from the landing I was crouched into to keep my head on and seeing the gate was wide open still.
This is it.
I hit a rock and the speeding bike came out from under me, making me fall face-first to the ground.
I knew I would soon see the men who were coming to kill me.
Play dead, I thought, trying to recover inconspicuously.
You ought to be…just let them get a closer look.
I watched the men rush in toward me, my head sideways in the sand.
They became bunched together, looking in at the explosives or running right past them.
I finally let go of the button.
The fifteen or-so of them were suddenly gone in a metallic ball of fire; their limbs and the scraps of the van lit up in the night and then gone just as quickly as the charges blew. The lower half of the vehicle was left as a remnant flame with smoldering chunks scattered around it.
I stumbled over to the bike, ripping the rest of the tape, and gave it a second try.
This time, I flew out of the compound and into an open desert where I took hard right, unsure of where I was going.
Not over death yet, I realized.
Not even close…and just imagine what’ll happen if they catch up to you.
I looked down at the gas gauge and saw it was almost full.
Amon must’ve wanted more fuel to the fire.
Now that’s what I call luck a last bit of luck.
I could see every obstacle ahead of me with the head light, but I began traveling downhill quickly, losing control over my speed.
Oh no, not again.
The motorcycle caught on a large black mass and I went flying forward this time.
I covered my head as I rolled down the hill, wondering what treachery would stop me until my arm came upon something strangely familiar. I’d grabbed it without thinking, using it stop my descent, but when I’d caught my breath I decided to put both hands up onto it, wondering what it was.
…And inside of it…
I ran off.
It’s just a body, I told myself.
Lots of those, even here…
I lifted up the bike when I’d reached it and illuminated the valley below.
There were at least ten men, all crucified to cacti in all sorts of conditions; some skeletal, but mostly rotting.
…Especially here, I shuddered.
I wheeled backward then wondering what I’d hit.
There were two dead Saint Bernard’s, one’s entrails I’d spilled with my spill, and something else.
I put my kickstand up and walked over to the body, nudging it a little with my foot to check its pockets for something useful.
They were empty.
Well…lucky bastard among your peers, I turned to leave.
Everyone else got hung out to dry.
What made you so special?
I heard a cough.
At first I threw myself to the ground but then I crawled back over to the man.
I reached out slowly and felt for a pulse on his wrist.
I turned him, my stomach doing the same on me when I saw how badly he was mutilated. There was an uneven slab on the left side of his face missing—his eye included—and his bicep on the right arm had been ripped off by fangs. My nerves calmed when I came across a sharp bloody rock in his hand.
You’re a survivor…you’re going to make it.
I took the rock and put it in his pocket; unsure if he’d want this souvenir, though personally I was glad I’d left the screwdriver in kid-screwer’s neck. I took off his shirt and dragged him by his arms, setting him up on the bike after a few failed attempts. I got in front of him, working the shirt over the both of us and un-slouching him by working his spine with my hands. I pulled his legs up and crossed them around my waist as I started the bike, wondering when the balancing act when turn to a shove.
A survivor, I told myself.
Special; just like me.
© 2013 James Robb
“Journals” is an excerpt from James’ novel Achieving the Golden State - a collection of Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas meets Tarantino-esque crime fiction/fantasy stories about the terrorist group called the Sun King Nation and the group of gifted young men who bring it down by uniting the gangs of California and the Irish mob under the flag of the True Light Advocates. The entire novel is downloadable here.