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Trail of Dust

By: Gideon Elrod

Page 1, Spartacus, a gunslinging gladiator in the not-so-distant post-apocalyptic future, must defeat Caesar and his warriors in order to save the meek and the future of mankind.

 

 

 

 

Spartacus looked up at Caesar who was sporting the gladiator's cowboy hat and faded brown duster. The self-appointed leader of the New World Order lifted two revolvers and spun them around his fingertips. He then kissed the barrel of each gun and smiled down at the old man standing in the arena.

Spartacus gave him the finger. “Bastard,” he muttered.

The gladiator spit out a mouthful of blood and caressed the empty holsters below his hips. Montague and Capulet, his grandfather's revolvers, still weighed heavy there like phantom limbs refusing to give up dominion. Spartacus had inherited the guns before the Dark Times, that space of history which separates the First of Age of Man from the Second. For the Second Age to come to fruition, the Dark Times had to end. All that needed to be done to accomplish that goal was to take out the trash, and what was one more load of garbage to a guy like Spartacus? He'd been taking out the trash ever since he could carry it.

A sudden blow to the face knocked the gladiator to the ground. The offender waved her tonfas to the spectators from the back of a chopper as she was chauffeured around the arena. Her driver, a tall, thin man with a shaved head covered in tattoos, was careful to keep a safe distance from the piles of dead bodies that lined the walls. Some of the bodies, like that of Spartacus' son, had been left on the arena floor as obstacles.

Spartacus touched the gash on his cheek lightly with his fingertips. The blood, already beginning to stain the silver locks that clung to the side of his face, flowed over his beard in a thick stream and onto his shirt.

The old man wiped his hand on his jeans before pushing away the severed head of a fallen comrade. With great effort, he grabbed a chain and a saw blade and got to his feet; the arthritis in is his partially deformed right hip screamed obscenities, causing him to wince as he tried to prepare himself for the next attack.

Yeah, keep smilin', ya piece of shit, because when I get done with these scumbags down here you're next, so enjoy your little re-enactment.

Spartacus thought of the character he was supposed to be portraying: a preacher man from a small town outside of Oklahoma City. The townsfolk, led by the preacher, had been able to hold off Caesar and his legions for two weeks. Eventually the enemy was able to break through their barriers. Most of the adults were either killed or taken captive, but not until after their leader had been crucified and their children had been raped to death in front of them.

The old man squinted past the glare of the floodlights toward the barrier that he and the other adults in his company had built. Behind it hid the children who were to be used in this particular re-enactment of Caesar’s great victory over a bunch of farmers and their helpless offspring. As of now the children were standing near one of the arena's trapdoors where they waited to be rescued by Hicks and the other operatives that Spartacus had sent across the drylands to infiltrate Caesar’s stronghold. The gladiator could still see the fingers of his grandson, David, poking through a crack in the barrier. Once he could no longer see them, then maybe he could relax and give up the spirit. Until then, he had to keep the spotlight on himself.

Okay, psycho bitch, let's see whatcha got.

Eyes, pissed and piercing, stared out of the gladiator’s weather-beaten face as he wrapped the chain around one hand while fingering for a good grip on the saw blade with the other. Beneath his mustache and beard, a wicked smile brushed his lips.

The audience, demanding every drop of blood, roared with approval as the chopper turned and began making its way back in the direction of the gladiator. The approval was short lived, however. As soon as the chopper was within striking distance, Spartacus threw the saw blade at the driver, taking off the top of his head. The gladiator then wrapped the chain around the female warrior's neck and pulled her off the back of the bike before tossing the other end of the chain onto one of the spiked hubcaps of a passing dune buggy.

The gunslinging gladiator, who before the Holy Wars had been a high school English teacher, bent over and vomited on his cowboy boots; he struggled to remain conscious as another barrage of mind-numbing protests was sent throughout his body, courtesy of his hip. Meanwhile, across the arena, the last of the gladiator’s company were being dispatched by the two loathsome creatures in the dune buggy. Not far away from the bloodbath, leaning against the body of a dead lion and drinking from a bottle, sat Caesar’s prized fighter.

Spartacus stuck out a hand and steadied himself against the cross of the traitor. During the Holy Wars, the English teacher had founded a string of underground colonies. He soon caught onto the ways of the warrior, not because it was a subject of interest to him, but because he thought it was necessary if the meek were going to inherit the earth. In the end it had been one of their own that had shifted the tide, shifted it in Caesar’s favor. But not all of the blame could be placed on the lone skills of a dimwitted traitor. The maniacal patriarch of the world's ravenous beasts—those creatures whose rabid minds either regress into chaos or become stagnant—had went to great lengths to destroy everything that Spartacus had built. The gladiator spent months crossing the drylands afterward with no hope of finding his son, Jesse, or David alive. He was Ahab on a suicide mission, only this time the white whale would not escape. And why should it want to when it was so eager to gaze upon its own obsession, the golden stag? Caesar had even gone so far as to circulate posters of the gladiator, specifically requesting that he be taken alive. So, Spartacus had allowed himself to be captured—after he had killed fifty of Caesar’s finest soldiers, that is. Although the world was still in the throes of chaos, one had to keep up appearances. Appearances were the foundation of survival: reputations were built upon them or ruined.

Something of great importance caught the gladiator’s eye just then: his grandson's fingers were missing. Hicks and the others were now leading the children through the hidden underground tunnels which had been built by slaves trying to escape the rule of Draconian, Caesar’s predecessor.

They need more time, old man. Now get your ass ta movin'.

Spartacus picked up a piece of burning cloth and limped over to the chopper. He mounted, then applied the wick.

The two thugs in the dune buggy on the other side of the arena splashed blood-soaked clay onto the audience as they turned to face off with their first cowboy. It was to be a showdown between men with metal. Spartacus revved his steed, determined to make his own luck when it came to the draw. His desire to destroy the enemy was like an intense hunger pain gnawing at his innards. As expected, the enemy drew first.

Spartacus waited until the last possible moment and then stepped off the chopper. To the delight of the crowd a great explosion rocked the coliseum. The gladiator’s aim had been true. His victims, reduced to embers floating on the breeze, rose up to meet Caesar.

The gladiator walked around a vast puddle of flaming oil, his eyes fixed on Caesar's favorite warrior.

Now it's your turn, fat boy, he thought.

Removing a spear from the side of the traitor, he slowly turned to face Caesar's prizefighter, still reclining against the carcass of a better beast.

There was a shout from the Emperor's box, followed by laughter in the surrounding stands. The fighter, tossing away the bottle, clenched a cigar between his rotten teeth and pushed himself up, then he took a leak while halfheartedly saluting Caesar and the audience. Once he was finished, he put himself away and turned to face the gladiator. His body art, two silver horns implanted in his forehead, glistened in the floodlights as he bent over to pick up his weapon.

A signal was suddenly given: the beating of drums. With a lowering of Caesar's palm, both of their paths were set. Man and beast charged one another. In the middle of the battlefield they met, where horns locked and weapons clashed. After drawing first blood in kind, they parted and circled one another.

Caesar's warrior touched his wounded chest. “I been waitin' along time for this, ol' man,” he said, tasting the blood on his fingertips.

Spartacus laughed. “Well, don't be shy, hunny. I don't mind dancin' with the ugliest gal at the ball. As a matter of fact, I've had my eye on you all night.”

The Minotaur, nostrils flared and full of ire, raised his ax and advanced. Spartacus led him past a rabid jackal tied to the bumper of a car and over the lake of fire. Around the cross of the traitor, they danced the Dance of Death. After a few turns, the Minotaur, eager to switch the tune, felled the cross with his ax.

“Stop playin' around,” he growled at the gladiator, who returned his growl with a kiss and a smile.

Sparks flew as the gladiator blocked the ax's blade with the shaft of his spear. The weight of the blow brought him to his knees. His opponent then kicked him in the stomach and took away the spear, throwing it out of reach. Spartacus had just enough time to see it land on top of the car with the jackal before the Minotaur forced his ear to the flames. Next, mostly out of desperation, he wrapped his arm around the beast's leg and bit down, bringing a scream of pain. Before the blade could claim his neck, Spartacus rolled over onto his back and shielded himself with a discarded hubcap. Then, after kicking the Minotaur between the legs and smashing the hubcap across the side of his head, Spartacus began making tracks toward the spear . . . and the jackal.

We're almost there, Jesse, Spartacus evoked the name of his son. We just have two more to go: the beast and his master. Then we'll be together again, as it should be.

The gladiator knew that he would die shortly by one hand or another, but it did not matter: he was an ancient, a relic from a time already long forgotten. All of his moments leading up to now were mere shadows traveling down a trail of dust. At his core, the heartbeat played his mantra, The Meek Must Inherit the Earth. And they would, if God were willing. Spartacus believed He was. Still, if the world was going to take its place once again in the Natural Order, it would need the assistance of a natural animal: the paternal alpha. If nothing else, the gladiator was the insurrectionist manifested, the kind of warrior unwilling to prostrate himself like a snake on its belly before tyrants who harvest the children of man. To succeed in his mission, however, it would take some luck and a little co-operation from the trigger. All the evil bastard had to do was remain in his seat. Not a hard job, really.

Spartacus looked over at the Minotaur, so unlike those of humankind, as he stomped his foot and shook his head and left his ax behind.

The audience cheers!

The gladiator stumbles . . .

Midway through his fall the beast grabbed the back of Spartacus' head and pulled him up, then slammed his face into the hood of the car. Before it could happen a second time, the gladiator braced himself and twisted the upper half of his body around, elbowing the Minotaur in the jaw. Spartacus scrambled onto the car and reached for the spear's crown. Just as his fingers grazed the tip of it, he was brought crashing back down. The gladiator rolled and with a powerful kick dislodged a horn.

The young beast—overconfident in strength and brains—yelled at the old man who over the ages had become twice-born.

The gladiator snatched up the spear and pole vaulted off the car, over the head of the Minotaur. When the beast turned around, Spartacus stabbed him in the shoulder and drove him toward the bumper. In a voice that had grown accustomed to too many years of cigar smoke and dust from the open road, the gladiator spoke unto the sinner: “Near the mighty obelisk, under the shadow of Caesar, the jackal awaits the fallen.” Then he unskewered the Minotaur to release the second beast.

Foam on the mouth, and fangs bared, the jackal set upon the Minotaur.

While Caesar's prizefighter was busy with that, Spartacus stabbed his spear into the ground and began unwinding the rest of the rope from the bumper. Surprisingly, there was enough of it to fashion a decent lasso.

Spartacus, his image intriguing the audience, gazed down at the body of Seven, David's blue heeler. The noble creature, which had been his only companion these past couple of months, had died a savage death earlier in the re-enactment when it had gotten between him and the jackal. He now choked back a sob as he thought of all the nights that he had comforted the dog while it lay next to him pining pitifully for its boy.

The crowd, working itself into an orgasmic frenzy, screamed as one rabid beast lifted the other over its head and barked at the members of the audience.

At the hands of the Minotaur, the jackal met its doom.

The cowboy roped the Minotaur, leashing him to the bumper, then retrieved the spear. The beast lowered his head and charged, but Spartacus moved out of range. Even though his quarry had been somewhat subdued, for the gladiator nothing much had changed: it was still going to be a fight to the death with a beast that was barely sane. Just when there was a perfect opening for the kill, the Minotaur charged the gladiator again and gave the crowd a thrill. Off came the bumper, in went the horn, piercing the side of Spartacus and pinning him against the obelisk.

The Minotaur removed his horn, removed the rope, then waved to the audience.

“I were gonna kill you,” grunted Spartacus' opponent, “but now I think I'll just make you my bitch instead.”

The gladiator, ready for the butcher's rack, stood up straight. “Was,” he corrected.

“What didja say ta me, bitch?”

“I said it's 'I was going to kill you', not 'were', motherfucker!” Spartacus thrust his spear into the beast's stomach and jerked the tip upward. Before the scumbag had time to fall, the old man took the cigar out of his mouth and bit off the end of it.

Spartacus spit the soggy chunk of tobacco in the Minotaur's face and took a puff. He then gave Caesar a long lazy wink as he withdrew the spear. Holding his wounded side, the gladiator limped several steps with his spear dragging beside him and then collapsed to the ground. He opened his eyes and stared into the face of his dead son, one of the casualties of the last re-enactment. Immediately a vision of his wife, Sarah, appeared unto him: she was breastfeeding Jesse.

A pool of tears on display for all to see gathered in the corner of Spartacus' eye before spilling over to mix with the blood of a thousand other sons.

The drums stopped. There was a moment of silence. Everyone focused their attention on the image of the old man lying center stage; their fleeting glimpse into the life and tragic death of a classic literary figure. Like the deranged eyes that feasted upon him hungrily, he took his place in the portrait. A connection was made in the world between him and the diseased soul of the audience. They were that thing that did not belong. The object that should not be there but it is. Out of place. Surreal.

The leader of the New World Order let go a loud booming laugh that shattered the silence while his court held its collective breath out of respect for his latest victory. With a burst of speed and strength that not even the nectar of the gods could manufacture, Spartacus leapt to his feet and threw Destiny's spear. His painful cry, composed of love and hate, vanquished the laughter of his enemy as it filled the coliseum.

Caesar, now sporting the mask of Drama, sat pinned to his own thrown. The gladiator on the other hand, triumphant in his victory over evil, held his head high on behalf of the world's sons and stole the last laugh.

A horde of beasts too dumb to realize that it was the end of their curtain call took up their weapons and poured into the arena. In that trapped-in-time moment preceding the first explosion, just when the metal was about to be put to the meat, it was a father who uttered the final word:

"David.”

 

 

 

© Copyright 2014Gideon Elrod All rights reserved. Gideon Elrod has granted theNextBigWriter, LLC non-exclusive rights to display this work on Booksie.com.

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