Chapter 37: Conflict
Outside I found Rick was approaching the door with an annoyed look on his face as Bobbi stood behind him looking infuriated. He came to a screeching halt when he noticed me and kicked up a small cloud of dust which drifted lazily past my knees. He looked me dead in the face, his annoyance apparent in every inch of his features. “Where’ve you been?” He looked me over. “Have any trouble in there? Bobbi’s been bitching at me for ages…”
“I have not!” Bobbi shouted indignantly. “I only asked you to check on her. Make sure there wasn’t a problem.” Bobbi glared daggers at Rick.
“Whatever you call it, she’s been bugging me to check on you. I figured you were just having trouble finding the switch.”
“That was at least part of the problem, yeah.” I said cryptically before I nodded back towards the store. “I did find it eventually, but there’s no power going to it. So… it didn’t work. Nothing.” I held up my hand, the brass key dangling from one finger. “I did find this, though. Seemed important.” I glanced to Bobbi, who smiled warmlly back to me. I blinked a few times to be sure that I had seen her expression properly. I shrugged and started walking over to her. “You find anywhere I could stick this thing?”
“Actually, yeah. There’s a hole right there.” She pointed at the pump I’ve been poking at it, wondering what to do with it. Don’t seem to remember keyholes in petrol pumps…”
I nodded as I glanced between the key and the hole Bobbi had indicated. It was just to the side of the number dials. The pump was old enough, it probably worked mechanically more than anything. At least enough it didn’t need electricity to work. I hoped. Playfully brandishing the key like a miniature sword, I slid it into the hole until I felt it stop with a click. A half turn later, the dials on the pump rolled down to zero and I could hear a faint series of clicks come from deep within the vertical slab of glass and steel. I nodded to Bobbi, who quickly lifted the nozzle and placed it into the truck’s tank, flipped the engage and the sound of flowing liquid followed.
“Works. Awesome. Don’t know if there’s enough juice to keep the petrol flowing…” Bobbi looked at me with concern. “Might never work again after this, either.”
“Good thing we’re not planning on coming back, then.” I shrugged and looked around. “I wonder if there’re any extra gas cans around here, so we can…” I trailed off when I saw Rick round the corner of the building, a mid-sized metal can hanging from both arms.
“Don’t mind me.” Rick’s tone was sarcastic and bitter. “Just thinking up great ideas to save us some stops.”
I quickly ran over and grabbed one of the cans from him. “Sorry, was kind of wrapped up in their. Didn’t mean to make you guys worry.”
“Whatever. Not really mad. Bobbi just got under my skin, is all.” He glanced cautiously at her as we approached the pump. While Bobbi kept an eye on the nozzle, she still shot the infrequent annoyed glare back at him. He seemed as confused and hurt as he was upset with her. “I don’t know what happened. First, I get drug along by some twisted, redheaded pervert and the next thing I know I’m being tortured in a combination sex dungeon and butcher shop. Somewhere in there, I missed something. Something that made her all annoyed and bitchy with me.” He shot a curious glance at me. “Not to mention that you two seem way closer than you were before. What’s going on?”
I let out a long, drawn out sigh. “I’d rather not about it, okay?” I was careful to control the tone of my voice so as not to offend and gave him a pleading look. “We got stuck in some pretty unpleasant shit in that house, and had to deal with some stuff neither of are real proud of… I’m not real comfy with those memories and I doubt she is either. We might explain later, but for now can you just leave it?”
“Fine, sure.” His words agreed, but his tone made it clear that the issue wasn’t settled, yet.
The three of us stood in silence as the pump chugged away. When the tank reached full, we fill both cans too. Between the two, I figured we had about ten extra gallons stored in the back. Rick, again proving he was thinking ahead, did his best to tie down in to place with bits of rope that he found behind the shop. By the time we loaded back into the truck and got moving, the silence had stretched for an awkwardly long time.
As the doors slammed shut and the engine started, I couldn’t take it any longer. I looked to my right, eyeing both of my friends wedged with me on the bench seat of the truck, and finally broke the silence. “So, I want to keep going north, maybe catch the interstate to up around Chamberlain.”
Bobbi nodded, offering no argument. She quietly put the truck in gear and pulled back onto the highway. Rick was less convinced and gave me an odd look. “Chamberlain? Seems awfully specific. Why there?”
“Call it a feeling. I’ve been out this way before, so I kinda know the area. Came out this way when my family visited Rushmore when I was in High School. Chamberlain’s almost the dead center of this damned empty state, but we can at least find the interstate from there pretty easily. After that it’ll be one straight shot from here to Minnesota.”
He continued to eye me suspiciously. “Okay… Is there anything particularly important in this place? Or did you mention it for posterity.”
I didn’t want to admit to him or anyone that I was doing this on the advice of a smelly old man. A smelly old man whom I met in an abandoned convenience store. A smelly old man which may or may not have actually existed. When I thought about it in those terms, even I had to admit how insane it sounded. That didn’t even mention the fact that I hoped to find “Spirit People” there, who may or may not hold the key to saving the world from all the chaos. I chose my next words carefully.
“It just feels like a place we need to go. It’s along the way anyway, and at least if we head there we won’t have to risk our necks on some of the rough back roads out here. It’s win-win, really. Either, there’s nothing special there and we’re still on track, or there is and my hunch is proven right. Either way, we aren’t out anything.”
“Unless you’re hunch is right. Then we’re out the time it takes to deal with whatever your hunch is about…” He seemed more annoyed and worried than angry, but his eyes had a harder edge than I had ever seen in them. “Need I remind everyone that last time we had a layover in someplace that seemed like a good idea, you two ended up crazy and I was slotted to be an hors d’oeurve? A time not even counted in days ago?”
“Hey, man, back it the fuck off.” Bobbi snapped at him, a vicious vitriol in her voice. “What’s your problem?!?”
“My problem?” He put a hand on his chest, as if he had just been stabbed in the heart. “My problem?!?” His voice rose, a sharp bitterness creeping into his voice. “I’m not the one that got all crazy after Paradise. I’m not the one who’s treating people like shit before doing anything wrong. I’m not the one that went from being a friend to a bitch.” He shot a glare at Bobbi, looking like an abused animal, ready to lash out against his aggressor.
“Fuck you, you bastard. You don’t even know what you’re talking about.” Her voice was cold and hard, practically dripping with spite and barely controlled rage.
“No. I don’t. You two refuse to talk about it. Before, we might not have shared everything, but we were still pretty open about the big stuff. Now?” He looked between Bobbi and I, looking demanding and worried at the same time. “Now, I have no idea what’s going on. It’s like having a giant, stinking monster in the room and I’m the only one willing to admit it’s there. Why? Is this some sort of girl power thing that you two agreed to while I was being tortured in the basement?”
Once he stopped, silence reigned. Rick had said his piece, and now lapsed into silence. Bobbi fumed silently in her seat. The ball was in our court and I was the only one of the two of us calm enough to form a coherent sentence. I sighed deeply and gave Rick a meaningful look. Why did he have to press this issue, especially now when the wounds were still so fresh. Well, the mental and emotional wounds were fresh. The physical wounds were almost entirely absent and had left no trace. Not even a scar marred Rick’s chest, possibly making it easier for him to get these concerns off of it.
“Look. Rick.” I sighed again, trying to formulate words that would not dredge up too many bad thoughts in either Bobbi nor myself, but would still satisfy his understandable indignation. “While you were… gone. Bobbi and I were… targeted by Alexander.” It was hard. Hard to make those words come out. I could feel tears begin to rise within my eyes, but I tried to hold them back. “He wanted to make us… his wives. To enslave us.”
Rick’s silence was absolute. His expression slowly melted to one of compassion as annoyance faded. “He was using some strange technique to turn women into mindless dolls. I managed to escape his control, but… Bobbi… wasn’t so lucky.” The tears flowed freely and I didn’t care. “I was able to save her, but the conditioning still took. It wasn’t safe for her to be alone, to be… independent. So, I had to bond her to me. To be safe from Alexander.”
The silence stretched. I could see Bobbi, her eyes fixed firmly on the road as she plaintively ignored the rest of us. Tears streamed down her cheeks as well. Her cheeks were even wetter than mine, but she made no sound. Rick was dumbfounded, eyes wide with shock. All he muttered in response was a simple, “Sorry,” before he slipped back into silence. I watched the lines pass by out the window, trying to regain control of my thoughts and emotions, and failing.
Not another word was spoken for the next hour. Silence reigned until Chamberlain loomed ahead of us.