the map

THERE WERE nineteen days left when Cavalo stood on the outskirts of Cottonwood, snow blowing harshly against his face. The sky buried the morning in gray clouds, and Cavalo wondered if he would survive the winter to feel sun on his face again. He didn’t think he would. Not now.

Bad guys? Bad Dog asked him, eyeing the southern gate into Cottonwood warily. BigHank? AlmaLady?

“No,” Cavalo said. “Not bad guys.”

WarMan bad guy?

Cavalo closed his eyes. He wasn’t surprised the dog had picked up on his thoughts. If he could do that at all, that is. “Maybe. I don’t know what Warren was.”

He was not your man, the bees whispered, sounding like Patrick. Did you know that?

If WarMan was a bad guy, then maybe BigHank and AlmaLady bad guys, Bad Dog said. Maybe all of them bad guys.

“That would make things easier.”

How?

“We could leave.”

Where? Back home?

“No. We would find a new home. Far away from here.”

How far away?

“Very.”

Tin Man? Smells Different?

Cavalo sighed. “I don’t know.”

Bad Dog huffed. Can’t leave them.

“We can’t?”

No, he panted. Can’t. They fit.

“With what?”

Us. Me. You and I. Tin Man is a rust bucket, but he’s ours. Smells Different makes blood come out of people, but as long as he doesn’t do it to me or MasterBossLord, he’s ours too.

“That’s… comforting.”

Can’t leave ’em. Can’t leave here.

“That simple?”

Yes. If BigHank and AlmaLady good guys, then they need Bad Dog to protect them from monsters. Bad Dog barked to show his ferocity.

“We don’t know who the monsters are anymore,” Cavalo said. He looked back at the southern gate. He could see faint figures moving along the walkway near the top of the wall. The Patrol hadn’t yet seen him. They’d know soon enough.

Are we monsters? Bad Dog asked.

“You’re not,” Cavalo said. “You’re a good guy.”

Bad Dog was not fooled. And you? He bumped his head into Cavalo’s knee.

“I don’t know.”

I do.

“Oh?”

Good guy.

“You only say that because I feed you.”

Probably. Bad Dog turned toward Cottonwood and sniffed the wind. This isn’t going to go well, is it?

“Doubt it. We killed people the last time we were here.”

Bad guys, the dog reminded him. They were hurting Smells Different.

“At least we know what for now.” He pulled the hood of his jacket over his head.

Does it make a difference?

“It will. One day. Come on. We don’t have much time.”

Bad Dog fell into step at his side. He didn’t bound through the snow or become distracted by the call of a bird from the trees. He knew his place well.

Cavalo was the same. He kept his eye on the gate. On the Patrol that had yet to see him. He didn’t allow his thoughts to drift to the robot and the Dead Rabbit left back at the prison. He didn’t think about the lines on the Dead Rabbit’s skin and what they would mean or the way the robot had said they were incomplete. That half of the schematics were missing. He didn’t think about where the other half would be, though he had an idea. The bees tried to speak, but he waved them away.

He knew the second they spotted him. One moment they were lax and loose, and the next it was as if they’d been struck by lightning. Shouts could be heard above the wind and snow. They pointed at him, raised their weapons at him. He could have gotten in without them noticing, but it wasn’t part of the plan. He needed to walk through the front gate. Needed all of them to see him so they could understand he was not hiding. That he was not running.

At least not today.

“Stop!” one of the men on patrol cried. “Don’t come any closer!”

Cavalo did as he was told. Bad Dog stopped beside him.

“Who are you!”

He must be new, Bad Dog grumbled. He barked once.

“Is that… Bad Dog?”

Yes, you maybe bad guy! Let me in before I decide to bite you!

“Oh shit,” the man groaned. “I was almost off shift. Couldn’t you have waited until later, Cavalo?”

Cavalo looked up at him. He was a squat fat man with wide eyes. His name… his name. Frank, maybe? Fred. Something close to that. The barrel of the rifle he had pointed at Cavalo’s head shook.

Cavalo shrugged.

“Get Hank,” Frank or Fred snapped over his shoulder. “Tell him we’ve got a problem.”

“But he’s—”

“Now!” Frank or Fred shouted. He turned back to Cavalo. “You’re in deep shit, you know that?” He tried to make his voice sound tough, but Cavalo could hear the tremor in his words.

“Figured,” Cavalo grunted.

“You killed them.”

Cavalo said nothing.

“Deke shot you.”

Cavalo scowled. “Don’t remind me.” He still couldn’t believe that happened. He should probably consider punching Deke in the face while he was here. Or at least scaring him quite badly. It was only fair.

Frank or Fred’s eyes grew wider. “How in God’s name are you alive? You took a bullet to the chest!”

“Robots,” Cavalo said, sure that would explain nothing. “And I’d like to avoid that this time around, so point that gun elsewhere before there’s an accident, Fred.”

“You don’t get to tell me what to do!” He jabbed the gun toward Cavalo. “And the name’s Frank!”

“That was my other choice,” Cavalo told Bad Dog.

He a bad guy?

“No. Though if he doesn’t stop pointing that gun at me, we’re going to have a problem.”

Put down the boomstick! Bad Dog snarled up at Frank. Put it down before I eat your eyes and haunt your dreams!

“What did he say?” Frank asked.

“You don’t want to know,” Cavalo said.

The gate began to open.

“Easy,” Cavalo said quietly as Bad Dog began to growl. “Easy.”

BigHank, he said. Others. They have boomsticks. What do I do?

“Calm,” Cavalo said. “They’re not going to do anything.” At least, he hoped. He remembered the power of mobs.

Calm, Bad Dog said. Calm, calm calm. I’ll bite them all.

Hank stood on the other side of the gate, a stern look on his face. He was flanked by four men on either side of him, each of them armed, pointing their guns at Cavalo. Only Hank was unarmed. Cavalo was unsure if that was something to be thankful for.

“Cavalo,” Hank said.

“Hank.”

“Didn’t think we’d see you again.”

“I’m full of surprises.”

Hank chuckled ruefully. “That’s one way of putting it. Just you two?” His gaze flickered to the snow-covered road behind Cavalo.

“Yes.”

“How’s the chest?”

“Still pulls a bit.”

Hank nodded. “You’re lucky that’s all it does. There was a lot of blood. Didn’t know how much of it was yours.”

Cavalo shrugged. “Some, I guess.”

Hank sighed. “We’ve got a bit of an… issue here, Cavalo.”

“Figured.”

“Questions need to be asked.”

“Yeah.”

“Are we going to have any problems?”

“Putting me in jail, Hank?”

Hank rubbed a hand over his face. “I suppose. We can see how it goes from there.”

“You know how it’s going to go.”

“Then why’d you come back?”

“Would you have come for me?”

Hank nodded. “In the spring. There were… plans.”

This didn’t surprise Cavalo. “I could have been long gone by then.”

“No.”

“No?”

“You would have stayed.”

“How do you figure?”

“I know you, Cavalo. Whether you like it or not, I do. You would have stayed.”

“I suppose.”

“You carrying?”

“Yes.”

“I’ll need it all.”

Cavalo reached for the knife at his side. All the guns pointed at him tracked the movement. He had to fight every instinct he had to kill them all where they stood. One or two of them might get lucky and wing him, but they’d all be dead before they realized what was happening. It wouldn’t take much. He’d prefer not to get shot again, but it was an acceptable risk. The bees agreed with him, wanting to see blood splashed against the snow. Even Hank would not be safe if he raised a hand against Cavalo. It would be unfortunate, but necessary.

Cavalo curled his hand around the knife and zeroed in on Frank as the first to go, the knife to his right eye. Adjust for the wind. Adjust for the broken fingers. It truly was regrettable that everyone here would die. But then, they should never have pointed guns at his face.

Somehow, he stopped himself. Cavalo tossed the knife toward Hank. It landed in the snow in front of him and sank down out of view. His pistol followed. Then his pack. The rifle and bow were back at the prison. He’d wanted to travel light, without an arsenal. Like he was coming in peace. Like he meant no harm.

They didn’t seem to believe him. Every movement he made was scrutinized. He wondered which one of them would accidentally fire first. He bet on an older man whose name he did not know standing to the right of Hank. There was sweat on his brow even though the cold was biting. The barrel of his rifle was still shaking.

“Watch it there, old-timer,” he said.

The man’s eyes went wide. He licked his lips. Blinked away the sweat.

“That’s it?” Hank asked.

“Traveled light.”

I still have my teeth, Bad Dog reminded them all. You can’t make me give them up. He showed them all his teeth.

“We’re good,” Cavalo told him. “No teeth.”

Bad Dog huffed but subsided.

Hank shook his head. “Some days I think I’ve got you figured out.”

“And other days?” Cavalo asked, curious.

“Other days, you do something that makes me think I don’t know you at all.” Hank bent down and retrieved Cavalo’s belongings.

“I’ll want those back,” Cavalo said.

“I’m sure you will.” He nodded toward Bad Dog. “Gonna be a problem?”

Yes! Bad Dog barked.

“No,” Cavalo said.

Hank handed Cavalo’s pack and weapons to the old-timer with the shaky hands. Cavalo could see the pressure on the trigger momentarily grow tighter before it was released to fumble with his possessions.

Hank turned back toward Cavalo. He reached into his back pocket and pulled out a pair of handcuffs. He tossed them at Cavalo’s feet.

Lose something, Charlie? the bees asked.

But they weren’t Charlie’s. He’d seen these before.

“Put them on,” Hank said.

“Warren’s?” he asked.

“Used to be,” Hank said. “The town’s now.”

Everything screamed at him to lash out as he bent down and picked the cuffs out of the snow. To kill them all. To head back to the prison and finish what he’d started. Then, he could sleep. Then, he could dream.

He closed each cuff tight against his skin, his hands secured out in front of him. He never took his eyes off the men that stood before him. He knew they heard each click of cuffs. They thought it a trap. Cavalo almost wished it had been. They were bound to be disappointed. For now.

Hank walked toward him. Bad Dog tried to put himself between them, but he made the dog stand down. “We’re okay,” he said quietly. “We talked about this.”

Doesn’t mean I like it.

Hank stopped a few feet away. Close enough to be heard, but far enough away in case Cavalo or Bad Dog lashed out. It was smart.

He said, “He’s pissed, huh?”

Cavalo shrugged. “A bit.”

“Why?”

“Why what?”

“Everything.”

“That’s a lot.”

“This isn’t a game. People are terrified of you.”

“They should be.”

“Deke still can’t sleep.”

“He shot me.”

Hank’s eyes softened. “Feels real bad about that.”

Cavalo snorted. “I’m sure he does.”

“Why did you come back?” Hank asked, lowering his voice so as to not be heard by the gunmen.

“I need to talk to you,” Cavalo said. “Something’s happened.”

“What?”

Cavalo shook his head. “Not here. Just you and me.”

“I’m not going to like this, am I?”

“Depends.”

“On?”

“If you’re willing to fight.”

“For?”

“The future.”

Hank chuckled. “Son, just what do you think we’re doing out here?”

“You’re surviving,” Cavalo said. “Barely. It might not be enough anymore.”

“That’s almost funny coming from you.”

“There are things….”

Hank waited.

“The Dead Rabbit.”

“What about him?” Hank asked. Cavalo could not ignore the way his voice hardened.

“He’s…. It’s not what you think.”

“And what do I think? That he’s a monster? A murderer? That he killed those men in cold blood?”

Cavalo shook his head. “What does that make me, then?”

“And you care about that now?”

“I don’t know,” Cavalo said honestly. “Things have changed.”

“I can’t make promises,” Hank said. “Let’s get you inside and we’ll see what we see.” He turned back toward Cottonwood.

“Hank.”

Hank stopped.

“They came for me. At the prison.”

“Who?”

“Dead Rabbits. Said they heard of me from the town.”

Hank stiffened but did not turn.

“Did you know?”

“About?”

“Warren. He was theirs.”

“Was he?”

“Yes.”

“It makes sense.”

“Does it?”

Hank shook his head. “You miss a lot when you hide away, Cavalo.”

Cavalo said, “I’ve never asked for much.”

“You’ve never asked for anything,” Hank said. “Withering and sere, remember?”

“This, my most immemorial year.”

“Which is why I can’t quite figure this out.”

“You have to trust me.” Hollow, those words. Cavalo knew this.

“Do I?”

“I am asking for this. This one thing.”

“For you? Or for him?”

“For all of us.”

Hank nodded. “They’ll want your head. The town. They thought those men were hope. They thought we were saved. Promises were made. Even though it was shit, the words were pretty. You took that from them. You and the Dead Rabbit.”

“Let them try,” Cavalo said coldly before he could stop himself. “I’m already damned. More blood on my hands won’t matter.”

Hank laughed bitterly. “There’s the Cavalo I know.” He said nothing more as he walked toward Cottonwood.

And the man and dog followed.

 

 

THEY WANTED his head, yes. He could see it in their eyes.

Though it was just past dawn, and although the snow fell heavily, they stood outside their doors. They peered out through their windows. They whispered his name with malice and rage in their eyes.

Flanked on all sides by men with guns, he followed Hank through Cottonwood. Bad Dog crowded him closely, ears flat back against his head, a low rumble emanating from his chest. They’d tried to put a rope around his muzzle as they entered the gates, but Hank must have seen the black murder in Cavalo’s eyes and held them off. They could chain him up all they wanted; they would not touch Bad Dog in that way.

As he was led through the town, he braced himself for the first raised voice. For the first thrown stone. For the first signs of the mob forming and writhing toward him, ready to take his life and the life of his friend for what they’d done. He would fight back, he knew. He couldn’t not. But they’d be overwhelmed, and the last thing he’d see would be the faces stretched in fury above him as they cursed his name and tore at his flesh. It would just take one stone cast. One insult hurled in anger.

But it did not happen.

He could feel their hatred, yes. It all but rolled over him. However, their fear of him was stronger.

They were scared of him and every step he took. They wondered at him with wide eyes. They knew what he was capable of, having seen the aftermath of his destruction. Maybe they thought it a trap. Maybe they thought he’d turned against them and Dead Rabbits were hidden amongst the trees, waiting for his signal.

None of them spoke against him, but his name was whispered again and again and again until it became how the Deadlands sounded when wind blew through the lifeless trees.

Bad guys, Bad Dog growled. All bad guys.

“No,” Cavalo said quietly. “Confused. Scared.”

Smells like bad guys.

“Calm,” he said.

Yes. Yes.

As they neared their final destination, there were three more:

Deke, who caught Cavalo’s eyes before looking away, hiding his face, hands tightening around the rifle he held.

Aubrey, who held Cavalo’s gaze. She had no fear on her face, only worry. Bad Dog wagged his tail briefly when he saw her, and for a moment, she looked as if she’d reach out to pet him. Her father shook his head and she took a step back.

And finally Alma. Always Alma. Alma, who stood on the porch of the small office that had belonged to her brother before he’d been murdered and eaten with only his head left behind as warning. She looked fierce as the snow fell around her, her mouth a thin line, her eyes narrowed. He remembered the song he’d heard her sing about good-bye, good-bye, saying good-bye.

“You’re alive,” she said when they stood before her.

“Yes,” he said.

“I thought you might not be.”

He said nothing.

“Cavalo,” she said. “Do you know what you’ve done?”

“I’ve done many things.”

“I know. But now… the others.”

“What others?”

“The UFSA,” Hank said. “They came from Grangeville. Looking for Wilkinson.”

“And you sent them to me,” Cavalo said. “Because you knew what I’d do. If I was still alive.”

Alma looked away.

“It wasn’t her,” Hank said quietly. “Or me. Someone else in town. Don’t rightly know who. Can’t say I blame them, though. I told you, Cavalo. You took away their future.”

“Where are they?” Alma asked. “The ones who went up the mountain.”

“In the ground,” Cavalo said coldly.

She nodded tightly, as if she expected nothing less. “They’ll come for us now.”

“Not for the reasons you think,” Cavalo said. “Crisped and sere.”

Alma raised an eyebrow. “And what does that mean?”

“I don’t know. But we don’t have much time.”

“Hank,” Alma said, dropping her arms to her sides. Only then did Cavalo see the tin star attached high on her coat. He was sure it was the same one her brother had worn. “Bring him in. Bad Dog too.” She turned and walked into the office.

 

 

I HATE being in jail, Bad Dog grumbled, staring forlornly at the metal bars as he lay his head on his paws.

“We live in a jail,” Cavalo reminded him. He tested the bindings on his arms, cuffs attached to chains that stretched to the wall. There was some give to it, the metal grating against the hooks they slid through. They were strong. He wondered where they’d been found. He didn’t remember them from when Warren was here.

No. We live in our home.

“It won’t be for much longer.” He didn’t know if he believed that.

AlmaLady didn’t even give me a bone.

“She’s angry.”

With me?

“No. With me.”

Uh-oh.

“Yeah.”

The door opened. Alma walked in, followed by Hank. He closed the door against the cold. Alma glanced back at him and then turned toward Cavalo. She stared at him through the iron bars for what felt like an age. Then, “I half thought you’d be gone already,” she said. “Some magic trick into thin air with chains laying on the floor.”

Cavalo shrugged.

Hank surprised him when he opened the jail cell door, grunting as he slid it to the left. Cavalo took a step back until he was pressed against the wall. Bad Dog growled low, but stayed at Cavalo’s side when Hank and Alma entered the cell, keeping the distance between them. Cavalo didn’t know what they were doing, but he wasn’t going to take any chances. These people were his friends, or as close to friends as he’d ever had. But he would kill them if the situation called for it. He would mourn for them, but his hands were already stained with blood. He wouldn’t mourn for long.

“Why’d you come back?” Alma asked.

“Lucas. They’re coming for him.”

“Who’s Lucas?”

“The Dead Rabbit.”

Her eyes widened. “He can talk?”

“No. He wrote it in blood on the walls.”

“Do I even want to know?”

Cavalo shook his head. “It doesn’t matter. Things are different now. He’s….”

“He’s what?” Alma asked.

“Marked. It’s why they came for him.”

Cavalo did not miss the shared look between Hank and Alma. “Marked how?”

“Tattoos. All over his body.”

“Of what?”

“How much longer can you keep the lights on here?” Cavalo asked.

Hank didn’t seem fazed at the change in topic. “Through the winter,” he said. “Maybe a little longer if we ration.”

“And the water?”

Hank hesitated. “The snow helps. For now. We’re storing as much as we can. Our purifier is running. For now.”

“Because everything else is radioactive,” Cavalo said. “And it will eventually kill you to drink it. After the purifier goes.”

“And the droughts don’t help,” Hank agreed. “Summer rains are getting farther and farther apart. Not that we can really trust what comes down.”

“And when was the last time you saw a batch of potassium iodide?” Cavalo asked. “Or any other antiradiation pills? The caravans ran out of their supply a long time ago.”

“There was a rumor that someone found a DTPA cache up north a while back,” Hank said. “But I don’t think anything came from it.”

“And how many dead?”

“Cancer?”

“Yes.”

Hank shrugged. “Depends upon how far back you go. Dozens.”

“Cancer isn’t the only thing that kills you here,” Alma said, her words harsh and biting. “What’s your point, Cavalo?”

“Then why do you stay here so close to the Deadlands?”

Alma stared hard at him. He thought she wasn’t going to answer. Then, “Because there’s nowhere else to go.”

“That’s not true. There’s an entire continent.”

“Full of only God knows what,” Alma said. “You’ve heard the stories just like we have, Cavalo. Of monsters and men. Of stretches of irradiated land that go on for miles. Yes, they may be just that. Stories. But we have survived here. We have made a home here. Why take the risk?”

Bad guys, Bad Dog agreed. Scary bad guys with big teeth that live in the trees.

“Sometimes,” Cavalo said, “a risk is all there is.”

She laughed bitterly. “Those words mean nothing coming from you. Tell me, Cavalo. What risks have you taken? Why do you stay?”

“Because this is all I have,” he said honestly. “But sometimes, that’s almost not enough.” He thought of the tree that danced in the haunted woods. The tree that whispered poison in his ears.

“Then what changed your mind? You’ve never given a damn about anything other than wasting away in your prison.”

The words stung. “There’s more now.”

“What?”

“Lucas.”

“The Dead Rabbit.” She was good. Her voice gave away nothing.

“Yes.”

“You know what he is.”

“Yes.”

“What he’s done.”

“Yes.”

Now the anger came. “Did he do it?” Her eyes flashed.

He knew what she meant. “No. He had nothing to do with Warren.”

“Is that what he told you?”

“Did you know Warren was working with the Dead Rabbits?” It was out before he could stop it.

She slapped him. He tasted blood. Bad Dog growled viciously at his side. “No,” he said, pointing toward the ground. Bad Dog lay back down, but his ears and tail were rigid, and he watched Alma with a curl to his lip.

There were tears in her eyes. Alma, who said that tears were a useless thing. A sign of weakness. He understood then.

“You knew,” he said.

She looked away.

“There’s much you don’t know, Cavalo,” Hank said quietly. “Choices had to be made.”

“You both knew,” Cavalo said. “About Warren.” The bees screamed in his head. “What have you done?”

“We ensured our survival,” Alma said.

“I’m sure Warren doesn’t see it that way.”

“I could kill you,” she said. Cavalo believed her.

“He came out of the woods one day,” Hank said, looking down at his hands. “We thought he was a drifter. We get them, every now and then. He was charismatic. He laughed. He smiled. He ate with us in my house. With my children. And then one night, he told me just how easy it would be to take Aubrey into the woods. How pink her skin was and how it would taste under his tongue. How it would crack and boil over a fire. She would scream, he said, as he peeled it away. Fear did something to the flesh. Gave it more of a tang.” He took a shuddering breath. “And we would watch. He would make us watch as he devastated my daughter. Then the rest of us would follow.”

“Patrick,” Cavalo breathed.

Hank nodded. “It’s been a little over two years now. Only the three of us knew.”

“You son of a bitch,” Cavalo said. “What did he want? In return?”

Neither answered, nor would they look at him.

What did he want?”

“Supplies,” Hank said. “Information. Caravan routes. How often they came through. Grangeville. How many. How often we traded. The surrounding area. The mountains. Rivers. Dams. Never told them about the prison. They never asked.”

“That’s it?”

“And people.”

Cavalo closed his eyes. “To recruit?”

“No.”

Cavalo felt sick. “How many so far?”

“Five,” Hank said. “The first was from Grangeville. The second was from a caravan. The third was found wandering the woods. I never even knew her name. The fourth was a man from the south who had raped a woman and left her for dead.”

“And the fifth?”

“He couldn’t do it anymore,” Alma said. Her voice was flat, like SIRS when caught in the grip of his insanity. “He said this isn’t who we are. He told us we had to stop. That it was time to rise up and fight back.”

“Warren,” Cavalo said.

Alma nodded. “He went out one day. Said he’d be right back. That he was just going to talk some sense into them. The Dead Rabbits. I begged him not to. I begged him to stay. You know what he said?”

“What?” Cavalo croaked out.

“It’s not what Cavalo would do. Cavalo wouldn’t stand for this. Cavalo wouldn’t let this happen.” She wiped her eyes. “Always Cavalo with him. Cavalo, Cavalo, Cavalo. You would have thought you walked on water rather than crawled in the dirt.”

Without thinking, Cavalo rushed them both, forgetting the chains that bound him to the wall. All he could think about was his hands around their necks. To squeeze until blood vessels burst in their eyes and they saw all the world in the same red sheen that had fallen over him.

The chains snapped his arms back. “You fucking bastards,” he snarled at them. Bad Dog was at his side, teeth snapping, eyes narrowed. “You fed them!”

“And you murdered three men to save one of them,” Hank said. “What does that make you?”

“Fuck you, Hank.”

Bad guys? Bad Dog barked excitedly. They bad guys now?

“Hold,” Cavalo snapped at him. “Don’t move until I say.”

Alma and Hank took a step back. Cavalo pulled on his chains toward them. His arms stretched back. He bared his teeth. The bees crowed at his savagery. “Let me go,” he said. The chains scraped against the metal hooks.

“We can’t do that, Cavalo,” Hank said sadly. “Not yet. Not until we get some answers.”

“Or what? You going to feed me to them too?”

Alma winced but ignored his words. “Why did they want him?” she asked. “The UFSA. They knew who he was, didn’t they?”

“What happens if you can’t find someone to feed to them?” Cavalo asked. “What happens then? How do you choose?”

“Does it matter?” Hank asked.

“Yes.”

Hank glanced at Alma. She shook her head, and he sighed. Cavalo thought that’d be the end of it, but then Hank spoke. “Lottery,” he said in a soft voice, as if speaking the word any louder would make it real.

“Lottery,” Cavalo repeated.

“They wouldn’t know what for. Whoever was chosen.”

“And if it was Deke? Or Aubrey? Or either of you?”

“We’d do what we had to,” Alma said.

“And me? Would I have been in that lottery?”

“Everyone,” Hank said.

Cavalo laughed. He couldn’t stop it if he tried. It poured out of him in great heaving gasps, sounding rusty and foreign in his ears.

What happened? Bad Dog asked, cocking his head.

“Monsters,” Cavalo said as he struggled to catch his breath. “They’re monsters.”

Bad Dog growled at Alma and Hank.

“It was the only way,” Hank said.

“Fuck your logic, Hank.”

“You’re not better than us, Cavalo,” Alma snapped.

He leveled his gaze at her. “And I never pretended to be. I know what I am.”

To this, Hank and Alma said nothing.

It was time to end this. “You have nineteen days,” Cavalo said, still chuckling. It was a dry sound, like bones rubbing together.

“Until what?” Hank asked.

“Until Patrick comes to Cottonwood to take back what’s his,” Cavalo said with a grin. He wondered if his lips crawled with bees. “They have held this town over my head. The Dead Rabbits. The UFSA. All of them. They threatened you unless I gave them what they want. I killed the UFSA for you. I came here to warn you about what was to come. But now I’m inclined to let them raze this place to the ground. This is not my doing. This is not my war.”

The blood drained from both their faces at his words. “And how long do you think it’ll be before they show up at your door?” Hank asked him, wiping the sweat from his brow. “All of them?”

“I’ll be long gone,” Cavalo said. “You’ll be nothing but the wind at my back.”

“Running again,” Alma said. “How like you.”

“Surviving,” Cavalo retorted. “Surely that’s something you understand.”

“What does he want?” Hank asked.

“Who?”

“Patrick.”

“The boy,” Alma said. “Lucas. You said he had marks. For what?”

“It doesn’t matter. Not anymore. You’ll never see him again.”

“What can he do? What is he?”

Cavalo shrugged.

“Nineteen days,” she said. “You’ll still be here when they come.”

Cavalo smiled at her. He thought his face might break.

“We can go to him,” Alma said to Hank. “To Patrick. Tell him this was all a mistake. We had nothing to do with Lucas.”

“It’s not that simple,” Hank said, looking at Cavalo. “Is it?”

“No.”

“Water,” Hank said. “You asked me about water. And electricity.”

Cavalo pulled on the chains. They rattled behind him. If only Hank or Alma would take a step closer, he could wrap the chain around their throats. But they probably knew better. He was sure they could see it on his face.

“What is he?” Hank asked.

“Salvation,” Cavalo said, “but you’re already as damned as I am.”

“Did they know? The UFSA?”

“They didn’t know what they had. What he was.”

“Marks on his skin. That’s what you said. Tattoos.”

Cavalo said nothing.

“Is it….” Hank shook his head. “It can’t be.”

“What?” Alma asked.

He ignored her. Hank only had eyes for Cavalo. “Patrick. He did it, didn’t he?”

Tell them nothing, the bees said. They are monsters. They lied to you. They don’t deserve your help. They’re no better than she was when she took Jamie out of the town and let him die. They’re no better than the ones who left Warren’s head on a dusty road near the edge of the sane world.

They’re no better than me, Cavalo thought and closed his eyes. In his mind the hive screamed at him as they swarmed around him, as if stuck inside a snow globe.

“DEFCON 1,” he muttered. “I’m at DEFCON 1.”

“What?” Alma asked.

Who is Charlie? Bad Dog asked. And what did he lose?

The man thought of coyotes, snarling and fat with tumors, as he opened his eyes. “I don’t know,” he said. “I don’t know what he did. But it’s not complete. SIRS said it’s only halfway done. It’s not in his programming to know the rest. He’s scanned all that he could and he understands what it means, but he can’t finish it.” He didn’t know why he told them, given what he now knew. Maybe it was because there was nothing left.

“My God,” Hank whispered. “How is it possible?”

“I don’t know,” Cavalo said. “But it is. And you know who will have the rest.”

“Lucas doesn’t know for sure?”

“So he says.” Cavalo wasn’t sure if he could believe the Dead Rabbit.

“But… how… where can we…?”

“Dworshak,” Cavalo said. “Does it still stand?”

“The dam?” Alma asked. “What does that have to….”

“It should,” Hank said. Cavalo could see the fire blooming in his eyes. He wondered if, after all was said and done, they could ever go back to the way things had been. If they would even have the chance. “Haven’t been there in a few years since no one knew how to do anything with it. Fifty miles is a long way to travel this close to the Deadlands. Unless the Dead Rabbits have taken it over, but I don’t think they have gotten that far north yet.” He stopped. Shook his head. “That’s what they’ve been looking for, isn’t it? That’s why they’ve been moving. To find a working dam. He never asked about it, so we never had reason to tell him.”

“I don’t understand,” Alma said weakly, though Cavalo could see the knowing glimmer flashing in her eyes.

 

Cavalo took a breath and let it out slowly. “Lucas is… a map.”