He tipped the bottle to his lips, and the taste, barely anything on his tongue but flavorless gasoline, filled him. Made him whole. He felt his throat warm, felt his stomach burn. It was the first steps towards dumping death in his veins and he savored the idea. The only bittersweet peace he’d ever find tonight.

He took a few more downs of it and wiped his mouth, then carried the bottle to the motel room window.

Leaning against the windowframe with one arm, he watched the street with hard, bitter eyes, watched the cars hiss by in the rain. He looked behind and saw Tisandra quietly sleeping on the bed, Zuzu passed out next to her, her mouth wide open, drool pooling on the pillow. He fucking hated Tisandra. Hated her royal airs, her smug condescension, how even the way she breathed spoke of entitlement, of privilege. And his hand seemed to tighten and inflame as in reply. But most of all, he hated that she was the reason he and Zuzu were so far away from home. He hated her so intently for that.

Home.

The thought of it twisted on his chest and he pulled another swig from the bottle, wincing as the burn went down. Five years. Five years of his life, gone right down the shitter. No input. No protest. No choice. No way of getting them back. Just last week he knew where he was, where he was going. Some vague idea of it anyway.

And now?

Now he was here, five years past his old life, sulking in a cheap motel, nursing a whiskey bottle and watching royalty sleep in the same bed with his little sister. And on the run. Always on the run.

Fuck her, he thought to himself, and took another stiff swallow from the bottle. He ought to just grab Zuzu and leave her majesty here in the morning. Let the bastards chasing them contend with her. Let them have her. He could be away before she woke up and never have to deal with her petty Disneyland problems.

Something he knew Zuzu would never agree to.

He watched the cars for almost an hour, letting his thoughts ride themselves out, letting his mind rage and rant, letting the sound of the cars balm him. Like ocean waves right outside his door. Until finally he grew tired of himself and, closing his eyes, wished it all away.

It was enough that nothing had changed when he opened them up again.

He made his way back to the bathroom, flipped on the glaring white light and capped the whiskey bottle. He needed a shave. He hadn’t showered in days. Dark rings marked his eyes. And the booze was catching up with him. He looked into the mirror, into his haggard face and decided to lay himself down now, while he could still keep track of his horizon. He grabbed the blanket Zuzu had left him and set himself down onto the floor next to them.

Fuck this running away shit, he thought, nestling into the pillow, wrapping himself in warmth. Fuck her majesty. Fuck that old bastard’s curse. Fuck the whole damn world. Fuck it all. Let it all burn down around him for all he cared.

And softly, as cars outside his window whispered through the drizzled streets, he let out a thick sigh into the thin darkness of the room, found sanctuary in the closing of his eyes. And slid into a whiskey-tinged dream.

*************************************

Six hours later, he heard Tisandra turn the shower off and hum loudly to herself. Like a drill beating into his skull.

It wasn’t that he was hung over. But the noise of it, the cold-blooded perkiness of her voice at…..he rolled over to look up at the clock on the nightstand…..at seven o’ clock in the goddamn morning was just too much. He saw that Zuzu was still asleep, on her side, her knees practically under her chin. He rolled back over again and cursed under his breath.

“Are you awake?” she asked, emerging from the fog of the bathroom and smiling, a towel wrapped around her head and around her torso.

“No” he murmured and threw the blanket over his face. She sat down at one of the chairs and picked up one her fashion magazines and began idly flipping through pages. Noisily flipping through pages. Then the flipping stopped and she sat there in the quiet of the room.

“Shouldn’t you be getting up?” she asked, cutting through him.

“No. I shouldn’t. Leave me alone” he said through the pillow.

“You don’t think we should have left by now?” she asked.

“No” he told her, the pillow castrating his anger. She stood up and loudly plopped the magazine down on a table near the window. Under his breath, he cursed and realized he had no choice. Angrily, he threw the blanket off himself and sat upright, his face scowled. Out of the corner of his eye, he could tell she was grinning. He sighed, rubbed his eyes and stood up on his feet. And managed to flip her off without even looking at her.

Shuffling his feet and wincing at the daylight that broke through the thin curtains, he trudged into the shower and saw the whiskey bottle perched on the sink.

“Hello, old friend” he mumbled to himself, and spun the cap off for a swallow. A shitty breakfast at best but for now it’d have to do.

“If you’re going to hassle me about waking up” he told Tisandra, “you might as well wake up Zuzu too. The sooner we roll out of here, the sooner she and I can get something to eat.” Tisandra nodded in agreement and the bathroom door closed after him, water soon roaring into the tub.

By the time he emerged from the bathroom in his boxers, his hair wet and slick on his head, he felt iron-pressed and ready.

“Feel better?” Zuzu asked him. She and Tisandra were laying stomach-down on the bed, both of them peering through the magazine, Tisandra eating the leftover rose petals.

“Much” he said. “It’s your turn, squirt. Make sure you hurry too. We need to get a move-on as soon as we can.” Zuzu nodded, bounced off the bed and dug through her bags for a clean change of clothes. “Out in a jiff” she squealed with a grin, slipped past him and closed the bathroom door. He grabbed a white t-shirt from the duffel bag and put on the same pair of jeans he’d worn for days. Grabbed his smokes and rolled them in his sleeves. Put his shoes on. Checked the pistols and slid one of them into the waistband of his pants, the other into the duffel bag and threw on his Wanderer jacket. The sound of running water fired up behind him and then Zuzu’s radio came after, playing the Chordettes.

“You take longer than I do to get ready, Mr. Huxley” Tisandra said. Her crimson hair had lightened just a bit, in the drying of it, and cascaded down in front of her face a little. She had put on one of her silken dresses and her upended bare feet and calves peeked out from the bottom.

“Har har” he said and moved to the door. “I’ll be back in a minute” he told her, “Just checking the engine before we go”. He turned the knob, quickly put on his sunglasses to ignore the sun and looked to the outside.

He never made it completely through the door.

Floating in front of the hotel office, bigger than a house, was the galleon that had been chasing them going on four nights straight. It hovered a good thirty feet off the ground, its shadow draped over a few parked cars like a dark curtain. Pitch black sails hung flacidly from the masts and rope ladders dangled down its blood red and ebony sides. All around it were scrambling, shrieking goblins and one corpulent one in an eyepatch barking orders to all the others from the deck.

A squad of about ten or twelve goblins swarmed around the motel office, some chattering like angry insects, some snarling and laughing. Through the office windows Bobby saw three goblins argue with the hotel manager’s wife and then jump on top of her, their clawed hands swinging cutlasses, blood splattering the glass.

“What’s wrong?” Tisandra asked and Bobby re-entered the room, quickly and quietly closing the door.

“They’re here” he said.

“Who’s here?”

“Who do you think?” he asked with a smirk. “Certain friends of yours who have a habit of scooping out people’s brains and making fog lights out of people’s heads.”

“I knew you should’ve gotten up earlier! I told you!” she said and hopped to her feet. “Still, what are the odds they know we’re here?”

“You’re kidding right?” he asked and smirked at her. “They know, for chrissakes. Why else would they be here?” From the bathroom he could hear Zuzu singing “Lollipop lollipop, oh lolli lolli, lolli, Lollipop…..POP! Bah doom doom doom”. She was banging the shampoo bottles against the shower wall like drumsticks on ‘bah doom doom doom’.

Bobby rubbed his face with his hands and groaned through his fingers to help him find his focus. He moved to the side of the window and pushed the curtain aside just a bit, asking for a tiny view. The goblins with the cutlasses were moving from room to room, kicking down doors and wasting no time with the people in them. He could hear the fighting, the screams, from halfway across the complex.

“Shit” he whispered to himself and slid away from the curtains before he could be spotted. “Okay look,” he told her. “We go out the back way, out the bathroom window and try to sneak our way to the Beast.”

“But if the Beast is out in front then…”

“We’ll worry about that after we get the fuck out of here” he said, nervously checking the pistol’s clip again to make sure it was full.

He knocked on the bathroom door. “Zuzu?” She was too busy singing to hear him. He turned the knob. Locked. He rapped on the door a little harder. “Zuzu!” and then heard the shower curtain scraped back.

“Yeah?” Zuzu said back, her head peeking out of the water, her hair soaped and spiked like a porcupine’s. The Chordettes were just finishing up on the radio.

“We need you out of the shower. We’ve got company outside in the parking lot.”

“Whaaaat?!” he heard her yell over the water. Tisandra, despite her fear, smiled a little.

“I need you out of the shower, Zu” he said a little louder. “We’ve got none-too-friendly company. Outside. In. The Par. King. Lot”

“Shit. Okay” she said and seconds later the rumble of the water was choked off to just a gurgle. He turned and saw Tisandra gathering up ALL of her luggage. Her garment bags. Her four suitcases. And her hat carrier. It nearly made him laugh watching her try to drag all six pieces of luggage into the bathroom on her own. He looked at her and started shaking his head. They’d die before they even made it to the bathroom.

“Take only what you can carry, Tisandra.”

“I am” she replied, making a juggling act of each one as she tried to trudge them into the bathroom.

“I mean take only one or two of those suitcases. We can’t make it out of here carrying half of your shit.”

“You don’t understand. I need–”

“Will you stop fucking arguing with me and just GO!” He yelled, pointing the gun towards the bathroom.

“Stop yelling at me!!” she yelled back.

“You don’t seem to get it, princess. We do not have fucking time to discuss this over tea. Those guys outside?” he asked. “They are here to kill Zuzu & me and to take you back home. And in about ten seconds, they will be kicking down that door and no amount of luggage is going to do us a fuck of a lot of good, you got me? Now if you want, you can stay here with your umpteen suitcases and your magazine.” he said, picking it up and shaking it in front of her. “But me? I’m taking Zuzu and we’re going out that bathroom window right the fuck now! If you’re coming with us, then take two goddamn suitcases or wait here for them. Those are your options. Personally, I don’t give a fuck what you do.”

There was a long, disturbing pause. The bathroom door unlocked with a pop and Zuzu emerged in her hastily pulled on clothes.

“Geez, do you two ever stop fighting? You both sound like you’re married.” Zuzu said with a grin, buttoning up her shirt. She was soaked to the bone, her hair dripping. “What’s the plan, Stan?”

Bobby, his face tense with anger, just pointed to the bathroom. “O-kay” Zuzu said. “We’ll just stare at each other, all pissed off. Wonderful plan.” Bobby and Tisandra just ignored her.

“Well I’m taking these two then” Tisandra said, abandoning her garment bag and hat carrier and two of her other suitcases and angrily toting her two favorites into the bathroom.

Screams from neighboring tenants broke his thoughts. He pulled the pistol out of his waistband and peeked through the curtains again. He couldn’t see the goblins standing guard outside any rooms. The sounds though, about two or three rooms down, wasn’t a good sign.

“They’re close” Bobby told Zuzu and she nodded, biting her nails. He grabbed his duffel bag, slung it over his shoulder, made sure he had the keys to the Beast in his pocket and very quickly followed Tisandra into the bathroom. She was struggling to open the window.

“Here, for chrissakes. Let me see that” he said and slid the gun behind his shirt. It was a simple turn-lock, nothing fancy but the window still refused to budge. Caught between making too much noise or doing what he had to do to bust them out, Bobby opted for busting.

He took off his jacket, wrapped it around his elbow and jabbed at the window’s edge. In a pop it broke loose and swung out on its hinges. He unwound his jacket from his arm, reaching down to grab her suitcase and pitched it angrily through the window. The look on her face made him feel a little better.

So he pitched her other suitcase the same way.

He clasped his fingers together and gave Tisandra a boost out, then Zuzu’s bag went, then Zuzu after. Soon enough, he was clambering out the window behind them.

His duffel bag slung over his shoulder, he crept alongside the alley wall, praying not to have attention drawn to them. Over the slight click-clack of Tisandra’s sandals against the concrete as she lugged her suitcases in each hand (she was doing a pretty good job carrying both of them, he noticed), he could hear the goblins breaking their room door down and shrieking to each other. Taking the lead, he snuck past bathroom window after bathroom window, dodging trashcans and scattered broken beer bottles, Zuzu and Tisandra only steps behind.

When he got to the end of the alley, he could see part of the bow of The Fool’s Hope poking out past the corner several meters away. He knew The Beast was waiting on the other side. Getting to it was going to be a problem. The ship was a fair enough distance away. But the goblins, or at least a good handful of them, were outside, keeping watch. Those were the ones he knew would charge him the minute they saw him move from around the corner and make for the Beast.

He switched his duffel bag strap from his shoulder to across his chest and swung the bag to his back. Then dug into his pockets, clutched the keys and took two deep breathes. The pistol was firmly gripped in his other hand, his trigger finger nervous. “I’m going to see what’s going on” he said to them and peered around the corner without giving himself away.

He saw at least eight of them. Four were standing outside the door, jabbering at each other, their cutlasses loosely gripped in their thin-skinned hands, and another four were standing on the deck of the ship. Given the shrieks and shrill sounds from the inside of their room, he guessed there were at least three or four more. He quickly slid back behind the corner and tried to do the math fast. He had seven shots. God, this was going to be close. He turned to Tisandra.

“I’m going to make a run for the Beast. I want you two to stay here. When you hear the engine start up, don’t haul ass until you see me. Got it?” They both nodded and Zuzu offered help with Tisandra’s suitcase. “Wish me luck” he told them and slinked around the corner to the parking lot.

“Good luck” Zuzu whispered once he was out of earshot. Tisandra didn’t say a word.

His heart was pounding when he made it around the corner. Two of them spotted him immediately and it rippled for just a second to two others. He couldn’t waste any time. He fired two shots, both of them breaking through the air like sharp thunder, and nailed two goblins in the head, each with a sound of cantaloupes splitting apart.

The other two remaining realized they didn’t have the swords for what he had, so they scurried into the hotel room, shrieking and chattering to their comrades. Bobby, gun poised, quickly made his way to the Beast and unlocked it, never losing his bead on the goblins nearest to him. In their faces and snarling jaws he could tell they were indecisive on whether to rush him and tear apart the car or get their heads blown off. He untangled himself from his duffel bag and held it loosely on his arm as he opened up the driver door. Just barely out of range, he could hear Slaughtermouth bellowing from the deck of the The Fool’s Hope.

“Turn this goddamn ship about!!”

Bobby didn’t dare even look to see it. He slung the duffel bag and the pistol into the seat, slid behind the wheel of the Beast and turned the ignition. Immediately it woke to life with a deafening roar, flames blasting out of the tailpipes. He revved the engine once, then slammed her into reverse, whipped his head around and threw her backwards.

He could see out of the corner of his eye that The Fool’s Hope was scrambling with goblins at the cannons. He kicked the clutch pedal, jammed her into first and gunned the gas pedal. The Beast took off with a metallic rage, just as a cannonball volley blasted out of The Fool’s Hope’s side and ripped through the hotel room they had stayed in. The boom was thunderous, goblins and fire spraying everywhere. Bobby slammed the brakes just past the last hotel room and Tisandra and Zuzu darted out from behind the corner, ducking from the flying debris, bags in their hands.

Bobby leaned over and unlocked the door, flinging it open for them. “Hurry!” he yelled and half-stumbling, half-jumping into the backseat, Zuzu got in first. Bobby threw the seat backwards and Tisandra fell into the car after her, nearly sitting on the pistol, her suitcase almost taking up most of the room. The remaining goblins, those that that hadn’t been blown to bits by the cannon shot, raced after the car, cutlasses swinging, snarls pouring. Now all of a sudden they’d found their courage.

Bobby punched the gas and the Beast took off, the tires screeching as they burned against concrete. The Fool’s Hope took chance of the pause and blasted another cannonball from its side. The whistle ripped through the air and barely missed the hotrod, exploding instead against a parked pick-up truck on the curb, steel and fire scattering everywhere.

“Jesus!” Zuzu screamed as a few of the truck parts pinged against the Beast. “It’s like dodge ball! Except with fire!” The fire blazed right past them as they hit the main road and flew towards 66.

“Keep your heads down!” Bobby yelled as he tried to maneuver through the slower traffic. Tisandra ducked as best she could with her suitcase on her lap. Zuzu practically disappeared into the backseat.

“Fuck! Fuck! Fuck!” Slaughtermouth screamed as a small legion of goblins clambered back on board from the hotel parking lot. “Don’t just stand there gawking!” he bellowed, “Move!” The three prisoners chained to the main deck were flogged and tortured anew, their wails pouring out of them and into the sails. The helmsman turned the wheel and The Fool’s Hope spun to her right, slowly taking off in pursuit of the Beast.

“So help me god, I will decorate the stern with your useless fucking skulls!” Slaughtermouth rumbled.

“This one’s dead, sir” one of the goblins reported, his cat-o-nine tails clumped with blood. Below him lay the open-mouthed corpse that had finally given up its last wind.

The ship began to drag as if in answer. The Beast was a 3/4 of a mile down Route 66 when The Fool’s Hope caught sight of it. “Bos’n!” Slaughtermouth barked. “Do whatever it takes for us to overtake them.”

“Yes, Captain” the boatswain acknowledged. “Four more prisoners to the sails!” he commanded and several of the Lanterns proceeded to go below deck to drag up their cargo. Hammer, spikes, tawses and surgical tools were rolled out. Two goblins fastened grappling irons to several loose chains, and then the chains were anchored to the ship’s deck, at the ready. Another pair manned the harpoon guns at the stern.

Slaughtermouth reached for his pipe, clenched it in his teeth, and ignited it with a flash of match that lit up his face. “Yes fucking sir, we will snare this little trout yet” he toned.

The Lanterns began hauling out gaunt and chained victims to the deck of the ship, forcing them to their backs and then splaying them in a spread-eagle fashion with ropes. Then, with twisted drive, the goblins began hammering spikes into each victim’s palms and ankles, securing them rigidly, each pound of the mallet emitting a new howl of agony. Then the lashings and tearings would begin, the tortured screams gusting the ship’s canvas with vigor. Just the fears of those who had yet to be staked were enough to fuel The Fool’s Hope’s pace. Wind whipped across the ship with added fury as it picked up speed, the sails snapping and full.

“That’s it, lads” Slaughtermouth praised, his smile wide and leering. “Every little drop you can!!” he ordered.

Bobby could see the ship in his rear view mirror, now only a half mile behind them. He checked the speedometer. At 80 miles an hour, they should be lost in our dust, he thought. But The Fool’s Hope was closing the distance with every second, like a cat slowly slinking toward the mouse. Zuzu looked behind them and saw the ship barreling close.

“Can’t we go any faster?” She asked.

“I’ve got it floored” Bobby said, looking at the rear view mirror. “I don’t understand. They weren’t this fast the last time” He caught a glance of Tisandra looking at him. Her eyes, while still angry about the argument, had cooled to abject fear. He couldn’t blame her. He had no interest in seeing them all eviscerated by the Lanterns. He swerved violently again to get past the slower cars, the whole while watching The Fool’s Hope grow larger and larger behind them.

“They’re right on top of us” Tisandra said nervously.

“Gimme a second to figure something out” he said.

Slaughtermouth bellowed with a sneering smile. “Hooks on my order!” Three more Dread Lanterns had joined up on the forward deck, grappling hooks in hand, chains clinking like chimes behind them. The lashings reached a fever pitch and the prisoners’ howls filled the ship with the noise of their cries. The Fool’s Hope gained four car lengths away from the Beast. Then three. Then two. Then….

Bobby saw the goblins, standing ready with hooks just above them. “Like hell you are!” he said and he eyed the special switch Dvalin had warned him about. Only in emergencies, he’d been told. No arguing about it. This definitely qualified. “Put on your seatbelts” Bobby said and immediately the girls scrambled to put them on. “And for fuck’s sake, hold on to something” he told them, flicking the switch with squinted eyes and a small click from the dash.

Suddenly, like a hurricane of power, the car burst out and away and took off with a rocket’s blinding speed. Bobby barely had time to react. All he could feel was the overwhelming weight that slammed them into the back of their seats and the flashing blur that became the landscape. The engine roared as if it was about to explode, the supercharger thundering power through the engine at breakneck force. And the speedometer, matching fury, climbed and climbed and climbed to a feverishly shrill pitch. It was like hell itself was driving the engine now.

100 mph. 110 mph. 120. 130. The needle broke its limit at 140 and continued accelerating. “Jeeeesus Christ” Bobby muttered, barely able to keep a grip on the steering wheel, his foot still flat on the gas.

The Fool’s Hope practically disappeared into a dot behind them.


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