There we were, standing around a Crawley thug with a few too many holes in his chest. The Nerd looked like he’d just seen a ghost on top of his mom and just stood there staring off into nothing particular. The other Crawley goon wasn’t sticking around to get shanked and started to make a break for it. I tried to take him down, but sticking people with knives isn’t exactly easy. I took a stab at it, but just ended up hitting some drywall. Everyone else was just standing there, like someone just went and flicked off their brains. I took the opportunity to rummage through the dead guy’s stuff, didn’t find much worth taking, except a nice little 9mm with no rounds.

It was the Drunk who went and broke the silence, stating the obvious that maybe it wasn’t the best idea to stick around. We picked ourselves back together and went back to stomping pavement down the old highway. The sun was crawling down and out of sight, but the sky was still bright enough that we could keep going on for another couple of miles. The Doc and the Nerd were quiet, too quiet, though killing a man for the first time can have that effect on somebody. The Drunk kept nursing on an old bottle of whiskey she picked up somewhere back down the line. With the way things were going, I could seriously use a good hard drink, but somebody in the group needed to stay sharp.

Just as the sky turned purple, we came across an old shantytown under the ruins of the old baseball stadium. It wasn’t exactly the Hotel Ritz, but it would be a hell of a lot better than camping out in the woods again. We went around looking for someplace to shack up for the night, but like most folks with troubles on their mind, they didn’t exactly trust the four random schlubs who just wandered into town. I was just about to call dibs on some random loser’s shack when the Drunk managed to chat up a nice little couple. They came to a little agreement, we bring them some firewood and drinking water and they let us shack up in their basement. Charity doesn’t come that easy, so I asked what the catch was. Turned out we had to take their kids with us into the woods, at night, with Crawley thugs hunting us down. Yes, there was no way this could’ve possibly turned out alright.

First steps into the woods, the kids act like kids and flip out, taking off to play some weird little game. I didn’t have the time to bother with hunting them down, so I left it to everyone else to wrangle up the little wieners.

The trick to finding good firewood is to look for a nice dead tree. Problem with wood from fresh trees is that it’s got too much water in it. It’ll make lots of smoke, but it’ll just smolder into crap before it burns. Dead trees on the other hand are plenty dry and for the most part will catch fire without having to do anything too hard. Of course, you have to check for bugs before you light it up. You don’t want to get your stuff swarmed with hundreds of little beetles that are on fire. The smell is pretty awful too.

I found a nice little stash of branches from a dead elm when I heard one of the kids scream for a second before it was suddenly muffled. I wasn’t too worried, probably just stepped into a rabbit hole or something, but I figured it wouldn’t hurt to check. I walked towards where I heard the scream when I heard the Drunk talking to somebody, wasn’t too sure who it was, but it wasn’t the kind of talking that you do to a kid. I stepped out from the brush and saw the Drunk trying to talk the kids out of the hands of two Crawley thugs.

The goons didn’t have much on them in terms of heat, but I wasn’t about to go and get myself chopped up with a machete for some stranger’s kids. The Nerd and the Doc showed up behind me and judging from the look on their faces, they weren’t in the mood to do some more stabbing. I wanted to smack the Drunk for trying to talk to these guys to begin with; you can’t exactly negotiate with people who don’t want anything you have. Of course, I had something that would make these negotiations go a lot smoother.

“Hey,” I said, “let ‘em go.” My hand hovered over the gun in my jacket, after all, they didn’t know it was empty and I’d never met the man who thought that a machete could beat a gun at fifty paces.

“What the hell does it matter to you?” the machete man said. He whipped his blade out and into the air where it caught a glint of the moon. It was impressive, but that was about it.

“Those are my kids, gonna sell ‘em off over at the lakefront.”

“Oh, yeah and what are you gonna do if I just took his head off right here?”

“I’ll blow your face into the next county you rotten son of a bitch!” I pulled the empty gun up and aimed it dead between his eyes.

The machete man loosened his grip and the kid took the opportunity to book it, right after my own heart. I cocked the hammer on the pistol and told the Crawleys to get out of my sight. They slunk back into the shadows and vanished.
With the way things were going, it wasn’t a good idea to stick around here. The folks back at the shantytown weren’t liable to help us out if we got jumped and the faster we got out of Crawley turf the better.

We started to stomp the pavement again.