The old lady was behind me; she mumbled something I didn’t understand, but lady-man’s grip on my arm suddenly tightened. “She say you fakin’,” my escort said. “She say you din’t drink enough make you act like dis.”
That startling revelation was followed by a hard strike to my lower back, delivered by the old broad and some sort of blunt object. No faking this time; my knees buckled and hit the dirt. Lady-man hauled me to my feet and dragged me to the stump. My legs were tingling, and it was difficult to convince them to move.
We reached the stump and the uncle produced the axe he’d been hiding behind his back. It was rusty, save for the edge, which was shiny and very, very sharp.
Another whack to the back, and this time lady-man’s hand left my arm and clamped down on the back of my neck. She began forcing my head toward the stump, and I decided I’d had enough of this victim shit.
My legs were still a little numb and out of it, but I had plenty of upper body strength, and a good healthy dose of adrenaline brought on by the axe. I’m hard to kill, but decapitation would definitely do me in. I planted my hands on top of the stump and pushed up. Lady-man lost her grip on my neck and went sprawling in the dirt beside me. The uncle swung the axe, aiming for my head. I raised my left arm to block the blow, and the blade sank into my upper arm.
There was no pain for a second, and then there was a lot. I rolled away from the uncle and the stump, taking the axe with me. I got to my feet, blood pouring down my arm and spattering to the ground. The two missing uncles had returned, were standing on my left, holding axes of their own. The old woman stood behind them, brandishing a thick walking stick. I took a step backward. Lady-man was on her feet, on my right. I took another step backward. I saw the barn in the corner of my eye, closer than my car.
“She got my axe,” the axe-less uncle said.
I took a deep breath and grabbed the handle with my right hand and tugged it loose. More pain and blood followed. I ground my teeth, fighting away the surge of light-headedness. If I lost consciousness now, I’d wake up in a stew pot.
Movement on my right: lady-man was going for me. I swung the axe. She twisted, and the blade thunked into her meaty left shoulder instead of her chest. She screamed. The axe was wedged in tight; I must have struck bone. I used this to my advantage and maneuvered her between me and her relatives.
I glanced at the barn and began walking backward, holding on to the axe handle, using it to steer lady-man with me. My left arm healed with each step I took, and by the time I reached the barn I was able to use it to fumble open one of the barn doors. The door handles were thick metal, welded to the doors. This gave me a flicker of hope. I dragged my bleeding, cursing captive in with me and slammed shut the door.
Identical handles were welded to the inside, too. Good. I forced lady-man to the floor, which was just dirt hard-packed with oil and God knew what other fluids. I put a foot in the middle of her back and held her down while I pulled the blade free.
While she screamed and cursed, I slid the axe through the handles, temporarily barring it.
I peeled off my jacket. The left side of it was coated in sticky, drying blood, which made it a bit unpleasant to wear. I retrieved my gun, stuck it back in the holster, and tossed the jacket aside. I took a few seconds to scope out the barn’s interior.
Smells-wise, gasoline dominated, but I also caught the faint scents of human sweat and blood, along with urine. Lighting was supplied by a handful of flickering low-wattage bulbs, which allowed me to see a car in the center of the barn. A Saturn. The license plate matched that of Billy Perkins’s Saturn.
To tell the truth, I hadn’t expected to find him alive.
Piled around the car, piled in the corners, stacked against every dented, welded wall, were suitcases. Baby strollers. Children’s car seats. Igloo coolers. The stuff people pack when they’re going on a journey in the family car. I walked to the nearest stack of suitcases and unzipped the top one. Empty. I knocked it aside and opened the next one. Empty.
I picked up a baby stroller and stared at it.
Lady-man finally spoke. “You ain’t bleedin’ no more. You ain’t hurt no more. What are you?”
I threw the stroller at her. It bounced off her ass. “What are you?” I countered.