Light filtered through the frosted glass, and the interior of the train car glowed with dusty, muted light. Shadrach woke, confused, not remembering sleep taking him. He scrubbed at his face and was surprised to find himself alone with the body of the rider, who was no longer moaning. He stood carefully, moving with soft steps and cringing as the train car shifted. He studied Toad, and determined he was still living, with the soft, labored breathing he could see.
Toad was an ugly man, with a brutish shelf of a forehead looming over piggy eyes. His nose was dented and appeared to be suffering from a perpetual series of breaks. His beard was black and iron, and his hair was thinning on top. Indigo had washed the blood and mud from his face, and it had done him some good. The gunshot wound still looked frightful, and from the way that he seemed to grimace with the slightest movement it was evident that cleaning his face had been an effort akin to brushing the teeth of a severed head.
The rusty cry of metal scraping on metal suddenly filled the cabin and Shadrach turned quickly. The dark form of Indigo filled the doorway, made even darker as a contrast to the light outside. He stared firmly at Shadrach as he stood over Toad but said nothing. He brought in a canteen and lowered it to Toad, giving him drink and wiping his brow. The dying man opened his mouth slightly, moaning, and took small drink.
“Has he spoken?”
Indigo stared up at him, his face impassive. “Some.” He mopped Toad’s forehead and grimaced. “He has a fever.”
“What did he say?” Shadrach asked, wondering why they hadn’t gotten the information and then moved on. He knew why, of course: Indigo wouldn’t leave someone he cared for to die, and when Toad did finally pass, Indigo would probably move on, leaving Shadrach behind.
“He said he was thirsty, and he told me that the mechanics had supplies that we could use.” The squat man trembled in his distressed sleep as Indigo stood up and away from him. “He told me to kill him, but then he fell back into his sleep. I mean to honor his dying wish, but I hope to learn more first.”
Shadrach looked out of the frosted window. The landscape that they’d already crossed looked garbled through the jumbled glass, but he imagined a fleet of motorbikes heading their way already, with more guns and warriors than they could ever possibly overcome. “How long do you plan to wait?”
His amber eyes glowed, and his mouth twisted into a snarl. “If you fear what may come, go.”
“If I fear what may come, then I will stay with you, the crazy man with the guns and the sword that can kill as easily as a fish can swim,” Shadrach spat. The pent up rage from the previous night flooded from him. “If you want me gone, then make me gone, but if not, stop snapping at me and trying to scare me away. I shot your friend, and I am not sorry about it. He had a big machine gun on the front of his ride and I am pretty sure he wouldn’t have cared if he painted the landscape with my blood. Whether or not they tied him down: How was I supposed to know? I don’t care if you like more or not, I’m staying, but I’m also telling you that if we stay too long we’re giving the motorcycle crazies plenty of ground to catch up.”
“And if I choose not to let you stay?” The words slithered from him like a dark cloud. His hand slid down to the leather-wrapped hilt of his sword, and his eyes danced with malice. “If I choose to - how did you say it? – ‘paint the landscape with your blood’ instead of letting you stay in step with me?”
Shadrach swallowed, trying hard not to flinch from the unsettling orange stare. “If that’s what you choose, there’s not much I can do about it anyway.”
“If you two keep up that arguing,” cut in a low raspy voice, “how do you expect a man to get any rest?”
They looked down in unison to see Toad looking up at them, smiling weakly. He looked worse awake than he did asleep, and Shadrach felt immediate shame for his wish to leave this man to die. Toad gave him a weak stare, clearly weighing him, and then looked to Indigo. “Demon,” he croaked. “You’ve decided to postpone my trip to the beyond. What did I do to deserve such treatment.”
Shadrach stared at Indigo, unsure of how he would react to being called ‘Demon’, and was surprised to see that the dark man didn’t look down angrily. He didn’t react at all to the name.
“I need to know some things before you leave,” Indigo replied. “I need to know what to prepare for.”
Toad retched, coughed, and spat. A wad of bright red phlegm clung to the floor. “Hiram won’t let you go, you know that. He caught the Demon once, and he swears by all he holds dear he’ll catch the Demon again.” His weak smile returned, slightly broader. “Hiram’s headed the wrong way, though. He left our group in charge of Charlie Bloom.”
Indigo stiffened at the name. “Where is he?”
“Bloom’s riding hard in that iron chariot, with the best of his men.” He grimaced and let out a low moan. “Gods this hurts. Demon, you need to hightail it. We were the last of the trackers, and Bloom was following our path, probably three days behind. That chariot is a tricksy mechanic to be sure; he had to tinker with her more than twice since we’ve started. But Bloom won’t let you go. He wants to bring you back in pieces, if Blanchette would allow it.”
The dark man stared at the walls, clearly considering this information. Shadrach stared back, wanting to know who Charlie Bloom was and why he was riding in an iron chariot. Toad drank from more water that was offered, and coughed up more blood, while crying out. Indigo then looked upon Shadrach, considering some more, before looking down fondly at Toad.
“Thank you, old friend,” he said softly. “Are you ready for your death now?”
“Gods, yes,” Toad croaked, and his piggy eyes began filling with water. Indigo drew his pistol. The stout man smiled softly, and his voice cracked with emotion. “You use that well. And do as I have always said: Remember the good, from your father, and cast out the evil…from your mother.” Shadrach glanced at Indigo, who clearly flinched at the comment, but said nothing. “Will you remember?”
“I always do,” Indigo replied, softly. “Rest well.”
“Be seein’ you, Demon.”
Shadrach walked away. He stepped through the open door, staring out at the vast landscape beyond the rotted pillars and busted train car. The land around him looked frighteningly different, as the trees that had concealed Indigo only a day ago had been uprooted and then dropped brusquely aside, like the discarded toys of an easily distracted child. How those same winds hadn’t ripped the car out of the ground Shadrach didn’t know and didn’t want to dwell upon. The bleakness of the punished landscape only darkened the mood.
He heard the hammer pull back on the gun, clicking loud and powerful in the hollowness of the cabin. He thought of Toad in the sidecar, tied down and forced to hunt a person he cared for. He thought of Indigo, being treated kindly in his days of slavery by the squat man while all others beat him and mocked his inky skin. He thought of the tears in those eyes, and shut his own. He prayed a silent prayer for Toad’s journey as a gunshot roared to life, scattering birds from trees and echoing across the plains, as ominous as the thunderclouds that had recently departed.