In the wastelands of what’s left, a lone gunslinger delivers his own brand of justice. Some call him lawman. Some call him madman. Some call him vigilante. Some call him killer. Some call him legend.
They all call him…
This is his story.
With vibes of classic westerns against a post-apocalyptic backdrop, if you like Fallout, Firefly, Mad Max, or the Dark Tower, you’ll love The Sheriff.
Release date: February 24, 2020
Publisher: Independently published
Print pages: 456
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The Sheriff: A Post-apocalyptic Sci-fi Western
Alina shifted nervously, her eyes passing over the fifty other people sharing the back of the truck with her. A jumbled mix of humanity, if ever there was one. Old and young, black and white, short and tall, thin and fat and everything in between. The elderly woman next to her claimed to be part Cherokee, whatever a Cherokee was, while the man on the bench on the other side of the truck swore he was the son of a United States Marine.
Children ran around in the central area between the benches, laughing and playing with one another, unaware of anything that could possibly ruin their perfect, innocent day. Alina’s son was among them, the tallest of the children but not nearly the oldest. He was staying on the perimeter of the group, watching the younger ones tag one another and try to run, often tripping over each other in their effort to escape or hitting the deck whenever the truck bounced on a rut, shaking everyone up.
It was typical for Jacob to keep a close eye on the others. He had his father’s instincts, always eager to protect the weak, always ready to step in at the first sign of trouble.
But he was still a child. He understood some of how the world worked, but he didn’t understand enough. He couldn’t sense the trouble that was coming. He couldn’t sense the change in the air, the sudden, subtle shift to silence.
Alina could. You didn’t survive the trife if you weren’t alert. If you weren’t perceptive. Poor Jacob Senior; he had died during a raid nearly six years back when Jacob was only two. The trife had descended on their small community in the middle of the night, surging out of the darkness and quickly overwhelming their meager defenses. There were only a dozen survivors from the village of two hundred. Two adults. Ten children. They spared her because giving birth to Jacob ruined her womb. Because she couldn’t have another. They spared the kids because they always spared the kids. Whatever devil had conceived of the creatures, they had an innate sense of morality in that regard.
Other humans? They weren’t always as just.
The trife were gone. Alina knew that much. Word of their demise had spread across the wilds like fire, and time had borne it out as true. Whatever had sent the demons into their midst, someone had sent them back.
There were so many rumors out there about what had happened. Some said the Marines had been in hiding for all these years, working on making weapons powerful enough to destroy the invaders, and they had finally succeeded. Some said there was another group of space invaders out there, who looked just like humans and flew around the planet in spaceships, dropping poison on the trife. Some said it was the Lord Himself who had cast His wrath upon them and returned them to Abaddon.
And some said it was the Sheriff.
Alina didn’t know which one to believe, but the last always seemed the most impossible to her. Of course she had heard the other rumors, of the man who fought back against the trife. They said he had been a lawman, though she had no idea of anywhere in the whole world where there was any law. They said he had single handedly destroyed all of the nests from the coast to the mountains, and settled a city that was open to all. A place of freedom and safety. They said he was strong, with a pair of cyborg arms like the Marines of old, that he could see farther than an eagle and heal faster than a bullet could kill him. They said he had destroyed all of the trife with his mind of all things, and that he was still out there, roaming the wilds, bringing law and order to a world too long without either.
Alina shook her head. Ridiculous. Tall tales and bullshit. She was more willing to believe it was God than some modern legend.
Two years. It was hard to believe it had been that long since the trife were destroyed and Earth was set free. If you could call it that. All she had seen was one style of demon replaced by another. An alien invader swapped with human evil.
And the Sheriff was nowhere to be found.
“Jacob,” Alina said, calling to her son. His head snapped toward her in response, reminding her of the way his father used to react to her voice. Love was a tough commodity, and they had been rich with it.
Screw the xenotrife. May they rest in Hell.
“What is it, ma?” Jacob asked.
“Come over here. Sit with your mother.”
Jacob’s face crinkled at the suggestion. “But ma, I’m playing Sheriff.”
Of course he was. He was his father’s son. A protector. And who better to pretend to be than a man who didn’t exist. A man so much larger than life that if he were real he’d only turn out to be a disappointment.
He doesn’t understand. He’s still too young. But the air is wrong. He’s my son too. Why can’t he feel it? “Just do as I say.”
Jacob nodded, glancing back at the other children one last time, hesitant to leave them to their own devices. A mob needs law looking over it like a shepherd to a flock. Chaos requires order. Alina needed her son close, even as her hand dropped to the knife she had hidden under her poncho.
“Jacob, now!” Alina said.
He took his first step toward her.
And the first shot rang out.
Alina jumped to her feet, revealing the knife she’d kept hidden since she and Jacob joined the caravan four days ago. The others in the truck reacted too, some of them throwing themselves on the floor of the vehicle, crying out in panic. Others standing and drawing their own weapons. Knives, old bats, sharpened tree branches, even a couple of revolvers. You had to protect yourself whatever way you could. You always had to find a way.
The Cherokee woman was on the ground, depending on the group to protect her. The man on the other side was ready to defend himself. The childrens’ game fell apart in an instant, most of the young rushing to their parents as quickly as they could. Not Jacob. He froze in place. Not out of fear. Listening. Tracking the source of the sudden gunfire.
The shots continued to echo, followed by pinging thunks as rounds found the exterior of the truck bed. Finally, gunfire from closer to the vehicle rang out, the caravan’s escorts finally countering the ambush.
“Jacob!” Alina shouted. “Get down!”
Jacob’s eyes met hers right before he collapsed on his face, a fresh hole appearing in the canvas of the truck cover behind him, letting the dimming evening light in.
“Jacob!” Alina screamed, taking three steps to get to him, dropping to her knees and checking him for blood. He rolled over, looking up at her.
“I’m okay, ma,” he said. “Bastard missed me.”
Bullets continued to strike the truck. Alina heard a groan outside, familiar with the sound a slug makes when it sinks into flesh and the sound a man makes when he’s hit. She heard the whinnies of the horses tethered to the truck cab in lieu of a working engine. Another scream, another man down.
The gunshots were coming from every direction now, the attackers—whoever they were—surrounding the caravan. More screams of pain, more whinnying, more pings against the metal and holes through the canvas. Alina knew something bad was coming, but she wasn’t ready for anything like this. In all her thirty-three years—for all the times the trife had attacked the communities where she lived or bandits had raided or nomads had come looking for trouble—she had never found herself in the middle of something as violent as this.
No way was this a standard robbery. Bandits didn’t come in numbers like this. They didn’t attack with such ferocity. Half the time they didn’t fire a single shot. They’d just come out of hiding or even waited along the road to make their demands and move on. Their requests were usually simple and basic. Whatever guns and ammo were in the group, food and water—anything with value for them to keep or trade. There was a certain ironic civility to it.
Not today. Not with whoever had launched this assault. Even from inside the truck with nothing to go on but the sounds of fighting, Alina could sense the cold brutalness of the attack. She had felt it in the air before it happened, and the feeling of dread had only intensified.
“We need to get out there,” she said, looking up at the man who had sat opposite her. David. That was his name. “David, we need to help them.”
He looked back at her. He wasn’t a young man, with wisps of gray hair on a balding head, his face weathered and tired, his bare arms scarred and bruised. He didn’t look well. Sick with something that would take his life sooner than later anyway. His weapon was an old pair of scissors, the blades cleaner than the rest of the device, showing he had spent time sharpening it.
“We don’t got guns,” he replied. “We go out there, we gonna die.”
“If we stay here, we’re going to die,” she replied. “We can’t let them hurt the children.” David’s eyes shifted to Jacob, while Alina’s head swiveled to the rest of the people on the truck. “We can’t let them hurt the children.”
Most of them were too scared to move. Their eyes were wide and moist, tears of fear running down their cheeks. Two years, and they had already forgotten what it meant to live in the world with the trife. They had already gone soft.
Alina growled in frustration. There were at least fifteen people in the back of the truck fit enough to resist. Was she the only one with the courage?
“I’ll go with you, ma,” Jacob said, looking at David. “I just need them scissors, sir.”
David raised his eyebrows in response to the statement, his face turning red as he realized he was already dying and he was afraid to go out to meet the attackers, but this child was ready to defend the others.
“Sorry kid,” he replied. “But I’m gonna need it. I ain’t letting no boy show me up.” He looked at the other passengers. “If any of you have a soul, you shouldn’t neither.”
The statement was meant to shame and it worked. Six men and three women, including two with children, stood up one after the other. The gunfire continued outside, and one of the standing men collapsed a moment later, a stray round finding his temple. The woman closest to him screamed.
“They’re getting closer,” Alina said. “We don’t have any more time. We need to help the others fight back.” She looked at Jacob. “I need you to wait here.”
“Ma, I can fight,” he argued.
“I know you can. But these folks are too scared to protect themselves. Somebody has to stay here and guard them. It’s what the Sheriff would do.”
“I don’t even have a gun or a knife or anything.”
“You have your two strong arms, just like the Sheriff. If they come in here, you use them. You fight with everything in you and keep the others safe. Do you hear me?”
“Yes, ma. I’ll do it.”
Alina leaned over and kissed his forehead. “I love you, Jacob.”
“Love you too, ma.”
Then she stood up, turning to David and nodding, and then glancing back at the others. “Come on.”
She took the lead, heading to the back of the truck. Another wayward round punched through the canvas as she got close, the slug passing so close by she felt it burn the side of her ear. She didn’t slow down. She didn’t need to be perceptive to know that whoever was out there, only one side was going to come out of this fight alive.
She needed to make sure it was hers.
Alina reached the back of the truck. The canvas was zipped closed over the rear, hiding the contents from spying eyes. Not that it ever helped dissuade thieves, but she imagined the operators had found the vehicle that way and didn’t see a reason to change it.
She grabbed the zipper, pulling it upward to open the flaps of canvas. The sounds of battle were already fading. Because everyone had gotten behind cover? Or because their guards were almost all dead?
There was no cover, not when they were surrounded. She liked the thought that their defenders were dead even less. There was nothing to do about it but go out there.
“Good manners to let ladies to go first,” David said, grabbing her arm. “But in this case, you should let me take the lead.”
Alina thought to argue, and then thought better of it. There was no point. It didn’t matter who went first. She stepped to the side, giving David the lead. He pushed through the canvas and hopped down onto the worn blacktop of an old highway, split by brown vegetation fighting its way up for the last two centuries. He glanced back at her, waving her on.
A sharp crack sounded nearby, and his head collapsed in front of her, his body tipping sideways to the ground. Alina muffled a scream, heart beginning to pound with adrenaline and fear.
One of the raiders moved in from the left, tall and lanky, and clothed in a worn black leather jacket with a black scarf wrapped around his head, leaving only his blue eyes visible through it. They were too busy looking down at David.
Alina didn’t hesitate. Instead of stepping out of the truck, she leaped from it, momentum pushing taking her down on top of the man. They fell together in a heap, the surprised attacker writhing in an effort to aim his revolver at her.
She rolled with him, knife flashing off the moonlight, arm driving it forward. She couldn’t see where she stabbed, but she heard the tearing of cloth and felt the resistance of the flesh beneath, followed by the smell of blood. The raider cried out, grabbing her hair and yanking her head back, trying to pull her away. A mistake because it stretched the distance from her shoulder to his body and gave her a better idea of his position beneath her. She slammed the knife down again and again, still unable to see where it hit, but she was certain she felt the blade slip between the man’s ribs.
“You bitch!” he growled, throwing a hard right hook that caught her in the jaw. Pain flared across Alina’s face, the blow knocking her away, the knife still embedded in the man’s chest.
She fell to her knees, turning as the raider lifted his gun toward her. Throwing herself onto his hand, she clawed at his wrist, striking a nerve that forced him to let go. Tears of anger and desperation nearly blinding her, she reached for the gun.
The bandit went for it too, but it was becoming harder and harder for him to breathe, his movements slowing. She beat him to the revolver and raised it, pulling the trigger. The bullet struck his side, finishing the job she’d started with the knife. He stopped resisting, lying his head back and bleeding out.
Alina got to her feet, only now getting a chance to see what was happening. The other passengers were still climbing out of the truck, sticking close with their meager weapons, heads flicking back and forth, looking for targets. Their truck was the third out of five and also the biggest. It blocked her view of the immediate front of the caravan, but she could see a bridge over the roadway ahead, with ropes dangling over the sides.
To her left, an embankment rose up to the far side of the highway. A pair of raiders were on the ground there, unable to make it across without getting hit. To her right, a rusted old chain-link fence had collapsed along this stretch of the road. A dilapidated warehouse stood behind it.
She caught sight of a shooter only seconds before he fired from the warehouse roof, his bullet catching someone further ahead.
Alina spun around, back toward the rear of the line. The four horses pulling the smaller box truck behind her snorted and nervously shifted their feet. She could see raiders coming up from the rear, walking along the sides of the trucks, headed her way. She turned again, moving to the edge of the truck and peering around the side. More raiders.
The gunfire was dying out, almost all of the caravan’s defenders dead or so severely wounded they were out of action. Alina swallowed hard, realizing she and her fellow passengers were all that was left. There was no way they could stop this group from taking whatever they wanted.
David had been right, they were all going to die.
As if to emphasize the thought, another shot rang out in the distance and one of the women near Alina fell, the sniper on the warehouse roof claiming another victim. She could practically hear him reloading, preparing to cut another one of them down.
“We can’t just stand here and die,” she hissed, trying to push through the fear she saw on the others’ faces. “Fight, damn it!”
Then she swung out from behind the truck, raising the revolver as she stepped forward, getting out of the sniper’s line of sight. She watched the bandits in front of her freeze a moment, confused by the small woman in the ragged clothes suddenly pointing a gun at them.
She pulled the trigger, her aim decent enough to catch the lead raider in the shoulder. He grunted and grabbed at the suddenly bleeding wound while the other raiders whirled around and pointed their guns at her.
Alina shifted her aim to the biggest one of them and pulled the trigger again. The revolver clicked. No round in the chamber. She tried again. Same result. Again.
The raiders reached her, the largest among them grabbing her arm and swinging her into the side of the truck. She cried out in pain as her back hit the metal, the man’s arm pressing into her throat.
“You’re gonna pay for that,” he growled, spraying his spittle across her face.
The other passengers screamed as the raiders converged on them. “We surrender!” one of them said in a panicked voice. “We surrender. Please, don’t hurt us.”
Alina closed her eyes, barely able to breathe beneath the man’s forearm as a short burst of bullets silenced the other passengers. Tears began streaming down her eyes at the truth of the situation.
The operators swore this passage was safe. They promised they’d get she and Jacob safely through this part of the wilds to a place called Memphis, where she could get another ride to the northeastern coast. She’d heard there was a sanctuary there, and she was trading everything she had to reach it. Everything. She’d needed to get her son someplace more permanent. Someplace safe.
She wasn’t going to make it. Her life was going to end here tonight. So was Jacob’s.
She struggled against the man, the fear driving her to resist. He pressed tighter on her neck, his dark eyes meeting hers.
“I know you’re afraid,” he said in a gruff voice. “You have a child in there, don’t you?”
Alina didn’t answer. She kicked the man in the legs, her blows too weak to have much of an effect. She couldn’t breathe anymore.
“We aren’t going to kill them. No. Grimmel has something else in mind. Something much more useful than death.”
“If you hurt them...” Alina managed to hiss, her voice barely audible with her throat constricted.
“Then what? You’re going to die us to death?” The man laughed softly.
The other raiders climbed up into the back of the truck.
“Stop right there,” Alina heard Jacob say. “You aren’t going to hurt anyone.”
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