Lindsay lay back in the dirt and looked up at the sky. The glow from the moon matched the feeling slowly seeping through her veins, her mind, and into her soul. The high that only "ice myst" could bring. The peace so unattainable in normal, average, every day life; the real world filled with parents, school, a shitty job, rules. They all receded in the irresistible advance of the cobalt power coursing through her. She opened her mouth and whisper howled at the moon, her eyes black saucers, her arms reaching towards the sky, her veins pulsating blue liquid paradise.
She smiled and leaned into the ground feeling the earth pressing into her back.
"Oww-oooo..." she whispered. A billowing tendril of her soul dissipating into the night air.
One of the other myst trippers in the camp shuffled nearby. He was in the later stages, mumbling to himself, stumbling through the debris that littered the ground; broken bottles, needles, speed packs, ice vials, human shit and blood. He lurched forward and vomited violently; blue red phlegm spewing from his mouth and nostrils. But Lindsay didn't care.
Her trip was just starting...
Grace adjusted the straps on her steel toed kevlar reinforced combat boots, then slapped a thirty round mag into the pulse carbine rifle in her hands. She took a moment to check the chamber lock and then flipped the safety to three round bursts.
No sense taking chances.
Ice walkers could be unpredictable. She knew that better than anyone on the team. In all her years of reclamations she had seen a lot of Crusaders get killed. The first was from a tripper who had a pistol hidden in his pocket, the next from a police officer who had shot a Crusader after he had purified a building full of ice makers.
She lost count after that.
Grace smiled. She could still hear their screams. She hoped the demon peddlers were still burning; in hell now.
Her smile faded at the memory of shooting the cop. It wasn't his fault. He was probably a good person, but like so many he had been deceived by the godless liberals, the fake news, the politicians who propagated lies nearly as dangerous as the drug itself; that tolerance was the path to salvation, that appeasement would somehow end the scourge. And look where that had gotten them. Civilization was on the brink. The opioid crisis grandpa used to talk about was like a children's holo by comparison.
There was only one path to salvation.
The path revealed by the almighty, living God, who had decreed his crusade against the myst demons and all their spawn.
Only the chosen could be saved.
The bushes rustled to her right and she brought up the rifle to see Carlyle emerge from the shadows.
"Full moon tonight. Should be a good hunt."
A full moon.
Grace loved reclaiming under the light of the full moon. It filled her with a determination and passion the others simply couldn't understand.
"By the glory" she said, bringing the rifle to her shoulder, and slowly made her way into the trees.
Lindsay continued to watch the moon traverse the sky; passing through stars and clouds, momentarily obscured by the leaves of a tree gently swaying in the breeze. Her body was ebullient, smooth, pure. Gone were the aches and pains of withdrawal from earlier in the day, that far away time corrupted by the shrill noise of the city, with its glaring lights and cacophony of judgments that left her mind and body reeling, desperate to make it to the peaceful night, to the moon, and to Avalon...the magical island in the myst...the ice myst...
She rolled onto her side and saw the convulsing body of the other tripper, his mouth frothing, his eyes rolled back in his head.
He was freezing out.
She knew he'd be dead in a few minutes. Maybe he still had some unused ice vials on him. That would be so nice; a real break for her to score another dose so soon. She didn't want to have to go downtown again. Those guys had been rough last time. Her eye was still tender from where one of them had hit her. But that was all in the past if the dead tripper had a cube on him, maybe even a glacier if she was really lucky!
She smiled and staggered to her feet taking a moment to breathe in the night air and her good fortune.
The wind caressed her face, blowing wispy cum crusted tendrils of hair out of her eyes.
She gazed up at the moon again. Avalon was calling.
The tripper gasped out his death rattle and she looked over to see him twitch a few more times before going limp. She made her way over to the body, careful to avoid the shit, blood, and needles that littered the ground, and rolled him onto his back so she could more easily rummage through his pockets.
Then she saw it.
It struck her like a thunderbolt from the past. Even through the myst she felt its impact. The cross he wore was exactly like the one grandma had worn; even down to the Latin inscription in old world script.
It was such an old fashioned thing, so uncharacteristic an item for her generation. It must have belonged to one of his grandparents.
Her mind ached...grandma...
She kicked the corpse.
"Why the fuck would you wear that you piece of shit?!"
He must have sold his mouth and ass a hundred times on the street to score some myst. How could he add hypocrisy and blasphemy to his limitless list of sins.
"You stupid fucking fuck." She sneered down at him. "Where's your fucking savior now bitch?!"
She reached down and tore the cross from his neck and for some reason she couldn't understand, began to weep at the feel of it in her hand. Maybe it was the myst, maybe it was the flood of memories that came crashing down on her. But at that moment, for the first time in years, she felt an unspeakable ache within her. A pain so relentless and pervasive that it sang to her even through the power of the ice.
"No no no FUCK that!" She blurted out as she rifled through the dead tripper's pockets.
"Where is it man? Where THE FUCK IS IT?!"
Her last dose was starting to fade in the surging tide of overwhelming soul crushing pain that had been triggered by the sight of the cross in her hand. She saw grandma sitting in her chair, smiling at her while she did her programming lessons. She saw daddy smiling at her that day he had taken her hunting for the first time. She saw mom smiling in the kitchen washing fresh vegetables in the sink.
"No No Nooo..." she began to mumble desperately.
"How can you be out? You fucking freezer! You FUCKING FREEZER!!!"
She began to sob hysterically, looking around in a panic, her mind overcome with despair, withdrawal, and self loathing. Then she looked down at the cross she still held gripped in her palm so tightly that it was smeared with blood; her blood.
Grandma looked over at her smiling.
"The blood of the lamb Lindsay. The blood of the lamb..."
She stopped and slumped forward, defeated.
Where had it all gone so wrong? What was her excuse? She hadn't been molested by an evil uncle. She hadn't suffered some family tragedy. She was young and bright and smart and full of life and hope and wonder...
and she was a fucking myst tripper.
She didn't even notice the soldier entering the clearing.
Grace swept through the trees on approach to her target. An ice house pumping out three glaciers a day. Informants for the church had tipped them off to the den of makers, pushers, and trippers just outside the city. The trees masked their operation and the cops didn't bother to come out here. The politicians were paralyzed by the media and the police were paralyzed by the politicians. Ordinary citizens were helpless. In fact you were more likely to go to jail for confronting a tripper than for being a tripper. In this day and age, only the criminals had rights. The righteous were spit upon, ridiculed, and forgotten.
Then the Crusaders came.
They took up arms to defend their country and way of life. If the government wouldn't do its job, then the faithful would heed the call. The first cells appeared in haphazard fashion, disorganized and decentralized. But as the movement grew, all of the government labels of "domestic terrorist" and social media blackouts couldn't stop it. The word spread; like an immune response in the civic body.
Now they were organized, efficient, lethal. They were funded by powerful benefactors who couldn't show their faces publicly, but who were just as committed to the cause. They had started to take on the ice cartels, dismantling their infrastructure one piece at a time.
It was a glorious fucking holy war.
Carlyle's voice broke the comms silence. "I got eyes on. Five guards at the warehouse entrance. Pulse rifles. Maybe...ten more inside. Looks like a bunch of trippers strung out along the whole length of the building."
Grace moved forward and took up her position on the north side of the building. "Roger that."
She looked through her scope and saw naked ice slaves walking along the makeshift factory floor, some prepping vials for transport, others working the chemical assembly line that actually produced the drug.
One of the guards inside moved into view as he grabbed a girl from the line and pushed her roughly outside. She docilely obeyed. He tossed an ice vial onto the far side of a crate and then spun her around to face it.
"Don't you want a ice pop baby? You know the rules. Go ahead and reach for it." He laughed as the girl lunged forward stretching to grab the vial, bending over the crate as he pinned her and unzipped his pants. The other guards laughed too, as the girl fumbled desperately with the vial, trying to activate the built in injector against her arm while the guard pounded her hard from behind.
"Fucking classic bruh!" One of the guards blurted through his laughter. "Classic!"
Then his head exploded.
Grace fired with calm efficiency, the three round bursts tearing through the guards, the factory workers, the girl, and other trippers near the building. She ignored Carlyle's voice shouting over the comms, "Who's fucking firing? God damn it GO GO GO!!! LIGHT IT THE FUCK UP!"
Pulse blasts tore through the warehouse. All the guards were killed in the first ten seconds of shooting. The building was almost instantly ablaze and everyone not killed in the volley started running.
None of them got far.
After a few minutes an eerie post battle silence descended on the entire scene. Grace had grown accustomed to it by now. She even relished the stillness. She was watching reverently as the fire began to swell into the night sky, fueled by all the ice. It was a familiar sight every time a factory went up. But the blue inferno always filled her with awe; especially under the full moon. One of the Appalachian cells had dubbed the blaze, "moonshine pure".
She liked that. The double entendre held such special meaning for her.
"Sweep the area for any chosen." Carlyle's once again measured voice came across the comms.
Grace just stared at the plumes of fire rising high into the night sky; like the wings of an angel reaching up to touch the face of God.
Lindsay turned at the sound of the man's voice.
"Inquisitor, we have a...situation here."
He was a Crusader.
She was going to die.
"Yes Sir." He spoke seemingly to no one. "I will."
The man stared at her dispassionately. His pulse rifle leveled at her. She couldn't understand why he hadn't killed her yet. She knew what he was and what they did to trippers and makers and pushers. But he just stood there bathed in the light of the full moon.
After what seemed like an eternity another man entered the clearing. He was older, harder, with eyes that showed no mercy but...also no malice. He stared at her as she continued to slump on her knees, unmoved over the body of the dead tripper.
"What's that you got in your hand there tripper?"
She glared at him. She didn't give a fuck anymore.
"What the fuck does it look like asshole?"
The younger guard shifted his pulse rifle uncomfortably in his hands.
"Looks like a cross." The older man said. "Do you know what it means?"
"Yeah" she blurted out. "Yeah I know what it means." She met his cold eyes with absolute defiance. "It means I'm a fucking whore. It means I'm a fucking myst tripper, an ice walker, a failure, a fraud, and a waste of fucking space. That about sum it up?"
The man continued to look at her without emotion.
"Those things are certainly all true. But that's not the correct answer to my question."
He took a step toward her.
"I didn't ask you what you thought it meant. I asked you if you knew what it meant."
She looked at him confused. Why hadn't they just raped and killed her already and gotten it over with?
"You're tired of living I can see."
She laughed loudly. A genuine laugh. Filled with limitless unspoken agony. And she smiled as the tears streamed down her face.
He stood over her now. A towering shadow. Unshakable. Unwavering. The gleam of certainty shining in his eyes. He put the barrel of the pulse rifle against her forehead and asked calmly.
She looked up at him, the way she had looked up at men a thousand times on the street to score some myst. Then she slowly raised her arms, the cross clutched in her palm tightly, red speckles of blood seeping through her fingers. She looked past him to the moon, to the infinite night sky, to the eternity about to embrace her.
She could feel Grandma behind her waiting. She wanted to go to her now; to apologize for not understanding until now...until it was too late.
"It means...no matter how much you are filled with sin...God is a greater power."
He pulled the trigger.
Lindsay kneeled under the moon. Her mind frozen in conflicted understanding. Paralyzed by the possibility of redemption.
"I'm...I'm a fucking junkie."
The man slung the rifle over his shoulder and leaned down to help her to her feet.
"Yes. But you are one of the few who could be more."
"Yes more. We have a place for people like you. The few like you. The chosen. The chosen are unlike any of the other faithful. They have been reclaimed. But the way is hard. Stray from the path even once and I will kill you. Do you understand?"
Lindsay stood shakily to her feet unsure of what to say or how to feel. She just met his cold stare and nodded.
"Good. Come with me and I'll have you prepped for transport to one of our purge centers. My name is Inquisitor Carlyle. What's yours?"
Lindsay was about to reply but then hesitated. She looked down at the cross in her hand and remembered what Grandma had said the inscription meant.
~For God has revealed his grace for the salvation of all people~
She pondered the power and significance of those words, the years lost, the pain she had endured and caused. She wouldn't let Grandma down. She would be redeemed. She would bathe in the blood of the Lamb. Her old life was dead. The person she was had died in the clearing under the moon. She was reborn.
Copyright © 2017 Short Stories by Christopher Daniel Barnes - All Rights Reserved.