“Bro, we’re not lost. I know exactly where we are. And take your hands off that GPS!”
Bryan shot Lance a questioning eyebrow from the Viper’s passenger seat, “Yeah, and where are we, oh wise sage?”
The driver waved his hand over the open road, which was framed on either side by the foggy spring woods, “Obvious, we’re on an adventure!”
“That’s it, I’m finding us a Denny’s.” Bryan sighed with a smile.
“Good luck with that, mate. I’m gonna guess you’ve got no signal out here anyway. Wherever this is,” Lance finally admitted as the road began to wind up a hill, bringing them into the clear air. “Oh, well that was lucky…”
Maybe it was the newfound sunlight, or the Northeastern air that wasn’t home. Maybe his best friend had taken the hill too fast and the shift in equilibrium set something off. Whatever it was, something detonated on his brain and filled his skull with pressure. He hissed in pain and fumbled through the pocket of his flannel longsleeve, trying to grasp at the bottle of whatever medicine he’d been given. “Shit…Lance…pullover”
“Hang on, man!” Lance called out over the sudden roar of ten cylinders as he bucked the car over another shorter hill and tore down the new straightaway. Though the roads were damp and the fog ever-present, it wasn’t long before the cerulean machine shuddered as it slowed. Rapidly approaching was a lit building with two fuel pumps at one side and what looked like an abandoned trailer. But the fleet of motorcycles barricading the entrance told him that someone was there, so maybe there would be assistance or a landline. Nothing about it screamed inviting, but he didn’t care. Bryan needed help, or at least a still moment.
The dust covered the clearing air as the Viper slammed to a stop, its rear end swinging around almost pointing them the other way. Lance jumped from his seat and swept over the hood to grab his weakened friend as Bryan half-spilled out of the car. “Come on, bud! Let’s get you off the road!”
Bryan wanted to say something, anything, but his legs shook and even his eyeballs felt like they were trembling in their sockets. Only by twitching and luck had he grasped the pill container in his pocket and was trying to crush the lid off. And when the wave of smoke, wasted beer and overwhelming music hit him, Bryan felt his stomach churn.
Balancing his brother into a corner seat, Lance quickly rushed up to the bar, as nimble as a panicked bull, “Two waters, please and pronto!” The bartender only stared back at him with stunned confusion, which made Lance more frustrated, “Dude, are ya deaf or something? I…need…”
The sudden injection of a log-like arm sheathed in leather into his view stuttered him into realizing just who exactly he was pushing through. Around him, in various states of ink, scars and anger, stood a group of at least thirty men and women. All armored in the same leather and symbols of “The Fallen”, and all at least annoyed by this newcomer. “Shit…”
A hand planting on his shoulder spun Lance around to stare at someone a full head shorter than him, a jagged, broken skull etched onto his head. “I think you’re lost, rich boy.”
Lance raised his hands to brush off the arm, “Look man, I’m just here to help out my bro. We just need some water and we’ll kindly be on our way.”
“On your way?” The smaller man laughed, before spitting on his shoe, “I don’t think so, bitch. You aren’t going anywhere without paying the toll.”
“Toll? We don’t have much cash, but it’s yours if you want. Just let me…”
“Fuck cash!” yelled the biker, clicking a small knife in his hand, “I want that sweet piece of ass you drive in on. And maybe a bit of your ear for dessert tonight.”
The adventurer stepped back, his spine hitting the bar. There was no way he was going to beat his way out, and apparently bribery was out as well. Was this the end of their trip already?
“Step back.” Came another voice from the far corner of the bar. Quiet, but low and powerful. The once relentless grunt stopped at once, flipping his knife back into its pocket. “Ahh, shit boss! You can’t be serious!”
From that corner stood a dark-skinned man, eye-level with Lance but twice as stacked. Deep brown orbs seemed to look down on Lance as he approached, separating the mob. Slowly, the man raised his fists, making Lance tense in preparation for a semitruck-sized punch. Instead, he raised two fingers, and the bartender was quick to slide two waters to a shocked traveler. Lance was quick to take them and shuffle his way over to the table where Bryan was slumped, clutching his head in a vain attempt to crush it and relieve the pressure. The man’s gaze followed him, and then came the beast, sitting across from them in a chair quickly provided by one of his followers.
“Come on, bud. Drink up.” Lance carefully popped to top of the bottle and grabbed a pair of pills, which Bryan quickly swiped, draining the water to go with them. Gasping for sturdiness as the relief washed over him, he finally opened both his eyes. “Thanks, man…I’ve never felt that before…jesus…”
“A man is judged mostly by the friends he keeps,” the lead biker spoke, jarring both of the travelers. The quiet man fixed each of them with a steady gaze, as if her were measuring them before finishing his thought, “And yours is a bond that has seen death, hasn’t it.”
“Yeah…” Byran mustered, which was the only part of the sentence he could speak. In his mind, images flashed like a horror movie he had relived over and over again. The explosion, the screaming in several languages, the blood.
“I know that look well,” the man continued, gesturing with one hand as if the world were in it, “each member of The Fallen wear it in one way or another. But no others wear it like this. You two have seen death for survival. Have taken life to be here now.”
“Yeah, so? War is god-awful sometimes. Not that you would understand.” Lance countered.
The man sat straight in his chair, causing it to creak. Slowly, he pulled the coat form his left arm, to reveal one long continuous tattoo of a trident wrapped in chains that descended from shoulder to knuckle. And all down the chain, hanging off in varying stands were skulls clutching crosses in their teeth. “Vietnam, 1968 to 1972. Every one of them a man who chose to fight. Every choice, a choice to die.”
It was an answer neither of them expected, so Bryan simply answered with, “Iraq, 2003 to 2006. And every choice for them was to fight for their god or money.”
The man smiled at that, which made both travelers share a puzzled look, “Isn’t it amazing how merciful such a divine creator is as to allow men to slay one another for nothing but a false sense of reward? Tell me, why did you fight? For country and honor?”
Neither man had a good answer for that off the cuff, so Lance simply answered, “To survive.”
“And that is the real reason a man strikes down his brother, for there is no better truth than that,” answered the man. “So what will you do with the life paid for by another?”
“Live,” responded Bryan. “What the hell else would we do with it?”
The man nodded to that. “Then why are you still sitting here in Purgatorio?”
It then occurred to both of them that neither Lance or Bryan had noted the name of the building. “Huh…well that’s omnious…” Bryan added.
“Wait, so if were in Purgatorio, and you guys are The Fallen, would that make you…” Lance pointed at the man, who stood from his chair.
“The one who blocks those from leaving Inferno and into the Light. One who leads The Fallen. But you know me by another name.”
“Lucifer.” They both answered, turning to each other in darkened silence. “As in, you think you’re the Devil, or that’s who you identify with or what?” Bryan posed.
“It is a name. What you identify with is the fear of the title. Those who see nothing else will follow. But you see more than that.”
Bryan shrugged, “Sure. I see a guy whose seen some real shit. He’s taken it and given it, and been forced to choose to live, many times over,” he pointed at Lucifer’s arm as he went on, “and now he’s here, surrounded by people who are either too crazy or too lost to know what to do with themselves. There’s no way a biker gang raises enough money to live AND is as batshit as these guys unless they’re into the illegal. Which they may be, but you aren’t. You’ve seen too much messed up shit to care about that.”
The biker was quiet for a long moment, before he simply nodded, “You can tell the measure of a man though his eyes. Just as I can tell in yours that your time is running out.”
“Guilty,” the traveler admitted. “But that just means I have to cram a lot into a small moment. My best bud here taught me that.”
Lance nodded and sat up, “And we still have a long way left to go.”
“Seriously, boss?! You’re gonna let these dipshits just walk out of here?! What about what they owe us?”
In a move neither man could track with their eyes, Lucifer lunged forward, grabbed the smaller man by the jacket and threw him squarely into the closest wall. He didn’t stir after that.
“And what of the price you owe me, Asmodi?” the leader demanded to the stilled servant, leaving the wanderers to cautiously pace their way towards the door. A move that was stopped when Lucifer decreed, “Belial, watch over things here.”
“Ummm, what?” Lance posed, which the biker answered by breezing past them and into the formation of motorcycles. He plucked a helmet from one in the center of the flock, an older, midnight black and chrome, Harley-Davidson Fathead that didn’t have the garish accents some of the others did, but did carry an auspiciously large saddlebag.
“Simple. There’s a long road ahead, and we all have things to do.” Lucifer replied as the V-twin engine roared to life.
After a shared glance and a shrug, Bryan cautioned, “We’ve got no directions and no real place to go. We’re just going. You sure you want to follow us?”
The biker simply stared at them.
Lance shrugged, “Well, alright I guess. Let’s get going.”
As they walked back to the Viper, he nudged his friend in the ribs, “You sure do attract the nutjobs, you know that?”
Bryan smiled at that, “How else do you think we’ve stayed bros for so long?
So, remember a long time ago when I tried my hand at a screenplay? Well, after that was done, I wanted to take those characters farther. Who would they meet on the road? What would they do? What kind of shenanigans and craziness would find them? So many little nuggets and ideas…that I ended up losing in an unfortunate incident of notebook vs baby formula…
Thankfully, at least some of the big moments were still rattling around in my head, like this one. At the very least, I wanted to generate that moment of realization for everyone to see where they were, and what all was left to do.
I hope you all enjoy.