Round the Hangin' Tree


benji_icon.gif calvin_icon.gif

Scene Title Round the Hangin' Tree
Synopsis Benji is interrupted on her way home, until the interrupters are interrupted.
Date March 4, 2018

Ruins of the Bronx

It's an odd hour of evening, or maybe it just feels that way, in this new twilight of the United States. With a spotty power grid, and razor wire fences, and economic collapse, what would be considered nightlife ten years ago is no longer in existence. More buildings are dark than lit, and that's only within the Safe Zone, which Benji Ryans leaves behind by passing like a phantom through gaps in security.

The moon is heavy and full in a cold sky, obscured in waves by passing clouds that, by the morning, will be bringing down snow. It's just enough for Benji to see by as she enters grey ruin of the Bronx, dressed against the chill in coat and gloves, a messenger bag clutched to her side, walking a known route at a dogged clip. Occasionally, the sound of voices, or crashing, or really anything, has her alter her path by a matter of a block, but as she nears her destination, she is more direct.

The sound of an engine is what gets her attention.

She doesn't freeze. There was definitely a time in her life when she might have done just that, but instead, she ducks into the shadowy entryway of a long-looted storefront just as headlights flood the street. Hiding within the deeper shadows of the building, she holds her breath — as if the silver mist of steam would somehow give her away — as she waits for, hopefully, the sound and sight of whatever vehicle to which those lights belong continues rattling down the road.

It does, for a few seconds. And then the whine of old brakes. The opening of doors, the slamming shut, boots on concrete.

Flashlights, piercing the darkness. Maybe someone saw her.

Now, fear, a little late, starts to wind a thread around her heart, and she looks around for an exit. In the darkness, a sliver of light — or just the absence of shadow — indicates a side door, partially open. Quietly, Benji withdraws from her hiding place by the door, slinking towards the one that opens up into— an alleyway? A means of escape, if she can just get off this street. There isn't any time to be particularly choosy, because as soon as she touches this door, the sweep of flashlight distorts the shadows within in a queasy wave, and there's a, "Hey!" designed to either stop her or draw attention.

She crashes out into the side street, door slamming behind her. Ahhh.

Uncommon as it is, it's certainly not unheard of to see headlamps scorching white over the Bronx's burnt out skeleton after sundown — pockets of electricity, candles and campfires alike all stifled to avoid drawing attention in from afar. There are roving bands who prey on the recently relocated, the unwary and the lost, and the cold can make for easy pickings on winter nights where the heat a good fire might provide is a risk worth taking.

Calvin's folded up like a fruit bat on the corner of a bombed out pizzaria slash living space, watching the truck weave its way through the destruction on a blind circuit. Too stupid or too short-staffed to have a spotter. Dumb, young, inexperienced or all of the above.

He hears the brakes squeal — sees the tail lights flood red and then white into a short reverse, and his eyes flick to the mottle of the Safe Zone bright on the horizon. Measuring, judging, working through the geometry.

The lump of rebar he'd been using to warm his hands clunks down in a baseball-sized knot of glowing steel, ridges worked over and blended brown to seething orange. Bootheels tracking quickly away and into a dusty stairwell scuff down and around and down again.

It's probably fine.


Rust and metal give a terrible screech as Benji barrels her way through the half open, half rusted chain-link gate bisecting the alleyway, ducking away from any tetanus-riddled sharp lengths that scrape and snag instead at wool and leather. The heavy thumps of running footsteps reverberate through concrete as two break off from the pack to give chase, slamming through the gate as she disappears around the corner and into the dark open street, parallel to the one she just came from.

Despite the buildings separating one from the other, she can easily hear the choking start of the truck roaring to life, lurching, giving pursuit. Trying to do the math in her head — earlier this evening, she might have bragged about her detailed insight into every route between her hiding places and the Safe Zone, but now, in the dark, and alone, and preyed upon, it takes a second to ensure she isn't running in entirely the wrong direction — a second she spends running regardless as two bigger people than her give chase just behind.

There's a sudden BANG, and for a second, she expects to fall, she expects she's been shot— but instead, it's the truck having clipped the edge of a rusted over car-corpse, heaving it aside as it comes careening around the corner, screeching to a halt just in front of her.

Her feet slide on mud and frost, barely catching herself from falling as her escape is blocked off. Behind her, two pursuers slow to a jog, and a walk.

There's an inquiring lean to Calvin's alternating walk and trot down the middle of the neighboring street — out for a casual stroll to see what the ruckus is about. Burnt out apartments line the street like broken teeth, jaggedy and uneven in their gape at stars the Bronx might've forgotten existed ten years ago. Razor wire and chain link snarl alleys off limits; plywood patched over long-abandoned squats has had time to curl and warp black away from its nails.

There's nothing to see on this side.

It takes the rise of the engine from a rumble to a roar and the crumpling BANG of car on car to frighten him into a dead, slip-slidey sprint for the corner. AAAHH.

A flicker of the current from rear lights to fore is the only herald of his arrival. The bulbs splutter and flare bright again — a silent vehicular scream that pierces into the range of human hearing just in time for the truck to crush over onto its side and into a bull-elephant charge through the facade of an innocent coffee shop. Sparks sing away from the grind of bumper and axle and rim in ribbons snuffed in a slide of of pulverized brick and glass.

The entire structure groans, roof to roots, sagging on its supports.

Calvin follows behind at an apologetic stagger, gassed breathless, eyes burning bright in search of the rest of the story. He sees Benji first.

Benji, for her part, only has time to fling her hands up in dainty surprise when the truck is suddenly tipped and shoved, sparks and smoke and muffled human yelling from within the cab, muffled to near silence by the time its rammed through glass and plywood. Her next breath out is half-relieved when the shape of Calvin resolves in her attention, but her heart is still hammering from the latest burst of adrenaline, the short mad dash through the ruined streets.

She adjusts the strap of her bag along her shoulder, and resumes in a much calmer pace, grit cracking beneath her boots as she moves towards Calvin, dignity collected along the way.

Behind her, the two men have paused, wary, one staring at the wreckage made of their ride, the other now noticing Benji's movement, and the figure up ahead. He bleats another, even angrier hey, a gun clumsily being dragged out of his jacket, having apparently conserved both sound and ammunition for a special occasion, like not hunting down their quarry with fear and fists alone.

Benji doesn't startle. Just continues on her way, as if she were already home free.

Relief stiffens out the butt of Calvin's spine — brings his shoulders back and the scruff on his chin down into a nod of I'd say hullo but I can't. His breath funnels out in great, steaming gouts, and even so, he raises a hand with greater grace and speed than Thuggo Mcgunman can take aim.

He claws in, grappling the drawn gun to ground from afar, dragging its owner like a dropped anchor chasing too big a boat deeper into Calvin's domain. Past Benji, even, towards the spectral-eyed ginger waiting at ready. The closer the man gets, the more the gun twists on its axis, threatening to snap tendon from its lock to bone in its desire to make the leap to Sheridan's waiting palm.

His look to the last man standing is bright enough to trace bits of floaty light after it — fuzzy orange discs burned into human retinas.

Half-buried in the building beside them, a trickle of flame licks up through the truck’s undercarriage.

The only reply the last man standing gives is the echo of his boots slapping pavement as he turns and runs, only twisting in place once to look back.

Benji does not, stride only slightly interrupted as the man with his fingers locked around his gun goes kidding past her, and she veers a little with leftover skittishness to avoid him. She looks unhurt, even unflustered, threat too quickly neutralised for that initial burst of panic to have properly shaken her nerve. There's a small sound, the crisp snap of small bones breaking as pistol leaps from one hand to Calvin's, and the man on the ground gives a strangled cry, yanking his arm back against his chest.

"Hello," is to Calvin, and not the dude still debating the pros and cons of getting to his feet. Benji has stopped, and tips her head to look at the gun that Calvin's retrieved. She puts out both hands for it. May I?

Back to Benji, eye to eye, Calvin claps the gun down into her waiting hands like a bag lunch, holding on just long enough to see she's found her grip. There's frost in his hair glittering eerie in the light of his own eyes, and the light of the fire rippling up through the guts of the overturned truck. In the time it's taken the last of the brigands to turn tail, Calvin's stifled his panting down to a more dignified puff and hiss of air through is sinuses.

He nods again, one idle step taken aside to peer after the last man's retreat.

"Nice night for it."

The soft click and slide of metal and plastic follows with Benji's handling of the gun as she removes the magazine to check how many rounds there are to work with, replacing it with a louder click once done. The glance aside to the firelight is similarly evaluative — it could be a problem for Them Personally if it were to catch and spread, but between dense concrete and the weight of pending snow in the sky, concern ebbs in and ebbs away again.

Looking down at the man that Calvin cut a path with through grit and frost, he's now scrabbling backwards on his ass, injured hand clutched close to his chest. He hisses a malformed cussword and stops, as Benji raises the pistol to aim in his direction.

"Isn't it?" on a slight delay to Calvin.

"Don't, I'm not— we— I won't tell them you're out here," the man stammers out. He's young, younger than them, and younger than they were when they travelled through time. But, you know. Not that young. Just enough to be stupid, and cringily sympathetic.

"Who?" is Benji's question.

For now, the fire is small, tongues of gold flickering through struts and cables, projecting long shadows out into the street. Calvin approaches at a meander to inspect the source of some muffled shuffling from inside — the whunk whunk of the handle of a jammed door being tried just as a nearby twotop catches light.

The coffee shop shudders on its struts, iron and steel laboring under its own weight.

Calvin picks his way in over loose rubble, drawing a sidearm out from beneath the long green sweep of his coat as he goas. Round the upended truck's front fender, where safety glass has already been cratered milky white by the impact.

There's a shadow struggling against the pin of the steering wheel inside, and Calvin takes aim and pulls the trigger three times, WHAM WHAM WHAM.

Fixed stare down on human quarry flickers upwards at the sound of neat gunshots, Benji unmoving as the man at her feet cringes, a garbled ramble of sorry and promise and don't work for them really happening. She ignores him in spite of his staggered attempt to answer her question, her expression and manner as chilly as the cold air whistling through the street as she stares towards the half-collapsed coffee shop, expression setting cold.

And then she sees Calvin emerging, and the next breath out is an exhale of relief.

She only looks down enough to be certain of her aim and clarity, before pulling the trigger. WHAM WHAM, bullets punching neatly into the man's chest, his throat. He twitches as if electrocuted, sputtering, stilling. She looks over the gun, finds the safety, and locks it in place with a fidget. Something to sell, if nothing else.

"If the winter didn't drive these people back across the Narrows, I'm not sure what will," sounds irritated by the time Calvin is on the approach.

"I heard there're man-eating wolves living in Midtown."

…Is one suggestion, less irritable as Calvin tucks his gun back into his pants. There's a holster in there somewhere, minimizing the risk of him shooting his own dick off — his free hand hooked around Benji's far hip to rope her into a don't be a sourpuss sidehug once he's close enough.

Too binding to easily escape.

It's short-lived, at least, the rumply warmth of him leaned away again in pursuit of the corpse she's just made. Even idiots have treasures on them sometimes.

Benji doesn't appear to mind it, perhaps out of sheer exposure to Calvin Sheridan over the past long while, a cool palm laying on his wrist as she eyes over this latest cooling body. Relenting. He is likewise free to slip away from her to loot, and she carefully goes about tucking the newly apprehended pistol into the messenger back, moving some things around to make it so. Medical supplies. A metallic packet of coffee. A book. Batteries. A slim bottle of bourbon. The usual.

Her heart is still going, even as peace resettles. An ill feeling. Long since become normal.

"There's worse out here," she says, softly. "Should we put him in the fire? I hate leaving them lying around like this."

"Like sasquatch, you mean?"

Normalcy's already settled back onto the slant of Calvin's shoulders like frost by the time he's nudged the body out flat with his boot — the better to feel up beneath his jacket once he's huddled himself down into a crouch. Under the arms and down the sleeves, through the hood, into pockets. He flips out an uncapped syringe after his splayed fingers pause in their probe over a lapel, followed by a granola bar that expired in 2014 down past the wasteband.

There's a wallet in there too — empty, save for a creased picture of family that Calvin takes a critical look at before he tucks back into the boy's pants. Not into a pocket. Just.

You know.

The wallet he flips off to the side with the rest.

The corpse twists against its own bones like a snake, wracked by spasm through a final check, and Calvin sinks back onto his heels as he looks up to measure the mounting rumble of the fire in the coffee shop. It's rising up from chic furniture to take hold in the walls, smoke rolling grey to black through the snarl of what was once the facade. Probably hot enough.

"I could hang him from a street lamp."

Benji opens her mouth to protest.

And closes it, looking back down the street where the latest one disappeared, who will be sure to tell his friends. It's beginning to snow, now, in the form of drifting flecks that come morning will have turned most of these roads to pure shit. It's impossible to see, from here, the lights of the Safe Zone. When she'd left home, all those years ago, she never thought she'd see it again.

"Well." A soft laugh, without mirth. "Remember to take it down again, eventually."

Don't make her nag you about it, Calvin. She adjusts the strap of her bag. Brr. The excitement having left her, the bite of a still lingering New York winter is setting in, the crackling fire nearby, eating through flesh and furniture, only serving to remind her of meagre comforts that await. She'll watch his back until they can head home together.

Calvin scoffs, fog chuffed sharp through his teeth — as if he wouldn’t (he would). Elbow over knee, he levers back to his full height, oblivious to the creep of blood cool around his boots. Still plenty of pavement left between here and home to scrape the treads clean.

”You alright?” he wants to know, before he rigs this freshly expired boy to a light fixture like a butchered hog.

His eyes are dim in the firelight, power cycled down in the space between horrors. Snow catches in the twist and bristle of his mane — pricks light through his breath. The Bronx affords them some privacy. Winter provides the rest.

By the time he glances back, Benji is secure in the knowledge that they're alone and so she is looking up at the body. More thoughtful than usual, as sometimes happens during relative downtime, but not too thoughtful. Her attention drops back down once more, meeting Calvin's question with a look. Reassuring.

"Yes," she says, simply, because she is, and then holds out a hand for him to take, now that they're done here. A silent kind of thank you for handling it. "Let's go, sasquatch."

Her hand will warm in his, and she will walk with her shoulder pressed close, like couples used to do in Central Park on evenings like this.

Her offered hand taken naturally in his, Calvin looks back long enough to wrest a rod of rebar out of the wreckage with a glance. It's necessary to guide the length of it by sight, until it's fishhooked itself down through dead ribs and dead muscle and dead lungs with a bubbling crack and pop.

After that he can drag him blind, the scuff of hide and denim over fresh snow and frost steady in their wake as they set off in search of a suitable post, shoulder to shoulder.

Behind them, half a tonne of freezing debris sloughs off the coffee shop's front and cascades across the street.

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