Chapter 1

He's dead. Dead and buried. I'm having a hard time believing it but I was the one that watched him die and I was the one that buried him so it has to be true. Please God don't let it be a dream that I'm going to wake up from.

I've got to get out of here. I've got to make plans. Where I'm going I haven't figured out yet. And I'm not sure how I'll get there either. For sure I'm taking the gold and silver that he had on him. I know that stuff is dirty but at this point does it really matter? In the old days wouldn't it be considered inheritance or something like that? I know I should care but I've got bigger problems. And yeah, I know carrying it around makes me a potential target if someone guesses I'm holding it but again, I've got bigger problems. I'm certainly not going to leave it behind for the other monsters to find and just perpetuate their inglorious monsterhood. This monster might not have "earned" it in the traditional way but it was still more his than his so-called partners and their customers. Who knows how they got it, or where it originally came from. I'm pretty sure I don't want to know. And now that he is gone it is more ours than theirs. They owe us almost as much as he does … did … whatever.

I know where he cached other stuff too. He never allowed me to go inside his hidey holes but I've been to the different places often enough that I know I can find them on my own. I also know how to disable the kinds of surprises he used so that won't be a problem. There is stuff in those holes that will help us start over some place. Where I haven't a clue yet but I'm thinking … and planning. And apparently repeating myself. I've got to get better control. Last thing I want is for my twitchiness to make us stand out, get us noticed.

If I can manage it I'm going to take his tools too. I'll need them anyway for some of my plans. But I'll put them on a new tool belt first, the one he'd just had me sew. Sewing is one of the few things he wasn't better at than I was. He wouldn't let me use the skill my mother and grandmothers had taught me for anyone else but him, but now it might be a way for me to support us without having to find a protector. Doesn't matter what it is, I can sew it … denim, muslin, cotton, homespun, salvaged clothing, leather, felt, etc. I've got the tools. I can create a pattern if I need one. All I need is the material.

This world isn't the one that my parents expected me to grow up in. They didn't teach me the survival skills I would need to have to avoid the worst of it. I don't blame them. Not even for a second do I blame them. But sometimes it hurts. Sometimes I wonder why me. Sometimes I have so much hate inside me that I'm literally sick from it. But I don't hate my family. Mostly I hate him, only that's wasted energy now that he is dead. That leaves other people to hate. Most of them are worth hating that's for sure. I don't blame my family for what happened, but I do blame other people for not helping me when they saw and knew. Oh yes, most of them that I saw did know, even when they wouldn't admit it.

The sad thing is to survive I can't run away from people. There are things that we'll need I can't make for myself. That leaves salvaging and trading. From the stories I heard his customers tell him salvaging isn't what it was in the beginning. Most of the good stuff is used up, gone, or gone over. The good stuff that isn't gone is located in territories belonging to Salvagers who protect what is "theirs" with fierce intention, or so I heard, and some I witnessed. They are so vicious that what little "authority" is out there leaves them strictly alone. I don't plan on dealing with salvagers, but I'll likely have to deal with the middlemen who do. That is going to be dangerous enough.

But before I run into other people I'm going to need to change … my looks, my clothes, the packs, all of it. The way I look now and how I'm dressed will get recognized. He always demanded I dress his way even though I hated it. It was his way of controlling me, controlling us. When others were around, or I was working the crowd for him, I was in short buckskins designed to entice the customers to his booth. When we were further up the mountain with no one around and he was in the mood to humiliate me, I was dressed like a baby doll. He was a sick monster. But he isn't around to control me anymore, now I'm just going to have to be careful of everyone else.

He had too many customers of one kind or another in this area; there's a risk that they'll recognize us and want to know where he is. Besides I hate it here, hate all the people around here. So many did business with him and not one of them helped us. They needed him and didn't want to rock the boat, didn't want to take the chance that they would offend him and him refuse to trade. He was a monster, a sleaze, he grew as crazy as a rabid bear and acted accordingly … but he was still good at what he did, better than good. And a lot of the time, unless they got too close, he could hide the worst of himself and they'd ignore the rest that gave them that prickly, uncomfortable feeling. Until he got too crazy. Then word started leaking out. Gossip. So much smoke they knew there had to be fire. The truly decent people stopped coming around as much, some of them never again; but some were so desperate that they'd overlook his … compulsions and corruptions.

They are one of the reasons that we were still captive after so long but he was the reason I was captive and alone in the first place. He is the one that made sure I was all alone. Right before The Chaos some kid had finally gotten someone to listen and revealed what he was. Daddy was the one that arrested him. He blamed Daddy for the beat downs he got handed while in prison even though it was his own actions that had created the consequences. Daddy was the protector. But he's gone now. All of the real protectors are gone now. The few that remain, hiding what they were supposed to be back then, are too busy trying to stay alive and protect their own. Or they're too busy getting paid to protect the few people that can afford to hire them. Not enough protectors. Too many monsters. And the rest of us have to become monsters in training just to survive.

I think I hate people. I'm saying that a lot but it is true. People certainly never helped me. Even when they knew my situation they turned a blind eye, turned away so they wouldn't have to see my pain, my humiliation and fear, my life … our pain and fear, our life. People aren't how I got free. God might have been the one that rescued me. Or one of His angels did it. Or maybe my rescue was nothing more than the byproduct of the Devil calling one of his own home to hell. I'm not sure. I'm not sure of much right now. Except I am sure that we can't stay here. I keep repeating that too but only because it is true. They'll be coming back soon because he owes them product they've already paid "good money" for. Real money, not the paper crap that passes for money in the different Emergency Districts. That stuff is used in towns but out here in the boonies people will only take real stuff … blanks, bullets, and barter. When his customers don't get their order they'll take us as repayment. No way. He was bad but some of them are worse. A lot worse.

Sam was his name, or what he told me to call him … Master Sam. I was the only one to call him that … or the only one that I know that called him that. Everyone else, including his occasional partners and customers, just called him The Fixer. He was a shade tree mechanic with the expertise of a brilliant artist. He never met anything broken that he couldn't fix if he had the resources and parts … and even when he didn't he could figure out a work around or build something completely new to do the same job. He dabbled in electronics and programming but he preferred moving parts … even if they were micro-sized moving parts. He built a few robotic apparatus and drones but those were very high-end items sought by powerful people. He avoided advertising that particular skill because even sleazy monsters like Sam needed the cops to keep the bigger monsters in check … no cops, no checks on the big monsters. Big monsters aren't very discriminate; they eat little monsters just as often as they eat the innocent, and care just as little about which their meal is made of.

Sam – I refuse to call him Master anymore – wasn't just a mechanic. He was also a chemist, a pharmacist … almost an alchemist. Tell him what you needed and if he could get the raw materials he'd eventually give you what you wanted. And if in the mood, or just to prove he could, he'd give you more than you expected. He knew what would make someone well, even from their deathbed … and he could also brew a poison that was deadly and undetectable that would send you to your deathbed. He knew how to maximize both pain and pleasure and he enjoyed both with an oversized appetite.

People came to him for his knowledge of the local flora and fauna as much as they came to him for anything else. He could have done so much to help people. He was a freaking genius. He may have been a monster – a Victor Frankenstein, Josef Mengele, and Westley Allen Dodd all rolled into one – but his genius was undeniable no matter how perversely you wished it was otherwise. At least until the end when his crazy started eclipsing everything else.

As good as he was, as smart as he was, in the end none of that saved him. It is actually what wound up killing him. An explosion in his lab. He claimed it was because someone messed with his stuff but I don't think that is what happened. I think his crazy made him careless and in turn killed him, even if it was the long way around. But I had no way of knowing that would happen. Since the beginning my days have been filled with little more than trying to survive and that's all I thought about. Well, that and my father's last words to me.

Sam killed them all. Gassed us when we'd finally fallen into an exhausted sleep after the second day of The Chaos. Then in the morning when he found Daddy and I were still alive he decided to have some fun. He dragged us into the backyard and no one came to help us, no matter my screams and begging. No matter how many times Daddy yelled, begging for someone to come help me because he couldn't get loose.

He tortured me in front of Daddy but finally Daddy broke free and covered me with his own body. He wouldn't move when Sam ordered him to so Sam stabbed him … I lost count how many times. Daddy kept trying to save me but he just couldn't. And when he finally fell down Sam tortured him with what he was going to do to me and how there was no one that was going to stop him. Not the neighbors who were cowering inside their houses. Not the cops, most of whom had already begun to abandon their posts. No one. Right before Daddy's eyes glazed over and he flew off to join the rest of our family he looked right at me. He really couldn't breathe anymore but I could read his lips. "I love you. I'm sorry. Never give up."

He gave me the only three things he had left to give me. He reminded me that I was loved. He told me that someone cared about what happened to me. And he gave me a way to be a victor even if I stayed a victim. I'm trying to teach that to her but it isn't easy. But easy isn't always the best way. Easy makes you weak. And these days no one can afford to be weak.

But in the beginning I was weak. There were days I laid there that I begged him to let me die. When he was through with me I prayed to God to let me die. I hurt in places I didn't even know I had from things I never could have imagined existed. Over and over and over until I thought I would go mad. Then I got sick. So sick he thought I was dying. Only I wasn't dying, he'd put a baby in me.

He beat me without mercy. Then he forced teas down me. But the baby stayed and I lived. And he hated it. Because it changed the dynamics. It broke some kind of connection he thought he had with me, broke some kind of control he thought he had over me. I never really understood his wild screaming fits he would have when nothing he tried worked. It had something to do with his grandmother and sister. The first time he really came unglued I thought he was going to kill me. Why he didn't I still don't understand. Then he just lost interest … at least in that. He said I wasn't fun anymore. Said looking at me made him sick. He said I had become old and ugly and unappealing.

Give me a break. He was the one that was old and ugly and unappealing. In his mind's eye he somehow imagined himself to be studly and desirable. In reality he reminded me of a strip of rancid jerky … lean, hard, and nasty. I would give a lot if I had found the courage to tell him that, but I didn't; not even at the end. That's something I'll have to live with, all the things I never had the courage to say, the things I never had the courage to do.

He made plans to leave me in the forest tied to a tree, to trade me to one of his customers for a new dolly to play with, to throw me down a ravine, to set me afloat and watch me go over the falls, to tie rocks to my feet and toss me in the deepest part of the lake; the plan kept changing but he always explained them in detail. I wondered why he didn't. Was prepared for the worst to happen. Expected to die in my sleep each night and then felt unbounding surprise – and not a little disappointment – when I woke up in the morning still breathing. Soon I began to realize he was having dreams … dreams that turned into a series of nightmares, the worst of which would come right before he threatened to complete a plan where he would do something to get rid of me.

I thought at first he'd started using some of his own concoctions, but it wasn't that. One night his screaming woke me up and then he grabbed me by my throat and commanded me to, "Stop lying to them! I haven't done anything to you! I haven't! I found you like this! You tell them! You tell them that right now!"

He was dreaming my family was out to get him. He dreamed they promised to torture him for the rest of his life if something happened to me or the baby. It wouldn't matter if he had a direct hand in it or not, they'd hold him responsible. And when I was reunited with them, they promised to teach me how to torment and haunt him until he was mad, that everything he'd done to others I would do to him ten times over. It wouldn't just be my revenge, I would avenge all his victims. I would have done it too if I'd been given the choice but that's beside the point.

He'd already been compulsively superstitious, the dreams made him nearly psychotically superstitious … or maybe it was his psychosis that created the dreams. I could never tell if the superstitiousness was part of his crazy or part of what made him crazy. All I know is that some cosmic entity may have meant well but it only made my life harder and in a real sense more miserable.

Day and night he forced me to become his apprentice, to learn all of his skills. Hunting, trapping, foraging. Learning the difference between strategy and tactics and how to utilize them both. I was his Fixer Jr and he'd slap me around if he thought it was taking me too long to learn to do something. How to fight. How to hide. How to conceal. How to torture. Even on the day I gave birth he forced me to practice on a customer that had paid him in tungsten filled blanks. Probably why I went into labor. Then he locked me away – literally locked me away in chains, the whole bit – constantly hovering, terrified I'd die from childbirth.

He started doing that a lot; locking me away, especially when he had serious customers coming. It didn't happen every time, but it happened more and more. The monsters he was doing business with were getting bigger … big enough to eat him alive as he'd eaten so many smaller monsters before. I didn't mind. I had the baby and she took all of my time and strength for a while. He left me plenty of water and food and would even be mad if he came back and found some left.

"You starving yourself?! You trying to die and join your family Clarity?! Well it ain't happening! You're mine! And they can't have you! I'll give that Seed of Satan to the bears before I let you join back up with them! You aren't going to come back and haunt me!"

He only took Annie away from me once. Once was enough for all of us. I don't even know what I did to set him off. He ripped her away and took her into to the forest for some "fun and games." I don't know how but I got free not long afterwards, tracked him, and hit him over the head with a branch, knocking him out. I grabbed Annie and took off running into the woods, trying to find a path down off the mountain. Thanks to his lessons it took him three days to catch up and capture me. For some weird reason he took pride in that, like it had all just been a test; maybe it was. He was crazy enough to think of it that way; but he never took Annie from me again. Most of the time he just acted like she was some figment of my imagination that he had to humor me about. But what he did do to prevent me from ever running again was he booted me … like my father used to do to cars that had too many tickets. It was a steal cage that he custom designed and welded together that covered me from the toes on my right foot to my knee where it attached to a stiffly hinged restraint that prevented my knee from bending with any speed. It was heavy, uncomfortable, and I could barely walk in it. I could never run in it, even if my life and Annie's depended on it. I buried "the boot" with him. I actually put it on him and his corpse can wear it for eternity. If some future archaeologist finds his bones I can only hope they'll wonder what type of criminal he was to be so cruelly punished.

My head hurts with all these thoughts and memories swirling inside. Should I be grateful he taught me what he did? That was one of his favorite catchwords. "You should be grateful I don't …" "You should be grateful I …" "You're just an ungrateful little …" Maybe I should just be satisfied with being grateful I survived his teaching. Right now I'm neither. Right now I just know I need to get us out of here. Right now if there is any gratitude in me to be found, it is that I can finally get away though I'm also scared. As much as I hated him and his sick brilliance I have to acknowledge that he protected us; not for our sake but because he protected everything he owned … tools to product … at least from everything and everyone but himself. But still, you take what you can get in this life. He expected me to be grateful for that protection too. Please God be a better protector of me and Annie than Sam was. I don't think we'll survive more of his type of protecting.

I've got to get out of here. And I've got to do it so that I run into as few people as possible. I'm not sure I can hide the hating little monster in me yet, so I need to avoid people. It is going to take time to wrestle it under my control so that it never comes out unless I want it to come out. I've got to figure out how to hide what has been going on the last some years. I don't want to have to hang out with monsters for the rest of my life. I don't want Annie to have hang out with monsters any of her life.

The other people I've seen are in the same boat. All those bills they've created in life have started to come due. Vices can't be covered up with makeup and manicures and plastic surgery. There are too few pills left to help people with their crazies. Most don't seem to realize what and who they are now sits on their face and in their eyes. They can act a certain way all they want to but that's all it is; an act. Doesn't matter, young or old, who you are is just out there for the world to see like they'd made a sign and hung it around their own necks. Deeds are like permanent markers, only instead of writing only on your soul, they tattoo the truth on your outside for the whole world to see. I need to figure out a "tattoo remover" … stat.