Chapter 2: The Importance of Homework

The house was no better kept than any other house in the wastes. The walls were a patchwork of old woodwork and metal plates welded together where the original construction had not endured the harsh test of time. There was little indication as to what the original colour of the house was, patches of beige remained on the walls, though it was largely discoloured due to a combination of age and disrepair. The windows were just empty squares set into the walls covered by more sheet metal or wooden planks. It was obvious that someone lived here and that this certain someone did not wish to be bothered by others.

Eleanor rumbled up on her ATV and parked by the wide of the road, just beyond a waist-high wall that marked the edge of what used to be the front garden. The road was devoid of any life beyond the occasional pest scuttling across the street. The other houses were abandoned and in a similar state to the one that Eleanor had pulled up outside of.

“Creepy,” Eleanor muttered to herself, removing her goggles from her eyes and resting them near the top of her forehead, “you’d think that there’d at least be squatters.” She shook her head as she walked through the gap where undoubtedly a gate used to be. “I guess paranoid ramblings have more weight with some than they do with me.”

She took out her revolver as she opened the front door, slowly following the angle with the barrel of her handgun. The interior was empty, streaks of natural light penetrated the cracks in the walls leaving visible trails of clear light lancing through the otherwise dark interior. The interior was as dilapidated as the outside, wallpaper largely non-existent where it used to be. The furniture, or what remained of it, was quaint, mostly of wooden construction and covered in dirt and dust. She clambered her way up a mostly collapsed staircase to find that the upstairs was largely the same. It appeared as if nobody lived here.

Eleanor frowned. There were a few aspects of the house that did not make sense.

Firstly, she noted that the interior looked largely abandoned, though the exterior screamed of occupation. The patch job was a clear indicator that someone was living there. However, she guessed that there was the possibility that the previous occupants had been turfed out by raiders or some other gang of degenerates.

However, the second aspect was one that sent the shiver down her spine; or rather, it was the shiver down her spine that was the aspect itself. As soon as she had walked into the seemingly abandoned house she felt uneasy, it was a feeling that could only be described as intuition; a feeling that something was not quite right about this place. She quickly dismissed this, however, as nothing more than a unconscious reaction to the ridiculous rumours that had been spread around.

Thirdly, the area was totally abandoned and had an eerie silence about it. Had she arrived just after a raider hit? Some tribes had different methods of clearing unguarded areas, some left nothing in their wake but this kind of eerie silence. Eleanor concluded that was the case at least. On her way back downstairs, Eleanor decided to make a quick sweep of the house to try and find anything worth looting. If the job was a hoax or if the information was inaccurate, then at least she would get some sort of payment for her time.

The house was clean in that regard, for the most part, the upstairs containing nothing of value. The water still worked, but it was obviously coming from a supply that had not been cleaned, the level of corruption in the water made it completely unusable. She had no more luck downstairs either, no items of worth remained in the house beyond a pack of cigarettes that contained just one. She could barter with it for something small, perhaps, but nothing much. The kitchen was slightly better, containing a few cans of what looked like cat food and a few sealed packs of something. They looked like military ration packs, designed to withstand anything. A brilliant find.

Cheerfully, Eleanor started to leave, her leather satchel full of her new bounty. She stopped dead in her tracks when her boot clacked against the floor, uncharacteristic and different to the rest of her footsteps. Most people would not have noticed, the change in tone was minor, but Eleanor froze up for a moment. She looked at the floor beneath her boot heel. It seemed completely normal, no differences at all from the rest of the floor. She dropped to her hands and knees and started to feel around the area, knocking on the floor to see the differences as she moved. There was a metre square of hollow ground, but no obvious way to open it. Eleanor took out her knife, a thin, easily concealable blade that she kept in a sheath on her boot, and started to try and pry at the edges.

The square came loose.

She pulled it up and out after placing her knife back into its sheath, revealing a small ladder that went into a dark, but seemingly illuminated area below. Revolver in hand, she dropped quickly through the hole and onto the dusty, concrete floor below with a clack. There was a man with thinning, blonde hair standing by a table in a black vest and a pair of khaki trousers. His shoes were worn and mirrored the state of the house above quite well. His skin was pale. He looked as if he hadn’t seen the sun in years. Perhaps he was a surviving vampire? If that was the case, she was in trouble, but flight was not an option considering it would take her a while to get back up the ladder and this man undoubtedly knew that she was here after her drop into the basement. There was only one course of action available to her.

Also, vampires were generally a lot more subtle as they did not have the luxury of magic to protect them like their persecuted friends.

Eleanor grinned, raising her pistol and taking aim at the man. This bounty was going to be a cake-walk after all.

She pulled back the hammer, took aim and squeezed the trigger.

There was a loud bang, then nothing. The man still stood above the table, working on whatever it was that he was doing. There was no impact. Eleanor felt like her heart stopped abruptly in her chest. She squeezed the trigger again. And again. Nothing.

Three bullets. Three bullets and nothing. I bet you’re really fucking proud of yourself you smug bastard, she thought to herself, squeezing the trigger again and again until all that happened was the gun clicked with each successive pull of the trigger. She wanted to pull out her knife and finish the job that she had accepted, but she couldn’t move her arms. The man turned around. His vest was caked in blood on the front, though his hands were spotless. He grinned and ran a hand through his wispy blonde hair.

“Didn’t believe the stories, eh?” he beamed, confidence radiating off him almost as permeable as the actual aura that radiated from him. She could see the six bullets that she had fired hovering in mid air, just in front of his chest. “You really need to do your homework, Mrs. Carter.” He chuckled quietly to himself at the irony of the statement, since Eleanor had been a University lecturer before the world ended.

She dropped her revolver; again, she did not want to, but regardless she did. She tried to move her fingers, but her hands remained motionless. She felt the compulsion to drop to her knees; she resisted with every fibre in her body, causing the man to look at her with a curious expression for a moment. She eventually fell to her knees.

“Should I call you Mrs. Carter, or is it technically Miss. Bennett? You’re not exactly an official divorcee after all,” he grinned at her once again.

She was totally helpless. All she seemed in control of was her face and voice.

“Not surprised a fuck-up like you doesn’t understand how relationships work,” she spat at him, her tone venomous. She knew that she was going to die, an unprepared wastelander like her could not fight against a sorcerer who had managed to survive until this day. Weak magic users had a tendency to meet an unpleasant end, whether at the hands of an angry animal, a mob riled up by a religious cult or a gun for hire such as Eleanor. This one, however, was way out of her league.

He frowned for a moment, observing his would-be hunter with a patronising air about him.

“Uh huh. Says the woman who abandoned her children. Says the woman who gives an absolutely wonderful example to them even after having abandoned them. You’re a great role model to them, getting pissed at the local bar, starting fights, using your friends like they are merely a material asset to be used and discarded once they have been used up,” he replied with a largely sarcastic tone to his voice. He glared daggers at the woman, who merely returned an apathetic expression.

“How about you shut the fuck up about shit that you don’t know anything about,” she ordered aggressively, though the man just sighed and shook his head, walking up beside her, then behind her. She could feel her hand reaching down to her boot and taking out her knife. She wanted to pull it out, but this was not of her own volition; if it was, the movement would have been a lot faster and would have been placed firmly into this man’s neck by now. The movement was slow, almost lethargic as she drew the blade up to her neck, pressing the steel against her tanned skin. She was breathing faster now.

“You speak as if I haven’t already been inside your head and taken everything I want to know about you. You speak as though I’m not still in there, stringing your body along like a puppet,” he crouched behind her as she pressed the knife against her neck harder, beads of crimson blood running along the blade. “I could make you kill yourself right here in an instant. I could force you to kill yourself slowly whilst playing Mozart on your nerve endings to make you feel everything ten times stronger. I can make you do anything and you still try my patience.”

He placed one hand on her back and one on her forehead, holding her firmly with her head against his chest. “So I’ll just get this over with now to spare us both the embarrassment.”

She dropped the knife to the floor, her neck still bleeding mildly from where she had pushed it against her skin too hard. She felt nothing as her arm went limply to her side.

Then an excruciating pain that started from her head and lanced through her body. She screamed in agony, though there was no one around to hear. It was unbearable.

It did not take long for everything to go dark. Her body shut down.

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