by Andrew Patch
The umbrella caught Prof’s attention, spinning haphazardly in the wind that gusted down through the deserted street. The spiraling frenzy of colour evoking long discarded memories of Catherine wheels burning in the darkness. His elderly fingers snatched at the handle as it rolled by. Earning an inevitable glare from Mouse who had barely concealed his resentment at Prof’s existence since he had wandered into the gang’s wasteland camp three weeks ago.
Mouse’s face shifted from malevolence to incredulity as Prof hoisted the umbrella over his head, rags hanging down from a skeletal frame. ‘Asshole’, Mouse spat onto the dry tarmac, hands tightening on his baseball bat. Thankfully a whistle up ahead meant inevitable altercation was put on hold. Mr November’s shotgun waved in the air, the signal for the gang to move forward. Prof, umbrella swaying over his head, followed the six men and two women, glass crunching underfoot as they wended their way amidst the rusting cars. Their gaze ever watchful of the unseeing dark eyes that gazed down from the dead buildings that flanked either side of the road.
Another wave of the shotgun and the gang crouched down in the shade of an overturned school bus. Prof stifled the rising laughter, he had quickly realised that Mr November had a tendency to go for the theatrical when they were ‘on recon’. The umbrella’s rags fluttered noisily in the wind, irritating Mouse once more. Prof watched the scrawny wretch whisper into the ear of the behemoth called Tiny, whose tattooed baldhead turned, dulled senses examining the spectacle above Prof’s head. Then Tiny whispered to Heretic, instigating a chain of Chinese whispers that Prof watched ripple towards Mr November.
Judging by the look of rage on Mr November’s face the message had survived the retelling. As Prof lowered the umbrella the gang’s self-appointed leader was already storming towards him. Brick dust rising in his wake, all pretenses at stealth abandoned. Prof was actually thankful that this charade would be over soon. He had grown tired of the gang and their idiocy.
‘What the hell is that?’ Mr November, spittle spraying onto Prof’s face leant in, his face going crimson, veins bulging. Prof had to judge his response carefully, too cowardly and November would attack, show any sign of backbone and the same outcome. ‘An umbrella, would you care for it?’
November swatted it out of Prof’s hand, ‘what do ya think we are doing here? A Sunday stroll?' You nonce …’ Mr November was in full flow. Prof ignored the tirade, his attention focused on the fat fingers that agitatedly flexed on the trigger of the shotgun. A mistake. For suddenly an incensed November lunged in, picking Prof up by his throat and slamming him against the bus. ‘Are you paying me any attention?’ As stars clouded his vision Prof gasped for air, forcing words out through the tightening grip, ‘Boss, I meant no offence …’
Prof hit the ground hard, feeling Mr November’s foot swiftly follow, burying into his side, forcing him to retch onto the tarmac. He waited for the next blow to follow, like it had for others before him, but Mr November was pacing back and forth, muttering to himself, shotgun waving. Suddenly the maelstrom abated, Mr November held out a hand, lifting Prof back onto his feet. This act of clemency scared Prof; it could only mean that something malignant had been born within November’s mind.
‘Sorry old man, red mist eh? Lets start again. Now, down the end of the road is the supermarket, correct?’ Prof nodded, he and been the one that had told November of the rumors of the place that was still filled with water, medicine and food. Items once taken for granted, now worth more than life itself.
‘Well’, Mr November picked up the umbrella, putting it in Prof’s hand, raising it above his head, ‘What I want you to do is take a stroll down there, check it out.’
‘But Boss what if there are …’ Prof’s words were halted by Mr November’s index finger pressed against his lips. ‘Don’t you worry, I’ll watch you through the telescope, any bother, we’ll have your back. Now you wander on down, and you keep that umbrella nice and high eh?’ The double-barreled shotgun leveled at his stomach informed Prof that his volunteering was decidedly non-negotiable. Mouse snickered as Prof set off, the red umbrella held aloft. Right now he was an easy target, any sniper concealed within a building would have a nice crimson target to tempt their attention.
Slowly Prof wended his way past cars, some still occupied by bleached skeletons locked in by melted seat belts. Halfway down the road he looked back, the gang was still by the bus, November’s telescope glinting in the sunlight. Feeling secure as they waited to see if Prof would be attacked.
Oblivious to the fact that they were the ones in trouble.
Prof pumped the umbrella up and down three times. The signal. Suddenly thunder and fire spat out from the buildings, as his old gang ambushed his new one. Prof watched, umbrella fluttering, waiting for the silence to return. When the assault eneded Prof walked back surveying the massacre. November, the stubborn oaf, was still alive. Slumped against a car, a weak hand trying to lift his shotgun. Prof kicked it away, and then leant in, stroking the blood matted hair from Mr November’s face. ‘Sorry about this, sure you understand how much we needed supplies. I volunteered to go find something …’ Prof stopped talking, he wanted to explain further but the November’s rolling eyes told him there was no point.
Whoops of exhilaration echoed as Prof’s gang emerged into the street, machetes in hand. Setting to work.
‘Hey stranger! Can I get my umbrella back?’
Prof stood up, Loretta was walking towards him, rifle in hand. He hadn’t realised until now how much he had missed his granddaughter.
It was good to be home.
Andrew is still working on his novel, drinking black coffee and living in the southern hemisphere. You can say hello @imageronin
Pieces Inspired by this Image
'Red Dawn Wannabe'
'Drops From Heaven'