"I'd stop if I were you."
Startled, his heel came down hard on a teacup that, until that moment, had survived the apocalypse without a chip. It shattered elegantly, scattering porcelain across the checkered floor.
"At this range, you're not in much position to be givin' orders," he said after a pause.
She half-turned, still crouched in the broken mess. "Funny, I was thinking the same thing."
For a moment he thought her sarcastic, mocking. But then she pointed, and he groaned as he saw two identical shotguns hiding in a dark hole of the counter, aimed at his knees. The tripwires wrapped around her wrist disappeared into the shadows, but he knew where they ended. His gun was still drooping at his side like a lazy, limp cock, aiming at the dirty tile floor.
Fuck, but he didn't see that coming.
She blinked and licked her lips. "I imagine you need a safe place to sleep, asshole?"
He smiled. This grin glittered with sweat and sweetness. "I'd be much obliged. What do I call you?"
"Oh no," she said, fastening her cargo pants. "No names."
"Kitty it is, then."
She said nothing. The bitemark he left on her neck stood out against her pale skin like an ancient secret. "How are you on ammo?"
"Six shells," he said, and then shook his head with a chuckle. "No, beg your pardon. Two."
She cocked an eyebrow at him. "You came into Nola with six shells? Are you crazy?"
"Maybe a little."
"Here," she said, and dug into one of the cargo pockets. She slapped a boxful of shells in his open palm, and he started to laugh. "What's so funny?" she asked.
"Life, kitten. Life's funny."
And then she resolved to take her biggest risk, biggest because it depended on her merc actually making nice with these ladies, and she knew damn well his tongue wasn't for all tastes. I hope for your sake, hero, that you have some manners when it counts.
"And if there are any prisoners in there alive... any men Crimson might have chained up waiting to bleed... well, if you could find it in your heart to give him a fighting chance, I'd be in your debt."
The blonde's face lit up in a smile. "He thinks you're not coming for him."
You are full of surprises, Magdalena, she thought, and laughed aloud. "Good. He's not completely pussy-whipped then."
"I might be able to cut him loose, maybe. How will he know to find you if you're starting chaos?"
She leaned down in the duffel bag and pulled out Michael's custom-made, gold inlayed Desert Eagle. He'd had Saint Michael, the archangel and defeater of Satan, engraved on the handle in gorgeous detail. There was a matching twin, with Satan on the handle instead of the archangel, but that one she had not been able to save. She felt the heavy weight of it in her hands, with that tangled pain in her chest that she well knew meant an ending, and memorized the soft imperfections with her fingers one last time. Then she handed it over to the slave and knew she would never hold it again.
"Give him this. Tell him that's two he owes me. Then send him out back. I'll find him."
Stuck together when they'd rather be apart. Wolves who've lost their packs. Monsters who don't play nice with others, forced to play nice with others to survive another day. The apocalypse is both heaven and hell for people like Hank and Kitty, and it shows.
These monsters share the same bones. If you put a door between them and what they need, they'll kick it down and give you a punch to the throat for the inconvenience. Aggressive in all their forms, it's the only way they know how to show affection for one another, as minute as that affection may be. Hank calls Kitty his personal ego assassin, and yet he can't keep himself from following her around like a lost puppy. Kitty is constantly picking up the slack caused by Hank's overestimation of his own skill, and yet she'll take unnecessary risks to help him see another sunrise.
This is how love exists for those in the Doom. This is its purest, final form: keeping each other alive.
Survival is the only philosophy that lives in their marrow. All illusions about the beauty of life and love were strangled long ago in personal backstories they'll never tell each other. Any feelings more complex than fear, anger, or sexual desire are compartmentalized into oblivion. They're irrelevant here, in this relationship, this fucked up orgy between two monsters and the abyss. It's just baggage being lugged through a murderous jungle, holding them back until death catches up with them.
And while they may submit to each other, but they'll never submit to the grave, regardless of the cost.
Part 2 (TW: consent issues)
For a while, I’ve been wanting to talk about Bury Me In Smoke and the things I fucked up as a writer. The moments that bother me about this work are moments I hope are readily apparent: the sex/rape scenes between Hank and Kitty. I use the hyphen because I honestly don’t know what’s more appropriate, and that’s the problem.
When I wrote this novella, I hadn’t been diagnosed with PTSD. I hadn’t yet faced the memories of and fact that I was, myself, a victim of sexual assault. I didn’t understand patriarchy or rape culture in the way I do now. I was a late 20s woman still inundated in Utah's thick patriarchy with some sexual appetites I didn’t have an outlet for. I was attracted to BDSM but didn’t understand it, or rape culture, enough to properly write about either of them, and so the result is the questionable scenes between Hank and Kitty.
What I thought I was doing when I wrote was having a fun, escapist fantasy for my darkest predilections: the aggressive, violent Doom part of me that wanted the world to end, and the part of me that craves non-vanilla sexual expression. In my head, Kitty wasn’t a rape victim because she was in control the entire time and only positioned herself like bait because she knew the likelihood was high that Hank would take it. I imagined her as an actual “sub” in a dom/sub relationship, because a sub is the one who is technically in control at all times. But I didn’t fulfill the necessary precursors to such a relationship, the most important of which is consent. Though I haven’t read the books, the critiques of Fifty Shades of Gray sound like the same critiques I have for my own work: the lack of understanding of consent turned what could have been a regular dom/sub relationship into something more sinister.
Sure, Kitty was in control this specific scenario; sure, the specific survival rules of a post-apocalyptic world are different. But the unfortunate truth is that these scenes reinforce the idea that real world rape victims are “asking for it”, or are somehow responsible for what other people do to them, and those victims exist in reality every single day. I have done those victims, and myself, a disservice by not understanding these issues fully.
I’m not here to speak for the reactions any individual reader, but as the writer, I acknowledge this failure in my own understanding and how it affected this story. I won’t defend those scenes as acceptable or necessary. And half of everything I make from that book (which is literally cents, but still) is sent to the local Rape Recovery Center here in Salt Lake City, Utah.
It’s tough looking back as a writer at things you could’ve done better, and doubly so when those aren’t just spelling errors or problems with plot structure. While I understand exactly what younger Megan was doing, as older Megan, I have to acknowledge it, and it feels good to finally do so in a form like this.
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