He watched her dark eyelashes fluttering in the pale light of the lantern like sad little butterflies. "Christ. You stole from the warlord?"
"We did," she said. "And then they started hunting us down."
Outside the crypt, a rumble too distant to be threatening rattled the stained glass window. The lamp swung as if pushed by a gentle kiss. Tin cans quivered against the granite. The both of them turned and looked up at the window, waiting for it to break, for the whole place to fill with flames. But the faraway explosion faded with a whisper.
"We evaded them unharmed for a week. There's just too many of them. And now it's just me."
- - -
"You see, son," said the biker as he hiked up his filthy jeans and knelt over him. He saw his own bloodied reflection in the biker's dark sunglasses. "All we want is the girl. This is a city of law and order, you hear?" His ugly friends laughed low. "And she's broken the law. We're just here to deliver her due justice."
- - -
Instantly Crimson was on him; the man's size did nothing to impede his speed. The warlord of Nola whipped a meaty backhand across his face that sent him reeling to the edge of consciousness. His palms hit the floor hard and sent pain shooting up the arm muscles already working overtime. They shuddered and collapsed like a house of cards, and his face hit the floor right after.
Again, Crimson paced with quiet patience as he collected himself from the blow. That glorious last reserve of adrenaline was fading with a quiet whisper. Now his muscles quaked like dry leaves in a breeze.
"This isn't your show, cocksucker," said Crimson in a quiet bass whisper. "The world has burned down around our ears, and the power belongs to the righteous. To the strong. And right now, boy, that ain't you."
- - -
"There you go, running that mouth again," the Boss said. He shook his head, disappointed. "Boys, if you would be so kind..."
Before he could even blink, the chair was kicked out from under him and the two bikers had him roughly by the arms. They were dragging him to the gator pit. He tried to dig his toes into the mud but barely had the strength to cause a scratch.
He screamed as they held him out over the gaping hole, their merciless hands bruising his arms. The great lizards below him began to thrash and fight in the black water, and one made a terrifying leap for his head. Fear came crashing into him like a meteor into the earth, a meteor with jaws as wide as the galaxy and as black as hell. The gator was feet off the mark, but he reared back violently anyway, and felt his broken ribs jostle. Over the roar of blood in his head, he heard a voice screaming to pull him back up. He realized the voice was his own.
- - - - -
Crisis can bring out the best of most people. Humanity has only thrived because we stick together when it counts. When a disaster strikes, we find a way to pull each other through before we go back to our petty, everyday bullshit.
But for some people, the apocalypse is nothing more than the perfect playground to amplify their power and dominate in a whole new way. It's the chaos they've generated and craved their whole life, wrought worldwide. It is the swamp in which they lay their eggs and breed.
That is to say: Hank and Kitty are bad people. Crimson and his gang are somehow worse.
While Hank and Kitty have backstories that may never be written, Crimson and the boys have none. They are timeless monsters with faces I can't see in my imagination when I write them, the faceless embodiment of patriarchal domination high on unchecked power. They are what happens when men choose the cowardly path of social darwinism.
With an iron fist, Crimson swept across the rubble of Nola like a true imperialist, hoarding supplies and collecting slaves to prop up his own existence. He reclaimed the plantation lifestyle with mental and spiritual ease. He knows how to control dangerous men, he knows their hearts and souls, and that's why he can recognize who Hank is. A few different decisions or forks in the road, and Hank might have been one of his crew. Luckily for Hank, he has already been turned by another, more powerful persuader with a sniper rifle on her shoulder, and a slightly less black heart.
Like all terrible men, Crimson saves the worst of himself for women. They have suffered the most under his reign, and it was important for me as a writer that a woman be the one to save them. Of course, there's no calling Kitty selfless for what she did. She had her own motives, like everyone in this story. But unlike everyone else, she never underestimated the ability of the women to kill for themselves once given the tools. She's been there. She knows what's in the true hearts of dominated women. So she wrapped the rope Crimson made around his own neck and squeezed.
As I've said: At its core, through all its tropes and subversion and problematic scenes, Bury Me In Smoke is a dedication to the survival instincts of women.
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