Through pops and hisses, a treble-heavy recording of Tom Taliesan can be heard. A crowd gathers around the casette player, precious batteries being used to power it for just a few hours. Oil lamps flicker as the eyes of children widen. This is moment the camp has been waiting for – one of Taliesan’s Tapes has arrived!
No one needs reminding how hard life is in the Wastes. It can make a mean old man out of a valiant young boy in the time it takes for the sun to rise and set.
There were once two men, good friends these, travelling on a road in the night. One of them was The Acrobat, a nimble little fella. The other was a stalwart traveller – the Gunfighter. Both friends were defenders of the weak and helpless – as all true men are. They heard of work in Barstow (that’s in California, you understand) and had caught a bus south of Vegas to take them there. The night was extra dark, the forest extra deep. The click-clack-snap of tree banches could be heard against the windows of the Big Yellow Bus that drove through the high chaparral.
Suddenly there was a great rumble and shake. The two friends were thrown from the bus and lay on the side of the road, winded but miraculously unharmed. Meanwhile the others on the bus lay strewn about – some dead, some dying. Pieces of the machine were scattered all over the road and great flames were rising up from gasoline fires. As they looked around, they saw what had caused the wreck – an airplane (of all things!) – fallen from the sky and wouldn’t you know it happen to hit their bus.
The man who had been on that airplane was a trained soldier, and a mean old warrior. The Warrior had come all the way from the other side of the world. Just his luck to be spotted by a helicopter coming into California and get shot at before he had even stepped foot on the soil. But we all know who owns the skies, don’t we children? That’s right – the Blood Drinkers.
With no time to waste, the two friends started helping a woman who had been hurt in the wreck. And the Warrior got himself out of the plane and set to work laying a trap. See, while the three had been collecting their wits, the helicopter started landing men in armor, with lots of guns. They started shooting down the last of the survivors. Thankfully in the meantime, The Gunfighter had gotten the woman – named Courtney – to safety. While the Acrobat watched over her, she told him that a town called 29 Palms lay not 20 miles south. The Acrobat and the Gunfighter felt it was the best chance they had, so they headed there.
Meanwhile the Warrior had lured one of the troopers away and, jumping out at him, had taken his guns and killed him. He snuck away and met up with the three others. They were all pretty tired from escaping and decided to bed down for a while. The Acrobat rounded up some cactus and killed a snake and things seemed okay for a few hours.
In the morning, it was clear that Courtney was too hurt to walk much, so Eddie and Paladin made her a bed out of their coats and a couple stick and carried her. After some walking, the four folks found themselves on the doorstep of 29 Palms. They met Brooke, a hunter and guard, and the mayor – Alexander Two-Hawks. Getting a lay of the land, they discovered that there was lots of work to be done around town: there was a military base full of cannibals to the north, the mayor wanted a radio tower repaired, and things were breaking left and right. But what peaked their interests most of all was an old jeep that Courtney’s husband Tom had sitting around.
With his wife back, old Tom agreed to let the new guys work on his jeep a spell. He was stumped, but the Acrobat – smart as he was nimble – knew he could fix it quick. The Gunfighter went looking for parts while Eric went to check out the Elementary School. See, clever old Two-Hawks was keeping his town safe and had the visitors stay outside the city walls at the old school. That way everyone could keep an eye on everyone else. Remember Taliesan’s third rule of survival: Share with a Friend, Run from a Fiend and Spy on a Stranger.
In just one day, the Acrobat had the jeep up and running, but kept it secret from Tom and Courtney and the rest of the town. See, in the wilds of the Waste, it’s finders keepers for most folks. The Acrobat – a good kid – had the righteous Gunfighter and the world-weary Warrior sitting on his shoulders like an Angel and a Devil – one concerned about helping people and one wanting to take the jeep and run. Now, before you go passing judgement, the Warrior was no fool – his soldier’s instinct told him that no helicopter and armed Thralls were just going to let four humans walk away. Better to follow them back to their camp. See, the thought was that the Vampires would return that night and they would need a way out. In the end, the Acrobat kept his mouth closed, swayed to keep the jeep and the attack a secret, and do nothing to warn the town.
Sure enough, the vamps came back that night. Striking from their gunship they rained hell down on 29 Palms. The three snuck back into town amid the carnage and stole the jeep from Tom. Just as they were ready to leave, the Gunfighter saw Tom, shot to pieces, holding onto Courtney and praying their souls to heaven. He had no choice, being a gentleman, but to help the two. In that moment, the Acrobat saw the error of his ways – the simple human life that he had thrown away by keeping his mouth shut. Even the Warrior felt his heart move as they loaded the wounded into the jeep.
Into the night they drove, and hid themselves and the wounded in a house not far from town. They tended to their wounds as best they could. A tense night passed. In the morning, the town was ruined – decimated and left all ashes a’smoldering. They walked away with their lives and a jeep and little more. So off into the morning sun they headed, bound for who knew where, to do who knew what.
Yet I tell you, listeners – maybe old Tom’s third law needs revising. For this story to you may seem a tale of villains and thieves. But I ask you – is this not a story of redemption and salvation for Courtney and Tom? What version of this tale will they spin? So I say still, watch the stranger, but be ready to help him. Warn him of danger, give him a bit of your food or a clean drink of water. We’re all strangers to someone, children.
This is the Bard of the Waste, signing off. As always, all I have said is true. And when the sun goes down, travellers: burn rubber.