Story Published: "Not Good Enough"

EVER SINCE THAT GODAWFUL day them Horrors sucked ol' Joe up into their mothership to have their way with him, poking and prodding and twisting his damn DNA into too many shapes like a freakish clown with balloons at a kid's birthday party, he's suffered through all manner of difficulty. Some from the Horrors themselves. Most from regular folks like you and me. 

All it takes is a mean apocalypse, and people they change. Ain't so normal anymore. Not so human. Sure, they might look alright on the outside. Two arms, two legs, two eyes. Maybe a little dirty, ragged around the edges like a pair of frayed blue jeans. No tentacles or slimy skin or claws. But their souls are different. The light inside has gone dim. 

They don't listen to the voice of their better selves no more. Their conscience is hoarse. It's the animals inside they hear now. Hunger and thirst. Desire. Survival. Nothing else much matters. 

"Think they've got real food?" Little Barry he does his best to keep up with Joe's long strides. 

"Might have." Joe he keeps on moving. Flamethrower rig clunking over one shoulder, big ol' backpack stuffed with provisions over the other. His boots strike the cracked asphalt in a steady rhythm with no sign of slowing down. 

On either side of this road lay the ruins of blown-out buildings burned to cinders. Frozen in their lanes sit the rusted hulks of abandoned automobiles long-since picked over by scavengers. Skeletons now. Nothing left worth taking. Down the middle, along the faded white dashes with weeds springing up between breaks in the pavement, that's where Joe walks, heading due east. 

Toward the Q. The Murph. A last bastion of civilization, such as it is. He's heard tell they take in strays there. That they have food, and plenty of it. The real stuff. 

Barry squints up at the hellish sun and drags a bare forearm across his dark brow, collecting warm beads of sweat. He adjusts the satchel slung across his back, heavy with scavenged canned goods. Some human food. Mostly dog and cat, from when there used to be lots of both running around. Before they got themselves hunted to near-extinction. Folks can't afford to be too picky these days. You eat what you can catch. Or what you can find. Ain't nobody selling drive-through. 

"Think they've got crops? You know, growing inside?" Barry licks his chapped lips and remembers corn fresh off the cob. Tearing into it with all his teeth, warm butter drooling down his chin, sweet corn bursting open with each bite. 

"Possible." Joe he keeps his answers short. Hopes the kid will shut up eventually. Hasn't worked yet, and they've been hoofing it together for about a week now. 

There will come a day when the kid will grow too tired to talk. Too thirsty. Too weak. Joe knows it to be true. And he plans to make it to the Q long before then. 

"The Horrors leave 'em alone cuz they've got gun turrets up in the stands, the nosebleeds where people used to watch the big games on Sundays. And the Horrors don't want to get their aircars damaged, so they steer clear, just fly on over to other parts of town where it's easier to grab folks. General Jack Murphy, he says, 'Keep on flyin', you mother—" 

"Language," Joe says. He ain't the boy's father. Not even close. But the kid's mother got herself slaughtered by them Horrors right before his young eyes. Least Joe can do is guide the rascals' squirrely tongue in the right direction. 

"—don't you even think about it," Barry goes on, reciting his litany. Or his catechism. He repeats it religiously either way, seems to bolster his courage. Puts a little spring in his step, thinking things might get better again someday. "That's what General Jack Murphy says, and the Horrors they fly on by cuz they've got prey elsewhere to be had." 

"Ain't no Jack Murphy." 

Not for years and years. Since long before the days when Joe had a family to call his own. Wonderful wife. Two amazing daughters. When tears sting his eyes from time to time, those three girls are the reason why. Because they're gone, sure. Mostly because he's afraid he'll never see them again. 

Barry looks up at Joe, but Joe he keeps his gaze set on the path ahead and any dangers that might spring up along the way. Never can be too careful. Scavengers. Eggheads. Not to mention the Horrors themselves. 

"That's what folks said about you," the kid says. Sports a big ol' grin, bright as sunshine. "That you were made-up. They even had a song. 'Roadkill Joe is a very old soul, can't die cuz he's a freak!'" Drawing out that last word in two syllables. 

Apt description. Joe knows full-well he's freakish. How else would you describe a man who's been run over, shot, stabbed, skewered, burned, and blown up more times than he can remember? Some of it he's done to his own self. 

Suicidal? Maybe. Experimental is more like. Them Horrors mangled his DNA something fierce, making him...not-human. As far as he can tell, his body refuses to die. No matter how much he'd like it to, after all these years roaming the wasted earth. By all indications, there will never be any eternal rest for ol' Joe. 

>> Read "Not Good Enough" in the latest issue of Perihelion Science Fiction. >>
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