Disclaimer: This novel contains adult material including sexually explicit activities, references to child rape, strong language, extreme violence, and violence against children. This work is not suitable for minors. Reader discretion is advised.
Psycho Bullet Festival: The Odyssey of Abigale Quinlan
Episode 07: Jack The Joy
Shortly after dealing with Marz and reassessing our current location, Jack, Zedaki, and I resumed exploring the half-destroyed desert town we found ourselves in, searching for a place to spend the night. After only a few minutes of searching, we came across what was once a neighborhood that, like much of what we had seen throughout this place, was in a state of great disrepair. Yet between the assorted rubble and debris resided a home that stood tall, with a roughened exterior that protected an interior that had weathered the years well, all things considered.
The signs of animals who once dwelled in this abandoned residence were clear, with a small nest being made in one of the kitchen cabinets, and traces of droppings. It certainly gave the house something of an odor, but Zedaki seemed insistent that we sleep in here rather than our clean and comfortable solar-powered automobile with suitable legroom and reclining seats. A vehicle that Zedaki quickly drove closer to our dwelling for the evening after we settled on it.
However, finding a suitable resting spot was not the only major concern of my companions, who had both grown hungry after a hectic battle and the hours since their light lunch. Despite packing several days worth of food, Zedaki was insistent on scavenging for things and began pillaging about the various cabinets of this home, and its mostly empty pantry. All she found were some tea bags, a bag of processed potato chips, some canned dog food, a lukewarm soda, and a collection of spices.
“Well, it’s about as good as what we found during our first few days,” Jack commented with a smile on her face.
“Most of which we still have stored in our backpacks,” I began. “I understand your desire to save food during our travels of indeterminable length, but if I need your help in fighting my children again, the two of you need proper nourishment.”
“Yeah, yeah, yeah,” Zedaki muttered. “We could use our supplies, but I like thinking of them as a last resort when traveling. While we’re out like this, it’s best to live off of what we can salvage or hunt. Though I doubt we’d find much rummaging around at night.”
“Wildlife around here is surprisingly rare,” I interjected, “but considering the human population is what it is, I would not be surprised if all life on the planet experienced a significant decrease, if not being wiped out completely. I loathe to think how many species went extinct after the Cataclysm. If not because of the disasters themselves, the ecological shifts would have assuredly wiped them out by the dozens. I could say the same thing about plant life, but that has continued to thrive, as it always seems to. If we desire something to eat, I am certain that I can prepare something edible using local fauna.”
“It’s not that I don’t trust you to cook up anything Abigale, but I’ve had a lot of bad run-ins with eating random plant life, so I’m not up to taking many chances with whatever cacti or berries you think might be safe to eat. I’ll go look around a few stores for now, maybe I can find something else. I’ve been doing this for the better half of the decade, so I know what most other scavengers tend to miss.”
“Um, should we come with you?” Jack meekly asked.
“I’ve been cooped up in a car with the two of you all day, so I’d like a bit of alone time, if you don’t mind. You know, enjoy the quiet, stretch my legs— and the rest of me after fighting off that big bastard. Anyways, I’ll be back in an hour or less.”
With that, Jack and I were left alone in this small home, carrying a flashlight in her hands. With the sun having nearly entirely set, and the room we resided in only being illuminated by an electric lantern that Zedaki grabbed from her car. We began searching the home and drawing the curtains for no more than a few seconds before Jack’s stomach let out an audible grumble, much to her embarrassment.
“No need to apologize, you have every reason to be hungry.”
“I guess, but I was never one to have much of an appetite. Even when I was at the Flare Foundation and had access to better food, I still probably only had 1,000 kcals a day.”
“What kind of food did they have at the Foundation?”
“Um, lots of stuff. There were also basic things like sandwiches, soups, meatloaf, and eggs among other things. Though, most people only got rations from what I heard. There’s actually a very large greenhouse located at the heart of the Flare Foundation, so we also had lots of fresh vegetables and such during the summer and fall. We also had loads of frozen meals and would randomly have them some nights. And not just basic things. Stuff like paella, nasi goreng, schnitzel, yukgaejang, borscht, and tom kha gai.”
“…Every time you tell me something about that place, it sounds more and more implausible,” I murmured under my breath
Not wanting to simply stand around, I picked up the electric lantern and invited Jack to follow me as we explored this house in more detail. I personally was hoping to uncover some new clothes, as I was going through an outfit a day at my current rate. After my battle with Marz, I changed into a beige shirt with a low neckline that exposed my upper chest and three-quarters length sleeves along with a pair of form-fitting navy pants that stopped above my ankle, and a pair of running shoes that fit decently enough. It was a comfortable outfit, but not the sort of thing I would wear if given the option. However, I knew it would be too foolhardy to hope that I uncover a well-fitting suit, or something to that effect, in a random closet.
Regardless, Jack and I soon wandered upstairs where we began our search by entering what looked to be a child’s bedroom, likely a girl’s given the dusty lavender sheets that covered the twin-sized bed. A collection of posters laid on the floor, a bookshelf had been toppled over, and there was a notable funk to the entire room, but it was among the more preserved places I had come across. If anything, the room, when cast under the early evening starlight piercing through the cracked window, there was a certain beauty to this room.
As I took in the sights of this room, Jack took the lantern for herself and began digging through the dark and dusty closet, plucking out articles of clothing that once belonged to a young girl, but would most likely fit Jack’s small girlish frame well enough. These articles included a few panties, a white t-shirt, a pair of maroon pants, some small socks, and even a pair of tennis shoes. As Jack toiled through the closet for new clothing, I placed a foot out the door to explore the rest of this home, only to stop in my tracks as I heard a gasp escape Jack’s lips. Turning my head, she had pulled out a white dress with a light blue floral print pattern.
It was a simple garment, and far from the most practical thing she could wear, but as Jack’s eyes locked with it, sparking into a glimmer, I knew this was something more to her. Without paying any mind to my presence, Jack stripped down to her underwear and hoisted the dress over her frame before turning to the full-length mirror adorning the closet door. As she looked back at her reflection, illuminated by the lantern and rays of moonlight, tears began to trickle down her face.
“On March 20th, 2015, the Cataclysm happened. I was at home, with my family. I had just gotten home from the last day of school before spring break and was waiting for my friends to come over so we could hang out for a few hours, talk about stuff, watch silly videos, and maybe go out and do something. But then a weather alert came on, urging people to stay home. I was living in Oregon then, and we did not get many bad weather alerts like that. We never had any earthquakes of anything, and never much flooding, so I didn’t think much of it. Neither did my mom and dad. But then the house started shaking a few minutes later, and we heard a rumbling.”
“My parents started worrying, and we hid away in the basement just to be safe. That was a bad idea. I don’t really remember what happened when we got down there, but once we were in the basement… the ceiling collapsed. I was near a wall and avoided the debris, but my parents weren’t so lucky. They were crushed under the rubble, and by the time the dust cleared, I couldn’t see them. I panicked, tried to push the debris away, but I wasn’t strong enough. I needed tools, and, thankfully, I was able to find my mother’s toolbox.”
“I found a crowbar, the same one I use to this day, used it to break away the flooring, pipes, and wood that had fallen onto my parents. I found them after hacking away for a few minutes and getting a load of splinters, but they did not survive. I only found their lifeless bloodied bodies, crushed under the weight of a floor.”
“For the next hour, I just sat there, curled up into a ball. I didn’t know what to do, what I could do, and even though it was a bad idea, I stayed right next to the rubble, while the house was already creaking as powerful winds hit it outside. When morning came, I used my cell phone to call somebody for help… but I got no response. Not from my aunt, my cousins, my friends, and not even 911. I even tried using my data plan to browse the internet, but it didn’t work. I was offline. I was alone. I was scared. And I eventually left the house as the winds died down, only to see that… I was no different than everybody else in my neighborhood.”
“Every house was destroyed or in disrepair, demolished cars lined the streets, lawns were torn to bits, and slabs of sidewalk were scattered haphazardly. I saw nobody else around me… except for a woman in the sky, who declared herself to be Abigale Quinlan.”
“The next year, I was all alone. I did not trust anyone I ran into, because they were all strangers. I made it on my own, hiding where I could, and picking up what I needed to survive, all while carrying my crowbar. My room was destroyed, so that’s all I could really bring with me from my old life. That, and what I was wearing. A dress just like this one. No, actually. The pattern is the same, the feeling is the same. It was this dress. The dress I was wearing when I set off on my own into the cruel and unforgiving world, the dress I was wearing when I saw my parents die, and the dress that absorbed my tears when I would cry myself to sleep every night during the month of Cataclysm.”
“Just wearing this dress, I feel like things are okay, that the Cataclysm never happened, that my parents are alive. I know it is stupid, but it makes me happy. I know it is not even the same exact dress. That dress was ruined as I kept wearing it. It ripped and tore until it was a rag that I held onto… but lost after I was captured by the Flare Foundation. It was the one memento I had of my life before the Cataclysm, and it was torn to bits before being lost forever.”
“I’m sorry Abigale, I must be annoying you. I guess I just needed to let that all out.”
As Jack concluded her story, I did not offer her any words. Instead, I approached her with open arms and embraced her. She did the same to me, and we both stood there, basking in the dim light around us as she stained my top with tears. As she let out her sorrow, I guided the two of us to the nearby bed and shared a story of my own as we sat side by side.
“Jack… let me tell you a story. I cannot recall the year, but it was early in my memory, likely during the 17th century. I was abducted, captured by a group of religious militants who learned of my immortality, my ability to regenerate any wound. They thought I was a witch, a devil worshipper who had learned the dark arts, and deserved to be tortured for such an action. They whipped me, burned me, stabbed me with blazing hot irons, and assaulted me with blunt weapons in order to break away my bones and pound my organs. It was a woeful experience, made all the worst by how I could not fight back, as I lacked the same strength and might I now have.”
“While I was being tortured, I was constantly looking for a way out, a way to fight back from my oppressors, and during a particularly brutal incident involving a cascade of boiling water being lathered across my bareback, I was searching for a knife, hoping that I would find something, anything, amidst the stone flooring beneath me. I observed my hand as I was able to pull a knife from the ground itself, turning the stone beneath me into an iron blade. One that I used on my assaulter, stabbing him in the throat.”
“I explored my powers afterward, trying to conjure up new tools to help me. I was unable to create more complicated tools I was not very familiar with, such as a crossbow, but I could create weapons from nothing, and in a matter of seconds. With this power, I hunted down my oppressors, and killed them, using my ability to forge blades from walls and to overpower any foe, even when they were more skilled in combat than I was.”
“This all culminated with an encounter with the man responsible for my treatment, the one who branded me a demon. For him, I had a special kind of pain in mind, one that would explore the confines of my power. I grabbed him and tried to transform him into something else. I transformed him into a sow, and his body shifted and morph itself into a horrific image, contorting and expanding in bizarre ways before I finally stopped and admired my deplorable work. He was neither man nor sow, he was something in between. A horrific creature that could barely breathe or move. A being thriving with life, but every moment was defined by pain. I did not know enough about human anatomy and the organization of organs to properly transform him and instead made a monster. I put him out of his misery by setting him ablaze… and then tasted his remains to see what he was. He was neither man nor sow, but he was absolutely disgusting.”
“This was just one of the many horrible things I did in my past. I stole the work of others, fought for the wrong side in conflicts, and I showed innocent individuals a level of abuse and horror that only the more heinous humans deserve, not those who were simply following orders. I have sought retribution for my actions throughout my life, trying to help the unfortunate, using my powers to feed and build infrastructure for those who needed it. However, I am now responsible for so much worse than all of those past actions put together. I feel that there is no way for me to redeem myself, and even if I devote my entire existence to helping humanity, I will never be able to make up for what I have destroyed.”
“I can apologize for what I have done to everyone, and you in particular, but that in itself has no true meaning. There is no way to bring back the dead— I have tried— and humanity has already lost much because of my actions. More than it has ever lost before. I can do nothing of substance in my current state— I cannot make the world a truly better place— but I will promise you something, Jack. I promise to devote the entirety of my existence to make amends as best I can.”
“Abigale,” Jack spoke up, “do you remember how this happened?”
“No. I still do not recall a thing about the days preceding March 20th, 2015. However, the only explanation for the Cataclysm I can fathom would involve immense torture. While my pain tolerance is high, upon experiencing intense physical pain for elongated periods of time with no means of escape, two things happen. My mind becomes clouded with thoughts of rage and hatred, and my ability to develop new powers, Critical Adaptation as I call it, is triggered. From immense pain caused by torture, my body has historically developed powers, like the one I just told you about. With this in mind, my current theory on how I caused the Cataclysm is thus: After being tortured for days— weeks— perhaps even months, I reached a breaking point, and developed a power beyond any others. I gained the ability to control nature, to summon storms, and to dramatically alter climates, all through the exertion of my own will. It is only a theory, but it is a plausible one.”
I was confused by my own openness, but it was the only way I could think to deal with the bulk of guilt her story instilled in me. I would normally be better able to handle these sorts of things, yet I was not at my normal at the moment. My intellect was still sapped, and I could not think as rationally or wisely as I once could.
“Thank you for sharing, Abigale,” Jack said with a radiant grin. “Despite being together for so many hours and so many days, I still feel like I don’t know a lot about you. It was nice to get something off—”
As Jack’s words of appreciation trailed on, she was interrupted by the sound of a slamming door, one that called the pair of us to trek down the stairs where we met up with Zedaki once more, having just returned from her scavenging trip.
“Hey ladies, did ya miss me?” Zedaki said with a smirk. “Or were you too busy playing dress-up to notice that I was gone?”
“Um, no,” Jack began, her voice quiet “we were just trying to take what we could from this home and—”
“It’s a joke, Jack. And that dress looks good on you, but it’s not really the best thing for roughing it.”
“I guess not. I… just wanted to try it.”
“And that’s cool, you should take delight in whatever joy you can pilfer out from this world— But anyways, I did the usual scavenging thing, but didn’t find much. Just some salt, a thing of oats, and a bag of dried mango. Not the worst haul, but they’ll come in handy later on. For now, I just grabbed some stuff from the car. It’s not much, but it should keep us going.”
As Zedaki said this, she dug into her coat pockets and produced a small container of dried meat, two tomatoes, and two small bags of crackers. She wasted little time using the silverware and utensils remaining in the kitchen to arrange a modest dinner scene for her and Jack. They began to eat while I sat by idly, listening to Jack as she told an abridged and less emotional version of the story she told me, in order to explain why this dress meant so much to her.
As this story reached its conclusion, Zedaki paused, food still on her plate, but a dour look in her eyes. As such, I was none too surprised when Zedaki simply replied to this story with a knowing look before spiraling off into her own tale.
“You know, there’s a reason why I wear what I wear. Not because it is comfy, or that it looks cool, or that red looks good on me— but those are all perks. I wear this because it is all I have to remember somebody. Somebody very special to me. I told you before that I was pretty close to the leader of Madeco, right? Well… I guess I should be honest and say that we were really close. Hell, if it had been a few more years, you could practically call it a common-law marriage. She had a hobby of sewing, knitting, and making outfits. She actually did that as a side job before the Cataclysm, making costumes for a local theater group. There were plenty of supplies she could use at Madeco, and she did, making several unique outfits for herself, and eventually, for me. Her fashion sense was always pretty weird, she worked in theater for crying out loud, but this was the outfit she made for me. I was really surprised and, well, kind of honored that she would make something as intricate as this for me.”
“But then those fucking raiders came in and ruined everything. She used a shite tier propane bomb and blew herself up along with the raiders at their base. I quickly made my way to where the bomb detonated. I saw what was left of her and, without any hesitation, I found every raider who survived the explosion, and shoved my sword through their fucking faces. I don’t regret it. In fact, it actually felt pretty good. Real fucking good. And their blood didn’t even really stain my jacket. Heh. I guess that’s why she made it red. So, yeah, this outfit is all I really have to remember her… And I just had to fuck up the hat, now didn’t I?”
Following her story, Zedaki put her plate and silverware into the dish drainer by the sink with no running water, and made her way upstairs, saying that she was turning in for the night. Jack and I decided to join her, with Jack choosing to retire in the bedroom we were pillaging shortly ago. Zedaki had already claimed the second bedroom, one that originally belonged to an eccentric teenage girl from the look of it, for herself, and by process of elimination, that left me with the master bedroom. Like the rest of the house, it had aged fairly well, looking pristine given the current state of the world, with the only lingering remnant of the Cataclysm being a layer of dust and a palpable musk.
However, rather than plopping into the thick covers of the queen-sized bed before me, I chose to bide my time by exploring, starting with the closet, where I happened across a small collection of suits. Over the span of my life, I had grown particularly very fond of suits. They are a simple, formal, and versatile form of clothing that was accepted around the world, and whoever wore it commanded more respect than anybody dressed in something more common. I learned the power of the suit decades ago, and it has become my default medium for dressing myself ever since. This past week notwithstanding.
This fondness also meant I was no stranger to wearing men’s suits, mostly due to my unique stature and how long it took for pantsuits to become publicly available for women, and while it was not the most practical thing to wear when I was almost assuredly going to have my clothes destroyed yet again, I knew that I would feel better if I wore one. Upon taking off my casual outfit in favor of this formal one, it was unsurprisingly loose, snug, and tight in various places, yet still fit me decently enough, and allowed me to feel better about myself as I looked in the mirror.
It was a basic black suit with a white shirt, quite boring in some respects, and a bit devoid of personality. However, I was in no position to be picky, and folded the other two nearly identical suits so that I may store them into my backpack in the morning.
With a smile on my face, I explored the rest of the room, pausing once I reached a vanity, the sides of its mirror adorned with sun-faded photographs of the people who once lived in this home. They were a multi-ethnic Asian and Latin American family that had two daughters. An older one with black hair and a younger one with blonde hair. The photographs showed them on various vacations, exploring locations that were likely exotic to them, and looking to be enjoying their lives quite a bit. Looking at the pictures was yet another reminder of what my actions had done to the world from an individual level, as it was very possible that this entire family died by my actions. But there was something else about this picture. Something about it seemed vaguely familiar, and I could not fathom why.
Crestfallen, I left the house to remind myself of what I had done yet again by walking throughout the destroyed landscape of this settlement. Mostly just to get some fresh air and clear my head a little as I looked up at the starry sky. It reminded me of the one time I traveled into space, observing the great blue planet from thousands upon thousands of kilometers away, basking in the lights that surrounded me, and staring at the majesty of the moon. My memories of the experience as a whole were hazy, but that sight was one burned into my mind at the deepest level.
After receiving a sufficient amount of fresh air, I returned to the house and made my way to the second floor, observing that both Zedaki and Jack had fallen into a deeper sleep. Yet as Jack rested, she seemed unnerved, tossing herself in her bed, as if she was having a nightmare. I was not surprised. She lost her parents, was alone in a destroyed world, was no older than 14, and after a year of wandering, she was then taken in by a woman who, from what little I can grasp, did not treat Jack with the affection she needed. Still, it was her home, and now she was living a life where she knew not where she would sleep the next day, all while risking her life, and… claiming the life of another. Killing changes people, and I could not help but worry about how Jack will come to accept the fact that she killed Marz, and in such a brutal manner. I could have asked her earlier, but I did not wish to push that subject onto her unless she was willing to discuss it.
I had dealt with children fairly often throughout my life, caring for them, teaching them, and even raising them at certain points. My memories are blurred and the faces are obscured, but I still recall the way many of them were impacted by harsh traumatic events. From children who saw their parents be executed before their eyes, to ones that were trained to kill their fellow man before they could even read. I lacked the cognizance to predict how Jack would turn out from all of these events, but I was worried about her as a person. Partially because I had come to know her over these past few days, but also because I was indebted to her. Both her and Zedaki. I would do whatever I could to repay them for such momentous acts, and after today, I was one step closer to doing so.
However, even once I gain all of my missing powers, I would not be able to undo what I had done. The world and the people in it have been scarred. Geographically, ecologically, physically, emotionally, and mentally. With all my powers, I could never hope to change the past. Instead, all I could do was try to seek redemption for my actions by making a better future. A better future for Jack, for Zedaki, and for the millions, hopefully billions, who have lived through the Cataclysm.
With thoughts of the future, and of what trials I would encounter the next day both racking my mind, I slowly fell asleep, in the dark, slouching in a small desk chair, holding onto Jack’s hand as she slept, a smile slowly creeping onto her face.
Psycho Bullet Festival: The Odyssey of Abigale Quinlan Main Page
Episode 01: Abigale The Awakened
Episode 02: Jack The Journeyer
Episode 03: B-17 The Bomber
Episode 04: Zedaki The Zealous
Episode 05: Beelzebub The Blazing
Episode 06: Marz The Mightiest
Episode 07: Jack The Joy
Episode 08: Ultros The Undying
Episode 09: Punky The Provider
Episode 10: Jack The Crowbar
Episode 11: Athena The All-Knowing
Episode 12: Flare The Fierce
Episode 13: Flare The Fury
Episode 14: Flare The Fallen
Episode 15: Abigale The Almighty
Natalie Rambles About Psycho Bullet Festival: The Odyssey of Abigale Quinlan