"Someone liberated us.
It was a mistake."
Rebecca remembered the last time she slept in her own bed and wondered how far away it was now. Too much dirty water washed under the bridge where she met the Parker brothers and offered her body for consideration. The years eroded behind her. The needle felt better and better each time and the pain slowly became something else instead.
"Nothing like watching Mad About You
and eating pickles with a serious buzz on
Sometimes the rain felt like Rebecca's own tears had become too plentiful to store in her eyes and so they fell from the sky. The sadness had slowly become something else. There was no longer any control, and Rebecca's clothes fell into tatters. Her tomato ripened too quickly. There was nothing but the streets and the Parker brothers couldn't help her any longer. They were serving five to ten for eating a rich man's doberman and stealing both of his daughters' young virginity. They would be back on the street in time for the next generation.
"Young lady like you shouldn't walk alone.
The streets of Rancho Nuevo are no place for a girl like you.
Go into the bar and serve some drinks, Becky."
The man standing in front of the saloon had no face. It had been burned away, leaving an unhealthy portion of his skull exposed to the elements. He enjoyed smoking hand-rolled cigarettes and wearing a cowboy hat. He tipped the hat to Rebecca as she walked towards the saloon and tapped her on the buttocks as she passed. She didn't smile. She no longer knew how.
"Looking for a job, hooker?"
Rebecca looked at the faces in the bar and then down at her shoes. They were dirty and nearly worn through. They wouldn't last through the winter. Rebecca had not yet learned that winter comes when it isn't wanted in Rancho Nuevo and the heat beats down steady the very next day. The only trick was never letting them know what you couldn't handle, because once they knew they would be sure to use their knowledge to test you. Rebecca needed a fix. The physical need had passed after she sliced her ankles and wrists and slipped into the bathtub, but now there was a more urgent emotional need. This place was unlike any she had been before, like an old western town filled with empty souls. She also had no idea how she came to be here. One minute she was using a broken bottle to cut deep gashes in her arms and legs and the next she was walking down a dusty street lined with burning fifty-five gallon drums of oil.
"I need... I need... I need..."
Her mouth fumbling for the words, Rebecca surrendered and held out her arms. The wounds from where she had slashed herself were now mere scars, but the tracks of her tears were shining like hungry mouths that needed to be fed. The bartender smiled and came out from behind his bar. It was a special treat in Rancho Nuevo when someone so needy came to town. It meant everyone would get what they wanted for a while and that helped liquor sales. Other people's pain was a valuable marketing tool in Rancho Nuevo. When it was available there wasn't a dry coaster in the saloon.
"Vince will set you up in the back.
Of course, you will have to give yourself to us first.
We have six riders playing poker upstairs.
They would like something to pass around for a couple hours.
Rebecca had received many offers of a seedy and subhuman manner during her years of need. If they could supply and they could keep the pain from turning back into pain, then anything could be sacrificed. Once a man had offered Rebecca a week's supply in exchange for letting him cut off both her pinky toes. She had agreed to the deal in exactly sixteen seconds. The need was too great and Rebecca's toes had never been all that pretty.
"Are you giving her over to the riders?
That ain't right, man.
They'll chew her to pieces."
Rebecca listened intently to the man at the bar. A shudder went through her body as she looked into his deep blue eyes and traced the line of his lips in her mind. He was dirty and unshaven, like every other man in Rancho Nuevo, but he appeared to have a fire burning in him. He seemed to be alive when everyone else looked like they were walking around dead inside their clothes.
"The red riders don't take prisoners, Becky.
They work for the one who condemned us to this place.
No one knows why they come here,
but most think it is to thin the herd.
It is something they enjoy doing a little too much."
The need was eating Rebecca alive, but the words of the stranger shook her thoughts to life. Before he spoke she imagined she would slip into this place and exist in it the way she had in so many other unholy places. This man dared to try to help her. He dared to try to inform her. She did not want to listen but she could not look away. When the bartender took her arm and attempted to walk her towards the stairs and up to the poker game, the man did not interfere. He went back to his beer, but stopped long enough to throw a large red poker chip in Rebecca's direction. Her hand went out and she caught it, but she lowered her eyes to the floor and let the bartender lead her up the stairs to purgatory.
He knew they would be disappointed. Years ago her ability to feel pain and humiliation had changed into something else.
The Rancho Nuevo Series: