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Ghosts and Gasoline

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“Is this it?” Furiosa asks.

The Warboy nods, his painted dark eyes serious in his thin pale face.

She stirs the contents of the crate with the fingers of her good hand. “All of it?”

The boy reluctantly extracts a pair of shotgun shells from the back of his pants and tosses them onto the pile. Furiosa nods and lifts the crate with her mechanical arm. The box rests easily in the space between her steel biceps and her real hip. The contents cover barely half the base. The Warboy scampers ahead of her as she limps away.

They have a car ready for her in no time at all, but when she reaches the ground Capable is already there waiting for her. She leans over the hood, scarlet braids brushing the chipped paint, and gazes at Furiosa.

“There's no room,” Furiosa says.

Capable nods. “I know,” she says. “Just need to know you'll be coming back, that's all.”

Furiosa opens the door of the truck with her free hand and slides the box into the shotgun seat.“Don't doubt it,” she says.

Capable slides the tip of one bright braid into her mouth and chews it. “What's in the box?”

“Things he left,” Furiosa tells her.

“That's good. Didn't seem fair he left with less than what he brought here.”

Furiosa shrugs. “His choice.” She closes the door of the motor and walks around the front of the car to the driver's door, giving Capable a nod as she passes. The girl slides from the hood.

“Back soon?” she asks.

“In the morning.”

Capable shines the toe of her left boot on the back of her right leg. She examines the leather critically, then repeats the procedure with the opposite leg. “Shiny,” she says.

Furiosa slides into the driver's seat and presses her wheel into place. Cracked leather prickles against her shoulders.The skull leers up at her. “Chrome,” she says, and drives away.

 

***

 

The truck eats up the miles. Furiosa covers more distance in an hour than a man on foot would in a day. She sees Max on the horizon before she's had time to get thirsty, slogging along in the no-man's land between Gas Town and the Bullet Farm. She downshifts and drives beside him for a while.The trailer bounces along behind her in the ruts. The rocking makes her light-headed, but he trudges on as if blood loss is something that happens to other people.

“So you're the new leader.” he says after a while.

She nods.

“What'll you do with the Warboys?”

She shrugs. It's one of the things she hasn't quite got figured out. “Teach them another way.”

“There is no other way,” he says without taking his eyes from the horizon.

“There was once,” she says. “There could be again.”

“You believe that?”

“You don't?”

He shakes his head and walks on.“Why'd you come?”

“To bring you something,” she says.

He keeps walking, though she can tell from the lift of his eyebrows that he's interested. “A bargain?”

“A gift,” she says, pushing the box towards him as she pulls the handbrake on.

He sorts through the tattered remnants of his possessions. Everything is worn or rotten or rusted. There are knives, serrated and smooth, a pair of handcuffs, a punctured canteen, a sawn-off shotgun. He slides the gun into a holster that looks as if it's been sewn onto his scuffed leathers especially for the purpose, tucks the shells into his pocket and leaves the rest.

She throws open the door of the truck and unhooks the tarpaulin. There's a bike strapped to the trailer beneath, with knobblies for the sand. It's got a full tank of fuel and as much water as the Warboys could fasten to the frame.

She nods at the bike. “It's yours.” she says, reaching out to pat the gas tank. “It's not your car. But it'll carry you from trouble all the same.”

“Why?”

She shrugs and leans back against the truck's warm chrome. “You left too soon.”

“Soon enough.” His water-blue eyes stray again to the horizon.

She reaches out to touch his hand. “There's more, if you want it.”

His eyes drift from the desert back to her. She's seen that look before. There's something in the wasteland he needs. There's something here he needs more.

“You were nearly dead,” he says.

She wonders if his blood still runs in her veins.“Not dead. Just a little bit down.”

He gives her a disbelieving look, but she lets him manhandle the bike down from the trailer all the same.

He examines the bike meticulously, as if he's spent so long running on empty he's forgotten how it feels to run full. Seemingly satisfied, he climbs on the bike, kicks it into life and rockets away in a cloud of dust.

Furiosa smears grease around her eyes to drown out the glare and watches as he arrows towards the sun.

After a while she sees him come curving back towards the truck. He finds a hard patch of sand, drops the kickstand, leans the bike over experimentally, and steps off.

She slides from the hood and holds out her hand.

“Think of it this way,” she says. “Don't you want to be more than just a ghost in a machine?”

Turns out he does, 'cause when she reaches out for him he reaches back.

The skull on her steering wheel watches them as they fall to the warm ground. His back ploughs a long furrow in the sand, and her knees mark divots either side as she straddles him. He fumbles with the buckles that fasten her prosthetic, so she shucks his hand away and sheds the limb herself.

He fucks like he fights, rough and desperate.

She fucks like she owns him. Marks him everywhere with grease-stained fingertips that smear and streak across his back, covering the crude tattoos the Warboys traced there. He licks salt from her skin, and speaks a dead woman's name as he spends. She hopes it kindles. Doubts it will.

“This isn't redemption,” he says when they're done, words driven from him with a hiss of air as she collapses on top of him.

“No,” she gasps, “but it's close.”

They spend the night curled on the trailer bed, out of reach of the snakes and spiders that like to cuddle close for warmth and kill you if they can.

She crooks her arm behind her head and stares up at the moon rising silver as spraypaint above them.He twitches like a dog against her back and mutters something into her shaved scalp.

Everyone in the wastes is haunted some these days, but he's fueled by ghosts the way motors run on gasoline.

 

***

 

 

When she wakes in the morning he's gone, taking his ghosts and leaving nothing but a rapidly-fading patch of warmth against her side and tire tracks in the sand heading straight to nowhere.

She climbs from the trailer and squints straight into an opal-fire sunrise. There's no more sign of him, so she shrugs, starts up, and drives away, back to the green.

Several days later, she asks Capable “What was his name?”

Capable glances up in surprise. “You don't know?”

“Of course not,” she says, more sharply than she perhaps intends. “I was dead, remember?”

Capable gives her a strange look and flips her braids across her shoulders. “Max,” she says.

“Max,” Furiosa says as she turns back to work. The name has sharp edges. It suits him, she decides, tossing a steering wheel from flesh to metal hand.

The Citadel is a good place now, and she sets to work to make it better than it was. There's little time for thoughts of ghosts or strangers when her hands are so full of hard work.

But somewhere out there Max is running empty.

Someday soon, he'll need to fill up.