For a loser, Vegas is the meanest town on earth.
-Hunter S. Thompson
“G-g-got to be kidding me,” E said, through the shivers that ran from the top of her head to the tips of her boots. She hoped her toes were still all there.
The bare-breasted, buxom blonde still lounged unconcernedly on the billboard–once lit with lurid neon lights. Icicles hung from its corners and the poster curled at the edges. The snow that eddied around her boots was mixed with sand. It should be hot and sunny; the lights of the Bellagio should be shining above its fountains. Not snowing. Damned nuclear winter.
“Don’t tell me you’re bothered by a joint like this, love,” Owen laughed, holding open one of the metal doors. “It’s as safe as anywhere—no windows, thick doors—and the snow will keep the tweakers in they holes for a while longer.”
“Just like you, gettin’ me to shelter in a—in a—” she glared up at the naked woman. “A brothel.”
Owen grabbed her arm and yanked her inside, his laughter echoing hollowly. He pulled the doors closed behind them, but not before dirty gray snow drifted in. He looked around until he saw a metal pole lying in the corner. Ignoring the suspicious gore coating one end, he thrust it through the handles and tested the doors. They opened just wide enough for more snow to blow in and E shivered again. She thrust her hands deeper into the over-sized Carhart jacket that hung on her frame and bounced on her numbed toes as she looked around. The stage in the corner held the remnants of a fire—she could smell the cold ash. All of the non-metal furniture appeared to have been broken for firewood. The rest was piled near the doors in an abandoned attempt at a barricade. She shuddered violently, crossing her arms.
“You that cold, love?” Owen crept up behind her while she surveyed the strip joint.
His warm breath on her ear made her jump and one of his dreadlocks tickled her cheek. Before she could step away, his arms wrapped around her, pinning her against his chest. She squirmed against him, before stomping down hard on his instep. The curse he muttered into her hair was half-hearted at best.
“Stompin’ on my feet to make it harder to run from they tweakers?” he asked, eyes following her as she stalked around the cold, dark room.
“If I’d had my way, you’dve been tweaker meat two months past,” she hissed, the hairs on the back of her neck lifting as she peered behind the deserted bar.
“Why you keep pretending like you care more about they walking bodies?” Owen sounded wounded as he peered into the darkness at the back of the stage. E rolled her eyes; she fell for the dramatic when she was young and stupid.
“I don’t believe it,” she said, leaning further into the dark recesses of the bar.
“Don’t believe what? That I still love you, you crazy–” the bar muffled Owen’s voice.
“What?” E reappeared with cobwebs clinging to her hair and face, holding two dusty bottles of Captain Morgan.
“What?” Owen repeated.
E ignored what she thought he said and slammed the bottles down on the counter. “This place is looking better already,” she said. “I’ll go make sure there ain’t any tweakers in the back. You–”
“Nope,” Owen said, holding up a hand. “I’ll go look for the stumblers. You. Stay. Put.”
He took off into the darkness.
“Jackass. Brain-dead, muscle-bound…” she muttered, keeping up a litany of insults that ended only when Owen bounded back through the door with an armful of fabric.
“What’s that?” E eyed it suspiciously.
Owen dumped it on the floor and several phone books, porn magazines, and other paper debris tumbled out.
“Warmth,” he said. “There’s no sign of any tweakers, no sign of anyone. Whoever was here before must’ve just sheltered here for a few nights. There’s only one other way in or out and it’s locked tight. I wedged some stuff against it, just in case.”
“You can’t just burn paper,” E said, leaning on the bar to look at his spoils.
“Well, bartender, pour me a round and get out from behind that bar so I can have a go at those shelves,” he brandished the machete playfully.
E smiled and hurled one of the bottles of rum at him with all her strength. He snagged it out of the air, left-handed, and grinned as she stalked away from the bar. The bar itself was metal, but the shelves and liquor racks behind it were made of wood. Maybe the scavengers before them didn’t notice, maybe they didn’t have time to hack up the wood. Soon, Owen had a decent pile of splintered wood that he carried to the stage and set on top of the old ashes. E added several twists of torn paper to the pile and was searching her pack for some matches when she heard the distinctive click and flare of a lighter. Owen coaxed the tiny fire into a blaze, the red and gold light dancing across his dirty face.
E stared at the lighter he so casually tossed to the side. She could still see the curling initials: the E and the C clinging to each other.
“Why do you have that?”
“My lighter,” E stared at the little silver box, gleaming innocuously in the dust.
“Had it in my pocket,” Owen shrugged, poking at the fire with his machete. “Found it after a close scrape with some tweakers. They should’ve got me. There was twenty of ’em at least but something distracted ’em, called ’em off, and I got away. It’s been my good luck charm, closest I could get to the real thing.”
Evie’s eyes slid shut for a moment. He called her his good luck charm the first time they met, in that seedy pool hall just outside Baton Rouge. This is ridiculous, she thought, opening her eyes and meeting Owen’s gaze.
He didn’t say anything and she looked away again, fumbling with the top of the bottle of rum and blindly taking a swig of it. It burned and made her eyes water and she choked a bit. Owen followed her example, taking a long pull. She could see the muscles in his throat move as he swallowed, the firelight caressing his bronze skin.
E scooted closer to the fire, feeling the rubber soles of her boots grow hot. She stared at the golden center as her eyelids drooped and took another slug from the bottle. The weight of Owen’s jacket, followed by the blanket dropping down over her shoulders roused her and when Owen sat down beside her and pulled one corner around himself she put down the rum and looked at him. She could feel the warmth of his body even through the layers of fabric between her and his bare arm. She reached for her rum again and took a long drink, ignoring Owen as though he was simply a breathing space-heater. She heard the swish of rum as Owen brought his own bottle to his lips. They drank in silence that was almost companionable. E began to drowse, leaning her head on her knees; the crackling fire and the warmth of the rum made her fingers and toes tingle pleasantly.
“Evie,” his voice was low.
She turned her face towards him. He reached out and pushed some of her hair out of her face, his thumb tracing the curve of her cheek. She raised her head and looked at him, realizing her mistake as she was trapped by the blaze in his grey eyes. Encouraged by her silence, Owen scooted towards her, drawing her into his arms. He buried his hands in her tangled hair and looked at her, waiting for her to pull away. The feel of his fingers against her scalp sent a buzz through her veins that had nothing to do with the half-empty bottle of rum. She could smell the rum on his lips, his sweat, and a faint whiff of pine. Something in her eyes made him draw back, his dark brows tugging a furrow into his forehead. He released her and fumbled for his rum.
Suddenly, she lunged into his arms and he slopped half the rum down the tangled blanket as he reached out to catch her. He felt her heart hammering and the shallow, unsteady gasps of her breath on his face
“Evie,” he breathed into her hair. “I—” he broke off as he felt a tug at the holster under his arm.
The smell of gunpowder seared his nostrils as the gunshot rang in his ears.
Evie’s elbow dug into the top of his shoulder—she had used it to steady her aim. When the ringing died away, the only sounds were the gurgle of foul smelling blood welling from the stumbler’s mouth and the drip of brains that splattered the bar.
* Subgenre: post-apocalyptic horror
Setting: a Nevada brothel
Must Feature: a blizzard