Karl Wintergreen used an old fashioned pre-digital camera and developed the negatives himself in a little darkroom he'd set up in the back of his stationary shop. Partly this was because he preferred the warm tones that you only get with film photography but, yeah, mostly it was so that the Illuminati couldn't hack his pictures.
"The only way to keep your information safe is keep it offline," he'd written on his blog, in at least a dozen posts.
To ensure the safety of his images, Karl's camera was a 1970s model, completely free of electronic components. The lack of a flash made night time photography problematic, but right then his subjects were beautifully illuminated by the rays of the rising sun, which suffused a golden glow over the field of carnage before him.
Frankly, Karl couldn't take it all in. The battle quickly dissolved from a disciplined struggle between two organised groups to a series of wild free-for-alls. He sat in his car, clicking his camera, wound on, clicked again. Once he'd developed the pictures he'd be able to make sense of it all. Maybe.
A large object flew out of the melee towards him. Reflexively, Karl covered his face, but the object missed his car and landed just next to it. It stood, resolving itself into a big, athletic looking guy, naked except for a Handy Pavilion shirt wrapped around his waist as a loincloth. Zorbar. The figure dispassionately examined the road rash on his arm, sneered, wiped the blood from his lip and ran screaming back into the battle.
Karl thought he got a pretty good photo of the guy. His next photo was ruined, though, when Zorbar's loin-shirt fell off.
"Oh, I didn't need to see that," Karl muttered. "Why couldn’t the Masons censor that shit, instead of covering up UFOs? That's... It's just unsavoury."
The passenger door of his car opened. Karl turned, and found himself staring into the barrel of a revolver. But Karl hadn't gotten where he was today by looking just at what was in front of him. Behind the gun, he saw Buck Dusty.
"You! You're the arsehole who shot me."
"And that's why you're alive today," Buck said, climbing into the car. It was quite a small car, and his cowboy hat didn't really fit, so he backed away and took it off. He climbed back into the car, muttering. "Smith thinks it was his men who pulled the trigger, and you lived 'cause they can't shoot straight. But you're alive because I'm a very good shot."
"You were the traitor in the Handy Pavilion the whole time?" Karl said.
"I don't recollect that being a question that anyone was trying to solve."
"I didn't say it was a big revelation," Karl said. "It's just a statement of fact."
"Uh huh. I need you to drive."
"Away. This has all gone wrong. This was meant to fix the balance of the Barns, as created in time immemorial by the elders of…"
"Okay! That's enough crazy conspiracy shit. I'll drive. I'll drive if you just shut up."
Buck glared at him over the top of the revolver. "Did saying that make you feel good?"
"Honestly? It was kind of cathartic, yeah."
Karl drove Buck away from the fight, into the car park of the South Hertling Super Centre. There was nobody there, although the Handy Pavilion car park was busier than usual at that time of the morning. Nothing moved in the centre but a whiff of sulphur-yellow smoke from the chimney of the kebab shop.
Soon the fight was behind them and there was nothing they could see of the road. Buck made Karl pull over. He parked in a little alcove in between Carpet Satrapy and whatever the music shop was called these days. It was as good a place as any to die
"You going to kill me, Dusty?" Karl said.
Being shot in a deserted carpark was always sort of how he expected to go. Now that he was in a position it might happen he felt strangely unhappy with the idea.
"No. One of us goin' to die today. Ain't gonna be you."
"So you're going to die today?"
"That's what I said."
"Well, technically that's what you implied. But as a journalist…"
Buck rubbed his bushy eyebrows. "You ain't no journalist. You run a stationary store."
"And you sell power tools. But if you want to be a cowboy, I'm not going to burst your bubble."
Buck sighed deeply, The car rocked on its shock absorbers as a huge explosion shook the ground.
"What was that?"
"Beginning of the end."
"Whose end? Yours or ours?"
"No, son," Buck shook his head. "I was never your 'un or theirs. This fight is just a reflection of a greater battle, one in which I fight. Cosmic forces are…"
"Is that what I sound like when I'm talking?" Karl said. "God, no wonder I can't seem to hold onto a girlfriend."
"I will die in this battle," Buck said in an I'm-still-talking-regardless sort of tone. "And then a greater battle will come. Win or lose, the balance between the Barns is lost, now."
"Greater battle," Karl said, writing in his notebook. "Is that something to do with a pulley?"
"Yeah," Buck said. "How did you know that?"
"I keep my ear to the ground."
"The pulley ain't important. Not in itself. It's like the first rock that starts the avalanche."
"Yeah, yeah, butterflies cause lung cancer, I get it," Karl muttered, writing furiously.
Buck let out a bellow of rage and fury all six shots from his revolver through the window screen. The interior of Karl's Datsun filled with gunsmoke and righteous anger. This is it, Karl thought. Dead in a carpark.
"You. Don't. Get. Anything!" Buck thundered. "You're full of shit, Wintergreen. Your conspiracy theories are just crap you got off the Internet. You know nothing, see nothing. You reckon you're the one eyed man in the kingdom of the blind. Well you ain't, you're the… the super blind man in the kingdom of the extra blind."
Karl watched, half terrified half annoyed as Buck gasped huge lungfuls of smokey air to calm himself.
"I'm gonna die, Wintergreen," he said. "I chose you to tell my secrets to. I tried the others, but I don't think they even tried to remember… But you care. Somewhere in that addlepated head of yours, you care about the truth. And at least you write shit down."
Smoke plumed out of the bullet holes in the windscreen. "I believe," Karl said. "That the correct term is 'visually impaired.'"
"Shut up and listen. You have to know about the barns. Because the futures are coming. All of them. At once."
Karl looked at Buck. The cowboy's eyes were sincere, terrified. He genuinely believed that the end was coming. But genuine belief doesn't really mean accurate belief.
"Tell me something," Karl said. "Tell me some vital truth that is hidden from the public. Prove to me you really know something worth knowing."
"Okay," Buck said. "You know God, right?"
"Know of him. Never met the guy."
"Well I have, and he told me this:"
And Buck leaned forward to whisper in Karl's ear.
And Karl flinched back a little, mostly to get away from Buck's moustache.
And Buck sighed yet again, and just said what he had to say, quietly.
Karl screamed at the top of his lungs, and drove his fist into the shattered remains of his windscreen, again and again, until there was nothing left of it and his hand was just a bloody mess.
And he said: "Yeah, I guess that does make sense."