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Authors: Nick S. Thomas

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BOOK: 15 Years Later: Wasteland
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Chapter 4

 

Yet again Zed found himself awakening to a pounding headache, but not in the scorching heat this time. He was lying on cool ground and looking up at a steel grate where the only source of light came from. It looked like it used to be a galvanised steel fence. Around him were earthen walls. He was underground and alone. The smell of old urine was putrid and overpowering, and enough to make him want to get to his feet. He banged on the grate above him and tried to push it up, but it seemed well secured.

"What do you want from me?" he screamed.

There was nothing. He could hear voices and activity, but not clearly enough to understand what was happening. It sounded like there were at least a dozen people nearby. That made him lose hope. Even if he could get out of the cage, there seemed little hope of getting away. He held onto the rails of the grate and shook it violently.

"Let me out!" he screamed again.

But he soon felt his knuckles being wrapped by a wooden cane. He let go and could see he was bleeding from the impact.

"Shut up!" yelled a gruff voice from above, and the cane was lashed down on the grate once more.

He could hear a large bolt being slid across. The grate was thrown open, and the light flooding in blinded him for a moment as he held his hands up to shelter his eyes. His arms were grabbed, and he was hauled out of the little cave and thrown violently onto his back.

He looked around to see he was in a small square area, little more than twenty feet wide. The walls were made of an assortment of corrugated iron and a few upturned burnt out cars. The seating all around looked as though it had been taken from a college football pitch. This was an arena, and he looked around at the dusty floor. It was stained with what was almost certainly the blood of the many victims who had fallen there.

Three men stood in front of him. Two were those who had ridden on the truck to capture him, but the third in the centre was unfamiliar. He was about six-feet five and both strongly built and well fed, unlike some of the scrawny creatures he had met so far. His long black hair and surplus body armour further added to his bulk, making him an intimidating figure of a man. His arms were bare and covered in tattoos. Neither of them spoke for a moment as they studied one another. Finally, the huge man stepped aside to reveal another behind him.

"Is this the one?"

It was the psychotic schoolgirl dressed maniac of a woman who had tried to kill him the day before. But all that hatred in her eyes seemed to have gone as she looked in on him with curiosity.

"Well?"

"Yes," she replied.

Though she seemed hesitant and almost a little protective in a way Zed just didn't understand. She didn't even seem to want to look him in the eye. That was strange after how the day before she appeared to want nothing more than to take his life, and if possible with her own hands. The man stepped back in front of her and studied him from head to toe once more.

"What Order?"

Zed shook his head, but he was dealt a punch to the face from one of the other men.

"Where are you from?"

Zed only shrugged and was dealt another blow to his already throbbing head. He felt his shirt be pulled off him with enough care as to not damage it. He didn't have the energy to fight it and slumped back down to his knees topless. He was well muscled and certainly not starved, but his body was also displaying the signs of many fights, numerous cuts and wounds, even old gunshot impacts. It looked as though he had been hurt and healed again many times over several years at least.

"A fighting man, you ain't nomad," stated the tall man at the centre, "So where did you come from?" he asked before booting him to the ground. As Zed landed on his left side, a tattoo became obvious on his right shoulder, and the man began to laugh.

"A leatherneck?" he asked as he continued to laugh.

Zed looked down to see the eagle, globe, and anchor just below his shoulder. It was well faded and applied many years ago. The symbol of the Marine Corps, and one he would never forget.

"I thought we'd seen the last of you boys."

Zed looked up and shook his head. "What do you mean?"

The man just laughed again.

"Put him back in the hole. He can have a day to rest. I don't want to waste this one."

Zed was dragged along and thrown back into the hole. As he landed, he realised his coat was nowhere to be seen. He scrambled around looking for it to no avail, but when he looked up through the grate above, the hulking man pulled the three photos from his coat and smiled as he looked at them.

"A sentimental man? I thought they were all dead, too. Soon they will be," he laughed as he walked off with them in his hand.

"Give them back!" he shouted.

But the cane struck above him and narrowly missed his fingers, forcing him to cower back down. He paced around the small cell for half an hour before accepting it was pointless. The one thing he needed more than anything was rest. Despite the horrible conditions, he was out for count within a few moments of sitting down. He had only been awake for a small part of the day, and yet it had been exhausting. He finally awoke to the sounds of whispers above. He opened his eyes to see a small hatch was open, and the woman who had tried to kill him was holding a metal mess tin ready to pass to him.

He didn't know whether to trust her or not, but without food it would all be over soon enough, anyway. He got up and took it cautiously. It was a foul smelling soup of some kind with stale bread thrown in. It didn't matter. It would do. He started to shovel it down his throat when he noticed she was still there watching through the opening.

"What?" he asked with his mouth full.

"You didn't kill me? You could have killed me. I wanted to kill you. Why did you not kill me?"

He shrugged. "I don't want to kill anyone. I just want to live."

She looked surprised.

"Everybody wants to kill someone."

He shook his head.

"Why?" he asked, shoving more food into his mouth.

"Because everyone wants something. Things other people have got."

"And you need to kill them for it?"

She nodded as if it was the simple fact of life that he should have known. He looked up into her eyes. She truly believed it and didn't understand him or his attitude at all, but he could see there was no reasoning with her. She seemed to hover as though intrigued, or maybe she was just waiting for the tin back. But now that she wasn't trying to kill him, he seized his opportunity to pick her brain.

"Where am I?"

She began to giggle like a teenager.

"Where? This is Jaytown."

"Jaytown? Where the hell is that?"

"Here, all around you."

He shook his head. He knew she didn't understand him. She just continued to stare at him with crazy eyes. He knew he needed to simplify his questions if he was to get any sense out of her.

"Who is in charge around here?"

She giggled once again. "Well, Jay, of course. That's why it's called Jaytown."

He took the last mouthful of food and could already feel it was doing him some good; his strength was returning. He was starting to realise that this was nothing more than a gang holdout, but it seemed to be substantial and well established.

"That Jay I saw earlier?"

"Yeah, that was him."

"What does he want from me?"

"See you fight," she said, snapping the tin from him and slamming the hatch shut. She vanished from sight, and once again he was left to do nothing but let his mind wander to the horrors he had already experienced.

Will this nightmare never end?

As the sun went down, the arena above him became lit by fire from several different sources in all directions. He could hear a crowd begin to gather and knew what was about to happen. Once more he would be called to fight for his life, but this time there seemed no escape whether he won or lost. The noise grew louder as dozens and dozens of people excitedly gathered above the surface until finally a loud bell rang out. Large enough that it must have come from a church tower. Instantly, the noise died down to the level he could hear the footsteps of two people approaching.

The grate above him was hauled out, and he was dragged up and thrown clear of the cell to land in the dust. He coughed and spluttered as he got to his feet and looked around. More than a hundred scruffily dressed scavengers surrounded him like wolves ready to tear him apart. But they waited and watched from seating. The two men who had hauled him out were drawing a gate shut behind them so that only he remained.

It felt as though the vicious crowd might stone him to death. The thought of at least being given a chance to fight back didn't seem so bad now.

"Welcome, my brothers!" a voice bellowed from the walls.

Zed saw Jay sitting beside what appeared to be an improvised throne made from the leather seat of a luxury car. A torch lit each side of him. His arms were raised either side of him to address the crowd and rile them up.

"Tonight I bring you something extra special. A fighting man, a warrior, a Marine!"

The crowd erupted with excitement as they screamed and bellowed and clashed bars of metal together like some bizarre savages, but another strike on the bell brought them to a short silence. He could see the bell now. It was almost as tall as a man and mounted in a tower not far behind Jay and his throne.

"It has been five years since we last enjoyed a battle with a Marine in this arena. A great challenge that was, and the last time I graced you with my presence on the floor of the arena!"

They screamed aloud once again. Zed knew there were many pieces to this puzzle that he needed to put together. But right now if he didn't survive the night, it wouldn't matter. Jay went on.

"But I would not think to rob you of a great contest. You don't want to just see blood, but a victory well earned. Before this Marine may challenge our champion, he must prove he is worthy!"

All were silent as a gate was drawn back, and two men stepped into the arena opposite him. He recognised them immediately. The two who had ridden in the back of the truck to hunt him down, equipped with a ball and chain and javelins just as they had been before. He turned to Jay.

"I don't want this fight! I don't want to fight any of you!" he begged.

The arena was still silent as Jay glared at Zed.

"Don't want to fight?" he asked.

Then was a long silence before he began to laugh with a deep and booming tone. The audience soon joined him as they mocked and belittled him.

"Then you will die!"

The crowd clapped and clanged any piece of metal they could find against the burnt out cars and randomly thrown together barricades. It was nothing more than random noise. But it was loud, eerie, and distracting. It was also an intimidating situation. He looked around. Every face there seemed to want him dead, all but one, the wannabe schoolgirl fanatic.

What a relief.

"Begin!" Jay roared.

A javelin was launched at him. It was thrown powerfully and with precision, but not quite enough accuracy. It missed him by just a few inches, embedding itself in a piece of corrugated steel well behind where he stood. It was starting to kick in once again now, just how real his situation was, as it had been the day before when he was assaulted on that rock outcrop. The reason why just didn't seem to matter anymore. And the woman's words were making sense. When someone's only desire was to kill you, it was hard to want anything else but to kill them first.

Zed felt his body hunch slightly and his arms rise ready for a fight. He was light on his toes and set to move with lightning speed. This felt all too familiar. Just as the killing he had done the day before. The man with the ball and chain began to swing it over his head. He had several weeks of scruffy beard growth and almost as much hair under his sweaty armpits as he lifted the weapon over his head. He wore an old leather biker’s jacket with the sleeves crudely cut off. It fitted tightly around his rounded gut. He looked out of shape, but strong, nonetheless.

Around his forearms were steel splinted guards, and similar around his knees and shins. A coffin-handled bowie knife was just visible. The grip protruded from his back as he wore it horizontally just above his ass. He looked as though he had done this a hundred times before and truly enjoyed his work. The other man, the javelin thrower, was nimble and agile, but no less unhinged. He looked like the type who had lived in prison all his life, and shoved anyone in the back that might have gotten in his way. He was strong for his small frame. A few short seconds had passed, and Zed had already studied them carefully. This was not a skill he could have been born with. This was learned, trained, and well honed.

He knew he had to take out the javelin thrower first. He had both the range and the agility to adapt and move with rapid speed. The ball and chain were released and came right for him, but it was slow and clumsy from a distance, and he was easily able to back away out of distance as it swept past him. Another javelin was launched at him, and he narrowly ducked as it passed right through where his head had been a second before. It hit the hood of an upturned car and bounced off onto the floor. He quickly picked it up and launched it back at the man who had thrown it.

BOOK: 15 Years Later: Wasteland
12.18Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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