Authors: Nick S. Thomas
Somehow he imagined his skill with such a weapon would be there, the same as the other fighting abilities had been. But he had no such luck. The javelin went high, very high, and pierced one of the men sitting on the wall of the arena behind his opponents. Despite the awful accuracy, it certainly struck with power and drove deep into his chest. The man gurgled and spluttered as he tried to breathe and held onto the shaft of the weapon, but quickly collapsed into the arena, dead.
The audience laughed with excitement as if the surprise was even more entertaining than the fight they had been expecting. Even his attackers were smiling at the death he had caused.
These people are crazy
But if death is what they want, I will give it to them.
The javelin thrower held onto his last weapon as though wanting to use it in hand-to-hand combat. Zed gestured with his fingers for them to come at him, and they were all too happy to oblige.
Standing his ground, he watched the ball swing over the larger one’s head as they closed in on him. Slowly they approached, ten feet apart, and closing the distance in equal measure to box him in. He watched the ball carefully, and once he was happy they were close enough, he seized his opportunity. Right when the chain passed in front of him so he had the most time he could. He leapt to his right and went for the javelin man.
Zed knew his timing had to be perfect, or he would be dead within minutes. The man was taken by surprise by his sudden lurch towards him, but rather than withdraw to maintain the distance between him and his associate, he instead went in selfishly and foolishly, just as Zed had hoped. The javelin head was thrust at him. He stopped for a second to twist his body so that it brushed past and just touched his bare flesh, and finally got a hold on the shaft and locked it firm.
The iron ball was coming for him. The huge man wielding it swung it wide to make a powerful swing at him. He quickly leapt further around so that the javelin man was directly between them as the ball and chain came at him, and he ducked down. The ball went right over him and around the javelin man. The chain fully wrapped his throat firmly so that he could not breathe. It was enough for him to release his grip on his javelin.
Zed spun the weapon around and launched it with all his power towards the larger man. From this range he couldn't miss. The blade struck him hard in the chest and pierced his leather jacket with ease. He turned his attention back to his first target. He was on his knees trying to get the chain off, but his energy was failing fast. Zed leapt on top of him and pulled the chain tight, watching him gurgle before finally falling silent.
He looked up to check on the other wounded man, but it was too late. A fist was coming right for his head and struck before he had time to even think of what to do. The blow knocked him back, and he staggered all the way to the wall of the arena. It was a harder blow to the head than anything he could remember. But as he struck the wall, he had a sudden flashback. A new memory to add to the modest few he had, the woman and child. He remembered kissing the girl’s head as the woman led her off to school in uniform.
He quickly snapped back to reality as the hulking man covered in blood rushed towards him. The memory reminded him of why he must live. It was about far more than just his life. He had nothing to defend himself with, and he could see the thug wanted to end him with his own hands. That would be his undoing. He strode forward and kicked to where Zed's head was, but he easily rolled away as the man's heavy boot drove through the corrugated piece of steel he had been resting against. Zed reached for the bowie knife on his back and drew it quickly while he was trying to draw his foot back out from the metalwork.
As the blade drew, the man realised his error and turned to give him a backhand, but there was no time. Zed slashed his filthy hand as it came at him, and that forced it down. He cut again to the inner thigh, opening a deep wound that brought the man down to one knee. Without another word, he cut down with all his power in a vicious blow that buried deep in his collarbone. He collapsed like a ton of bricks. And as the body hit the ground, it was all too clear just how quiet the audience had become.
It was a moment of peace that allowed him to think back to the happy memory he’d relived in the midst of the deadly fight for survival. He ignored all of his surroundings now. His arm reached up to wave, but he didn't even notice it, as if he had no control over his own body. He smiled as he watched the memory play out in his head. He waved and watched as the woman looked back and smiled while the girl ran excitedly on.
The roar of the crowd brought him back to reality, and the blood-soaked sands he hailed from. Jay was clapping his hands loudly, audible even over all of his gang.
This can't be all there is to life? I have to get out. I have to find them!
The night passed slowly. He looked up from his cell in the hope of seeing the stars, but there was only a fog in the air or thick cloud cover. As his body cooled after the fight, so did the ground. So much so that he began to shiver. There was no one coming to give him hot food or a blanket, no one to tend to his wounds or share a few words.
Is there nobody left that cares?
Four hours had gone by, and he had slept no more than one of them. Every creak or distant voice awoke him. It wasn't just the bitter cold, but also the fear of what might come for him. Who might come to stab him in the back or slit his throat? Footsteps were now approaching.
They have to be coming for me, but why?
He froze and just looked up and waited. The small hatch opened, and finally a man appeared and looked down at him. He appeared to be in his fifties and had a grey beard. His skin was wrinkled and worn from a hard existence, but there was the slightest of warmth in his eyes that Zed had seen from no other.
"Why did you come back here like this? Why?" he pleaded.
Zed could only shrug and shake his head.
"What do you mean?" he asked in return.
"You had your chance, and you took it. Why come back? Why? What is there for you here but death?"
The man was shaking his head in disbelief, but Zed's mouth was open in shock. He had no idea what the man was saying, but it was clear that somehow he recognised him.
"Who are you?"
"Why couldn't you just have stayed gone?"
He began shaking his head again.
"What...what is this...who are you?"
But he shut the grate over him.
"Please, help me!" Zed cried out in a loud whisper.
The man was leaving the scene. He slumped back down again in despair. He’d had some chance and hope of learning who he was and where he was, and yet it was ripped away from him.
Did the man hear anything I said?
Another hour passed, and he couldn't sleep for a second of it. There couldn't be more than a couple of hours more darkness. As much as he longed for the sun to warm his body once more, he could only imagine it would lead to a new day of pain and suffering at the hands of such sadistic and savage people. His hope was fading. He had to get out. He had to find his family. He had no reason to believe they were alive, but something in his gut gave him hope. Maybe that was just his body finding a reason to fight and to survive. Once again he heard footsteps approaching.
Is this the end?
The whole grate was lifted quietly and carefully, and the older man stood above him. He reached in and took a firm grasp of Zed's hand and hauled him out from the damp and cruel cell, but he didn't say a word.
"Please, tell me who I am, and what I am doing here?" Zed pleaded.
The man shook his head.
He clearly knows more than he is letting on, but
how can I get it out of him?
Voices could be heard of three men drawing nearer.
"Go, while you still can," said the man.
It was all Zed needed to hear. He desperately wanted to stay and know more. But survival overrode all of that, all but one thing.
Where are my photos?
He stopped and looked around in all directions.
"What are you doing? What are you waiting for?" asked the man desperately.
He soon spotted it. His coat. It was hanging off a pole sticking out from a pillar beside Jay's throne from where he had overseen the fight the day before.
"Just go! Go West!"
He had genuine concern and worry on his face.
Why does he care so much for me, a stranger? How does he know me?
There was no time to ask, and he didn't seem eager to give up any information, anyway. He rushed to the open gate where the man had come from and only checked very briefly before passing through it. A crudely built wooden stairway led up to the top of the barricade and towards the throne. He rushed to the top to find a battlement like viewing platform.
He felt his heart stop, and he could not move his feet. Ten feet in front of him along the platform was the woman who had tried to kill him. Still dressed in her ridiculous schoolgirl themed attire, she was leaning over the edge into the arena in full view of the cell he had come from. He looked back down. The cell was shut and the man gone.
Did she see him let me go? What does it matter? I don't owe anyone in this place a
shred of loyalty.
She stepped away from the edge and squared off with him, and that revealed the hatchet hanging in her right hand. He didn't want to risk another fight. He was tired. His muscles were cold and his body slow.
I might be able to beat her, but what if she gets lucky? What if she underestimated me last time? Too many possibilities, the last thing I need right now is an axe wielding maniac schoolgirl raising all kinds of hell.
He opened his mouth to speak, but she lifted her left hand and put her index fingers to her lips.
"Shhh," she whispered.
But her lips were pouting, and she was being overtly sexual as she did it. Was this how she acted all the time, or was she expecting something? She stepped aside and rested her back against the platform wall. Her hatchet was still casually by her side, and she gestured with her other hand for him to go on.
What the hell is this?
He wanted to ask her but didn't want to risk angering her. He carried on and passed her cautiously, watching every move she made like a hawk. But all she did was blow him a kiss. He kept eye contact with her even as he got a few feet past. She probably thought it meant something. It did. He was making sure she didn't stab him in the back. He reached his coat and dived into the pocket to check for the photos. His hand withdrew a little with them, and he breathed a sigh of relief. Along with his clothes, they were all he owned. That made them worth risking his life for.
His shirt was nowhere to be seen, but he slipped his coat back on and was glad to find his bag and belt hung underneath. The voices of the men were very close now, and he noticed a glimmer of movement on the platform on the opposite side of the arena. He dropped like a stone for cover and stayed down against the barrier, looking up to see what the woman would do.
"Hey, boys," she said and licked her lips.
"What are you doing up here?"
"Just admiring the view," she replied jovially.
She turned back around and rested back against the wall once again. It was clear she had brushed them off somehow and kept his escape a secret.
"Thank you," he whispered.
"You saved my life, and now I have saved yours. Run, while you still can."
It was all he needed to hear. He stayed low and scampered past her to the stairway, rushing down it as quietly as he could. When he reached the bottom, he found himself on the edge of what looked like a main road through the town. On either side were vehicles parked up, including the truck that had chased him down. There were all sorts of rust covered and beaten up vehicles that spanned at least fifty years. None of them looked like they should even drive and seemed as if they had been dragged off a scrap heap.
For a moment he thought about taking one of the vehicles, but there was no chance of getting out of the camp without being pursued. He'd had enough of being chased. It was a shame, though, because he could sure do with some wheels right now. He didn't know where to be heading or why, but more than anything he'd like to do it with speed. He looked around for any more signs of movement, but there was none. He went onwards, making his way from building to building. It looked like an old industrial facility that had been converted into a shantytown.
There were no lights anywhere to be seen, and only a little moonlight could break through the clouds to guide him. Visibility was short, and that was a good thing. He heard several coughs as he passed one building and stopped for a moment and held his breath. More coughs came out, and then they stopped. He waited for a sign of movement but was glad to hear none. He turned back towards the street and his way out, but as he did so, one item caught his eye.
A few feet ahead a beaten up Dodge Ram. It wasn't the vehicle that interested him so much. It was what hung in the back window, a rifle, and not just any rifle. A Springfield M1903, one of the greatest bolt action weapons ever made. Ancient, and as good at its job as the day it came out of the factory. He wasn't sure how or why he knew that, but it sparked a memory of him on a range from many years ago. He was with a man he thought was his brother beside him and smiling, as they took it in turns to fire some ridiculous calibre hunting rifle.
He couldn't go on without at least trying to claim it. He crept up to the vehicle cautiously. The doors had long gone, replaced with tubular steel permanently fixed in place. He reached over and very gently eased the weapon up and out of the brackets it was suspended in. It was caked in dust and looked like it hadn't moved in years. A bandolier of stripper clips hung from one of the hooks. He threw that over his body and carried on. He didn't even bother to check if the rifle was useable. He couldn't risk firing a shot. He'd never make it out of there alive if he did, so he slung it over his back. As he was leaving, he noticed a hunting knife suspended in a leather sheath tied with zip ties below the steering column.
He drew out his multi-tool and quietly cut it free, checked the blade, and slipped the sheath onto his belt. He went onwards. With every step he took, he expected the alarm to be raised. Up ahead was a large wall, the outside of which he remembered seeing when he first woke. This was it. He was almost there, but it stood more than twenty feet high and had been made from high quality construction materials, as if done by the previous inhabitants. He couldn't believe Jay and his band of lunatics could have been capable of such. The wrecks of old cars lay propped up against the barriers for extra strength.
Two large gates lay at the end of the road ahead. They were the full height of the walls and locked and sealed by massive locks and additional buttresses. He studied every inch of it, looking for a way out. As his gaze reached the very top, he noticed a glimmer of light and focused his eyes. A glint of moonlight bounced off a tin mug held by a man on top of the wall. Zed jumped into the cover of the nearest buildings and held his breath so that he could hear every sound ahead. He hadn't been noticed, and that was confirmed as he carefully peered around the corner to see the man take a sip from his mug.
It was a small tower that rose up just above the gateway and off to one side. A heavy machine gun was fitted forwards looking out into the distance. He wondered if it even had ammunition, or was its presence a deterrent enough? He didn't want to find out. He didn't want to go up there at all, but he knew he had to. Their viewpoint allowed them to see for at least a hundred yards even in the dark. A small stairway led up to the tower.
Zed quietly wound his way around the last few structures and climbed a metal stairway onto the walls. He looked out and found it was just as he had hoped for. The freedom he had prayed for. Back to the wall, there was no other sign of Jay's people, other than the one man in the tower. He drew his knife and crept forward, always keeping a watchful eye on the man.
The sentry appeared to be completely oblivious to everything. He simply looked out into the distance with a vague expression on his face as he sipped from his mug. Zed calmed his breathing as he drew nearer and clenched the knife tightly. He reached the base of the stairs to the tower. There were only ten steps up to the eight-foot square position. He crept up the steps. Half way up he finally had a full view into the tower and discovered a second man sitting asleep against the inner wall.
He kept going. He had no choice. He had almost made it when the sentry knocked back the last of his drink and turned around, stopping dead as he spotted Zed. He froze for a moment as if it was the last thing in the world he expected to see. Zed did not hesitate. He launched the knife at the man. It pierced his coat and embedded in his heart. He dashed up the last few steps and caught the body to slow his descent, but it wasn't enough. The head of the dying man touched the sleeping one, and he began to stir.
Zed leapt into his lap and held his hand over the man's mouth as he tried to shout, and that muted him down to a vague mumbling that didn't carry. He began to struggle, but Zed smashed his knee into the man's sternum twice to subdue him. He fought back, swinging two heavy blows into Zed's flank. He managed to take some of the power out of the blows by dipping his elbows into the strike, but it still hurt. He reached around the back of the man's head with his other hand and sharply snapped his head.
His neck was broken, and he instantly went limp. He let go, and the body slumped down beside him. He looked down at the damage he had done. All he could think was how he had killed six people in two days.
When will it ever stop? Why can't they just leave me be?
In one corner was a large coiled up rope. He tied it off against one of the supports, threw it over the edge, and looked around for any last signs of life before climbing down. As his feet touched the ground, he instantly felt better and took in a breath of air. It was far fresher than the stagnant filth inside Jaytown.