Authors: Nick S. Thomas
"The man who set me free, he told me to go West. Why would he do that?"
"Maybe because it is your only chance of escaping Jay. He will come for you. He never lets anyone escape, and when he finds you, he will kill you. But not quickly."
"I know his sort," he replied confidently.
He began to wonder how true that was. He felt it was.
Why did I say that?
"I have no intention of ever going back there. I've seen quite enough of Jay and his disgusting town. I'm going West. Not because I think it's a good idea, but because it's the only idea, and maybe it might just see me to safety."
"Then I go West, too."
"You don't owe me anything."
"Then why would you want to come with me?"
"Because I can't go home, and nobody makes it on their own out here."
She really did mean and believe everything she said. Neither of them liked each other much or wanted to be round one another, but it was a necessity for survival.
Zed awoke in the rays of the morning light once again. He cautiously sprung up into a seating position and clutched the rifle beside him as he looked around for any danger. There was nothing, nothing but the faint sound of snoring from Rave lying a few feet away. She looked completely at home sleeping on bare rock, with nothing but her backpack to elevate her head a little.
Is this the life I have to look forward to? I really hope not.
He got up, paced over to her, and gave her a gentle kick to wake her up. She was so deep in sleep she didn't even stir, so he kicked her again a little harder until she did.
"What?" she asked as if she had been awake the whole time.
As she opened her eyes, the look on her face changed. She had forgotten where she was, and no longer in the relative safety of Jaytown. She looked disappointed for a few moments as she got up.
"Come on, we can travel by day now," said Zed, looking down at the canyon ahead and the cover it provided.
It looked as though there had been a fast flowing river at the base many years ago, but it was long dried up. There were no end of nooks and crannies for them to hide, should they need to be, and were well covered from being seen from a distance. Rave stepped up to behold the view that they could see little of when they arrived in the night. She looked more curious than anything else.
"Have you never been here?"
She shook her head.
"Didn't you ever want to?"
She seemed surprised he even had to ask.
"We go places because we have to. Because we need food, water, or are running from someone. Why else go anywhere?"
She really seemed to mean it.
"Haven't you ever wanted more in this life than to live in that shithole of a town?"
"What is better?"
He grunted. He couldn't believe it, but she really had no idea of what else could or used to exist.
"There has to be a better life than this? Somewhere nicer?"
She only shrugged.
"Stories I have heard of great places, but they are only stories."
"No, they aren't. There is more to life than this."
Even as he said it, he began to doubt his own words. He really had no idea if anything more or better existed out there. Whatever this life was, it was nothing like the one he remembered. And that brought him back to when she first found him, when he first awoke in this nightmare.
"Back when you tried to kill me on that rock a few days back, had you come looking for me?"
She shook her head.
"Did any of you recognise me?"
The same response followed.
"Then why did you find me? How?"
"There was gunfire in the area in the night. We went looking."
Gunfire? There were no guns in
sight when I woke up, or anyone with
"Do you find many people wandering out there?"
"I guess, but less this past year. It's too dangerous."
"Because everyone wants to take what you have."
"Yeah? Well, not me."
"You have taken everything I have. My home, my people."
"But not your life," he quickly replied.
She couldn't argue with that, and it was clear that meant a lot to her. She had slept in all her clothes just as he had, and looking at her filthy state, he realised he was no better.
"I need a bath," he stated.
She smiled and then began to laugh, and it seemed uncontrollable for a few minutes, and he soon realised why. Ever since he had awoken, it had been apparent he was in a particularly dry and dusty land. Water must be a rare and valuable commodity, too rare to waste on something as basic to him as washing. He pulled on his bag and rifle.
"Come on, we might as well get on."
They were soon on their way. There seemed no sign of finding life ahead, but it was a damn sight better than what was at their backs. It was hard and difficult ground, and the heat didn't help, but he was glad to at least be putting as much distance between them and the town as possible. They had been walking a few hours when finally Zed opened his mouth once more. She didn't ever seem one to talk without being prompted.
"How'd you get the name Rave?"
"It was Raven, but people just call me Rave."
"Because it sounds tougher, edgier?"
He smiled, but she hadn't even realised that it would be funny.
They walked all day. Towards the end they came over some rocks and found something completely out of character with the jagged natural terrain, the remains of a large turbine engine. It was badly damaged and scattered into many parts. Zed strode up to investigate, but as he drew nearer, he spotted the nose of the passenger jet it had come from. The fuselage was scattered over half a mile ahead of them. It was covered in dust and sand so that much of it blended into the environment.
"I remember these," said Rave.
Zed heard a crunch of something and looked down. Several bones were beneath his feet. No skin or muscle tissue, they had been stripped bare.
"Must have crashed sometime ago."
"Yes," she replied confidently.
"No one could have survived this."
He went forward and stepped up to a large hole in the fuselage and looked inside. No bodies, no belongings, nothing of use.
"We aren't the first to find this. When was the last time you saw one of these fly?"
She looked so vague and uncertain it must have been a long time ago. He had so many questions that he wanted answered, and yet she seemed incapable of even scratching the surface. He went onwards and led the way. It wasn't long before he came to a bridge across one of the canyons. It was a simple but well designed steel construction that looked like something the military would use. On the path to it were the prints of many boots, but no vehicle tracks. They had to be fairly recent.
"Well, look at that," he said with a smile.
They carried on over it and followed what was little more than a dirt track as it led them through a corridor of stone. Not large enough to fit a car through. Eventually, it began to open out, and they found themselves before a manmade wall. It was constructed from concrete cinder blocks and stood twenty feet tall, and had just one entrance, a thick steel door at the centre.
"Hello!" Zed yelled.
When nothing came back, he repeated himself even louder as they approached and came to a standstill to await a response. Finally, a man appeared at the top of the wall. He looked to be close to fifty, scruffily dressed, but far cleaner and more respectable than anything he’d seen in Jaytown. He carried a recurve bow in his hands, but didn't seem eager to use it.
"Keep moving!" he barked back.
Zed stayed calm and made no attempt to reach for his rifle or pose any kind of threat.
"We are just passing through! I am looking for some people I know!"
"You don't know anyone here. Keep moving on. We aren't looking for a fight, but we will defend ourselves!"
"We ain't looking for a fight!"
But the man drew out an arrow from behind the wall and began to slowly string it.
"We aren't looking for any trouble," replied Zed.
He reached towards the inner pocket of his coat, but that made the guard on the wall only more anxious as he lifted the bow towards Zed. He slowed down his hand and very carefully reached in for his photos, holding them up for the man to see.
"I am just looking for these people!"
"They aren't here. Go look somewhere else!" came the response.
"Please, you can't see them from there. We don't want anything from you. Just please let us in to ask a few questions."
"No strangers!" said the man.
Zed was getting agitated, but he didn't know how else to word it.
"Please, no need for a fight here."
The man drew back his bow and fired a shot. It was well short and landed ten feet in front of Zed, clearly intended to be that way.
But Zed couldn't. He stood his ground and shook his head. The man struck another arrow and pointed at him as if expecting him to move, but he did not. He simple stared back at the man and shook his head.
"All I want is information. Right now, I have nothing, so don't tell me to leave, because I have nowhere to go."
The man's hand began to shake where he had been holding the string, and Zed could see that if he let loose, the arrow was coming straight for him.
Still he shook his head. "This is on you. We didn't come looking for a fight!"
The man sighed and lowered his bow.
"Are you fucking crazy or what?" he yelled.
"I'm not crazy, just desperate," replied Zed with sadness.
Another man appeared on the wall beside the other. He looked of a similar age. Zed could not help but feel that they looked for more civilised than anything he had seen since waking up. His hunch told him they didn't want to hurt anyone, and it paid off.
"I'm Red, sheriff around here. What do you want?" the other man demanded.
"I am looking for the people in these photos!"
"I don't know, maybe."
They seemed surprised by the response.
"I am sorry, but we don't take strangers. We are a tight community. If you knew anyone in here, I would know you."
Zed nodded in agreement.
"Fair enough, but can you at least let us show these pictures around and see if anyone has any ideas? I am begging you!"
"The last strangers we let in here killed my daughter and stole as much food as they could carry. Maybe you are decent folk, maybe you aren't, but we can't take that chance."
Zed sighed as he dropped his head into his hands.
How can I explain to them that I’m not a homicidal maniac and a thief? I don't even know what I am!
"I'll tell you what, you tell me the names of who you're looking for, and I'll ask around."
It was a kind offer, but it didn't help.
"I...I don't know their names," replied Zed solemnly.
There was a short silence until the response came which he already expected.
"Then I can't help you."
Zed nodded in acceptance before turning to see a similar corridor led off to his left. He'd rather keep going than go back the way he came.
"Good luck, whoever you are," said Red.
It sounded like he meant it.
"Fuckers won't let us in," Rave snapped as they left.
"After all you have done and seen, would you let a stranger in who has nothing to offer you?"
They had got almost a hundred paces and close to a bend in the canyon corridor when they heard the rasp of motorcycle engines. The coarse and loud reverberations of trail bikes. He rushed to the cover of the bend and lifted his rifle from his shoulder. Seconds later, two bikes raced into the opening in front of the wall. He looked around for Rave to make sure she was out of sight, but she was nowhere to be found.
"Bloody hell," he muttered to himself quietly.
The bikes came to a stop as the riders studied what was before them. They were the crudely dressed and armoured thugs of Jaytown.
"A man and a woman came this way, where are they?" one demanded.
"They came through but have already left!" Red shouted.
"Open your gates, and let us see for ourselves!"
"They have already gone, I told you. We don't open the gates for anyone!"
One of the riders lifted a crossbow from the front of his bike and fired a shot that struck the man with the bow beside him. The bolt drove through his shoulder and was attached to a line on the bike. The back wheel spun as the rider threw the bike around and tore off the way he had come. The skewed man was wrenched off the wall before anyone could realise quite what was going on. He landed hard on his right arm and screamed out in agony as it broke. He was dragged twenty feet from the door until finally he slid to a halt.
Zed could see the look of terror on Red's face. He just didn't know how to deal with such barbaric creatures. The bike raced back into view. The rider climbed off and lifted the wounded man to his feet. He drew out a knife and held it to his throat as he cried out in pain.
"Open the gates, or this man dies!"
Red was reduced to tears, but Zed could see he knew he couldn't compromise. He couldn’t give them what they wanted. The other biker was still on his saddle and smiling as he watched the man's pain and suffering. Zed couldn't take it anymore. He couldn't do nothing. He lifted the rifle to his shoulder and took aim.
"I told you they aren't in here. It doesn't have to be like this!" Red pleaded.