How To Avoid Death On A Daily Basis: Book One (8 page)

BOOK: How To Avoid Death On A Daily Basis: Book One
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23. Then There Were Three

 

Getting a fire going was pretty easy since the logs were already smouldering nicely. We piled them together, added a few smaller bits of wood, and hey presto.

 

We focused on getting the rabbit cleaned and organising a way to cook it. I could feel eyes on us, but made sure not to respond. There was no doubt in my mind that the issue was not over yet. At some point we would be made to pay for my outburst, but for the time being I intended to eat dinner and plan for tomorrow.

 

It’s worth mentioning that while out little dispute was ongoing, the Cool Kids totally ignored us. I don’t mean they watched quietly, I mean I don’t think they even noticed. Whatever they were talking about must have been far more important and interesting than what us plebs got up to.

 

Cooking the rabbit was kind of tricky without utensils. Although we’d probably find out later that Captain Grayson had a drawer full of spoons, forks, pots and pans. I emptied my stew into one of the other dishes and placed my dish on top of the fire. Thanks to Flossie’s knife, cutting up the rabbit wasn’t too hard. I placed the chunks on the dish like it was a hot plate and let them sizzle away.

 

My spike with the handle worked well as a tool to take bits of rabbit off the hot plate, but you had to be quick.

 

We impaled the main body onto Maurice’s metal rod and balanced it (rather precariously) on posts hammered into the ground. Turning it so the flames cooked it evenly took some doing, and it fell into the fire a couple of times. But it tasted quite good, if a little plain.

 

Together with the stew, we had quite a filling meal. It also helped that Dudley came up with the idea of whittling some of the firewood into crude spoons using Flossie’s knife. We sat around the fire stuffing our faces.

 

Darkness crept up on us, revealing a stunning sky of stars. Was it different to our own sky? I have no idea. I didn’t recognise any constellations, but then I probably wouldn’t back home either. In London, where I lived, the city lights made it hard to see the night sky properly. Plus it was  London, so heavy rain clouds were the norm. I did think maybe there’d be two or three moons up there, but there weren’t any.

 

We lay on our blankets, staring up at the glittering sky, which definitely seemed to be stuffed to overfilling with pinpoints of light.

 

The other groups settled down for the night and one thing became apparent. There were only three groups now. The four girls hadn’t returned, and it didn’t look like they were coming back.

 

My first thought was that they were dead. They met some monster, or some unsavory people, and were killed. I didn’t know if that’s what happened to them, and it might be a bit presumptuous to assume they couldn’t take care of themselves just because they were girls, but if any group had failed to come back, I would think the same thing.

 

On the other hand, maybe they ran into a band of handsome knights and got invited back to their castle for tea and crumpets. Even the most strident feminazi might find that a hard offer to turn down.

 

Whatever their fate, we didn’t talk about it, even though I’m sure everyone noticed.

 

One by one the others drifted off to sleep. It had been a long day—hard to believe it was still only our first—but I lay there with my eyes wide open. Partly because I worried about a sneak attack when we were all asleep, but mainly because I felt too anxious to rest.

 

I’ve never been able to fall asleep in a car or a train or even on a plane when they turn off all the cabin lights and give you a pillow and blanket. The idea of the vehicle crashing, no matter how unlikely it might seem, always keeps me up. I felt like that as I lay by a dying fire in a strange world. The crash could come at any moment.

 

I got up to add some more fuel to the fire and chanced a look over at Golden Boy’s group. Or should I say Tin’s group. They had managed to rebuild their fire, and while it wasn’t as big as before it was still bigger than ours. They were all huddled together, boys and girls leaning against each other under blankets. All except for one. Jenny sat a little apart, arms around her knees.

 

I looked away but that image of her stayed with me. It would be the last I’d see of her for a long time.

24. Good Hunting

 

I must have dropped off at some point. When I woke up the others were pottering around the fire. It was early, cold and bright. Our group was the only one in the courtyard.

 

“Where’d the rest of them go?” I asked, worried we had missed another memo.

 

“No idea,” said Maurice. “They were already gone when I woke up.”

 

At least it meant we wouldn’t have to deal with any awkwardness. We got our stuff together, did our business in the bathroom—which, as expected, was a hole in the ground—and set off for the hunting grounds.

 

We were much more confident in what we had to do, and more relaxed about it. Even Dudley joined in the conversations about who would bag the most rabbits, although he still had a habit of looking straight up when he spoke.

 

We seemed to reach our destination a lot quicker this time, but I think familiarity with our surroundings just made it feel like that. The rabbits were waiting for us and as unimpressed with our deadly intentions as they were the day before. And with good reason.

 

Our aiming still left a lot to be desired, but there was some improvement. We would hit the target more often, but they weren’t kills. Even though the stones flew out at considerable speed, a headshot was the only way to really kill them. Otherwise they limped off. You might think injured bunnies might be easier to catch, but you’d be wrong.

 

We came up with a plan to all target the same rabbit. The idea was, if we got a couple of hits in that might be enough to slow it down enough to close in for the kill with my club. It didn’t quite work out that way, but the club did turn out to be the key.

 

Instead of going after them, we decided to bring them to us. I stood in one spot while the others herded the rabbits towards me. As they scampered past me, I lashed my club through the crowd like a wild golf swing. I couldn’t miss. And my club held onto what it hit, even if it didn’t kill. A quick stab with my spike-handle and it was goodnight and sweet dreams.

 

This also gave Maurice a new idea, one to rival his bicycle enterprise.

 

“All this open space,” he said, looking around us. “It’s like a fairway, isn’t it? You could build a pretty good golf course here.”

 

That’s right, he wanted to introduce golf to this world. Teaching them the most boring game ever invented could be seen as a form of revenge for what this world had put us through, but other than that I didn’t really see the point.

 

“You think people around here have a lot of free leisure time? ‘I’ll milk the cows later, love. Just off to the club for a quick back nine’?”
 

“It is the game of kings,” said Dudley. I waited for him to continue, but that was it. Back to sky-staring.

 

We got three more rabbits in quick succession before they got wise to us and ran off in different directions, making sure to avoid me. But then we switched who had the club and they fell for it again.

 

We stopped around lunch time and built a fire from scratch. Took a while, but we did it. We also skinned the rabbits. Which was not fun.

 

You expect these things to be hard at first, but the reality was more brutal than any expectation. We struggled to get their fur off in one piece and gutting them was also not a good time. But we did it and had rabbit kebabs for lunch (quite a late lunch by the time we finished).

 

The other rabbits watched impassively, not at all perturbed by their brethren roasting over an open fire.

 

By the time we decided to head back we had ten rabbits, all skinned and one eaten.

 

We went to the tanner and handed over the skins. He bought eight of them, which was generous. Two had been ripped to shreds but another three were also far from perfect. We got our hands on money for the first time.

 

Eight chobs. They were small black discs. Very light and smooth. They had no markings on them and almost felt like plastic. Maybe enamel.

 

We also visited the butcher and tried to sell him some of our rabbits. He was a chubby man with a sweaty face. He looked at our offerings and shook his head and shooed us off. I had not idea what the issue with rabbit meat was, but clearly it wasn’t a popular part of the local diet.

 

As we were wondering what to do with all the rabbit meat, I caught the eye of a guy running one of the food stalls—the one selling grilled meat. He surreptitiously waved me over and then opened a cabinet under his cart. He didn’t say anything, just nodded his head to indicate we stick the rabbits in there.

 

He gave us five chobs for eight rabbits (we kept one for ourselves). I have no idea if that was a fair price, but I was glad to get rid of them.

 

We went shopping, but thirteen chobs didn’t buy much. We got two sacks which would help carry stuff around. A needle and thread, which I insisted would come in useful, although I hadn’t decided how. And some salt. There was only so much bland food I could take.

 

We returned to the shed and found we had the courtyard to ourselves. We built a fire, being sure to leave enough for the others, but we needn’t have worried. The other two groups didn’t return that night.

25. Let’s Get Salty

 

Salt. Holy shit. For one chob, we’d got a small bag of salt that would last us weeks. One pinch was enough to season a plate of food. You can keep your crack cocaine and your black tar heroin. That night’s rabbit stew blew our minds.

 

After we ate it became clear the other groups had moved on. Levelled up. Cleared the final boss. Found a way to Stage 2. Who knows? They were gone and we were still here.

 

We threw some extra logs on the fire just for the hell of it and considered our next move.

 

“From tomorrow,” I said, “we’re really going to have to start grinding those rabbits.”

 

“Ugh!” said Flossie. “Why?”

 

“No,” I said. “What I means is, we have to kill a lot more and as quickly as possible. It’s going to be a grind, like how a boring job is a grind, but it’s the best way for us to make money without too many risks. Once we can afford better equipment, we can think about hunting more rewarding beasts.”

 

They all nodded knowingly. Two days in and they were all veterans. Sadly, rabbits were not going to prepare us for the things waiting out there. Apparently, that was my job.

 

“We’re definitely getting better, but we’re still too slow and too hesitant. We need to be merciless with those rabbits, and with anything else we might run into. So far we’ve been lucky. We haven’t encountered any monsters, but that can change any minute. We need to be prepared.”

 

Nods all round again. I guess it was better than them arguing with me about the rights of monsters to live a peaceful life, eating who they please.

 

“We’re still weak and our gear is… unreliable. Getting good with weapons doesn’t happen overnight. It takes months, years even. What we need is better teamwork. The way we got all those rabbits in the end wasn’t with our super ninja skills, it was teamwork, right?”

 

The nods were more enthusiastic. They were onboard with my message of mutual cooperation and positivity. You’re probably thinking, how wonderful. Finally they’re coming together . With the power of friendship these guys have a chance of making it. But then, sometimes what you think is happening, isn’t what’s actually happening.

 

“We have to trust each other. Rely on each other. We can’t get depressed and all self-doubty because we’re afraid others might not like us. There are no others here. It’s just us, and none of us is perfect. Far from it. Which is why I think we should all just admit our fears, our weaknesses. If everybody already knows what you’re worried they might find out, what have you got to lose? Nothing, right?”

 

They looked less sure with their nods this time. Their heads bobbed ambiguously, like maybe they were agreeing, maybe they got caught by a breeze.

 

“I’ll start. I tend to push people away. You might have noticed. I like to reject them before they reject me, because that’s what usually happens, and it doesn’t feel good. So I do it first and I’m much happier that way. Or at least less unhappy. Of course, if someone really wants to be friends with me, they’ll resist when I push them away. No one ever has. So that’s me.”

 

I looked expectantly at them, letting my gaze pass from one to the next. Nothing. No one spoke or looked like they were going to. I kept going.

 

“Even you lot, I fully expect you to eventually to go off on your own once you feel a bit more confident. Which is fine, I’ll just go back to being on my own. I’m used to it.”

 

Still nothing. I wondered how far I’d have to go to get these guys to open up.

 

Then Claire said, “I have a boyfriend back home.” Everyone stared at her, but she was focused on the fire. “He’s not very nice to me. In fact, he’s a bastard. Tells me I’m ugly, that no one else would have me, makes fun of me in front of his friends.” Her voice started to break up a little. “Sometimes I get upset with him, scream at him, tell him to fuck off. But I always take him back.”

 

“Why?” I asked her.

 

She looked at me across the fire. “Because he’s right. And I’d rather be with someone than no one.”

 

Nobody said anything for a while.

 

I scratched my chin, the stubble reminding me I hadn’t shaved, or brushed my teeth, or combed my hair in an age. “Claire, I don’t know what will happen to us, but I think I can guarantee that none of us will abandon you because of the way you look.” There were murmurs of agreement from around the fire. “Your personality, maybe, but not your loo—”

 

I ducked as a stick came hurtling at me.

 

“Fuck you,” said Claire, but there was laughter in her voice.

 

“Oh, ah, erm,” began Flossie. “People think of me as happy because ahm always smiling and that. But the truth is people get me to do things for them, and never do anything for me in return.” She laughed. “It’s kind of depressing really. Even my own family. I guess I’m a bit of a doormat.” She laughed again. It was a hollow, joyless laugh. “The nicer I am, the more I do for them, the worse it gets.” She smiled a sad-eyed smile. “I don’t know what else I can do to make them like me.”

 

Claire put her arm around her and whispered something in Flossie’s ear which brought a slightly more genuine smile to her lips. I turned to Dudley. He immediately looked up at the sky. I was about to move on when he spoke.

 

“I’ve always been something of a disappointment to my parents. They sent me to the finest schools, bought me everything I could possibly want or need. And yet, I’ve never been able to live up to their expectations. I just don’t have it in me. I try, I really do, but my mind wanders, I lose track and before I know it, I’ve failed again. I hope I don’t let you down too.”

 

Word of encouragement flew around the fire.

 

“I’m black,” said Maurice. As revelations go, this one didn’t come as a big shocker. “But I don’t like hip-hop and I consider R&B music to be the work of paedophiles.”

 

Flossie raised her hand. Nobody had mentioned a Q and A segment, but Maurice gave her a nod.

 

“Ah like R. Kelly,” she said. “He’s good.”

 

“There’s no point,” said Maurice. “You’re too old for him.”

 

“What about the ‘Remix of Ignition’?” said Claire. “I like that tune.”

 

Flossie agreed.

 

“Hot and fresh out the kitchen,” threw in Dudley in his incredibly plummy voice.

 

Maurice looked over at me, somewhat baffled. I shrugged.

 

“My point,” continued Maurice, “is that other black people have never accepted me. They think I’m trying to be something I’m not. Whereas actually they’re the ones trying to force me to pretend. And of course, white people aren’t keen to have someone on their turf either, so I’m something of an outsider. I mean my parents have tried to reach out to me, but they don’t know how to relate to me. Last Christmas my mother got me... “ He started to choke up. “She got me a Maroon 5 CD.” Pain flashed behind his eyes. “She meant well. She meant well.”

 

“What kind of music do you like?” I asked him, genuinely curious.

 

“Oh, Rage Against The Machine, Nine Inch Nails, any quality rock really.”

 

What the fuck?

 

“Maurice, before you got transported here, when you were back on Earth, what year was it?”

 

He pushed his glasses back up his face. “2016. Why?”

 

“Nothing. Just surprised you listen to those bands.”

 

“Timeless music is timeless,” he said.

 

Each to his own, I guess. In any case, I had a better idea of who I was dealing with now. Of course, what I said about myself was utter horseshit. I didn’t reject people because I thought they’d reject me. I could care less. Oh, you’re thinking, poor guy’s in denial. Can’t admit the truth. Maybe, but if I am in denial, then I have no idea I’m kidding myself (that’s why it’s called
denial
) so either way, it isn’t something I waste time getting worked up about. The only reason I’d said it was to get the ball rolling. Now I knew their insecurities and weaknesses, it would be much easier to manipulate and control them.

 

Not that I intended to use the knowledge in a malicious way, but if I didn’t get them into some kind of decent fighting force we’d all be dead by the weekend, assuming the concept of weekends existed here. And if it didn’t, I’m sure Maurice would attempt to invent it.

 

 

BOOK: How To Avoid Death On A Daily Basis: Book One
5.53Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
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