Published: Nov. 27, 2016
Authors: L.A Richards, S.W Best
Words: 67,110
Language: English
ISBN: 9781370421985
Versions: Kindle, NOOK, iBooks
Publisher: Bowker - Silver Dog Publications

 


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CHAPTER 3
Danger Zone

The route to the secret stash has always filled me with dread.  At first, I thought the location was too open, but it was actually the perfect place, and I could see anyone sneaking up on me.  The obvious choice would be to hoard the supplies within the house, but I have always had a problem with keeping all my eggs in the same basket.  Things can go wrong.  Things do go wrong.  A burnt down or abandoned house is a loss of everything I have.  No.  My treasure stays here.
Diesel keeps a steady walking pace as we make our way further across the train tracks.  This place is a graveyard.  Old carriages, now useless, sit and erode like oversized rust giants open to the elements.
He seems happy to be out of domestic bliss.  Who could blame him?  I too try to shrug off the feelings of claustrophobia, telling myself over and over again how lucky I am to have found a good, loving woman.  It’s the situation that is the problem, not the relationship.  Or so I think, but I’m not sure anymore.
I approach the dilapidated control tower, keeping a watchful eye out on my surroundings.  I know from experience that, if you're not careful, things can change for the worse in seconds.
I slow my approach, glancing to Diesel for reassurance.  He doesn’t seem too bothered, so I press on, feeling the northeast wind bite deeper.
We enter the building from a boarded up side window.  I carefully slide the wooden panel aside, letting the dog scout on ahead, as is the tradition.
Diesel knows the way by now; down a flight of stairs to the basement, where the medicine is kept under a floorboard in the west side, hidden out of view.  Clean and cool.  Perfect.
After one last cautious safety check, I disappear inside.  Once in the basement, I get to work, and the stiff board is no match for the blade of my knife.
My arm goes into the opening, fingers searching.  Every time I do this, I am a little paranoid that someone else has found my buried treasure.  My lifeline . . .
In a moment of victory, I pull out my prize, which is wrapped up in dirty old clothing. “Yes!”
Diesel barks almost on cue.
I send a smile his way as I take the package and carefully unravel it on a table surface.  It’s Megan’s medicine.  Worth risking my life for.
I take one of the containers, but it feels light, so I inspect the inside with a shake.  It's empty.  My heart sinks, and I lower my head with a curse. "Damn it!  How could I be so careless?"
I know the alternative, and it's bad news.
I wrap up the parcel and put it back in its hiding place, covering my tracks and making it look like no one ever disturbed it.
I start to walk away, but Diesel barks again, and this time, it's his other bark.  I know that bark well: danger nearby.  In this concrete tomb, the fire escape had rusted into the brickwork long ago, making escape impossible.
Diesel continues, his loud calling card reverbing off the circular space.
I try to calm the loud beast, but his frantic actions tell me we are not alone.  I crouch down, reaching for my baseball bat as I put my arm over my dog and hold his yapping jaw tight to induce calm.
The animal seems to understand, but controlling him when he’s ready for a fight is difficult.
We wait in silence, the blood singing in my ears and forcing me to focus. I soon feel my tight muscles begin to ache under the pressure of my stance.
Nothing . . .
My eyes begin to hurt from the strain and my heart is pounding.  If I die here, my family is dead.
Without warning, Diesel breaks free from me, and I watch helpless as he gallops up the stairs out of sight.
“Shit!” I hiss as I move after him, ready for some unlucky bastard to meet their maker.
I reach the ground floor ready for a fight, but I find Diesel scratching at a half-empty filing cabinet. I glance around and reassess the situation as I stand on the flattened sheets of dirty paper to see what all the fuss is about.
Something black and furry makes a break for it, disappearing into a hole in the wall.
The daddy of all rats!
“A stinkin’ rat?” I ask, feeling my body relax into relief.  I lower the bat with a smile.
Diesel is too busy trying to catch the rodent to care about anything else.
I whistle to get his attention, and he turns and abandons his rodent dreams.  It is time to leave and see if we have a meal of sorts before we go for medicine.
“Come on, boy. Let’s see if we’re lucky.”

***

We reach the trapping grounds without any unwanted attention, and the golf course is blissfully rat free, causing Diesel to behave.  But how could I fault him?  He must be as hungry as I am; starving.  As of yet, our diet hadn’t reached the lows of rat burgers, but I live in hope that when it does, the meat is edible.
I then see my dreams of rabbit slowly start to disappear.
Something big has broken one of the traps in a desperate need for escape.
“Maybe we should have caught the rat king, huh, Deez?” I say, kneeling down to inspect the damage.
My head is filled with the previous argument.  I know Elisia wants a better life for Megan.  Who wouldn’t?  A stable future is what every loving family man wants.  But I know the reality is a different problem.
As I repair the snare, Diesel sniffs around, checking for rabbit clues.  Once the trap is set, I glance around and do my safety checks, a habit which has become second nature, so much so that I hardly notice it.  It has become part of my instinct.  I take the sun for granted, and for a moment, I'm back in a time before the Reckoning... Back when everything was normal.  I close my eyes, imagining the sound of cars on the Coast road, their private journeys like waves upon the sand.
After repairing the rabbit snare, I feed Diesel a scrap of days old rabbit meat. He doesn’t seem to mind.
I hand out some affection; a rough rub to the top of his head.  I let down my guard, and we play and wrestle in the grass for a little while.  The affection I give Diesel is always returned in triple, and I probably couldn’t cope with all of this madness without him by my side.  I love him as much as I love Elisia and my beautiful daughter.  But it can’t always be playtime.
“Come on Deez, break times over.” I say, but Diesel’s attention is elsewhere.
Something is wrong.
I hear the breaking of branches and twigs.
One thing is certain.  It’s bigger than a rat.
Diesel begins to growl. “Steady . . .” I crouch down in the long grass and take out my bat, this time ready for trouble.  I hold onto Diesel’s collar keeping him close.
Then I see it.
A horse.
I stare in wonder.  I haven’t seen a horse in years.  Diesel also seems unsure what the hell this behemoth is.  He is not sure whether to bark or run.
But as the horse moves through the bushes, I notice it is injured.  Badly.
Dried blood cakes its natural markings as it limps towards us, and a fresh wound is weeping.
I check my surroundings for any possible threats.  I sense a trap, but my curiosity spurs me on.  I throw caution to the wind and rise to my feet, careful not to spook the poor creature.
This was a rare moment.
Diesel stays at my side as I extend my free hand in greeting.  Just to stroke it for the feeling.
What could I do with a lame horse?  Its riding days were far behind it. Where had it come from?  Did it belong to someone who didn’t have the heart to kill it?
I could capture it and then kill it.
Would be a fine meal . . .
It would feed my family for months.  How long would it take to cook?  God knows.
I step forward, bat at the ready, but the horse rears, forcing me back to the ground in surprise as the handle slips out of my grasp.  Diesel goes into overdrive, barking at the wild horse as I roll away, fearing for my safety.
The horse leaves the field and disappears out of sight.
I sit there until the shock wears off.  If anyone was around looking for an easy kill, now was the time.
I snatch up the bat. “Come on, Diesel.  We need to get Megan her medicine,” I say as I get back on my feet. “Time is everything.  We gotta enter the Danger Zone.”

***

It is still light when we approach The Lamia Venator, a rusty old merchant vessel docked at one of the many loading areas of the river Tyne.
I observe from a distance the patterns of the guards as they patrol.  Diesel notices them too, but he doesn’t bark.  He knows better.
On the deck of the ship, a tall Asian teenager patrols with a gun clenched in his fist.  In the captain’s cabin, a balding, middle-aged man looks out through the cracked window.  He has a good vantage point of everything beyond the ship from up there.  Next to the wooden ramp leading up to the ship, a beast of a man with tattoos caked across his muscles patrols with the eyes of a hawk and the pounding legs of a rhino.  His belt holds a gleaming long blade.  He is not one I want to mess with.  Being caught is not an option.  Stealth is the way to victory.
The ship is a leviathan; mighty container delivering goods around the world.  The best thing about this ship is that there are many places to hide and avoid detection from the guards.
Regardless of the tight security, getting on board is easy.  It’s all about timing.  I’ve been here many times before, taking much needed supplies and medicines without much misfortune.  When all else fails, this ship is my families own personal supermarket.
I whisper to Diesel, “Now we wait... ” He knows the drill.  He sinks further down and his head rests on his front paws with a small whine of acceptance.
The time we wait varies.  Sometimes it’s over in a matter of minutes, or it could take several hours, depending on the guard formation.  If there’s one thing I’ve learned through these years, it’s that patience pays off.
Unfortunately for us, this time it’s hours.

***

After the second hour, I can tell that Diesel is growing restless.
“You’re not the only one, boy,” I say, getting used to using my voice again.
Then the moment arrives for us to spring into action.
Using my binoculars, I observe the watchman in the captain’s hub.
I need him to leave first, and, in time, he does.  The man exits the hub to go into the main ship, be it for food, drink, or to use the toilet.  I couldn’t care which as long as he is not in our way.
That is the moment Diesel and I make our move.  We charge down to the next safe place to hide, out of sight from the captain’s hub, which means there are only two guards to worry about now.
I wait for the guard on deck to move to the backend of the ship, and with Diesel at my side, we charge to the final hiding place.  We have nearly reached our goal; one last push and we are on board the ship.  Timing is even more important now, and we wait for the right moment.  One wrong move here and it’s all been for nothing.  The last thing I want to do is to gain the attention of the rhino man.
I stare at the wooden bridge that leads to the deck of the ship, feeling my breathing increase as adrenalin pumps through me.  The moment arrives, quicker than I had planned, but I am ready.  We make a break for it.
But something is wrong.  There is a commotion, and I hear voices heading our way.  In panic, I'm forced to hide, and I hold Diesel close as my heart pounds and every nerve is on edge.
We are now in danger of being seen, so I have to be very careful.  The slightest wrong move would mean discovery, and Diesel's panting is starting to make me nervous.  Part of me wishes I had left him back home, but he seems to understand the situation.  We are too close to turn back now.
I move forward, by body low, but I am forced to halt when I hear voices in the air.  Four new gang members have arrived and are arguing with the ugly brute with his long, gleaming blade.  I strain my ears to pick out words, but all I can hear is shouting and swearing.
I take a cautious step forward and crouch level with Diesel.  I’m now close enough to get a better idea.  …Supplies.  They’re arguing over supplies.
I stay frozen to the spot, eavesdropping on their conversation.
Their manner is aggressive but playful, and their voices drop in level.  This forces me out of my comfort zone and, dangerously, briefly out of cover.
I hear the Asian guard on the deck above shouting to the others, and then I realise my mistake and move back into the shadows to avoid being detected.  Detection meant certain death.
I compose myself with deep breaths; I must focus on the mission.
A door on the deck above opens.
Through a gap, I see the balding, middle-aged man walk out.  He sees the commotion on the platform below and shouts for the visitors to board the ship to get what they came for.
Supplies.
I see the legs of the men as they ascend to the deck.  I listen for their movements, comforting Diesel until I hear them go inside the ship, leaving me alone with just the one guard.  If I were to abandon the mission, now would be the time, but I have been in worse situations.  Besides, Megan urgently needs her medicine, and we all deserve a damn good meal.
So I wait until the guard is far enough away for me to leave my position. This is the best chance I'll get to board the ship, and although my confidence is high, I know there is an even greater risk of detection inside.
I only know of a few places to hide once the alarms have been raised, but I am willing to take the risk.  I also know that I cannot afford to lose a day for getting food.  Everything counts in these dark days of survival.  A loss of a day could result in mistakes, even death.
After waiting far too long, I make my move with Diesel and we sneak up the plank and emerge on the whitewashed deck.  While crouched, I avoid the circular windows and stop at the closed door.  Technique is everything.
I know time isn’t on my side with the guard on the prowl.  He would no doubt be returning at any moment, and I would surely be noticed out here, crouched down next to the door.  I have to move, and this is the best shot I have.  I’m going to take it.
I steal a glance through the circular window on the door.
The inside is clear.
I grasp the circular handle with both hands wincing as the leaver turns with minimal noise, the effort drowned out by the noise pollution of the ship itself.  I open the door wide enough for us to get through and then close it with care.
We have entered into a lonely corridor.  I carry Diesel to lessen the risk of sound out of habit, and then move down a set of metal stairs carefully, trying to make as little noise as possible.  Some lessons I don’t want to learn the hard way.
Once free of the stairs, I let Diesel down. He seems happy to be independent again as we make our way down a second corridor identical to the first.  But I don’t worry.  I know the way.
I keep my movements focused as we come to a closed door.  I open it carefully and peer inside, checking for possible trouble.  The corridor is clear and it’s safe to enter.  Once inside, I carefully close the door behind me.  In a ship this big, noise travels.
A sudden collection of voices raises the hairs on the back of my neck. They are heading our way.
Diesel begins to snarl.
Trouble...
“Quick, this way!” I say through clenched teeth.
To my relief, I find a large wooden ottoman that is big enough for three people.  I lift the lid and climb inside, and Diesel follows me after a moment's thought.  It is cramped, but it will have to do.  Once settled, I know what has to be done.  I lower the lid, and our sight is plunged into darkness.
Now, we wait.