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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The pain in my ankle was a constant reminder of my temporary disability as I limped a few strides behind Skylar, trying to keep up. I have been granted the privilege to wear clothes while on our excursion into the great unknown, and my outfit consisted of a forest-green Army jacket that was a surprisingly good fit; a pair of black boots that are tight and uncomfortable, and a pair of 1940's, Navy-issue woollen trousers that were too long and very itchy. But who was I to complain? It sure beats the hell out of walking the moonlit streets bare-ass naked.
We take in the grand sights as we pass by great monuments of architecture, now host for the local wildlife.
I notice that the bats are ever-present, circling and swooping past us as they dart from one derelict building to another. That is one thing about this silent walk with Skylar; at least we are not alone. I take brief comfort in these distractions, though I get the feeling that my silent companion thinks of bats as mere vermin. I see it as natures fight back to reclaim the land that was once theirs. Each to their own.
We reach a high wall, and part of it has broken away from what looks like a collision with a fallen helicopter. Its mangled frame looks like a dead tarantula, black rota blades curled up to the sky for legs.
Skylar stops for an unannounced rest and places his backpack by his side.
“I’ll be right back. Don’t think of running—” he changes his mind with a cruel smirk, “hobbling . . . or you know what will happen.”
I nod. Don’t worry, mate. The moment I get a chance, you will know. You will know . . .
I watch and take the weight off my ankle as Skylar starts to climb the broken wall. He disappears over the top, leaving me alone with the backpack. His second mistake. His first mistake was to trust me. Idiot.
This is the perfect moment to escape.
I consider it, for Skylar is gone for some time, and my desperation to get back to Elisia and Megan to let them know I am safe is driving me wild. However, my gut feeling tells me something isn’t quite right about this situation.
I feel like I am being watched. Somewhere in these buildings is a set of eyes observing me. The backpack, my guardian leaving me . . . this is a test.
If this is an assessment, then I want to pass. I want to survive and return to the ones I love. So I decide to stay, going against the same instincts I had about the ship mission. Poor Diesel.
My thoughts dwell on my actions, but they are interrupted by Skylar returning. He climbs over and lands on the dirty ground with a thud. He dusts himself off and looks at me with surprise. “Still here then?” He smirks with a hint of satisfaction as he picks up the bag and starts to walk. Without looking back, he says, “Come on, we have a lot of distance to cover.”
With a grunt, I manage to stand, but just. The ankle sock is holding up well, but the pain is getting worse. Maybe resting wasn’t such a smart idea after all.
I try to keep up and mirror Skylar’s steps, but as I carefully step over broken bricks in the crumbling road, I spot a gleam in the corner of my eye. Looking across the street, I see one of the tribe members in the shadows with a rifle. It was a test. And I passed.
The man smirks and gives me a mocking, two-finger salute.
I understand perfectly who is in charge here, so I don’t deviate from my secret plan. Gain their trust. Escape. Maybe kill a few of them on the way just for the hell of it.
I was never safe at all. It was all staged to see if I would betray them. If I had listened to my gut instinct and tried to run, I would be face down in a pool of my own blood by now.


We walk for several miles, but with my injuries, it feels like more. I'm glad I am fit. Running around and surviving has its benefits.
We approach a boarded up building with a missing roof that looks like it may have been a factory at one time. The building appears very much abandoned, but, as I’ve learned in the past, appearances can be deceptive.
As we draw nearer, the strong stench of rotten flesh overwhelms me and turns my stomach. I cover my nose and mouth with the sleeve of my jacket and let Skylar do all the heavy lifting. I hang back as he pushes aside a series of wooden boards and a dented rusty barrel that is blocking the way into the building. Once all is clear, Skylar nods to me. “Inside.”
It’s just one word, but that one word has power to it.
After a moment’s hesitation, I take the first nervous step inside, unsure what may be waiting. In our forced travels together, I am confident we haven’t tracked half way across the city for Skylar to disobey Grimm’s orders and for me to be killed. I hope.
Skylar, too, seems to understand my apprehension. But his sarcasm is noted. Bastard.
As I limp forward, the moonlit night shows the way into the unknown. My ears are drawn to the strong sound of water that seems to be coming from all directions. The smell of vegetation is strong, and I take a moment to find my breath as I stand here amazed.
Oh my God . . .
The concrete has been removed with care and replaced with fertile soil. As I step forward, I notice fresh leaves and lush plants. I was most certainly not expecting this. The tribe has their own makeshift farm hidden within a building. I am truly gob smacked.
This would keep my family fed for years. I feel a surge of panic grip my heart at the thought of my wife and baby defenceless and so far away. I close my heart for their sakes and my sanity. I have a mission to complete. Stay alive. Find the right moment to escape. And escape I will.
Skylar stops at an area that is heavy with unpicked carrots and potatoes. He notices my face with a sly grin, humoured by my reaction. “Welcome to the patch,” he says as he thrusts a brown sack into my hands. “Here, make yourself useful.”


We work until the sack is full, and my brain is still in shock at the amount of food we have. Skylar reads my envious expression and gives me a hard-faced nod. “You can carry the sack.”
With that, he marches to the entrance of the building. I open my mouth to complain about my ankle, but I know he won’t care, so I follow with the sack over my shoulder like a devotee.
We leave the food wonderland behind us with our bounty, and I notice Skylar’s face. He looks worried, and for good reason… being caught with this food out in the open isn’t the wisest thing to do considering our position and vulnerability.
Skylar leads us across rough grassland to an opening through the dense trees. We walk through, crunching leaves and weaving around the deep foliage as we try to keep our wits about us.
The strap on the sack is cutting into my hands, but I keep my mouth shut. We push on until we reach a large rock, and Skylar signals for us to stop. I gladly do so, lowering the bag to the ground with a grunt and attempting to stretch my sore-ridden hands. When that doesn't work, I look around me.
Traps everywhere.
Some are big, some small; but one thing is for sure, they will never catch anything. Not like this.
As I carefully flex my hands to relieve the pain, Skylar goes around the traps and snares.
“Damn it! Damn it to hell!” he curses, clearly frustrated. I keep quiet. To be this frustrated means he has a desperate hunger for meat, or he made these traps himself. I decide to lend my assistance, thinking that maybe I can gain some respect from this man. Here’s hoping.
Without waiting for an invitation, I kneel down before a defunct rabbit snare. "Here, let me show you how it's done.”  I readjust the snare with caution while Skylar kneels by my side, watching with intrigue. I may have a fan after all, I muse privately to myself. Then I test the snare, showing how it works with a nearby branch.
“There . . . perfect,” I say as if I had created a prizewinning dish.
Skylar turns and gives me an accepting smile. “Thanks, Summers,” he says, impressed, but his face changes back to serious just as quickly.
That is the first time this man used my name. Would I feel bad for killing him if I had to? No.
This is going in the exact direction I want it to go. “No problem.” I nod putting the thought out of my mind as if I were addressing a friend. But we both know I am not. I am a prisoner. Regardless of Grimm’s suspicious favouritism of me, I get the feeling he is the sort of man, sort of drunk, who bores easily. If I am not careful, I will no longer be flavour of the month. This cannot happen.
In this line of self-preservation, I offer, “Come on, we will have enough time to fix the other snares before nightfall, and maybe we can catch a few rabbits before we leave.”
To my surprise, Skylar nods in agreement, and we both work together to make them all effective.
Shortly after, while we’re working on one of the snares each, Skylar begins a conversation. “We aren't that bad, you know.” he begins, his voice losing its previous grit. “We are a good tribe, regardless of what you have seen so far.”
“Really?” I say, pushing boundaries. “So what is with all those dead corpses hanging in the cages from the entrance of the Fort?”
Skylar smiles and lowers his head with a response that shocks me. “Mannequins . . . made to look like dead, tortured people. It’s meant to be a deterrent to stop possible attacks from gangs and rogue tribes.”
I let this confession hang in the air before asking, “So what about the man who was being whipped inside the Fort? That was no rubber doll.”
Skylar’s eyes harden, and his tone matches his bitter expression. “That beast raped and killed four travellers who happened to pass through our territory. He deserves his punishment, believe me.”
The words seem meaningful and sincere, but I remain unconvinced. Everything about my life over the years has been trained to sniff out bullshit. I’ve known liars to weave spells of deceit to get you to trust them into letting down your guard. Not me. No way.
Skylar reads my face. “We have the laws to protect us all. Break them, and you’ll pay the price . . .”
“So what about the dwarf hanging upside down from your leaders’ window, what did he do?” I ask, pushing my luck further and forgetting my place.
Skylar shakes his head, giving me the benefit of the doubt. “I don't know—Never seen him before. Maybe he was an unfortunate thief who was caught trying to steal our stuff. Who cares?”
I return to the snares and finish them off. I keep any further opinions to myself, feeling that my companion's conversation skills have been pushed to the limits in these circumstances. If our situation had been different, this brief social interaction would have been a rare treat; just two guys talking about traps and how to get the best out of our limited supplies. But we are not friends. We are enemies. Regardless of our pleasantries, if I had a knife, things would be different. Very different.
In a fleeting glimpse of fortune, I see my chance. A heavy, broken branch lies near my feet, partially concealed among the grass.
It’s not a baseball bat, but it will have to do.
I’m not returning anywhere but home tonight.
As a last safety check, I glance around and search for any signs of surveillance. I don't see anyone watching us, and my gut says it's safe. This is my chance, and, in moments, I take it.
My sudden movement alerts Skylar, but his reactions are slow because he was concentrating on the last trap. He didn’t know what hit him as I deliver a lucky strike, knocking him out cold.
I stand there, in shock at how easy that was, and drop the branch to the ground, almost out of guilt.
But I feel no remorse as I know my usefulness would have quickly come to an end. Besides, Skylar had bigger things to worry about now. His punishment for letting me escape would probably be severe; his chances questionable at best.
In an instant, I grab the sack and run as fast as I can away from this hell and back to my family that I love. I pray they are still alive.