I’ve been on the trail for a couple of weeks now. Following the iron road through towns and cities. The carnage to either side of the track shows me which way they went whenever we come to a junction. They’re not exactly sneaking through the country. There’s nothing discrete or stealthy about a diesel train, half a dozen carriages and a bunch of complete crackpots armed to the teeth and rampaging up and down the country. But that’s jumping ahead. Don’t want to give too much away too soon.
So the hairy hillbilly, I heard his name was Kyle, drags me along behind him down the length of the carriage. This is when I notice there are others in the carriage too. A couple of small children cower in each other’s arms, curled up on one seat. A, what once was blonde haired, woman, looking thin and bedraggled, her huge, bulging eyes pleading, and at the same time I see pity. What could she possibly have pity for me for? At least I had a meal, of sorts, in the last day or two. Or had I? You know, I don’t have a clue to this day how long I had been unconscious. Either of the times.
Anyway, my odorous pal Kyle drags me to the door which connects the carriage to the next one. We’re heading forward, in the direction the train is moving. I can feel the movement of the train now and can see by the speed that the trees are sliding past the windows at we are moving very slowly. Not much more than walking pace.
Kyle swings the door open and steps forward and opens the next door. He pulls me through and I feel an urge to close the doors behind me. Well, it’s only the polite thing to do. But in a fit of rebellion I leave them open to swing in the motion of the wallowing train. The one behind me slams shut and as I look over my bloodied shoulder I see through the window in the door that the other one still swings back and forth. As pathetic as this seems, it gives me the merest sliver of satisfaction. After all, I don’t particularly like the hospitality that I’ve received to date and any slight on my hosts, however minor, seems like a victory to me.
I must have slowed as Kyle gave a hard yank on my shirt scruff and I stumbled forward through the next carriage. I braced myself with my tied hands on a seat and leant forward. I came face to face with the terrified face of a girl around sixteen years old. Her face was bruised and beaten. Her hair in ragged disarray and it looked as if she, or somebody else, had torn out great clumps of it. What little clothing she had on was torn and filthy. The terror on her face was evident, and her mouth opened in a silent moan of horror. Snot ran down her lips and left trails in the grime.
“Sorry.” I uttered as I straightened up. I resumed my stumbling along behind the man-mountain. Around me I didn’t see too many of the inhabitants as they were mostly lying down on the bench seats and hidden from view behind the seatbacks, but I heard whimpers, moans and a lot of crying from the dark recesses of the carriage. Many of the overhead fluorescents were out or flickering off and on annoyingly in this carriage, and added to the sense of hopelessness. I could taste the fear and over the smell of urine and sweat was the stench of defeat.
We cleared the next set of doors, but I managed to hang on to the handle of the first door, making sure it closed behind me. I don’t know why I did this. Was it to close those poor wretches off from whatever it was that so terrified them, or was it to close them off from me? So I didn’t feel their terror washing over me in waves. So I couldn’t sense their hopelessness seeping into my pores. So I didn’t break down and sob the way I felt I needed to. Then I looked up, and felt the need to steel my nerves.
This next carriage was host to the roughest, meanest, nastiest pieces of human filth I had witnessed. Not even the street gangs of the old world, nor anything the movies could throw at you could match a tenth of the grim reality before me. This carriage had only about ten people in it, but they were each the size of Kyle, easily. Mostly men, but there were at least two, what could loosely be termed, woman. It was something like what I once saw on that movie, what was it, Mad Max? They wore black. Any shade of black you could find. Where the clothes ended and the skin began was a mystery as the dirt and dried blood of victims stained them black as well. Some sported dark sun glasses. Most wore leather or denim. One had a filthy red bandanna tied on his head, and out the back sprouted a mass of writhing dreadlocks.
Some went quiet when I was dragged into the room, but most carried on with their cursing and raucous, almost forced, laughter at some vile comment another had made. This was where I picked up Kyle’s name as they shouted at him to let them ‘play with’ me. One spat at the back of my leg as I stumbled through. I was nearly clear of them when one guy stuck his leg out and I tripped over it. I glanced over my shoulder and saw he was immediately on his feet, a knife the size of a small sword in his hands and bearing towards my throat.
“Leave ’em Jack.” Kyle my saviour and gracious host said. “We’re off to see the Boss first, then you can acquaint yourselves.” There it was again: “Baaaawss”
Jack sat back down with a sneer on his face and a wicked twinkle in his eye. I didn’t like that look much. It said “We’re not finished here.” I didn’t like Jack very much. For some reason I don’t think he liked me from the moment I first tripped over him either. With any luck he’ll be the first with my blade in his ribs before this is all over. But I digress.
Surviving the gauntlet was a relief. It was the next carriage that was to bring the biggest surprise of them all. That was where Kyle dragged me in to face the Boss.