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Click here for a recap of last week’s chapter.
After his audience with the King – which unfortunately led him past the calf on the spit again, intensifying the gnawing pains in his belly and making him salivate more than he’d ever thought possible – Davey was led back out through the log maze.
The party in the other areas of the tenement seemed to be gaining momentum; the whooping and laughing and hollering had gotten louder, the explosions and flamebows had become much more frequent.
The King had been very welcoming.
Things seemed to be looking up.
Davey just hoped earning his keep wasn’t going to be anything too gut-churning.
One of the guards had taken him out of the King’s compound and led him through seemingly never-ending walls of stone.
Strings of light bulbs hung across the paths.
The ornately-carved wall dioramas showed scenes of bloodshed, scenes of war, but also depicted children being born in a world in which this was no longer possible or encouraged.
Long live the King, fuck everyone else, read one message.
The stone sector went on for an age; lopsided houses with misshapen stones holding them together, discarded shards of tiles used for roofs.
It looked as though Dr Frankenstein had turned his hand to brick-laying to earn a little extra cash.
But it was impressive considering what the Grims had had to work with.
After the stone sector, he hit the tin sector, which was where he was to stay.
It was a sea of multi-coloured tin shacks that stretched further than the eye could see in every direction.
Again, the strings of light bulbs ran across the pathways, connected between stout wooden poles.
‘You find an empty shack, it’s yours,’ the guard told him. ‘Go to the rations hut at the centre of the spiral to get your food.’
Before Davey could ask any questions the guard had gone, leaving him alone in his new home.
Davey span three-sixty, taking in the bleak landscape of tin shacks that seemed to have been catapulted onto the dirty ground.
‘Find an empty one,’ he said aloud. ‘Good luck with that.’
There were hundreds if not thousands of them.
Crude washing lines were strung precariously from the walls of some of the shacks.
Dark clothing hung from them, seeming to dance in the breeze.
Other Grims had managed to drape items of clothing over the strings of wire that held the light bulbs.
From the area to Davey’s right there was a huge explosion and a cheer went up that hurt his ears.
The Grims were really living it up in the other parts of the tenement.
Davey poked his head through the doorway of the first shack he came to.
He was hopeful at first; there didn’t seem to be any noises coming from within.
Just as he begun to think he’d stuck gold on his first try, a gruff voice said, ‘This one’s taken. Get outta here,’ from the corner.
He grimaced and set out into the shanty town again.
As he set foot outside the door the first drops of rain began to fall.
‘Great,’ he hissed, pulling his clothes tighter around himself.
It took a good few hours before he found an unoccupied shack and he realised now why the guard had left him to it.
It was a seemingly never-ending search.
This time, he felt certain that someone was going to appear from the gloom, but no, here was a little shithole to call his own.
The floor was straw, soaked through with what he hoped was rain.
The noise of the falling rain bouncing off the roof was almost deafening.
Even worse was the filthy water that gushed through holes in the rotten tin and pattered down to soak the straw.
It didn’t look like a peaceful night’s sleep was on the cards.
Another explosion went off in the distance, loud enough to shake the walls of his shack so much he feared it was going to come crashing down around his ears.
It held, for now.
Whether it would still be up in the morning was another matter entirely.
He thought of what the King had said about finding food, but he had no desire to go out in the rain, despite his hunger.
His stomach blazing, he curled up in the threadbare blanket he’d brought from home and tried his best to sleep.
It was a piss-poor night’s sleep, partly due to the rain and the explosions.
But the main reason was that Davey didn’t feel safe in this part of the Freelands.
For all King Solomon’s promises of love and unity and safety, the place was still a breeding ground for criminals, drug addicts and who knew what else.
This fact was confirmed by some of the things he’d heard through the thin walls of his shack while trying to force sleep.
‘As soon as he’s asleep I’m going to cut him to fucking pieces,’ snarled a particularly angry-sounding Grim.
‘I’ve already robbed a dozen shacks tonight. Quite the haul, my friend. Quite the haul,’ boasted a smug-sounding Grim.
‘I’ve already done five. I reckon I can get another ten to shoot their loads before the end of the night,’ said a rough female voice. Davey had no idea what she was talking about, but it didn’t sound like anything he wanted to be a part of.
And most ominously, bellowed at the top of one Grim’s lungs with lunatic conviction: ‘Mark my words; some of you scruffy motherfuckers ain’t waking up in the morning!’
Davey had used a large stone to hold the paper-thin tin door shut.
After that, he had laid, knife in hand, waiting for someone to bust through the flimsy barricade and try to either rob or murder him.
He’d managed to keep one eye open all night, but had eventually been claimed by sleep a few hours before the sun was due to rise.
When the sun had risen, it brought with it an intense heat that made it impossible to sleep.
The straw on the floor of his shack began to smoke.
In sheer terror, he began to think that the sun’s rays had set the straw on fire and that he was going to perish in this miserable shack while he struggled to remove the barricade from the door.
It was only after he noticed that the steam was also coming from the pool of water by his head that he realised what was happening.
It’s just steam from the water, he thought with a smile, relieved to not be burning to death in this squalid hellhole.
He was relieved to be awake at all, considering the things he had heard through the walls last night.
He was pleased that King Solomon had seen fit to give him his knife back before sending him to the dubious pleasures of the Tin Town.
Davey found it hard to move, despite his discomfort in the humid shack.
It took him a good hour before he had the energy to move and even then it was only because he was so thirsty he was contemplating drinking from the suspiciously ammonia-smelling puddle by his feet.
He tried to remember what the guard had told him about getting rations.
Centre of the spiral, he thought he’d said.
This made no sense to him whatsoever, but he decided to venture outdoors and see if he could decipher it.
The cold wind hit him as soon as he set foot outside.
‘Whoa, ya got somewhere better to be?’ said a relatively clean and tidy Grim who was walking past Davey’s shack as he left.
Davey’s look of consternation must have tickled him as he began to hoot with laughter.
‘You’re taking your pack and everything with ya. Ain’t ya staying the night?’
‘I don’t want anyone to steal it while I’m gone.’
‘Ah, no one would do that in the Freelands. Salt of the earth us lot.’
‘I heard some things in here last night that would suggest otherwise.’
‘I’ll bet you did, lad. But it’s nothing to worry about. Just steamtalk.’
‘Yeah. The steam gets aholda ya. Gets ya all riled up, puts your brain and body in a higher gear. You start thinking funny things. Start saying even funnier uns. Ain’t no one in here would steal your kit, it’s just not Grim etiquette.’
‘I heard someone saying they were looting shacks.’
‘If they are they’ll live just long enough to regret it, you catch my drift. King Solomon, Gods bless him, takes a dim view of such things. A very dim view. Trust me, you leave that pack in there, it’ll still be there when you come back.’
He met Davey’s gaze with a kind smile.
‘We ain’t like those fucks across the river, ya know,’ he said, ‘Those Cross motherfuckers.’ He spat in the dirt at the mention of the name. ‘Salt of the earth we are, lad. Salt of the fuckin’ earth.’
‘OK. I believe you.’
Davey took an empty water bottle from his pack, then propped it up in the corner.
He threw a few handfuls of hay over it as camouflage.
After wedging the door shut, he marked his initials on the door and on the side of the house so he could find it later.
Needle in a haystack didn’t even begin to cover it.
‘Say, you seem very knowledgeable,’ Davey said.
‘Why thank you, lad. That I am, that I am.’
‘Where do I go to get food?’
The Grim pulled a comical shocked expression. ‘You mean you ain’t eaten yet?’
The Grim tutted, shook his head. ‘Man are you in for a rough time.’
Davey went to ask him what he meant, but the Grim started talking again.
‘You follow this main path round the curve. It’ll take ya a while, but eventually you’ll get to the middle. Just winds round and round upon itself. It’ll feel like you’re getting nowhere but don’t turn back. You’ll get there eventually. At the end of the curve is the bait cabin. But I hope you’re not starving cos I reckon you’ll be waiting a while.’
‘Thank you. I’ll go and check it out.’
‘Good luck, kid. I hope you get some grub before they run out.’
Before Davey could ask him what he meant he had turned and shuffled off down the path.
Davey squinted into the distance, seeing the dirt path that curved round.
Like the Grim had said, the corrugated metal fences did indeed seem to go on forever.
He looked further and saw that other paths led down to their own curves too.
The effect was enough to make his head spin, trying to work it all out.
He decided to not overthink it and set off walking down the curve.
After what seemed like miles, he reached the end of the curve.
Or at least he would have done if there weren’t what appeared to be hundreds of Grims lined up ahead of him already.
He couldn’t even see the bait cabin for the people.
‘Excuse me?’ he asked the heavyset Grim in front of him. ‘Is this the queue for the bait cabin?’
The Grim looked round at him with a stern face and merely nodded, not giving him the honour of even talking to him.
Davey sighed; it looked like he was in for a long wait.
Davey began to curse his decision to wait so long before coming to the bait cabin, as he had become so hungry he felt like he was going to pass out.
Only a few Grims had joined the queue after him too, reinforcing the other Grim’s suggestion that he had left it far too late.
While he waited he listened to the Grims’ colourful banter and stories.
Next chapter is here