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The arm was cold against Davey’s skin, but the blade was even colder.
His breath hitched as he realised that Cross had outwitted him.
But no matter where he had ran in the underground corridor, it seemed Cross was one step ahead of him.
Almost like he was in two places at once.
‘You can run from me, but you can’t hide from God,’ Cross hissed in his ear.
There was no anger in his tone; Davey knew that in Cross’ twisted mind he was like a shepherd returning a lost sheep to the flock.
Davey knew there was no talking his way out of this; his only chance was to outfight his enemy.
Even death was preferable to the squalor of staying in the cage for another thirty-eight days and having his body slowly cut away.
He clamped the knife hand to his collar bone and threw himself back.
Cross hit the wall with a pained exhalation.
Davey kept hold of the knife hand and threw his other elbow back.
It hit Cross’s gut, making him release his grip on Davey’s neck.
The preacher man gasped for breath.
Davey turned to run, but thought, even if I run, he will find me. He’ll always be there, one step ahead.
He planted his feet and threw a haymaker at Cross’ jaw.
The wild swing missed, leaving Davey badly off balance.
Cross hit him like a speeding bullet, his shoulders ramming into the outer edge of Davey’s right thigh in an expert rugby tackle.
Davey went down on his left side, feeling the breath leave his body in a devastating pained exhalation.
His side had gone numb, but he could still feel the cold water from the hose runoff.
Cross had already hit him three times before he had recovered his senses.
The pain and the fear and the smoke now filling the room made it hard to think, let alone breathe.
He tried to squirm out from under Cross, but he had him pinned tight against the concrete floor.
A fourth blow rattled Davey’s jaw and made him see little transparent flecks of light floating everywhere.
After the fifth punch, Davey felt his whole body go limp.
He didn’t even have enough strength to raise his hands to protect his head now.
Cross raised his right hand high for what Davey felt certain was going to be the final blow in this confrontation.
The hand never got to start its descent and Davey initially thought that time had stretched out like it had back in the abandoned apartment’s bathroom during his first fight to the death.
The smoke made it impossible to see beyond Cross’s hunched figure.
Even he was hard to make out, especially with Davey’s vision blurred from the solid blows to the head he’d taken.
As his vision settled, he felt sure he saw blood spilling from Cross’ lips.
He looked down and saw a dark patch spreading on Cross’ crisp black priest’s shirt.
Davey armed the smoke from in front of his eyes.
The last few inches of a blade protruded from Cross’s belly.
His eyes were comically wide, an expression of dismay hewn into his features.
In spite of his hatred for the man, Davey couldn’t help but feel sorry for him.
He looked utterly pitiful.
Grunting with the effort, he lifted his weight from Davey’s chest.
The relief was immeasurable.
Cross turned to face someone hidden in the smoke.
Davey heard the blade slam into Cross’ belly.
Heard Cross’ stunned, gore-stained exhalation.
The noises repeated so many times that he lost count.
Cross stumbled back, his shirt torn and gore-stained in dozens of places.
His breathing was ragged, making blood bubble from the wounds in his chest.
Then the blade came across, slitting his throat from ear to ear.
Hot blood hit Davey in the face like a summer rain.
Cross fell to his knees at Davey’s feet, twitching and gurgling as the blood raced to escape his body.
His pale hands were clasped together as if in prayer.
He remained there for a second, blood pattering down from his hands, eyes staring blankly at the wall, then he fell onto his side, hands now clamped to his throat.
A glistening dark puddle spread beneath him.
Flames were reflected in its surface.
Davey heard Cross’ murderer retreat into the smoke.
‘Say hello to your God for me,’ Davey muttered before picking up the blowtorch and turning to the door.
As he made his way through the smoke-choked underground tunnels, he kept thinking he saw Cross following him.
It was only a fleeting glance in his peripheral vision, but when he turned to look properly there was nothing there.
‘Nothing there,’ he muttered to reassure himself.
Cross was dead, there was no doubt about it; he’d had his throat slit so deep the knife had severed his windpipe.
There sure as shit was no coming back from that.
Maybe it’s his ghost, he thought, then scolded himself.
He had no belief in such things.
And time spent pondering it now was liable to get him burnt to a crisp.
But still, he felt someone watching him, heard footsteps as he shuffled through the burning catacombs.
He caught a flicker of movement from the corner of his eye, spun and saw nothing.
His skin was crawling a little; the eeriness of the stone tunnels, the distant screams, the roar of the flames and the hellish glow they provided, made it seem very much like the road to hell.
He moved on, determined to see if there really was someone following him or if he was losing his mind.
Sure enough, he saw someone moving out of the corner of his eye.
It looked like Cross, had the same pale complexion, dark hair and lanky frame.
He looked round and the figure had gone, as though he had just melted away into the shadows.
‘Holy shit, I’m cracking up,’ he said. ‘Seeing dead men walking around everywhere.’
His nerve broke and he charged headlong through the corridors, hoping to leave the ghost or hallucination or whatever the hell it was far behind him.
It seemed to take an age, but Davey finally found the stairs behind a false wall.
He tore off a section of his shirt and shoved it over his face to filter out some of the smoke going into his airwaves.
His legs and lungs blazed as he ran up the stairs.
He came out into the ground floor of Cross’s church home.
Gold-adorned grandeur greeted him in the main corridor, a million miles away from the dank depravity going on in the basement supposedly in God’s name.
A huge stained glass window with two extremely intricate red and green crosses set into it was the spectacular centrepiece, surrounded by hand-carved gold frames which must have taken months to craft.
Such wealth and extravagance was sickening when the rest of the world was struggling to fill their aching bellies.
Davey wished he still had the bomb as he would have set it away and blown the church and everything it represented to kingdom come.
He would have to settle for hoping the fire he’d started did enough damage.
An armed guard stood by the door that led out of the church.
Davey saw that he was raising the gun so ducked down out of sight, just as bullets chipped the expensive marble altar.
Shards of it fell into his hair and made small cuts on his skin.
He peered round and saw the gunman slowly moving closer, the rifle held in front of him, aiming straight at the altar.
Then the fire he’d started helped him out as the gunman disappeared in the smoke.
After another hail of bullets further damaged the ornate altar, Davey stood and hurled the blowtorch into the flames near the gunman.
The carpet round the other side of the altar went up in an inferno, the gunman crying out as his feet were set ablaze.
Davey risked a glance and saw him beating at the flames with his rifle butt.
Davey watched as the fires hit the ornate green and gold fabric runner that ran up the back wall of the church.
It acted like a fuse to the wooden furnishings on the wall.
The dry wood went up too, sending more thick black smoke flooding out into the altar area.
Davey knew this was his chance.
He hoped he was running in the right direction, as it was now impossible to see.
The heat in the room was beginning to sear the hairs on his arms.
Taking a breath in was like inhaling broken glass.
Davey stifled a cough, not wanting to give away his position.
Smoke stung his eyes and made them tear up.
He blinked hard, clearing them only for them to blur again a split-second later.
It felt like they were being boiled in their sockets.
Davey heard the gunman succumb to the smoke.
Get the fuck outta here, he thought.
Or you’ll be next.
Another gunman in the distance cursed as his jeans ignited.
Davey felt his way along the wall, doing his best to hold his breath now.
His lungs began to blaze, his brain feeling like it was growing big enough to burst through the walls of his skull.
He stepped over a body on the floor.
He couldn’t make out who it was, but he realised they were his ticket out of here.
Though he dreaded doing it, he knelt and lifted them up.
He knew that it was a risk but something inside him had told him to do it.
Their body was limp but he could just about feel them breathing.
He struggled forward, supporting their weight on his shoulder.
As he reached the door, it was flung open from the other side.
Preacher Kelly stood there, confusion writ large on his pale face.
‘Thank God you’re here,’ Davey said, not giving Preacher Kelly time to suspect him. ‘He’s in a bad way.’
He thrust the semi-conscious body into Preacher Kelly’s chest and disappeared into the smoke outside the church.
Flames had already begun to consume the outside of the church, belching thick columns of black smoke into the swollen sky.
Davey smiled as he saw the villagers flocking to put out the flames that were swallowing their beloved church.
Their full attention was taken up by this, and he managed to cling to the shadows by the outskirts of the village green as they raced in with buckets of water.
Davey couldn’t believe his eyes when he heard the squall of a fire engine’s sirens and saw the huge red vehicle veer into view.
The villagers climbed out, spraying the high-pressure hoses into the air, aiming for the church tower.
In the confusion, he managed to sneak out unnoticed, although he was slightly disappointed to see that the church was still standing.
The fire at the church had been such a good distraction that even the bulldozers that Cross used on his raids and scavenging runs were left unattended.
Davey smiled as he noticed that the keys were still in most of them.
He climbed into the one nearest the gate and turned the key.
The vehicle roared into life.
He glanced around the area, which looked like a renovated junk yard.
There were maybe two dozen of the bulldozers, their gaudy paintwork splattered with religious propaganda.
There were other vehicles here too; cars, vans, what looked like an old coach.
And it looked as though the fire engine had been here too.
He thought to maybe disable the vehicles, to save them chasing him, but the crackle of rifle fire not far from him made him reconsider.
Best to just get the hell outta here, build up as much of a headstart as possible.
A bullet clanged off the front of the vehicle, making Davey jump.
He looked up and saw a guard with a rifle high up on the tower.
The solution seemed obvious; Davey simply floored the gas pedal.
Aimed the speeding bulldozer at the base of the tower.
The guard stood up when he realised what was happening.
He fired a few shots but they bounced harmlessly off the dozer blade.
Davey smiled and flipped the guard off as the bulldozer smashed a path right through the base of the tower.
The tower tilted, falling forwards fast.
The guard was splatted like a bug on a windshield.
Davey glanced round and saw his eyes bulging out of a bloody, gelatinous puddle.
Then he turned back to the road ahead.
Serenity’s outer gates were closed, but were no match for the dozer.
Grinning triumphantly, he set off back to the Freelands.
Riding the bulldozer was a surreal experience, but not without its pleasures.
Davey found he enjoyed piloting the huge vehicle across the decaying landscape.
He drove past the Garbage Mountains, high up on the top of the valley where the creepy bin bag men had made their homes.
He could see their outlines – like he’d thought before, once seen it could never be unseen – among the refuse and it made his skin crawl at the thought of what had almost happened to him down there.
He was so intent on watching them sitting around their fire – he couldn’t see what they were cooking over the flames, and he was intensely grateful for that – when something small and pale ran out in front of him.
At first he thought it was a child, as it had seemed to be crawling like a baby.
He jammed on the anchors, not wanting to get innocent blood on his hands.
Or in this case, his tracks.
His eyes scoured the piles of garbage bags for the pale thing.
He could see nothing.
Rustling noises from behind the dozer pointed him in the right direction.
He crouched and began to search more intently.
After a few minutes of searching, he was amazed to discover what the pale thing had been.
Davey’s face was coated with stinking drool as the dog’s dark tongue rasped over his cheek.
‘Duke?’ he said, in utter disbelief.
He’d thought his buddy had been killed and eaten by the bin bag men in the Garbage Mountains.
Duke’s tongue hung out and he yelped enthusiastically.
His eyes were glinting and he seemed to be smiling.
Davey hugged him in hard. ‘I thought you were dead, boy,’ he said, his voice cracking.
Duke licked him again.
‘Well come on, let’s get you back and get you some food.’
Duke once again showed his intelligence by nodding his head down at the half-eaten remains of one of the giant rats.
He grabbed it by its tail and dragged it over to Davey, lifting his eyebrows in that curious way he did.
‘Ah, no thank you,’ Davey laughed. ‘That looks fucking gross.’
Duke seemed to laugh too, but then threw the rat carcass into the vehicle and began to eat it.
Davey gave him one more cuddle, not caring about the blood that was smeared across his coat.
The wind was cool on their faces as they set off back to the Freelands.
Things were already starting to look up.
Well, my friends, this is the end of series one. This story has been an absolute blast to write and I hope you have had as much fun reading it. Rest assured there is plenty more to come.
I want to thank each and every one of you for following the story this far. Your support means the world to me.
One final thing: Too Many Humans is free for everyone, but, if you choose to, you can help support this project financially by clicking the yellow ‘Buy Now’ Paypal button below. Any amount would be gratefully received.
Series two starts here