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Davey was mentally and physically exhausted, and losing a lot of blood from his manifold wounds.
He had no idea how long he could maintain this frantic pace, but he vowed he would fight the vile rats until his dying breath.
Not like that’s going to be long from now.
His arms were like lead as he swung the knife.
He felt too weak to even lift the gun now.
And still the rats came.
No matter how many he put down, another dozen seemed to appear.
Finally a strange sound seemed to press pause on the confrontation.
He looked up and saw the dog he’d rescued standing on top of the garbage mountain high above him.
It barrelled down the slope, head-butting one of the rats in the side.
The sickening sound of splintering ribs echoed, and the rat fell, blood seeping out of its mouth.
The dog went full force into the rats, snapping the largest one between its biggest set of jaws and clamping down hard enough to bite its squealing head clean off.
It shook it from side to side like a stinking chew toy then threw it to the floor in a hail of blood.
Some of the rats abandoned Davey and went for the dog.
The smaller head on its back helped to keep an eye out for the rats that approached from behind.
Both mouths tore into the rats, shredding them and spitting out bloody chunks.
A huge, black rat hit the dog’s side with an ear-splitting slap.
The dog growled, dropping the rat that hung limp in its blood-smeared jaws.
The rodent’s teeth dug deep into the dog’s flank, drawing twin streams of blood.
A sickly grin was on its lips, as it took greedy pulls on the wound.
Davey watched all of this in a trance.
Until a second rat thrust its scimitar teeth towards the fleshy jowls beneath the dog’s throat.
They sunk in just enough to draw blood, but the dog’s cry of anguish jolted Davey into action.
He picked up a skull from beside him – a finger in each eye socket and his thumb in the nose, like an ivory bowling ball – and hurled it at the rat.
It gave up its attempts to open the dog’s throat and instead turned towards him, hissing.
‘I’m not afraid of you,’ he scowled, wishing desperately that this boast was true.
It stood its ground, up on its hackles, veins standing out like worms beneath its skin.
Davey made the first move, but only by a split second.
It began to dive for him, but he was ready and hit it in mid-air with another skull from the pile.
There was a meaty thud and a thick spray of blood from the rat’s jaws.
It landed in a twitching heap on the carpet of garbage bags.
Eager to prove a point, Davey moved in.
He had no idea where he got his courage and strength from, but he found himself raising the skull high and mashing it into the rat’s head until it was a mangled ruin.
The skull was coated with a dripping slick of gore that ran down his hands.
He was splattered in it from head to toe.
The other rats eyed him a little more warily now.
He had just re-established the food chain.
The dog drew heart from this and began to tear into the rats with renewed savagery.
Davey threw the skull at another of the rats, making it run away from him with a shrill cry.
He grabbed one of the long leg bones and began whacking it menacingly into the floor.
Finally, the rats seemed to realise they were on the losing end of this battle and began to back away, hissing and snarling through bloody teeth.
A few of them dragged away their fallen kin, no doubt as a consolation prize for that night’s supper.
When they had gone, Davey sunk to his knees, his chest heaving in anguished breaths.
It felt as though his ribs were slowly crushing in on his lungs, making breathing impossible.
Adrenaline had deserted him, leaving him like a puppet without a master.
He sucked in the foul air, trying in vain to regain his composure.
The dog watched him, a curious expression on its faces, its bigger head tilted slightly to the right.
It limped over to him – he noticed it had a nasty bite in its rear left leg – and began to nuzzle his wounds.
The effect was soothing, but still, he was lost, weak and bleeding.
And no doubt in for a nasty infection from the rat bites.
Out here in the Garbage Mountains there was no pharmacy to call upon.
At this rate, blood poisoning would claim him long before he had chance to even meet Reverend Cross.
When it sunk in that this was just the start of his journey, everything – the death of his family and especially his baby sister – hit him like a plane plummeting out of the sky, and he broke down.
The dog muzzled him affectionately, which helped a little, but he couldn’t help but feel like he had made a serious error in judgement coming out here.
Some time later, he jolted awake after a particularly vivid dream of rats squirming around his innards trying to eat their way out.
He hadn’t had the sense to bring a watch on his journey so he wasn’t sure how long it had been, but it was still dark.
It seemed he’d had a decent sleep though so reckoned it was more likely hours than minutes.
The dog was watching, its shoulders hunched, as though it was ready to pounce at a moment’s notice.
It slowly walked round in a circle around him, its big head moving from side to side.
Davey knew that it had been doing this to protect him while he slept.
He stretched and rolled over, making the garbage bag beneath him creak a little.
The dog spun fast, seemed to smile when it realised it was Davey who had made the noise.
It came over to him, muzzled into him, its tongue rasping his cheek.
He saw love in its eyes, glowing deep within the bloodshot orbs.
It was something to cling to, something to keep him pressing on.
This pitiful creature was beautiful in its soul and he could sense the loyalty and love emanating from it.
He had saved its life and he knew it would return the favour many times over without question or hesitation.
He hugged it, being careful not to squeeze too hard for fear of hurting it.
‘Thank you, boy,’ he said, feeling utterly grateful for this clumsy-looking beast. ‘Thank you so much.’
He cupped the top of its head, staring in its eyes and smiling.
It seemed to copy his smile.
‘Say, we need to give you a name,’ he said.
He noticed there was no collar on it.
After all, there was no need to identify a dog you were planning on letting suffocate in a garbage bag.
‘Duke,’ he said, after a moment’s thought. ‘You look a hell of a lot like a duke.’
Duke seemed to smile at this.
‘Right, Duke. Where the fuck do we go now?’
Duke moved round in a tight circle, sniffing the air, then set off.
Davey followed him through the vast mountains of rubbish and the occasional scattered piles of bones.
The Garbage Mountains stretched away further than his eyes could see.
It all looked the same; immense floodlit piles of black plastic, riddled with rats, death and decay.
There didn’t seem to be an end to it.
He saw a few fresh rat carcasses, already stripped to the bone.
The rats watched them intently, but seemed too scared to approach.
Duke growled, just to be on the safe side.
They watched intently but didn’t come any closer.
Davey was puzzled when he saw Duke stop and look round at the massive slope of rubbish bags to their right.
He stopped, craning his neck to look up.
He couldn’t see why Duke was so enrapt, or indeed why he started to bark at the top of his lungs, but figured there must be some reason.
After a few minutes, Duke relaxed and continued walking.
They walked for what seemed like miles, following the valley along mindlessly without any end in sight.
Duke had stopped at least half a dozen times and started barking, looking up the hill of garbage bags.
Davey still had been puzzled as to what he was barking at, but figured it was probably a rat.
He saw them everywhere he looked, on the ground feasting on fallen bodies or burst bin bags, or on outcrops of garbage among the vast mountains, or scurrying across the floor, their claws nicking holes in the bin bags with little fluttering sounds.
This time he looked up straight away and saw a section of the garbage bag move a little.
He strained his eyes, but couldn’t see anything to suggest why it was moving.
Duke’s eyes looked like they were about to pop out of his skull.
His entire body was tensed ready to strike.
Still Davey was puzzled to see why, until he saw part of the garbage move again.
It was like a magic eye puzzle in the old world; a picture with strange, nonsensical images on the outermost layer, but when you focussed your eyes and stared at it for a while, a hidden image appeared as if by magic from behind the others.
This was the same; one second the section of garbage bag wall that Duke was barking at was just a pile of rubbish, the next it was a man dressed from head to toe in the black plastic bags, presumably to pass through the mountains undetected.
He was completely covered, save for two small eyeholes and a larger mouth slit.
Still, he’d blended in perfectly. Davey would never have seen him if it wasn’t for Duke.
Now he couldn’t unsee him.
He shuddered as he realised that the man had probably been following them since Duke had first stopped and barked.
With mounting fear, he scanned his surroundings, trying to train his eyes to see through the garbage bags to see if there were any more of the ominous men lurking.
He saw at least three more, carefully concealed among the waste.
The sight of them made his skin crawl, made his heart beat into overdrive.
Duke barked at the nearest one, which was a good way up one of the slopes.
It was too far to climb up, which was the only reason Duke wasn’t moving in, jaws gnashing, to rend the hidden voyeur a new arsehole.
Davey tried to hide his shock, tried to pretend he hadn’t seen them, and carried on walking.
From his peripheral vision, he watched the nearest one.
Their fluid movements made his flesh creep; it was distinctly unsettling how they moved through the garbage, until now undetected.
His mind reeled with potential answers for who they were and why they were watching him.
None of them were good.
They didn’t seem to come any closer, just kept following at their slow but steady pace.
Davey’s legs were blazing, his wounds sticky and oozing something that he didn’t dare investigate further.
He felt utterly drained.
The carpet of garbage bags was very hard to walk on, seeming to sap the little strength that he still possessed.
He looked round, saw that there were still three of the garbage men following them, carefully hidden among the millions of black bin bags that formed the Garbage Mountains.
As they turned a slight corner, there was an inner wall of garbage, carefully piled up to almost the height of the outer edges of the mountains.
It split the path off into two.
Both paths looked as daunting as the other; more of the same endless slog through stinking piles of filth.
Davey scanned the walls and saw a few more of the garbage men hidden on both sides of the barrier.
‘Which way, boy?’ he asked Duke, who was tensed up and sniffing the air.
Duke turned away from the junction and started walking back the way they had come.
When Davey followed, he noticed that the garbage men began to move down the slope a little, as though they didn’t like this decision.
‘I think they want us to go this way, boy,’ he said.
Duke growled but did as he was bid.
When they reached the fork in the road, Davey flipped a coin.
It landed heads so he went to the right.
They plodded on for maybe another mile, then the path curved round to the left.
Davey noticed more of the garbage men slowly crawling along the walls of the valley after them.
The reek got worse around here; and Davey was sure he could smell something burning.
The putrid stench of death seemed to hang in the air.
After the path curved round, Davey found himself staring at a huge pile of bin bags.
The turn off was a dead end.
He counted four of the garbage men on the hill.
Duke growled and turned around.
Davey turned too.
They rounded the corner, but the path was blocked by half a dozen of the garbage men, linking arms so they couldn’t get past.
Duke barked loudly and dived at the man in the middle.
The man held firm as Duke’s claws ripped furrows in his bin bag shirt and exposed the pale, clammy skin beneath.
One of the men darted in and threw a garbage bag towards Duke’s head, but he threw his head to the side and leapt up, sinking his teeth into his attacker’s arm.
His cry of pain was muffled by the garbage bag that was over his head, but Davey saw that he was bleeding heavily.
While Duke had the man on the back foot, he darted in, hitting him at the knees and knocking him onto his arse.
Duke showed no mercy; his powerful jaws clamped down and punctured the man’s neck.
Growling menacingly, Duke tore the man’s throat out in a hot hail of blood.
He shook his head from side to side, patters of gore pattering onto the bin bag suits of the dead man’s companions.
Davey broke his paralysis and pulled the gun.
He took a few seconds to line up a shot and his patience was rewarded when he hit one of them in what he figured was its head.
He heard the sound of a shattered skull hitting the inside of the bin bag with a liquid splat and the man fell, torrents of blood seeping through the neckline of his plastic hood.
The next man ducked Davey’s second bullet which buried itself in one of the millions of rotting bin bags that formed the outer edge of the mountains.
He hit Duke with a hard kick to the ribs then threw a wild haymaker at Davey.
It wasn’t the best punch, but it was fast and it caught Davey off guard.
His lips were mashed into his teeth anew, re-opening the slit created by Old Jimmy’s bony knuckles during the harrowing attack in the Freelands.
As Davey staggered back, the coppery taste of blood once more filled his mouth.
Sadly, it was a taste to which he was growing accustomed.
The bin bag men darted down from the walls and swarmed him.
They did the same to Duke; seemingly dozens of them pouring from the walls of the canyon.
He saw one of them thrust a bin bag over Duke’s head and he knew that his friend would hate this, given the circumstances in which they had met.
Sure enough, Duke began to roar and whimper and thrash.
But the bag was tight.
Davey saw Duke’s struggles weaken as his lungs began to starve.
Then his world was darkness as a similar bag was thrust over his own head.
His panic evaporated beneath his rage at the thought of Duke being forced to relive his worst memory.
He pulled his knife and sunk it into the leg of the man behind him.
Warm blood splashed his hand.
The grip on him weakened a little.
He lashed out with the knife, not caring where he hit, just wanting them to bleed.
An impact from the side made his world do a flip then he was being roughly manhandled to the floor.
The knife was twisted out of his grip by a cruel hand.
He was flipped onto his belly, vicelike grips pinning his arms and legs.
He felt hands regain their grasp on the bin bag over his head and tighten the makeshift weapon to the point where he couldn’t breathe.
A knee in the back of his shoulder blades made his neck crack and made escape impossible.
His panic reached a peak when he realised that he really couldn’t breathe this time.
Then it was gone as he just faded away into the darkness.
Next chapter is here