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Davey awoke with a start and immediately began gulping in air like a drowning man resurfacing from beneath the tides.
His relief was immeasurable, but he was also on edge.
He wasn’t sure where he was, and everything was still dark.
At first, he thought that maybe the floodlights that surrounded the Garbage Mountains had been extinguished, but the smell of plastic made him realise the bag was still over his head, albeit much looser than it had been previously.
He tried to move his arms to pull it off, but realised that they were bound tightly behind him by what he assumed was another bin bag.
‘Don’t move, don’t fight,’ said a low, menacing voice. ‘Or else I’ll pull the bag tight again.’
‘Ok,’ Davey said, his words echoing strangely around the inside of the plastic bag. ‘I won’t.’
‘What do you want with me?’
‘Shhh, you’ll use all your air up. There will be time for questions later.’
Davey did as he was bid; being strangled out was not something he was keen to ever experience again.
He listened for signs that Duke was still near, but he couldn’t hear him.
This produced a pang of alarm.
Things didn’t look good for his new friend.
After what seemed an age, the man by his side pulled the back of the bag.
If he wanted to remain conscious, he had to stand.
‘Walk. Slowly,’ the low voice hissed in his ear.
The dark plastic prison wrapped around his head obliterated most of his senses, but in the background he could hear conspiratorial, sly voices.
He could also hear the crackling of hot coals.
‘Is he ready?’ a gruff voice said from off in the distance. It seemed obvious that this was the voice of the leader.
‘Then bring him over. Give him something to eat.’
Davey’s eyes were momentarily blinded by the sudden influx of light when the bag was lifted.
It was akin to having his retinas set on fire.
Mercifully it only lasted for a second, while a hand that looked more dirt than flesh shoved a fistful of hot, shredded meat into his mouth.
It burnt his lips and tongue a little, but he was so hungry he was happy to overlook this.
He chewed greedily, savouring the juices that each press of his jaws squeezed from the meat.
When it was gone, the bag was lifted, and again his eyes were seared by the light.
Another hand – this one stinking of something that Davey tried not to identify – shoved another fistful of dripping meat into his mouth.
He chewed slowly this time, savouring the flavours.
It was the best barbecue he’d ever had; the seared meat tasting like a cross between chicken and pork.
‘You want more?’ a gruff voice said.
It took a few seconds before Davey realised they were talking to him.
Another lift of the bag.
Another burst of light stabbing him in the eyes.
Another delicious mouthful of chargrilled flesh.
‘That’s all for now, leave some for everyone else,’ a distant voice said.
Davey was content for now.
The juices were still strong on his lips, the flavours lingering on his taste buds.
He listened and tried to figure out what was going on around him.
He could hear the greedy smacking of lips, accompanied by the crackle and hiss of a fire in full bloom.
The occasional whisper of plastic as one of the bin bag clad men moved.
In the blink of an eye, everything changed.
Davey’s surroundings were a blur of noise and motion.
‘Let he who is without sin cast the first stone,’ a distorted voice said, sounding like it was coming from a loudhailer.
Then it sounded like a flurry of bricks raining down on the camp.
Davey had no idea where the attack was coming from – the darkness inside the bag was disorienting in the extreme, and the noises seemed to come from everywhere.
The dull thuds of blunt instruments hitting fragile flesh came from somewhere off to his left.
He decided his best bet was to slide onto his belly, hope that he blended in with the other millions of garbage bags strewn about the floor.
He tried his best to play dead, to just lie still and not react to what was going on around him, and, though he occasionally flinched, he thought he was doing a good job of it.
‘Jesus saves,’ and another torrent of distorted bible verses spewed from the loudhailer, greeted with jeers of derision from the bin bag men.
More sounds of violence came, then gunshots began to echo all around.
‘Leave the boy alone, you filthy heathen scum,’ the voice over the loudspeaker said.
A jarring array of voices came up from the bin bag men all around him.
More gunshots came, this time accompanied by the sounds of falling bodies and gushing blood.
Footsteps slammed the dirty floor as the survivors fled.
‘The Lord is my shepherd there is nothing I shall want,’ the loudspeaker said. ‘Though I walk through the valley of death I shall fear no evil. Depart from here, you godless scum, or my M-16 shall send you to the gates of Hell.’
Footsteps approached Davey’s position, forcing him to lie as still as he could.
He didn’t breathe.
He didn’t even dare blink.
A booted foot slammed the bin bag next to that on which he rested his head and, though he resisted with all of his will, he jolted a little.
‘He’s alive,’ the voice called.
Light once more assailed his eyes as the bag was torn from his head.
‘Salvation is at hand, young man,’ the man who’d found him said, placing a strong hand under his armpits and helping him up.
Davey staggered to his feet, wishing his hands weren’t tied behind his back so he could either defend himself, or – more likely in his present condition – shield his eyes from the agonising glare of the fire and the floodlights.
‘It’s ok, young man,’ another voice said. ‘The Lord walks with us in these hellish lands. He won’t let you come to any harm.’
When Davey’s eyes had grown used to the light, he looked at the object suspended on a wooden broom handle over the flickering flames.
He didn’t want to believe his eyes, but there hung a dog, its innards carved out, its abdomen a raw, empty shell.
Its eyes were glazed over, its mouth hanging open in what looked like the canine equivalent of a scream of pain.
His strength deserted him and he fell to his knees in the trash.
A rusting Coke can dug into his shin, but he didn’t notice.
Tears filled his eyes.
Vomit rocketed up his throat and sprayed the garbage bags in front of him.
The chunks of chargrilled flesh tasted like poisonous ashes in his mouth at the realisation that it was Duke he had eaten.
These sick fucks had barbecued his own dog and fed him to him.
The thought of it made him heave again, his stomach cramping in agonising waves to force the vomit up his throat.
‘Come, leave this… godlessness behind,’ said the man who had found him first.
He grabbed him by the scruff of the neck and pulled him to his feet.
Davey had no idea which party was the more dangerous – he’d heard nothing but stories that scared the shit out of him about Cross and his band of religious zealots – but figured this was where King Solomon wanted him to go, so he may as well take the risk.
He looked round and saw that some of the garbage men were hiding among the refuse around them.
They didn’t seem to be planning an attack, just watching.
The man with the M-16 aimed a few rounds into the garbage piles – seemingly to make a point more than anything – then they pulled Davey into their vehicle; a huge bulldozer painted white with red crosses across the doors and bonnet and tracks.
At the front of the vehicle was a huge plough with ‘The Lord is on our side, we will not fear,’ sprayed upon it in eighteen-inch letters.
The man shoved Davey into the vehicle.
Due to the size of the tracks it was a long way up.
‘I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness,’ the man with the loudhailer announced to the surrounding area.
He aimed a few shots into the air then the truck shot forwards, smashing a hole through the side of one of the garbage walls.
They demolished roughly a dozen of the walls before they were out of the compound.
‘They have one of these too,’ the man confided in Davey. ‘They move the walls of the garbage island every other day, to disorient those lost in the maze and to make it hard for us to get in there to help anyone they get their hands on.’
‘How long have you been watching me?’ Davey said.
‘Not long. We saw them feeding you and realised it was time to make a move.’
‘Why? They were looking after me better than anywhere else I’ve been.’
‘They were fattening you up,’ said a chubby man from the cockpit of the truck.
Davey frowned at his own naivety.
‘They were gonna eat you.’
After the loudspeaker man’s unsavoury revelation, the men in the cockpit with Davey had sunk into an awkward silence.
Davey did his best not to think of the fate he may have met, were it not for the intervention of Cross’s men.
He also did his best to forget about the grisly end that Duke had met.
He failed at this last, seeing the seared, gutted carcass whenever he closed his eyes.
The scene brought fresh tears to his eyes and waves of nausea crashing over his stomach.
Finally, he decided that he was better off trying to engage in conversation with the men, if only to take his mind off everything that had happened.
‘So where are we going?’ he asked.
‘To the land of God,’ the loudspeaker man – Preacher Kelly he introduced himself to Davey as – replied.
Davey had no doubt that Preacher Kelly believed this, above pretty much everything else.
Davey tried to look out of the window as the bulldozer rolled across the arid plains between the Garbage Mountains and the dozens of rows of wooden crosses – that looked to Davey like uprooted telegraph poles – that marked the boundary of Cross’s camp.
There wasn’t a huge amount to see; just the occasional body out here, abandoned cars from where people had tried to flee the Cullsmen, or stunted remains of trees which had tried to grow in these inhospitable surroundings.
He couldn’t see a huge distance in the darkness – there weren’t any floodlights out here and the moon wasn’t giving off a huge amount of light due to the thick clouds that blighted the skies overhead on a seemingly perpetual basis – so it seemed a futile exercise looking out of the window.
Still, he looked, to take his mind off his ordeal.
In the distance, he saw the silhouettes of the city’s skyscrapers.
Most of them were dark, disused, derelict, these days, but the occasional one had a light on here and there.
Seeing it from this angle was strange as he’d always been on the other side of it.
He saw other lights in the distance, but they seemed a long, long way away.
He did his best to make himself comfortable – not that easy a task with his hands tied up behind his back – and tried to sleep.
The rumbling, incessant motion of the bulldozer was the perfect thing to send him off to sleep.
Were it not for the occasional – he reckoned by pure guesswork, that it was every half an hour or so – shouting of biblical verses over the loudhailer, it would have probably been his best sleep since he had fled his home with the Cullsmen hot on his heels.
It was one of those deep, blissful sleeps where the sleeper is angry at being woken.
Preacher Kelly roughly shook him awake.
‘We’re here,’ he said, wonder in his eyes, awe in his tone.
Davey did his best to imagine what could be so impressive, but it wouldn’t be long before he wore the same expression as Preacher Kelly.
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