Click here to read the previous chapter
Click here for a recap of the previous chapter
Davey forced the meal down.
He really wasn’t hungry since the feast he’d had at Cross’s place, but he didn’t want to give away that he’d been fed and watered.
‘So how have things been around here?’ he asked Solomon.
‘Good, good. No scenes of unrest. Everyone is happy and well-fed. Did you see much on your travels?’
‘Not really. I got diverted into the Garbage Mountains as soon as I left here. I wandered in there for what felt like days, and these creepy-ass men in garbage bags tried to get me, but I managed to fight my way out.’
‘Good lad. How did you find your way back here?’
‘The party sounds. They can be heard for miles around.’
‘That does not surprise me, my friend,’ Solomon chuckled.
Davey almost blabbed that he’d been to Cross’s place, but he was curious about what the King was hiding from him and the rest of the folk in his Freelands settlement.
Still, he felt bad for lying to the King who had been nothing but nice to him since they’d met.
But his curiosity was an itch that needed to be scratched.
Davey had gone back to the shack he’d found shortly before being attacked by Old Jimmy and his cronies.
It was still unoccupied.
The bag was now a ton weight on his back and it seemed to grow heavier the more he thought about its contents.
King Solomon had been as good as his word and had sent food down to him.
Solomon was busy attending to his many duties.
Davey found that, despite the relative safety and comfort that King Solomon’s compound provided, he just had to know what Cross had been talking about.
Davey moved out, so desperate to learn the truth that he didn’t even wait for darkness.
He moved along the wood-lined paths, curving round towards the centre of the spirals.
All the while, he looked around, feeling like he was doing something that he shouldn’t.
Grims walked past him, going about their daily business without taking notice of him.
He nodded a greeting to a few of the armed guards who went past on their patrols, and moved into the stone sector of the camp.
Before his eyes, a vast expanse of hand-built stone dwellings rose up out of the dirt.
Most were impressive, if only for the patience and craftsmanship involved in making such structures.
Others were falling to bits already, but still he couldn’t help but gawp at them.
The Grims in the houses went about their business, either not knowing or not caring about the secret in the warehouses.
Davey clung to the outer edge of the stone sector, trying to find his way.
The fires, shouting and incessant partying made it hard to orient himself.
It felt like he was going round in circles, as a result of the vastness of the tenement.
He moved along the edge of the camp, seeing a dark, tree-lined path.
This conjured up images of the place where he’d been attacked by Old Jimmy and his gang of dirty old men, but he moved into it, knife clenched tightly in hand.
The path was deserted, but was creeping the shit out of him.
Every corner felt like it harboured an escaped lunatic, but it was all in his head.
Nothing moved except the weeds as he moved further towards the heart of King Solomon’s compound.
The wrought iron fences seemed to stretch all the way up into the heavens, as black and unforgiving as coffin nails.
Smoke blew out of the vast red brick chimney stacks which were hidden from the rest of the camps.
It was rainbow coloured and smelt vaguely of the steam that he’d smelt on the bonfires, only much stronger.
The smell made his head spin and he had to put his hand over his nostrils and mouth to avoid inhaling too much of it.
Guards moved around behind the fences, making him press himself into the walls.
He knew he would be in big trouble if he was found out here.
He pressed on.
Past the factories belching out multi-coloured smoke into the dark clouds gathered overhead.
Past the wrought iron fences.
Past the signs that declared that anyone found on the premises would be chopped in half.
Past the bodies that were cleaved messily in two, presumably left as a deterrent to others attempting a similar stunt.
Because he knew that if Solomon was going to such lengths to hide what was going on in here, then it was worth investigating.
The very heart of the compound – Davey could see from his position that it ran round in concentric circles much like the campsites had done – was lined with taller fences and Grims that seemed armed to the teeth.
Given Solomon had revealed his bluff to him earlier regarding the bullets, Davey wasn’t sure if they were armed or not, but he didn’t really feel like chancing it.
Davey watched the patrol of the nearest guard Grim, and crept into the shadows nearest him.
He darted forward, stopping just shy of where the Grim stood.
When the Grim turned, Davey thrust his fist hard into his chin.
The Grim fell back, landing on the floor in a twitching heap.
Davey stepped over him and moved closer to the warehouses.
From inside, he could hear cows mooing and grunting.
So Solomon is breeding cattle to keep his people fed, he thought.
What’s wrong with that?
He pressed himself against the metal wall, seeing another guard Grim moving past him.
The rifle he held was trained on the floor in front of him, so it seemed he hadn’t spotted Davey.
The damned thing’s probably empty anyway, Davey thought, remembering Solomon’s dirty secret regarding the ammo.
Still, he remained pressed against the wall until the Grim had gone.
There was a small drainage trough next to the wall.
It was maybe eighteen inches high.
He dropped carefully to his knees, not wanting to further aggravate the rat bites in his legs, and crept forwards.
As he got roughly halfway down the wall of the warehouse, the ammonium stench of stale piss – industrial quantities of it judging by the strength of the smell – hit his nostrils like a particularly foul wind.
The intensity of it took his breath away.
Once he’d taken a few seconds to recover, he quickly peeked over the edge of the culvert to see if the guard Grim had heard him.
It was a relief to see that he was still blindly continuing on his patrol.
Davey put the index finger of his left hand over his nostrils and this helped a little to blot out the smell, but not entirely.
Besides it seemed to get worse the closer he got to the corner of the building.
The mooing and lowing sounds of cattle got louder too and he began to already form a mental image of what awaited him around the corner.
He could not have been more surprised when he saw what awaited him there.
As he turned the corner, he looked around.
There were four warehouses, big, soulless corrugated iron buildings like the one he’d just walked along, at each point of the compass, their entrances staring at each other.
In the centre of the four buildings, hidden from behind the fences, was a perfectly square, overgrown piece of grassland.
On it was a pair of cows.
They didn’t look alive, and Davey discovered that they weren’t even real when he managed to creep a little closer.
They reminded him of when he’d seen a pantomime horse in a school play, back in a time where fun and frivolity were a necessary part of his childhood.
This set off a longing in him for a time where he was encouraged to play, before Dad became obsessed with working and hitting his optimum performance levels in order to avoid his family being slung out on the streets.
Before mom became so consumed with feeding the family with the meagre supplies earned from dad’s long days and mostly sleepless nights.
He felt a tear roll down his face at the thought that his baby sister would never experience the carefree childhood he’d had for the first half of his life.
She’d never get to play, or read a book for fun, or hide her face behind her hands and pop out with a squeal of glee.
She’d been robbed of all that before she was even born, he guessed.
Death was arguably a better option than living in the torn, purgatorial world that now existed.
Still, he would never get over her pointless death.
He bit his lip and forced the tears back until they were evaporated by a seething rage.
He came back to the now, realising that Solomon was once more deceiving his people with this inane display.
There were no cattle being bred here, it was all for show.
All as fake as that horse had been when he was a kid; two girls hidden under a costume made out of old towels.
In spite of the guards that were on duty around the entrance to the warehouses, he felt the need to vent his frustration on the fake cow.
He slammed his fist into the piece of battered old settee cushion from which its head had been fashioned, sending a vast cloud of dust flying up into the air.
This made him feel a little better, but he knew that to fully vent his frustration would have certainly led to detection.
He’d have been slamming his fists and feet into the cushion for hours before his rage had abated.
Fighting the urge to pummel it a second time, he ducked down behind the cow and looked around.
He saw a pair of speakers atop each of the warehouse entrances.
The cow noises were coming from here, seemingly to convince anyone passing by that there were indeed animals being bred in here for food.
The reality, he would discover, was much harder to stomach.
Next chapter is here