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After polishing off the rest of the breakfast that Deborah had provided for them, Davey and King Solomon moved out into the sun.
The light stung their eyes after the comparative darkness of the cell.
The villagers – some of whom were a little green around the gills from the previous night’s revelries – all nodded greetings to them.
They seemed embarrassed to have acted the way they had the previous night.
‘Deborah around?’ Solomon said, upon seeing Preacher Kelly.
The Preacher looked up from his varnishing of one of the church’s bespoke new doors and nodded.
‘She’s by Reverend Cross’ graveside.’
‘Of course,’ Solomon said. ‘Sorry again for your loss.’
He patted Preacher Kelly on the arm hard enough to make drops of varnish fly from the end of his brush.
They moved round the church, again marvelling at how quickly the damage had been repaired.
It was as though it had all happened to a different church.
Bob Wright was cutting the lawns around the gravestones. The pleasant cocktail of freshly cut grass and petrol fumes from the mower mingled in their nostrils.
The grass over here seemed plenty green, in sharp contrast to pretty much everywhere else in the world.
Davey found himself wondering what their secret was.
Deborah was changed, wearing a black dress now.
She knelt by the grave, eyes closed in silent prayer.
The graveside had been decorated with beautiful floral displays in seemingly every colour and shape.
The marble headstone was polished enough to reveal their distorted reflections in it.
Deborah looked up as Solomon drew closer.
‘Ah, morning. How was breakfast?’
‘Not a crumb left,’ Solomon beamed, patting his stomach contentedly. ‘Hit the spot.’
‘Nice. Thank you,’ Davey smiled.
‘We came to thank you for saving our asses last night,’ Solomon said. ‘We might not have seen the sun come up if it wasn’t for your intervention.’
‘It’s nothing. My gut was telling me you didn’t have anything to do with it and I find it’s always best to trust that feeling.’
Davey nodded in agreement.
‘So, that’s about it,’ Solomon said. ‘We’ll be in touch. You need anything, just holler.’
‘How do you get your grass so green?’ Davey asked.
Deborah furrowed her brow.
‘I mean the grass in the Freelands and everywhere else I’ve been is kinda greyed out, dead looking. This looks like the grass you used to get before. What’s your secret?’
‘We just give it a lot of TLC. And of course, God’s love blesses it with life.’
‘I don’t buy that—’ Solomon began.
Davey cut him off. ‘Can you grow crops?’ he said, his eyes lighting up at the idea.
Deborah’s eyes darted off to the side at this. It seemed she was trying to hide something.
‘Come on, if we’re friends then we keep no secrets, right?’ Solomon said.
‘Alright. Let me show you.’
Deborah left her husband’s grave and followed the perfectly raked gravel path past the side of the church and all the way up to the far wall of the graveyard.
They marvelled at how well-kept the graveyard was.
There were even a crew of people tending to the graves, cleaning them with sponges and soapy water, drying them with chamois clothes and buffing them to a high sheen.
Others were moving round between the tombstones, removing any imperfect flowers from the graveside bouquets and replacing them with fresher ones.
The pride they took in their village was unbelievable.
‘Because we need to honour our dead,’ Deborah said. ‘They gave their lives to get us to where we are today.’
Davey tried not to think of everyone he had lost, but found it hard not to.
There was something about graveyards that he found always turned his thoughts morbid.
‘Snap out of it, Davey lad,’ Solomon said. ‘It’s me with the stinking hangover here. If anyone should be miserable it’s me.’
Davey smiled at him sadly.
Solomon threw an arm around him and hugged him in tight enough to make his shoulders creak.
‘They’re in a better place now,’ he said.
Davey looked at him, tears filling his eyes.
‘Well, it can’t be any worse than this shithole now, can it?’ Solomon said, casting his arm across the horizon.
Deborah looked at him.
‘Present surroundings excepted of course,’ Solomon hastily added.
They went up a long, narrow lane with dry stone walls.
Again, they were amazed by the attention to detail; the villagers were hosing down the walls, scrubbing them with wire brushes.
It seemed everything had to be perfect.
‘Cleanliness is next to Godliness,’ Deborah said with a gleaming smile.
A white picket fence ran along the sides of the wall.
Again, this was pristine, in the process of being washed down.
One man was even applying a fresh coat of gloss to a slightly discoloured panel.
He waved a cheery greeting as they passed.
Sunlight winked off bronze crosses on the top of every fence post.
‘Here we are,’ Deborah said.
The picket fences slowly grew lower as the embankment rose.
Over the top of them, they saw perfectly tended allotments.
Vegetables were being grown.
Carrots, onions, tomatoes, peppers and potatoes, if the hand-written signs on the edge of each field were to be believed.
The sweet smell of herbs greeted their noses as they walked.
‘Making me hungry again,’ Solomon grinned.
A large chicken coop was practically overflowing with birds.
Eggs were piled up neatly outside, as though even the chickens knew everything had to be kept tiptop.
‘Free range,’ Deborah said proudly.
A devastating reminder of the trapped humans in Solomon’s free range warehouse made Davey shudder.
Solomon seemed to sense what he was thinking and clapped a comforting hand on his shoulder.
‘It’s ok,’ he whispered.
If Deborah noticed she didn’t say anything.
‘We’ve even got some fruit trees,’ she said. ‘You fancy an apple?’
‘We aren’t gonna get chucked out are we?’ Solomon grinned.
Deborah looked puzzled for a second then belly-laughed. ‘Oh I getcha. Like the Garden of Eden, right?’
Solomon’s eyes glinted with mischief.
Davey laughed too.
The joke had pulled him out of his nosedive into horrified depression.
‘No, you will most certainly not be thrown out,’ she smiled, plucking two apples from the tree and offering one to each of them.
The shiny red apples looked more tempting than any food they’d seen in recent memory.
‘Well I’ll be damned if it ain’t worth being thrown out over,’ Solomon beamed. He crunched into it, juice flowing down from the sides of his mouth and into his beard. ‘Say, you know how long it is since I had an apple?’ He waved the apple in her face as he spoke.
He still looked up to the King, in spite of the atrocities being carried out in his warehouses.
At heart he was a good man.
‘This is the best part,’ Deborah smiled, pointing to the back of the allotments which was hidden behind the apple trees.
‘We got grapes.’
Two of the villagers were hard at work stomping grapes in big wooden barrels.
‘How would you like some of Serenity’s house wine to take home with you?’ Deborah grinned, pointing to a small wooden building that seemed full to the brim with bottles of wine.
A man was handcrafting each label with a calligrapher’s pen, taking the utmost care to get it right.
‘If you can spare some,’ Solomon grinned.
‘We have enough to last us two years,’ Deborah said. ‘If our recent inventory is to be believed. Or there’s cider if you prefer?’
‘This is just so far from our place, it isn’t even funny,’ Solomon said, shaking his head. ‘You guys have everything around here.’
Deborah nodded. ‘I wouldn’t say everything, but we’re doing ok.’
‘Would you be willing to trade stuff with us?’ Solomon asked. ‘I mean we don’t have much to trade, but we could work for you, maybe lend you some of our workers. We have plumbers, dentists, joiners among our ranks.’
Deborah nodded. ‘Definitely. We’ll work something out.’
‘Thank you,’ Davey said.
‘It’s gonna be a bright future with us all working together,’ Solomon beamed.
No sooner had the words escaped his lips than a gunshot tore through the still morning air.
Davey and King Solomon were so used to the explosions in the Freelands that it took them a good few seconds to react to the gunshot.
Solomon darted to his left, taking a shot in his right shoulder.
Blood plumed out of his back, tearing a gore-stained hole in his ill-fitting, beer-stained suit.
He grunted through gritted teeth.
Deborah pulled a gun and aimed it in the direction of the gunshots.
The next shot hit the ground between Davey and King Solomon.
Two men raced from the far side of the barn, and Davey was sure they were the would-be assassins, but they drew their guns and began to guard Deborah.
When he got a better look at them, he realised they had been the workers stomping on the grapes in the barrel.
‘Thanks, Jake. Thanks, Reggie,’ she nodded.
Davey felt the wind as another shot whistled past his face and blew a hole in the immaculate fence behind them.
The next shot was dead on, hitting Jake square in the face and bursting his head like an overripe tomato.
His blood showered Davey and the King.
The rifle moved down and Reggie saw its intended target.
He grabbed the King and shoved him forwards.
The bullet whistled over Solomon’s right shoulder.
They crouched and began to make their way towards the barn.
The next shot hit Solomon in the right side of his chest and the big man went down, clutching the wound with a blood-smeared hand.
Next chapter is here