There were two chapters last week.
It was close.
Bennett’s erratic driving had taken them out of suburbia and through wilderness towards a city that had never appeared on any map.
The walls were dense concrete, at least a few metres thick, lined with a dull grey metal.
‘The fuck is this place?’ Bennett said, eyeing the place with grim curiosity.
‘This is the city,’ Slade said proudly.
The walls were a hundred feet high, curving in over, but the upper halves of vast tower blocks peaked over the top like curious neighbours.
‘Fuck,’ Bennett said, peering out of the side window to marvel at the vastness of the walls.
‘Never mind that, keep driving,’ Slade said. ‘We need to get—’
The rest of what he said was obliterated in a deafening rush of sound.
The ground shook beneath them.
And the car itself felt like it was being buffeted by thousand-mile-an-hour winds.
At times Bennett lost control of the steering completely.
Even the vast curved concrete walls before them shook beneath the force of the thunder that assailed their ears.
Their hearing was reduced to a maddening ringing, interrupted only by their galloping pulses.
Slade looked as though he had just seen his entire life flash before his eyes.
Just like that, the sun was obliterated.
It was pitch black at one in the afternoon.
It seemed the world behind them was only smoke.
Bennett watched in disbelief as sentry towers came into focus further up the long straight road that approached the walls. Gatling guns were mounted into the outposts, which stuck up above the rest of the wall.
The men on the walls wore shiny silver suits, gas masks, thick gloves and boots.
They looked sinister and alien.
Each outpost seemed to have three men to it.
One manned the gatling gun, another had binoculars and the other a sniper rifle.
A hail of Gatling gunfire chipped the road twenty feet in front of them, making Bennett come grinding to a halt.
He raised his hands as he saw red dots play over Slade’s face.
A voice so loud and forbidding it might well have been the voice of God boomed, cutting through their tinnitus.
‘Ryan Slade? Is that your name?’
Bennett slowly pulled forward, into the dark mouth of a tunnel which opened up in the road ahead of them.
The tunnel took them down, under the walls of the city.
Neon lights glared in the darkness.
There were more silver-suited guards down here, clutching state-of-the-art weaponry.
One of them stepped out into the road in front of them with a total lack of fear and raised his hand.
Bennett slammed on the anchors.
The man had a yellow device in his hand.
Vaguely through the ringing in his ears, Bennett could hear the contraption making a high-pitched beeping sound.
It was impossible to tell if the man was satisfied with the readings or not, but his gun remained in the holster on his side.
He whacked a silver-gloved hand onto the driver’s side window.
‘Name? ID?’ he spat, the sound echoing strangely inside his spacesuit.
‘Bennett,’ Bennett announced, raising the ID which he’d already had the foresight to draw from his pocket.
No sense in putting your hand in your pocket in plain sight of the man aiming a gun in your face.
That was a fine way of getting yourself ventilated.
The man nodded, pressed a button on the side of his helmet to capture an image of the ID, then instructed him to raise his arms out to the sides.
He then scanned every inch of his frame with the beeping device.
Bennett was trying to make sense of what was happening. He could imagine the man’s face beneath the mask, his expression severe, his eyes glued to the device in his hand.
The man paused after taking the test, still looking down at the flashing LEDs.
He then proceeded to scan Bennett again, taking even longer this time.
His gloved hand poked something on Bennett’s arm.
He scanned this area again, nodded to himself then studied the screen again.
While he did this, the guard behind him raised his rifle.
Bennett breathed deep.
The red dot was right in the middle of his forehead.
There was no escape if they did pull the trigger, but he was ready to die defending himself if it came to it.
The man seemed to be taking an absolute eternity in his efforts with the scanner.
Just when Bennett thought he was in the clear, the man waved over another of his colleagues.
They had a discussion that, in reality, was probably brief but seemed to drag on forever due to the gun a few inches from his face.
Bennett couldn’t hear any of it and wasn’t even able to read their expressions due to the masks.
He breathed deeply, trying to keep himself calm.
He still wasn’t quite able to think clearly.
Since Slade’s revelation he found his thoughts were a tangled mess.
Finally the man raised his head from the device and looked at Bennett again.
‘Clear,’ he shouted, then Bennett was instructed to remove the top layer of his clothing.
This was hurled into a metal trash can in which a fire already blazed.
Bennett was told to move to the left where a high-power hose hit him.
The weight of the water knocked him back a couple of steps.
After a few minutes, he was told to turn around and the same happened again.
After a while of alternating between the hose on his back and front, he was sent, dripping and shivering, back to the car, which had already been scrubbed from roof to tyres by a couple of the men.
It was like the car wash at the end of the world.
The scene was highly bizarre, but it did make sense when he thought about it; they were trying to avoid contamination.
He palmed water out of his eyes and looked round to see Slade enduring a similar procedure.
The guard scanned Slade twice too, taking agonising care to do so, as he had Bennett.
This shit could mean the difference between life and death, Bennett thought. Probably just as well he’s doing that.
The car was taken to one side, and a van pulled up next to them.
The man with the scanner indicated that they should get in and they were whisked away from the tunnel and into the city of concrete and lead.
‘You’d best get some rest,’ the driver said. He’d raised the visor on his mask a little to be able to talk to them. ‘The next few days are going to be very busy for you.’
The city was still dark a good few hours later.
It seemed perpetual darkness had descended upon the land.
Bennett was woken from his slumber by a booted foot jabbing him in the ribs.
He shoved it away, furious; no one fucking kicked him.
The spacesuit-style helmet of the man standing above him brought him back to earth with a bang, making him realise that all of this; the insane drive here, the Geiger counter readings, the huge cloud of nuclear ash and smoke and fragments of bone and flesh and dirt and concrete that had seemingly swallowed the sun was not some horrendous nightmare but real fucking life.
He gasped with shock, not at the gun in his face, but at this sudden flash of knowledge.
‘Don’t fucking kick me again,’ he glowered, fixing the visor of the guard with a surly glare.
In spite of having the gun, the man took half a step back.
Bennett almost wanted him to do something, so he could pull his helmet off and snap his neck like a goddamned carrot, but he knew that he needed to keep a tight rein on his temper; there were a few more guards in here with assault weapons that would turn him to mincemeat before he even laid a finger on his assailant.
Slade seemed to read his intentions – unsurprising as they had worked together for almost a decade now – and gave an imperceptible shake of his head.
‘So what’s the skinny, Neil?’ Bennett drawled, showing a complete disregard for the assault weapon mere inches from his temple.
The guard’s confusion was palpable.
‘Neil Armstrong? Get it? Cos you look like a motherfucking moon man,’ Bennett roared, slapping his leg with laughter.
The guard shook his head, moved the gun a little.
Bennett rose to his feet slowly, wincing as his legs and back cracked a little.
He kept his hands above his head, knowing that he would be extremely unwise to raise his fists in anger.
The guards around them moved in closer, raising their weapons.
‘Relax,’ he said, without looking round. ‘Just want a word with moon man here.’
The gun shook in the man’s hands.
‘You need to grow a sense of humour, son,’ Bennett drawled, staring straight in the man’s visor. ‘I’m just fuckin with ya.’
He backed away, hands still raised, a shit-eating grin on his face.
He put his hands down slowly, the trigger finger on his right hand tapping a spot on his outer thigh.
‘So what’s the skinny?’ he repeated, still not taking his eyes from the man pointing the gun in his face.
No one spoke, save for Slade hissing, ‘Cut that shit out, Bennett,’ under his breath.
The way the guards just watched without speaking was distinctly unsettling.
‘The fuck’s the matter with all of ya?’ Bennett roared. ‘Everyone in here a goddamned mime artist or some shit?’
The man to Bennett’s right stepped in and slammed the shotgun butt into the bone just behind his ear.
He winced a little, but soon regained his defiant posture. ‘That all ya got?’ he spat, grinning up at his own distorted reflection in the visor of the man’s helmet.
‘You are on clean up duty,’ the man who’d hit him said.
‘Why couldn’t you have fucking told me that, Neil?’ Bennett smirked, eyeing up his adversary.
‘What do you mean?’ Slade said, addressing the guard. ‘I was told to come here to meet with Mayor Craven.’
‘The mayor says you are here to clean until he says otherwise.’
‘But we’re trained killers,’ Bennett said, finally showing his hand. ‘We’re not here to piss about with mops and fucking brushes.’
He sensed the smile in Neil’s voice as he finally answered. ‘This is a different type of cleaning altogether. No mops required.’
‘Talking in fucking riddles,’ Bennett sulked and laid back down. ‘Fuck this shit, I’m going back to sleep.’
‘No, you will be going outside in a few minutes, once your kit arrives.’
‘The fuck do you mean outside?’ Bennett said.
Next chapter is here