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‘Stop here,’ Tia said as they left the entrance to the Freelands in their rear-view mirror.
Davey stopped the dozer upon seeing a few kids hidden among the rocks in front of them.
Tia pulled on one of her pigtails, which he’d noticed she did when she got excited.
‘They’re here,’ she grinned, her teeth gleaming.
Davey found it almost impossible to tear his eyes from her.
A young girl came running over, a huge camping bag on her back.
‘Ah, Luna,’ Tia grinned. ‘How are you?’
‘Good now but I had a fuckin’ horrible time getting this past the guards,’ she scowled.
Davey looked her up and down.
Dirty face, even dirtier teeth.
Short, dark hair plastered to her face with sweat and grime.
She was clearly a tomboy, but was pretty with it, in a hard-faced kinda way.
She wore ripped, stained denim dungarees over a red and black plaid shirt.
‘Oo’s this then?’ Luna said, chewing on the filthy nails on her left hand idly while she appraised Davey.
‘I’m Davey. It’s nice to meet you.’
‘He’s the brains of the operation,’ Tia said. ‘The one we gotta thank for coming up with this idea.’
‘You mean it’s his fault I had t’ drag this bag all around the fuckin tenement all mornin’?’
‘I guess,’ Tia said. ‘But wouldn’t a change of food be nice?’
‘Hell yeah. I’m sick of eating barn. Even free range don’t taste as nice as it used ter.’
Davey grimaced at the thought of it.
‘Can you believe I used t’ be a fuckin vegan?’ Luna laughed, whacking Davey hard on the arm.
He laughed, in spite of his revulsion at the flashback of the warehouse abattoirs.
‘Where’s Rob and Loco?’ Tia said.
‘They’re behind there, trying t’ pick the other bloody pack up. You really think we’ll need all this shite? We’re taking half the fuckin tenement with us here like.’
‘We’ll need it all, I assure you.’
Luna rolled her eyes. ‘Always with the assuring, aren’t we?’
She pulled a battered deck of Lucky Strikes from her dungaree pocket. She flicked the bottom of the deck with her dirt-smeared finger so one cigarette popped out of the pack.
Grinning, she offered them around.
To Davey it was like seeing a relic from a bygone age.
‘Where did you get those?’ he asked, eyes wide with wonder.
‘Same place we get anything round here; from the poor sods we end up eating. They turn up here with all their worldly possessions and we slaughter ’em and nick their stuff. But… such is life these days like.’
She had a point.
What was it he had said to himself in the bathroom of his apartment block on his first day of being Davey Knight?
Adapt or die.
That was the only rule these days.
She put one of the cigarettes in her mouth and sparked it up. ‘Sorry, where are my fuckin manners?’ she scowled, going hands-free on the smoke to flick the pack again and offer one to Davey.
‘You know I never tried one of these before,’ he said.
‘Fuckin hell, you ain’t lived, kid,’ Luna teased. ‘Here, stick this in your pipe and smoke it.’
He put it in his mouth, trying not to turn his nose up at the black smudges her fingers had left on the cigarette’s orange filter.
She lit it for him.
‘Now inhale it deep, like you do with the steam,’ Tia said, nodding wisely.
He sucked in hard, the smoke hitting his lungs with a harsh warmth.
He immediately began to cough and splutter.
Luna belly-laughed, shaking the dozens of pin badges – which included a Nirvana yellow smiley face logo, a picture of Jack Nicholson doing his infamous ‘Heeeere’s Johnny’ scene and a straight to the point ‘Fuck you’ in neon pink letters – on the straps of her dungarees.
Tia looked mildly concerned but laughed at the same time.
‘It’s not as nice as steam,’ Davey spluttered.
‘Whoa, nothing is,’ Luna laughed. ‘That silky smoothness, that warmth and tingling in your lungs, that fuzzy cloud that seems t’ move up into your brain. Ain’t nothing in this entire world like steam, my friend.’
He coughed again.
‘You gonna finish that?’ Tia said, taking the cigarette from his hand.
He was bent double, still coughing. He shook his head between coughs.
‘Luna hates wasting her coffin nails,’ Tia explained.
She stubbed the cigarette out on the side of the dozer, carefully made sure none of it was still lit and passed it over to Luna.
‘Ta muchly,’ she grinned, carefully pushing the cigarette back in the packet. The foil crinkled a little as the cigarette passed.
‘Rob, Loco, get your arses up here,’ Tia shouted.
Two lads of a similar age to Davey came out from behind the rocks, dragging what looked like a battered old fridge.
‘Give us a hand will ya? This thing weighs a ton,’ Rob shouted.
Davey went down to help them.
He would have sworn on his mother’s grave that the thing they were dragging did indeed weigh a ton.
‘Tell ya what, we’re gonna hurt ourselves trying to move this,’ Davey said. ‘We need to get it on the back of the dozer and drag it.’
‘Pussy,’ Loco said. He was a lanky ginger kid with a wild look in his bloodshot eyes. His crooked nose, scarred face and calloused knuckles told Davey that he was quick to a fight. ‘We dragged the bloody thing all the way here.’
‘No we didn’t,’ Rob said, scowling at Loco for his lie. ‘We did have it on our skateboards but the wheel fell off one of them as we came near these rocks. It’s been stuck ever since.’
‘Well don’t tell them that,’ Loco said. ‘Makes us look like pussies now.’
‘You are pussies,’ Luna mocked, blowing out hot smoke. The very smell of it made Davey feel sick to his stomach. ‘I could fuckin move that myself.’
‘Balls could ya,’ Loco said, puffing out his tiny chest in defiance.
‘Let’s just get it on the back of the dozer and get out of here before my dad finds out what we’re up to,’ Tia said.
Davey reversed the dozer over to it.
Loco opened the fridge door and pulled out several lengths of chain.
He and Rob hastily lashed these around the fridge and fastened it around the tow bar at the back of the dozer.
‘That should old ’er,’ Rob said in a funny voice.
Loco looked Davey up and down, an intense look on his face.
‘What the fuck are you laughing at?’ he said, puffing out his chest and staring at Davey. ‘Who are you anyway?’
‘I’m Davey Knight, and I helped to kill Reverend Wayne Cross.’
Loco threw his head back and bellowed laughter into the sky.
‘Course you did, mate,’ he said.
‘He did. He really did,’ Tia said, staring at Loco.
Loco’s laugh slowly faded. ‘What? For real?’
‘Yeah. He had me locked up, trying to convert me to his ways. I managed to escape and I attacked him. Someone else killed him, but I set fire to his church before I came back to the Freelands.’
‘You fuckin badass,’ Luna said, looking him up and down with fresh eyes. She squinted as she took another drag on her smoke.
‘That is just…’ Loco said, shaking his head, an awestruck expression on his face. Lost for words, he instead just started to clap.
‘Mad skills, man,’ Rob said.
Davey eyed him.
He was short and squat, his core already lined with thick muscle, but covered in a layer of fat. He wore a grubby Megadeth t-shirt and skinny jeans.
He had tanned skin and dark hair.
The first dark sprouts of a moustache were visible on his upper lip.
‘Thank you all. Now where are we headed?’
‘I’ll drive,’ Luna said. ‘Been wanting t’ get my hands on one of these bad boys since I saw Cross using them.’
‘We’re going to get some monster bait,’ Loco laughed, the sound suggesting his name had been picked for a good reason.
He was tall, skinny, pale to the point of being albino. His eyes were the brightest blue and had an intense glare to them.
He had patches of dark red skin on his elbows and parts of his forearms. They looked like either burn scars or eczema.
Luna turned the dozer round and floored the accelerator, trundling them along over the wastelands until they reached the mountains of bin bags where Davey had met Duke for the first time.
‘This is probably the best place,’ Rob said, as they pulled up right to the edge of the first drop of the garbage mountains.
The stench of rotting food drifted up to them like a foul wind.
‘Fuckin gross,’ Luna said, hawking and spitting down the incline.
It hit a bin bag roughly fifteen feet below and left a thin trail down it.
‘Right, how we gonna do this?’ Luna said.
‘I say we drop down there, get among it and just grab whatever we can,’ Loco said.
‘Na, man, we stay up here where it’s safe and try to lure ’em up here,’ Rob said.
‘Never work,’ Tia said.
‘It does. I’ve caught loads up here,’ Rob said. ‘Here I’ll show you.’
He took a long section of rope from the fridge they’d brought with them.
He also pulled out a spear with a murderous barb on the end.
Smiling, he pointed out a few rats looking up at them.
‘There we are,’ he said.
He whacked the section of rope against the top section of bin bags, loud enough that it could be heard at the bottom of the crevasse.
More rats looked up towards them.
Rob took a handful of what looked like maggots from a sealed tub inside the fridge. He looked over the edge, tutting to himself as he assessed the best place to land them.
He raised his hand and carefully threw the food down the hill.
It pitter-pattered like organic rain on the surface of the bags.
The rat closest to them seemed to smile and began to climb up the slope towards the bait.
Rob turned to the others and put a finger to his lips.
The others watched in silence.
As the rat neared where the bait had landed, Rob raised the spear behind his head. He paused for a second, muttering under his breath.
Then he threw the spear.
The weapon cut through the air like a lightning bolt and embedded itself into the rat’s midsection.
A grey-pink section of organ pulsed on the end of the spear, spilling blood over the creature’s matted fur.
It let out a horrid, high-pitched squeal as Rob began to reel the rope in, hand-over-hand.
The rat twitched, trying desperately to free itself from the end of the blade, but the savage barbs anchored it to the animal’s side.
It succeeded only in throwing a thick layer of gore onto the bin bags it passed over.
Finally, the rat appeared, spitting and snarling, blood flowing freely from its jaws, over the edge of the drop.
Rob belied his easy-going appearance by diving on the rat with zero fear or mercy. He planted a knee hard in the base of its skull and pressed down hard enough to produce a sickening crack.
He pulled a black flick knife from a small pocket in the leg of his combat trousers and ran it across the rat’s throat.
Blood sprayed out onto the bags in front of them.
‘That was sick,’ Loco grinned, a mad look in his eyes. ‘Well done, man.’
‘I can do better,’ Luna said, pulling a slingshot from her dungaree pocket.
She held the weapon to her eye and paused to line up her shot.
A few seconds later, a rat at the bottom of the garbage mountain dropped dead with blood spewing from a hole in its skull.
‘Fuck me, that was a good shot,’ Luna said, smiling at the others. She locked eyes with Davey and blew the end of her slingshot like a gunslinger blowing the smoke from his gun barrel.
‘Nice,’ Loco said. ‘Shall I go next?’
‘No!’ Rob hissed. ‘You’ll scare them all away.’
‘And probably break your neck in the process,’ Tia hissed.
Loco shook his head. ‘Pussies,’ he muttered. ‘Afraid of getting your hands dirty.’
Rob threw his spear at the rat Luna had killed and began to reel it in.
It left a second trail of blood up the black plastic bin bag wall.
‘Two down already,’ Tia grinned.
‘How many we need, you reckon?’ Loco said.
‘Another half a dozen should do it,’ Rob said. ‘Then we can go fishing.’
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