Monday, March 26, 2012
Submission - Greylands, Part 1: Old Bones
by Chris Henry
Cold rain fell from a steel grey sky and ran down the shattered faces of old skyscrapers, collecting in the cracked streets below. The city of Kroeper used to be home to Dieb, where he’d lived years ago in relative comfort. It was once home to hundreds of thousands. When the aquifer ran dry and the lights went out, the citizens fled to the surrounding cities, and when they were turned away, they formed settlements that now dotted the country side. After the exodus, the city fell into ruin and the remaining locals rechristened it The Corpse. Few people still lived here and most of the city was bandit territory. Now Dieb crawled through the ruins relearning the streets; learning which buildings were shelter or trouble.
A short, lithe man of some 30 years, Dieb was an experienced scavenger. He’d spent a decade crawling the Corpse, picking through its bones and finding the precious treasures: unspoiled rations, medicine, and occasionally a bottle of clean water. Stagnant rivers crept through the countryside, and water was worth more than its weight in gold in Greylands. Outside the walls, many would eagerly kill for it.
Picking through the streets, Dieb spotted a man on a rooftop a block away. He crouched behind a rusting car and pulled his binoculars from their canvas bag. He peered at the man through smudged lenses and studied him. It was a man in rags clutching his own pair of binoculars. Bandit? he wondered, they usually don’t come out this far. They both sat there and watched each other for a while. Eventually, the man in rags gave a meek wave. Dieb waved back, and the Ragman shrugged, but when Dieb drew his thumb across his throat the Ragman got the idea and disappeared. Dieb quickly got up and ducked down an alley. If that was a bandit, he thought, he’ll have friends. He hoped their brief conversation would give them pause. The bandits in The Corpse were armed, but their weapons were in such disrepair, and ammunition of such poor quality, it only gave them the advantage at close range.
“This looks promising”, he whispered to no one as he spotted a crumpled storefront shutter. Masonry from above had fallen and came to rest against the shutter; the stone’s weight had pushed it in slightly, forming a narrow gap. He unstrapped his rucksack, fished out a crowbar, and went to work to widen the hole. The shutter groaned as he bent the slats. He shoved his rucksack inside, followed by his crowbar, then clutched a flashlight in his teeth, and squirmed into the dark. Once inside, he pulled a grenade from his bag and ran a length of fine wire across the entrance.
Dieb slid his machete from its sheath, and swept the flashlight across the darkened store. The shelves were mostly barren, like the rest of the Corpse. Some canned meat sat on a far shelf. He was pleased to see the tins hadn’t rusted, and only one of them was bloated. Carefully he packed them into the rucksack. A bottle of cooking oil, rice, and a box of stale crackers went in beside the tinned meat. At the back of the store stood a heavy freezer door with a padlock. A slow smile crept across Dieb’s face as he went to work with the crowbar. It didn’t last though: the lock proved too strong. He went back to the front of the store and checked around the register, searching for a key. In the register, he thought. He pressed a few keys before prying it open with the crowbar. It popped open with a chime that echoed in the empty store, and he cringed. The key sat there in the drawer next to a few bills. He pocketed both and turned to leave.
“Hear that?” came a muffled voice. The tone was hushed and urgent, almost like a hiss. Dieb killed the flashlight and sank behind the counter. Instinctively he reached for his machete, only to realise he’d left it back beside the locked door. Dieb backed away from the counter slowly, moving towards the back of the store and his knife.
“Over here”, called a gruffer voice, “The shutter here. This is new.”
“I can’t fit through there,” replied the muffled voice.
“Neither can I.” The shutter rattled, and Dieb held his breath.”It won’t move. Help with this gap.” The shutter rattled again. Died grabbed his things, slung the rucksack over his shoulders and gripped his machete tight. He had to hide in the locker, there was nowhere else to go, no other exit. The key fit the lock, but it wouldn’t turn. Rust had taken hold, or maybe it wasn’t even the right key. A light filled the small store, and Dieb froze with his heart in his throat.
“Hey!” came the voice, “Whatcha got in that bag?”
Dieb turned to see a man squeezing through the widened gap in the shutter, a lamp in one hand, a pistol leveled in the other. He thumbed back the hammer with a click, and before Dieb could say a word the room filled with thunder.
Dieb scrambled to his feet and started to run. The grenade had blown most of the shutter clear of the storefront. The man who’d triggered it was a shattered mess; he barely looked human anymore – bits of meat and clothing peppered the walls and floors. He’d taken most of the shrapnel, and left Dieb unscathed. He could feel blood as it ran down the side of his face and his ear rang from the blaste. The man’s lantern had gone up as well, the kerosene now scattered and burning. Inky, black smoke filled the store, and spilled out into the open air. A battered pistol lay near the burning oil, which Dieb snatched greedily.
As he exited the store, Dieb found the other man in the rain, legs torn. A large bent piece of the shutter protruded from his shoulder like some grotesque limb. The blood slowly spread out around him like a fan, and he struggled vainly to move with his one good arm. Dieb couldn’t stop to help him; he looked too far beyond the help of anything but a bullet. As he stumbled through the city, Dieb was keenly aware that darkness would soon take the Corpse. The Ragman had probably sent the men to find Dieb, and the explosion and smoke would surely bring others. There was little chance of safe shelter in the Corpse that night.
The sound was barely audible through his ringing ears, but the muffled pop and startled stones in front of him were enough to know someone had shot at him. Dieb began to run clumsily through the ruined street before he found a car to duck behind. He peeked around the corner and saw them: a half dozen or so motley men clamouring through the rubble in pursuit. Dieb pulled one of the round tins from his rucksack and pitched in their direction. They’d heard the first blast, he reasoned, maybe... The gamble paid off; when they saw the metal cylinder in the air, they dove for cover.
Dieb was up on his feet again before they could realise his bluff. If he could widen the gap between them, they’d have to give up before it got too dark. His lungs burned as he ran through the streets and alleys towards the aqueduct. He slipped through the hole in the chain link fence and slid down the slope into the dry concrete riverbed. From here he could follow it to the dead lake and maybe find a place to sleep before he began the long walk back to Greylands.
Very Pulp Fiction - I want to know what's in that locked freezer! >:-[ Next installment, I hope!
Greylands: Adopted - by Krista Walsh
Greylands: Adopted (continued) - by Anonymous
Greylands: Firefly - Chelsea Miller
Greylands: Fletch - Kathi L. Schwengel
Next week: Part 2: The Shadows