RITE OF PASSAGE (pt I)
be the sickly forms that err from honest Nature’s rule’ …. Tennyson.
Taylor looked down at the sweeping landscape before him, his bare legs and
sandal clad feet dangling over the side of the sheer three-hundred foot drop to
the wasteground below. Down to the far right of him the scorched, dry and
flaking earth, held onto only those few plants that fought against all hope that
life could still survive in the newly created deserts of the post apocalyptic
America. To the left, the scrub turned to a bright yellow sand that each year
seemed to crawl further up the valley, like a slowly moving tide edging it’s
way ever closer to some invisible sea barrier. The bleached rocks, diagonally
opposite and some two miles away, rose forbiddingly from the ground and Seth had
to squint in the mid-day sun to pick out their details. He knew his brother
Lijah would return soon from hunting and after a feast of snake or some skinny
rodent, they would wait until nightfall before attempting to cross the great
divide and climb the opposite wall.
the day, the heat of the sun could raise the temperature of the sand to the
point where nothing other than a brave, flying insect or bird could safely
negotiate the distance.
rocky overhang above protected the ten-year-old boy from the worst of the
blistering sunlight, though he still had to drink often to avoid any
dehydration. He had seen in his recent years of strife what the sun could do to
an unprotected man and recalled the mummified corpses of the family he and his
brother had come across on one of their foraging expeditions in the past, their
shaded, wheel-broken wag, no match for the eternal heat. The bodies inside, that
of two adults and a small child, looked unnaturally twisted, their skin
tightened fingers seemingly clawing the air as if in some last desperate prayer
to some forgotten God they’d been abandoned by. No salvation had come and the
brothers had eagerly taken their inheritance of a few rounds of shells and
generations old items of clothing.
suddenly forgot his reminiscing as he heard the grinding of stone against stone
and saw his brother Lijah appear around the edge of their little sanctuary, an
almost fleshless rabbit hanging from the string belt holding up his older
brother’s blood-stained, kneeless jeans. His trusty hickory bow was slung
across his left shoulder and a leather quiver of crow flighted arrows hung from
the Great Bo’, we feast tonight, eh, brother ?”, the smile of his endeavour
was somewhat disfigured by his harelip.
stared admiringly at his fifteen year old brother .His tall thin frame, lean and
muscular topped by a mass of dark black, plaited hair, the ends of which were
sealed with candle wax. “Don’t curse Lijah. If Ma’am could…..” The
sentenced was left unfinished as the boy thought of his dying mother back at
their home ville of ‘Ed’n’, four days and nights walking due north. Seth
looked dejectedly down towards the dusty floor of the outcropping as his brother
walked over and brushed a dirtied hand through his blonde, even dirtier hair.
I know Seth, I’ll miss her too, but, in a few days time we’ll both be men.
Pa and soon Nathaniel will look down on us from the skies with pride and these
feelings will be left just for the women and children. Not us .” Lijah felt
sorry for his brother, though his up coming elevation to man-hood held him back
from showing real comfort towards him.
silence, the tasselled haired youth knelt on the floor, pulled out a small
one-sided, handleless kitchen knife from his back pocket and began slowly and
efficiently skinning the rabbit.
humid evening air was heavy and filled with aroma of roasted rodent, though
touched with the sweet smell of blood from the rabbit’s nearby gutted
intestines. Seth Taylor sat back
contentedly against the far wall of the crevice picking meat from between his
teeth with a bone, grease wet on his already well-stained khaki shirt sleeves.
Lijah let out a loud belch, which drew a smirk from his brother.
to go and take a leak. Stay here. When I come back, we’ll start down.”
the time Lijah reappeared Seth had all their belongings neatly packed into their
travel sack, a hand sewn patchwork quilt of animal furs, that also doubled for a
blanket. “Ready ?”
and Out !” replied his young
the sun had set some two hours ago before they left, the rocks still radiated
much of their absorbed heat from the day and the Taylor brothers made slow going
of the first hundred or so feet. As far as speed was concerned, Lijah’s
experiences in this savage new land had taught him that caution was nine out of
ten times more likely keep him alive. Many of his teenage friends from the ville
had paid no heed to the knowledge and teachings of the ‘Elders’ and nearly
all had paid the highest toll possible and died grisly, yet predictable deaths.
After all, anyone that could reach the grand old age of forty, deserved
respect and the lending of an ear.
was no obvious path, so the descent repeatedly involved going up to look for a
sure and reliable foothold to go down. It didn’t help Lijah’s balance any
having to make the journey one handed, one hand gripped tightly to the sack
containing their precious belongings. The
patches on the left elbow of his denim jacket ripped free as the stitches gave
up the ghost in the relentless jarring against flint and granite.
as the incline decreased, the huge, jagged rocks became less frequent and
smaller and these in turn gave way to a type of shingle, loose and dangerous in
were about seventy feet from the bottom of the valley when Lijah sensed a
movement from above. He turned around sharply as a handful of boulders about the
size of a man’s hand rained down behind him, missing him by a few feet.
Instantly the bow was in his hands, lightning reflexes loading it as he swung it
round and up. The patchwork blanket lay discarded on the ground, the safe
keeping of their things not as important now as their survival.
?” Seth was immediately at his brother’s side, his bottom lip clenched white
between his teeth.
pair stood motionless for a full five minutes, their eyes straining in the
blackness to pick out what had caused the miniature landslide. When Lijah spoke
again there was no conviction in his voice and he felt the words were more for
the comfort of his younger companion. “Prob’ly a Lizard or Some’in”, he
said as he lowered his bow.
they started off again, it was with renewed vigour that Lijah urged his brother
down the remaining part of the slope, their legs occasionally calf deep in the
small stones. Seth kept wanting to stop, his sandals filled with sharp, tiny
rocks that bit into the soft flesh of his soles, but the continuous, less than
polite digs in the back from his brother forced him remorsefully onwards. Seth
dived the last few feet to the still warm, sandy floor, his footwear quickly
forsaken to one side, his hands cradling his sore feet.
first reaction on reaching the bottom of the incline was to look back for any
threatening signs. His gut feeling told him there was someone or ‘something’
behind them and to delay for too long the next part of their pilgrimage could
put their very lives in jeopardy. There had been stories told back in Ed’n of
the ville’s greatest hunters – some said survivalists – who had over the
years developed a kind of sixth sense, an instinctive ‘feeling’ that danger
lurked nearby. It was with this intuitive foreboding that he dressed the grazes
on his brothers feet with strips of rag from one of his pockets, hitched their
sack once again over his shoulder and encouraged his compatriot to begin their
trek across the sandy expanse.
had estimated their journey over the desert would take three hours, but, with
Seth treading tenderly and the dunes higher than he had contemplated from above,
he upped his evaluation to four, four and a half-hours. It was already after
midnight he guessed and if he didn’t instil yet more urgency into the
situation, they would be making their ascent as the sun dawned. Maybe if he
could take his brother’s mind off the situation, they might just gain a few,
?” The boys voice sounded lethargic and suprisingly loud in the tranquillity
of the night.
us a song”.
feel like it. Too cold !”
was true. Though the ground had held some of the previous days heat, the early
hours had brought with them a chilling wind that swept the sand away with each
passing step, as it whistled along the length of the valley. Carefully placing
his effects on the yielding soil, Lijah removed his tattered jacket and draped
it around his kinsman’s hunched shoulders. It would keep him warm, yet was far
too big for the boy and hung a few inches below his dusty, pale green shorts.
The only protection he had himself now against the elements, was a torn vest,
who’s partially severed left arm flapped uselessly against his side.
and there was more the air of demand in the request this time, “Sing us a
it was, that as the moon fought it’s way through the purple and crimson,
chemically polluted clouds, Seth sung in his pre-pubescent, choir-like voice as
they marched across the crests and troughs of the fine grain sea.
Keep me burn’n , keep me burn’n till the break of day”.
was Seth that first saw the rusted metal pipes protruding from the ground, like
the stubble on an unshaven face. There were five of them, spaced roughly about a
dozen yards apart, ran from right to left and varied in diameter from an inch to
four. Some stood vertical, while others leaned over at differing degrees.
move, Seth”, Lijah could feel that familiar sensation of apprehension creeping
back into himself.
are they ?” said Seth, frozen obediently to the spot of his last footfall.
elder boy shrugged his shoulders. “Go figure, but something ain’t right”.
He racked his memory for anything remotely similar, found in the passed down
history of the ville’s Elders. Only one story fitted anywhere near this
strange discovery. The ‘Founder’s” of the Ed’n, way back just after the
night of the Great War, when they were searching for a habitable sanctuary, had
found a half buried Loco Wag - the type that used to run on rails – in the
rubble of a collapsed tunnel. They had managed to gain entry to the wag and
procured what would be useful for their continued journey, that is, what was
left by the time the rats, wild dogs and marauding gangs of brigands had had
their fill. But, this didn’t resemble that description too closely. This was
new and whilst potentially profitable could just as well turn out to be equally
here, and look after the things”. He passed Seth their heavy bundle of
possessions and started forward. He could feel the familiar sensation of caution
flooding his head as he approached, though the feeling was tinged with something
like an air of excitement, brought on by a possible important find. Sometimes
just the unknown caused the same impression and he hoped the risk was not worth
his life. There was something else too and not in the direction he was heading.
he drew nearer he could see that a fine mist was coming irregularly from the
pipes, like his own breath hitting the cold air of the early dawn. With his left
hand holding back a few blackened dreadlocks from his face, his old scavenged
boots treading tenderly over the sand between himself and the nearest pipe, he
cautiously placed his right hand over the end of the nearest pipe. That’s odd
thought Kane, as he felt the skin on the palm of his hand sucked down slightly
into the tube.
a trap”, cried a sudden voice from somewhere behind in the darkness.
Lijah turned back from the direction of the warning, a pair of skinny, blistered
hands rose zombie-like from the sand and seized his legs in a vice like grip.
What nails there were on the seven-digit hand dug deep into his flesh with their
gnawed and broken points. They were followed momentarily by elbows, shoulders,
then to his horror, the face of the worst deformed mutie he had ever seen in any
of his nightmares.
thought Ryan Cawdor as he lay watching the two kids with his one good blue eye,
from the safety of an overlooking dune. There was something nagging at the back
of his mind. Something the Trader had told him once that had happened a short
while before he had joined up. Something that was now filed under C for Caution.
A campfire story of some raw recruit from War-Wag Two. Sheedy if he remembered
rightly. The convoy had stopped near an old pre-nuke building that though
deserted, had still showed some signs of recent habitat. Trader – being a
cautious man - had put everybody on yellow alert just in case. After supper,
Sheedy had wandered around the back of the structure to the area they had
designated the john. He’d dropped his trousers and had started taking a dump
when the earth had …….
a trap”, yelled Ryan.
covered the distance to the youngest boy in a matter of seconds. It would have
been quicker, but, Ryan knew from previous experience that running down a dune
and drawing his trusty Panga at the same time could throw you off balance, as
your feet sank deep into the sand sending you into an uncontrolled descent. His
long fur-lined coat brushed against the awe struck boy as he ran onwards. He had
already made the decision to use the Panga before starting his run. Most muties
may be pretty stupid on the whole, but that didn’t mean that a few mm rounds
from the unfamiliar weight of the Colt Python, holstered on his hip wouldn’t
bring more trouble than he could safely handle.
reached the second youngster.
one swift, but controlled swipe of the blade, he cut through the muties arm just
above the elbow. It’s instinctive reaction was to release it’s prey and put
it’s remaining hand over the reddened stump, futilely trying to stop the flow
of blood from the emptying veins. It was only the pain slowly hitting the muties
senses that made the surprised expression on its face differ from that of the
kid. Well, as much of face as a mutie could be said to have. In the dawning
light, the overhung forehead shadowed a pair of bulbous, crimson-laced eyeballs
and the nose from Ryan’s vantage-point was missing. The mouth was centred on
its left cheek and fought for space with what looked like a large cancerous
growth. Average looking mutie thought Ryan, as he looked over to the hair-lipped
youngster staggering backwards - the extra appendage still clinging to his torn
trousers - whilst he fought to get his balance and swing his bow from his
shoulder. Cawdor pressed on his assault with a teeth-shattering sidekick to the
crowded side of the mutie’s face, a blow that sent it back down into hole from
which it had emerged. Picking up the now abandoned pipe laying next to the
shallow grave, Ryan lifted it above his head and launched it downwards at the
struggling figure. It pierced just under the rib cage; cutting through the
stomach on it’s way to crushing several vertebrae beneath. The mutie didn’t
move again, lying still in the pre-made grave.
turned his attention to the two boys. “You OK”.
dark haired youth stood with his bow aimed directly at the intruder’s chest,
his feet braced apart in a fighting stance. He gave no reply, but stared
straight at him in an unspoken challenge. Cawdor couldn’t help but be reminded
of how much the kid’s hard, silent attitude reminded him of himself in his
continued. “Whatever. We can either stay here and die whilst we introduce
ourselves, or high tail it before the rest of his pals there, realise that their
buddy wasn’t just turning in his sleep”.
on the sand could be a great leveller of abilities and that was without the
unknown factor of the weapons they might be sporting.
blood, so lets move it !”.
if on cue, the rest of the protruding spikes started wavering.
rat-tail haired lad glanced beyond Ryan at the movement, then re-sheathed his
arrow in a quiver on his back and threw his bow once more over the top of his
arm. He picked up their luggage. “Do like the man says Seth and don’t look
back – no matter. When you get to the rocks just keep a climbing. I’ll catch
you up”. He gave a telling nod to the bigger man, which Ryan read as something
along the lines of ‘If we make it that is’ and he replied with a grin of his
own. The kid sure had some balls and had obviously and quickly understood the
predicament that they now faced.
Cawdor taking the lead, they started to run, just as the first misshapen hand
broke the surface.
distance to the beginning of the rocky climb was little more than four hundred
yards, but Ryan could see that it might just as well be four miles, for the
elder youth was beginning to fall behind with the weight that he bore on his
shoulders. He had realised that at some point, before the relative safety of the
rocks, they were going to have to make a stand and his new archer friend had
known it too. His boots dug deep as he stopped his sprint across the loose sand
and turned to face the lumbering menace from behind. As blonde ran by, he
noticed for the first time that the kid was carrying a catapult in his hand,
which might just well have been a pea shooter for all the damage it could
reaching Ryan, the teenager threw his burden on the ground, unslung his bow and
loaded it again, this time pointing it in the direction of what he must have
considered a worse fate than that of facing off with the big, one-eyed man. The
nearest mutie was now only a mere forty feet away and gaining with every second.
hope your good with that thing”, said Cawdor, “This is likely to get a
if to answer the challenge, a black feathered arrow shot out and buried itself
in the right eye socket of the approaching nemesis. The mutie went down hard and
lay still. “Pretty Ace, kid”, Ryan said approvingly.
mischievous sneer contorted the youngster’s already disfigured face.
name’s Lijah ”.
bow could occasionally be helpful in a fire-fight, but, apart from being used as
a club, it was useless in a hand to hand combat situation. He got one more shot
off with it before the remaining muties caught up with them, this time catching
a freak dead centre of the chest. It toppled forward, caught its fall and stood
up again, snapping the shaft before continuing it’s loping run. Ryan had seen
this before. Some of these muties had bizarre internal physiology and stamina;
sometimes being crushed into the dirt by a War Wag was the only sure way to put
one out of the game.
first two from the ambush stopped when they were about ten feet from their prey
and waited for their friend to swell their number and give them the numerical
advantage. A moment passed as the two parties looked each other over, searching
for possible weak links in the defences of the opposition. Then the muties made
their move. The first two to arrive started to circle right around to Ryan’s
blind side, whilst the other - partially injured aberration - went left and
around to the younger man. Seconds later Cawdor felt Lijah’s shoulders
pressing the slung LAPA 5.56mm into his back.
eyed up the handsome, loin clothed, duo in front of him. One was a big brute, at
least seven and a half feet tall and probably just as wide in girth. The only
anomaly he could see - apart from his size - was the difference in proportion of
its arms, one nearly twice as large and longer than the other. His attention
however, focused more on the shorter of the two, and the one that could possibly
pose the greater threat. At just under half the size of the giant and with the
usual amount of facial and bodily abnormalities that a mutie possessed,
physically he didn’t look potentially lethal. It was however the makeshift
spear in his chubby, stunted fingers, directed at Ryan’s mid-section that bade
closer scrutiny. He tightened his grip on the Panga, it feeling comfortable and
not out of place in his hand, almost like a deadly extension of his own body.
warning the dwarf lunged forward with the javelin. He was fast, but looked
dumb-struck as his intended victim deflected the shaft of the weapon with his
left hand - just beneath the point – six inches away from it’s target. Using
his own momentum, Ryan turned his assailant, giving a clear shot at the neck.
The large, curved, keen-edge bit deeply into the open flesh, the force of the
blow cutting straight through the windpipe and then burying itself in the
opposite shoulder-blade. The grip on the other end of the spear went from vice
like to non-existent in a split second, as the small, pale body fell to the
floor. Unfortunately, the blade caught in the bone and with the blood shooting
up his arm Ryan felt the handle slip from his grasp, leaving him empty handed.
him lose his grip on the weapon with his friend’s demise, the giant launched
himself towards Cawdor, arms outstretched uninvitingly.
felt the unexpected jolt from behind and barely managed to check the forward
movement. He considered taking a quick glance for Ryan, then decided against
giving his enemy the upper hand. The bow had now been transferred to his left
hand and in his right he held the drawn, old kitchen knife from the back pocket
of his designer distressed trousers. The pair began to circle each other, in a
bizarre dance macabre, until they were at a ninety-degree angle from where they
had started. Lijah’s brown eyes took in the full horror and size of the task
ahead of him. It wasn’t that the mutie was particularly big, it was more the
unknown element of how much punishment it would take to put it down – the
broken shaft sticking from it’s chest was an indicator that it wouldn’t be
easy. Still, where there was a will there was a way and if the reinforced
sternum would protect a direct frontal assault to it’s hybrid heart, then
hopefully the soft lining of the stomach would allow him to sneak in through the
the bow in his left hand – so that that he held one end – he offered the
other end to mutie. Confused, yet obligingly it took up the offer. A well-worn
thighbone suddenly appeared from somewhere behind it and it started swatting the
air in-front of Lijah, who had to lean back to avoid the blows. Just as the
malformation started getting confident with it’s savage swings, he yanked back
on the bow, pulling the mutie towards himself. Instantly Lijah turned his back,
dropped to one knee and rammed the blade up over his right shoulder. Letting go
of the bow, he fortified his purchase with his left hand, before thrusting
upwards under the ribcage with his might, severing mutated organs and spilling
intestines onto the ground. The mutie stood there stooge-like and unblinking, as
Lijah got up and faced the defeated foe. “I think I’ll have more use for
that”, he said as he leaned over and withdrew his hickory bow from the dying
fingers. “You’re chilled, mother fucker!”
deadly bear-hug from the behemoth was made more powerful by the deformed length
of it’s arms, and as it leaned back to get more pressure, Ryan felt his two
hundred pounds and laced boots lift clear of the ground. The strength
it possessed was unbelievable and with his own arms trapped at his sides,
there was no way to break free of the grip. There must be another way. He had
met meaner, fought bigger and the fact that he was here now was a testament to
the outcome and his ingenuity. Reaching his own head as far back as possible,
Ryan threw his forehead forward, taking aim at side of the mutie’s jaw. There
was a sickening crack as he made contact, but the hold didn’t slacken, even
though blood ran from the corner of the mouth and a few broken teeth fell onto
the black fur of his coat. He tried again with similar ineffective results. The
spots of oxygen deprivation were beginning to make themselves known in
Cawdor’s vision, which meant he was going to have to finish this quickly. The
catch to the holster was within his numbing fingers reach, but, drawing the
weapon and getting an angle would be impossible. It quickly ran through Ryan’s
mind that sometimes the best way out of a crisis, is quite simply the easiest.
Stretching his leg back as far as it would go, he snapped his knee up to the
mutie’s groin. Hairless eyebrows came together. Seeing the effect, he drew his
knee back again and let fly. This time the eyes rolled and a deep-throated sound
emanated from the cavernous, foul smelling mouth. Again and again he repeated
the assault, until finally the vice-like hold ceased and the beast fell onto its
knees. Taking a deep, unrestricted breath, Ryan scrambled round back and
fastened one arm under the throat, whilst the other he wrapped around the front
of the ugly face. With his biceps straining, the one-eyed man twisted until he
heard the satisfying snap of the neck break. Face first and lifeless, the corpse
collapsed forward. Before it hit the floor Ryan looked over to see if Lijah
needed any help, but seeing the kid wiping his small knife on the skin of the
deceased mutie told him everything he needed to know.
was nothing much to say really, thought Ryan as he cleaned his own blade on the
loincloth of the smaller of his two assailants. Of all the rules in the ‘Death
Lands’, picking a fight you might not win, ranked pretty high on the
‘Getting you’re bone’s picked by the carrion’s’ scale.
up”, said Ryan, as the first pure rays of sunlight crept around the eastern
side of the valley.
As the flames from the blazing fire set shadows dancing along the walls and ceiling of the living quarters, the wooden shacks only occupant sat in the old rocking chair, softly caressing the small bundle of white, canine fur on his lap. The recipient of the attention gave a contented whimper and snuggled in closer. When the voice came from beneath the hood of the grey, woollen, monk-type habit, it was warm and invitingly smooth. “You truly are a mystery to me, my little friend".
Without disturbing his burden unduly, the cowled man twisted the red leather dog collar with his dark brown fingers, so he could once again read the familiar, inscribed text.
“Ark Project: Item 0110/062099. Name: Chaos. D.O.B 010999”. At the sound of its name, bushy eyebrows lifted, revealing a pair of pale grey eyes. It turned its snout questioningly upwards towards it owner, who released the tag in his hand and stroked its floppy right ear.
Suddenly, Chaos swung his head round to the only door in the room, a good second or so before the handle of which started a downward movement. A similar monastic figure then barged in through the opening, swinging the door back fast and wide, so that it crashed against the wall behind. The colour of the habit this brother wore was deepest black and heavily soiled with dirt and grime. The cantina held in his left hand pressed against his unravelling sleeves and was soaked in his homemade, yet lethal brand of alcohol. Raising the mouth-piece to his lips he gulped heavily, the motion causing his head-gear to fold backwards, revealing a goatee beard and a pony tail coming from the back of his otherwise shaven head. Deep wrinkles laced his prematurely ageing, pockmarked face.
With a loud belch, the drunk slammed the door shut on its creaking, leather hinges, then staggered across the floor and stood in front of his seated companion.
“Locksley”, he shouted, “I’m feeling a mighty reverend tonight”
“I think the actual word you are looking for is drunk, my friend”
The newcomer looked confusedly around the room, before returning his wobbly gaze. “Me ?”, he said spreading his arms out wide. “The only thing I’m high on is the love of our Lord !”.
“Were that true Deacon, I am quite sure that God would be in the distillery business, instead of trying to save our souls from eternal damnation. If when I pass on I find you sat at his side, I will be the first to submit to your alcoholic, nuke head wisdom.”
“I’ll toast to that”. Deacon took another swig of the intoxicating liquor.
“I would suggest however, that your current beliefs and opinions are somewhat clouded.”
“Well, no shit !”
There was no point in arguing Locksley thought, it was just going to be another one of those evenings.
He turned his attention back to the dog on his lap.
“Hey” said the black robed monk, realising that he was being ignored, “I haven’t finished yet”.
“I think you have”.
“Listen you son of a bitch, where the fuck do you get off ordering me about ?” Deacon leaned forward and dug a finger into the chest of the other man. “I’ve been here a darn sight longer that any Keeper in the past and that means you show me some respect here. Two years you’ve been here. Two friggin’ years and you act like you own the place. I’m sick to death of you and that simp’ mutt you found outside the Gates Of Hell. You do what I say from now on. My way. My terms. And if you don’t like it, well tough !”
Chaos started barking at the agitated man and made a snap at the prodding digit, which was quickly withdrawn.
Setting the snarling dog down softly next the hearth, Locksley stood to his full six-foot height, a height a clear seven inches above his tormentor. “We don’t have to do this Deac’. We’re supposed to be opposed to any form of violence, unless there really is no other option”.
“Let me clarify the new number one rule”, the smaller man slurred. “Do likes I say, don’t do likes I do”.
With that said, he took a step back from Locksley and took up what would have been an old boxing stance, the cantina still held in left hand close to his body, as he lead with his right. The firewater dulled his aim and the taller man easily dogged his hidden face from side to side, avoiding the feeble jabs. In reality, it was a miracle the man was still standing, so inebriated was he.
Seeing that his sparing partner was effortlessly eluding his assault, Deacon with a frustrated bellow wildly propelled a last ditch, round-house punch with his cantina filled left hand. The black clad figure however was unconscious before completing the arc motion and the defendant ducked well below the swing, before lifting the assailant up and over his own left shoulder.
Turning about with his burden, Locksley walked down the candle lit corridor running along the inside of the cottage, which led to the bedrooms and eventually the kitchen. On reaching the second door of three, he kicked it open with his toe, then stepped into the odorous and gloom abundant room. Worn and filthy clothes fought for space on the floor with antique bottles and unwashed crockery. The unmade cot was relatively clear and Locksley gently laid the man out, before walking to the end and removing the sleeping man’s boots. After pulling across the blanket, he carefully retraced his footsteps and left, leaving the door slightly ajar.
As Locksley left the bedroom, Chaos slipped in and sat on its haunches staring up at the snoring human. Moments later he trotted over and started sniffing the discarded, black hide boots, before cocking its leg and leaving a damp surprise for Deacon in the morning.
Locksley stood on the porch, his hands resting on the uneven railing and peered up from his shroud at the countless pinpoints of light in the dark, night sky. Although he marvelled and appreciated their beauty, he always questioned the mentality of the people who had tried to make the Earth an addition to that number.
He didn’t bother turning from his contemplating as he heard Chaos come padding out and sit at his master’s side.
“I can feel our guests are coming towards the end of their pilgrimage”, he said aloud. “And I fear that ‘Death’ comes with them”.
Ryan and his two new, young associates had found their ambusher’s retreat near the top of the incline, overlooking the sandy valley, from which they had just ascended. A single, yet lethal round from the LAPA, quickly and efficiently iced the single tenant – a triple breasted mutie whore - that had come screaming out of the dim cavern. Her body now lay broken at the bottom of a nearby crevice, her soul somewhere in the fires of some warped, unnatural hell. From the little devastation inside it was obvious that the sextet had not been there long.
Leaning back against the side of the cave wall, Ryan took out the Colt Mag .357 Python and emptied the six rounds from the gleaming weapon’s magazine into his hand. He turned the pistol over feeling the its full weight tugging the muscles of his upper arm. The gun - although just as deadly as any other - seemed clumsy to Ryan and heavy when compared to his own Sig Saur 226. The armorer J.B. Dix, had leant him the armament when his own had jammed just before the Trader’s convoy had left Ryan at the previous ville – his unfinished business just as easily taken care of by the Colt.
The Baron of the ville had gone under the name of Carlos Roach and had aptly called his estate Roach Ville. Ryan assumed it was named after his surname – Barons liked the ego boost – though from the conditions the residents were forced to live in, it could also have been a reference to the local cockroach population. At least that’s what the graffiti on walls of the toilet in the semi-derelict ‘Emporium’ theatre had said.
Carlos Roach was a small man in stature, but made up for that with a vindictive and brutal reign of power. He employed expensive, mean and unforgiving mercenaries as a Sec-Force that he hid behind at the slightest sign of trouble and whom he got to do all his chilling when the need arose – which in his case was all too often. In a deal that allowed the convoy to pass toll free and alive through the mile long tunnel leading to the ville, Roach had asked that Cawdor stay behind and track down somebody that had offended the baron big time. A local entrepreneur that had run the Emporium, had allowed Carlos’s prize asset – and a very overestimated one in Ryan’s opinion - to die on stage whist in his care*. He had managed to get away into the barren hills nearby in the pandemonium that followed, outsmarting the red scarf sec-force by mingling with the crowd.
At first, the Trader and J.B. had told Roach where to go and had considered fighting their way out, but the baron had told him that he would look on the service favourably the next time they did business. He also pointed out that the only way from the ville was lined with check-points, some of which were armed with gren-launchers. It was a hot spot stand off, but Ryan had volunteered a long time before the Trader would have backed down and they made arrangements to meet at the next ville within the week. Cawdor knew that Trader hated leaving anyone behind, to the point of even collected his dead after a firefight. He also knew that he had a long memory – a real long and vengeful one !
East Coast Eddie was the name of the fugitive and he had found his twisted, dead body within hours, bitten by a two-tailed mutie rattler less than a mile from the ville. He was going to carry it back across his shoulder and then go on his way, when he realised that he was being followed. Ryan had made short work of the mercenaries however with two deafening booms from the Colt and then decided to make a break for it before the echo carried to any of their friends.
He cursed quietly to himself about his nuke-withered luck and how the episode with the sec-force and the muties on the plain would’ve been a lot simpler if he could have used the built in silencer of the Sig. Taking a couple of small oiled rags from the depths of one of his deep coat pockets, he laid out the shells and started rubbing down the gun with the other.
His two new associates - Lijah and his brother Seth - were asleep further back in the concealment of the old mineshaft. Though Ryan took first watch, he had looked on with interest as Lijah had settled down his younger relative, after the events of the early morning. At the time he had felt a familiar itching behind his eye-patch, as the thought of his brother Harvey came to mind – his hand automatically feeling the long scar in-bedded on his cheek. His relationship with own older brother had been far from cordial, culminating in an acrimonious falling out and his partial blinding. Ryan noted however, that when the teenager untied the blanket holding their belongings to cover his brother, he took great care with a battered looking cardboard box, secured with string, which he withdrew from it first. He placed it on the ground with an undue amount of attention, but when questioned on it threw an ‘It’s none of your business’ type of stare and quickly changed the subject.
Lijah told Ryan all about Ed’n, of their conglomerate of Elders that ran the ville and then in a quieter voice, of his mother Danielle, who was dying of what sounded like any number of the new Deathland, post holocaust diseases. She was now being cared for by the family’s new stepfather, after the further complication of her third son – Nathaniel - being stillborn. With anything other than newly born perfection considered evil, his harelip had been accountable for pretty much making him an outcast at first in the homestead. This combined with the responsibility of raising his brother after the devastating blow of the death of his father had been arduous, though Lijah had thrived and had become a respected – if young - voice in the secluded community.
It turned out that the boys were on some bizarre pilgrimage to a place called Heav’n, where the ‘Keepers’ lived, safeguarding a relic called the ‘Great Bo’ and all the previous generations that had made their final journey. The quest would also confirm their elevation from child to man-hood, it being the custom of the ville that all siblings undergo this rite of passage. It all sounded like some deep dreck to Ryan, but he kept his opinions to himself. With the population of their ville dropping steeply, sending out the healthy kids on a dangerous – if not deadly – crusade, was a triple-stupe and suicidal tendency. Occasionally, biting your tongue rather than insulting some crazy religion could be the healthier thing do. The Trader had told him that and he wasn’t overly known for giving out bad advice.
Business as business after all.
Ryan in return talked little about his life travelling around the Deathlands with the Trader, though Lijah listened with great interest to some of the adventures that the older man did give freely. From the comments made, it appeared that the lad’s ville told their heirs very little of the wasteland geography of the post nuke States, other than the local terrain. There were only a couple of exceptions to this. One, the location of their religious homeland, which was imprinted at a very early age and two, Roach Ville which was to be avoided at all costs. Cawdor’s recent experiences with the baron told him why.
He might have stood back to back with Lijah during the fracas with the muties, but Ryan’s trust wasn’t given as easily. It was a lesson the kid would do well to learn.
After reloading the magazine and re-holstering the weapon in its leather home, Ryan stood and strode over to entrance. Orange and purple streaked clouds, trapping in the humidity and bringing a sweat to his forehead had now replaced the stifling heat and bright sun of the early morning. The ensnared pollution in the upper atmosphere could sometimes be responsible for incredible climate and condition changes, transforming perfect weather into a skin-stripping acid storm, where no shelter meant certain death.
Although the sky looked like an open sore, the big man knew the unmerciful signs and this was more one for oppressive and perspiring travel, than any real life threatening event.
Ryan turned back as he heard footsteps and saw Lijah coming from the darkness. The youngster had ripped off the wayward sleeve of his shirt and now wore it like a bandanna around his head.
He joined Ryan and leaned against the wall, rubbing the sleep from his eyes.
“Ryan ”. Lijah averted his eyes downwards.
“Thanks. For back there. We could have been chilled by now if you hadn’t come along.” He looked back up. “I really should listen to my head and not my heart next time”.
That must have been hard to say thought Cawdor. “Drop the rads, kid. I could’ve made the same mistake”. He knew he was lying, his experience told him that. He also knew from the raised eyebrow lifted towards him that Lijah was probably aware it too. In reality the chances were that the duo would have been dinner by now, if he hadn’t been on the scene.
“I’ll pay you back someday, if you’re round ‘till then”.
“From what you tell me, I reckon we’re none too far out. I’ll call the debt settled for long, cool drink”. Clean water could stop a man from buying the farm just as easily as a blaster in the right situation and a cold one out here would be like jack to a Baron. His canteen could do with a refill anyhow.
“Deal !”. Lijah held out his hand and they acknowledged the agreement.
“If we made a start now, I guess we could be in Heav’n just around dawn”. He turned his scared face skywards again. “We may as well take advantage of the break in the weather, it’s here for a while”.
“I’ll go wake Seth”. With that, Lijah disappeared into blackness and the far reaches of the tunnel again.
Ryan Cawdor had no option but to check the lapel rad counter when they reached the top of the cliff face and he looked out on the basin shaped land below. He had seen similar earth structures before; all of them caused by the impact of the sky bombs, ushering in the megacull of a new millennium. The crater shape he approximated as being forty miles across, the edges stretching round from his right and left, to the distant slopes beyond. In the past he had deliberately circumvented the gulfs. He’d lost it a few times in his twenty-seven years, but you would have to be as mad as fire day to run the gauntlet through the destruction of an ICBM.
This one however, seemed different to those he’d seen, for a few hundred feet down from where he stood, nature – in the form a sparse grass - seemed to start clawing back against the bedrock. With the aide of the telescope that Lijah had pulled from his Pandora’s box of a knapsack, he could further see that the greenery took the majority farther down.
“Weird”, said Ryan quietly to himself. An oasis like this here in the Midwest ? It was a rarity indeed.
The counter might read safe, but he decided to keep his eye on it.
was just about to start the descent, when he noticed the sign on the dead tree a
few yards ahead. He hadn’t noticed it at first, as it was in the shadow of the
broken branch that hung over it. It wasn’t so much of a sign as a warning. A
large, malformed and severed mutie head had been nailed by the ears to the
trunk, the eye sockets picked clean by birds and other free feasting animals.
Maggots crawled in the gaping, toothless mouth, occasionally spilling to the
floor below, as they strayed too close to the lip-less edge. Attached underneath
were also a half dozen familiar looking red scarves, stained a darker crimson in
looked to Ryan like Roach would be hiring again soon. Real soon.
had only made about three miles, when Lijah - who had taken point - suddenly
held up his hand and brought the party to a halt.
up ?”, Ryan was at his side instantly. He had been walking with the LAPA slung
over his right shoulder, his hand on the grip and now he pointed the barrel in
the direction the youngster was looking.
sure”, came the reply. “But there’s something just ahead”.
the moon radiated bright yellow rays, these were corrupted in the gaseous
envelope surrounding the earth and in turn cast an ominous green hue over the
scene. The barren land had quickly turned into thick, waist high grass, before
they had entered a forest and found what appeared to be a trail, winding down
through the trees. Lijah was now indicating a bend and Ryan strained to get a
– who was once again at his elder brother’s side – started asking Lijah
the same question. Before he could finish the sentence however, the bushes on
the right started moving and he gasped as the snout of a grizzly bear came into
view. It broke the tree line and turned to face the three onlookers, bobbing its
head back and forth, sniffing the air for a clue to the identity of the
intruders. Not recognising the scent it reared up, its full height dwarfing
Ryan’s own six foot two and roared out a challenge. Cawdor was just about to
answer with a 5.56 calibre howl of his own, when unexpectedly, Seth reached up
and put a hand on Ryan’s weapon.
said the kid.
being a particularly tolerant man for anyone touching his armaments – except
for J.B. – he shrugged off the boy and took aim at the heart of the beast.
!”, came the high pitch voice again.
threw a venomous glance at Seth. “Hellblast kid, its him or us. And this
ain’t no vote”. He took aim again along the long barrel. As his finger
tightened on the trigger, the bear dropped to its knees, forcing him to delay
the shot. The bear however seemed to lose some of its ferocity and took a step
backwards twisting its dark brown, furred head to the left as if something new
now occupied its mind. The leaves on the side of the path rustled again and two
small cubs appeared, strolling on all fours. They looked in the companion’s
direction, but carried on across the trail, either oblivious to the threat of an
LAPA, or confident in their mother’s ability to deal with the threat. With a
final defiant snort, the grizzly diverted her gaze after her offspring and
chased off after them, disappearing into the undergrowth. Her departure once
again gave the night an eerie silence, apart from the scurrying of nocturnal
rodents and the occasional hoot of a far off owl.
Seth ran over to where the bears had re-entered the forest – and out of
earshot - Ryan looked over at Lijah.
get something straight now. Brother or not, he’ll wish he was in the
‘Hotlands’ if he gets in my way again. No-one touches the blaster”. There
was more of a warning in his penetrating stare than his actual words, but the
dread-locked teenager’s throat sounded dry and hotter than nuke red when he
thing. I’ll have a word”, he stammered.
Then let’s get going”. Cawdor hoped that the lad understood the message. He
wasn’t trying to be unduly hard, but the blonde boy would always come a
distant second best in the race to old age, if he messed with the means by which
Ryan stayed alive.
majority of the rest of the journey was relatively uneventful - apart from the
odd racoon or stray deer - but there was something playing on Ryan Cawdor’s
mind, which took him a good few hours to realise. It struck him just before
light, when the birds awoke and broke into the dawn chorus, that everything here
was just that little bit too perfect. Absent were the usual mutations he would
have expected to find in this part of the country - the bizarre and new
creations that made the Deathlands what they were today. It was like the valley
had completely avoided the decay of the previous century and the turmoil that
followed. And that led on to another question that raised its puss filled head.
harelip face turned towards him.
did the Elder’s leave here ? I mean the valley seems perfect, so what’s the
what I’ve been told”, said Lijah, “the Elder’s had decided on staying
here after the start of the big fire and the big freeze that followed. That was
until they discovered the ‘Gates of hell’ was nearby”.
‘Gates Of Hell’ ?”, queried Ryan.
So they say. A few weeks after the founding of Heav’n, scouts discovered the
Gates Of Hell. The Elder a at the time – a Father Callaghan – said it was
bad luck to stay, so everyone packed up what they could and left in search of a
better place. A while later they founded Ed’n and that’s were the ville’s
in the Deathlands wasn’t overly popular, but pockets did exist. Most people
had abandoned any thought of a supreme being looking down from above with
righteousness in his heart, so it was a safe assumption that the first Elder was
some preacher who’d twisted the post nuke situation to own, perverted
advantage. Ryan had heard it before and he was sure he would hear it again. As
for the term ‘Hell’, well that was probably some handed down myth,
exaggerated with each passing generation. Besides, what could possibly be worse
than some of the shit he had seen ?
to Cawdor’s wrist chron, it was just after nine a.m. when they found
themselves stepping out onto a wide, dirt track, the edges of which were lined
with boulders, all a similar proportion to each other and spaced evenly out. On
the left-hand side a coral had been erected and sheep and cattle mingled freely,
grazing on the lush, early morning, dew covered grass. Bright yellow, pink and
white petal flowers were also dotted here and there, adding their colour to the
ahead and just off to the right, an old windmill with all the sails missing bar
one, stood withered and creaking in the light breeze. It was the most surreal
thing that he had seen so far, for near the structure was none other than
hundreds of three-foot high crosses, in straight lines and running off into the
of them appeared to be made of planed pinewood and all were in impeccable
condition. It was obvious that somebody had taken great care of the headstones
and he assumed that the Keepers that Lijah had mentioned previously had taken on
the painstaking responsibility.
stood on his tiptoes and whispered something in his brother’s ear, but Lijah
shrugged his shoulders and looked to Cawdor. He guessed the question.
puzzled expressions stared back at him.
nothing. Fire-blast, this was becoming harder work than necessary.
stupe terms, kids, when you’re dead you’re dead, but some people like to tag
where their loved ones are pushing up the weeds. Say hello to the family boys
started off again leaving the Taylor brother’s bringing up the rear
contemplating his words. Maybe they really didn’t understand what he was
talking about. Maybe they truly did believe that their forefathers
taken some mythical trip to the Promised Land. It meant nothing to him either
road ahead ran over a small hill and as they reached the summit the companions
saw the roofs of a small farm come into view. There were four buildings in
total. One was a large barn type fabrication, whilst the other three all
appeared pretty much the same, though smoke curled up from the chimney of one.
From their vantage-point they could also make out pens containing pigs and
various sized coups with chickens and other poultry. A five-foot, three-tiered
fence ran around the complex that linked together with a pair of inswinging,
double gates. It wasn’t the farm and its contents that drew the group’s
attention however, but the two figures dressed in monk’s habits baring their
progress. They stood twenty feet from the entrance to the compound and cradled
antique flintlock muskets in their arms. A small, inoffensive white bundle of
fur – that Ryan assumed was a dog - sat nearby the one dressed in grey. The
other was all dressed in black.
their heads were completely hidden in the shadows created by the cowls, Ryan
felt that eyes were assessing him.
they drew nearer the mysterious characters, ‘grey’ reached up with his free
hand and pulled back his headgear. He had a dark brown face and bright green
eyes, which Ryan could only conclude was a freakish gene, forcing its way into
his DNA. His hair was short cropped, curly and beginning to show the first signs
of ageing. Turning, he handed his gun with his left hand to his counterpart,
before facing the newcomers again, his arms now spread enticingly wide.
travellers. My name is Locksley, Locksley Hall. Welcome to Heav’n”.
pale skinned, blonde haired girl at the top of the stepladder put her bleeding
left forefinger hastily into her mouth, the offending screw driver still held in
her right. It was always the way. Three out of four screws would go into the
bracket no problem, but the last ?
had been repairing the remote camera on the outside of the steel doors now for
close to three hours and with the sun coming up she should really return to her
home inside. There was still a lot of rewiring to do to get the monitors back on
line, but that could all be done from the safety of the Security Room and away
from any prying eyes.
cut on her hand was going to need some stitches real soon and considering she
had recently used up the last of the nerve dulling antiseptic spray, likely-hood
was it was going to be painful. The fixing would just have to do.
down off the ladder, she put the screwdriver in the thigh pocket of her
coveralls. They were all black apart from an orange stripe that ran down the
side and a nametag just above her left breast was embroidered with a bright,
gold thread. The name read Rachael H.
the light, aluminium ladder in two, she tucked it under her arm and walked back
to the control panel that operated the big doors. Before punching in the code
she looked around. The immediate area around her was a concrete plateau, flat
and barren apart from a few weeds and specks of grass that had managed to take
hold in the cracks. There was nowhere for an assailant to hide or sneak up on
her close by, but the tarmac road into the car park had collapsed with a
landslide some hundred yards away, creating an unnerving trench. The cars had
all been removed from the lot years before and though some still worked in the
cavernous storerooms like the day they were made, others had been stripped for
wires and useful titbits that she couldn’t make in the workshops.
the coast was clear, she punched in the code and the twenty-foot high steel
doors began to slowly swing inwards. She was through the opening before they
were two-foot wide and had hit the close command before they had reached three.
out on the dawning world as the entrance inched shut, Rachael Hellerman wondered
what had become of her sole companion since the death of her parents. Their
parting gift to her, a small, fluffy, white puppy that answered to the name of
Of Passage Part II due Spring 2000
One Night Only.
Of Passage Pt 1.’ Is dedicated to my children Kane, Zak, Rachael and Lewis and
not to my ex-wife and ex-girlfriend, both of whom would give Cort Strasser a run
for his money ! Big thanks also to
Sheep On Drugs and Wall Of Voodoo for the background music in the bedroom and to
Chris for the background info and answering my constant e-mails ! And lastly for
all the fans like me in England who try like hell to get hold of the books.
I have told Chris, it’s the first thing I have written in twenty years since
leaving school and failing English twice! Also I am only on book 11 of the
series. So if you like it let me know and if not well at least I tried and I
hope a stickie gets you. Or ring UK 01628 485190 and have a good ol’ chat !
Once again Gold Eagle that UK 01628 485190 – Dream on !