The fight had gone out of him. He allowed himself to be dragged through the streets of the city and didn’t once try to struggle. Blindfolded, he was aware of the different smells, sounds and feelings of the city as he passed through it. There was all the usual noise of glass smashing, fires being lit and kids shouting at each other as they jostled for position in the place that was once home to them all.
Slade could feel the change in terrain as his feet stumbled first through garbage and the paved streets of the city and then out into the countryside. Stopping a few times for a break during which time Slade was slung roughly to the floor and given a sip of dirty water from a bottle, the group eventually made their way up some rocky slopes and into what Slade could tell was a cave.
There was a distinct dampness in the air and an enclosed, eerie feeling. The group who until this time had only uttered a few grunts at each other settled in the cave and spoke of their journey and of what goods they would receive for their bounty. Slade was left in a corner, cold and uneasy, his sense of fear growing at the talk of this bounty and wondered what was in store for him.
Still blindfolded, he could sense the change in light as a fire was lit and he stretched his legs out as far as he could to benefit from what little warmth emanated his way. He drifted off into an uneasy sleep and spent the rest of the night shivering, with visions of terror in his head.
Slade was prodded awake the next morning and was moved into a smaller cave. His blindfold removed, Slade caught a glimpse of his captors for the first time. As he thought, they were big, rough guys, and Slade was left in no doubt that he would have a lot of trouble getting out of this maze of caves.
Left alone, Slade examined his new surroundings. Measuring about 6×6 feet there was little space to do anything other than crouch and Slade could see from the one torch that had been left with him, the crude drawings on the wall that he wasn’t the first prisoner to have called this cave ‘home’.
Slade settled into his new way of life and got used to his routine. Days passed – maybe weeks. Slade couldn’t tell, as he never saw daylight.
Woken every day (or night) by the guards, he was thrown a little stale bread or a handful of berries and some water. Taken out to another larger cave every few hours to toilet himself and to stretch his legs, Slade never saw any other prisoner. But he knew they were there. He could hear them crying in the darkness and Slade gathered from the way the sound echoed through the cave structure that there were many smaller caves housing many other prisoners.
He never spoke. He never struggled. He just listened and took in what he could from the sounds that bounced off the rocky walls.
Slowly over passing time, Slade put the pieces of the jigsaw together and made some kind of sense as to why he was being kept and who his captors were. Perhaps fooled by the fact that Slade was so quiet, the guards started to talk in front of him and Slade learned that he was being held captive by a group of bounty hunters, sent to find people who had a price on their heads. They would stay captive until the price had been met by whoever it was that was looking for that particular prisoner. The gang had accumulated much wealth in terms of food and supplies and there didn’t seem to be any particular leader, just a group of rough kids brought together by greed.
Slade felt sorry for them in a weird kind of way. There had been so much horror, so much loss that he couldn’t really blame anyone for the way in which they behaved. He continued to keep himself to himself and in the time that he spent in this prison, he tried to make peace with his own feelings of loss and pain. It was impossible to make any real sense of what had happened since the Virus struck, let alone of what his family really was – a lie…
Slade was awoken one morning by the guards who said it was time to go out into the big wide world again, that the bounty on his head had been paid and that someone was waiting outside for him.
Blinded by the light outside, Slade couldn’t tell who had paid to have him ‘collected’ from the city and held for them. Led away from the caves by gentle hands, Slade and his mystery companion soon stopped by a river to have a rest, which Slade was glad for, as his legs were very weak after having been cooped up for so long in such small surroundings.
Lying under a tree, Slade found out who his companion was. The soothing voice was unmistakable and as his sight grew more accustomed to the light, Slade was overjoyed to find that it was his sister Carla sitting next to him, mopping his dirty face with a wet rag.
Carla had left the city soon after the Virus had struck. When her parents became sick, Carla couldn’t handle it. She didn’t know how to cope with the grief she was feeling, particularly as she learned the truth of the family and what had happened when her parents were teenagers themselves. When they died, Carla didn’t know what to do. Slade had withdrawn into himself and fear and panic consumed Carla. One night she ran away…
Eventually, seeing all the kids pass through the town she had settled in, all of them devastated with grief, she decided that it was time she found her brother. She shouldn’t be alone and nor should he – the tragedy of the Virus should pull people together, not drive them apart.
After searching for Slade in the city herself and coming face to face with the dangers that now lurked around every corner, Carla came across the gang of bounty hunters and decided that was the easiest and safest way to track Slade down while she made a life for them back in the small town.
Carla nearly lost hope as the weeks passed by and she had to come up with payment for her brother. She did all she could to get food and supplies to pay the bounty hunters and the only thing that got her through was knowing that he was alive and safe.
Slowly, brother and sister made their way through the fields and hills to Carla’s new home. She told Slade that the town was a little rough but that it had nothing of the dangers she witnessed in the city. Slade didn’t care where they were headed so long as it meant he could sleep in a bed again and get cleaned up and regain his strength.
He took one long look behind him as they came to the town, and silently said goodbye to his past – then he looked ahead and taking a long breath, looked up at the sign welcoming him to his new life… Liberty.