I awoke to an altogether nasty and unfamiliar feeling, the sensation of both my hands tied to something above my head. Testing my feet, I found them similarly bound. Well, shit. I was hitting a low after being awake all night yesterday and my head felt like it was being pounded with a battle-axe. Exactly what had happened again? I had gotten away, hadn’t I? So why was I here, tied up? Maybe it was time to open my eyes.
The first crack was absolutely blinding, forcing me to squint. As my vision slowly cleared I could make out grey walls around me and metal bars ahead. Was I in a cell? Yes, seemed I was. Beyond the bars of my humble abode was nothing but blank corridor. Pulling myself up as best I could with both hands tied up above my head, I could see that my cell was made of bare concrete, the only distinguishing feature being me. The light appeared to be coming from somewhere over head so I looked up and immediately squinted.
A lit electric lightbulb. Now there was something you didn’t see every day. A couple of towns had electricity, but it was only used when necessary, and never wasted on prisoners. What kind of place was this? Craning my neck a bit more, I could see that my hands were tied with climbing rope to a metal pipe that ran across the cell wall. After a couple of experimental tugs I concluded it was not shifting anytime soon.
Damn, I hoped someone was going to show up soon. I was thirsty and my arms were absolutely killing me from where they were being held up. It appeared I was still dressed in my own clothes, but I missed the familiar weight of my knives and sword. Similarly, Skullfucker was missing from my back. Okay, now I hoped whoever had taken me had taken good care of it. The sights could be knocked really easily, and without a range I couldn’t set them correctly.
Okay, inventory taken, I was without things to do, and without distractions my arms were going to start complaining a lot. So I started counting. Not prime numbers, but regular ones. At each ‘60’ mark I counted on my fingers, timing the minutes. It was fifteen or so (I lost count twice) before I heard a sound not generated by me. It was the sound of a door being slowly pushed open, and it was coming from my left.
“Hello” I called, my voice feeling slightly hoarse from my dreadful wakeup.
The noise stopped. Then, after a moment, I heard the door pushed open all the way and then shut with a hard thump.
“Who’s there?” I asked.
After a couple more seconds I heard a couple of tentative footsteps moving towards me. As they got closer I could tell that whoever it was clearly wasn’t sure whether they should be here. Or maybe they were nervous of me? That would be nice.
I wasn’t sure quite who I was expecting to greet me in my little jail cell. A surviving bandit, out for revenge against the kid who ruined his life, maybe. Possibly God, assuming I had died. Which in turn would explain the electricity. What I wasn’t expecting was a beautiful girl. Most girls I knew of were either hard as nails, prostitutes or dead. Or all of the above. There wasn’t much use for beauty in this new world, which left me wondering why it was that this girl was still alive. Unless I went with the heaven theory. But the pain in my arms sort of worked against that.
She had an elfin face, pale skin and dark brown hair that stretched down her whole back. That too, was very weird. Short hair was nearly a necessity – long hair would get in the way while fighting and give the zombies something they could grab. She was about my age and dressed in a simple pale dress and shoes, neither of which seemed even remotely dirty. Nothing about this girl added up. It was as if she’d been taken from the world before zombies and dumped here in this hellhole.
“Um… hi?” she said, nervously. Her voice had a nice ring to it, a stark contrast to the gruff voices he was used to hearing from bandits.
“Hi” I replied. “Do you mind telling me exactly how I ended up tied up in here?”
“I don’t know” she told me. “Dad brought you in yesterday. I’m not supposed to talk to you”
“If you’re not supposed to talk to me, why are you talking to me?” I asked.
In my experience, it was always best to follow orders. But maybe that was because most of the people who gave them were packing weapons and would have no qualms without shooting some kid they had never met before.
“I-I’ve never met anyone from the outside before” she admitted.
“Wait, ‘the outside’? So this is some bunker or something? I’ll give you a friendly tip, from one survivor to another, avoid people from the outside at all costs. Most of them are nasty bastards, and the other half are liars and cheats. Not to mention every single one of us shoots to kill at the slightest provocation.” I told her. For some reason, I felt she needed to know.
“Oh” she said, her voice sad, as if I had ruined some fantasy world she had been building.
“My guess is your Dad doesn’t want you talking to me because he plans to find out what he can from me and then kill me” I told her. After all, that’s what anyone else would do in his position. If this really was a bunker, then he could not afford to let me go in case I told a bandit group whereabouts it was.
“Dad wouldn’t do that!” she protested, shocked at what I was suggesting.
I laughed grimly.
“He tied me up in a cell in some underground bunker. By bringing me here he signed my death warrant”
“What do you mean?” she said, obviously not understanding.
“Well, he can’t exactly let me go” I told her. “I might tell someone this place exists. And they in turn will probably come and take over. People kill for far less”
She looked at me in confusion.
“He wouldn’t” she said, but she seemed a lot less certain.
“Don’t worry about it” I told her. “It’s not like it’s your fault”
“I’m not sure I like talking to you” she said, narrowing her eyes.
“Could you do me a favour?” I asked.
“Do you mind checking if my stuff’s okay? There should be a crossbow and a short sword, both with a wolf’s head scratched into the handle” I requested. I needed to know if I needed to collect my equipment if I ever got the chance to escape.
She looked at me like I was crazy. “Check your weapons are okay? Not bring you water or something? Are you sure you’re alright in the head?”
“Do I look like the sort of person who is alright in the head? Just do it, please. Oh, and if I die, you can have the sword and crossbow, since I like you”
If I died, they weren’t exactly any use to me. So they might as well go to someone who was going to need them. When the real world caught up with this girl she was going to be so unprepared it hurt.
“Right” she nodded, then vanished back down the corridor.
I started counting again. This time the pain in my arms became too distracting when I got to 20 minutes and I rested my head against the wall behind me. Fuck, I was going to be stuck here for ages, wasn’t I? How had I even ended up here? Was that house I fell asleep in some kind of safe house for the bunker people? Had I annoyed them at some point and they had come after me in revenge? Did they just see my equipment and thought it would be better off in their hands?
I was distracted from my musings by the sound of the door at the end of the corridor being pushed open and then slamming shut. Unlike the girl’s, the footsteps coming for me were confident and sounded like they came from boots rather than shoes. I straightened up, feeling my arms cry out in pain at the cramp.
The man who stopped in front of my cell was more like the figures I was used to dealing with, broad and muscled, with lank hair and a craggy face. However, he too seemed to harken back to the age before zombies. For one thing, he was clean shaven, like me. That meant he had access to a razor and cared how he looked. For another, he was dressed in a suit. While I had met people who dressed in suits, most of them had been crazy and the others had used it because it was what they were most comfortable in. This guy looked like he hated it with a passion.
“Hello, here to let me out?” I croaked.
He gave me a look that said he was not in the mood for stupid questions.
“My name is James Hemmingway. As of this morning, I am your jailer. I’m going to untie you, but if you try to run I will snap your neck like a Christmas cracker. Am I clear?”
“Very” I assured him.
Taking a jangle of keys from his suit pocket, he unlocked the door to my cell and untied the ropes holding my hands in the air. Even if I had tried to run, I don’t think I could have got very far because the instant my hands dropped a huge flash of pain wiped across my vision, followed closely by the worst case of pins and needles I’ve ever had. If ever you end up with your hands tied to a pipe above your head, I will give you one piece of advice: don’t.
James waited until I was no longer on the verge of passing out before questioning me. Bastard could hardly wait.
“What is your name?”
“Max Peregrine” I said, giving the name I had used for the last couple of towns.
I nearly laughed in his face. People didn’t have occupations anymore. “Zombie killing, duh”
“What town do you come from?”
“I don’t” I said, truthfully. “I travel between them, offering my services”
“And what might those be?”
“Shooting things stone dead”
“What happened to the rest of your group?”
“I don’t have a group” I told him. “I work alone. If you don’t believe me then you can check my stuff. Zero possessions that belong to someone else. And I’m guessing I was very much alone when you found me.”
“Good.” James nodded. Then he locked the cell behind him and left. Bastard.