|An extract from J&K 4Ever
Kruge has been banished to the wastelands and forced to leave his soulmate Jeyna
Reporting for Duty
Kruge stood looking at the formidable gates and a peeling sign. Bluette Resource and Recycle Management. Ring twice for the Keeper. The bell did not sound of course. Kruge laughed at his stupidity, there hadn’t been any electric power in Bluette since before he was born.
There seemed to be no other way to make himself known. He tried shouting, but got no response except barking from a dog. Kruge liked dogs. Never been around one, but he’d always harbored a desire to own one, one day. Guard dogs on the other hand tended to be unloved and edgy and prone to bite. Thunder rolled overhead and suddenly it began to pelt down with rain. Everything quickly turned to mud. His precious small bag would be soaked in no time. He couldn’t just stand out here. He had to report for duty.
The fence either side of the gate was flimsy, rotten in places. He pulled two planks away and climbed to the top. He looked for the dog. The last thing he wanted on his first day was a dog bite. Known kids who’d died from that. The rain fell hard without pity, everywhere below him was flooding and bits and pieces of flotsam were already moving down rivulets in the huge yard. In the distance he could see a huge warehouse, easily the biggest building he’d ever seen that wasn’t already falling down. Had to be taller than even Bluette’s highest tree.
He dropped his bag, then jumped down, turning quickly in case the dog appeared. He wasn’t sure where to go but ran for shelter. He came up short just yards in. A dog, a miserable wet, grey half-starved thing stood hackles raised, straining at the end of a short chain. Any direction that dog could take wouldn’t give it any shelter; the chain was far too short. Kruge could see a tarp had been stretched over a tall stack of square white metal machines with windows in the front of them. He had to get out of the rain; it was ridiculous to stand and get soaked and maybe a chill. Too easy to die from a chill in Bluette.
Kruge walked calmly towards the shelter of the tarp and the ramp that led up to it. The dog watched him keenly; every so often lifting it’s legs one by one as they sunk ever deeper into the mud. The dog didn’t attack.
He placed his bag in the dry and surveyed the scene. Where he stood was a clear two-foot off the ground, but the yard itself was a mess. It was a huge area filled with every kind of machine and device, all rusting and wasted. Things he’d never seen or was likely to see anywhere else.
‘Want to get dry?’ He addressed the dog.
The dog was growing concerned now for his own safety. The rain fell ever harder, pushed on by the wind. The water was rising fast in the yard with nowhere to go. Kruge took a deep breath and stepped out into the rain again. Followed the rigid chain to a stake in the yard. The dog watched him nervously, not at all sure what was going on. Kruge pulled up the metal stake. It came away easily in the mud and he walked back towards the tarp and his bag, keeping as far from the dog as he could. He plunged the stake back down nearby.
‘Come,’ he called, making his voice like the authority of the warden who expected to be obeyed. ‘Come now.’
The dog wasn’t sure what to do. Its job was to bark or snarl at the end of chain. This boy had loosened the chain. The dog didn’t move.
‘It’s dry here,’ he pointed to where he was now standing.
A sheet of water fell off the warehouse roof landing squarely on the dog, slapping him down into the mud. He recovered his balance quickly, but his courage was suddenly gone.
‘Come.’ Kruge ordered again.
The dog moved stiffly, it’s legs arthritic, tail between its legs. Came all the way under the tarp to Kruge’s feet, held its head down, as if expecting a beating.
‘I’m not going to beat you. Sit.’
The dog lay down, amazed to be out of the rain, but still wary, expecting the worst.
Kruge ignored the dog now. He wondered where the Keeper was and why no one had opened the gates. Surely he knew he was coming. He had a very bad feeling about this place. Minister Ajabuti must have really wanted him out of the way. That worried him even more. Jeyna was without protection now. It made him sick with worry.
The dog began to lick himself as water swirled around them. Kruge wondered what his duties would be and how the previous apprentice had managed to burn himself to death. He remained there, under the shelter of the tarp, listening to the incessant rain drumming on plastic and metal.
He said a prayer for Jeyna. Wanted God to keep her safe till he could get back to Bluette. His plans would have to change. A day’s walk back to the city meant he’d have to leave at night when he couldn’t be seen.
What was he thinking anyway? He had no plans. He knew nothing about what lay beyond. Was it, as the Ministers said, a wasteland filled with all kinds of evil and abominations? He’d never once met a single soul who’d been beyond the city to tell any different. What was really out there?
It was an hour before the rain finally eased off. The scrapyard was now situated in a shallow lake, with bits of plastic and timber floating by towards the gates. Kruge stood all the while, patiently waiting for a sign that the Keeper knew he was there.
The dog suddenly stirred. Shook himself and stared out to the middle distance. A door he’d never even noticed in a wall of scrap metal swung open with a loud crash. He heard a man swear. The dog whimpered at his side. It’s master was awake at last.
The dog ran forward, checked by the chain a yard from the Keeper. The dog’s tail was well tucked under; he knew he was due a kicking for letting someone in the yard. The kicking didn’t come. The keeper appeared in the doorway, clutching his head. He was wearing a grey tattered nightshirt, his beard snow white against it. Kruge could see he was wincing in the light, as if unused to it.
‘Beast?’ He addressed the dog. The Keeper seemed puzzled the dog was straining, his chain short of his door. Kruge took a step back and pulled the stake up, letting it fall. The dog immediately surged forward, dodging between the keeper’s legs as it went into the hut to look for food. The Keeper looked puzzled as the chain dragged behind the hound.
Kruge stepped forward into the sunlight, steam beginning to rise off the surfaces above water level. The Keeper saw him, his eyes widened, his mouth too dry to speak at this moment.
‘I am Kruge.’
The Keeper blinked without comprehension for a moment, then his eyes rolled up to the top of his head as he fell flat on his face with a big splash into the morning’s freshly made lake.
© Sam Hawksmoor 2020
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