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|“Are you kidding?” Aquarius replied. “I’m ramming the gate. We’ll be lucky if they don’t have the barricades up by the time we get there.”||
Samara could feel the security wagon moving along from the inside. It was dark, but he could feel the floor bounce and hear the sounds of the engine. The truck took sharp turns and Samara was rolled across the floor towards the wall of the compartment. He was terrified.
Just then, the tires screeched and Samara was flung towards the front of the truck as it crashed headlong into an unknown object. With his hands shackled behind him, he was unable to protect his head from striking the wall. He came to a rest after being flung back with the recoil of the impact. For a moment there was just silence.
The pain in Samara’s head stung like nothing he’d felt before. The cabin was lined with steel and it felt as if a rivet had punctured his scalp. He couldn’t think of anything but the pain reeling throughout his head.
From outside, Samara thought he heard the sound of the driver’s door slamming shut and the sounds of muffled voices shouting. Something was happening and he was helpless to defend himself. For the longest time, he waited for a sign that someone would remember him back here. He thought any moment the back door would slide up, and that he would be hauled out to be slaughtered.
In a reign of gunfire the voices stopped. Several of the bullets whizzed through the compartment leaving tiny holes, which let in a small amount of light. He held his breath and listened for any sounds that might indicate what was happening outside. There were none. Not even the sounds of the engine broke the silence. Images danced in his mind while he lay bound on the floor. He needed to escape in his mind as well as with his body. The waiting was horrific.
From behind, he heard the latch on the door clicking and his heart began to race. He had horrifying memories of being tossed in the pit and had no desire to enter it again. The door rose quickly, with the sounds of metal sliding on metal and the light from outside poured into the windowless compartment. Adjusting his eyes once again to the light, Samara looked out to see the familiar face of his accomplice Aquarius. A sense of relief came over Samara as Aquarius entered the bed of the truck and released the leather restraint from around his ankles.
“On your feet!” Aquarius yelled. “We don’t have much time.”
Without thinking twice, Samara kicked his way to the edge of the truck and hopped down onto the concrete below.
“Follow me!” Aquarius yelled, disappearing around the side of the truck.
Samara took off running with his hands bound behind him. It was difficult to maintain balance without the use of his arms. Coming around the truck he saw where the truck had slammed into the rear of Houser’s car. It was evident that Aquarius had used the car to stop the truck from delivering him as cargo. The truck driver was slumped over the wheel, blood was spattered all over the inside of the windshield.
“Get in the passenger side!” Aquarius yelled.
As Samara ran to the passenger’s side, Aquarius hopped in the driver’s side leaning over to open the door. After getting seated Samara was able to squeeze his feet through the chains that held his hands together. This allowed him to bring his hands out front and was much more comfortable.
“We got to make the front gate before the guards figure out what’s happened,” Aquarius said. He put the car in reverse and backed out. The car thumped as they drove over something on the concrete.
“Where’s the other guard?” Samara asked. He did not need an answer as they continued back and he saw the dead man squashed on the road. “Oh God!” he said, holding himself back from vomiting at he sight of exposed brains. Regaining his composure he said, “I thought you left me hanging out to dry.”
“I thought the same of you,” Aquarius said as he spun down the driveway into the parking lot.
“Are you going to try to use the pass to get out?”
“Are you kidding?” Aquarius replied. “I’m ramming the gate. We’ll be lucky if they don’t have the barricades up by the time we get there.”
“Just run through them.”
Aquarius looked to Samara as he spun around between the cars. “I’m not talking about the bar they raise up and down. I’m talking about the concrete bunker they raise with hydraulics.”
“Oh I see,” Samara said sheepishly.
“You sure didn’t blend well,” Aquarius said, now with his eyes on target.
The car was up to forty miles per hour as Aquarius zipped down between the parked cars towards the gate. “Put you feet on the dash!”
Samara put up his feet and watched the gate come closer and closer. The car was up to fifty miles per hour and on a collision course with the striped cross bar. Atop the guard post a light began to flash and a guard stepped out to take a look at the oncoming car.
“We’re not going to make it!” Samara yelled gritting his teeth, awaiting impact with the concrete barrier.
“We’ll make it! Don’t worry,” Aquarius shouted as they broke through the arm bar. It shattered and crashed through the windshield, spraying both Samara and Aquarius with small bits of broken glass. The impact was less forceful than Samara thought, but the glass breaking almost sent him into shock. Apparently, the guards were unable to raise the concrete barrier in time.
Aquarius looked over to Samara who was spitting glass out of his mouth. “Are you all right?” he asked.
“I’m bleeding!” Samara replied. “And I got glass in my hair.”
Aquarius had to hold back from laughing at that comment.
“You seem awful calm for someone about to be chased halfway across the country side.”
“What are you talking about. We’re free men!”
“Free men? How?” Samara asked.
A grin crossed Aquarius’s face, and he slowed to a comfortable cruising speed. The wind passing through the windshield was freezing cold, but the hint of freedom warmed his heart. He shook his head and took pleasure at finally one upping his former supervisor.
The car sped down the road, putting miles between them and the meat packing plant. In the distance, Samara could see a city on the horizon growing ever larger in his view. The heat was cranked on the dash, but the cold wind blowing through the broken glass obliterated its effectiveness. His teeth chattered and his skin became numb.
“I owe you my life,” Samara said in gratitude.
“We’re even,” Aquarius relied. “Just do me a favor – it’s Aquarius not Donald – got it?”
Samara nodded in agreement.
“Now you didn’t explain why every cop car in the county isn’t chasing us right now?” Samara asked.
“Cops don’t chase food,” Aquarius said, laughing out loud.“
“We killed people back there!”
“Those workers just got processed in our places. They don’t have the resources to send guards after us. Were considered like rogue steers at this point.”
“Come on!” Samara yelled in disbelief.
“All right,” Aquarius said. He was still grinning. “We are considered a commodity. We are nothing more than food.”
“We’re like cattle?” Samara asked.
“Yes, just like cattle. Only we don’t have cattle here,” Aquarius replied.
“Are you saying they farm people over here?”
“Not exactly.” Aquarius said, pausing to gather his thoughts, “People on your side live full lives and when they die they come here.”
“How the hell?” Samara said with his jaw on the floor.
“You think this is a joke?”
Samara looked out the passenger side window trying to process what he’d been told and what he’d scene this nightmarish day.
“I may have over simplified it a little. Not everyone passes. There are rules.”
“Then how can you be excluded?” Samara asked.
“Let me start from the beginning, first off, children and old people cross over to this side and are reborn into new bodies. Children are reborn as they would have appeared at age 20. With old people it’s more like 40, Everyone including criminals and sick people make the journey after death. Once you get here, there’s a clock that starts ticking. You have three years, more or less, before The Calling.”
“You mean no one is excluded?” Samara asked.
“Well everyone but the gatekeepers.”
“How does the government tell the difference? How do they know when you’ve been here three years?”
“People here are just called. It’s an internal voice that draws them to certain collection areas.”
“Let me explain. When an adult dies on your world their spirit is transferred to their new body in this world. Remember I said we don’t have cattle here? Well, we don’t have hardly any edible crops,” Aquarius chuckled. “Just human flesh, that all we’ve got. You see, when you die and come to this world you never die, you never age. Left unchecked you are immortal.”
“Immortality!?” Samara exclaimed, “My God, in all mans history, all those souls have come here!”
“You got it,” Aquarius acknowledged with a look that mocked Samara’s enlightenment. “Now you see why the balance must be maintained, why there is little other food, why we are called, why we must consume each other to stay alive. This place would be overpopulated into starvation if everyone were allowed to live,” he said in a manner that helped Samara put the pieces of the puzzle together. “Don’t ask me why this is the way it is, it just is.”
“There must be thousands of arrivals every day,” Samara said. “Where do they go, how does the transformation take place?” he asked.
“Spuds,” Aquarius said with a giggle, “It’s like growing potatoes on your world. Look out your window, see that field?”
“Yea, what of it,” Samara answered. “Looks like the tundra, looks like any farmers field in the dead of winter.”
“It’s a farmers field all right, but they just grow receptacles, they grow underground,” Aquarius said matter of factly. “Not in a pod or a shell or anything, they just grow there in the dirt, like a potato,” he added. “They don’t really have a face or anything, kinda like an organic blob just waiting for an identity.”
Samara just sat there, still handcuffed and cold taking in what Aquarius was saying. “Tell me more,” he said with a sense of dread.
“I don’t know everything, just that when someone dies on your side their spirit passes through the gate and is reborn into a receptacle of matching size here in the ground. It matures for a couple of weeks and then voila, they dig themselves out and instinctively walk to the indoctrination center. The centers are all over. See there’s one there,” pointing to an out building on what appeared to Samara to be a normal farmyard.
That’s where they’re given clothes and are assigned a job and a place to live. They’re drones, sure they can get married and can even have sex but they’re all sterile.”
“So everyone is just called by a mysterious force?” Samara asked jumping ahead.
“Yea, except for the Weeds. They grow in ditches and along the rivers. They never make it to the indoctrination centers - they’re usually homeless and nameless. They’ll kill you for your meat. They’ll eat you raw.”
“What happens to them?” Samara asked.
“If they’re caught they are sent to the rendering plant automatically. They aren’t fit for human consumption.”
Switching to yet another line of thought Samara said, “None of those people in the pit had gunshots. How do you gather these people without shooting them?”
Anxious to get Samara up to speed on all his questions, Aquarius replied, “Well first of all, you can’t shoot the meat before hand like that. All meat brought to the plant is alive and in good condition. Nothing is wasted.”
“They don’t use guns?”
“Don’t get me wrong. They do use guns. The ones that are shot or damaged are just disposed of differently.”
“Why do I get the feeling you are going to tell me you send them to be made into dog food?” Samara asked.
“Waste not, want not. Damaged goods and Weeds go to the pet food plant. We love our pets so we’d never ever harm them, God knows they’re completely inedible.”
“What’s God got to do with this? There is no God that would allow for all this,” Samara said.
“You’re probably right,” Aquarius jumped in, “There is no religion on this side, I’ve just let my experience on your side influence my speech.”
There was a brief pause as Samara processed the information.
“Aren’t you curious about the alignment, about our mission,” Aquarius asked.
“The worlds maintain a natural balance. The alignment is necessary every 10 years…”
“Why,” Samara interjected, “Why me?”
Upset at being interrupted by the curious Samara, Aquarius abruptly ended the conversation, “I’ll explain that later,” Aquarius answered, “For now we’ve got to lay low.”
Fifteen minutes past and Samara was starting to get very nervous. He had not been a free man for very long and did not want to give it up as they approached the city.
“What now,” Samara spoke softly breaking the long silence.
“Don’t worry,” Aquarius said. “Being a gatekeeper does have some pull. I have lots of friends out here. I’ve been switching sides for five years now. I can pull in a few favors. And don’t forget, I can spot a hunter a mile away. I know most of them around here. Hell, technically I am one.”
“You’re hunting the Weeds who passed the gate?” Samara asked putting things together in his mind.
“Yes, that became my new mission after the incident. The misalignment allowed the Weeds to pass. You see my father convinced me that my calling was to become gatekeeper. He contacted me too late however, the damage was done.”
“I still don’t understand why it’s so important to align the damn gate.” Samara said.
“Balance, doctor, the key is balance. There is a crisis and it’s happening as we speak. We must work together - the existence of man on this planet is in our hands. You see my father told me about a small band of Weeds who are trying to flood this side with millions of bodies. A small group intent on making the human race extinct. They are desperate and ruthless, tired of their nomadic life on this world. They’re suicidal now. They are attempting to kill millions in your reality to ultimately destroy life as we know it.”
“How were they able to pass?” Samara asked.
“The gates,” Aquarius proclaimed, how many damn times do I have to tell you, they are out of alignment. The Weeds are sneaky, they discovered the gate and slipped through the gates into your reality when they were out of alignment.”
“I have spent most of my adult life battling the damn Weeds, I’ve killed hundreds, I don’t know maybe thousands if you include the ones that were still in the ground.”
“OK, I get it now - what do we do now?”
“We’ve got two problems, one, we have to stop the Weeds who have passed through the gate to your side and two, we have to align the gates so this doesn’t happen again. They are still out there, making plans to inflict carnage on your world. They would like nothing more than to kill everyone on your Earth. If they are successful, this side will be overrun and we will all eventually perish.” Aquarius replied. “Millions of spirits will be trapped in the flux. Many will be drawn to dormant Weed receptacles in the ground here.
“I understand completely,” Samara said. “If we stop them and align the gates the Weeds will no longer be able to pass and balance will be maintained. The Weeds are our enemy, the enemy of all mankind!”
“Yes, and that’s why I have taken over for my father. He is old and going insane. He is too incompetent to be a gatekeeper. The alignment is long overdue and he doesn’t have the resources to get it fixed any time soon.”
“He seemed alright to me yesterday. In fact I think he may have had a change of heart.”
Aquarius hesitated hoping Samara was right. He dismissed the notion for the moment and continued, “Noah feels that equilibrium will be restored naturally even if there are millions of deaths on your side. He feels nature should be allowed to take its course.”
“He says nature always finds a way. Look at the plagues of the past. The Black Death, small pox, AIDS. He says we don’t need to help nature. Nature does a fine job without us. Maybe nature wants man to be extinct. I say that maybe there is a God and this is His retribution for man’s sins. Who knows, I only know that my father, Noah Black is going to let this thing happen and you and I my friend must stop them.”
“Why don’t you become the new gatekeeper?” Samara asked.
“I have every intention becoming a gatekeeper,” Aquarius replied. “Not just a gatekeeper in this region, but the supreme gatemaster.”
“You know, I still don’t get this whole thing. When dying people on my side have a near death experience, you know with the white light and all that, you mean there is no heaven?” Samara asked.
“Don’t let out the secret,” Aquarius said with a grin. You are the only person on the planet, other than the gatekeepers and their families who knows that.”
“This is too much,” exclaimed Samara, “I must be dreaming or I’m in a coma.” “When I wake up this might make a hell of a book or movie,” he thought to himself.
Whatever the explanation, Samara had no choice but to go with the flow. He convinced himself that this ordeal was no dream, no fantasy, no joke, it was real and his only course of action had to be to help Aquarius.
“One other thing, Aquarius offered. The Ritual.”
“Gatekeepers are vegetarians but once every ten years, before the gates can be aligned, they are driven to eat human flesh.”
Samara’s mind flashed back to his young assistant Bobby hanging naked on the light pole in the farmyard. It was obvious to him now that Bobby was being prepared for slaughter by Noah Black. Or perhaps Aquarius himself was going to cut up Bobby for the ritual. He was still confused about Noah and Aquarius and their relationship and he definitely had a difficult time trusting either one of them. It was all too much to fathom.
Aquarius looked in his rear view mirror for the third time. His head bobbed back and forth from the road to the mirror. Samara took notice. “What are you looking at?” he asked.
“I don’t think it’s anything,” Aquarius replied, keeping his eyes on the rear view.
Samara started to turn his head.
“Don’t!” Aquarius said. “Keep your head facing forward.”
“Why?” Samara asked, “What’s back there?”
Aquarius swallowed hard and tried to concentrate. He scanned the streets ahead looking for an escape route.
“You said we were safe here!” Samara said.
“We are. Just shut up and let me drive!” Aquarius snapped back. “I just need to get away from down town.”
“What’s wrong with down town?”
“Sometimes bounty hunters hang out here.”
“You saw one?” Samara asked.
“Maybe,” Aquarius replied. “I don’t know for sure.”
“Well get us the hell out of here before we get caught!”
Aquarius took a deep breath and stopped at the traffic light. He turned his head ever so slightly, looking both ways down the cross street, looking for the car he had seen a moment ago. If he made good time, he could be far enough away that the men in that car wouldn’t find them. Aquarius knew they were bounty hunters. “Just give me a minute and we’ll be away from down town,” he said trying to sound as calm as possible.
Then, just ahead, Aquarius spotted the vehicle turning onto his street from a side ally and steer towards him. If he proceeded forward he would pass right by them. “Hold on,” he said, and they made an abrupt right turn.
“Why are you going this way?” Samara asked.
“It’s a short cut,” Aquarius replied.
“The hell it is.”
“Do you know this town?”
“Yes I do,” Samara replied. “This is where we stopped to gas up when we working on the ghost project together.”
Aquarius knew he was correct. They had stopped here to gas up the research vehicle and the truck that towed the trailer before heading off to the bridge on the other side.
“You don’t know this town any better than I do,” Samara said.
“Not true,” Aquarius replied. “Remember, I used to live around here. I only joined your research project to find the gate. I needed you to help me get my memory back.”
“Why did you need me?” Samara asked. “If you were the gatekeeper, you should have known where the gate was.”
“Again, not true. I was sent through the gate while it was out of alignment and I ended up hundreds of miles from the gate. I lost a lot of what I knew. It was your research project that led me here. I was too late though - the Weeds had already passed.”
“Why did you make the journey to my reality in the first place?”
“I went to find my sister Alice. I needed her to help me align the gates. Without a direct heir from the opposite side it is impossible to align them. My father abandoned his post and refused to take part in the ceremony.”
Aquarius drove onward down the side street ever mindful of the road behind him. He was intent on watching for anyone following him. “My father had intended to let nature run its course. He failed in his duty as gatekeeper, he is to blame for all of this.”
“Why did Noah take such a risk, humanity was at stake for Christ’s sake?”
“He was willing to risk death to cover his incompetence. He was a poor gatekeeper he was a lazy drunk.”
“I see,” Samara said. “And the Weeds forced you onto this world.”
“Well sort of. They caught me here and tried to kill me and force me onto your side. I guess I have a hard head,” he said rubbing his forehead where a scar had started to form.”
“Can my life ever be restored to normal?” Samara asked.
“Just because you are now of this side doesn’t mean things can’t be restored to the way they were.”
Samara said a silent prayer, God or not, if only Aquarius were right.
Aquarius pulled down a residential street and slowly moved along looking at the houses as they passed. As he drove he spoke to Samara. There are two ways we maintain all memories of our experiences on both sides. One is by being a gatekeeper. We retain our memory no matter how many times we cross. The other is when someone passed through the gate to his or her unnatural side, like you, without actually dying. It is not known whether you will remember your experiences her if you are able to return home. Regular folks like you are not supposed to pass through the gate alive.”
Looking out his side window Samara couldn’t help but spy a fast food restaurant down the street. “Can we stop and get something to eat? I haven’t had a meal in days, and I’m starving,”
“I think the last time you ate was when you, Bobby and I stopped at that gas station,” Aquarius said.
Hearing Bobby’s name again brought up the memory of his assistant hanging from the light pole, dangling naked in the snow. The memory angered Samara. “Explain again, why did you kill Bobby?” Samara asked. “He did nothing to you!”
Aquarius took a deep breath as he drove on down the street. He had to think of the right thing to say. There was no correct answer that would satisfy the professor. “He was part of a ritual The Feast of the Alignment. The gatekeepers must feast on human flesh prior to the alignment. He was to be shared between Alice and I.”
“Why didn’t you kill me?” Samara asked.
“We had a feeling I might need your help. I don’t know why,” Aquarius replied.
Samara could not fathom any reason why he was involved with all this, “You are sure you don’t know why?”
“The gatemaster thought you were necessary for my mission. You have saved my life here and that alone might explain your presence. You have proven yourself, you could become the greatest unsung hero of all time my friend.”
Samara drummed his fingertips on his knee as he watched the houses pass by. “When can we get something to eat?”
“We can go through a drive through if you want. Do you have any cash?”
Samara reached behind and pulled his wallet from his back pocket. It was difficult with his cuffed hands. He opened the pouch and counted over two hundred dollars inside. “Damn!” he said aloud. “This Houser must get paid pretty good back at the plant.”
Aquarius smiled and held out his hand. “Give me ten bucks.”
With the cash in hand, Aquarius pulled up to the fast food restaurant and stopped at the speaker. He turned to Samara who was reading the menu. “What do you want?” he asked.
“I want two hamburgers and a root beer,” Samara said.
Aquarius ordered for the both of them and pulled around to the side where he paid for the order and handed Samara the bag. The clerk at the window paid them no attention as they blended in well. There was no real way for anyone to know they were being pursued. The car pulled away and Samara dove into his meal. He bit off large bites and washed them down with the root beer he held in his right hand. It felt good to eat.
“With that wad of cash I think we should get a room at a hotel for the night,” Aquarius said. “We can use the time to make a plan.”
With his mouth full, Samara replied, “What kind of plan? All we can do is go back to the gate and get back to where we belong.”
“Where we belong? Where you belong my friend. I am of neither world, I am of both worlds. I am comfortable either place. I am an apprentice gatekeeper after all.”
“I don’t feel comfortable here,” Samara said. “This side gives me the creeps.”
Aquarius looked at Samara and watched him finish his meal. He didn’t have the heart or the guts to tell him he just ate human flesh.
“Damn that hit the spot,” Samara said. “I like the hotel idea. I need a shower real bad. Maybe they have a washer and a dryer there too.”
“Maybe,” Aquarius replied.
Aquarius drove to the outskirts of town and located a small hotel near the highway. The driveway was still covered with snow and the walls of the building were stained and dirty. Just the kind of place they needed to hide out.
“You stay in here,” Aquarius said as he pulled up to the office. “Just give me the cash.”
Samara handed Aquarius fifty dollars. He did not trust him with the rest. “I want my own bed,” he said placing the wallet back in his front shirt pocket.
Aquarius opened the door and a rush of cold air entered the car. With the slam of the door, he was gone. Samara turned up the heat of the idling car and settled in for the moment. He watched Aquarius through the windshield walking up to the office door and entering the building. It was too dark inside for him to see what was happening.
Samara began to fidget, awaiting Aquarius’s return with the room keys. He tapped his hands on his knees making a rhythm that seemed to help pass the time. Minutes passed and still no Aquarius. The drumming became faster and faster, catching up to the beating of his heart. Any minute now, he would have to exit the car and check to see if Aquarius abandoned him.
Just then the office door swung open and Aquarius stepped out of the building. He walked around the car and opened the door. With a slam, the door closed and Aquarius was back inside the car.
“What took you so long?” Samara asked.
“They wanted some identification.”
“Oh crap! What did you do?”
“I told them I was going to get it from my car,” Aquarius replied.
“This is my car,” Samara said. “What are you going to do?”
Aquarius paused and shook his head. He looked to Samara and said, “You have to go in there and get the room. You have identification in your wallet. I’ll just meet you at the room.”
Samara swallowed hard and his heart began to pound. “Are you nuts?” he asked. “I am not going in there.” Samara raised his hands and showed Aquarius his handcuffs. “And how am I supposed to explain these?”
Aquarius forgot all about the cuffs. “Damn!” he yelled. “I would use your identification if I thought I could get away with it.” Aquarius looked nothing like Houser or Samara for that matter.
Samara knew he was right. He looked out to the snow-covered parking lot and thought about the comfort of the shower. “Won’t they think it’s strange if I came in?”
“I would if I were them,” Aquarius replied. “Forget it. We just have to find a way to take those cuffs off you. We’ll come back later.”
Aquarius put the car in reverse and started to back out of the driveway. Just then he heard the thump of his bumper striking something solid. He spun his head around and saw another car behind him boxing him in. He turned and looked out his driver’s side window and caught site of someone standing there with a stun gun in his hand.
“Oh Crap!” Aquarius yelled. “It’s a bounty hunter! Get out and run!”
Samara opened his door and Aquarius slid over jumping out behind him. Both men made a mad dash down the sidewalk pursued on foot by two bounty hunters. “Move it, Move it!” Aquarius yelled from behind Samara. Samara’s hands were still bound in front of him, making it difficult to maintain and sustain any sort of speed. He had to rock his arms back and forth in order to keep proper balance. It did not take long for Aquarius to surpass Samara and leave him trailing in the snow. “Wait up God damn it!” Samara yelled. He felt winded and knew it was only a matter of time before he was caught.
Aquarius darted around the corner and ran between two buildings disappearing from Samara’s view. Now he knew he was on his own and could hear the sounds of footsteps gaining on him. Closer and closer the footsteps grew until he felt something grab at his ankles and trip him up. Samara fell face first into the snow-covered concrete. The pain of the impact shot through his body like lightning.
Samara was quickly subdued and lifted to his feet. A man stood there and checked him for injury. “He looks fine to me,” the man said. “I think he’ll fetch eight hundred, take him to the wagon.”
Aquarius came around the side of the building and saw the two men escorting Samara to the truck. He didn’t know if he should risk his neck trying to free him or not. Aquarius knew a trick. It wasn’t a pleasant thing but it was one way to save Samara’s life. Aquarius knew the plant would not take dead, contaminated or desecrated live bodies. If he could some how maim Samara enough, they would have no choice but to free him. It wouldn’t be worth their time to take him across state to the rendering plant.
He thought about taking the out two men himself. This was a risky option. The last plan was to leave Samara and take off without him. Then he remembered his earlier premonition and besides they would take the car also. The property of all livestock became the property of the bounty hunter. It was part of his pay.
Aquarius darted out from behind the building and charged headlong into the taller bounty hunter. Aquarius knew most bounty hunters did not use firearms because of the potential damage they’d do to the product. They were not above carrying them for protection however. He needed to use the element of surprise.
Striking the man in midsection, he knocked him to the ground. Using his fist, he began to beat on his face repeatedly until the other man came up from behind and grabbed him by the neck.
Samara used this opportunity to put the chains of his wrist cuffs around the hunter’s neck. He pulled back hard enough to get him off of Aquarius. Once Aquarius caught his breath, he again began punching the downed hunter in the face until he no longer fought back. Aquarius turned and looked to Samara who had his man on the ground, choking him to death. “Finish him now!” Aquarius yelled in a rage of adrenaline. Moments passed and the dying man gave up resistance as he faded away. Samara let go and the man’s face disappeared into the snow.
“Are you all right?” Aquarius asked.
Samara was shaken and visibly scared. “I just killed a man,” he replied.
“It’s neither your first and probably not your last this day my friend, it was either him or you. You had no choice!” Aquarius replied as he searched the dead hunter for his handcuff keys.
“I never thought…”
“Hey!” Aquarius interrupted. “This is survival man, get over it.” He freed Samara’s hands and tossed the cuffs on the ground.
Samara followed Aquarius down a frozen street to a park bench where they sat down. People all around them stood watching each other as if they had no idea whom each other were. They appeared in state of confusion, but a controlled state it seemed.
“Where do we look first?” Samara asked.
“I’m thinking about it,” Aquarius replied. He had no real plan.
Just then, Aquarius raised his hand to shush Samara.
“What is it?” Samara whispered. “Do you see them?”
Keeping his voice low, and his face pointed at the ground, Aquarius answered, “Keep your head down, I just saw a bounty hunter.” Aquarius turned his head slowly and peered out the corner of his eye. “I see two more by the steps.”
“What do you want to do?” Samara whispered.
“We need to stand up and walk away without bringing attention to ourselves,” Aquarius replied. “If we act calm, we can get away from the crowd and away from them.”
“I’m ready when you are,” Samara whispered.
“All right then, let’s go,” Aquarius stated, and both men stood up and started walking across the snow to the sidewalk. “Keep your eyes up front and do not look anyone in the eye.”
It was a short walk to the sidewalk where they turned and walked on to the end of the block. They were greeted by a traffic light and a group of people huddled around a trash can. Samara looked to Aquarius who was giving him a signal with his eyes that he was standing next to one of the bounty hunters. Samara winked his eye in acknowledgment and kept his face away from the bounty hunter.
The light turned green and both men started walking across the street. It was then that Aquarius noticed to his left, the large semi tractor-trailer slowly moving down the street in their direction. The truck was a few blocks away and moving along at an even pace. Aquarius then turned to his right and saw a bulldozer coming from the other direction moving people along as it traversed the street.
“These people have been called they’re being herded for slaughter,” Aquarius whispered.
Samara looked both directions and saw the massive machines converging in on them.
Samara was starting to become nervous, not understanding what was happening and listening to the urgency in Aquarius’s voice. They made it to the other side of the street where they had to part a crowd of bystanders to continue on down the sidewalk. “How much further?” Samara asked.
“We need to get about four blocks away to be safe.”
“What are they going to do?” Samara asked.
“They are going to round up as many people as they can and put them in the back of that semi.”
Samara was well aquatinted by now with how things work on this harsh world.
Aquarius was well aware that Samara had been captured once before and had been taken to the meat packing plant. “Trust me friend, if you don’t want to become a hamburger we better book. Now lets go.”
Samara picked up the pace as he walked along. When Aquarius mentioned hamburger Samara suddenly realized what he had done. The thought caused him to drop to his knees and spontaneously vomit. The rush of human flesh and root beer passed up through his mouth and nose burning all the way up and out.
“You shouldn’t have said that ,” Samara uttered with a gurgle. He spit and gagged and wiped his face with his coat and struggled to stand.
“You do not want to draw attention to yourself. If they see you on the ground, they will investigate,” Aquarius said.
Samara got up, walking slower now, occasionally coughing and spitting. Minutes later, both Samara and Aquarius were blocks away from downtown.
“Where to now?” Samara asked. “We’re wasting of time.”
“I didn’t realize there would be so many bounty hunters around town. I forgot about The Calling today.” Aquarius tried to keep his voice down as he spoke.
“So its back to the car?” Samara asked.
“It’s our only choice now,” Aquarius replied.
The two men, after surviving the most difficult ordeal of their lives, were now back on the road heading to the farm where the gate was located. Their mission was not yet complete. The Weeds had to be stopped and the gate had to be aligned.
Eventually, the car pulled up into the farmyard, which appeared abandoned. The ashes of the burned down house were blown around in the snow.
|Alignment chapter 16||Morning Star chapter 15|
|Alignment chapter 6||Alignment chapter 4|
|Morning Star chapter 14||Alignment chapter 11|