The pain woke me up. It started at the back of my neck like a short jab, poked its way through my head and bloomed into a dull ache, clouding my other senses. Slight movements made it worse. What happened? Where was I? What’s going on?
Things came back quickly but it felt slow. I’d been in the city. I’d gone underground. The fire. Then – then the Arturians – then I ran – and
“I say we just leave ‘im here.”
A voice from somewhere nearby. Low and gravelly, in a hushed whisper. Probably ten metres away or so.
“We can’t do that. You know we gotta take him to the boss.”
“Lookit the state of ‘im, he’s not gonna make it to the boss.”
“That’sasmaybe, but we got our orders so we take ‘im to the boss.”
“The boss wants ‘im alive.”
“Well I’m sure he’ll understand”
The other voice snorted. I kept my eyes firmly closed and my body still. I could feel some coarse rope on my wrists which were yanked behind my back, my legs extended out in front of me but I couldn’t tell if they were fastened or not, my stomach was sore but I couldn’t work out what from. The backs of my hands were pressed against a cold surface, must have been for a while as my fingertips were completely numb.
“Understand? You’re kidding yourself, you saw what ‘appened to Biggsy last week didn’tcher?”
“yeah but –“
“No fuckin’ way I’m gonna let that happen to me pal. Look I reckon we just leave ‘im here, the next pair will find ‘im and let them deal with it.”
“What if he does make it though? You gonna let the next pair of mugs get the reward then?”
The reluctant man faltered. His companion sensed the opening of a weakness and dived in further. “Imagine if it was Alpha Gamma who found ‘im instead of us. They’d bring ‘im to the boss for sure, they wouldn’t even be ‘avin this discussion would they?”
“Alpha Gamma are fuckin’ wankers.”
“’Zactly. Look ‘e looks bad“ – a pause, I could feel their beady eyes on me, I held my breath in my chest – “but we ain’t no medics, we don’t know for sure he’s gonna kick it before we get ‘im back.”
“Half his ‘ead is missing!”
“He’s breathing ain’t he?”
Another brief pause. “I can’t tell.”
“He was when we found ‘im.”
“Go and check.”
“Me? Why don’t you go and check.”
“I tied him up.”
“Well I don’t even wanna take ‘im with us.”
A groan from one of the men and I can hear footsteps crunching towards me. Crunching? What were they crunching on? It sounded like snow, it couldn’t be snow, there was no way. Wait, couldn’t it? The sound made me re-focus; my legs felt damp, my buttocks were wet, my hands were prickling with needle like pain, the backs of my hands felt enclosed by a soft yet firm, coarse and cold substance. It felt exactly like snow. The urge to open my eyes had never been greater.
The footsteps stopped and I could feel a presence to my left. I could hear the nostrils flare as he breathed in. I could smell the damp fabric of his moist clothes. I imagined his tongue, lolling in his mouth, pushing it open and rubbing itself across his dry lips.
“Well?” his counterpart’s voice called across.
The pain in my head was still disorienting me and numbing my normal panic and pain stimuli, so calmly allowed myself to breathe in quietly through my nose, making sure my chest rose and fell with each breath. It was like when me and Magz used to play sleeping lions only both of us would want to get caught. The tension of waiting was too much for us back then, so we’d exaggerate our breaths so the hunter could see these lions weren’t dead and would pick us first.
“Yeah he’s breathin’. Looks like ‘e’s gone and pissed ‘imself as well.”
I can only guess that he had seen a wet patch between my thighs; they did feel clammy and cold. Must be the snow soaking through my ragged jeans. Or maybe I did piss myself while I was out cold. Bit embarrassing but hardly my biggest problem right now. The man sniggered and crunch crunch crunched away.