‘You sure this is safe?’ Rayna looked disgusted as she checked the bottom of the empty wooden barrel. It was bringing up some unwanted mental images from the past she was trying to forget. Her lips quivered just thinking about the darkness, the small space, the thunderous galloping of horses, and roaring engines of trains, the hissing and whooshing across the tracks.
‘Quick!’ Karin ushered her. Reluctantly Rayna lodged her right foot in first and cozied her body into the tiny space. She cowered as Karin closed the lid. She noticed Rayna in tears, wiping them away frightened.
‘Don’t worry,’ Karin said. ‘You can trust me.’ Rayna looked up and saw a little ray of hope borrowed from the high noon shine through Karin’s red unruly hair. The lid was shut and Rayna held tight to her shins.
There was darkness once more, and guns blazing everywhere. She even felt a slight rattle but nothing punctured through. There was some mutter, and more rustling and then it was all over.
Rayna felt the lid shake. She felt her heart beat out of her chest. Her head was pounding. She prayed for a clue, a sign that her saviour was alive, and that this finally would be a chance of real hope.
The barrel started to shake and she felt as though being lifted off the ground. Should she speak? She felt movement, unsteady with minimal swaying. Rayna patiently waited for a sign. Then, ‘I got you.’ said the voice as if God had answered her. Relieved, she wanted to burst out and embrace her but she knew her orders. ‘Stay in and keep silent at all times, until I myself tell you otherwise,’
She felt a sudden thump. There was no movement for a brief second. She felt her sense of gravity switch, and some dust fell on to her face from the side. She rested her back horizontally and then she was moving again. There were soft brays and grunts. She knew now that she was on the cart and heading out north of Golgotha, where the farms met the towns and the road beyond. Tears of joy roled over her cheeks and a feeling of immense happiness bloomed inside her.
Karin had an unscrupulous but formidable plan in place. As soon as they walked out of their shop, there were at least 3 or 4 thugs out at the entrance waiting to greet them. Rayna was covered top to bottom in dirty grey overalls. She wore the ugliest boots to hide the pink of her toes. She masked her face but her eyes blue and the white of her nasal bridge were still visible. Karin stood tall, hitting her chest, her fingers called the thugs close teasing them to initiate. The thugs grinned and mocked among themselves. The first one ran at weilding a tiny dagger. Rayna cowered behind Karin, steady like marble pillar, her defence and shield. Karin used her head, and with one hit, he bounced back, riling up the others. The all pressed forward at once screaming at the attempt to intimidate but she didn’t flinch. As quick as lightning, her trigger finger fired all the shots remaining in her barrel, all on point, scattering 3 of them about, while 2 others fell where they stood. The ones still alive quickly found spots to hide giving Karin adequate time to do the same.
Shots fired back and the people outside scurried. Whores and sellers walked back in, doors closed and shops turned their signs. Karin moved her rescue to the edge of the balcony, shielded by some pots and withered plants. She ducked below and crawled to the opposite side. Rayna paid close attention to Karin and how she checked her ammunition. ‘I’m out,’ she lipped. Rayna’s eyes were wide open, excited and frightened all the same, as if she were watching a live show with her in it. All her hopes were up again when she saw Karin smile to herself.
‘One, two, three,’ Karin counted before dashing back in the shop. Shots fired again, ravaging what remained of the doorway. Rayna caught a glimpse of her friends jump out of their windows and run from the back, all covered in sheets and clothing they first came in. It was a liberating to watch it all come tumbling down.
Karin barged out the door settng it loose from its hinges and finally falling to the ground. She held the shotgun from earlier, holding it vertically over the fore-end. She gave it one shake before taking aim, resting the stock over her shoulder, and ‘BLAST’. Pellets scattered everywhere. There were random twangs, and then another shake and another ‘BLAST’.
Rayna kept her eyes to the floor, dulling out the noise in all the chaos. It wasn’t so fun anymore and the safest place she could be was in her own head. ‘Come on, come on!’ Karin held her up. ‘Let’s go,’ she smiled at her and lifted up her chin.
Hands held tight, Rayna was being whisked away through the markets and the busy streets of Golgotha, in other sections where the commotion had not yet spread, they remained incognito, hiding amongst passers-by, retailers and workers. Rayna looked at the brothels and the girls in front of the windows staring back at her. She knew they knew and the smiles of ‘good luck’ they granted her were more than enough to keep her going.
There was an empty alleyway behind some shops. A donkey strapped to a cart pleased to see Karin raised it neck to lick her hand.
‘This is Rayna,’ Karin said, ‘she’s a friend.’
Right at the back were large barrels, and Karin went ahead to carefully inspect them. ‘Rayna’ she called and but the poor girl was distracted by the silly donkey’s expressions and paid no heed. Rayna felt a small object thrown at her. She looked towards Karin holding some beans. She finally heeded to her call. ‘Thank you,’ she said, trying to hold in her tears.
‘It’s not over yet sweetie,’ Karin said giving her a kiss over the forehead and opening the lid of an empty barrel. ‘Might be a little uncomfortable, but it has to do,’
‘In there?’ ask Rayna surprised.
‘More are coming. You will have to. I promise you I’ll keep you safe and remember there is only one rule I will need you to follow.’
It was the most magnificent display Kim had ever seen. It danced and swirled, like paint in water. So much water around her weightless body, naked as the day she was born. The water was dark but the colors were luminous. Iridescent patterns repeatedly blew open, like gift wrappings unfolding from its centre, directing her through the current while a soft orchestra played in the background. She opened her mouth, and her lungs filled up. Gills flapped open the sides of her breasts and life was renewed. A soft perfect bubble escaped her mouth and she watched it rise, as it made its own glowing patterns rippling from its center. As the ripples touched it only created more ripples and soon the glow dominated her surroundings.
‘Woah!’ she breathed and it echoed through the water. ‘Mommy!’ the voice of a child from the distance. ‘Mommy, mommy, mommy!!!!’ the voice cried In agony. Kim looked around, finding for the source but there was nothing. ‘Mommy!!!’ it cried again. She saw a strange figure, a woman in the distance floating as well, dead, with her hands reaching for the surface, forever drowning as little bubbles escaped all her pores. A shroud of even brighter glow surrounded her as she sank.
Kim swam, and swam hoping to reach her. She kept pushing forward but only found herself to be further and further away. The lady reached a depth unseen, just pure light illuminated from her and soon she was gone, and the glow with it.
Kim found herself getting lighter, warmer, and soon found it difficult to breathe. The lights were far away and darkness encroached above. ‘NO!’ she gasped, her gills slowly dissolving. She kicked and kicked, pushing herself up toward the darkness. The surface was now but an inch a way. She straigthened her neck, heading with her nostrils as it flared while crossing the realms. She took another breath, a familiar one.
Kim’s eyes were open and her body was in deep pain. She was back in the tunnels, the place she had found death. Her joints frozen, she looked around slowly turning her head. Pass the cliff it was night and there were stars aplenty. Her memories slowly came back to her. She felt a slight warmth from within the tunnels and heard the crackles of a small ember and soon her eyes made out a shadow. ‘I’m not alone am I?’ she mumbled.
‘Nope, no you’re not,’ a voice responded.
Kim sprang up, and an excruciating pain radiated all through her. All but her legs moved. She noted her hands were warmer, and her color slowly returning. A woman about her size and build sat next to a small fire.
‘Did you make that?’ Kim asked inquisitively.
‘Yes, it’s amazing, and it’s still not out yet. It’s the air here,’
Kim chuckled. ‘The air huh? Never seen anyone get so chipper about pyre.’
‘You call it pyre? Like the Greeks,’
‘Who the fuck are the Greeks?’
Kira got up and slowly approached her. Kim tried to move herself back but her legs were still asleep. ‘Hey, hey! Back off,’
‘Nice way of thanking someone who saved your life,’
‘You saved me from drowning?’
‘You were hypothermic, and it looks like your volume is still low but your wounds have dried up. Now you just need some water, which I have carefully transported from down the tunnels. You got to burn the oil off the surface and then you just get the best damn water you have ever tasted,’ Kira opened a flask and offered it to her.
‘That’s mine,’ Kim snatched the flask from her. ‘So you went through all my things as well,’
‘I needed to know if you were dangerous. I mean look at those metal claws,’
‘No you listen,’ Kira interjected, I saved your life and now you owe me,’
‘I don’t know owe you jack shit,’
‘Then figure out how you are gonna survive for the next couple of hours,’
Kim was furious, ‘Just who do you think you are talking to me like that?’
‘Kira Okeke, from the Democratic Nations of The New Utopia,’
Kim burst into laughter and kept on laughing for an awkward amount of time. She noticed her toe twitch and immediately grinned.
‘Ok, ok, Kira Okeke from the Demo…whatever, listen. You are fucking crazy ass bitch, and I don’t know how long you have been trapped here but I am not your friend, and I don’t owe you anything. In fact I am going to kill you for going through my things after my legs start working again.’
‘1 day, from sunrise to sunset, or at least that’s how time is measured in most planets. That’s how long I have been here,’ Kira replied ignoring the rest.
‘Planets? OK,’ she felt the sensation finally return to her legs. ‘Maybe you should just,’ she sprang up, quickly on to her feet. ‘Go back to where you came from,’ and dashed for the exit before falling to her face after 2 steps.
‘You think I don’t want to?’ Kira retorted not even attempting to acknowledge what had just happened.
‘My family, my sweet husband, and my kid, my sweet Kate,’ she teared missing them. ‘I’ve never been away this long, and so out of touch. She would be going to another grade of school by now,’ she lamented.
‘Mommy…’ Kim muttered. ‘It was you,’ she turned to look back.
‘I knew you recognized me, I was the one…’
‘the crazy one in the dessert,’ Kim interjected, hiding the fact that she was also the one she saw in her weird psychedelic near death experience. She finally realised that they were same person.
‘Look,’ Kira looked hard into Kim’s face. ‘I don’t know you, and you don’t need to trust me, but help me get out of here, find some civilisation nearby so I can contact home and get help. I promise you that you will be well rewarded.’
Kim’s head started to ruminate. One never says no to money. ‘What kind of reward?’
‘Currency, intergalactic, worth millions here perhaps,’
‘Intergalactic? Ok lady, you can stop the whole alien thing right now,’
‘You people really don’t know do you?’
‘There’s a universe out there, planets, ships, stations, hubs, the whole thing is just littered with our kind. You have been left so alone for so long to fend for yourselves you poor things,’
Kim looked out past the cliff into the night sky. ‘Everywhere?’ She wondered for a second if the strange woman might be telling the truth. Then she started ruminating even more. ‘She was in the dessert in some kind of weird air ship. She also knows how to heal people, make pyre and who in the hell can come up with a phrase like ‘Democratic Shanties of La-La Land’?’
‘Ok, I suppose you did save me. So, I will help you travel to the next town. And that’s it,’
Kira smiled pleased to have struck an agreement, and for once on this miserable planet, she felt a glimmer of hope. ‘Thank you, Miss?’
‘No not JUST KIM,’ she retorted, ‘KIM!’