AWOL – Chapter 11

Darkness had seeped through the cracks of the rotting door and rolled down the shaft over the past couple hours. Ry waited. Breathed. Focused. Waited some more. When he was certain midnight must be creeping up, he pulled himself up to the entrance with his elbows. The fear coalescing in his belly was familiar and comfortable, easily ignored. His gaze honed in on the barn before he was even sure he could remember where it was. Wrapped in the thick blackness of the night, heavy clouds still coating the sky and obscuring any natural light, it was hard to make out the bulky shape. Shadow on shadow. He held himself, eyes adjusting to the dark slowly, slowly. And he listened. The black and the hazy drizzle made accurate visuals impossible. But his hearing had developed into something otherworldly in the past two years. There were no voices. No sounds of movement. No light emanating from the barn. He could almost believe they’d gone. Except he’d been listening to them and for them all day. He knew they were there, waiting out the rain, trying to fix the vehicle. Or, at the moment, sleeping. Hopefully sleeping.

He pulled himself halfway out of the shaft. And prayed to whatever gods or saints may or may not exist that the men were sleeping. When he was far enough out, he rolled the rest of the way, the grass and squishy ground muffling the sound. Moisture immediately leeched through his clothes, the cold slapping against his skin. He came up in a crouch, but didn’t stand. He steadied himself, eyes trained toward the barn, ears straining and reached untie his boots. He removed his socks, stuffing them into the boots, hoping to keep them as dry as possible and stood. Mud squelched between his toes and water pooled around his feet, but when he moved there was little sound.

Morbid curiosity and his somewhat latent desire for death pulled at him, trying to tug him towards the barn. To see. To look his hunters in the face. To…what? Kill them in their sleep? Pray they wake up and kill him? He wondered if there was any way to at least slash the tires, ensure they couldn’t follow him any time soon.

He’d learned, not just as a Drover, but over his whole life, the difference between acting on impulse and acting on instinct. One was a sure-fire way to trouble, the other could save your life. He backed away from the barn, slowly, keeping his steps soft and quiet as possible.   His feet were going numb from the cold mud and water, but he blocked it out. Yes, it was best to just leave. If he slashed the tires, it would be evidence he’d been there. Better just to fade into the rain and the darkness. A wraith with no signs of existence. No tracks. No shadow.   He turned and ran. He was never there.


“It would be better for everyone if I’d never come here.” Ry winced as he tried to shift positions. The vodka had warmed him, numbed the edges of his pain, but he felt like one big bruise. He thought he might have a couple cracked ribs and wondered if he should worry about internal bleeding.

“Self-deprecation doesn’t really fly around here, Astro, and it won’t make anyone like you any better.” Halding pulled the glass out of Ry’s hand, replacing it with a fresh one.

Ry sipped cautiously. Water. He slammed it back and Halding refilled it.

“Out of curiosity, though, if that’s the way you feel about it, why’d you volunteer?”

“I didn’t volunteer.” Ry shot the second glass. “My family volunteered me.” He tried to force bitterness into his voice, but it cracked with pain and desperation.   Trying to cover it, he shook the glass over his mouth, encouraging the last couple drops to slide down the sides, drip onto his tongue.

“I see.”

Ry looked at Halding. His expression was sympathetic. Maybe he did see.

“But, you’re here now. Your job is to learn to make the best of it.”

Ry dropped his gaze. It was easier to feel sorry for himself.

“You planning to rank out pretty quickly?”



Ry glanced up, trying to figure out how to make him understand without saying too much.

“When Privs make rank, where does the money come from?”

“It’s garnered from the civilians in the Priv’s town.”

“Civilians. You mean regular people. Poor people.”

“Call them what you will.”

“I call them screwed over. I rank out and they lose. Again. And the money goes to my family and I don’t want them to have it.”

Halding leaned back, regarding him steadily. “A righteous Priv. Don’t see many of those.”

“I’m not righteous. My motives aren’t what they seem.”

“Your motives are your own. I won’t pry.”

Ry felt an unexpected stab of disappointment. He wanted Halding to pry. Wanted someone to confide in. Someone who would understand. But then, how could Halding understand the problems of a Priv?

“But, if you’re going to stay here, you’re going to have to learn the way things work. Different Staffers have different methods of training, different rules. One of my strictest is ‘no brawling’.”

Ry opened his mouth to insist he hadn’t started the fight, that he’d been following orders and simply trying to defend himself. But he stopped. Whiny Priv. That was the image he was trying to get away from. He snapped his mouth closed.

“I understand, sir. I will take any punishment you see fit.”

Halding blinked, actually looking surprised. “Astro, this is not my first time around the block and not my first time with a new Priv in the Drove.   I am quite aware this wasn’t your fault. Besides, I have a very reliable witness who explained the whole thing to me. All of the others will be on three day restriction, extra PT and kitchen and latrine duty. I am considering transferring Jude and Ota is under review.”

“No, sir.”

“I’m sorry? ‘No, sir’ what?”

“Sorry, sir, but as you said, I need to make the best of the situation I have here. And for all the others to be punished and me off without so much as a slap on the wrist after being treated personally by the Staffer in his quarters? That’s not going to help my case any. It will only make the gulf between us wider, the differences more elevated.   And to transfer Jude? That makes him a martyr and me the one plunging in the knife.”

“Would you rather I transfer you?”

“No. No special treatment, no different treatment. If the others are on three day restriction, I need to be, too.”

Halding was quiet for a minute, staring at him with a look Ry couldn’t discern. Hard, curious and something else. Calculating? Considering? But considering what?

“You’re not like other Privs.”

“I believe that’s what we decided I should strive for.”

“Alright, Astro. Consider yourself on three day restriction.”

Ry breathed out a sigh. “Thank you, sir.”

Halding stood. “A strange Priv, indeed. Well, Astro, as soon as you’re feeling up to it, you can return to your Tent.”

“Actually, sir, as long as I’m here, there’s something else I would like to discuss with you.”

A flick at the corner of his mouth hinted at a smile. “More demands, Priv?”

“Respectful request.”

“Call it what you will. Okay, Astro. What is it?”

“It’s about the guns.”


~ S.D. Bullard

Chapter 1

Chapter 2

Chapter 3

Chapter 4

Chapter 5

Chapter 6

Chapter 7

Chapter 8

Chapter 9

Chapter 10


~ by sdbullard on July 29, 2014.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: