Previously: Chapter One, Little Man and the Bell.
What had once been a large pile of tinned food was now a nearly empty corner. I had been rationing it for some time, but we had stayed in this place for too long. All of the supplies in the immediate area had been cleared out, and I couldn’t leave Timmy alone to do a long distance run. The time had finally come to move on to another part of the Underground.
“Timmy,” I gently woke him, “Pack your things, it’s time to go.”
“Why? Isn’t this home?”
He was right. This corner, tucked away in the south east of the tube system had been home for longer than anywhere else. The feeling of settling in one place had been disquieting at first after a long time on the move, but it had eventually changed into something approximating comfort. I was sad to leave, and I knew Timmy would be too.
“We can’t stay here, there’s no more food,” I explained, “Now pack your things, I want to find somewhere temporary as soon as we can, and I don’t want it to be on the Circle Line.”
“Because that’s where He is?”
“Yes, that’s where He is.”
In truth, I couldn’t be sure where the Collector was. But since the incident with Little Man, I had become superstitious about that particular line and tried to avoid it as much as I possibly could. It was impossible to avoid it altogether since it intersected with every other line in the system, but I had done my best to never sleep there.
Timmy didn’t take long to pack. We travelled as light as we could, taking only essentials like the last few tins, a pair of blankets, the lantern and the small amount of fuel we had left. It wasn’t much, but it was enough to survive for now. I looked to see Timmy examining the large faded tube map on the wall.
“Where do you think we should go next?” I said, joining him.
“What about up here?” he pointed to a station in the very north east of the system, “Look, it’s way off the main line, and there’s a loop next to it, so we can’t get cornered.”
“Hmm,” I said, “It’s a good idea in theory. But we can’t go there.”
“It’s too far out. That part of the tube is above ground. We could never survive there.”
“When do you think we’ll be able to live on the surface?” Timmy asked.
“I don’t know.”
The sadness of leaving was soon replaced with trepidation as we emerged onto the Circle Line. I had been using the lantern to illuminate our path up until then, but as soon as we reached the point where the lines crossed over, I extinguished it. We couldn’t afford to take risks here.
“I can’t see,” whispered Timmy.
“Just wait a second, your eyes will adjust.”
We waited a while, squatting in the darkness, just listening for any signs of trouble. The Circle Line was much louder than where we had just been. It was mostly ambient sounds; wind rushing through the tunnels, insects scurrying about, the dripping of water; nothing that sounded dangerous.
Onwards we crept, occasionally using the lantern to check the map, or look for food and other supplies. We had gotten quite far without finding anything of note when we came across the body of a Bandit. Judging by how far decayed it was, he had been dead for a long time. As I moved towards the body, several rats scurried off into the darkness, causing Timmy to leap back in fright.
“What are you afraid of?” I laughed, “He’s long dead.”
“It’s not him, it’s them,” replied Timmy, gesturing at where the rats had disappeared.
“How can you live down here and still be afraid of rats? We’ve eaten cooked rat before now.”
I knew what the problem was, of course. It was a fear from just after I had met him, when we had camped out on a track to sleep, on a long stretch between stations. Timmy had been a lot younger, and had been woken up by several rats taking an interest in him, thinking he was dead. I made sure to always keep an eye out since.
“They’re much smaller than you, you know,” I pointed out, “They’re likely far more afraid of you than you are of them.”
“I know,” he said, “They just creep me out.”
“Well, they’re long gone now, and they won’t come back as long as we’re here, okay?”
“I’m still afraid.”
“I know you are, and I’m sorry. We can leave as soon as I’m done searching this guy.”
Much of the food he’d had on him had been long since claimed by the rats. I was about to give up out of sheer frustration when I felt something in one of his belt pouches. It was a small packet of some kind. The cardboard back had mostly rotted away over time, but the clear plastic was well preserved. I held it up to the lantern’s shaky flame, my hands quivering in anticipation. My diligence was rewarded, when I saw that inside the plastic were two cylinders. Batteries. I couldn’t believe it at first. It had been so long since I’d seen any.
“Are they…” Timmy began.
“Yes!” I interrupted excitedly, “They’re batteries!”
Any fear momentarily forgotten, I fumbled around in my pack for the torch. It was, of course, stuffed away in the very bottom, one of the items I’d almost considered leaving behind, since I hadn’t been holding out hope of ever finding batteries again. Now I just hoped they worked.
They were the right size at least. They slotted into the compartment with ease. Uttering a quick prayer to anyone who may be listening, I flicked the switch on the top. The brilliant beam shattered the darkness. It had the unfortunate effect of fully illuminating the dead man’s body. The parts of his body not covered by clothing had decayed almost beyond recognition. His arms were just old bones with scraps of decomposing flesh hanging off, and his face had been seen to by the rats, pockmarked with holes where they had chewed through his cheeks.
I pulled the torch away as quickly as I could, but it wasn’t quick enough to avoid Timmy catching sight of it. He recoiled in fear, letting out a loud wail. I ran to him and managed to calm him down with urgent whispers.
“Shh, shh. Are you okay?” I asked, pulling back to look him in the eye.
He nodded, wiping the tears from his face,
“It’s nothing. I’m fine.”
“It’s okay. Everyone gets scared sometimes.”
“I wasn’t scared,” he said defiantly.
“Even I get scared. It’s okay. Now come on, let’s get out of here. We still need to find some place to sleep.”
We left the body behind. I was sure there were a couple more pouches left unsearched, but I didn’t want to scare Timmy further by staying there. I used the torch to light the large step down to the tracks, but turned it off as soon as we had started making our way in the tunnel again.
“No point in wasting the power,” I said, “No idea when we’ll find more batteries again.”
That was when we heard it. A voice echoing from the tunnel behind us. It was faint at first, but got louder as it went on. The words became clear,
“…telling you Bill, I heard it. Sounded like a kid crying or something.”
“Alright, we’ll check it out. If it’s just a kid, nothing to worry about,” said another voice, presumably Bill.
A third pitched in his opinion,
“Yeah, and he might have some supplies locked away somewhere.”
“I’m so fucking hungry, might even have to have meat tonight, if you know what I mean,” said the first voice.
“Enough of that Frank,” said Bill, “Let’s see if he has anything on him first, yeah?”
I picked up the pace, urging Timmy forwards while trying to stay as quiet as possible. Stealing a glance behind, I saw a light growing in the curve of the tunnel. They were still gaining on us, and as soon as they turned the corner, the lantern light would be enough to see us by. I thought about running back to the station with the body, but we were too far past it now. We’d never get back in time to hide.
We continued into the darkness, eyes still adjusting from how bright the torch had been. I kept glancing over my shoulder at the growing lantern light from the Bandits, which didn’t help. We needed a place to hide. My hand brushed against the torch in my pocket. I knew I shouldn’t risk it, but we needed to find somewhere to keep us hidden, which we weren’t going to find stumbling around in the dark.
I instructed Timmy to cover his eyes, and scanned the area with the torch beam. There was an abandoned train just up ahead. I almost cried with joy.
“Come on!” I said, grabbing Timmy’s hand and breaking into a run. We were there in what felt like seconds, pulling on the door at the train’s rear. Fuck! It was stuck fast. No amount of pulling would get that open. I looked back again and saw them for the first time. There were three of them, two quite large, the third small and weedy. I couldn’t make out any features, since they were silhouetted in the tunnel against the lantern’s light. They were moving with purpose, and would be on us soon. Thinking quickly, I whispered to Timmy,
“Quick, get under the train!”
“We need to hide, now. There’s enough space to crawl underneath the train. I’ll be right behind you, come on.”
There was enough space for Timmy to fit with relative ease but I had to crawl on my stomach. When we were far enough in, Timmy stopped and we lay in the darkness, waiting. Soon, they were close enough that I could see the light in my peripheral vision and hear their idle chat.
“I don’t see this kid you’re on about.”
“I’m telling you, I heard it.”
“Ooh, I hope it’s a girl. Been too long since I got some, you know?”
“Fucking hell Frank,” said Bill, “Look, do what you gotta do, just don’t fucking talk to me about it. You know how I feel about that shit.”
Frank laughed, “Don’t tell me you’re turning faggot, living with two guys.”
“It’s not that, just shut the fuck up, okay?”
Frank was the smallest of the three. Just the sound of his voice made me shudder, let alone his intentions. They were alongside the train now, and I allowed myself a sigh of relief. They had tried the doors, but had been unable to get them open.
“Well great, we fucking lost him,” said Frank, “You know, if you two weren’t so god damn slow, I could have had him and his fucking food by now.”
“What did I just say about keeping your mouth shut?” said Bill, “I keep you around because you’re useful, not because I like you, or your sick proclivities. If you think you can do a better job on your own, go ahead, but as long as you’re sticking around, remember who’s in charge.”
“You’d like that, wouldn’t you? You’d love me to leave so you two can just get to fucking each other all night.”
I watched as Bill moved to hit Frank, but Lee held him back.
“Look,” said Lee, “Fighting here’s getting us nowhere. There was a body on the platform back there, maybe he has something.”
They started back the other way. I allowed myself a sigh of relief. Then I heard something else. Another sound had joined their voices, much closer by. It was quiet, but definitely there. A squeaking. I held my breath, waiting for the inevitable. Timmy did his best to keep silent, but he couldn’t help letting out a low whimpering as the rats ran over his body. The footsteps alongside us stopped and Frank’s voice piped up, “Little bastards! There’s two of them under the fucking train!”
I barely managed to see Timmy crawling as fast as he could before I felt myself being dragged backwards by my feet. I was hauled up, and found myself face to face with the man. Somehow, he was uglier than I’d imagined. The few teeth he had left were decaying, and the small amount of skin that showed from under matted hair was plastered with dirt. His mouth upturned into a grin that was more of a sneer as the hand that wasn’t holding me by the hair went down to my crotch.
“Well well,” he said, his eyes wandering over my barely formed breasts, “We’re gonna have lots of fun, aren’t we?”
The sneer never left his face as he leaned in close to sniff me. It took all I had to not throw up. I didn’t think about what I did next, just reacted, swiftly driving my knee up to connect with his hardening cock. He dropped me, and I ran, his voice screaming after me, “You little fucking cunt! I’ll fucking kill you, you bitch!”
The other two were large, but slow. Too slow to catch me, as I darted between them. Timmy was emerging from the other end of the train when I got there. I grabbed his hand and we ran together into the darkness, tripping over ourselves and each other in our desperation. Frank’s voice carried after us, “Just wait ‘til I catch you! I’ll fucking stick you good you little whore!”
We ran as fast as we could, but it never seemed fast enough. The light and voices continued to follow us. We were running blind, not bothering to look where we were going, just trying to escape. We were slowing down though. It had been too long since we’d needed to run, and we were out of practice. Timmy was out of breath and I had a stitch digging into my side.
Suddenly, a service door opened in front of us, and a hand grabbed mine, hauling me in. The door closed and locked, and the three Bandits ran past, oblivious. Our saviour was a small olive skinned girl. She looked a little older than Timmy, and considerably wilder. Her hair was a mess of curls, shooting off in all directions. She was dressed in clothes too large for her, a t-shirt that might as well have been a dress, and shorts that reached nearly to her ankles. I was about to thank her, when she put her finger to her lips and cocked her head, listening. The voices were doubling back.
“Hey look, there’s a door here! They must have gone this way.”
They tried to open the door, and soon escalated to smashing against it with their fists. The bar holding it in place was sturdy enough to withstand it for now, but they’d break through eventually. The girl beckoned for us to follow her. She led us into a room lit by a single lantern. In one corner was an old mattress, and in another was a small stockpile of tinned food. On the wall was a rope, which she began to pull, motioning for us to be silent and listen. The sound of a bell ringing came from somewhere in the tunnel, and the pounding stopped.
“Fuck, we gotta get out of here!” said Bill, “Come on Frank, they’re not worth it.”
The girl kept ringing the bell for a while after they had left. I listened closely to it. It sounded different from the one I had heard the day the Collector killed Little Man. It was higher pitched and rang more often. It sounded smaller. After a while, she stopped and turned to us.
“Thank you,” I said, “That’s a really clever system you set up there.”
“It was necessary,” she said, “Bandits have been coming through more and more. Those guys are especially bad, they almost caught me once. That small one is really nasty, I was lucky to escape.”
“It was even luckier you were around to rescue us,” I thanked her again.
“It’s okay. It’s been a long time since I’ve seen anyone friendly down here.”
“I’m Timmy,” he spoke up, “And this is Charlotte. She’s my… she looks after me.”
The girl looked wistful for a split second but covered it with a wry smile.
“I’m Dee,” she said, “Dee of the Tunnels.”
Once again, thank you for reading. Feedback, criticism etc, welcome as ever in all the relevant places.