Time stopped meaning much. I don’t know how many laps I made around that black room. Enough circuits to know the room was roughly square and it took 79 or 80 steps to complete the loop. No windows and only one door. I found a corner that was not too slimy to park my ass in and began working on breaking loose of the bonds on my hands. At some point frustration and exhaustion set in and I gave up. I must have slept. The sliding sound of metal on metal startled me awake and a bright flickering light shown in my eyes.
The light blocked my vision of what or who had come in. Rough hands grabbed at me as I scrambled to my feet to resist. A second and then a third set of hands found some part of me to hold onto. They dragged me out and up a dank hallway. Light filtered through broken skylights some twenty feet up. Through another door and into what looked like a warehouse.
Through the fog of my recent beating and many hours of being held in the dark, I saw that this was not another empty storehouse pillaged long ago. The huge room was full of boxes on pallets, machinery shrink wrapped and dusty. Odd shapes and piles set in neat rows. Neither the pain nor my panic could keep me from noticing this King’s Ransom.
Most of the boxes were long, about two to two and a half feet high by nine inches wide. Bike Boxes. They had to be. I had seen some when I was kid helping Uncle Jarvis empty out a bike shop basement up near Rome where I grew up. He gave me one of the beaters we found and use of any parts I could rustle up to fix it with. He loaded the new bike boxes, all the new tires, tubes, and drive train parts on his wagon and left Rome. We never saw him again.
I knew if I got free and could find my way back to this place, my future would be secure. There had to be hundreds of bike boxes. Anything new was gold, but pound for pound, there was nothing worth more than a new bicycle. And new rubber was worth even more. As the old world survived and ran smoothly because of the wheel, so was the new civilization emerging out of the ashes.
The three Creeps said nothing as they dragged me through the warehouse and out into the alley. It was well past sunset, or just into Dawn. But what sunset? Which dawn? Today’s? Yesterday’s? Or was it tomorrow already? I could not get my bearings on this place. Where had they taken me? Was I still near Eighth Avenue where I had been bushwhacked? I just didn’t………Wait. Was that the street that leads to the old Lincoln Tunnel? Yeah, Must be. Garment District or close by. Had to be.
The Creeps began to talk among themselves. Argue would be more like it. It was hard to follow. Creep speak was not a language I had much experience with. The gist was they were not sure what to do with me. The biggest one seemed to win out when he grabbed the bonds on my hands and began dragging me back towards the warehouse. A tug of war ensued. The big Creep yanking hard on my hands and the two smaller Creeps pulling hard on my feet. All the while yammering away at 80 miles an hour in that pig din lingo of theirs.
Suddenly one of the small Creeps straightened and collapsed on top of me. The loss of force in that direction caused the bigger Creep to fall on his ass and me on top of him. Sticking out of the Creep’s back, an arrow with one yellow and two black vanes. Only one man I knew used crossbow bolts set up like that. Gravo!
Confusion erupted. More arrows came in and the Big Creep yowled as a bolt appeared silently in his shoulder. Another whizzed by my ear and cut the yowl to a gurgle as it buried itself in his throat. My hands free, I began kicking the smaller Creep as hard as I could. He let go and stood up. Our eyes met. I was the last thing he ever saw.
Gravo stepped out of what Moss Boss called The Bunker. Every time he did, he smiled. A hastily contrived structure on Cherry Hill, the Bunker had been constructed by hands more suited to pushing pens and filling out forms. It was solid, but no where near plumb nor water tight. Up here, the old Central Park was easy to keep tabs on. Harvested for fuel and lumber, the park’s trees and meadows were long gone. Replaced by furrowed rows and industrious tilling of what little arable land there was in this dead city. This was his kingdom. His job. His unforeseen and unpredicted fate. He was now tasked with keeping the Creeps out and the Authentics in line. Gravo- Security Boss.
In his previous life Grave had pushed a wheel barrow. His life tending masons by day always ended with him doing his best to drink the pain and weariness away by night. He sometimes wondered why he was picked from that horde of ragged survivors. What about him had given the Bosses the idea he could control anyone, never mind this unruly bunch? Yes he was good sized, but not large. Yes he had a good feel for Manhattan. He had worked construction jobs there his whole life. His face was neither fearsome nor engaging. Men seemed to follow him willingly. He never understood why. Now he did not bother trying to understand why. They trusted him so he used that trust to do his job. He did not miss the World he watched destroy itself. That life was lonely and miserable. And though he hated the mandated ear quotas, this new and raw world suited him. Life had equalized. And he was very good at his job.
The three hunters joined him. It was closing in on dark. Without a word, Gravo and Metal Head began a steady jog down the hill towards Broadway. The other two left in the same direction then split off to head towards downtown east side. No words were exchanged as they went their separate ways, just a mutual nod and they were gone. Melting into the rubble and destruction that was once a beautiful city.
The plan called for the two man teams to find and follow any group of Creeps larger than three heading to or staying in the sector Hick was last known to be. Follow and find. A Creep leaving the twenty square block area Gravo had pointed out was to be left and the search would begin again. Gravo was clear. Do not get sucked out of the search area.
Metal Head was a good hunter most days. Reliable and steady. Met his quota and did not complain more than the usual belly aching. His only weakness, a tendency to go on benders. His last one found him shacked up with a huge Sub Dub. He woke up and saw this 250 pound beast sleeping next to him smelling of sewers,subway platforms, Almo Weed, and alcohol. His only concern, “I thought you was a she and you is really a He.” Metal Head had not taken to drink since. It had been almost a year now. All he would say about it was from then on he would pay for his ass, not try to pick it up.
“Metal Head, where near the Tunnel did you spot that crew of Creeps?”
“Over a few blocks I think Gravo.”
They altered their course. Moving into the Garment District, Gravo always wondered why this area had not been torn up as badly as other parts of town. Yeah, the small shops and bodegas had been ransacked and torched, but for the most part the massive warehouse buildings that made up the fashion world of New York had come through in very good shape. Maybe it was because the Creeps had decided early during the Creep Wars this was to be their space. You don’t shit in your own nest so to speak.
Metal Head had been running point. He threw up his hand and hunkered down. On auto pilot, Gravo hunkered also as he crawled up to where Metal Head had stopped. Up the street, a small group of Creeps were just entering an alley. Gravo and Metal Head moved as one as soon as the Creeps disappeared. Running silent with long strides, they came to the alley entrance just as the last Creep went through a massive forklift door in one building.
Gravo hissed, “Let’s sit on them for awhile. You set up on the fire escape over there and I will find a spot up high near this side. When they come out, follow my lead. If I take one out, you follow from your side. Use the short bow. Keep it quiet. This is their nook you know.”
Metal head took up his position on the fire escape and settled in for what he knew would be a long sit. He knew what “for awhile” meant. This could take all night. Gravo was a patient man. That’s why he could out hunt all of them. Well maybe this new guy, Hick was better, but Gravo could sit like no one he had ever hunted with.
Some time later a flash caught Metal Head’s eye. It came from the roof across the alley. Good, Gravo had found his position.
They sat for hours. Gravo was content though. This was what he loved. The hunt. Being more patient than those you were hunting. Killing was fine, but it was the hunt that made his day. The Stalk and out thinking his prey. Metal Head on the other hand was asleep. He knew nothing would happen until dawn at the earliest. He hunted because it paid well and kept him out of the subways and out of the fields. The Creeps were not nocturnal if they had a choice. And it was apparent they were comfortable here. Nothing stirred.
Cramps woke Metal Head up. Just as he was working out the kinks and his eyes came into focus, he heard a door being slid open. In the early morning light, he saw 3 Creeps dragging someone or something out into the alley. Just as he brought up his short bow, one of the Creeps collapsed. Damn, he would pay Hell if he did not bring one down right away. He quickly drew a bead on one of the smaller Creeps and let his bolt go. Excellent. Knocked him down. He quickly cranked his bow and nocked another bolt. Just then another shot from Gravo finished the Big Creep off. The figure they were dragging began to fight. Metal Head drew a bead on the Creep still standing and let his bolt loose. “Alright, two ears for me. Suck on that Gravo.”
The Voice in the Background that explains it all
Society destroyed, people fell in with or fell prey to the thousands of gangs that had formed to take or hold onto what was left. The Creeps created their own survival mode feeding on those unlucky enough to cross into their territories.
New boundaries were created. Physical might and mob rule took over as the bones of a dead culture were picked clean. Authentics fought with each other. Creeps came after picking their bones. Earth was settling into unsettled times. A whole new generation was brought into this New World and raised on making it to the next day intact and still breathing.
Now a planet of vultures, the Earth fell quiet but for the squabbling among the scavengers over the decaying meat of a dead civilization. Small enclaves began to spread and swallow weaker groups or annihilate them. Ten thousand new societies began to emerge. Each one competing with the one next door for the treasures that were left. Order and stability came in fits and starts. The cities had been abandoned. But not forgotten. The smart guys knew there were riches there. They soon began to move back in. And the Creep Wars began.