RoadsideTales.com - biker fiction - read to live, live to read - handcrafted and custom built motorcycle fictionIn late 2006 I took a couple of days off work to catch up on a few odd jobs around the house.

The chores didn’t take long and I spent the rest of the time writing.

This is the result.

I’m not really sure where it came from. I do know that I shall write more about this small community in the aftermath of the war.

If for no other reason than to find out myself how things work out.

Eating Babies

We saw the bike long before we heard it. The snow that lay thick on the frozen ground muffled most far off sounds and so we had scouts posted; two hours on and then two hours off. That was all that they could take in the cold.

It was Peter who spotted the bike. Only ten years old, he was becoming the very image of his father. He raised the alarm and Marion woke me up.

Through my binoculars I could see little at this distance, except that the bike was alone – that was good.

We lost sight of the bike as the road ran behind Jerome’s Spinney and then, as the bike re-appeared down by Simon’s Dell, we could hear it as well. A soft chuff-chuff that indicated a single cylinder engine, lowly tuned.

All the better; raiders tended to prefer higher powered multi-cylinder machines, their weight and impracticality offset by the social cachet they inferred.

As the bike came past Denton’s cross it slowed and the rider waved first an open right hand and then an open left – a signal that he came in peace.

The other adults in the camp had all gone silently to their positions. All except Carter, that is. He remained in his shed working metal into shapes that would become the tools we needed so bad. Since his wife and children were killed at the Sunnock Massacre he had withdrawn into himself; caring only for the tools he made and keeping what was left of our bikes on the road.

Somehow I’ve become the leader of the group; six men, five women and eleven kids. I’m not sure how it happened and I’m not sure if I’m happy about it. But then, lots has happened over the last two years and very little of it has had anything to do with happiness.

I tried to concentrate on the approaching rider . He had slowed down on the straight bit of road that approached the camp even though this would put him at risk from the snipers – he must know that we would have snipers out.

That would mean that he was trying to give us time, time to think rather just react out of fear and haste. That meant that the rider was clever, or careful. And these days both words meant the same thing.

Off course, it could be a trap. He might just be a decoy. But where would the others come from? Behind him? That would be no good.

From the North? No, the road was blocked by snowdrifts and, besides, when the snows had first started falling we had lain barbed wire across the road, and an old bedstead or two. No, if the attack was to be from the North, they would have to come on foot and, in this snow, they would be too slow – sitting targets.

I waited for the bike to approach the gate. I had an idea who it might be but I had thought he was dead. The bike stopped by the gate and the rider took off his helmet. It was him. It was the Messenger. He wasn’t dead, after all.

I gave the signal to open the gate. Sally’s daughter darted forward with the key. Quick and low, in case there was a firefight; at nine years old she had learned how to survive.

The Messenger rode in and parked to one side to allow the little girl to close and lock the gate. He held his open hands well away from his body; he had also learned to survive.

As soon as the gatekeeper had scurried back to the barn I nodded to the Messenger and he approached. If he noticed the pump action in my hands, it didn’t show. He looked older than I remembered. But then, I remembered him mainly from the old days, before the war. Then, he had ridden a big black Kawasaki – even won a prize with it at one of the shows that we used to meet up at. In those days his face had been unlined and his blue eyes had glinted with fun. Now his face was creased and the eyes were dull.

And it wasn’t just the years that had done it.

It was the places he had been and the things that he had seen. That would age any man.

“Welcome, Messenger. You must be cold.”

“Greetings Marshall. I am he and I am that.” He replied.

“Come and sit thee by the fire and warm yourself.”

He came over and sat down.

“Are you hungry, Messenger? Will you share our food?”

He nodded. “I thank you.”

Marion went to the kitchen to get a bowl of stew. While she was doing that I took the chance to take a good look at the Messenger.

Protocol wouldn’t have allowed him to ask for warmth or food. In the hard first winter that followed the war, those who shared their meagre resources found that word got around fast and either they were swamped by beggars or attacked by raiders.

Besides, nowadays, there just wasn’t that much to go around.

At the same time, protocol also insisted that you feed and help the Messenger and others like him, the Healers, the Diviners and the like. For they all performed valuable services.

The Messenger acted as a sort of freelance spy, travelling around the country and passing on news of what he saw.

Tonight he would tell us of what was going on in the lands outside the borders of our camp and, tomorrow, he would take with him the news that we had food enough to keep ourselves strong but no obvious stockpiles. That we were well organised and that our defences were sound. That our children were armed and the adults that he saw looked capable of either deterring raiders or seeing off any of the travelling beggars that still roamed the land.

In this way, he kept the peace.

It was understood that he could not be touched by any of the camps he visited. That without people like him and the Healers we would revert to the anarchy that had characterised Year One. No-one, not even the raiders, wanted to return to that.

This allowed him to travel freely and kept his belly full without having to farm or kill others for their food or worry about protecting a camp. I envied him all of that.

While we waited for Marion I asked him about the bike he had arrived on.

“My steed. She is a simple beast.” He said.

He spoke, like we all did with outsiders now, in an old-fashioned manner, more suited to the middle ages than the twenty first century. That way, there was less risk of inadvertently causing offence or saying the wrong thing.

And, besides, Grammar and Vocabulary had arrived with civilisation and, in just three days of war, our civilisation had been swept away.

But then, like the Steve he had been before the war and long before he became The Messenger, he added, “But at times she’s simply a beast.”

“An Enfield of royal extraction, so I believe. Built in a far off land.”

I would have laughed at the thought of Steve riding an Enfield in our pre-war days. And, to his credit, so would he have done, as well.

But he had been Steve then, and now he was The Messenger. And, anyway, I don’t laugh much now, not any more.

Marion arrived with the stew and he ate it with relish.

In his old-fashioned language he praised Marion for her skill and thanked me for the camp’s hospitality. And then he asked if we wanted to hear the news.

“Most of my men are working or on guard duty.” I replied. “But I will gather those I can spare and they will listen at the feast tonight.”

After he had finished I took him for a walk around the camp. He had seen it before, of course, but was quick to comment on the improvements we had made since his last visit.

We had done well with our choice of a site. It was an old quarry situated on top of a hill with one road in and one road out; both easily blocked. To the South were woods that still hosted wild beasts and plains lay on the other three sides.

The quarry walls were pierced with man-made caves where the ore had been blasted out and these now served as our homes and storehouses.

We were sheltered from the wind and, in our shelters, warm and dry.

And, most importantly, safe.

It was easy to defend and could be defended well by the small contingent that we had become. The only way we could be taken by surprise would be an attack by air and we hadn’t seen an airplane for over two years.

I took the Messenger round slowly, aware of the peeping eyes of the children, unused to strangers and aware of the stares of the few adults we had left, those who had learned the hard way to view everything and anything as danger. That’s how you survive nowadays.

I showed the Messenger our store of bikes. Bikes that Carter worked so hard to keep going. Bits of one mated to bits of another; anything we couldn’t salvage we made from scrap. Much as we had started out with our own bikes in the custom scene before the war.

He seemed impressed.

When we had finished the tour, The Messenger slept for a while. Whilst he slept, I wondered what news of us he would pass on when he left. We had found a way of drying fruit and mushrooms and fish. He might tell others of that. That would be good. Perhaps that way, any poor wretches who survived this winter might have an easier time of the next. Perhaps that is how a civilisation rebuilds itself. I didn’t know. There seems so much to do and so, so far to go.

Finally it started to grow dark and some of the men and their women came to the main cave. We all settled down around the fire and ate the stew that Marion had prepared and waited for the Messenger to begin.

He emptied his bowl, let out a respectful belch and then started talking.

We learned of the raid on the Oxenbury camp and the slaughter there. That the nearest raiders seemed to be conserving their fuel, which might mean that either it was running out or that they were planning a big raid. I hoped that it was the former rather than the latter.

He told that he had met few beggars on the road. And that he assumed that they had all died off.

The Messenger spoke for a while longer and then, when he was finished, I showed him to his cot and returned to sit beside Marion with the others in front of the fire. We were silent when there would normally be talk.

The next morning, the Messenger was ready to leave. Carter had topped up his fuel tank and Marion had made him some pasties and put them in a parcel together with a bottle of our home made apple brandy.

I walked the Messenger to his bike. After he had thanked me formally for our hospitality, as was the custom these days, he put his hand one my shoulder and, in a low voice that couldn’t be heard by the others, he surprised me by calling me by my old name, John. The name I had had before the war, when we had met up occasionally at rallies and custom shows. In the days before I had become the Marshall of the camp.

“In some of the camps,” he said quietly, as if he didn’t want to hear his own words. “There seem to be less young ones than there were. And the adults have a deep and guilty look to themselves. And they seem well fed, too well fed. I suppose that it makes sense in a way; the young ones can’t do the work of a man but still need to eat. And it’s been a hard winter this year, much worse to the north than it is here. And it’ll be a long time till spring. And many of those camps lost all their livestock to the raiders.”

Here he paused and looked around to make sure than none of our own kids were near.

“I am just a simple man.” He continued. “But I keep thinking of those beggars as well. Some of them should have survived. But then, with no livestock, what does one do for meat. And man without meat won’t survive this cold.”

“You don’t mean….” I heard myself ask.

“I don’t know anything for sure, just that there are less children in some of the camps than there used to be and the few beggars that I meet don’t be so keen on begging any more.”

He patted my shoulder again.

“Not all news is good news, my old friend. And some is not for all to hear. Take care Marshall. You’re a good man. God be with you. If he’s still around, that is.”

I watched him start his bike and opened the gate for him myself. And, as I watched him ride slowly off , I whispered softly into the wind. Too soft to be heard by any but me.

“God be with you, Steve. You’re a good man too.”

I stayed there watching, long after he was gone. Lost in my thoughts; nasty, nasty thoughts.

And when Marion came up behind me and touched me gently on the shoulder I shivered and wondered how long it would be until the spring.

To be continued….