He didn't mean to. It was wrong, just like the raw sewage on the tarmac in the city. But no one really cared about that anymore. No one could give a shit really. Dan sat on the kerb, hunched over his knees.
The fat man that was bleeding out on a hot summers day was probably thrice his age. He could accept the fact that people were dying. Everyone could relate. What he failed to accept was that he really meant it. This man stole his future. Years of revelry passed through this man’s gut without care or conscious.
He thought about rinsing the bloodied water bottle in the mucky stream running alongside the kerb, but then he remembered how his mother died.
She was a fine woman and single parent. Fine like innocence. Strength and kindness put in a blender.
She arrived home in the rain, dressed for success like a wet Roxette; her blonde hair making waves.
A couple of minutes later they were having dinner. The one moment she was having the giggles. Something about a colleague at work that kept winking at her, but had failed to make a conversation.
Then without warning the food came back up all at once; meat and potato all jumbled up in stomach acid. Then she went limp.
The rain went on wistfully, bearing the promise of washing all the filth away. She was in the bathroom for two hours, with the rain muffling her choking sounds.
When Dan heard the door handle turn he stepped into the hallway and stared over the darkened tiles as his mother emerged, a pale monster. A gaunt figure slouched and weak. The paramedic couldn’t sign her death, but Dan knew she was gone the moment she hit the floor.
She was one of the first to be diagnosed with a deadly mutation of cholera. People ranted for treatment and service delivery, but the big problem was water. Fresh water became scarce. Human waste became unmanageable. Crime rate surged into chaos and madness ensued.
People never consciously believed it would go so far. But it did. People were never really conscious of much by the looks of it.
Dan flicked some gunk off from the bottle cap before drinking. The taste was warm and bitter. The label on the side read: WIL.
The Water Is Life campaign took hold two years ago when people realised that bombs won”t provide them with fresh water. It was formed by a group of scientists, who also managed to invent a vastly complicated process to get rid of the pathogen, which seemed capable of surviving in fresh water. In the year 2028, WIL became the only suppliers of fresh drinking water. They basically took the deed to the world.
Dan was in the better part of an isolated patch of country, not governed by WIL. Up until now people managed to survive here on their own. It was run by a man called Gin. He and his gang of scabs managed to get hold of a fine waterhole. It was kept secret. Anyone who entered this place had a one way ticket. Anyone who tried to leave without permission was given the hangman treatment.
“Hay man,” a voice muttered from behind him. Dan was still in a daze.
The voice came closer and Dan saw Brown. A tawny figure, whose ever frowning face flinched every few seconds.
“Son,” Brown blew the word into his face. Dan frowned contemptuously. Brown continued. “Gin wants to have a word with you.”
“Since when are you messenger boy?” Dan replied in his thick British accent.
“Listen here kid,” Brown started. “You’ve done well here. Today is the day you prove your worth to the man.”
“I will die here,” Dan said harshly.
“Ah,” Brown grinned pathetically. “Now Now boy, be sure to be more grateful right? We did more for you than those white suits ever will.” Brown stood upright and stared at the corpse on the tarmac, in the same way an artist would observe a peers artwork. He grinned. “Did a mighty fine job here son.”
Dan stood up and winced. “Man came at me like I killed his mother.”
Brown laughed or he may have been choking on his spit, “Now there’s a tale I’d like to hear.” And slapped Dan on the shoulder. Then Brown’s face turned sulky. “Later. Come.”
Brown turned to walk and Dan turned to look at the corpse one last time before following Brown.
The room was well lit. There were no curtains on this floor, only windows that made up most of the walls; windows only the vultures could peek through anyway. The man sat facing the desert sky in his swivel chair like Al Pacino. The chair swung to face them.
“Dan,” the man in the chair said merrily. His hair was bright blonde like a new born baby’s.
Dan just gave a weak nod and stared at the floor. The man’s eyes were green like fungus. “I see you have discovered our little problem.”
Dan rose his eyes reluctantly. “It’s finally happened hasn’t it?”
Gin rose from his seat and unbuttoned his jacket. Underneath he wore a sleeveless shirt and mythological tattoos riddled his skin up to his neck. He walked up to Dan and grabbed his shoulders. They stared at each other for a moment before Gin spoke. “Yes. The waterhole is infected and we have about six days of fresh water left in the tanks.”
“I can help.” Dan said with a lot more confidence than he meant.
Gin laughed so hard his henchmen followed his chorus. He released his grip on the boy almost sending him sprawling. With his left hand he gestured to the boy while talking to the others. “You muscle bags can learn a thing or two from this boy.” He returned to look at Dan. “You will be leaving with four other boys bright and early on the morrow. A refugee truck is going to be in the area. A man on the inside is going to pick you up. He will brief you on your mission.” He grinned at Brown standing by the door and returned his gaze. “Brown told me you handled the WIL agent well?”
Dan gave a nod, dreading to pull his eyes away from him.
“You’re going places kid. Ten years ago you were a rat running from hole to hole. This is your big break.” Then he talked to Brown. “Make him comfortable.”
The rooms at the top were comfortable. Gin never gave this room to any old chap. If you were sent here, you did the old man proud, Brown used to say. The bedding was finer than anything he had ever known. When his head hit the bed, sleep came quickly. He dreamt of a tall black tower piercing the clouds. Mirrors gleamed from every angle. An eye watched from above. An evil looking down on all those below, running like ants.
He was awakened by artificial intelligence. A Computer generated voice made to sound like Hillary Clinton. “Dan. It is 4am. This is your scheduled alarm.” Dan jumped up and got dressed. He noticed something on the bedside table he hadn’t seen in a long time. A pencil. He rummaged through some drawers to find a sheet of paper. He wrote something thoughtfully and pushed the note underneath the mattress. He kept the pencil.
When he opened the door three kids stared up at him. They couldn’t have been more than 16 years old. They were all from different parts of the world. An African with a shiny bold head, and a face filled with hardness. An Indian boy with curls covering half his face and lastly a short Japanese boy, with hair cut army style.
Dan was still staring at the boys when Gin’s hands curled over the Japanese boy’s shoulders and grinned. For a moment Dan thought it was friendly, but that changed soon enough.
“Boys.” Gin opened a path between the boys to get a better look at Dan. Without another word He led the way down the passage to the elevator. All the details of the operation were explained on the way to the Rover.
It had taken Frank Rupert four years to get onto the WIL payroll. They trusted him with deliveries which he had been carrying out meticulously for the past few years. What made Frank the best damn spy had nothing to do with his IQ. He had been hypnotised. Mind-fucked to believe that he was an honest to god employee, for the good people of WIL.
On the eve of the man’s fortieth birthday he was commanded to take a delivery south on the high road, through the iron mountains. He would eventually find four stranded boys. At the sign of the boys he would recall his true identity. As opposed to how he felt about being a guinea-pig, he accepted the mission willingly.
When Dan and his new friends stepped outside, the sun glared at them wildly. Anyone whoÆs anyone would know that bare feet resulted in third degree burns on days like this. Only two hours later the boys were dropped next to the high road, with nothing in sight but a few boulders and shrubs and the iron mountains in the distance.
This particular barren wasteland stretched for a thousand miles. The high road was the only usable road running through this part of sun-scorched earth and it was riddled with potholes, bones and memories. Now they had to wait. Dan never met the boys before this morning. He didn’t think it was peculiar. Children were usually kept separate from the rest of the colony. These boys were at least ten years younger than he was.
Even though he never met them before this morning, he knew they were hungry. Hungry for something more.
A few moments after the sun started making its dip behind the iron mountains they could see a truck was making its approach. A black blur distorting the horizon. The boys and Dan came out from under the shade of a big boulder and waited alongside the decrepit tarmac. Dan started licking his dry lips and shared his canteen of water with the boys. They drank listlessly.
At last the truck came to a screeching halt before them, dust spewing up from the parched land. In time a tinted window opened. A man reared his head and asked throatily, “Gin’s boys?”
Dan gave an uneasy nod.
“Well. Get on in.” Frank coughed.
Dan still remembered his mother’s driving lessons. The truck wouldn’t be much of a challenge. That’s why it was easy. As soon as Dan took his seat next to Frank, he was greeted by an uneasy smile. Dan clasped the pencil in his pocket. “I’m sorry,” Dan said before piercing the man’s throat. The look of astonishment and bewilderment on the man’s face was horrifying. Dan nonetheless opened the driver’s door and pushed the corpse out. Frank fell like a doll onto the dry earth.
The boys were staring at Dan like he was some kind of prophet. Dan felt with his hands underneath his seat and withdrew a letter.
If you’re reading this, it means you have done what we’ve asked. May your road to WIL be blessed.
Bio: Christo is a 26 year-old aspiring author from South Africa. He is studying linguistics.