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This is when you start rethinking your life
Joe gets away from everyone but himself. Chapter 28 of The Lost City of Desire
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[This is a serialized novel, chapter by chapter. You can read the previous 27 chapters here. A new chapter will be delivered every week.]
The early morning air was pure and moist, like the earth was breathing up into the forest around him. Joe rolled onto his side, the mossy bed leaking water onto his clothes. He wanted to sleep, but wouldn’t. He had to get further away. His fingers ached from the hours he’d spent clawing at the deerskin restraints, making small cuts with his fingernails until he was free. All this while his captors snored on the other side of a daub and wattle wall, so thin that any movement might wake them. He hoped their drinking the night before, some kind of plum wine, would keep them sleeping. Bastards. They drank and whooped themselves into oblivion, tormenting Joe with pokes from sticks, kicking him, telling him they were going to kill him and by the end of the night two of them got into a fist fight and the others watched in a circle, those that could still stand.
By the second dawn Joe had cut clean through one of the strips. He struggled to retie it so none of them would see, and spent the day as silent and still as possible. They fed him soup -- venison, of course, as deer meat and hides were about all these guys had to work with. Except for the one guy who could cobble together a few words, Joe couldn’t understand anything they said -- it was like broken English, but it wasn’t English, it made no sense to him at all. He spooned the soup into his mouth with his hobbled hands. The fat filled him.
In the day some of the men left to hunt with their bow and arrows, while a few stayed with the prisoner -- if Joe so much as muttered a question they’d kick him. What the fuck, he screamed at the guy the first time it happened, and the guy just kicked him again. So after that he kept his mouth shut and waited for night, when they’d all pass out.
That third night Joe slept for a few hours himself, the kind of sleep where one eye is the tiniest bit open, and you’re aware of the passing of the time even as you rest. An owl screeched, and he sat up -- big moon, lots of light, he could see the scattered twig and moss lean-tos, each with several sleeping men. If he removed the leather now, he’d never be able to get it back on again -- once he committed, he had to run.
Quietly, he undid the straps on his arms, and spent a moment gently rubbing the broken skin on his wrists. Then he undid the harness that held his leg to an exposed tree root, and scooted out the doorway. He was noisy as hell even as he was quiet as he could be, it just seemed impossible not to snap and rustle the branches and leaves, but no one seemed to wake and when he found the trail he started jogging up the mountain, lit by the moon. The gentle light felt protective, blue.
After half an hour he came to a fork and the image of Sarah’s map appeared in his mind clear as the pebbles in a stream and he took the fork to the right. He was sure it was the right way. Sarah and Carmen would have gotten away, he knew. They had to have. He walked the rest of the night and into the afternoon, until it dawned on him that he’d made a mistake. As the afternoon waned, the sun descended on his left side, meaning he was moving due north, when according to that map he wanted to go west. Fuck. He needed a rest, moved deeper into the woods, and found his little, mossy cave.
Those motherfuckers, Joe said to the air as he dug into the opening in the roots. He needed to hide, and rest for a few hours. Motherfuckers. He was free!
His arms were covered in mosquito welts, and he struggled not to scratch them. Infection would be a nightmare in these woods. In the morning he’d head west, further out of the way of the men he’d escaped from, and later head south to try to find Sarah and Carmen at the point in the wall where they’d planned all along to cross. He held his wrists up, almost supplicant between his eyes and the fading light. The cuts from the leather were deep, weren’t healing. He gathered patches of wet green moss together and wrapped his wrists and curled up and fell asleep.
It was cool in the shade, and he felt very much alone. He missed his mother, his bed, the days when he would walk through the woods and return to the smell of onion soup and roasted goat, or spring salad and the last potatoes. He was hungry. Tired. Frightened. He leaned in against the mossy edges and everywhere above he imagined insects moving through the trees, pincers and proboscis and sawing jaws and they’d be crawling on him -- or was he just imagining it -- he’d scrape at his neck to kill whatever was crawling there and it felt as though he didn’t sleep a moment though he must have, because, suddenly, he opened his eyes and it was dawn.
This was what his father had prepared him for. To be all alone, no help or comfort. To find a way, like his father. No meaning, no purpose, just forward. It wasn’t a question of do I like this. Because I don’t.
Feeling hungover, his wrists infected, Joe hit the trail, climbing up through the steep woods, up, then down, on and on. He’d eat later. He was getting close to the meeting place, he believed. He would see the girls soon. They were going to get away for sure. They would forgive him. No, he would save them. And they would help him after that. They would know what to do. Keep positive. Inside, he despaired of ever surviving the day. What a mess. He missed his sister and his mother, just kept walking towards what he feared would be disaster.