Hole in the Wall
After a brief discussion, it was agreed that the only option was to go south and turn off the Empire Road to Pan and warn them of New Rome’s plans to attack from the south. I was still quite tired, so I found a place to curl up on the back of the pole cart under the canvas. I went back to the home cart first and grabbed my branches and put them back under the canvas cover where I would be. I was just starting to push the branches as far under as I could so that I wouldn’t have to smell them as I rested there, when Acmon spoke.
“What is that stuff?” I was surprised that he was coherent enough to speak. He looked dazed but was clearly watching me. They both were.
“It’s like a medicine. You smoke it and it makes your mind fly away for a while.” Their eyes widened and they looked at each other. Most communities have a version of this kind of medicine. The common one is called Angel Trumpet and is a huge white flower that you boil, and its juice makes your mind see all kinds of things.
“Go on, boy. Give us a pipe full then? You saw what they did to Towers. They’re going to do that to us too! At least let us be flying when they do it?” I looked at them. They were pathetic creatures really. Quite stupid both of them, but they were still people. So I took some of the dried leaves I had in my pockets out. I walked behind with them and fetched their pipes out of their coats. I went back to the home cart and got May’s flint box out and sat back on the tailgate of the cart. It takes me a bit longer to light a fire than May, but this time I was able to get a spark into the dry grass in the little box quite quickly. I put their pipes in my mouth and got them going, then put them in their mouths to puff away on while they walked. I packed them really tightly to last them longer.
We had been walking for about four hours when we reached the Empire Road. Boss stopped the cart just before he should have turned off. He looked down the Road. It would be two days walk to get back down to the Pan turn off. As we got to the Empire Road, Boss looked at it for a moment but then he began walking the horses forward again, heading toward Hopetoun. He turned around to me and beckoned me with his hand to go to him. Alexis came running up a moment later to ask why we hadn’t turned off like we all discussed earlier. Jeremy appeared on the other side on his little white pony a moment later.
“There were Roman soldiers on the other side of the road. I thought I saw some dead out there, on the other side of the fence, not long after we left the market. But when we got to the turn off, I heard footsteps running along the outside of the fence, and one of them whistled a whistle to sound like a bird.”
“But how do you know they were Roman?” Jeremy asked.
“Because he whistled a bellbird call. The dead caught all the bellbirds about a hundred years ago when the settlements put the walls up. The Catholics still have some in cages and breed them as mascots. But they’re dead in the wild.”
The sound of hoofs, of wagon wheels and the ground underfoot overtook the talking again. “Where to now?” Alexis asked.
“There aren’t many choices left,” Boss answered. “We need to head to Hopetoun. When we get there, we might be able to convince their elders to send a boat downstream to New Haven to raise the alarm.” But as Boss spoke his eyes widened. The road ahead of us was long and straight and we could see down it far enough that the walls on either side appeared to come together in a point in the distance. We all looked down the road to try and see what Boss was seeing. Then he turned to me.
“Go down along the path and see if that’s a trip line ahead. If it is, don’t touch it. And be careful where you step in case there’s others I haven’t seen.”
So I headed down the road, watching where I was going extremely carefully, being sure not to step on anything other than the road. I walked for about five minutes. Geez his eyes were sharp to see that. Sure enough, it was a piece of thin rope tied tightly across the path and ran out into the wilderness. What purpose it served was beyond me, but there it was. It went out into the western wilderness where there were no dead. If Boss was right, that he’d seen Roman soldiers out there earlier, the trip line would most likely be theirs. I went back and told them. By now the Professor and May were with him too.
“We’re boxed in. There’s nowhere left to go!” Jeremy said with a sound of despair in his voice.
“Not the case, lad,” Boss began. “But what I’m about to ask of you all is to trust me on something and follow me. I know this is gonna sound crazy but just … Please trust me.”
We watched him as he assessed responses. There was never a question that we would follow him, and now more so than ever. “Ok then. Elijah, go and get the saw and the large metalworking pliers, the axes and the crowbar from the pole cart. Alexis, give him a hand.” I liked that he asked Alexis to give me a hand. Alexis didn’t mind.
When we got back Boss, Jeremy and the Professor were studying the western side of the fence. We put the tools on the ground next to Boss.
“Righto. This will be the spot. Fast as you lot can, cut us a hole in the fence that we can get through out into the wilderness. Jeremy started slicing away at the ropes and the vines that grew up in between the pitch sticks, while Boss began hacking at the trunks of the small trees that were growing there. The Professor also took an axe and began slashing at the other point where we’d want it to open to. A few minutes later we had a length of the fence free, and we pulled the debris aside. There was still all manner of wood and sticks on the road, but the wagons could now get through.
“Good!” Boss said. ‘Now, everyone follow and keep the noise down. Keep your swords ready for the dead and stay close.”