It’s the nursery where I’d been captured. Is this sign a mirage? A trick? A flashback? Am I really having a nice lie down somewhere, dreaming?
Hot sunshine burns into my face, thawing icicles of disbelief that lock me in place. I lean down and look over the top of my stupid sunnies to re-read the last faded line: ‘1.3 kilometres, left turn Hanson Street’. Yes, I think I can just about manage that distance, if I walk slowly.
A bullet spangs off the sign, approximately where my head had been a moment ago. Paint flecks sting my face. A half-crouch of surprise causes the jumper to ride up, exposing more butt crack than a seasoned plumber. A chaste downward pull corrects this, but my aging attacker, Greybeard the Pirate, takes particular offence.
He yells through that giant beard while hobbling towards me, using of the gun as a crutch. I keep hoping he’ll shoot himself in the face each time the stock thumps the ground.
“Christ will not suffer a child molester! Ya infested, fat pervert, I’ll kill ya!”
Oh, that’s just great. A religious nut. Admittedly our new world is rife with mental instability, but I resent him using God’s name to justify murdering me. I dread those tainted by religion almost as much as the Creeps. With no laws to reign in their beliefs I have found some of them partial to earthly cleansing of non-believers. This old, broken-minded freak will probably track me to the ends of the earth. Why can’t he shoot in one direction and run in the other, like I always do?
Though bruised and battered, my feet cover distance faster than his acute limp. I hop between grassy tufts that sprout from cracks in the asphalt and concrete, weaving around trees and power poles to frustrate a clean shot from behind. Then I take a brief breather behind a post office box to update myself on the loony’s progress.
As expected he’s still coming; gamely swinging that dicky leg. He spots my sweaty face peering around the red box and reshoulders the rifle. Fortunately he’s exhausted and the heavy barrel droops before the trigger is pulled. He doubles over, clasping a hand to his knee, breathing hard. I try to reason with him.
“Go home, you silly old bastard! I’m not a Creep.”
He glowers at me. Maybe they call the Hosts something else around here. I race off, which in my state means a fast walk; but I reach a small roundabout well in front of the murderous oldster.
Remembering the sign’s instructions I break left down Hanson Street. This is not the route I’d driven in on, however this direction has fewer houses to separate me from my goal. The nursery’s triangular, bright orange roof is a highly visible landmark. A few hundred wincing steps more brings the large, shade-clothed greenhouse into view.
Risking a shot in the back, I leave the roadside concealments and strike out across a thickly grassed stretch of land adjoining the nursery. I reach a sagging, triple wire fence that protects the property and stand outside the legal boundary, swamped by uncertainty. Fate’s fickle hand has been set firmly against my back, speeding my pace so far. Such haste can only encourage an accident.
The rolling echo of that high powered rifle being fired at me again discourages these contemplations. Even if doesn’t shoot me those gun shots will attract every Creep in the vicinity. Very cautiously I grab a handful of barbed wire and swing my manhood carefully over. It’s too late to tense when the whipping sound of a bullet passing close by is trailed by yet another cracking report.
From the wire straddled position I look back to see the old gunslinger at the roundabout corner. He leans against a signpost, steadying his aim for another shot. I’m well over two hundred metres away which makes me a very tiny target. But Bad Luck’s hand usually rigs the roulette wheel of my life choices, and its million-to-one odds pay out more often than I like. I hunker, thinking small, while scurrying towards the nursery.
The greenhouse is torn to shreds. Pots and racking are in disarray, trashed by a hundred careless Hosts who’d broken in to get at me. Thankfully the vandals have since been called away. Probably that massive redeployment back to the hive. An occurrence I promptly take the credit for.
Arriving back at the very spot I’d been taken from is surreal. Only one day has passed and so much has happened to me. I get dizzy thinking about it.