After the Ambush
by thadd presley
Over the next few days, Victor slept through the day and traveled at night. He picked his way through rubbish and broken remains littering the gutters and alleys. He searched for anything he could use for bait or possibly barter. Anything to make life easier. All he had come across alongside the streets and avenues of the city were burnt husks of automobiles. They lined the roads in both directions.
Besides that, and worse in all the ways imaginable, were the staggering heaps of what he hoped were failed funeral pyres. When he saw the fifth or sixth heap of human bodies, some ashes and cinders, some only got hot enough to melt, while some were clothed, most were not. Yet, there they were, all together, holding up their part of the final conglomeration, marking their place in the long line of human development.
Moving deeper into the city, the buildings became more deserted than he had expected. Perhaps, the news of him had spread this far and he was being avoided. But, also, it could be the area which people were avoiding.
Sudden bangs echoed out of the night, along with them voices of men working. It wasn’t until he sat long enough to see the silhouette of a crane on the brightening horizon that he realized he was close to a shipping container yard. It brought two startling facts to light. He was traveling east, when he thought he was going west. Also, he was closer to a river than he thought. This was all good and bad news.
He was cautious as he made his way through the maze of towering metal crates, a chilling wind blew off the water, sending shivers down his spine. The long rays of morning light cast eerie shadows, adding to the sense of foreboding. Suddenly, a faint whimper reached Victor’s ears, drawing him closer to a particular container.
“Can you hear me?” A young voice called. Then, there came a light tapping. “I know someone is there.”
With tremendous trepidation, Victor quickly walked across an aisle, closing the distance between him and what he thought had to be a girl’s voice. It was coming from a container. He would have never heard it, if it hadn’t been for the thick steel door being left open.
Then, he felt really dumb. He knew he’d walked into a trap. Fear gripped him and he tensed. His body and mind awaiting the blow that would surely come.
But, when it didn’t, he realized he’d been holding his breath. Slowly, he told himself, stand up and get a look.
Slowly he walked toward the gap in the container doors. To steal a glance inside would be asking for trouble and possibly closer to suicide than he’d ever been. But, he had to do it. He had to know.
Total darkness, of course. But, that wasn’t all. The air blowing through the gap was cold. Really cold. Upon touch the metal of the container was even colder. How had he not noticed the condensation before now? Whatever was inside was meant to be fresh and kept that way for a long time.
God, bless who ever left this door open. It was food. Inside would be pounds of meat and fruit and …
But, the voice…
Victor worked up his courage, deciding if he were going to die it would be to helping someone… not because there was a possibility of fresh food.
Easing his way through the gap without touching the doors, he stopped to wait for his eyes to adjust. It would take a few minutes, but the dim morning light wasn’t enough to help without it. Part of his plan was to stay quiet and still only until he heard the voice again, but even that took too long.
The unimaginable loudness that a scratch of a match makes in total silence is deafening. The darkness sprang into light showing a mostly empty container. Only six wooden boxes in the whole place. Three lines against the walls of each side. From one of the boxes on the left side wall, the voice called. “I see your light. Please, help me.”
Every nerve in Victor’s body jumped at the sound of her voice. He was sure about it being a girl. He stepped quickly and bent down to the wooden box. The tapping started again.
“Quiet now. I’m here now.” He pried the lid up enough to get his fingers under the wood. Lifting it up in one motion, he revealed a haunting sight. She was laying in a bed of hay and wet sawdust. Couldn’t be more than 14 years old, maybe older because she was so starved. But, she was just a young, helpless girl.
Her small face was so pale and fragile. Victor’s heart sank as he realized he was too late. The girl was motionless, except for her eyes. Her body was nude, but covered with the straw. The parts he could see were smeared in a thick, dark, and oily mixture, like dirty engine grease. He reached down, his hands trembling, and gently touched her cold. It was cold, but not too cold.
Her eyes blinked then and brightened. “Are you real?”
Victor nodded. “I am.”