Hugi Magazine 32: Say It With Flowers

hugi 32 header graphic

The Wake-Up Call (Written By TAD)

Chapter 44: Cargo

Hetch panicked, slammed the escape door shut and swung the bolts across. The intruder system gave a series of muffled beeps and his face flashed red from a small LED on the overhead console. The gang stood frozen to the spot outside but it was hard to know whether this was due to Hetch's sudden lock-out or whether they had seen something else to cause them concern. The leader pulled himself up on the side of the truck cab and drew a line cross his throat with a dirty finger.

Hetch's throat tightened and gulped down a mouthful of air. There was no going back now. No matter what he did he would be dead before the door had fully opened. The beeps were getting louder in Hetch's skull so he keyed various codes into the overhead console in the hope of disabling the intruder system. The last thing he wanted was a lung full of attack gas burning his insides or 40,000 volts from a crudely installed defender system in the cab.

The gang were deadly and smart, but not educated in tech. They had no need to remember a hundred different backdoor key sequences to release a free food stick from a street dispenser machine or bypass ancient storage pod seals in order to sleep inside out of the polluted rain storms. He remembered many times curling up inside a battered yellow service pod hiding from local pimps or messed up thugs wanting to cut off a body part because they were high on a cocktail of drugs. He was safe inside for the present time. The intruder device stopped and he scanned the cab for a concealed weapon.

Outside the gang paced up and down like hungry wolves driven mad by the smell of fresh meat just out of reach. The leader pointed into the dark corners of the tomb-like structure to instruct the other members to protect the exits and entrances.

Hetch searched the inside of the dark truck cab. The blocky sides and floor pan contained a hundred different hidden compartments, all barely bigger than Hetch's fore arm. Beyond the usual collection of pornography, tools, dirty clothing and putrid food substances was a bunch of rusty keys and lock-picking devices. He held them up to the window and through the misty halogen fuelled beams of light he made out unique key numbers splattered in blood stains and thick, gritty dirt the kind that invaded every recess in this old cab. The strange thing was the torn clothing were no more than rotting rags of women's clothing. A shiver climbed up the ladder of his spine. Sure, some drivers would pick up women, maybe collect an item of clothing as a memento, but something was wrong here.

Reassessing his surroundings was difficult under pressure but he was sure this truck hadn't moved in a long time. Maybe its owner abandoned it after breaking down or perhaps the owner got into a bar fight and never returned.

Underneath he heard the metallic scratches of someone tearing open the electronic box, no doubt attempting to release the emergency locks again and get to Hetch inside.

"Thanks for being paranoid too", said Hetch praising the non-existence owner for welding the strong bolts across the emergency exit. Sure, he would die in a fire but no one could break in and steal his gear.

Hetch's expression switched from relief to worry "Why hadn't the owner kept the bolts in place? Why had he left them open?"

The wolves outside would not wait forever, he told himself. They would disappear once some more gigantic 'road trains' arrived to refuel or grab some downtime. The gang were resourceful and the leader could not be seen to be beaten by a smart street punk with a bad arm. His psychotic pride would soon drive him into a frenzy of rage and storm the cab.

It was only a matter of a few tense moments before one of the gang demonstrated this by grabbing an unsuspecting driver around the neck as he emerged from a side door, forced a spike under his chin and up into his skull. The driver's body collapsed and before Hetch's mind could process what he had just witnessed the swipe freak began the gruesome task of accessing the profitable organs inside the fresh corpse. The leader whistled over and requested a sample of the human remains. A slippery lump of something was passed along the line of gang members, each one skilfully catching and throwing it onto the next.

The leader climbed up onto the front of the truck, looked Hetch straight into his terrified eyes and wiped the corpse's guts back and forth across the dirty windows. Red tears of warm blood covered Hetch's view as he stumbled back away from the crazed swipe freak.

"There are human butchers!" he thought.

He gripped his malfunctioning arm and looked through the blood-smeared window. "They got me once, but not this time" he muttered through his gritted teeth. His dry blistered lips snarled up at the edge in a state of defiance. "You bastards are going to pay".

The leader stretched his arm towards the window and began you draw a backwards 'U' shape with his finger in the blood followed by "D" then "I" and "E".

Through the crudely drawn letters he watched as the corpse was stripped of any re-sellable organs before being kicked into the gutter.

"YOU ARE ALREADY DEAD!" screamed the leader through the multi-layers of plexi-glass. Hetch stared back and smiled. He grabbed the roof cord and the vault was filled with an ear-splitting siren as the air horn delivered a stream of decibels next to the leader's ears. He tore at his bleeding ears and collapsed onto the tarmac and vomited. His screams of agony continued while a group of drivers emerged from the bars and rest areas wanting to find out what the noise was and if anyone was trying to steal their hardware. A number of red emergency flares were thrown in the direction of the noise.

The gang members began to hide back into the shrinking shadows for fear of being discovered. The hardened truckers were merciless in their execution of protecting their goods, they had to be, and their very lives often depending on making sure their illicit cargo arrived at the destination. A small group of swipe freaks without a leader was no match for twenty or more truckers carrying spiked bats, machetes and shotguns.

Hetch too drew back into the dark corners of the cab and watched as one of the gang members was struck in the face with a metal bar before being dragged by one leg across the rough road surface and between the sidewall and a freight truck.

His heart almost stopped when the handle on the truck was jerked up to make sure it was locked. The vigilante crowd checked truck-by-truck searching out anyone hiding in the shadows before dealing out some rough road justice. Against the background of the flashing white lights of nearby traffic stream Hetch watched another gang member scream as he was thrown head first into the torrent of moving metal. In an instance the shredded body parts were swept away, carried by high-speed transporters or heavy haulage pods with a hundred tonnes of trailers swimming through the artery of tunnels of the Monsoon Interchange.

It was sick, but it was a kind of justice Hetch told himself again and again.

Another gang member was brought out into the open and held down on the ground by the feet of two fat truckers on his chest. A truck drove slowly in the direction of the trapped swipe freak and its front wheel was skilfully aimed in direction of his head on the tarmac. One of the helping truckers waved his hand to help to other line up the wheel. The thundering black thread of heavy machinery grew closer and closer to the swipe freak's head.

Hetch could not stomach it for any longer and gripped his eyes tightly shut beneath his bruised eyelids. The dull screams stopped.

He had survived for the moment, but was unable to move or erase those fresh murders from his retinas: these images had burnt in.