A Meeting of Souls – Installment #5
This is the fifth installment of A Meeting of Souls – A Tale from the Wasteland. The read the story from the beginning, start here.
If you enjoy this story and would like to own a copy of your very own, you can purchase it from Amazon/Kindle here and Barnes & Noble/Nook here. The e-book includes a full-color cover and a special, steamy, NSFW bonus chapter at the end of the story that won’t be included on the blog. Every romance needs a “happy ending,” right?
It was nearly dark when the truck pulled into a small encampment miles from the City. Zinara had tried to notice landmarks and keep track of which direction they were headed, but the flat, featureless desert stretched out around them as far as she could see. She didn’t even think they were traveling along a road anymore, but the blinding sun and choking dust made it impossible to say for sure. She felt thirsty, sunburnt and miserable, and when no one had tried to rescue them after the first few hours, she struggled not to feel hopeless and to come up with some sort of plan for escape.
An odd assortment of vehicles, tents, and other temporary structures was arranged in a circle, and the truck drove through a small opening, coming to a stop beside the fire pit in the center. The man who’d abducted her and a thin, balding man she’d never seen before came around to the back of the truck and unlocked the cage door. As soon as the door was opened, the men took turns guiding the slaves down out of the cage before fastening a collar around each one’s neck. Some of the slaves cried and shied away, but most went along willingly. A deal was a deal.
One woman stopped and put a hand out as the driver reached up with her collar. “Arnie, is this really necessary?”
“It’s all part of the experience, darlin’.” She rolled her eyes, but let him fasten the collar around her neck. Arnie loved these “slavery tourists,” as he called them. Wealthy, bored (he couldn’t imagine) men and women who wanted a little taste of the “bad” life. The joke was on them.
Zinara watched as Arnie gathered up the other slaves’ leashes and led them into a giant tent near the back of the camp that served as a dormitory and holding area. The other man reached into the cage and grabbed Zinara by the arm, hauling her forward. She clung to the side of the cage, kicking and shouting, but he easily wrenched her toward him, wrapping her in a bear hug. He stepped back from the bumper and dropped her to her knees, knocking the wind out of her. The collar was on her before she could react and when she struggled to her feet to lash out at him again, he yanked the rope attached to her collar, causing her to stumble into him for another crushing bear hug, her feet kicking in front of her.
Zinara struggled to breathe as her feet dangled off the ground. As Arnie reappeared, she kicked out at him with the last of her strength, but he easily batted her legs to the side and stepped in next to her. She wanted to spit at him, but her mouth was too dry, and when she met his gaze she froze. He was looking at her as if she were some pretty wildflower he’d found in a field and was deciding whether to pick it or crush it under his boot and continue walking. Either way, she was going to get damaged.
“You need to relax, darlin’,” he said.
Zinara mustered up the last of her courage and looked him squarely in the eye. “I am not a slave. You kidnapped me and drugged me. I demand that you take me back to the City.”
Arnie smiled and reached up to finger a strand of her hair. “She demands,” he sneered. She tried to pull away, but her captor held her fast.
“This one needs to learn some manners, Bud. Sleepin’ out by the latrines will take some of the fight out of her,” Arnie said. Then, to her: “If you ask real nice, maybe he’ll leave you a blankie.”
Bud snorted and moved to leave, hoisting Zinara higher in his arms. “You bastard, let go of me!” she shouted, kicking and twisting to get free.
“Better gag her as well,” Arnie called to Bud as the sounds of Zinara’s protests faded in the distance. When they were out of earshot, he headed to a battered RV parked nearby and knocked. A man in an old military dress uniform emerged and accepted the stack of papers Arnie proffered, flipping through them with a cursory glance.
“Any trouble?” he asked.
“Nothing we couldn’t handle.” The man arched one eyebrow, waiting for Arnie to continue. “One of the Guards tried to start somethin’, but Bud took care of him.”
The man turned his full attention to him. “‘Took care of him.’ You assaulted one of the Guards?”
“Just a little warnin’ shot. No harm done.” Arnie was clearly nervous now, fidgeting with his coat pockets and shuffling his feet in the dirt.
“Our arrangement with Wasteland City is tenuous. If you have jeopardized our number-one market….” His voice was soft and low, but the menace in it carried easily. He counted out a handful of caps and dropped a pile into Arnie’s hands as he held his gaze for another moment, then went back inside the RV.
“Yessir, thank you,” Arnie squeaked, giving a little half-nod, half-bow to the closing door.