‘The League of Doorways?’ Warden growled. ‘What is this League of Doorways? It sounds like something a fool would make himself chief of.’
‘Now, now,’ Wilberforce tutted. ‘Is that anyway to speak of a long lost friend?
‘What long lost friend?’ Warden asked.
‘Wally Willabee, of course. Do you not remember him?’ Wilberforce asked with a smile.
Numb, Warden stood and recalled his friend as they had raced as cubs amongst the trees of the Howling Forests playing a game of Blast. He remembered making Wally promise that he wouldn’t ever mess with the inferno berries again. Then, his heart sank as he recalled the gut wrenching sadness he had felt when learning that his friend had reneged on his promise, experimented with the berries and blown himself up.
‘But Wally died years ago,’ Warden insisted.
‘Did he?’ Wilberforce said.
‘Everyone heard the explosion!’
‘Why are you so sure it was the sound of an explosion? Could it perhaps have been the sound of something else that they heard?’
‘Like what?’ Warden asked.
‘Might it have been the sound of Wally’s doorway slamming shut?’ Wilberforce smiled.
Zach’s sleep had been restless. His dreams a shattered image of Cathedral Knights, Slath, Noxas and Demonic Guardians. But the face that broke through the cobwebs of his unconsciousness was that of his sister, Anna.
Whichever way he turned to make himself comfortable on the hard ground, he could see her face – pale, gaunt and calling to him. In his dreams, Anna kept looking back over her shoulder as if being chased. Zach would call to her, urging her to follow him, but however loud he shouted his throat would fail him and only a garbled whisper would come out. His throat was dry and hot. Perhaps if he managed to drink some water he would be able to call out to her.
Half awake, Zach sat up and rummaged through his supplies until he reached his water bottle. With eyes still closed, he unfastened the top and gulped down some of the water. It felt cool as it spilled over his lips and dribbled from his chin.
‘Anna!’ he shouted. ‘Anna I’ve come to rescue you!’
Something came towards him in the darkness.
‘Anna, it’s me Zach!’ he yelled at the approaching figure.
‘Zach, are you alright?’ the shadow asked.
‘We’ve got to find the key, Anna,’ Zach whimpered in his sleep not wanting anyone else to hear his secret.
‘Zach wake up!’ the figure said, taking hold of his shoulders and shaking him awake.
Zach looked into his sister’s beautiful green eyes and smiled. ‘Anna,’ he whispered, and as he did her eyes began to darken and then turn red.
‘No!’ he roared. ‘What’s happening?’
The figure grasped Zach with long fingers and shouted:
‘Wake up Zach Black. It’s me, your friend William!’
Zach tried to pull away from his sister. Her voice was no longer sweet and soft but deep and wolf-like.
‘Keep away from me!’ he yelled.
‘Zach you’re having a nightmare!’ William howled. ‘Wake-up!’
Zach stared into the huge glowing eyes and his heart raced in his chest and ears.
‘Zach it’s me, your friend, William,’ the face said.
A hand squeezed his shoulder, and Zach turned his head to find himself looking into the most striking face he had ever seen.
‘Neanna?’ Zach murmured.
Knocking the damp fringe from Zach’s eyes, Neanna knelt beside him and touched his hand.
‘You’ve been having a nightmare,’ she said. ‘It’s okay. You’re awake now and with friends.’
‘My sister’s in great danger,’ Zach whispered.
‘We know. That’s why we’re here,’ William said.
Zach turned to face him. ‘No. Something has changed.’
‘What do you mean?’ Neanna asked him.
‘I don’t know,’ he said, shaking the last fragments of the dream from his head. ‘But I know that if we don’t get the box to her soon, it might be too late for all of us!’
William and Neanna shared a nervous glance.
‘Then we have no more time to waste,’ William barked. ‘Let’s get going!’
As the sun began to dip behind the horizon, the desert surface started to cool. A breeze picked up and started to blow sand around Anna. She shuffled on, her feet sore and blistered. Sand stuck to her lips and what little saliva she had left in her mouth felt gritty and coarse. Her arms had tired hours ago, so she had dropped the blanket. It had begun to feel as heavy as a sheet of lead above her head. The blanket had fluttered to the desert floor like a downed butterfly.
Anna limped on, her progress so slow now. She knew before long she wouldn’t be able to hold herself up, and would collapse onto the hard packed ground. Here she would lay and let the desert take her. In her mind, Anna pictured the bleached white bones of dead animals found in the deserts that she had seen on wildlife programmes on the television.
With each agonising step, she looked up in the hope that she would see a lake in the distance, rippling with cool water that gleamed in the light of the evening sun. Then, as if her prayers had been answered, Anna did see something in the distance. It wasn’t water, but it was something. It sat squat and square looking on the horizon.
A house perhaps? she wondered, as she sped up and hobbled towards it.
She knew that if it were a dwelling of some sort, there might be people. If there were people, they could help her. They could give her food and water. They could call an ambulance and get her to hospital and to safety.
The sight of the building gave her renewed energy, which she used to hasten her step. As Anna grew nearer, she could see that it was a building, though perhaps not a house. It was too small to be a house as it had just one floor.
Perhaps it’s a bungalow?
It didn’t matter. The fact there was a building of any sort meant that perhaps there maybe someone there who could help her. With her knees almost buckling beneath her, she ran the last few hundred yards to the building. Within feet of it, she stumbled and dropped to the ground. Anna pulled herself up into a kneeling position and brushed the sand from her hands against her nightdress.
There was a squeaking sound above her. She looked up to see a wooden sign swinging back and forth in the breeze. Screwing up her eyes, she read:
The Railroad Station
Anna’s eyes flickered over the sign. Railroad Station? I haven’t seen any railway tracks, let alone any trains! Then she saw the word Refreshments and any thoughts, as to why there might be a railway station in the middle of the desert without a train insight, were eclipsed by her ravenous thirst.
‘Food and water,’ she croaked, and picking herself up, she stumbled towards The Railroad Station.
Fandel mopped the back of his neck with his hanky, then wrung the sweat from it. Placing it back over his nose and mouth, he looped his left arm back around the Delf’s waist.
Max panted as he carried them across the desert. His huge tongue lolled from the corner of his mouth. At first they had made good progress, but as the sun had reached its highest point in the midday sky, the animal had begun to tire. At regular intervals the Delf would prod his side with her sandals and Max would speed up again. The Delf continued to belch and fart as she swigged from a bottle she had packed. Licking his dry lips, Fandel looked at the bottle.
‘Want some?’ the Delf asked, passing it back over shoulder.
Fandel took the bottle from her twisted claw. He flicked the maggots that had escaped from her mouth off the neck of the bottle, and held it up to his lips. He drank and let the water cool his tongue and throat.
‘Does he still have the girl’s scent?’ Fandel asked, handing the bottle back to her.
‘Of course,’ she snapped. ‘He won’t lose it.’
Fandel spied over her shoulder, being careful not to get too close and watched as Max passed his snout over the ground in front of him. Then, as if homing in on something, he darted forward. The creature came to a sudden stop and began to bark.
‘See! I told you!’ the Delf cried as Max snatched up something in his jaws. The Delf lent forward and took whatever it was that he had discovered. She held it out before her and then sniffed it, as if she too could smell the girl upon it.
‘It’s her blanket,’ Fandel grinned. ‘She can’t be far away!’
‘Go on!’ the Delf ordered Max. ‘We have her!’
Max bounded forward, in long powerful strides, now looking forward to sinking his razor-sharp teeth into this girl.
Anna pushed open the door to the Railroad Station and found herself in a small lobby. A crescent-moon shaped desk stood to one side, and behind this, a cabinet on the wall housing a row of keys, a map, a box of matches and some candles. To the left of this was a ticket booth. It had been built from planks of knotted wood and there was a glass panel in the front with a gap at the bottom where Anna guessed travellers bought their tickets. Above the ticket booth hung a sign which read:
The Great Wasteland Railroad
Anna hobbled over to the booth, and peered through the dirty sheet of glass. Forcing herself onto tiptoe, she looked inside. There was a stool, a roll of paper tickets and a wooden box that contained a handful of silver coins. Anna wondered if this was some basic cash register. Behind the stall and fixed into the back of the ticket booth were six large levers. They looked similar to the kind of levers found in railway signal boxes, which are used to change points further down the tracks. The levers were numbered 1 – 6.
Attached to the side of the ticket booth was a timetable. Hoping that perhaps there might be a train arriving soon that could put some distance between her and her uncle, Anna studied it. The timetable was split into two columns. Squinting, Anna tried to make sense of it.
Trains departing Endra into Earth
Doorways 4 – 6
Expected wait time 4 months