Zoom. Zoom. The cars blasted by fast, pulling on Toby’s torn, dirty clothing. Toby was moving toward the distant, flickering lights because he didn’t know what else to do. Fiend had become unsettlingly quiet in Toby’s head. Fiend had been sure that Toby would be able to hear him in his head. Maybe the connection was still there, but Fiend was being quiet, testing him. Fiend brought pain. Fiend brought fear. Toby wasn’t willing to gamble at whether or not Fiend was playing at something. Best that Toby, at least, try and follow Fiend’s instructions. What if Toby were to lay down somewhere, stretch out and sleep? What if he decided to do that instead of obeying Fiend? Fiend wouldn’t’ kill him. Possibly, Fiend would pull more of the dog in. The dog’s name was Autumn, although she didn’t think of herself as that. She didn’t think of herself as anything. Names were a distinctly human invention. Her mind was so utterly foreign to him. It was like oil and water, sea water where life had been. The oil technically sits on top of the water, but it still manages to kill everything in the water. He couldn’t remember his mother’s name. He could remember her face, if he really tried. If he really tried, he could see curly blonde hair streaked with brown highlights. He could see a pinched nosed and frown lines around her mouth. He couldn’t remember her name or where live before the Slavers had taken him. All that hurt his soul, but he knew that Fined could take more from him, feed more of it to the dog.
Now and now, he walked and every once and a while, a car honked at him, but he didn’t know what the honks meant. Maybe it was just noise. This entire place seemed to be built for and devoted to making noise. There was the whining of black cross-shaped figures in the deep purple sky. There were the puttering and rumbling of steel carriages rushing across long stretches of blacktop. They made zoom-zoom sounds that sounded different when they were going away. Toby didn’t think about it. He was tired. His face and body hurt, although Fiend was taking care of that. Fiend was taking care of him. Fiend was stealing his mind but Fined was stitching his body back together. The slash across his face was gone and only dried blood on unbroken skin. That girl, Macy her name was, she had hit him, hit him hard, but she left with some guy and his face didn’t hurt anymore.
Fiend, where are you? A steel carriage zoomed very close to him and he panicked, falling against the cold, dirty, metal side guard. The carriage beep-beeped at him as it disappeared into the night, its red lights glaring him like some predator’s eyes. Toby bored his teeth at the lights, but they didn’t seem to notice. They just kept on and were gone in seconds. Fiend, where are you? Toby saw the steel carriages running over something and the wheels running over it made a loud crunching sound. Crunch-crunch. Zoom-zoom. Beep-beep. This world was so loud and Toby knew that that had something to do with the dog. The dog was afraid of all that noise. Toby knew what it was, but they shared the same fear. He was afraid because the dog was afraid. Toby had the instinct of trying to straighten his back, raise his head. He wanted to look big. His fingers kept curling into claws, but his fingernails weren’t big enough, sharp enough to cut anyone. There was a constant whine echoing in his head and the sound was driving him insane. That was the dog, crying at the foreign sounds. The sounds were foreign to him as well, but Toby thought that he wouldn’t make those noises. They weren’t human noises, although Toby wasn’t actually human anymore. Fiend, where are you?
Toby kept on walking, down along the blacktop road and away from the crunch-crunch of the metal that the steel carriage rode over. Toby hated the sound and wanted to be away from it. He started moving faster. Crunch-crunch. Toby moved into a fast walk, puffing hot air from his nose. His claw hands turned into clenched fists and tears were sealing down his cheeks. Toby, not Autumn, was upset. He didn’t like all these noises. He didn’t’ like the fast moving light rushing past him, toward him and away. Toward him and away. He didn’t like it, but Fined wanted him here, wanted him walking this blacktop road. Toby wrapped his arms around his chest, shivering and crying quietly. That girl, Macy was gone. Both parts of him, Toby and Autumn, wanted her to be close, wanted her comfort. Toby didn’t think that that girl, Macy would have given it to him. The dog wanted it anyway, acting like a petulant child. If Toby could speak to that dog, he would have explained that Macy would have no part of him because of what he did. He had spoiled it for the dog. He had wanted him. He wanted to touch her, to taste her lips, to smell her hair. He wanted to lay with her, make love to her, but she wouldn’t have any part of him because of what he did.
He remembered the gun in his hand. He remembered slapping it across her face. He had killed the dog and he was afraid of what might happen when the dog figured that out. He’d cut her and stabbed her and she still didn’t die, so he shot her in the head. Somehow the dog didn’t remember. Maybe she did, but blocked it away because the two of them were stuck together. He thought that she did know that but she also knew, in a vague way, that she would die if he did. She was the unknown other, unpredictable and therefore dangerous.
There was another carriage and loud unsettling music wafted out of it. The music was a loud boom-boom-boom spilling out of the tinted glass window of the carriage. Toby backed away, staring at a boy wearing a pair of blackened glasses. His hair was black and slicked back and he was smiling at Toby. Toby didn’t like it, but didn’t bear his teeth at the boy. He pulled his blackened glasses to show off his cloudy blue eyes and he studied Toby for a moment.
“Hey, man. You want to make some money?” The boy asked. Toby could smell hot spices that might have been meant to smell good, but were too strong. He also smelt liquor and something sharp and fecal. Toby knew that it was the dog that was really smelling it. Toby started to walk away.
“Hey! Hey! I’m talking to you.” Toby wanted to continue, but the dog stopped him in his tracks. Toby stopped and looked over to the boy in the car.
“Do you want to make some money or not?” The boy asked again, showing his smile again. Words were getting hard for Toby, but he found them anyway.
“What…What ….would I have to…do?” Toby asked, struggling through the words and expecting to fail. He knew what money was and he figured that he would need some if he wanted food. Food was a happy thought for the both of them, Toby and Autumn.
“You got good hands? Can you fight?” The boy asked. Toby remembered launching a knife off his fingertips and he remembered finding the dog’s old owner and slashing the boy’s throat. Toby knew the word that expressed the affirmative, but it came too slow so he just nodded his head.
“Good. Me and my buddies are running a bum fight under the bridge. I’ll pay you forty to fight.” There was an uproar of laughter from inside the car and it peaked the dog’s attention and roiled Toby’s nerves. There were two other boys in the car and none of them sounded sober. The dog gave him the image of running away, but Toby was hungry and he knew the dog was as well.
“Does that sound good?” The boy asked. Again, the word for the affirmative came too slow and Toby just nodded his head.
“Cooper, let him in. He’ll do fine.” The boy called, smiling at Toby. The dog was still sending the running away images. Cooper opened the door and he was pointing something at him.
Gun! Toby had first thought, but if it was a gun, he was holding it wrong and the barrel was plugged up with a roll piece of glass. There was a blinking, red light to the bottom left of the barrel of the thing that wasn’t a gun. The boy that was Cooper was smiling and staring one eye through what might have been a scope on a gun, although this wasn’t a gun.
“Lights. Camera. Action.” The Cooper boy said and began to laugh. The other boys laughed as well.
“Come on in. Hurry or go to sleep hungry.” The boy with the blackened glasses said. Toby moved forward and sat inside the car beside the Cooper boy.
“What…What…What…would I have to do? Who… would I have to fight?” Toby asked, his hands resting on his knees.
“Just some other bum. Doesn’t matter.” The Cooper boy chuckled and the sharp, fecal smell and the liquor smell were worst with the door closed and him inside. Toby’s hands were shaking softly on his knees. The steel carriage lurched forward off down the blacktop road, the music pounding in his head.
“Tell the people your name.” The Cooper boy commanded, pointing the thing that wasn’t a gun at him.
“Full name makes it legal.” The Cooper boy said. Toby didn’t understand and the Cooper boy laughed at the look on his face.
“What’s your last name, partner?” The Cooper boy asked. Toby started to say his last name but he couldn’t remember it. Whatever it was, it began with a M. Toby Miles? Toby Mills? Toby Miller? The Cooper boy laughed again and the other two laughed with him.
“Picked up a fucking wet-brain.” The boy operating the steel carriage said. That boy slapped the hand that wasn’t controlling the vehicle against the chest of the boy with the blackened glasses.
“Mickey, give him the bottle. I bet this one would like a drink.” The boy behind the wheel said and Mickey, the boy with the blackened glasses, reached under his seat and pulled out a crinkled brown bag that had partially formed around the contents, a small oblong bottle. Mickey reached the bag and bottle back to Toby and smiled.
“Drink up, buddy. You’ll last longer in the ring.” Toby released the bottle from the bag and at first he thought it was glass, but glass didn’t give the way this did. Whatever it was, it was whiskey inside. There was a tag reading: 2.00. Beneath that, there was a label with a drawing of a battered, abused windmill and the legend: Old Mill Whiskey, 60 proof.
Drink up. You’ll last longer in the ring. They wanted him drunk and it wasn’t a horrible idea. Realizing that he didn’t know his own last name had upset him, not as much as not knowing his mother’s name but it upset him still. He unscrewed the cap and downed a quarter of the bottle. The boys found him drinking hilarious, but Toby was beginning not to care.
The trip wasn’t a long one, but Toby had managed to finish the bottle and a can of beer after that and all the while, the boy laughed and laughed and laughed. It was all so damn hilarious. They stopped the carriage in front of a house in a tight row of houses. The house wasn’t quite under the bridge, but in the shadow of it. The support of the bridge was like a stone, elephantine leg whose next step would crush them all. Toby could just barely make out looping scrawls made from red and blue paint jutting up the leg of the support.
Mickey had his hand on Toby’s shoulder and was leading him toward the small metal gate of a salmon colored house with all its lights on. The Cooper boy was following the both of them, saying something that Toby wasn’t paying attention to. The front door of the salmon colored house was open and a boy and girl was kissing feverishly on the front stoop. The boy had his hand down the girl’s jeans and it seemed to Toby, that he was scratching a particularly deep itch.
“Ronny!” Mickey shouted and laughed loudly in Toby’s ear. Ronny, the boy itching the girl’s scratch, parted lips with the girl and then called back to Mickey. Ronny never parted his hand from the girl’s pants.
“That him? That the fucking punching bag?” Ronny asked, laughing.
“He’s a killer. He’s a murderer. He’ll smash your dude up.” Mickey called back. To demonstrate this, Mickey started to pummel Toby’s back with pulled punches. All the boys found this hilarious. Everything was so hilarious. Mickey, trailed by the Cooper boy and the other boy, guided Toby around the house and into waves of course, ugly music and course, ugly laughter. The lot behind the house wasn’t very big, but at least fifty boys and girls rubbed up against one another and blew hot, smelly air at Toby. Toby felt sick as Mickey moved him through the crowd. They bumped up against Toby and the dog grumbled from underneath the liquor Toby doused her in.
The crowd broke in the center and it was just Toby and an other man. Like Toby, this man was dirty and swaying. The man had watery eyes and crooked nose. His lips were chapped and his arms were corded with stringy muscle. Mickey came around behind him and was fussing with his shirt, trying to lift it. The other man pulled his shirt off and tossed it aside. Toby understood and took his shirt off by himself. Mickey and a few other people slapped Toby’s bare back, beckoning him deeper into the makeshift ring. The other man was making fists but he didn’t look like he wanted to fight. Someone deep in the crowd started to chant and the others followed in key. Fight. Fight. Fight. Fight. Fight. Fight. Fight. Fight.
Toby made fists and stepped forward, frowning at all the noise and attention. Toby had the sensation that he would have to fight all of them to get back out. He’d kill them all if he had to. He had made a bad mistake coming here. Forty dollars wasn’t worth being killed. The other man swung at Toby and Toby took the hit to the side of the face. He skittered away and the crowd kicked up a cheer. The man swung again, connecting with Toby’s chin. There was another hit and another and Toby went down. He was on his hands and knees and the man stopped. Somebody, probably Mickey or maybe Cooper, picked him up under the armpits and when he was on his feet, that somebody shoved him forward. Toby made fists again and the man made fists as well.
The man hit him again and while Toby’s head snapped away, Toby swung and smashed his closed fist into the man’s stomach. Toby swung again and again, connecting again and again. The man fell down and Toby fell with him, pummeling him again and again. Blood licked onto his knuckles and up his forearms and the crowd kept cheers, going wild. Toby couldn’t hear them anymore.
The world was only the pounding in Toby’s head as his lungs groped for air and his knuckles smashing against the man’s skull. Toby didn’t have hackles, but he felt them raising. His hands were the dog’s jaws and he was clamping down hard. Toby hadn’t realized that the man had stopped fighting back and that the crowd wasn’t cheering anymore. He only stopped because some of the man’s blood spat up into his eyes, stinging him. His hands were covered in blood so he couldn’t quite wipe the blood from his eyes. The world seeped in like a wary animal and Toby realized that a girl was crying. He looked up and he was surrounded by wide, watery eyes and gaping mouths.
All of a sudden, Toby could feel the cold air. Goosebumps were rippled across his bare chest and arms and Toby had to get away. He had to run away now. His shirt, he needed it to hide the blood. He hadn’t realized that there was so much blood. He snatched the filthy, torn thing and then started through the crowd. The boys and girls parted away from him as he made his way to the front of the house, tears welling in his eyes. Why had he done that? He had trouble figuring out his shirt, driving his head into a sleeve as he charged forward. He settled for putting it on backward, knowing that him being so upset was making the operation impossible. Shirt didn’t matter anyway. He had made a bad mistake and he needed to get away before they stopped being stunned and started coming after him. Why had he done that? There was so much blood.
It might have been wishful thinking, but he didn’t think he killed the man. Toby thought that the man was making wet choking sounds, breathing through a mouthful of blood. Breathing through a mouthful of blood, but still breathing. Maybe they weren’t chasing him because they were busy tending to him. Maybe. Toby stole onto the sidewalk and passed all the steel carriages, rubbing his hands on his dirty shirt and on his dirty pants. Toby felt like there was a bag being drawn around him. He had a vague memory that might have been nothing at all. He didn’t know the context, but he remembered seeing a cat going into a sack and the sack being tossed into a river or maybe it was a lake. The water wasn’t moving fast if it was moving at all. He thought about that because he was thinking about the bad trouble he was in. He was the cat in the bag and the bag was being cinched tight. Where are you, Fiend?
“If you want me to do something, I need you to tell me what to do?” Toby said to the absent Fiend and to the cold night. He surprised himself with the clarity of the thought.
“You can put your hands on your head, son.” A voice said and for a moment, Toby thought that Fiend had finally spoken. He spun around and saw a tall, gaunt man wearing an old, worn out leather jacket and a gun on his hip. He had his hand on the gun and snap that secured the gun had been undone. That had been Toby’s first impressions. The next was the jagged scar stretching up the side of the man’s left cheek. Someone had cut on the man, trying to give him a permanent smile. That somebody had only gotten the one cheek.
“Hands on your head, son.” Toby obeyed. The man pulled a black box from his belt and it made noises. The Slavers had something like that.