The brothers cast their gazes upwards through the grimy light filtering in through the windows. But there’s nothing to be seen behind barricades of airport furniture. The voice comes first from one place and then another – and the megaphone projects it loud, even though they could have heard the man easily without it.
We ain’t here to pillage, Moses calls out. We’ll work for food and shelter – if you have a mind for it. Otherwise we’ll take our leave.
You’ll take nothing! the voice says from above. Now it seems to be coming from the far left, and there are clanking sounds, as of bolts being drawn and chains unwound. You’ll take nothing! I gave no permission!
What’s that sound? Abraham asks his brother in a low voice, pointing to the left where, on their level, is a double set of maintenance doors. As they watch, the doors shudder slightly, and then there’s a sound like rat’s feet on cold stone.
How many of you are there? Moses calls up to the man with the megaphone.
How many? the voice calls back. He wants to know how many! I been here three years. I got a big marble floor. All I use it for is a calendar. You count the days, don’t you? That’s how you know.
Do you think he’s the only one? Abraham says to Moses.
More activity comes from behind the double doors, and another metallic sound, like a metal bar being shifted aside and clanging to the ground – like a barrier being drawn.
We better get, Abraham says.
What’s your name? Moses calls up to the balcony.
My name? comes the voice. Then Moses can see some movement behind the furniture barricades. The small shape of a man dressed in colourful clothes moving back and forth in a frenetic way. He catches glimpses of the man through the niches in the stacked furniture.
My name? the man continues. He wants to know my name now. If you guess it right I’ll let you live.
Let us live? Abraham calls up. Man, you best learn some manners or you’re gonna—
We’ll just leave, Moses calls up, not liking the sound of what’s behind that door. We’re leaving now.
He moves in the direction of the corridor down which they originally came. But before they get there, a demented laugh comes from above, and a steel gate comes smashing down over their only exit from the food court. Abraham runs to lift it, but the gate is solid.
All right, listen, Moses calls up to the shape moving back and forth above them. We ain’t here to cause any fuss. We’ll just go peaceful.
Now the voice comes from directly above, in the middle of the balcony.
It’s the work of months behind those doors, the man says. Rounding them up, one at a time. Using myself as bait. Months of work. And when you two are dead – well, then, the work starts all over. But that’s just the nature of time, ain’t it? It goes on ahead, and we follow. Now guess! Guess my name!
Jesus Christ, Abraham says.
No, it ain’t Jesus Christ, says the man.
Then the doors open. There is no drama, no bursting. They sway open slowly, inch at a time, because what’s behind them is in no hurry. Instinct can afford to move slow, because it moves with a surety of purpose foreign to most things.
Slugs. A lot of them. They push through the door, stumbling over each other. The first few fall to the ground and climb back to their feet slowly. The ones behind begin to lumber in the direction of the brothers.
Okay, Abraham calls upwards. Okay. How about James? Robert? Michael? Frank? Richard?
Abe, get straight, Moses says and brings a pistol out from his satchel.
Goddamnit, Abraham says. How many of em do you reckon?
Fifteen, twenty. Don’t shoot wild, we’re low on ammo.
Abraham drops his satchel on the ground and unzips it. From it he pulls a blunted shotgun, the barrel sawn off just beyond the stock.
The first few they take out with quick head shots to thin the herd. Then Abraham circles around the side of the group and begins tossing obstacles in their way – tables and light aluminium chairs, artificial plants in clay pots, light-weight kiosks. Anything that will stumble them up and make them easier to deal with one at a time. As he does this, Abraham continues to cry derision upwards to the man on the balcony.
We’re gonna get you, you ass**le. Billy, Fred, Simon, Lee, Gary, Paul, Albert, Roger, Carl, Michael.
You already said Michael, the man above says through squealing laughter.
Abraham grapples with one slug that’s got behind him somehow. The dead man is dressed in grey overalls with his name embroidered on them. He has a stringy beard and milky eyes – and when Abraham turns, the slug’s mouth is already open and ready to bite. Abraham takes aim with the shotgun and pulls the trigger, but he has miscounted the shells and realizes he’s out. Stumbling back against a metal counter, he reaches behind him to a canister filled with plastic utensils, grabs a handful of plastic knives and shoves them into the dead man’s open maw. Then he uses the palm of his other hand to ram the knives in deep, where they lodge with thick wetness in the back of the slug’s throat.
Unable to bite down, the slug claws at Abraham with his useless cold hands, and Abraham pushes him backwards, sending him tumbling along the floor.
On the other side of the food court, Moses has taken an iron adze from his satchel and backed himself against the metal gate. There are four slugs shambling towards him. He looks in their eyes. Humans made animal. He, too, has been animal on the earth. He feels no hatred towards these things, nor pity neither. They – the slugs and Moses himself – are objects in contention for space. That is all. And which object ultimately holds sway, he knows, is more a matter of nature’s hazard and caprice than the will of any bearded Overseer with a mission for humankind.
Still and all, there’s got to be an order. There’s got to be.
All right, he says. All right.
He rushes forwards, raises the adze and, putting all his weight behind the swing, buries the curved blade of the instrument in the skull of one of the slugs. It is a woman, and her head hinges apart as though made to do so. Then Moses wrenches the adze out of her head and, in the same motion, swings it across the face of the next slug, whose jaw shatters. Fragments of teeth and bone fall to the cold tile floor like a smattering of summer hail. Another woman already has her teeth on Moses’ forearm, but he wears a leather jacket for just such a reason, and she has trouble gaining purchase. Instead, she leaves a long smear of rancid drool on his sleeve. He pushes her back and cleaves the side of her skull with the adze. Instantly, the life goes out of her, and she collapses to the ground.