Sol scanned the crowds milling around the bazaar. Most people never looked up as they moved from stall to stall, but it was the other ones he was interested in. The people—or rather, the men—who were there for no other reason than because it was a gathering place, where they could meet other men.
He locked eyes with a vicious-looking bastard who was showing a definite interest. The man was thickset and standing with his feet apart and arms crossed. His face was so heavily tattooed it looked like a mask and each ear had a row of helix piercings laden with thick-gauge hoops. He was eyeing Sol with a harsh sneer on his lip and hooded eyes as dark as fury. He looked like something that normally only came out at full moon. Sol wasn’t going to risk it with a man who looked capable of ripping his innards out and eating them for breakfast.
Sol turned to walk away, but the man rushed over and grabbed him, twisting his arm up his back as he dragged him to a quiet spot. He slammed Sol’s face up against a wall, pinning him in place, as he growled in his ear something about “paying your dues.” Sol had no idea what grievance the man held, but when they were disturbed by a gaggle of noisy youths, Sol took his chance. As the youths rushed past, the man’s grip momentarily loosened and Sol managed to twist around and knee him in the balls. Leaving him writhing in agony, Sol made a run for it.
If he thought that was the conclusion of the episode he was in for a shock. The man was as tough as he looked and quickly recovered to take up pursuit. Now Sol was really scared. He was convinced that if he couldn’t outrun this thug he’d get the crap beaten out of him and then the man would take what he wanted without paying. Sol was already envisaging the type of brutal fuck he’d have to endure. The type that would leave him incapacitated and unable to ply his trade for at least a week.
Clearly not yet acclimated to the Baluvian climate, Sol was soon flagging. He was hot, sweaty and out of breath, not to mention still lightheaded from hunger. He wouldn’t be able to outrun his pursuer for much longer. Even in this maze of backstreets, the thug was proving harder to shake than a bagful of rats.
At yet another junction, Sol paused to catch his breath. He doubled over, resting his hands on his knees, while he sucked in air. Why can’t I lose the bastard? Maybe he’s following the trail of my stench. Sol lifted his left arm and sniffed his pit. It smelled like sauerkraut. He screwed up his nose. Yep! I could definitely use a shower. He stared at the ground, his eye caught by a cockroach scuttling across his path to hide under a stone. Smart roach, moving upwind of me. Look at that, even my shadow’s deserted me!
High noon and here he was, being hunted down like a wild animal. Since waking up in the gutter, things had only gone from bad to worse. Sol dreaded to think what the rest of the day had in store for him.
He could hear the clatter of heavy footsteps echoing off the old stone walls and knew he had to keep moving. Left or right? What does it matter? What I really need is a place to hide before I collapse in a heap on the floor.
He chose left—only because there was a slight breeze blowing from that direction and he needed the air. With his knees about to buckle beneath him, he spotted a side alley and veered off, hoping to find somewhere to hide. All he found, instead, was a dead-end.
The alley was lined on each side with ramshackle dwellings and blocked off at the end by a ten-foot railing. All the windows were boarded, indicating the dwellings had been abandoned. Sol rattled a couple of the door handles hoping to find one unlocked, but he was out of luck. He stumbled to the railings at the end of the alley and peered out through the metal uprights at the vast desert wasteland beyond. It stretched as far as the horizon and just looking at the waves of shimmering heat rising up from the sand made Sol gag for water.
I must have reached the city limits. I bet all these side streets are railed off now. He must know I’m trapped. Shit! I don’t even have the strength to defend myself.
He turned around at the sound of approaching footsteps and the hair on the back of his neck bristled. He had to make himself scarce. But how?
He squeezed up tight against the last doorway on the left, trying to make his profile as slim as possible. A feeling of complete helplessness washed over him. He was at the mercy of a thug, about to get raped or beaten, or both. And what then? Would he be silenced? Permanently? “Oh God, I’m fucked, I’m fucked, I’m fucked,” he muttered in a frenzied mantra.