CW: References to violence, suicide, cannibalism, and threats of violence
Darkness loomed with a foggy heaviness as Ander took his seat. The Night Train was meant for one thing and one thing only—a trip to Nowhere. He gave a sigh as he sat against the royal purple cushions in the bench that awaited his company. He glanced out the train window for a moment before adjusting the collar of his coat.
Nowhere was a dreadful place that most criminals were sent to fend for themselves. It wasn’t a prison, but a ravenous, secluded town barred off from the functional society beyond its walls. He’d heard the rumors; people killing for food, eating one another when luxuries were scarce, dying by self-murder for the sake of escape. Everything about the town sounded like it’d lived up to its name. Unfortunately, Ander was to be Nowhere’s newest resident.
He’d been sentenced to Nowhere for his violations against nature. He was a doctor of sorts—a ‘Sorcerer,’ they’d called him. Ander’s talents were nothing short of natural. However, innovation was not something his hometown was known for.
The people of his town stuck to the old ways. Healings by prayer, hope, mashed up herbs and berries, were all they knew. So, as expected, when he ventured beyond the norm and offered a cure for the common cold, he was sent to trial. There was no need to argue for himself, because he held pride in his discoveries. Should the Sorcerer fall victim to the animals of Nowhere after his offerings, he ventured to believe the nature his people believed in did not exist.
A violent death as trade for bettering overall health was moronic, he thought. Despite his sentence, the Sorcerer would not relent or retire his experiments. In fact, as he went back to staring out into the darkness, he decided to conjure up a plan to do just the opposite. As shadows of trees raced by his train window, the first idea struck him. What if he designed a type of competition?
“They’re animal enough,” he suggested to himself. “A competition might just do the trick.” Then, he sighed.
What kind of competition would be alluring enough for enough criminals to commit to his experiments? What of value could he offer in exchange for their services?
“No,” he said with a shake of his head, “maybe a competition won’t work after all. I don’t suppose there’s anything to compete…” he trailed off.
Trees continued to speed by without a care with the darkness growing and turning their shadows into blurs. He had to come up with something before he reached his destination, because his offerings were the only trade he had to keep himself alive.
“That’s it!” he gasped. “I will offer them simple cures in exchange for my life!”
He grinned at the accomplishment. Surely, the animals of Nowhere could agree to that! There were plenty of residents with simple, untreated illnesses that would want nothing more than their suffering to end. It was undeniably simple.
Should the agreement prove simple enough, Ander vowed he might press their trust further. With his ‘Sorcery’ tricks, he could make use of Nowhere’s residents in other ways. While he had cures for ailments, he did not have them all. In his promise, he could sneak an experiment in from time to time. It was a small price that would go unnoticed. Too many of their brains had been diminished to think so deeply of him.
Ander convinced himself that those who welcomed his treatments would feel too grateful. Out of fear, he guessed, the resents would never ask a single question as to how they were being treated. Showing humanity to those who’d lost it had that benefit. Why pose doubt to the man that may ease worries or offer a light in their darkness? Those full of wanting and need would never!
The people of Nowhere would crumble into his palm, and Ander knew he’d gain the recognition he long deserved. When he proved his worth to the residents that sought it out, he would employ them to gather or concoct what was necessary to fill requests. From there, he ventured, his knowledge would flourish, and he would design a form of business.
“Survival requires strategy,” he noted aloud. “I think I have it straightened out just right.”
The train began to squeal at a time that left the figures outside Ander’s train window lacked definition. In place of trees, as the train rolled to a stop, he caught sight of lanterns overhead meant as a guide. Though it had only taken an hour for Ander to reach his destination, it felt like the journey had taken days. Finally, when the train jerked to a stop, his heart raced in anticipation.
He had one shot to prove his place to the animals beyond the barriers he was currently lingering outside. He stood from his seat and began to walk through the train to its exit. As he reached the opened door, his breath quickened further, sweat built at his brow, and his hands went cold. He’d had all the confidence he could muster while in his seat. When he needed it most, it was beginning to leave him, and he wouldn’t have it.
With a deep breath, he slid himself to the ground and rolled out his shoulders as he approached the gate. He noticed the gate had been locked twice over with a mechanism requiring multiple steps to unlock it. The metal bars were hundreds of feet high and encased the outer edges of Nowhere with a cold edge. Ander’s eyes followed the bars upward until he found the tops. They were finished off with jagged points decorated in sharpened wiring. If one was to be so inclined as to try a grappling escape, they were destined to be torn to shreds.
The gate snapped, screeched, and whined as the locks were released. It was a slow process that built on the Sorcerer’s tension. His muscles began to tighten, and his throat swelled. Thinking about his proposal and executing it were two different things, he realized.
“They have to believe me,” he whispered quietly as the last click of the lock released.
Finally, the gate opened inward to the place that would serve as his forever home. It was as miserable as rumors described. There were houses in shambles, lawns uncared for, wooden porches rotting, and garbage littered the smaller street ahead of him.
He took a few steps forward—
“Get it moving!” complained a guard before he was shoved beyond the gate’s threshold.
Ander’s jaw dropped and his breath hitched with surprise as he stumbled.
The gate slammed shut with an ugly hiss that made him groan.
“New meat!” howled a rough voice.
Within an instant, a hoard of roughened, tattered, and greasy humans crowded Ander. Some bore initiating bats and pipes, some drooled down their chins with sickening grins that made his stomach turn, and others stared darkly.
This is my time to survive, he reminded himself. I have to tell them what I have to offer.
“What are you in for?” called a resident near the front.
“Sorcery,” Ander declared.
Whispers echoed throughout the group of misfits and criminals.
“Why should we let you live in our tiny, happy town?” the resident asked.
“While I have been convicted of Sorcery, I assure you that my talents could be of use to you. I was sent here due to my chemical advances in curing the common cold. Now, you know how they are on the outside. No one will listen to the new. However,” he cleared his throat, “I was hoping the lot of you would choose not to follow suit.”
“Go on,” the resident pressed with intrigue.
“I have come up with much more!” Ander felt his confidence defeat the nerves he’d felt as he stepped into Nowhere. “I have so many possibilities in treatment that if I were to give you my lists, your heads would spin with wonder!”
“And? Why would we want that from you? We’re here to die!” a resident shouted from the back of the crowd.
“I can make your lives a tad easier. For those of you who suffer small ailments regularly, I can make them obsolete, you see.”
“What’s the catch?” the first asked with a cock of his eyebrow.
“No catch other than you promising to keep me alive. I may also need assistance should my trade prove useful to you.”
“If it doesn’t work,” the resident stepped toward Ander with the bat still at his side, “we have permission to beat you until your wits are falling from your ears. That’s our catch, and it is non-negotiable. Should you play us for fools, I can promise that you will suffer a fate worse than death. We may be the lowest scum of the Earth, but not one of us lacks a head. Those of us that did are long dead now.”
Ander nodded quickly. “Of course, of course. I would never insult you in such a way. I swear it.”
“Then,” the resident Nowhere said with a sigh after several moments, “I suppose we can create a deal. We may choose to help your ventures. We will not be forced. We were thrown in here for being lawless, but Nowhere has rules. We won’t tell them to you. You’ll figure them out by ear. Don’t pay attention? Well, that’ll be your loss—a painful one at that.”
“Understood,” Ander agreed simply.
“It better be,” the resident grumbled. “No games played, and you maintain success. Those are the rules of your life. Break them, and we break you.”
With a nod and a smile, Ander cleared his throat and proceeded through the street unbothered. Little did the hoard know, he would break the agreement, and it would be a race for Ander to do so without being caught.
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