Chapter 10 Yuri: Dog Eat Dog
Thomas and Bull scanned the community. Men were standing about, staring at them. Some had their arms folded, some had rocks in their hands for improving their dwellings. The camp was silent other than the distant sound of the waterfall gushing on the far side of the gorge.
“Come on,” whispered Thomas to Bull and started off towards a simple stone hut that was to be their dwelling.
“Let’s see what we can gather for a fire. It’ll be cold at night,” suggested Bull.
Bull began to wander around the base of the wooded cliffs that lined the ravine. He was looking for branches and sticks. After several minutes he had a decent armful to bring back to their quarters.
Bull felt a clip on his heel and before he had time to react, he was sprawled out in the dirt, his sticks and branches now strewn on the ground. He tried to get to his feet but with some shock realised that a foot was pressing down between his shoulders.
“Stay the fuck down.”
Bull tried to look around but could only crane his neck so far. His assailant’s features were blotted out by the bright sunlight behind him. The man put all his weight on Bull’s upper back, forcing the air out of his lungs. Bull groaned helplessly.
Stepping forward the man scooped up nearly all the wood and headed off, leaving Bull winded and in pain. Noticing staring eyes from nearby huts, Bull returned to the edge of the camp without a word and began searching for more wood. A meagre offering was brought back to Thomas who was gently encouraging smoke from a tiny pile of sticks and dry leaves. Thomas noticed Bull’s face was scratched and clothes were dirtied.
“Someone mugged me for my fuel,” said Bull, trying to sound matter of fact to conceal that he was feeling rather stung.
Bull sat down, dumping his sticks next to the circle of stone that acted as a fireplace.
Thomas came and sat close to Bull and put his hand on Bull’s shoulder.
“I know we have to expect to suffer, but I guess it was the surprise of it. I didn’t see him coming,” said Bull.
“It’s going to feel hardest right at the start. We do this for the hope set before us, the vision that Jesus has given of all things being reconciled eventually.” Thomas smiled at his friend.
Bull thought back to being with Jesus in Zion and the exhilaration he felt as Jesus described what is to come.
“One day… One day this will all be over,” said Thomas.
Bull pulled himself upright, looked back at Thomas and nodded.
Just as flames were now flickering in the fireplace, the fire in his heart was also stoked. He closed his eyes and enjoyed the warmth.
Thomas woke with a start. Shouting could be heard echoing off stone walls. Heavy footsteps came thudding past Thomas’ window. Getting out of bed, Thomas opened his door a crack and peered out into the half-light. Unable to see anything, Thomas crept silently outside. Several blocks down, he could see flames licking up into the sky.
Thomas returned and put his hand on Bull’s shoulder, gently shaking him awake.
Bull stretched and followed Thomas.
“Flames,” said Bull. “Let’s look?”
“Ok, but let’s keep in the shadows. We aren’t here to prevent consequences playing out.”
“Agreed,” said Bull.
The two friends quietly made their way toward the fire.
“Seems someone is without a hut!” whispered Bull to Thomas.
More shouting close by, and the sound of glass being smashed.
“That way,” said Thomas pointing to Bull.
From a vantage point a few huts away, Thomas and Bull could see three men brawling in the dirt of the pathway. The words they were shouting were hard to make out. Other men could be seen looking on from their windows. Suddenly a fourth man emerged from behind a hut. Before anyone had time to react, the man had brought a big rock crashing down on to the head of one the men on the ground. The other two men scrambled away as the victim lay motionless. Thomas and Bull could make out a pool of dark blood spreading across the dirt. The assailant raised the rock above his head again and this time threw it down onto the victim’s back. The man looked around, noting those that had seen his actions. Thomas and Bull remained concealed in the shadows, and the figure darted away back into the purple gloom of the night.
Rushing over, Bull acted fast to remove the rock from the man’s back. He was unconscious and bleeding badly from an open gash on the top of his head.
“Let’s get him to our hut,” said Thomas.
Bull had no trouble carrying the victim on his shoulders. Resting him on Thomas’ bed, Bull fetched water and tore a new cloth from a shirt drying near the wood burner in the corner.
Gently cleaning the blood away from the man’s face and neck, the man’s eyes began to flicker.
“Did you see that?” exclaimed Bull.
Thomas sat down on his bed, next to the man.
“Yes, he’s starting to come round.”
The man opened his eyes and looked at Thomas first, and then up at Bull who finished wiping his forehead clean.
“The wound has closed,” reported Bull to Thomas.
“There’ll be a wound and bruising, but only for a day or so.”
Eyes widened as he realised he was in someone else’s hut. “What do you want?” he asked in a quiet, husky voice.
“Nothing. You’re safe,” said Bull directly.
“You’ve been hurt, but you’ll be absolutely fine soon,” reassured Thomas.
The man looked at Thomas, his eyes relaxing into a deadpan stare.
“Who are you?”
“My name is Thomas, and this is my friend, Bull.”
“Friend?” said the man sardonically. “No one has friends here.”
Thomas smiled. “Bull has been my friend for a very long time.”
The man looked at Bull disbelievingly.
“This is our hut,” said Bull.
“No one shares!”
The man groaned as he lifted himself slightly to sit up in the bed.
“We just take from each other!”
“Not us,” said Thomas. “We are here together.”
The man’s facial expression turned to one of a knowing half-smile. “Oh yeah?” he said sarcastically.
Bull looked at Thomas who shook his head and chuckled gently.
"Who attacked me?” asked the man.
“We don’t know,” answered Bull truthfully. “Do you have any ideas?”
The man sighed.
“Been madness since I got here. Every man against everyone else. Each trying to be top dog by whatever means.”
“What’s your name?” asked Thomas
“Oliver,” said Oliver, reaching up to feel his wound. “Ah!” he said sharply.
“It’ll be tender for a while yet,” said Bull. “But your body will heal itself quickly.”
“Why are you helping me?” asked Oliver, as he lay back on the bed. “What do you want from me?”
Thomas got up from the bed and pulled over a wooden chair from near the wood-burner.
“Why wouldn’t we help?” replied Thomas, taking a seat next to Bull.
“Because no one helps each other here,” Oliver said, staring up at the ceiling. “The whole place is one huge dog-fight. Each man is attempting to dominate and be the toughest. I was no different.”
“How so?” asked Bull.
“I was hoarding fuel. I thought if I took it from others, I would gain power, and never have to face a cold night.”
“Didn’t you collect wood like everyone else?”
“I would attack others and take what they had.”
Oliver continued to stare up at the ceiling, not looking at Thomas or Bull.
Bull turned to Thomas and raised his eyebrows.
“Did you kick their heels to take them down?” asked Bull.
Oliver swallowed visibly and breathed out slowly through his nose, resisting the urge to look at Bull.
Suddenly he sat upright. Scrambling off the bed, he bolted out of the door and was gone.
Bull and Thomas looked at each other in surprise at the speed of Oliver’s exit.
“He’ll be ok. We’ll see him around,” remarked Thomas.
“Oh definitely,” said Bull. “He looked like a frightened rabbit there.”
The two friends returned to their beds and soon fell asleep.
The next morning an acrid smell hung in the air as Thomas went to see the state of the burnt hut. The stone walls were blackened, and the windows smashed. The roof had fallen in, and the contents of the hut were nothing but ashes. Thomas and Bull emerged and began to take in the atmosphere of the camp. It was a bright day with very little wind.
As the two friends made their way to the wellspring near the river to collect water, they noticed huddles of men gathered here and there. Some were arguing, hand gestures flying. Others were leaning into one another with furrowed brows. No group was bigger than six.
“It’s a bit surprising to see them actually talking to one another, isn’t it?” said Bull.
“Talking together is a positive step, I think,” said Thomas in a quiet voice.
Two large pales of water later, the friends were coming back toward their dwelling.
They turned around to see Oliver coming toward them.
“A meeting. Tonight. Main square. Be there.”
Oliver turned away and made off in the opposite direction.
“No mention of last night,” remarked Bull. “Maybe he’s embarrassed?”
“Well, the fact he approached us is good,” said Thomas. “It’s better than nothing, eh?”
Figures moved past the window.
“They’re gathering,” said Thomas
Arriving at the square, Thomas and Bull were greeted by a rare sight. Men were taking chairs and arranging them into rows in a semi-circle. No voices could be heard, but the men seemed to be working together intuitively.
Men continued to arrive and soon the rows of seats were fully occupied. Hardly anyone spoke, and most stared at the ground or into the distance, trying to avoid eye contact.
As the arrivals stopped, a man stood up, flanked by a couple of other men, their arms folded.
“Listen to me,” said the man in the middle. “My name is Owl. Thank you for coming, tonight.”
His words were met with a steely silence.
Owl continued, “We are all surprised to find ourselves here. But here we are, and there’s nothing we can do about it. As you all know, a dwelling was burned down last night. I don’t care what grudges you are holding but we cannot resort to mindless violence like that. Anarchy is intolerable. We must have order. If you’ll listen to me, I will tell you how…”
“Who the fuck are you to tell us what to do?” shouted someone near the back.
“I was chief of police in my city and I maintained a community of survivors for many years after the Great Suffering. If any of you think you can do a better job than me, let’s hear you?”
A man stood up.
“It’s Yuri,” whispered Bull.
“I ran the biggest gang Eastern Europe ever saw. There’s nothing you pigs can teach me!”
“Pipe down, filthy street rat!” yelled another, standing to his feet. “I ran the police and controlled the gangs selling gear and had several whore houses. If you want to do it properly, you better listen to me, not him, and not him!”
“This is turning into a competition for boasting,” said Thomas, under his breath. “Let’s go.”
Thomas and Bull slipped away down a path leading from the square just as a roar began to swell. The sound of chairs smashing into each other and men yelling echoed through the grid of dwellings.
Bloodied and bruised faces passed them the following morning, some eyes closed with swelling and all of them fixed to the ground.
After a few days the huddles began again. Small groups of muttering men could be seen gathered at various places around the camp.
“You two better be there,” Oliver said after inviting Thomas and Bull to another meeting in the Square.
“It’s like deja-vu isn’t it?” laughed Bull.
The chairs were once again arranged raggedly into rows in a semi-circle.
A different figure stepped up to the front as the men gathered. Some were already goading others and making threats.
“Now gentlemen,” the man crooned in an upper-class English accent. “Let’s be civil this time, shall we? It’s clear that chaos is tiresome and childish, and I for one believe we are capable of civility and decent public discourse. Now, shall we turn to the chap either side of us and jolly well shake hands?”
The man stepped towards the front row and offered his hand to a man sat nearest him, however, noise was erupting from the far side of the crowd. One man had pulled another into a head-butt, leaving him on his knees, blood pouring out of his nose. Another had come up behind him and smashed a chair over his head. In a few seconds the crowd was once again engulfed with hand-to-hand violence.
Thomas and Bull stole away again as the Square hosted another night of brawling.
The pattern persisted for the next three attempts at holding a meeting. The men would turn up, ready to take revenge on the events of the previous gathering. A lust for violence and a vent for ‘justice’ brought most of the men back for more. Injuries were sustained that kept a few men away, the brawling becoming a brutal game.
And then it ceased.
The following two days were unusually quiet in the camp. Hardly anyone ventured out of their dwelling.
Thomas and Bull made their way to a small grove of trees near the waterfall. The grove was cool and shady and birds sang merrily from the higher branches of the trees. It was the time of day when the light from the heavens was at it’s richest and Thomas and Bull had brought with them a blanket each that created a soft place to sit.
To start with, on arriving at the community, Bull and Thomas tried every few days to meditate, but they had increased this to daily once they had experienced the chaos of the camp. Gentle comfort and guidance was achieved through meditating. The camp was a more intense experience than anything in the Previous Age. Some days the time in silence was short, other days they sat for hours. Often they discussed important issues together after meditating, frequently amazed at how similar their thoughts were.
After some considerable time in silent fellowship, Thomas turned to Bull.
“I feel that we should meditate in the square just before the next meeting.”
“Ha!” cried Bull, considering the possibility.
The night came and went without incident, the camp still unusually quiet. Next morning they observed the now familiar scene of huddled men deep in discussion.
“Hey, look,” said Bull.
Striding purposefully ahead of them, Oliver seemed agitated. Stopping outside one of the dwellings, he rapped on the door with some force.
The door opened just a little. Oliver motioned with his hands toward the square while his words were out of earshot. It was clear he was spreading news of another meeting.
“Let’s be there tonight and have our time of meditation before the meeting starts,” suggested Thomas.
“It’s important we are there - at least while it’s not a brawl,” agreed Bull.
It was early evening as the men began to gather again in the square. Some were still noticeably marred by the fighting, but there were no open wounds.
Bull and Thomas went to a corner of the square where a huge elm tree created a shady spot. Laying out their blankets, they both settled into their contemplation.
“Funny way to take a nap,” said Oliver quizzically. “What the hell are you doing?”
Bull and Thomas remained quiet.
“Anyway. It’s time for the meeting.” With that Oliver strode over to the rows of chairs and took a seat, fidgeting a little as he waited to see who else would turn up.
“Let’s stay a little longer?” suggested Bull.
A thud flung dust over them.
Thomas saw a large round stone had landed just in front of him. Looking into the square the friends saw Yuri smirking.
“Come on,” said Thomas, getting to his feet.
Bull followed suit and they took their places near the middle of the semi-circle of seats, next to a make-shift aisle.
The uneasy atmosphere was eventually shattered by a new group of men standing at the front of the bedraggled crowd.
“Right, for fuck’s sake, don’t start,” one barked, an air of desperation in his voice.
“We been thinking, and having a chat with some of you,” said another.
“The nights of scrapping,” said the first. “I reckon we’ve all proved we can fight, but otherwise achieved nothing.”
“Now, let’s agree something here and now, yeah?” said the other man. “We are obviously all as capable as each other. It’s clear we’ve been grouped this way because we are a match regards our tempers, our brains and our strength.”
A man in the seats stood to his feet.
“We won’t spend all day making daisy-chains for each other. But I reckon you’re right mate, we are the same here. All English speakers. Similar backgrounds. Fighting is pointless. No one is top dog, yeah?”
“So, what do we wanna do?” said the first man.
Owl stood up.
“We need order. We need structure. We need to organise. I can do this.”
The men at the front seemed pleased.
“Look, it isn’t about us,” said the second man. “We just wanted to say that we can’t keep brawling endlessly. Owl, yes, go ahead and organise a committee.”
Owl seemed pleased.
“Right, ok,” he said. “But I don’t know you. You don’t know me.”
Bull stood up.
“I know you, Owl.”
Owl turned to see who was speaking and visibly bristled at seeing Bull.
“I think you’d be good at organising,” said Bull confidently. “But I think maybe we could select the first committee randomly.”
Bull sat down, pleased that he was able to speak to Owl with kindness, after everything that had happened in the Previous Age.
Owl turned back to the men at the front.
“Names out of a hat,” he said decisively. “It’s the only fair way to create the first committee.”
“Wow, he’s gone with your suggestion,” whispered Thomas, surprised.
There were various shouts of agreement, but other were reluctant.
“Ok, meeting adjourned. Let’s reconvene tomorrow and, if there is a consensus, have the first draw,” proclaimed the men at the front.
“There’s a chance of agreement,” said Thomas to Bull with raised eyebrows.