Anton trailed the basin cart along behind him easily, lamenting the idea that it would not be an unproblematic journey on the way back. The cart would be laden with food and supplies from the old city, Equinox. The middle of the cart would dip with the weight and creak like old floorboards. The wheels would bounce along the old path, stalling over rocks and Anton would have to sleep in the secluded hollow, halfway back to the new city, Solstice.
The small comfort on his trip was his dog, Myra. Before leaving, Anton had argued to his Father that she could sniff out the food better than he could and that she could keep him from danger. But she was an old dog, you could tell from looking at her; the shiny black colour of her fur was washed out and her coat was thinning. She was a threadbare rug that had once been intricate and full of life. She had spent most of the journey sitting on the cart, hungry. She planted her wet nose in his palm, snuffling and licking.
“Go and find something, then!” He exclaimed, looking down at her. The only food he had for her was some lentils from the last gathering he went on, a week ago. These were to be her reward for finding food when they got to Equinox. He sighed.
“It’s all I have. There’ll be no more till Equinox.” he warned her before giving in and taking out the lentils, scattering them in the cart and continuing to walk.
Looming in the distance was Equinox, the city limit turrets, a rusty fence that was twisted and broken before being forgotten. Anton had never seen Equinox in its heyday but his parents had told him of its splendour. The city had been evacuated twenty years ago because of an oil spill that intoxicated the city’s water supplies. The whole city had left and resettled on a different lakeside, thirty miles away from Equinox.
Anton stopped in his tracks a feeling of unease had taken him. Myra had lifted her head and was sniffing the air, standing to attention as stiffly as a statue. Then Anton felt it. A rush of warm air on the back of his neck.
“You won’t find any supplies where you’re going, boy.” A voice croaked. Anton turned around to see a creature that could have once been a human. It was hunched over and wearing only a waistcoat with a pocket watch, seemingly broken, looped around a button. The clothes were dirty. The thing, for Anton did not know what it was, bared its teeth. Had Anton not found the thing unnerving the expression could have been called a smile. As it was, the expression did not look like a smile but rather resembled a wooden bannister; the teeth were brown planks with gaps in between.
"Are you sure? The city had plenty of supplies left last time I was sent to gather some and that was only a week ago,” Anton replied. He did not feel comfortable with the creature and wanted more than anything to continue walking. Even Myra, he sensed, did not like the thing as she stood behind Anton, cautiously.
“Oh didn't you know, boy? Equinox was ransacked by a group of travellers passing through!” It seemed to take lots of its breath to say this; his lungs must have been shrivelled up like dead petals.
The creature was almost pleading with Anton not to go to Equinox. Anton supposed that it could have been serious but wasn't going to take his chances with a stranger. Where had the thing come from?
“It couldn't hurt to go and see if there is anything left, could it? Even if there wasn't, where would I go instead? Back to the new city and bring shame upon my family for returning empty handed?” He looked down at the thing for it was not as tall as he was its bulbous eyes stared back at him, hungrily.
“You’re in luck, boy!” It began, with renewed vigour, “I know a place where there is more food, another abandoned city. It too was hit by hardships and its people left. This city is nearby and has not been ransacked.”
“Why should I believe you?” Anton asked.
“Because it’s the truth, boy. Now tell me your name,” it wheezed back, in anticipation.
“Anton… and yours?”
“My name is Fraucked but that is not important. What is important is that you bring me back some small supplies when you go to the city as I am too fragile to venture into the cities for myself… I will meet you back here on your return. Off you go now.” Fraucked seemed to leer in excitement at Anton’s cooperation; he loomed in close to Anton and then backed away as if he were rocking in a chair, his joints creaking under the weight of his delight as if it were a person sitting down.
“You haven’t told me how to get there.” Anton pointed out.
“Why no, young Anton. I haven’t.” He reached to the side and pulled away some branches. “The trail leads through the forest. Can you see the path, Anton? You are to travel along there until you reach the other end of the forest; the city is only two miles away after that.” Myra lumbered back onto the cart and Anton took the branches from Fraucked's grasp, pushing them further aside. “Thank you, Mr Fraucked.” He said politely and disappeared into the forest, leaving the road behind.
The forest was dense and the canopy of leaves blocked out the sun almost completely making it dark and scarily lacking in shadows. In his mind, everything Anton saw was real, the silhouettes of reaching arms to pluck him into the night, the monsters watching his every move, waiting to pounce. Everything was real to him. Without the sun’s glow, it was cool and the night was closing in fast. Anton estimated that he’d walked in a mile; he also estimated that the forest was about five miles thick… was he right?
Myra had begun to shiver. Her worn out coat wasn't good protection from the cold any more. Shivering himself, Anton took off his jacket and wrapped it around her figure. She whined, wanting more of Anton’s protection “We have to keep going.” He soothed
Before long, Anton pulled the cart to an area where the trees seemed to have lost all their leaves early. It was still summer. Now there were shadows but the shadows were scarier than the false shadows. Anton took the cart steadily through the leaves, feeling as if danger was about to grab him. And it did.
Anton and the cart were falling in a flurry of leaves but not for long. They hit the ground with a tremendous crack! Myra had fallen out of the jacket and onto the ground. The ground prickled. It was covered in thorns, huge thorns that drew blood. Anton couldn't bear to look over at Myra and see her struggle. The pit they were in was too high to climb out of, Anton was stuck in a prickly tomb. And then there he was, Fraucked, jumping with glee and smiling widely with his bannister teeth. “Dinner” he shouted “A catch!” and Anton knew Fraucked was right. Fraucked was not to be trusted, and Anton had brought him the ‘small supplies’ he had promised. The light left Anton's eyes and everything faded to black.