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Refugee - Vivien's Story

Hyle Troy's picture
Submission type:



The so-called road had steepened somewhat since it left Pass Chris, broken asphalt threatened to turn the unsuspecting ankle of the unwary as the crocodile of refugees made their way up to the gaping tunnel mouth just visible ahead as the road turned.


The blistering sun bore down on every man woman and child, the children grizzled and moaned with each step. It was far too hot, but the menfolk had decided better to make the ascent up to Watchtower in the day than risk everything and do it later, in the dusk, or worse, in the dark.


Vivien was feeling uncomfortable too. The black woollen hat she had pulled tightly down over her hair made her head overheat and stinging drops of sweat ran down into her eyes and the half faded bruises around them. Her chest was constricted by the tightly wound blanket the was wearing in order to flatten her breasts as much as she could, she had also added padding to disguise the curve of her waist. But the device had made breathing much more difficult on the steep slope and of course it was making her overheat.


But Vivien had deemed the discomfort necessary. Her preparations, the wrapped blanket and the hat hopefully gave her a less feminine outline, at least from a distance.


But she had heard the rumours. How bandit gangs used the bottleneck of Pass Chris as rich pickings from the scores of refugees who had to go through it in order to gain access to the North, and hopefully a better life. Maybe that dream of a better life was also just a rumour, but many believed in it enough to risk everything to try.


Vivien had tagged onto this particular caravan of hopefuls just outside Oilville. They numbered somewhere between thirty and fifty. Safety in numbers, or just perhaps a juicier target for the outlaws. Vivien had her doubts, but, making the trip alone was not an option. She had found that out to her cost twice already since Midway. She had lost all her money, weapons and clothes. Of course she had lost a lot more than that which is why she had opted to try and appear more male than female. In addition, she had been forced to bargain with her body just to get the clothes she stood up in and a blanket to sleep on. Survival in the wastes required a lot of sacrifice, and she had been forced to use the only currency she had left.


The line of humanity crawled onwards and up, wary eyes in some, downcast eyes in others. Mumbled voices of cursing mothers carrying crying children. Pass Chris Tunnel opened it’s hungry mouth less than a kilometre ahead and they trudged on.


Vivien squinted into the sunlight. She must have been the first to see the dark shapes, tiny, like ants, traversing the slopes down toward the tunnel. She pressed the shoulder of the man in front of her to tell him what she had seen but his answer comprised of little more that a grunted curse as he shrugged her hand away. She was an outsider, a hanger-on. Anyway he was far to hot and bothered to care what this rag dressed mess of a girl had to say. He trudged on. The refugee column was a group, but a group of individuals, not a cohesive band. Each too exhausted to look much further than the survival of themselves or the ones closest to them. Like in a herd of beast, the mentality was that the hunters may take on or two from the fringes. Some others, not they themselves.


Vivien sighed and stopped walking. The rest of the column pushed past her. She stood watching the dark shapes on the hillsides for a few more minutes, then detached herself from the column, electing instead to skirt around the upper hillsides. She clung onto what little she had, summoning whatever reserve she could find in herself she flanked the danger.


By the time she reached the top of the ridge, the sun was low in the sky, the breeze brought her the sound of screaming and gunfire, the smell of cordite and death. Vivien sighed at the tragedy, but if she left now and carried on, she could make Watchtower before dark….



Joe Spivey's picture

((Very vivid. We all know the road up to Pass Chris and the story leaves an aftertaste of unpleasant imagery. A strong reminder of what The Wasteland is.

Stick with me kid and you'll be farting through silk.

Hyle Troy's picture

As most people know, wheeling, airborne vultures are evidence that somewhere out there, something is dying and they are circling patiently, waiting for death so that they can pick over the remains of the unfortunate.


Over the years, Watchtower had become a sort of staging post. A place where the shattered remnants of disparate, and desperate refugee groups reformed themselves into new groups to continue the trek North.


But of course the vultures gathered around Watchtower also. Human vultures: Criminals, chancers, wasters, exploiters, feeding off the unfortunates who’s options had diminished considerably on the long road North.


Naturally, vultures rarely attack their prey directly, rather they pick away, taking what they can with little risk to themselves but with each peck, the victim becomes weaker, more desperate. Easier to clean out.

Thus the outward sanctuary that Watchtower seemed to offer the traveller only masked the dubious dealings that occurred within.


Vivien arrived there then, in the gloom of the day’s end. The chill of the desert night had set in and was seeping through Vivien’s sweat soaked clothing and she shivered visibly. She was cold, she was hungry, she was exhausted.

In the darkness she saw a few groups of people clustered around campfires, some cooking, some curled up like mounds of cloth next to the fire, sleeping. Vivien attached herself to the periphery of one such group. Few of them acknowledged her arrival, some watched her with suspicion, others ignored her arrival completely. But she needed to rest badly, at least these people were refugees, they had only that in common and it was enough to secure her place by the fire.


Despite her fatigued state. Vivien found it hard to sleep. She was too wary. She watched the individuals who walked around from campfire to campfire. Certain better dressed individuals who seemed to be taking stock of the clusters of people around the fires.


From the nearby ubiquitous bunker bar that existed in every town she had been to, she could hear the sound of music and the hubub of voices from below. The smell of beer, stale tobacco and sweat drifted like invisible smoke from the chimney-like entrance. She was curious as to what was going on down there, the would be food, it would be warmer. But she was also penniless, besides that she was certain her tired legs could not so much as make the descent down the tube.


Eventually, Vivien pulled her blanket as close as she could and drifted into a fitful sleep. She had nothing worth taking. The proximity of the other refugees close by, gathered around the fire offered some protection from physical harm, hopefully.

Vultures never attack a group. Do they?

I would rather die peacefully in my sleep, like Grandad, than screaming, like his passengers

Hyle Troy's picture



She was aware of his presence even before she opened her eyes. The smell of stale cologne invaded her senses even before she opened her eyes. She stirred.

His ‘Bonjour’ came to her in a soft accented voice as she opened her eyes to a pair of shiny boots, black with a silver toe-cap. The owner of the boots lowered himself into a squat in front of her, the boots creaked expensively. Vivien startled and pulled the blanket closer to her body. She was still clothed, she felt no pain, there were no rough hands pulling at her.

Sorry to startle you, Miss… it IS Miss ?.. only… your get up, it’s hard to tell, you know? With this mans clothing you are wearing.”

As the cold morning flooded her senses, her eyes focussed a little more on the man in front of her. The long black duster coat he wore was lined in some expensive looking red fabric. He smiled gently at her from under a wide brimmed black Gaucho hat. He wore a thin leather tie at his neck, black, which contrasted the white frilled shirt. He was well dressed, expensively dressed, but his finery outshone the thin weathered face.

Narrow eyes squinted as the rising sun filled his face, the pencil moustache crowned thin lips and long teeth which were well off-white except for the single gold cap adorning one.


Are you hungry?” He asked, dipping into one of his deep coat pockets. He offered her some jerky.


Vivien hesitated, but she was starving. She accepted, tearing the wrappings off the jerky and pushing almost all of it into her mouth before the offer was withdrawn.


He still smiled benignly. “The name is Pescaud. “Looks like you could use a little help, Miss...  ummm…?” He raised his eyebrow to elicit an answer.


Vivien looked back at him. Remaining silent but still chewing vigorously on the jerky.

All in good time, hmm?” He smiled. Looking at the other refugees he held out his hand and beckoned to Vivien. “Let’s move over here a couple metres, see if I can’t give you a hand up.” Pescaud stood up offering his hand, and moved slightly away from the others.


Vivien looked at the offered hand, she did not take it but slowly got to her feet. The balance between natural caution and desperate circumstances was too far tipped to the latter. Her options were far too few for her to at least not listen to what this ‘Pescaud’ had to say. They moved away from the crowd and hunkered down.

I guess your headed North, oui?”


Vivien nodded, her mouth still full, chewing down the much needed food, but her eyes full of natural caution which was easy for Pescaud to read.

I am what they call in these parts, a Traveller. Strange title, but that’s they way of it. I prefer businessman.” Pescaud shrugged in a Gallic fashion. “But that is not important to you, yes?”


Vivien remained on her guard. Said nothing, just ate.


But what is more important to you is how I can help, Oui?”

She nodded slightly. It happened before she thought about it, giving away how desperate her situation was. Pescaud saw it clearly and pressed on.

I do not know if you know of it. But there is a place in the North. A little town they call Hope Springs. There they have a hospital, homes, a nice cafe…” Pescaud paused to let his description sink in before he continued.


Anyway, my good friend the Mayor, Mayor Troy. She had asked me… She asks me because as I said, I am her good friend and a businessman, I have a couple of little businesses in Hope Springs. And do you know? Being a good friend she asks me ‘Hey, Pescaud. You should go to the South, you know the girls there are often attacked.. ermm .. raped?”


Pescaud feigned discomfort as he said ‘raped’ but it had the desired effect, the subtle reaction he got from Vivien confirmed that she was a victim and therefore a perfect target.


Quand même. Mayor Troy. Who is a very nice lady says to me. Go South! Escort as many girls you can find back here so we can care for them!” Pescaud raised his eyebrows as if he was conferring a great gift. “Indeed they have a great hospital there. It is full of young ladies like yourself who have had the grave misfortunes on the road North.”

Pescaud had Viven’s attention now and he knew it. It was time to close the deal.

But…” Vivien, still harbouring doubts, had questions.

But?” Pecaud put his finger up in the air to stop her. “ But….. you are asking yourself. How can I pay? How can I with nothing… How can I with  nothing at all afford to pay for the transport to this wonderful town, Oui?”

Vivien was open mouthed.

Well, let me tell you.” Pescaud moved in to the close. “Because Mayor Troy is generous. Did I not tell you she was also a poor refugee girl on the road many years since. No? So this offer is a free offer. Paid for by my humble self who has also prospered in the town of Hope Springs. My service here is my debt of gratitude to the town.”


Vivien was becoming convinced. “How?” She asked nervously.

So simple, bring yourself to the road, the junction to here in two hours. Of course, I have to find some other poor girls to help. So? Will you be there?…. Umm..?” Again Pescaud’s eyebrow raised in question as to her name.


Vivien.” She answered.

I would rather die peacefully in my sleep, like Grandad, than screaming, like his passengers

Joe Spivey's picture

((Loving this. On tenterhooks over what happens next... Damn cliffhan... oh.

Stick with me kid and you'll be farting through silk.

Hyle Troy's picture


One hour and thirty minutes later, Vivein sat on the low earthen wall that surrounded Watchtower. She was watching the truck, she watched as Pescaud supervised four other men loading supplies onto the loadbed of the vehicle. The men were dressed in similar fashion to Pescaud but their dusters were nothing like the same expensive quality. Presumably these were also ‘Travellers’ but clearly the hired help rather than men of Pescaud’s rank.


She thought about Pescaud’s offer. It was open ended for sure. She had not unconditionally accepted, indeed she had her reservations. Mostly, ‘why?’.

She had followed Pescaud’s progress around the camp. And he had indeed stopped to talk to a number of women, women who were clearly distressed and isolated like Vivien. But all the same his demeanour with each girl he had talked to seemed to be that of one giving a genuine offer of help.


Vivien had also asked among the various merchants and guards and others employed around Watchtower. She had asked about this town Hope Springs. Some did not know about it. Others had heard of it. One or two knew of it and from what they had told her, everything that Pescaud had described stacked up.

She had also asked about Pescaud himself. From what she was told he visited Watchtower from time to time, once every month or even at longer intervals. Each time he bought supplies and offered a handful of young women help to get them to Hope Springs safely. Hope Springs had medical facilities, even a hostel for refugees and he would transport the needy there, thus sparing them the dangers of making the journey on foot. Again, everything he had told her stacked up.


But was this too good to be true? The doubt still nagged at Vivien, So far everyone she had ever come in contact had been on the make. Pescaud had been conspicuously different.


Should she accept this offer or take her chances making the journey either alone or as part of another trudging line of refugees. She had tried both ways already and both had ended in a disaster from which she had barley escaped with her life. She could feel the bruises. Bruises on her eyes, on her mouth, on her thighs and between her legs.


Vivien drew her knees up and clutched her blanket to her chest. She watched, still undecided.


She watched as one by one, a small number of girls approached the truck. Pescaud welcomed each one with a glad handshake. They were each handed a fairly bulky parcel. Then each girl was helped gently up onto the wagon. Vivien watched with a touch of envy as each girl tore open her parcel and feasted on the food contained within.


Vivien still watched, still wary, still undecided. The truck would leave in fifteen minutes. Her mind ached from indecision, her belly ached from hunger.


It was at that point she heard shouting and what sounded like orders being barked out among the contingent of soldiers who manned the watchtowers. The sound of boots on the metal stairs rang out as, in ones and twos, the soldiers ran up the road.


Coming the other way, there were maybe four, possibly five distressed figures limping or being half carried back down the road towards Watchtower. The military aided the wounded and shattered remnants of humanity.


Earlier that morning a group of refugees had set off North. They had numbered at least twenty, maybe a lot more. Vivien sat on the wall, open mouthed, as wretched, bloodstained people were helped past her and on to the very basic clinic within Watchtower’s walls. They could only have been out on the road for... an hour?Before….. before this!


The gross spectacle had the effect of making Vivien’s mind up for her. She slowly rose and made her way across to Pescaud’s transport. He saw her coming and enthusiastically welcomed her, all smiles and warm handshakes.


Vivien! I am so glad you decided to join us..!”

I would rather die peacefully in my sleep, like Grandad, than screaming, like his passengers

Joe Spivey's picture

((Your place of work called. They said don't come in tomorrow. Errrrr, something broke... or something.

Stick with me kid and you'll be farting through silk.

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