Authors: Nick S. Thomas
Which way? What was it the old man said? Go West. Why? I have no reason to
go anywhere else, so why not?
He began to walk out into the night. He still felt lost, but at least he was free.
The sun was rising on the horizon, and the first light and the heat it brought was a welcome feeling on Zed's skin. He sat atop a rock and watched and waited. Far into the distance was Jaytown. He was waiting for the inevitable response of its inhabitants as they stirred and witnessed what he had done. He looked back to the West, the way he had been heading. He could see nothing but mountains.
He'd love to know more, just another minute to ask that man questions. There was plenty of open ground between him and those mountains. He couldn't risk it in daylight.
Thirty minutes passed. The first thing he heard was the echo of the huge bell ringing out for miles around. They had awoken all right. It brought a smile to his face. He didn't like having to kill, but it brought him some satisfaction after what they had made him endure. He took the time to relax and enjoy his freedom, the fresh air, and the warmth of the sun. He opened his bag and found his flask had been filled with water. By who, it didn't matter. He didn't have anything to eat, but at least with water he could survive a while.
It wasn't long before the roar of engines echoed across the plains. He hunkered down low to be safe and watched as twelve vehicles tore out from the gates of the town and separated into threes to go in all directions. He nodded in appreciation of the fact they clearly had no idea where he had gone. He watched for a full five minutes until he was satisfied he was safe before ducking down behind some rocks to be well hidden. He took one more sip and then rested back to look at the photos he had retrieved.
The picture of the woman and child were the ones he stared at.
Are they mine?
He felt such a deep personal connection to them both but still couldn't tell exactly why. He could only guess. As he noticed a necklace around the woman's neck, he remembered the chain and ring that had been around his. He reached up to feel them, but they were already gone. It felt like a part of him was missing, and his heart skipped a few beats.
A few rocks being thrown loose nearby brought him back to reality. He dropped the photos and snatched up his rifle. Without any idea if it were even loaded or operational, he stood up and lifted it to his shoulder. The sights came into line, and he found himself before the crazy woman who had tried to kill him. Her hands were empty, and he could not help but feel satisfied that their roles were now reversed. He looked around for others from Jaytown. A few steps each side allowed him to get a good view of the area.
There was still one vehicle racing across the sands in the distance, but nothing close by. She was carrying a pack on her back, and her hatchet thrust into a belt as if she had been travelling for a while.
"What do you want?" he demanded.
There was no time for niceties. They clearly meant nothing to these people, and despite her act of kindness in letting him escape; he couldn't help but feel the desire to pull the trigger. But his doubt over the weapon, and her hatchet being so close to hand, made him stay clear of the trigger.
"What do you want?" he repeated in a louder and sterner tone.
She lifted a clenched fist and that made him a little edgier still. But as she opened her hand, a ring dropped, hung from the chain that had been around his neck. He couldn't believe his luck. He let his guard down and lowered the rifle for a second as he gazed upon the ring, but snapped back out of it and raised the rifle against her once again. She said nothing and simply held out the ring as if expecting him to make the next move.
Is this a peace offering?
It seemed as good as any. He stepped forward cautiously and snapped it from her hands.
"I can't go back," she said bluntly.
"Why not? They are your people."
She shook her head. "If I go back I will die."
He didn't need to ask why. He nodded as if to accept that she was not his enemy and lowered the rifle. He knelt back down and picked up his photos.
"Are they your family?" she asked.
He shrugged. "Probably, but I’m not sure."
It didn't seem to strike her as strange that he didn't know.
"Why do you carry pictures? People you don't really know; probably aren't even alive."
That made him angry. He needed something to keep going on for besides survival.
"You have no idea if they are alive or not, do you?" he snapped.
She shook her head, but didn't shy away as he thought she might. He could tell she was the creation of a harsh world, a savage upbringing he would not wish on anyone. He looked back at the photos and wondered what it might be like to never have anyone to care about.
"Where will we go now?"
He looked puzzled.
"We? We aren't going anywhere. I am going West. Don't follow me."
But it was clear that she fully intended to do that, whether he liked it or not.
"Why would you want to follow me, anyway? I can't offer you anything. I don't even have anything to give."
She shrugged as she looked out into the distance.
"Lonely life out there."
He thought about it for a moment and began to wonder if there might be some safety in numbers, but then he turned back and remembered what and who she was. She still looked at him with crazy eyes. He fully expected her to attack him at any moment, and he didn't want to imagine what trying to sleep through that risk might be like.
"You tried to kill me, why would I want you around?"
She blanked him completely and responded with her own question quite bluntly.
"You have any food?"
Her face was so matter of fact and serious.
"Food, do you have any?"
He shook his head as she threw the pack off her back and opened the lid. It was full of cans and jars, as well as bottles of water.
"If you want food, you will go with me."
He sighed and shook his head, but looking down at the jars he began to notice how hungry he was, and how strong her position was. He briefly considered taking it from her with force, but somehow he wasn't comfortable with striking her, when all she was trying to do was live with him.
"Fine, we go together until I find my own food."
She smiled, and he could tell she really was happy.
Maybe there is some
humanity left. Maybe she really does want something more than to live in that hellhole amongst savages. Or maybe she just has no choice.
Whatever it was, he was stuck with her, and him with her. They seemed like the most unlikely of pairings, and yet it was the events that brought them together, not their personalities.
"You are waiting until night?"
He nodded as she came forward and took a seat out of sight where he had been before. They eased into some comfort as she broke out some food. For several hours they did nothing but periodically check for any sign of the lunatics from Jaytown. Occasional passes in the vehicles gave them cause for concern, but they never got close enough to be a problem. It was clear they had no clue where he had gotten to, and that was a major relief. As they reached midday, the sound of the engines died down, and he could only speculate they had given up their searches. He could only imagine how much gas they must have wasted looking for him, and what they might do if they ever caught him.
It was a boring and tedious day. The sunshine that had been so welcome was now baking them. There was no shelter in sight, not that they could move to until night. Eventually, he turned his attention to the woman, realising he didn't even know her name.
"I'm Zed," he said.
He laughed, but she didn't seem to find it funny.
"That can't be your name?"
"What was your birth name?"
"I don't remember anymore. All I remember is Rave."
"Yeah, well it suits your attire."
She didn't seem to even find it strange how she was dressed.
"Homicidal punk schoolgirl leaves a lasting impression."
She didn't seem to quite understand what he meant, but smiled as if to pretend she did.
"You wore that to school?" he asked, pointing to some of the clothes she wore.
But she shook her head. "No, my sister."
There didn't even seem to be any sadness in her face or tone of her voice. Death was nothing to these people, and he realised he would do well to remember that fact. He lifted the rifle into his hands, and that made her on edge for the first time since arriving. Her eyes were locked on it as if she had never handled a firearm.
"I'm just checking it over," he reassured her.
She still seemed uneasy as he pulled the bolt open.
"What is it?"
"In Jaytown, only the Captains were allowed to touch them. I would have been killed for touching."
In his mind he instantly thought of safety. Despite her age, she still came across as very childish, but he knew that wasn't the reason.
"I guess a working gun with ammo is a valuable commodity around here?"
She nodded in agreement, as if he were talking about bars of gold. The bolt of the rifle was stiff, and he found the breech empty. The mechanism was dry and looked like it hadn't been cleaned or had a round down it in years. He looked around for something to clean it with, but there was no oil in sight or fabric to spare. He blew out dust and sand as best he could, slid the bolt back and forth, and checked the breech. It was far from satisfactory, but he didn't have much else to hand.
He unclipped one of the hooks on the bandolier and pulled out a stripper clip. The brass was old, dulled, and a little dusty. He blew them off and slid the rounds into the weapon.
"You ever used one of these?" he asked her.
"Long time ago."
He took in a deep breath, trying to find a way to approach her with all the questions he had without seeming crazy.
"Do you know what year it is?" he asked casually, as if knowing the answer and putting her to the test.
She shook her head. "What is it?"
He sighed. He needed answers, but it was like drawing blood from a stone. He had to try at least.
"That city back there, the ruins of a big city, what was it called?"
Once again she shook her head. It was as if she had never known it to be any other way but the desolate remains that he had witnessed. There was silence for a few minutes as Zed tried to think of any information he may be able to get from her. All he could think was to go back to what was her home and work from there.
"How long have you lived in Jaytown?"
"Long time, long as I remember."
"And before that?"
She pointed out into the distance.
"We walked from place to place. Stayed where we could."
It seemed she'd had some kind of education. She wasn't entirely feral. It was as if her education had been cut short before she had gotten to high school. Maybe that was an indicator as to the time frame since whatever had caused this apocalyptic scenario, if that's what it was.
"Is it like this all over?"
She didn't seem to understand.
"Governments? Police? Any organised society, anything more than Jay?"
"Boss? Who is that?"
"That's what people called him. He was in charge of all these lands. In charge of everything I ever saw. Up in the city."
"The only city."
"People say he was killed, not long back. I don't know."
"And someone else has taken his place?"
It was incredibly frustrating, but he didn't know how to get much more out of her. He also felt sorry for her, even if she had tried to kill him.
"That wreck of a city. I made it to the outskirts. All I found were young men, feral, more like animals. What's their deal?"
"That's what we call them. Scavengers, that's all."
"Where were the older folk?"
"I don't know. We stay away from the city. Jay once went there many years ago and barely came back alive. He went in with ten and came back alone."
Close call, then.
He couldn't believe he was thinking it, but maybe getting hauled into Jaytown saved his life. That was depressing thought, but somehow he knew it to be true.
Maybe there are worse people and places than Jaytown. Is there nowhere worth living anymore? There has to be. There has to be more than this, more people that are still sane.
"What is West?"
"Paradise they say, but nobody that goes West ever comes back."