Authors: Nick S. Thomas
He snapped his head forward and headbutted Red. The blade cut just a little into his neck as the man recoiled backwards. He grabbed the blade and snapped it out of his hands, turning the tables on him.
"I'm sorry," said Red as he felt the blade touch his skin.
"What have I ever done to you that you would want to kill me?"
He noticed some movement out of the corner of his eye. It was Rave, standing over him with the hatchet in her hand ready to end his life without a word. Zed knew exactly why he wanted him dead. He was a problem their town didn't need. He turned the knife around and handed it back to Red who couldn't believe what he was seeing. Nobody needed to say a word. They understood one another. He got up, nodded, and left looking rather sheepish.
"You could have killed him for that. You should have."
Zed only shook his head.
"Come on, let's get some sleep."
The sunrise caused them to wake early and quickly. They were both eager to leave the town, and within a few minutes were on their feet and carrying everything they owned. As they approached the gate where the two bikes and bodies lay, both knew what they had to do. They lashed a body over the back of each mudguard as best they could and climbed onto the bikes in readiness to leave.
"They're fools to let us have these," said Rave.
"No, they are smart to stay out of this," he replied.
The gates were pulled open in readiness, and Zed took one last look into the town. Val stood watching them, and only a handful of others. They seemed eager for them to leave. He started the bike and was about to pull away when he heard a voice cry.
He looked back to see Red hurrying towards them. Curiosity made him stay.
"I am sorry about last night. I thought you meant us harm."
"Yeah, I get that, and I get why. But not all folks are out to kill you. If it were that way, what's the point in living anymore?"
Red nodded in acknowledgement.
"The man in that photos. I'd tell you to not go looking for him, but I know you won't listen."
Zed shook his head.
"Some say he went North."
"And you believe that?"
"I do. I knew him."
"And you liked him?"
Red nodded. "He was a good man, but we can't talk about him no more."
"Because of the Boss?"
Red nodded again. Zed took in a deep breath and sighed. He got a sense he was getting himself into an awful lot of trouble, but he had to keep trying to find answers.
"Maybe losing your memory is a blessing. Why not just leave Johnnie and those photos, and start a new life while you still can?"
"You know I can't."
He started the bike and rode off out of the gates with Rave by his side. They carried on with their journey on the path they had started before Jay's people arrived. It led them through a long canyon pass before finally becoming open ground, an almost desert like plain for miles, with the only cover far in the distance. He stopped for just a moment to think.
"You want to ditch these guys here?"
He shook his head.
"No, it's too close to town. I don't want them to suffer for what we have done."
"I’ve never met anyone like you."
He looked back at the bodies on their bikes and noticed goggles around their necks. He pulled them off, wiped a little blood off one of the lenses, and slipped them on as she did the same.
"You knew those two, didn't you?"
"But you didn't hesitate to kill them?"
"No. They'd have tried to kill me, and they're assholes, anyway."
"All right, we're heading North. When we get to that rock outcrop up ahead, that's where we’ll ditch these assholes."
He put down the power and sped off into the distance. It was only as they got up to speed that he began to wonder how much gas they had. The town they had come from had no working vehicles. Maybe it wouldn't last, but it sure felt good to be hitting the open road with a cool breeze in his face. He didn't ever remember owning a bike of any kind, but he rode it as if it was second nature, and the feeling was sublime. For a while he was able to forget everything he had seen and experienced and just enjoy the ride.
As they drew near to the rock formation, he climbed the first of them with the trail bike and stopped at a well-concealed crevice. They untied the bodies and tossed them in. They had already begun to smell, and as the bodies tumbled down into the gap, he rubbed his hands off and into his coat.
"What is North?" he finally asked Rave.
She looked clueless. He looked out in every direction. There was no sign of life or civilisation at all.
"What a god forsaken place," he muttered to himself.
"What was it like, the old world?" Rave asked him.
Zed pondered for a few moments, thinking how to explain it to her.
"Don't you remember anything of it?"
He wondered how old she really was. He didn't bother asking, as he knew she wouldn't have a clue. Maybe she was too young to remember. Maybe she was too traumatised to remember. He couldn't say much, for his memory was awful. He remembered parts of his life as a teenager. Not so much the people, but the bustling towns and playing football. He remembered going to the movie theatre. It brought a smile to his face.
"It was beautiful," he replied, "As much food and water as you could ever want. Green grass and sweet smelling air. People who you could go to for help if you needed it."
She looked amused.
"What?" he asked.
"You talk like a child."
"But they aren't dreams. I wish this were a dream. It's a goddamn nightmare."
Am I just going crazy? Could I wake up any minute? Am I in a coma, and this is all just a bad dream?
He prayed for it to be the case, but he knew it wasn't. It was too real, too visceral, and far more horrible than anything he could have conceived in his own mind.
"You know, I keep asking questions that you haven't got the answers for. So tell me, what do you know? Imagine I am from a different world and have never been here before. How would you describe this place to me?"
"I...I..." she stuttered.
It wasn't easy for her, but she tried to get her head around it.
"Not like we are in any rush. I don't even know where the hell I am going or why," he said, taking a seat on the rock, but she still didn't seem to have anything to add.
"Okay, this Johnnie Walker I heard about, do you know him?"
"I heard the name," she said with a smile, but that vanished as she realised that wasn't any help.
"All right, then, the Boss that you mentioned. The guy you reckon is dead. Tell me about him."
She sat down and got herself a little more comfortable.
"Well, he's in charge."
"Of everything I ever knew."
"But not that town we just went came out of?"
She shrugged, and he was starting to get a picture for what a mess of a situation they were in.
"So the Boss was in charge of Jay and Jaytown?"
"He never went there, but if orders ever came, Jay would do them."
She began to giggle.
"Because the Boss would kill anyone who didn't."
"Charming man," he replied sarcastically.
She didn't seem to get the humour and took it seriously.
"I'm not messing about," she added.
"Yeah, I got that."
There was an uncomfortable silence for a few moments. Neither seemed to really understand or particularly like one another, and yet neither wanted to separate from the other.
"You sure you never saw me before that time a few days ago?" he finally asked.
"Yeah, yeah, I am."
He was shaking his head.
"It just doesn't make any sense. Where did I come from, how did I get here? Why was I even up on that rock?"
"Some people just drift. Find what they can and try to stay alive."
"Do I strike you as a drifter?"
"I dunno really, but all kinds of people drift, don’t they?"
He breathed out a deep sigh. He wasn't getting anywhere once again, and despite everything, he was glad to have her. She was the only constant thing in his life, and that had to mean something.
"What will you do when you find out who you are?"
He didn't even know how to respond to that, and he only sighed once again.
"If I find out. Maybe then I'd rather never have known, but at least trying to gives me a reason to go on, because I can't see any reason to go on this shithole."
She just shrugged, as if to say it wasn't that bad. It's clear that it was all she had ever known. She had grown up in a savage world, and it had moulded her into a survivor.
Is that what I’m destined to become? No, there has to
be more. There has to be!
His mind began to wander. He remembered once driving cross-country soon after high school. How long it took on good roads and with easy access to gas. He was going on now with neither.
What chance do I have of finding anything?
"Jaytown, are there many other places like that?"
"Sure. There are towns all over."
"And you've been to them?"
"Yeah, a few."
"And are they all the same as Jaytown?"
"No, all different."
That gave him some hope. He had gotten a glimpse of what existed at the town of Hope. There had to be other good people out there. Even if Red had tried to kill him, he understood why.
"You don't know anything more about Johnnie Walker?"
"Jay used to talk about him sometimes. Hated him."
"They knew each other?"
"Maybe, I suppose so."
Why couldn't I have been given a better companion in this shithole? Although there
is a little charm in her craziness.
She smiled at him for no reason at all.
"People are always telling me what to do. First time in my life that someone keeps asking me questions."
"That’s fine, if only you had the answers."
She didn't seem apologetic for that.
"Did you like it in Jaytown?"
She didn’t answer, and he began to wonder if she had ever seen anything better. He drew out his photos to look at once again. She leaned in to look, and he backed away in a protective fashion.
"I just wanna see."
It seemed like everyone he met in this world wanted to take them away from him. Beyond his life, they were the most important things in his existence. They were old and faded. The corners were worn and the paper creased, but they were like solid gold to him. He slowly pushed them forward for her to look at but held onto them firmly.
"Are they are your family?"
"I don't know. That's what I am trying to find out."
"I wish I had a photo of my family."
"You don't have anything left from them?"
She pointed down and lifted out a necklace from her blouse. It was a delicate little cross and seemed completely out of character with her personality. But he could see it was the same sentimentality he had for the photos that made her protect it.
"Do you know what that is?"
"My sister said God protected her when she wore it. But God didn't save her. I don't know where he is anymore. Has he left us?"
She spoke like a child, as if asking her parent. He hadn't even given faith a moment’s thought. He couldn't even remember what be believed, but looking around at the wasteland, it was hard to imagine how any God was still with them.
"He has left us, hasn't he?" she asked when she saw the thought and doubt in his face.
"I don't know. I don't know anything. You know that."
She wasn't satisfied, but she didn't push the issue. She leaned forward closely to him. Close enough to invade his personal space, and he felt a little uncomfortable. Her hand ran along his thigh as she reached forward to kiss him. For a moment the warmth of human contact and passion sent a surge through his body, and he wanted to respond in kind. It brought back memories of being with a woman that he loved, but he could not picture her face. His lips were about to touch Rave’s when he remembered who she was. She could well be twenty-five years old, but she acted and thought like a child, and it didn't feel right at all. He pushed her away.
"What? You don't think I am pretty. No guy ever complained before."
He shook his head.
He couldn't help but feel like a guardian to a troubled kid, but he couldn't tell her that.
"I'm sorry. I just can't."
"Why, because of the woman in that picture?"
He grunted as he thought about it. That was certainly part of the truth, and it was enough for now.
"Don't you ever just want something more?" he asked her, "More than that shithole you were living in. You must be able to think of something better."
"More? I want my sister back. It's all I ever wanted."
He had no answers to that.
"Then what will you do with your life? There has to be more than just survival."
"Water, food, gas, sex," she said bluntly as if it had been drilled into her.
"In that order?"
She nodded in agreement as if she truly believed it.
"Yeah, well, we stay round here much longer, and we'll be short of the whole lot."