Zwain was hoping that since he finally figured out the one thing that had been bothering him about his song, he would finally get a good night’s sleep. He wasn’t so lucky. In fact, the significance of this song brought forth dreams that he thought was long behind him. Memories that that he thought he had escaped. The nightmare of that fateful night.
* * *
Five years had passed since Chris was abandoned to the wasteland. Zwain’s father had searched all through the night, and the next couple of days, but the boy was not to be found. They also heard nothing about the well being of his parents, but James didn’t give two shits about them. They could rot for all he cared.
James kept the orphanage up and running. It contained close to 30 kids these days; all ranging from 7-12 years old. Zwain was now 17 and did most of the heavy scavenging, especially since his father’s arthritis started stiffening his fingers.
The sun was beating down on Zwain’s shoulders as he entered the parking lot of the super market. At least that’s what his father called it. Super markets hadn’t existed for decades. Now they were just crumbled heaps of brick that animals, or even feral humans would nest in. Zwain had scouted this place out a few days ago and there appeared to be nobody living within this building. So this morning he returned to wrestle some scrap metal off of the cars.
The plan was to go from car to car: finding glass that wasn’t shattered, or metal that wasn’t porous. He brought with him two wagons to pile the stuff in. One to hold all the chunks of metal he could salvage, and the other was to transport the glass.The wagon for the glass had a collection of clothes and furs. These were used to protect glass so that it could safely get back home.
Zwain came up to the car that appeared to be in the best condition. It was a very faded green, probably originally dark green when it came off the assembly line. It had minimal rust and looked almost as if you could drive off with it. Zwain could only imagine. He had sat in cars as they rolled down hills before. But he never sat inside an actual working vehicle. The feeling of a ton of metal moving beneath you must’ve been unparalleled.
The car door was ajar and Zwain opened it. The hinge creaked with age but it wasn’t rusted tight. That was a bonus, it meant that he didn’t have to use those super scissors that his father scavenged off a firetruck a few years back. He sat down in the driver’s seat, which was crusty and kicked up some dust beneath his ass, but it was still in really decent shape. They could use an extra chair around the orphanage, Zwain thought.
Zwain playfully took the steering wheel and began twisting it back and forth pretending it was functional. He had no idea of the sounds they made so he just made some noises like the generators his father kept out back.
After a short moment, Zwain thought it was best to started on the work. In the wagon for the scrap metal, Zwain had pack a various assortment of tools: ratchets, screwdrivers and hammers. He brought all of them out and laid them down on the ground. His father had collected at a library full of car manuals and builder kits, so Zwain had no issues finding the right tools. Once selected, he placed the tools that he would need on the passenger seat of the car and got to work.
* * *
Zwain was pretty much done with the interior of the car by sunset. This was going to take him a couple of more days. He hadn’t even gotten to the windshield yet, so at least he wouldn’t need to come back for the second wagon. He could find a bush to stash it in to keep it from other potential scavengers.
After hiding the second wagon Zwain rolled up the tools into his carrying blanket and tied it around his upper body like a makeshift backpack. He definitely wasn’t going to leave the tools out for someone else to just take. They were hard enough to come by as it was.
Tonight was music night so Zwain hurried it up a little as he made his way back to the orphanage. In the distance he could see a bright orange glow. Father must have made a bonfire tonight. Maybe a special treat was in store for the kids.
As he got closer Zwain realized that this was no bonfire, it was the orphanage. He ran for the building; instinct forcing him to hold on to the wagon of scrap metal, which toppled over after a dozen steps to be left behind and forgotten. When he got to the gate, he saw that it was busted wide open and a trail of foot prints both entering and leaving. A smaller set of footprints could only be seen leaving alongside the bigger ones, heading out into the wilderness. There was a few lines carved into the ground as though some kids had to be dragged out against their will.
Zwain stared out into the darkness where the Ravagers must have taken the children. Coughing from the front porch area caught his attention and he ran into the yard. There he saw his father in a bloody heap at the foot of the steps. James’s long white hair was matted in sweat and blood. Zwain dropped down beside him and pushed the hair out of his fathers face.
“Oh shit, father, I’m so sorry. I lost track of the time. If I had only been here sooner–“
“Don’t you worry none, Zwain. If you were here, then you’d be dead too and everything I have worked for would be lost. At least… now… you can grow your own seeds and try to make a future worth living in…” James could barely talk through the coughing fits of his collapsed lung.
“No, father. You’re coming with me. We can rebuild. We can save the kids. Who took them? Where did they go? Let me get you up.” Zwain attempted to lift his father but felt the shattered bones of his arm shift unnaturally. With a look of sorrow and disgust Zwain carefully laid his father’s arm back down on the ground.
“I… can’t, Zwain… If I could… I’d be with you until the… end… I might… not be able to in… body, but at… least I can be with you in spirit… Now go, my son and get away… from… here, before this whole… thing comes down on… you…”
Tears burned in Zwain’s eyes, the whole world around him was a blur. All he could hear was the increasing pain in his father’s voice. Zwain wiped each eye with a dirty, oily hand, which only added to their redness. He looked down at his father and James smiled at him.
“Zwain… take… care, and… I… love…” James was unable to finish his sentence but Zwain knew that his father loved him. James was right, even though his body was laying dead before him, Zwain could already feel his father’s spirit caress his shoulder as if to ask him to get to safety.
That night, Zwain tried to sleep beneath the maple tree. He continually played out scenarios in his mind where he could’ve saved everyone. Imagining that if that car worked, he could run down those Ravagers as they shat themselves to get away, powerless against the metal beast.
The sun finally rose into its purple hue, and Zwain sat up. He looked off into the direction that the kids were taken and then looked back at the orphanage. It was now a smoking pile of rubble. A fitting metaphor for how he felt.
Zwain stood up, tried to determine what he should do next. Should he find the kids? He was just one man against an entire group. He turned to the tree as if he hoped it would give him the answer.
In a way, it did.
Amidst all of the orange leaves,almost trying to fight its way out to the beating rays of the sun, was a single green leaf. It was the most magnificent thing Zwain had ever seen. He wanted to pluck it right then and there, but stopped himself. That would kill it for sure. He felt that if he were to leave that green leaf alone, perhaps it could teach the other leaves to become green and before you know it the entire tree will be full of green leaves.
Zwain knew it wouldn’t happen over night, and that was if it would happen at all. But that small hope was more than what the wastelands usually offered. That single green leaf was his father. Zwain hoped to become the second green leaf on this tree; to make all the leaves on all the trees green once again.
With that renewed confidence Zwain stepped forward onto the path of footprints that lead out into the wastelands and never looked back.
* * *
Zwain awoke to a soaking wet pillow. That dream would always turn him into an emotional wreck. Wiping each eye, he went into his kitchen to get a glass of water. No matter how hard he tried to put it behind him, that night would forever hang heavy in his mind.
Every now and then, he still played out scenarios where he was able to save his father and the children. Maybe if he didn’t play in that car before tearing it apart, he could’ve made it back in time and things would be different.
He shook his head at the thought. What’s done is done. He would use that resolve to push himself forward. This world had accepted him for who he is, and Zwain intended to make whatever world he was in a better place.
Just because the leaves on the trees look green in this time, doesn’t mean that they actually are.