This part wasn’t easy for Zwain to tell the others. It was nearly impossible for him to relive it any time the nightmares came around. It all started when “Sir” Lexington entered into his private quarters and saw Zwain standing there, holding a notepad in his hand.
* * *
“So, you were able to survive on your own? I always knew you darkies were resilient, but even still I am impressed. Perhaps I’ll consider getting one of you on the next slaving trade,” Lexington said, calm and collected while inching ever so slowly to his right.
“You know me?”
“Yes, I watched you and that father of yours from afar. Seeing you raise those kids that were lost to the wasteland. You upset the balance. You were giving people hope, and when people get hope, then how are WE supposed to do our jobs?”
“You do nothing but pillage and and rape and take whatever the hell you all want. How did we stop you from doing that?”
“People were opening their doors more often to others. Do you have any idea how much harder it is to knock some sense into their skulls through a locked door?”
“We saw no changes from where we were.”
“That’s because you both were so high on your pedestal that you could no longer see the wastelands below. We thought about attacking you guys sooner, but we had no use for little kids, and killing them just isn’t in our nature.”
“Bull. Fucking. Shit!” said Zwain as he threw the notepad in the face of Lexington.
The notepad slid down his broad nose and landed on the floor. A wide grin slowly opened between the busy hairs of the man’s mustache and beard. With almost a laugh he said, “Put them in peril? Sure. Expecting them to survive? Not really. But not once have I ever taken the life of a child with these two hands of mine. They are clean of that kind of blood.”
Zwain had enough and lunged forward at the man. Lexington jumped to the right to grab the shotgun from his closet.
“MEN!” Lexington yelled hoping as much of the camp as possible could hear him. That was all he as able to get out and Zwain’s dagger plunged in between two ribs, puncturing a lung. Lexington slumped into a heap on the floor, breathing raspy breaths.
Zwain had no time to think, so he grabbed the shotgun and flipped Lexington’s desk on its side and waited for whoever was to push through that door.
There was a knock.
The small, muffled voice of a young man asked Lexington if everything was alright. Lexington tried to yell out, but only whispers could escape his lips.
The doorknob turned.
Zwain pointed the gun at the door, waiting for whoever it was to step through.
The tip of a rifle slowly pushed the door open.
Zwain tensed, every muscle in his body poised for action. His right index finger hovered over the trigger of the shotgun.
The man was barely halfway through the door when the shotgun blast slammed him up against the door jamb. He slid down with an expression of terror. He looked too young to be experienced enough to know much else.
A raspy, jagged laugh escaped Lexington’s lips. Zwain was confused as to why he would find this so funny. Zwain looked at the young man and realized immediately what had happened.
Just the same as with Lenny and Connie, Zwain recognized the eyes. He had grown leaner in the ten years since the kidnapping, but he was still recognizable.
Eight years old; he was the last child added to the orphanage before the Ravagers took them all away. Zwain was the one that found him in the ditch nearby and ended up spending a lot of time with him those weeks trying to get him acclimated to the group. Jonathan had trouble talking to the other kids when Zwain wasn’t around. Being around Zwain always seemed to boost his confidence.
Jonathan stared straight ahead, lifeless. Zwain ran to him and hugged his dead body, crying apologies into his deaf ears. Lexington continued to laugh, in spite of it hurting to do so.
“So, ” he chuckled, “You are lucky… he just turned eighteen… the other… day. You still haven’t… killed… any children yet… but somehow I think this may… be a little worse. I am assuming that… you… came… here to save… them?”
Lexington was laughing the entire time while Zwain pointed the shotgun at his face and blew his brains through the wall.
Zwain moved Jonathan to the corner, tears falling from his cheeks and wetting the boy’s jeans. How many more were coming? How many of his own were now Ravagers themselves. Once again thoughts on how he could have saved his father all those years ago, how things could have been different. It was all too much to bear.
Zwain rushed out the door in a sprint, hoping to make it to the perimeter before all the remaining Ravagers to close in on him. The tears in his eyes made it especially hard to see. He could hear shouts of his name, both suprised and excited.
“Is that Zwain?”
Their voices older, but still recognizable enough. Zwain pumped his legs as hard as he could until he finally reached the edge of the camp. It was a 15 foot tall steel wall that had nothing for him to climb up on. He would need to make his way back to the gate.
“Shit!” he exclaimed to himself as he ducked behind some garbage cans.
Murmurings of his name continued as Zwain stealthily made his way to the gate. He was halfway there when one of the Ravagers called out.
“Hey, Zwain! We know you are still in here. We found Sir Lexington in his office. You’ve made a very bad mistake? What? Did you think you were going to save all of these kids?”
A gun shot rang out over the whole campus. Zwain instinctively hit the ground in the hopes of dodging the bullet. The murmuring of his name stopped instantly and morphed into blood curdling screams drowning out the body hitting the ground.
“Well, that’s one less you’ll be able to save. I think she broke her leg on the trail and it became infected!”
The screaming continued as another gunshot rang through the late evening.
“That one got pneumonia, the poor thing. If you don’t come out soon. I’m going to run out of diseases to kill these kids with.”
Zwain had heard enough. He yelled out, “Just fucking stop it already! I’m coming out!”
Three of the kid’s deaths were on his hands. He wanted no more. He wasn’t sure if he would still be able to save the rest, but keeping them alive was all that mattered to him at this point.
Zwain came to the central square of the courtyard. 6 ravagers were there holding fifteen of the kids hostage; thirteen of whom remained alive. Zwain couldn’t make out who the other two were since they face down on the concrete. This part of the campus was in rough shape, sheets of plywood and two by fours were used to cover sinkholes that were scattered all over the ground.
The lead ravager grabbed a tall brunette and wrapped his arm around her holding her in front of his body. She struggled but he tightened his grip. Zwain recognized her immediately. Tiffany, she was the oldest of the kids, and would have to be about twenty three now.
Breathing heavy, the Ravager spoke to Zwain with what appeared to be excitement in his voice, “Now, we don’t want to hurt these kiddies no more. Good slaves are hard to come by, and nobody can beat a slave trained from youth. So we’re not going to hurt them as long as you cooperate.”
“You call this “not hurting” them?”
“Yeah well, you can’t have too much insurance, can ya?” and thinking he was the funniest man in the world, the Ravager tittered.
At this, Tiffany spoke up, “The devil must have gotten to you Sir Hapscomb. You’ve been a little too idle these days. That’s okay because with Sir Lexington now taken from us I’m sure you’ll find plenty to do. I am just happy to be of service.”
Zwain stopped dead in his tracks. Did the brainwashing go this far? Her life is threatened and she’s thankful for it? Zwain had to fight the urge to aim the shotgun at them and pull the trigger. They might not be able to be saved. It just might be better to cut them loose from this life so that they can try again in another one.
Zwain held on to his resolve. He could not murder them. That would go against the last remaining sliver of his father’s integrity that Zwain held onto. Zwain slowly placed his gun to the ground and stood up once again raising his hands into the air. One of the Ravagers came around and frisked him, removing all sorts of hidden weapons and tools.
Once that was done Zwain was shoved forward, being corralled to the back of the campus. They didn’t both with tying him up. “Sir” Hapscomb just held onto his little insurance policy.
Zwain was defeated. In his mind he saw himself actually plucking that lone green leaf from the maple tree, letting it fall to the ground and them grinding it with the bottom of his boot. He didn’t notice the plywood beneath his feet crumble and collapse into the hole in the ground.
Zwain hit the bottom with a thud, and could hear the shock and amazement coming from the world above. He could hear Tiffany bawling his name out loud. Hapscomb was calling for a light to see down the hole. Other Ravagers saying that there was no way “that fucker” could’ve survived that.
* * *
“Yeah, how did you?” asked Duece, “You had me thinking this could all be true right up until you died.”
Mandy shot Duece a look which cause him to sit back in his chair and clamp his mouth shut.
“I vaguely remember hearing the ground rumbling beneath me as I laid in the hole, then that too gave away and I fell even further into the darkness,” said Zwain straining to remember what happened next.
“Do you remember anything about the darkness?” asked Mandy.
“Bits and pieces, it’s a blur. I can’t coherently remember anything after that. Then next thing I knew for sure was–”
“–You being helped up by a middle-aged-rock-star-wannabe at an outdoor rock concert. Jesus, man, no wonder you were so worried about this kids!” Tony stood up and walked over to Zwain, arms open for an embrace.
Zwain stood up and hugged him hard. Mandy and Duece joined in. “Thanks, yeah. I had no idea how long it had been since I fell. The way Tiffany called out my name when that happened. She was still in there. I could still save them if I was there.”
Duece stepped back a bit, to give the man some breathing room. “Fuck dude, what you had to do there…”
Zwain nodded, “I’m not proud of it. Nor will I ever be. Jonathan was just a knee jerk reaction and I’m always going to regret that. I don’t think I can ever make up for that moment.”
Tony paused for half a second before asking, “Wait a minute, man. You called your song The Boy. Dude, is that song named for Jonathan?”
“Yeah, and that’s why it had to be fucking perfect.”
“Holy shit, dude! No wonder that came out so amazing! You poured your heart and soul out into that jam and it’s fucking spectacular!” Duece threw up some metal horns.
Mandy leaned in an hugged Zwain once again, “I think you have made a big step in honouring Jonathan with that song and an even bigger one in telling us all of this.”
“Yah, I was a still a bit iffy about the whole thing, but there is no way in hell a song doesn’t come out that awesome unless there some fucking truth to it!” said Duece.
“Glad to see I made a believer out of a shithead like you!”
“Hey old man, just be happy I came around to your side.”
Tony grabbed the both of them in a playful head lock. “Alright you two, save it for the show. Now, it’s way too late for you to go home, so you are crashing right here. Pancakes for breakfast?”
“Sure,” said Mandy as she smiled.
“Fucking-A!” said Duece.
Zwain and Tony shared a silent nod of agreement, both about the pancakes, and about the fact that everything seemed to be just fine.