Chapter 16

It all happened in slow motion.

Zwain turned around to look back at the portal. There was already creatures pouring through it, swinging huge axes and clubs, stomping through the crowd like children on an ant hill. Huge, hulking green beasts twice the size of any man Zwain had ever seen. Before the crowd could scatter, one of the monsters swung his club knocking a tidal wave of people into the air.

Survival instincts kicked in and audience members trampled over each other in a vain attemtp to escape the madness. Boots mashing in noses and knocking out teeth. Zwain, Tony, Mandy and Duece stood on the stage staring at the carnage unleashed in front of them.

The biggest of the creatures, the one with huge tusks protruding from his lower jaw and a large headdress made out of the feathers from no bird on this planet, pointed in their direction and uttered a guttural phrase to his left. An axe-wielder just ten feet away nodded and cocked his axe up over his shoulder, ready to swing for the bleachers. The monster loosed the axe through the air in the direction of the band. It twirled through the air like a gigantic lawnmower blade. Zwain and everyone jumped away from the trajectory of the axe, narrowly avoiding its blade. Zwain landed with a painful jolt to his right elbow, turned in time to see the axe hit the drum kit; leaving it in a heap of twisted metal.

Duece rose up in a slight daze could barely mutter out a,”Whoa, talk about the ultimate rim shot–,” before being yanked by Mandy, who broke out into an all out sprint perpendicular to direction the monsters were approaching. Tony was right behind them.

Zwain was about to follow but he halted and looked out over the audience. This was all his fault. There was something about that solo. Something that Chris from the park had known about. Why would he trick Zwain into massacring thousands of people. What was there to gain?

The sound of wild howls shook him out of his own thoughts and Zwain saw mutilated dogs, some roughly the size of a small horse, charging through the portal to join their dark green masters. Sunken, misshapen faces from years of abuse at those massive hands left them borderline feral. The dogs rushed a few of the people that managed to dodge the clubs and axes and clawed at their backs and ripped out their throats.

Zwain turned back in their direction. Tony caught Zwain doing this out of the corner of his eye and rushed to his side to try and bring him along. “Zwain, we gotta move. We’re sitting ducks up here on the stage.”

Zwain looked at Tony, an expression of worry and anger battled it out on his face. “This is my fault, Tony. Sure, we might be sitting ducks up here, but those people are fish in a barrel. I’ve fucked up. I’m not running. These people will not get left behind like the kids.”

Tony was confused, “So what do you plan on doing? Those fuckers are huge!”

Zwain slowly removed the strap from The Axe and stuffed it into his back pocket. With two hands, he gripped the neck firmly, as if brandishing an axe of his own. With a look of steeled determination he glanced over a Tony and said, “You have any idea how solid this beast is?”

Tony stood there, slack jawed, as Zwain jumped off the stage and into the carnage below.

Once he was in the thick of it, the slow motion shifted into a quick blur. Zwain saw one of the dogs mauling a teenager, ran over and hit the beast in the ribs with his guitar. The beast flew through the air with a yelp and landed on its side frantically trying to pull itself up, but its severed spine no longer allowing its hind legs to work.

Zwain knelt down and helped the girl up. She hugged him as tears of relief ran down her cheeks, washing away the tears of fright. Zwain gestured over to where he came from hoping that the path his friends were taking was free enough for this girl to make it. As she ran off in that direction Zwain saw Tony hopping off the stage with his bass in hand.

The running girl must have seemed like a beacon because two more of the dog monsters rushed her. Tony stepped forward and smashed his bass guitar in the face of the first one, snapping its neck but also snapping his guitar into two peices, the end of its neck was now a mass of jagged splinters.

Tony gave another swing of the remains of his guitar, the body still attached by the metal strings like some sort of “hard rock” morning star. This added extra momentum to the force of his swing causing the strings of the guitar to wrap around the neck of the second hound, hauling it to the ground. Without thinking Tony lunged forward and plunged the splintered neck of his guitar into the neck of the beast causing it to spasm and drown in its own blood.

Mandy and Duece had ran back for the both of them and saw the girl making a break for it. Duece cheered the girl on as she ran off into the darkness of the woods. Mandy removed her guitar from her back and held it like a bat. Tony yanked out the strings of his guitar leaving him with just the neck.

Two more people ran past them as they regrouped behind Zwain, who had just finished off another of the hounds. This one still alive but all four legs were broken. Tony put it out of its misery and turned to Zwain. “Zwain, we’re out numbered and out matched. You see how much it took for us to just save three people. They haven’t even sent over those big fuckers, yet. Let’s get out of here and save our own asses while they’re still our own.”

“You guys don’t have to stay. This is my problem,” he said raising his guitar in the air, “and this is my solution. I’m going to save as many as I can before they take me down. Thanks for everything, but I fear this may be where we say our goodbyes. I love you guys. Be safe.”

Before Zwain could run off for another battle Mandy spoke up, “Oh no you don’t. Zwain, we are a group. I’m scared out of my fucking mind right now, but if I run now it’ll only get worse. I’ll never be able to live with that decision. You didn’t abandon those kids. When you fell down that hole, it was not you choosing to leave them to their fate. Shit, you were trying to get back to them right up until you ended up here. But if I go now, I am making that choice. That is not a choice that I am capable of making! No, we have to try. So shut the fuck up and let us help you.”

Zwain smiled and nodded, “Alright, stay low and keep an eye out for the big green guys.”

“Well that’s all well and fucking good for you guys, but we have three weapons and there is four of us. What in the fuck am I going to do with these tiny shitting drum sticks?” yelled Duece as he mimed stabbing with the sticks. “I’ll lose my fucking arm before I kill anything.”

Zwain did a quick glance, He saw a maintenance shed beside the stage. “What about there?”

Duece turned and saw the shed. “Fucking-A! Worth a shot!” He ran in that direction. Mandy followed holding her guitar ready for any type of surprise attack. They both were so focused on the shed that they didn’t see one of the big green monsters on the stage. The axe-wielder from before had retrieved his weapon from the tangled mess of drums.

It landed in front of Duece with an earth shaking thud. Its axe already high above its head. There was a whoosh as the air was parted by the stone blade. Duece dodged to his left, looking back at Mandy who was late in noticing the monster. Using all of his leg strength Duece doubled back and leapt for Mandy, his right arm outstretched to push her out of the path of the axe. He caught her shoulder and sent her tumbling off to the other side. A searing pain shot up through his whole arm as the axe separated it from the rest of his body. The arm, severed mid-bicep, flopped lifelessly on the ground.

Duece shrieked into the night sky scaring off a flock of nesting birds hundreds of meters away. He tumbled onto the ground in the same direction as Mandy, his bloody stump getting matted up with grass, leaves and dirt.

Tony and Zwain were fighting off another couple of hounds when they heard the yell. They turned to see Mandy approaching an armless Duece who managed to prop himself up against a tree. He could see that she had gotten her strap off her guitar and was using it to tie off his stump. The monster was struggling to free his axe from the ground. The momentum of its swing buried it right up to its handle.

Zwain charged with a mighty yell, hoping to distract the monster from its business and buy him some time to get over there before the thing could free his weapon from the ground. Over his shoulder, he could hear Tony join in his war cry and this prompted Zwain to pick up his pace.

Urlich looked up briefly and saw this puny human charging at it. These puny humans did not have the metal skin of the ones he was supposed to be fighting, but this one acted as if it did. This frightened Urlich the Orc, forcing him to frantically tug on his axe. Urlich did not expect such soft ground when he swung down at the other puny human. After a couple of more tugs, Urlich lifted his head to see how far away the human was and saw that human was now flying at him.

Zwain cocked the guitar back and then swung forward with all of his might. The guitar connected with the creature’s head with a sickening THUD. The head spun almost completely around, the bones of the neck cracking and popping. The head bobbed as the creature drop to its knees and then finally slumped forward on its axe handle, arms dangling at its sides.

Zwain rushed over to Duece and Mandy. Mandy had a steady flow of tears running down her face as kept tightening and tightening the makeshift tourniquet that was her guitar strap. Duece’s head lolled about in a delirious state of pain and shock.

“How’s he doing?” asked Zwain.

“Not good, I think he’s going to pass out.”

“Get him behind the shed. Those beasts don’t look too smart. Out of sight, out of mind. That is if they even have a mind.”

Mandy helped Duece to his feet and started walking him to the back of the shed. “Hey, where’s Tony?”

“He’s right behind…” Zwain stopped, he could swear Tony was right behind him. He looked back at the field. The monsters were mopping up whoever was still trying to make a break for it. Tony was tall, so it’s not like he’d be easily missed.

Zwain caught some movement in his peripheral vision. One of the hounds slumped over on its side, falling away from a body laying on the ground. The neck of a guitar protruded from its belly. In its jaws was an arm, bloody and mangled as the monster had torn it from its owner. Zwain’s heart hit him right in his throat.

That was Tony’s arm.

Previous Chapter                              Next Chapter

Chapter 15

Chris rose up from his captain’s chair as he saw the blue glow on the horizon. They were just in time.

“Yeah!” he cheered, “The son of a bitch did it!”

Chelsea’s robo-eye dropped from the ceiling to get a better look at the portal. She turned to Chris and said, “The plan is to fly through the portal and meet with Zwain on the other side. Correct, Christopher?”

“That is the plan. Once we are there, we can then discuss how we’re going to handle the rest. This one jump, one that they’ll never be able to track, will give us all the time we need to prepare. Then nobody will have to suffer at our own hands.”

“I still have doubts, Christopher. I have run the simulation countless times and the percentage of success is quite low.”

“That is because you cannot factor in sheer luck. Zwain has something about him. He’s probably the luckiest waste-lander there is. I don’t even think he realizes…”

“Ripple detected!”

Chris sat back down in his seat in surprise. They had arrived. He was hoping that their jump was going to still be a few weeks out, but the good General must have made haste. Either way, he was here.

“Christopher, I have multiple jumps entering the atmosphere at ten point eight three six kilometers above the Earth.”

“Shit.”

“Now I’m receiving a hailing signal from the main ship. General Jim Freeman is requesting permission to speak with you.”

“Deny it and keep the cloak on. Hopefully that will buy us enough time. Silently propel over to the concert using partial thrusters. They might be far enough away to not be able to detect our emissions. Hopefully the portal will be gone before they get here as well.”

“Christopher, they are hacking through my firewalls. Quite easily I might add.”

“Damn! I had underpowered your computer protection to allow the personality implant to work properly. You better let them through, if they were to break through, you would be exposed to all sorts of computer viruses. Still try and scramble the signal so that they cannot triangulate our location”

A translucent video screen popped up on the windshield of Chris’s ship. Chelsea was successful in scrambling the signal causing the image on the screen to be distorted. Chris couldn’t quite tell if it was General Freeman until his voice rang through the entire speaker system.

“Christopher Leg. My son, it has been a long time. I see that you’ve put that computer of yours to work at hiding your location. How… resourceful.”

“Well when one’s mobility is limited, thinking smarter is more often the best course to take. Not that you’re familiar with thinking…smarter, Sir.”

“Haha, your impunity is quite hilarious. I always wondered why you became a pilot instead of a stand up comedian.”

“Oh, like the military is not a mandatory choice. Training begins at ten and even the loss of my leg was not enough for me to avoid that life.”

“No cost is too great for the survival of our people, Leg. You should know this. Our world continues to diminish and yet you decide to go against us? Your ship should’ve been destoyed at our last battle seven years ago.”

“So that’s how long it has been? Seven years and you’ve already used up all the resources you stole? Do you not see a bigger, more fundamental problem here?”

“Those resources are primitive and pale in comparison to our advanced technologies. We’re barely scraping by. Why would you wish doom upon us?”

“Twist it however you want, General, but I’m no longer willing to ruin entire societies for one that refuses to help itself.”

“Well, Christopher, we’ll just have to agree to disagree and disagreeing with me is grounds for death… So watch your back.”

The video screen popped back into one of corners of the windshield. Chris was angry, but still relieved that the General hadn’t noticed the portal yet. The margin for error was growing ever thinner.

“Chelsea, why is the portal still open? I was hoping to fly through to cut that bastard off during his transmission.”

“It would appear that Zwain has not gone through yet.”

Chris hobbled up to the windshield to get a better look at the concert grounds. “I told him not to take too long…” He trailed off as he looked down below. People were scattering in all directions. Teenagers were being trampled by adults as they fled from some sort of massive green-skinned monsters. The monsters were swinging larges clubs and stone axes, attempting to slaughter as much of the audience as possible.

“Chelsea, zoom in to ground level!”

The image grew in size until it seemed as though the ship was hovering mere inches above the ground. Chris was also able to see weird misshapen dogs fighting alongside the green monsters. A dog pounced onto a young man in a black t-shirt and ripped his throat out. Two girls with black hair, black makeup and black tattered concert shirts got caught by tree trunk sized club. Their limp bodies flew through the air and landed in crumpled heaps.

“Christopher, it would seem that things have gone bad. Do you want me to provide the audio of the outside to better make sense of the imagery you are seeing?”

Chris turned and looked at the eye. “Oh god no,” he said repulsed at the mere thought, “I can see how bad it is just fine. Can you track down Zwain? Is he still alive? The portal is still here and shows no signs of closing any time soon.”

Chris watched the carnage for a few more seconds before averting his eyes. He cursed himself for teaching Zwain how to properly play that tone. He was the reason all of these innocent people were being brutally beaten by these monster. The doorway opens two ways and these creatures saw and opportunity to wreak havoc. He could only wonder what else waited for them on that side.

“I have found Zwain, Christopher,” said Chelsea as the screen panned and zoomed in on Zwain, his guitar at his side. He was hunched over the body laying on the ground. The girl from his band was standing a couple of steps away, her makeup running down her face in rivers.

Chris let out an exasperated sigh. Zwain showed no sign of heading towards the portal. Chris didn’t want to be rude in his time of sorrow, but if Zwain didn’t get himself through that portal; this carnage will continue to happen for who knows how long.

“Turn off the cloak, Chelsea.”

“But that will give General Freeman our location. He will discover the portal.”

“Yeah but if we don’t get Zwain through it now, all will be lost. We must keep our wildcard. Turn off the cloak and lower the ship to three meters.”

Chelsea obliged and Chris moved himself to the center of the windshield hoping to give himself the best vantage point for Zwain to see him.

The girl saw the ship first. He eyes bugged out and her mouth unleashed a scream that Chris was unable to hear. Zwain quickly jerked his head up; his right hand fumbling for the guitar at his side. He rose to his feet and faced Chris.

Chris placed a hand on the windshield and stepped forward. Zwain walked forward, his guitar at his side. He tilted his head as if he were trying to place Chris in his memories. Zwain’s eyes popped wide when he recognized Chris, followed by a brief flash of anger on his brows. With over exaggerated mouth movements, Chris began repeating the phrase, “Go through the portal!” He kept rapidly pointing in the direction of the portal, hoping that this would help drive his point across.

Zwain looked at the portal, then back at Chris. Chris continuing to mouth the words. Zwain’s eyes widened as he suddenly remembered. He grabbed the arm of the girl with him and they started running for the portal. Chris started to cheer but spotted one of the big green guys running for them with a club in his hands.

“Chelsea, target that creature and blow him apart.”

The monster raised his club high above his head as he closed on on Zwain and the girl. Just as the club was about the come down on the both of them a quick blue flash shot across the ground and the monster disintegrated into a cloud of green and red. The blast caught the girl off guard and she tripped, losing her grip with Zwain. Zwain stopped to turn and help her but before he could one of the dogs lept on her back.

Chris could read Zwain’s lips as he yelled the word, “Fuck!” Zwain raised his guitar ready to strike the monster and save the girl. Chris saw no way to kill the thing without harming the both of them.

“Christopher?”

Christ paid no attention to Chelsea, he kept looking for an opening to help Zwain’s friend.

“Christopher!”

“What is it, Chelsea? Can’t you see I’m trying to help Zwain?”

“There is another matter at hand, Christopher.”

“What? What could it possibly be?”

“They are here, Christopher. The whole fleet is now at this location.”

The image on the windshield panned off of Zwain and up to the starry sky. One by one the ships emerged from their own cloaking devices, blocking out the majority of stars in the sky. The biggest one was up front an center, ready to lead the attack.

The General had arrived.

Previous Chapter                             Next Chapter

Chapter 14

The show was everything Zwain dreamed it would be. The crowd was amazing. Everybody performed flawlessly. The night was perfect.

Then came time for the big one. Zwain worked months and months on perfecting ‘The Boy’. It meant too much to Zwain for it to be half-assed.

It was only Zwain in the beginning. He would take lead guitar on this song, and Mandy was going to provide backup; didn’t mind. The song started slowly and solemnly; a ballad, telling the tale of a boy growing up in a harsh world all alone.

Duece layered in some light drums. Filling in the gaps between the notes Zwain was playing with gentle taps on the toms and cymbals. Then Tony joined in with his bass, followed by Mandy with backup guitar. Each instrument added in another layer of emotion. Slowly it intensified, building up for something bigger. Mandy stood back to back Zwain, her hand raised in the air, ready to sweep downwards across her strings. Zwain assumed a similar pose. His haunting vocals quivering through the night and trailing off to nothing, leaving only the drums and bass guitar.

With a flicker of anticipation both Mandy and Zwain thrust their hands downwards unleashing a catastrophic roar through the speakers, rendering the crowd aghast. Flames shot up from the corners of the stage in unison and the ballad transformed into a full out rock song, pumping out into the night.

The audience went wild! The mosh pit became more dangerous than it had been all show. Bloody noses reopened, opposite eyes were blackened. Everyone was loving it.

Mandy and Zwain spread themselves out on the front of the stage, playing out to the crowd. Every now and then Zwain would return to the microphone to get the next part of the song out. The song continued to escalate. Building in intensity until finally all the other instruments trailer off leaving Zwain to his guitar solo. ‘The’ guitar solo.

Zwain’s fingers moved like magic. No human eye could even perceive the speed at which they moved. Even Mandy’s movements seemed like a snail’s pace by comparison. Zwain was on fire. He dropped his hand down that same couple of frets that Chris had showed him and windmilled the guitar pick across the strings.

The sound resonated out of the speakers at a volume far more intense than anything else played that night. Visible rings emanated from the speakers on both sides of the stage, converging on a single point at the back of the audience.

Duece looked at Mandy; Mandy looked at Tony. Their eyes widened in surprise.

Out of the corner of his eye, Zwain caught a single blue flicker. The blue flicker blinked rapidly and grew in intensity until finally a bright blue tear opened up in the fabric of the air. An image of a red, rocky wasteland was visible, surrounded by swirling blue tendrils. Zwain could almost make out the brown tents of some sort of camp.

“What… the… fuck?” Duece yelled as he stood up from behind his drum-kit.

The audience cheered even louder, thinking that this was all part of the show. No one noticed that the band had stopped playing. This was the most insane lights show they had ever seen.

Zwain stared into the gaping portal, completely immobilized.

It’s so dark down here. Where am I? It feels like I’ve been walking for miles.

Memories came flooding back, cascading all over his brain.

Huh, this cave wall is made out of metal? Oh what’s the dim glow right there?

The delerium of what happened to him after the fall was finally clearing up and Zwain could remember everything. He remembered–

*          *          *

— pressing the dimly lit button. The doors opened with a whoosh as the air within rushed out to meet Zwain. Lights turned on all down a blue metallic hallway. His pupils constricted to save his retinas from the sudden and complete change in light. Holding a bloodied hand above his brow, to shield his eyes as best he could, Zwain stepped forward into the hallway.

The hand didn’t help much, the light was coming from all around. The walls, the ceiling and even the floor. Zwain slowed his pace so that he could let his eyes adjust and get used to where he was. After a few minutes he felt confident enough to move forward and continued following the hall. His head hurt, and he could feel the warm blood slightly flowing down the side of his head. He probed the source and it sent a searing pain all through his body forcing Zwain to wince.

“I can worry about that later,” he told himself, “I just want to get through this place and out of this… hallway?”

Zwain’s voice echoed down the sterile hallway with such clarity that it bounced back at him as clearly as it had left his lips. Zwain almost thought it was another person, until he realized it was exactly what he just said.

He finally found another doorway. It has the same dim orange button to the right side of it. Zwain pressed this, and once again the door opened, more lights illuminating a large room.

Zwain entered and this time he was greeted by something other than this own voice. “New life form detected. Stasis sleep deactivated. Chelsea has now started the boot up process.”

Zwain spun around in a panic. Unsure of what to do, he squatted down and clenched his fists, ready to deal with who, or whatever this Chelsea was, once she booted up. In the corner he caught a glimpse of what appeared to humanoid. It was bald, and its skin was rather pale looking. The right pant-leg  of the alien creature was pulled up enough to reveal a wooden prosthetic. It gave Zwain a brief chuckle to see something so primitive amidst what appeared to be extremely advanced technology, especially when compared to the old computers that the library contained.

That reminded Zwain of some of those space books he read. This felt very similar to those stories. He looked over to the far end if the room and saw what must be the control panel. Zwain rushed over there and pulled the seat in close, looking down at the keys. He saw all the familiar letters of his own alphabet.

“English? You know, for an alien ship you are awfully accommodating,” Zwain said thinking that the keys must have morphed based on whoever was viewing them. Which, according the books, conveniently tended to happen on these types of alien vessels.

Zwain punched the key marked ‘Enter’. This usually worked on the old computers that he tried before. A flat screen flipped out of the dashboard and turned itself on. The robotic female voice returned and said, “Chelsea is only thirty three point nine three eight seven percent booted up. Please wait for her before using the computer systems. If it is an emergency, please punch in the following code and let Christopher know as soon as possible.”

Zwain entered the code that was given to him. He didn’t know whether this was an emergency or not, but he needed to get back out and try and get those kids back from the Ravagers. Tiffany was not so far gone, not if he cried out his name in terror as he fell.

The screen flashed a series of letters and numbers. Zwain understood them individually, but together the were utter nonsense. He tapped the enter key again, and the female robotic voice asked, “Are you sure you wish to proceed? Chelsea is now seventy eight point three six five nine percent booted. She will be more than willing to give you a hand.”

Zwain wasn’t so sure. How many times did some robot show up and snap the neck of a stowaway on the alien’s ship? He thought it was best not to find out if it was true. He scanned the screen once again. He didn’t want to randomly punch in numbers, thinking it would screw up the system and if this Chelsea wasn’t hostile before, she might be afterwards.

Zwain hit the enter button once more. The voice returned, “Failure to wait for full computer system boot up has now resulted in the destination not being store for future travel. If you wish to travel to this destination once again, you will be required to collect atmospheric particles very shortly after the portal has closed.

“Portal?” was all that escaped Zwain’s lips as the wall directly in front of him slowly slid out of the way revealing a giant window that showed the red bedrock of the wasteland he travelled through to get to the Ravager camp. Through invisible speakers, both inside and out, a loud song played. It was short, only a few bars, but those notes were about to be permanently ingrained on Zwain’s memory. They would become the basis for his entire epic ballad.

A blue flicker started growing on the horizon. It flashed a few times and then split wide open. Zwain couldn’t make out what as on the other side, it looked sort of dark. The robot voice returned, “The portal is now open, since Chelsea is only at ninety five point five four six two percent loaded, the ship can not be flown through the portal in a timely manner. Would you like to use the emergency escape hatch?”

Now this is what Zwain was waiting for. Never mind the portal on the other side, he needed to get back to the university. He reached forward and slammed down the enter key, half expecting the machine to understand his enthusiasm.

A siren tore through the air piercing through Zwain’s eardrums. He stumbled backwards knocking over the chair he was sitting in. He tumbled to the floor with a thud, hitting his head on the stairwell leading up to the captain’s chair. The lights around him started pulsing red in time with the siren. As Zwain got up to his feet he spotted a hole in the ceiling opening up. He stood beneath it and waited for a ladder to drop.

None did.

Zwain was beginning to wonder why when a sharp hiss sounded beneath his feet. Zwain looked down in time to see the hole that was in the ceiling whip past his body. The rush of the morning air whipped against his face as the ship fell further and further away from him. Zwain twisted his head around to see that he was flying away in a perfect trajectory for the portal.

“No!” he yelled, “I have to get to the kids, don’t send me through the portal! No!”

The portal got bigger and bigger, as Zwain closed in on it. His whole world started falling–

*          *          *

–into place. Everything fell into place. The song and how Chris knew what to change to make it right. The portal and how it brought him to this time. Zwain knew it all as he stared at the red landscape beyond.

The crowd finally settled, realizing that this was not part of the show. Some people backed away from it, not sure what was going to happen. Others continued to murmur excitedly at the crazy shit happening before their eyes.

Mandy, Duece and Tony all approached Zwain. Zwain turned to them and said, “I remember. I remember how I ended up here. That portal. And Chris, the guy who helped me finish that solo, it must’ve been his ship that opened it originally.”

Tony squinted to get a good look at the portal before him. “So, that’s your home, man?”

Zwain nodded, “Well, it kinda looks like it. That scorched looking stone, the orange of the afternoon sun. It has to be.”

Duece shuffled his feet, he had no smart-ass remark for this, “So what now?” He had tears welling up in his eyes. Mandy did as well, and she hugged Duece with all her might.

“Yeah, are you going back for the kids?” she asked.

Zwain thought about all the times he had waited for this moment. A chance to go home. A chance to get back to save the kids. Then he wondered if this was the same portal, will this return him to mere moments after he went missing, or will it be seven years later. He had no idea how this portal worked and Chris was not here to explain it to him.

In his current state, could he even hope to save those kids. He was getting soft around the edges these days. So many variables ran through his mind. He stared back at the portal, his mind racing. Zwain reflected on all that he done since coming here. Meeting Tony, starting the band. The way that they have stood behind him this past week. Zwain turned around and face them.

“For seven years this has been my home. I have thought about returning to wastelands numerous times. I’m still thinking about it, but  I’ve come to the realization that home is not a place out there for me to return to, but a place in here,” he pounded a fist into his heart, ” a place where you feel the most welcomed. Now, I will not let what happened to those kids happen ever again, but if I were to go and try to save them right now it would be suicide. That helps nobody. At least if I stay back here, I can make a difference. A difference that might change the future enough so that my future never even comes to be. I guess you could say… I am home… And what in the hell are you looking at?” he said glaring a Duece.

“Just seeing if your hand is going to start disappearing. Anyone up for a round of ‘Johnny B. Goode’?”

Zwain rolled his eyes and smiled, “You little shithead. Come here!” Zwain stepped forward to start up a group hug, but stopped in his tracks. The look of horror on Tony’s face caught him off guard. Mandy’s face also twisted into an expression of sheer fright as she clung to Duece. Duece’s eyes flicked up over Zwain’s shoulder and his mouth opened in a silent yell.

Zwain turned just in time to see green hulking monsters charge out of the portal.

Previous Chapter                              Next Chapter

Chapter 13

The next few nights were the best nights of sleep that Zwain had ever had. Especially now that all that weight was off his shoulders. Zwain couldn’t believe that everyone supported him. He still felt regret for not being able fulfill his rescue, but with friends like these he knew that he will at least be able to push forward, no longer holding back.

The last few days before the concert were relatively quiet; like a calm before the storm. They practiced, they slept and they drank some beers. Duece made shitty jokes and Zwain made fun of every one of them. They never practiced ‘The Boy’ again. For some reason Zwain felt that since its completion its magic would diminish with each time they played it. He knew that was stupid to believe, but that didn’t help him shake that superstition.

It was a hot on the evening of the concert. Zwain and the group showed up early out of excitement and wanted to feel the electricity of the moment course through their bodies. It was finally here, there will be thousands upon thousands of fans in the field, each one chanting their name.

“I know what you’re thinking, man,” said Tony as he came up beside Zwain and the edge of the stage. Zwain just turned and looked at him. “You’re thinking of how appropriate it would be if it rained tonight.”

Zwain smiled, “The irony of it would be fitting. I just… can’t believe you’re all still hanging around me.”

“Hey man, the way you described your wastelands and those Ravagers, I don’t blame you. We’d all probably do some crazy shit for survival. I’ve known you for over 7 years now, and I know that man is not you, dude. I judge you for who you are, not for who you were.”

“Thanks again, Tony. That means a lot.”

“Hey guys!” called Mandy from somewhere backstage, “Can you get over here please?”

They arrived backstage to find Duece white as a sheet, throwing up into a bucket. Zwain knelt down beside him and started rubbing his back.

“Hey Duece, what’s up? How are you feeling?”

Nervously, Mandy answered for him, “I think he’s having some performance anxiety.”

Zwain looked at her with a wink and a nod, “Would this be a common… occurrence?”

“Why would you joke at a time like this?!” she yelled at Zwain, then turned her head to Tony, “Why would he joke at a time like this?”

Tony smiled, shook his head and shrugged to feign ignorance.

The tinny echo of Duece’s quavery voice rose up from the bucket, “Good one, shithead.”

Mandy couldn’t take it anymore, she started pacing around the backstage. “Everyone keeps joking! Oh please let the stage collapse on us tonight. Hopefully that will smarten all of you assholes up. Then maybe you’ll change your attitudes.”

“Whoa there, dudette,” said Tony, “I see Duece isn’t the only one experiencing some performance anxiety. Just chill, have a beer and calm down. The show is going to be great. We are going to rock some series ass, man!”

Even with his head deep down in the bucket, Duece threw up the horns. “Rock on! I’ll totally be fine once the show fucking starts,” his stomach betrayed that statement by unleashing another volley into the bucket. Once he collected himself, he slowly raised his head and said, “Just give me a few minutes, I’ve made good friends with this here bucket.”

Zwain left Duece to his new friend and went over to the cooler. He grabbed three beers and brought them over to Tony and Mandy. Mandy’s breathing was already becoming more regulated, but she still slammed back the beer, hoping the liquid courage would help calm her down even faster.

“Thank you,” she said, “What about Duece?”

“Ah, he should be fine,” answered Zwain who looked over his shoulder at Duece, who had resumed throw-up position, and said, “Whenever you feel ready, help yourself to some beer.”

Not even bothering to lift up his head, Duece responded with a thumbs up.

The other three took a seat on some chairs and silently sipped their beers. Zwain wondered how the show was going to go. He pictured the roar of the fans. The booming of the speakers. The heat of the lights. Time seemed to slow down for Zwain. It was still two hours from the show, but it was going to feel like an entire day.

About 40 minutes later Duece joined them, beer in hand. He already had a little bit more colour back in his skin. He sat down and Mandy hugged him tightly. Duece faked some gagging noises causing her to pull back in revolt, but when she saw him smiling from ear to ear, she quickly punched him in his right arm.

“Ow! You know, one day this arm is going to just fall off. Then you’ll be sorry.”

Zwain laughed, “Knowing you, you probably won’t shut up about it if that were to happen.”

“Yeah, well, maybe I just won’t shut up anyhow!” said Duece, sticking out his tongue in defiance.

Tony leaned over to Zwain, bringing his free hand up to his the side of his mouth in a poor attempt to be secretive.”Truth be told, dude. If all he talked about was his lost arm, that would actually be a decent change of pace, man.”

“Now boys,” said Mandy.

“Boys?” asked Zwain cocking an eyebrow at Tony, “Aren’t you, like, twice her age?”

“At least, man. These youngins need to learn their place, and another beer will do just that.”

“Oh please,” said Mandy, “You know I can drink you under the table, Tony. Your whole family is a bunch of lightweights.”

“Hey, do not judge my drinking capabilities on that son of mine. He got that from his mother. About the only thing she ever did give him,” said Tony with a bitter tone on his voice. That divorce was not particularly pretty, but at least he won custody.

“And that’ll be the cue for more beer,” said Zwain rising up from the chair. He returned with another round for everyone, including Duece; who wasn’t done his first beer yet.

Another hour passed by. They could hear the audience filling up the field outside. The excited murmur of everyone there to see their show caused goosebumps all over their bodies and their little hairs to stand on end. There was some magic in the air.

They got ready to go on stage. Tony slung his bass over his shoulders. Mandy adjusted her top-hat just right. Duece tugged at the strings of his ‘Dangerous D’ hoodie. Zwain slipped on a pair of white visor shades.

“Really?” asked Tony, “You’re going to wear those tonight?”

“Your damn-fucking-rights I am! I’ve been waiting to wear these puppies for years!”

“Seriously, dude, they look really stupid. And lots of fashion is looking stupid these days.”

Duece piped in with his two cents, “Shit! Yeah, they make you look like some kind of fucking future spaceman.”

Zwain only looked at him and rose his eyebrows.

“Good point!”

“Come on guys, we’re just mere minutes from going on stage. Get your shit together!” yelled Mandy.

The rest of them calmed down and focused. The murmur of the crowd steadily increasing.

The lights dimmed!

The crowd cheered!

The guitar roared!

When the lights blasted back on ‘A Flock of Cows’ tore into their opening set. The audience before them went absolutely insane. People right in front of the stage started throwing themselves at each other. The whole field was packed with people jumping up and down like waves on the ocean.

As Zwain leaned forward, fingers working their way up and down the neck of ‘The Axe’, he soaked in the view. He could barely see the tree through the brightness of the stage-lights, but he knew it was there. He also knew one other thing…

This was a much better vantage point.

Previous Chapter                              Next Chapter

Chapter 12

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.

BLAM!

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.

Jonathan.

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.

“Zwain?”

“Zwain!?”

“Is that Zwain?”

“Whoa, 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.

Previous Chapter                              Next Chapter

Chapter 11

The bartender was yelling at the top of his lungs. He didn’t like getting shortchanged, even if it was by those asshole Ravagers. What, did they think that by sending teenagers to do their dirty work he would not harm them? No, that’s not how they work. These two were bottom of the pack. The Ravagers wanted them hurt, wanted them to be toughened up by the wasteland around them.

The bartender grabbed one of the mismatched mugs from his sink, drew back in exaggerated anticipation and chucked the rather solid chunk of glass.

A single dark brown hand caught the mug and flung it to the floor smashing it into pieces. The stranger stepped forward crushing pieces into smaller chunks beneath his boots.

“You might want to get that cleaned up before someone with barely a pair of slippers on their feet steps on it. Who knows what kind of diseases can be found on the floor of this… establishment.”

The bartender eyed the stranger incredulously, “Oh yeah, and your going to pay me the extra money I am owed? Besides, these slave brats for the Ravagers need to be toughened up some more. The world is a harsh place, as I’m sure you must know. I need to let loose, burn off some steam. Surely a man is able to do that on his own… establishment?”

“Then maybe you won’t mind trying someone your own size–” and before he was even finished he was up and over the counter; smashing the face of the bartender into the makeshift metal box he called a cash register. The bartender’s nose was mashed flat and started gushing blood everywhere. Before the bartender even had a chance to cry out, the stranger picked him up and threw him over the counter into the seating area of the bar. He picked up the register and hoisted it high above his head. He stepped forward about to bring it down with the entirety of his strength–.

“Zwain?” spoke up a tiny voice from the crowd.

Zwain froze in position, his muscles burning to hold back the weight of the register. He looked in the direction of the voice and saw the two Ravager slaves. A girl with light brown hair and a slightly shorter boy with jet black hair. Their eyes knew him, and as Zwain looked back into their eyes he recognized them. Connie and Lenny, two of the youngest children that his father had encountered in the wasteland. Since they had the greatest number of years separated from all of the other kids, they always played together. Connie was only a couple of years older than Lenny.

Zwain was taken aback. He lept over the bartender and scooped them up in one smooth motion. They hugged him back as tightly as they could.

“Oh my god, I found you! I finally found you! Where have you been, where are the others? Don’t you all worry, I’m here to save you all!”

“Save us?” asked Lenny, “We don’t need saving. We were saved ten years ago when Sir Lexington saved us from that jail of an orphanage.”

“Yeah, ever since then we’ve had food and shelter; we even have little jobs to keep us busy,” said Connie, “Idle hands are the devil’s playthings. That’s what Sir Lexington always tells us. He said that’s why you and Mr. James were so greedy and only kept yourselves busy in the hopes that the devil would see one of us instead and spare your souls.”

Zwain slowly returned them to the floor and looked into their eyes once again. On the surface this was Lenny and Connie, but a look deeper into the eyes suggested that something had changed deep within them. This “Sir” Lexington had brainwashed them into enjoying being slaves for him. Zwain knew he had to free them from that place.

“Is it just the two of you? What about are the others?”

Connie and Lenny took turns telling Zwain what had happened during the years spent with the Ravagers.

“Well, since there is so many us Sir Lexington thought it would prudent to scatter us all over the wastelands.”

” It allows him to get more bang for his buck.”

” A few of us have died here and there but mostly of accidents caused out in the wastelands.”

“Sir Lexington would tell us that Mary died of dysentery–“

“–or that Tim died from a rattlesnake bite.”

” We’ve never even seen a rattlesnake before it’s a shame that Tim died once he got to see one.”

Zwain was fairly certain he had never seen one before either; outside of books in the library.

“The worst loss would have to be that one time we lost Sarah, Peter and Michelle.”

“They tried to ford a river, but didn’t make it to the other side.”

” That was a sad day for us all.” Both Lenny and Connie looked at the floor in sadness at this.

Zwain had no idea where the nearest river was, or how big it could possibly be, but all of this sounded somewhat familiar to him. It reminded him of the library and computers, but he was not sure why. It made whatever “Sir” Lexington’s claims of what happened to these children sound all the more fake. Zwain sighed, hoping they all weren’t as brainwashed as Lenny and Connie. He might have to kill Lexington causing the Ravager group to scatter, so that he can take the kids and repair this mess of a situation.

“Don’t worry, I’ll still save you. I’ll still save all of you.”

“Like we said, Zwain, we don’t need to be saved.”

“Yeah, we already have been. It has been nice talking to you again, though.”

“We hope to bump into you again in the future.”

With that, the two of them turned and exited the bar. Zwain waited a few seconds before following them.

*           *          *

“This time I made sure not to lose their trail. They were so brainwashed that they never even noticed I was tailing them. I guess an unobservant drone would be a happy, more obedient drone,” said Zwain leaning back on the couch. Everyone else was keen on paying attention; their first beers still only half drunk. Duece looked particularly deep in thought.

“So what happened next?” asked Mandy, hoping the day would be saved, but knowing that would probably not be the case.

“I snuck into their camp to try and find where Lexington, this so called “Sir” spent most of his time. These Ravagers had taken over what used to be a University Campus, so it was pretty massive and I was able to find plenty of hiding places. Which was a bonus, because I could fake being a Ravager to the Ravagers, but I wouldn’t have been be able to hide myself from the kids.”

“Was the dude playing The Oregon Trail?” asked Duece, scratching his head at the mere concept of post apocalyptic computer games.

“Indeed. I once played it a couple of times on the computers in the library near the orphanage. Sure as shit, Lexington had a computer in his main room. He would use to come up with excuses for the children he had condemned to death.”

Mandy was horrified, “What a twisted fucker! I hope you killed the asshole.”

Zwain nodded, “He actually came upon me as I searched his desk. I found the notepad containing the names of the children who were killed that week, with a reminder to get gas for the generator so that he could fire up the computer. He actually had Lenny and Connie’s name circled with a question mark. He knowingly sent them to get roughed up and possibly killed by that bartender.”

All three of the listeners shuddered. Tears began the well up in Mandy’s eyes again, both in sadness and anger.

“I was unable to remain silent while killing him, so he alerted the whole camp. And that’s when…”

Zwain took yet another deep breath before continuing.

“That’s when the killing began.”

Previous Chapter                              Next Chapter

Chapter 10

When Mandy and Duece returned to the garage, Tony had already pulled out a couple of lawn chairs for them to sit on. Duece was really puzzled at first and asked, “What’s going on?

“Hey man, Zwain has something he wants to tell us. Take a seat, the both of you”

Both Mandy and Duece sat in the lawn chairs. Tony handed them both beers and took a seat in a third lawn chair beside them. Zwain was left to have the whole couch to himself.

Once everyone was settled in Zwain asked, “Now, you know how I claim to be from the future?”

Mandy and Duece were puzzled. Of course Zwain never tried to hide this fact, not that they fully believed him. Slowly they nodded.

“Do you believe it to be true?”

“Well…” Mandy trailed off, trying not to commit one way or the other. Duece resorted to shifting his eyes around uncomfortably.

“I do,” said Tony catching both of them off guard. “As I told Zwain earlier, his lie is too lame to stick to it as long as he has. So I do believe him, man.”

“Look, even if you don’t. I still need to get this out. You may think it’s all a work of fiction, but to me… it’s fact.”

“Hey, if it’s got you this bummed out, then I’m not going to contradict you, ” said Mandy as she jerked her thumb in Duece’s direction. “But you best watch out for Duece.”

“Hey! I’m mature now. I can watch my tongue,” said Duece acting insulted.

Zwain smiled at the subtle role reversal. “Alright, first let me get you caught up to speed. When I was young and growing up with the wastelands, my father opened up a hostel for weary travelers to stay when they got rejected from other towns and villages. Eventually, he turned that hostel into and orphanage…”

For next couple of hours Zwain explained the hardships of the wastelands. Everything destroyed, no real places to live. Scavenging was a way of life. There was no movies, no cars and no telephones. He talked about adopting the kids that were abandoned by their parents simply because they were too much of a burden. About Chris and and his parents, and how they truly believed what they did was better for themselves.

Tony, Mandy and Duece were struck awe by all this. Zwain grew up in this kind of life and yet, before this day, his attitude was brighter and more cheery than all three of them combined.

It wasn’t all bad. There was books and songs and those passed the time pretty well. Zwain was really fond of reading stories that opened up other worlds to escape into. It made the desolate wasteland seem more like a world of opportunity. Zwain also loved to sing to the children. Tony chuckled and muttered something about lung butter which caused Zwain to point and smile at him.

Zwain explained the type of scavenging he did and how his father developed arthritis and could no longer scavenge for himself. Then Zwain got to the night his father died. Zwain’s voice cracked and tears formed in the rims of his eyes. He tried to keep hold them back In front of all his best friends, but the water flowed down his cheeks like tiny waterfalls. Mandy started crying as well causing her eyeliner to run, colouring her cheeks in a navy blue. Duece reached over and put his arm around her, which she accepted and snuggled as tight to him as she could.

Zwain paused for a second after finishing that part of the tale. He was trying to collect himself before going on.

“Shit dude,” said Duece, “That really fucking sucks man.”

Mandy pulled herself from Duece’s embrace and plopped down on the couch beside Zwain, hugging him tightly. Zwain smiled and leaned into her, wiping away his own tears.

“Thanks, but as hard as that night was, I awoke to a new resolve. To honour my father and all that he attempted to do for the wastelands. I was going to save those kids.”

Tony leaned forward, his curiosity in full bloom. “So then what happened?”

Zwain took a big swig of his beer, “That next morning I followed the footsteps. I walked for the entire day, not ever getting thirsty or hungry; or at least not that I had noticed. The trail held up for the next couple of days but then I came upon some bedrock. No footprints would show. So I made a small camp under a dead pine tree and proceeded to check the entire perimeter of the rocks. I was hoping to pick up the trail once again. After a few more days of searching there was a sudden downpour. I kept up my search for a little while afterwards, but didn’t find any more footprints. The rain must’ve washed them away.”

“I’m confused about this blood you claimed was on your hands, dude,” said Tony, “It seems like you did the only honourable thing you could do by going after those kids like that. Who knows what those–what were they– Ravagers? Who knows what those Ravagers would do to them, man.”

“That’s just the start of it. I did start out with the best of intentions. I searched high and low for those kids. I asked around, but most people weren’t talking about the Ravagers: almost like it was some kind of voodoo. I even bumped into Phillip and Jane. They seemed horrified at what had happened, but I saw a hint of relief on their face knowing that they were alive and avoided the worst. Maybe if they had stuck around they could’ve helped fight off the Ravagers together and saved all the kids. It took every inch of my being to not choke them there. The hardships of the wandering the wasteland was slowly culminating into a hatred for all other people. People too fucking scared to do anything about changing the world. More content in the little world they locked themselves into.”

Mandy pulled back a bit at the growing anger in Zwain’s voice. She didn’t completely let go but the hate seemed to emanate from him like a fire. Duece and Tony looked at each other with concern. Duece turned back to Zwain and said, “Geez, how long did this go on for?”

Zwain took another sip of beer. Then he took a couple of deep breaths. He closed his eyes in meditation to try and calm himself. With his eyes still closed he said, “Just over 10 years. I became a lone wolf. I wandered the wastelands offering help to those that needed it; those that I thought deserved it. I was losing sight of my father’s ideals. This world no longer deserved to be helped like he would have. No. It was my choice to pick those worthy of receiving help…”

Zwain paused and collected himself once again. He looked Tony square in the eyes and said, “Then one early spring it happened…”

“What happened, man?”

Zwain sighed and answered, “That’s when I found them…”

Previous Chapter                              Next Chapter