At World’s End: Chapter 1

A man stood over the tall sand dunes, famished and dripping with sweat from his trek. Not even the light clothing could help as the unforgiving sun beat down on him. He travelled with only the tattered clothes on his back and the bag slung over his shoulder. In addition to this, a younger woman who was running circles around him.
The strange thing about this pair was not that they were travelling in a pair, nor was it the odd age gap. It was that — despite the fact that they were exhausted, lacked food and were dehydrated — they still smiled.
“Eli,” the small girl laughed. “We’re here.”
He tousled her hair, “we did it, kid.”
They looked at the divide of the desert to a forest area. The girl could not conceal her smile and she enthusiastically said, “we can make it today if we hurry. Let’s hurry.”
The girl carried a smaller bag, not knowing the burden Eli’s body from carrying most of their things, he had always insisted that he was fine. Only recently did she become pushy enough to carry a larger share.
He tried to match her enthusiasm by teasing her. “You’re eighteen now, Kanna, but you still run around like a kid.”
Her argumentative spirit dampened when she looked upon his expression. He was exhausted, breathing heavy, it was clear even to Kanna who looked up to Eli as an unwavering invisible presence — that the toll of travelling had caught up with him.
“You’re a dumbass.” She rolled her eyes. “Like you said I’m 18 and I can carry my share.” She smiled as she took their things from him and draped his arm around her shoulders.
As they walked, Eli could not subdue a chuckle. “I did this for you not long ago.”
“And how fast they grow,” she mocked, knowing that is what he would comment.
They walked at a slower pace than before, to a home past the desert, where the land would provide them the necessary resources. The quiet lifestyle they had craved was now in their grasp. A small river was not far and the only other people much further away. They had completed their journey and all that was left was to set up camp. They wandered into the forest, as trees surrounded them making the months of travelling seem so far. A tranquillity they had never felt took over them.
The summer was not kind during the day but gave them the long days they needed but the night was before them. Kanna quickly unpacked a sleeping bag for her brother and set him down on it. “Now, rest.”
“Kanna,” he sat up, “thank you.”
“All I did was support you for a few minutes. You’ve been supporting me everyday for 11 years.”
“It’s not just that. You’ve done more for me than you could ever know.”
“Don’t get sentimental on me, Bro. You and Reya have done too much for me.” She looked to her feet, it has been a while since she said her name out loud. Reya.
He scoffed, “that crazy girl. I don’t think about her everyday or anything.” He glanced down at his wedding ring and muttered, “Fuck, I miss her.”
“She was the best big sister ever.” Kanna looked at Eli, they both were on the brink of tears. He never cried in front of her and never wanted her to see him cry, therefore this formed an unhealthy habit of Kanna leaving whenever it seemed he would cry.
She excused herself when she saw a rabbit and chased it into the shroud of night.
Whilst in the campsite, Eli lay with his back on the sleeping bag. Tears fell from his eyes as he covered them with his arms. In the darkness, he could only picture his late wife’s face. Not much time passed since Kanna left but he heard footsteps approach him.
He wiped at his eyes with his sleeve. “Kid, aren’t you meant to be going for a walk?” he called out.
A large silhouette walked toward him. A man who was well built with short hair approached him. “Sorry, I’m not a kid.”
Eli sat unfazed, he blinked at the stranger as he shifted toward his belongings and clutched an object from his bag. “Then, who might you be little boy?” He asked, knowing that would agitate him.
“I’m not little,” he said in a low tone. The man was muscular man and much larger, however there was no doubt that he was younger.
“Okay, boy. My name is Eli.” The tone was used clearly to belittle him.
“Old man Eli.”
As Eli leaned in for a handshake, the man lunged at him. Eli dodged the man, using the larger man’s weight against him as his balance was slightly off, he pushed him to the ground emitting a tremendous crash. He held a knife at the intruders neck. “You’re still a kid.”
The intruder’s eyes did not change as he continued his hostile glare. “So, little boy, what’s your name?”
There was only silence, leading Eli to speak again. “You can tell me your name or I will call you boy. And we both know how much you enjoy that.”
Finally, he hesitantly replied, “Zed”.
“That’s an interesting name.”
Eli released him from his grip. “You’re not going to kill me?”
“Nah, I like a challenge.” Eli extended his hand again, Zed took it this time as he got up.
“Don’t screw with me.”
“You can either leave, but if you’re gonna stay then you gotta fetch me dinner.”
“You really don’t think I’ll try to kill you?”
“You might but as it stands, that will be too predictable and you don’t come off as a predictable guy. More of a loose cannon.”
Zed was used to his arrival making people feel uneasy, in fact, he thrived off this. However, Eli had made him nervous. Zed’s strong fight instinct screamed at him to try again.
“Feel free to try again,” Eli said, almost reading his mind. “It’s been a while since I’ve been in a good scrap.”
Zed shuffled on the spot. “We’re in the middle of a war, it is eat or be eaten.”
“Ah, yes. The apparent war. I highly doubt it even existed. Let alone has gone on for this many years.”
“What kind of conspiracy bullshit are you spouting? Of course, there’s a war, look around. The world’s population has plummeted, people are being killed or becoming killers.”
“There’s a difference between war and what we’re going through, boy. We have all suffered but you can’t remain ignorant.”
“If it isn’t a war, then what is it?” Zed’s tone changed, his anger dissipated as his curiosity spiked.
“It’s the end.”
“You’re gonna have to be more specific than that.”
“Well, you were born in this state of affairs so I can’t expect you to know of a time before. But before, we weren’t much better. There were too many people with too many different opinions. Too many opposing teams, which did result in actual wars. Greed fuelled and funded these conflicts. We survived as a species for over 2000 years with plenty of resources and now if you look around — poof — nothing.”
“What happened to everything?”
“Taking what you think you can, pillaging the land and destroying it. Along with whoever gets in the way. But like I said before it stemmed from greed. A sense of entitlement. The need for power.”
“So a corrupt system?”
“Ding, ding. You got it. If you want to cut a short story down. Then think of this as a very extreme survival of the fittest.”
“Survival of the fittest implies some sort of advancement. That isn’t happening, the survivors are broken. The people left are either completely dominated by fear or strike fear into others. Some people kill for sport now.” He paused, his hands clenched, fingernails digging into his palm.
Eli edged closer to him, his instincts as a big brother was to comfort him but stopped when Zed asked: “is that evolution?”
“No, it’s not. It is the opposite. As humans, we pride ourselves on not being animals. Segregating ourselves from them but when the time, we went back to our primal instincts mixed with a thirst for power. Living in communities gave us humanity so when those collapsed and people broke off, we lost that as well.”
“You’re gonna get yourself killed one day for saying things like that.”
“That is too noble a death for a man like me.”
Zed examined him. The friendly attitude, weaker stature combined with proud atmosphere, Eli was not like many others he had met before. “A man like you can’t possibly be travelling alone.”
“Ah, sharp and a smart mouth. Those would be the things that kill you.”
“I’m not going to die.”
“A man that thinks he’s a god. This is priceless.” Eli laughed.
He finally looked at the younger man’s face and realised it wasn’t a joke.
“I died a long time ago and they need me.”
Eli knew that the Zed’s heart was still beating and the certainty in his voice shook Eli. This was the first time that this strange man was sincere.

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