“Fucking bitch,” Zed muttered under his breath as he pulled his tattered shirt from the dirt and putting it over his head.
Eli ignored the insult. “She wants you to chase her.” He dropped the firewood on the ground and proceeded to start a fire.
“She’s,” Eli paused, scrambling for the right words, “playing.”
“You’re kidding me.”
“She had a complicated childhood. It is nice that she can retain some childlike wonder.”
“But she is not a child.”
“Does that matter? She has been through a lot and now she is happy.” Eli looked in the distance as smiled.
It was clear that Zed wanted the conversation to end but Eli persevered. “So what has a young boy like yourself seen?”
“None of your business.”
Eli chuckled once again, “you know you remind me of someone.”
“Lovely tidbit but I’d prefer that you don’t compare to a pathetic friend of yours in a past life.”
A small snigger came from Eli’s mouth. “Ouch. You’re mean. An old man is just trying to warn you. That pathetic friend did alright. In fact, look for yourself,” he said as he gestured to himself.
Zed observed him, and as much as he did not want to admit it, he was doing alright. His build was thin and slender upon first impressions but the way he had pinned him, Zed realised that he was a lot stronger than he had seemed. He did not look old. But above all, he was alive, alive and happy. A mix that is seldom seen.
“Is this the future I should look forward to?”
“Alright, Zed — if that’s still the name you want to be referred to as — ”
“It’s my name.”
“Sure, ‘Zed’ , if you learn anything from me let it be this: nothing is as simple as it may seem. Remember that when you’re judging people.”
“You and your sister travelling together seems simple enough. What is it? The cliché ‘parents died in front of your very eyes and you devote yourself to avenge them’ but before you can, you realise how royally fucked you are; so you just move, valuing your own life more than anything.”
“If you want me to start from the top then I will.”
“Anything is better than you making me guess.” Zed stretched out his arms before sinking closer to the ground. He looked as if he was waiting for a bedtime story.
Eli cleared his throat. “My parents were killed before my very eyes.”
Zed groaned loudly to a story he expected.
“They were killed years before the war and as a child I lashed out. Became a ‘victim’ of the system. I hated that term but I guess it was true. I had no one in the world. I had nothing. I lived and did anything to feel alive. Drugs, crime, who knows what else. Even when I turned eighteen and was forced out, I continued that life, slept rough and squatted when I was lucky.
“Then the war started and chaos spread. Dead bodies littered the street, the ringing of an explosion. I became intoxicated with havoc, I felt happy. People were suffering the pain I had been suffering for years. I saw this as an opportunity. I could do whatever I really wanted and with absolutely no consequences.”
Zed had no snarky comeback for Eli, the person he was describing did not sound like the person who had been so forgiving of him.“So what did you do? Kill people. Did you shoot a man as he begged for his life, seeing the fear in his eyes but using it as ammo when you pulled the trigger. Watching yourself becoming a killer and not hate it.”
Eli was not shaken by the oddly specific description that Zed had painted for him. “I’m thankful I was never that far gone. I did the same shit I always did. I tripped on acid, got high with the same people but just in a bigger playground. Met some people who only fueled my self-destructive tendencies. I thought I was so hard, I thought I was living how I wanted. I thought that what I did was a big ‘fuck’ you to everyone who did me wrong. These things that were taboo, but I had been doing it so easily. It’s because there was no one left to tell us, no punishment, no crime, no boredom. In reality, we were just teenagers squatting in someone’s house that didn’t care while other people were dying. I didn’t care because in that moment, I was immortal. The feeling of immortality is only heightened when you see more people die. I felt superior.”
“There was an abrupt end to that feeling. One day when we were all tripping, a group of kids our age had bigger plans of saying fuck you. They were the killers you described. They came into our home, our barrier to the shit that was happening outside. They lit it on fire and tried shooting at us from the windows. My best friend Sawyer got shot right in the eye and burst out laughing, all the drugs dulled him out and the hallucinations must have been hilarious. He was enjoying the pain and didn’t even feel his life slip away, not from the first, second or even third bullet. Some people got an idea of what happened and ran. They tried at least, however the fire spread and their alcohol soaked shirts determined their fate. I didn’t flee I just sat there completely unable to move. One friend pulled me out and threw me out the window, he saved my life. We were on the second floor and my landing was not graceful, in fact my leg never recovered properly from that. I urged my friend to jump with me but he smiled and exploded with the house.”
“What was your friend’s name?”
“I wish I could tell you. I must have called him something but my memory of that time is a little bit shaky. The man saved my life and I can’t remember his name. Even if the name he told me was fake, many of us did that. There was a Snake and Blaze in the group but for the life of me I can’t put a name on him.” Guilt was eating away at Eli.
“So you were the only survivor?”
“Me and Sarah. We both survived. She was so fucking crazy. She would occasionally trip out and do some crazy shit but most of the time she was clean. She did these insane things like jumping from bridges, completely in her right mind. She was fearless.” His eyes lit up talking about her, which urged Zed to ask, “you loved her?”
“Completely. I thought if I lived by jumping out of a house on fire then I could survive if she rejected me. I was more taken aback when she actually said she liked me too. We already travelled and lived together for a year and a half. But now it was different. Now we were together.”
“So where does Kanna come into this story?”
“I completely forgot that’s why story time began. You’re awfully interested in her.”Eli probed.
“You haven’t explained why she’s such a bitch.”
“If you want to know, maybe you should ask her directly.”
“I’d rather not endure any more pain from her.”
“She is a feisty one but she isn’t a bad person.” Eli’s carefree attitude had dissipated, he wore a stoic look which did not suit him. “Zed, this is an odd request but if something were to happen, I would like you to take care of Kanna.”
“I can’t promise that. I don’t even expect to see you again after tomorrow.”
“You’re welcome to stay. It is easier to be in groups and I know you’re not a bad kid either.”
“Why don’t we finish the story before I start making lifelong promises?”