“So tell me your story,” asked the man. It was dark, and the boy couldn’t see the man’s face, yet he could still tell it had a twisted smirk on it.
“My story? Why would you want to know my story? I’m sorry, but I don’t have a knack for romance,” answered the boy. He thought of his struggles, a long and terrible tale. He thought back to his life before the adventure, not that long ago, and how much had changed. He was much leaner now, with his shoulders stooped over and a face covered in mud and dirt. His thoughts were interrupted by the bouncing of the boat.
“Everyone has a story. You’re gonna die soon, so you got notin’ to lose. Come clean so you can die in peace,” the boat’s driver snickered through the holes in his rotten teeth. So, with a sparkle in his eyes, the boy recalls his story of adventure.
“It was the start of the year,” the boy told, “the year 3000. Not that it matters anymore, not since the war a century ago.” The boy was talking about the war, as was its name, which devastated all life on the planet. This war was no other than a nuclear war. “I used to live in the NYC safe zone. It is located in what the storytellers say was a place of history. Some natural museum I think they called it. Truthfully, I don’t get the point of keeping the past. It’s a waste of time in my thoughts. Getting back to the story, the social structure of the safe zone was kept like a pyramid. At the top was the Head, our leader. Then there are Sweepers, who are hunters and scavengers. They are the second most respected group. Then there are Creeks, those who don’t leave the safe zone. They cook, clean, and tell stories. At the bottom of the group there are Rubbles. The Rubble group searched the streets for rubble that can be used, since they can’t do anything else.”
“My name is Ray. I was a Rubble, a poorly respected one at that. I grew up in a poor family in the storage area. We had to hunt to find food. I was a master at this, applying techniques to lure food into traps. No one had ever seen logic being used like that. Along the way I earned a dog, a high honor in our system. I was told that I had a promising career ahead of me as a Sweep. The only problem is that when it came to one on one I became very cowardly. After messing up on an important hunt that ended in disaster, I was demoted to a Rubble. If only I had the guts to fight, maybe I wouldn’t be here.”
“What does being cowardly have to do with your imminent death?” exclaimed the driver of the boat.
“It got me kicked out. My story begins on a cold night. I had just come home from searching the grounds. We had lost three new boys to the rads; you know the mutated monsters that search the earth for food. We were already in trouble; we shouldn’t have left those boys behind. That is when it happened. I was going for a walk with my dog, Hunter, near the gate trying to get some fresh air. I noticed some Sweeps playing on the gate. They noticed me and threw bottles at me. I ran, but one hit me and I fell. They laughed, and I noticed that they had some type of drink with them. They had found an old case of alcohol and were drunk. I didn’t want to be involved; I was already in enough trouble as it was.”
“You got kicked out because of a little beer?” the driver laughed.
“No. The Sweeps were so drunk that before I could leave they accidently opened the gate. It just so happened that a pack of Splinters were hunting right outside.”
“You mean those two headed wolf things that hunt in packs?” asked the man.
“Yes. They charged in, and dragged the Sweeps out while more headed in to attack the rest of us. I hid. I knew I should have helped, but I was too scared. They brought back memories from the hunt. I was frozen in fear, all I could remember were the screams, the sting of their teeth, and the hot blood of my friends! I couldn’t take facing those creatures again; so I stayed in a hiding spot near right next to the gate. Time passed, and the gates were closed. I came out of my hiding spot to see the destruction. Half of the Creeks were dead, a quarter of the Rubbles were dead, a few Sweeps, and a couple of the retired elders. The Head saw me appear. He blamed me for the destruction, saying I opened the gates. I protested, claiming it were those Sweeps. But they were gone, and I was there. The punishment for the death of that many people should have had me join their graves, but I didn’t have any blood on my hands. Instead, I was thrown out of the safe zone. I was given a batting stick, which is just a stick with some metal spikes on top, and was allowed to take my dog Hunter with me. They said he was tainted from spending so much time with me to a point where even his meat would taste bad. I walked out of the door, and the gates closed, never to open for me again.”
“We walked for days. I didn’t know where to go. We hid at nights from the Splinters, ran and battered the giant roches’ during the day…”
“What are roches’?” the man asked, confused at Ray’s slang.
“The giant cockroaches that hide under the dirt and pull you under if you get to close. Back to the story, Hunter and I were near exhaustion, not having eaten or slept in days. That is when we came by an old wanderer. He invited us in and fed us, no questions asked. All he wanted to know was where I was heading. I told him that I wasn’t sure and asked if he knew any good places. His story went a little like this;
“I do know of a safe place,” told the old man, “It is not far from here but not even of the same world. I call this place “The Lady!”” The old man’s gaze hardened and seemed to glow with the light of the fire. “The Lady is an oasis in this sea of nuclear waste. During the war of long ago, the storytellers say, it was protected against the bombs. Life survives on the island, surviving off the Lady’s mighty fire that protects them. Some human life has survived there; living off the Lady like a child would with its mother!” Now the old man’s gaze turned to one of sadness. “This area is an island off the coast of the city. Many good men have tried to swim across the treacherous water, but the creatures mutated there are many. None of them made it.”
“Is there any other way across? Hopefully a way less painful,” I had asked the man.
“There is only one way. Some have found machines from the old that can carry you across the bay to the island safely. They require a fee, and I call them boat runners,” the old man pointed in the direction of the wind as he yelled with a booming voice, “Go to the Lady. It is several days travel that way!”
“So that is what you call us, boat runners!” laughed the man, who was amused at the nickname. He thought of how he should start calling himself that. It was a good name.
“That is what you are. For two days we traveled. For food, Hunter, well, hunted. Going off track, I once found a model of a dog in the Museum. They were so big and clunky! It was white and grey, unlike the brown skinned dogs that are around now. It also had feathers, like birds! They were small and hair like, but covered their whole body. Its legs were so long, and its feet were round and not curved. Its nails were also very small and dull. The weirdest thing was its tail! It was long and slender, like a short rope! I wonder why they had them, since the bushy hair tail that it has now is so much more effective. They can communicate with it!”
“Who cares, back to the story! You don’t got much longer,” the boat runner said annoyed with the history lesson.
“Fine, where was I? After two days of traveling we arrived at on old dock. Its wood was rotten, creaky, and broken, but the boat attached to it looked even worse. It was brown and green, obviously worn from its long period of use, and, overall all was a sad vessel. It wasn’t the only one I had seen, for there were models in the museum. I was disappointed. Then, a man walked onto the deck of the ship. He was a short man, with small, groggy eyes that seem to follow you, fast hands for picking pockets, stale breath, and wearing an old, dirty white captain’s suit. He walked over to me and asked; “What do you want? Beggars aren’t welcome here,” he said with a snarl that made my heart stop.
“I want a ride to The Lady,” I replied, Hunter’s stumpy tail wagging as I said “Lady.”
“You want a ride to The Lady? Well, then we have business to conduct. What do you have to offer me for a ride?” The boat runner asked, stroking his beard. I had forgotten about the payment, and my heart started to pound.
“Um, ah, can you give me a free ride? For a kid?” I replied stuttering.
“You got nothing!” he slapped me with the back of his hand, “Then leave unless you are willing to trade that mutt of yours!” I still can’t believe what I did next. I was so scared of not being able to make it to The Lady that I traded Hunter! The captain, with a mighty laugh, brought him below deck. I had traded my loyal dog who had help to keep me alive by feeding me! By protecting me! After all we had been through, I gave him away…” Ray broke off into a deep trance of sadness.
“Continue,” the boat runner of the present said, waking Ray.
“Sure. The ride was long, the boat couldn’t move that fast. The waves were large and salty, and I got nauseous standing on the bow. I walked to the middle of the boat, where there was a large glass bottom. I was mesmerized. Magnificent creatures were swimming under the boat. They were in every color, in every shape and size. Some had long arm like tentacles, some had large dishes, and some had teeth the size of my head. All in all, I was glad I didn’t swim.”
“It didn’t take long before we made it to the island. At my first glance at The Lady I was amazed! It was a giant statue! The boat runner dropped me off at a dock, but it wasn’t like the one I had encountered earlier. It was obviously well kept after, with the wood looking like a newly cut brown and the nails being silver and shiny. This was the first un-rusted metal I had ever seen. The only thing that reminded me of the world I had just departed from was an old sign. It was yellow from radiation, but its large white letters were still legible. It read “Welcome to the Statue of Liberty.” What a funny thing the old world must have been, building giant statues for no reason, keeping track of history, building huge cities of shiny metal only to destroy along with the lives of the unborn, and protecting small unimportant statues instead of the cities. I was too happy to focus on that then. I walked forward, off the dock and onto a stone path that still looked new! I didn’t care much about the path; in fact, I left it. I walked onto the grass! Grass! I didn’t know there was any of it left; only seeing it in old exhibits or hearing about it in stories. There were trees, a small forest even, with green leaves. Some were even turning colors. I walked over to the pier. There was no railing, but I didn’t care. The massive creatures that were swimming in the water were not on my mind. I was looking at the city. It was beautiful, with its tall, smashed buildings and brown, heavy air. The sky around the city was yellowish, and the land mirrored what was above. The waves were green and blue, with yellow foam splashing from it. Every now and then a black fin would rise above the surface, only to sink below the waves once more. That is when I noticed the fin. A fin surfaced above the water, and swam straight toward me! It jumped above the water, a thing that reminded me of a small green shark with long sharp teeth that pointed outward from its mouth. I was frozen with fear, and right before it hit me it bounced off the air! A bluish disturbance was made, creating an effect that looked like a puddle. The creature swam away, but I was looking up. The sky was blue, just like the ripple. That must have been how the Statue was protected, and invisible shield, a force field, if you will. That is also why the statue hasn’t been contaminated with radiation over the years. Tears came to my eyes, but before I could do anything I noticed someone walking over to me. He was tall, well built, with dark hair that seemed to match his dark skin. He wore a robe, those that didn’t have a hood. I headed over to him, but before I could say a word a strong hand covered my mouth. Two more grabbed my arms, and aggressively pulled me into a dark bag.”
“The bag smelled like guts, and I was afraid. I started to remember the stories of cannibal men who prey upon helpless travelers. I was so afraid. “Don’t think,” I thought, “That will only make things worse. Don’t think!” The bag was soon held upside down and I fell on my head. Everything was fuzzy, but I was able to make out a few lines. They said;
“Don’t kill him, he could be entertainment!”
“Entertainment! I’m hungry. Besides, look how tender he is,” a heavy boot hit my side, I screamed.
“The Night Stalkers like tender. They will feed slowly. Besides, I like to watch those who scream get killed,”
“Look, he is fine. Get up kid, we got a surprise for you,” the man chuckled. I was grabbed and pulled up. I was able to see the man now. He was smaller than the other man, with white skin and brown hair. He had a facial expression that made him look like he was constantly snarling. His eyes looked like he was looking at a fine cooked Splinter, all his for the taking. When he talked spit foamed in the corners of his mouth. I call this man Spittle.”
“Spittle dragged me into a large room. There were plenty of windows, and I could see all over the city from here. The guy with the robe guy was in here to, and he was staring out of one of the windows. I think we were in the crown, for I could see the book the statue held. There was something carved on the book, but was illegible for someone had written the year 2900 over it. The year of the war. The darker-skinned guy turned toward me and dismissed Spittle. He walked over to me and tells me:
“I am the almighty, the leader of the crowned lands. Explain why you are here,” The almighty said, with a voice that sounded like it was being yelled from the heavens.
“I am Ray. I’m here, to, uh, um, I lost the word…” I stuttered.
“You came here to settle. Well, we aren’t here to take on the unfit. We, as the predecessor of the Unites States of America, will only take the fit. We still need food, so maybe you could be the perfect candidate,” the almighty circled around me. Then he walked over to the window. “Or, you could venture into there.” I walked over to him, and saw what he was pointing at. It was another island, not far from here. A castle lies there, surrounded by a fence. It was the opposite of the Statue, being run down, yellow, and dead. There was movement in the dark windows, to slight to see. “That is the island of Elis, or what we call “Elistement.” We send who we don’t eat or initiate into the building; if they survive to dawn they are one of us, or they are Night Stalker food, the creatures that reside in that building. It is fun to watch people get ripped apart. We have enough food, you shall be Elistement!” His announcement brought a cheer from below, and I was dragged away. By night fall I was brought onto a slow boat, where I was asked by a boat runner to tell my story. And here I am.”
“That’s it! I’ve heard better stories by old men! I can’t wait to see you get ripped to shreds! I am betting a leg that you die,” the boat runner greedily said, his eyes glowing in hunger.
The boat slowed to a stop, and Ray stepped onto the island. The boat runner was right, he now has no regrets. Spittle walked up to him, and, with a twisted laugh, brought him to the giant door. With a booming voice he yelled,
“And in this corner is, um, this kid!” cheers could be heard, “Probably a hundred pounds of tender meat ready to be ripped apart,” even more cheers could be heard. “In the other corner, the mysterious Night Stalkers!”
The crowd cheered for Ray’s death. And with a screech, the creatures inside of the building sounded as if they were cheering for their food. Six men with lights walked up to the doors, and with a boom six more opened it. Ray looked into the darkness of the building, and, with no regrets, thought about his misadventure. He missed his family, Hunter, and his home but had no reason to think about that now. That could come later, if there was one. With one step after another he walked forward, his boots making a crunching sound on the sand below. He remembered how he hid from the Splinters, and how those things would seem like pillows compared to the beasts inside. Still, he did not run. He was no longer scared but happy to take what was coming, as if it was always planned this way. He used to be the trapper, now he was the defenseless prey. He remembered how some of the animals had escaped, so maybe he could slip out of this trap. After all, he still had his batting stick hidden under his shirt. He walked into the darkness as the doors shut and the lights went out. The crowd cheered even more.
Credit To – Sobellium69