Estimated reading time — 12 minutes
“What’s your story?” berated 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.
“What does it matter now?” whimpered the boy. His weakened mind wandered to the thought of his struggles, a long and terrible tale. He couldn’t help but to recall his life before this misadventure, not that terribly long ago, and how greatly even he had changed. Always a skinny fellow, the boy seemed impossibly lean and malnourished, with his shoulders stooped over and a face covered in the grime of mud, dirt, dried blood, and shit. He felt like he was about to pass out from lack of sleep, yet the rocking of the boat never failed to foil his hope of falling asleep and never waking up.
“I’ve been doin’ this for a long time, boy. I’ve found that everyone has a story, no matter how ugly. ‘Specially when they’re in your shoes, tremmblin’ and cryin’. S’you’re gonna die soons boy, you know that, so you got notin’ to lose. Give me a good laugh before the fun,” the boat’s driver snickered through the holes in his rotten teeth as his hand found forgotten food within his teeth. Disgusted and horrified, the boy closed his eyes. If it would shut the man up, he would talk.
“It was, as we were told, the beginning of another cycle around the Sun,” the boy told, “The leaders specifically called it the year 3000. They tried to tell us a century has passed since fire rained from the skies from our enemies. A century since the giant mountains made of steal and glass were inhabited by millions of people. Since it was safe to roam at night. Or something like that, I never payed attention to their superstition,”
“I used to live in what the elders called the ANH of NY. I don’t know what it means, but the in the storytellers spin stories that it was a place of history. They worship the wax creatures and monumental building. It’s all bullshit of course, like most of the superstitious nonsense. Ever heard the one about Dogs having tales? Or how cockroaches used to be the size of bugs and have a craving for human flesh? Bullshit. Anyway, getting back to the story, the social structure of the safe zone was kept like a pyramid. At the top, the Head, our leader, and the elders. Then there are Sweepers, who are the hunters and scavengers. 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.”
“They used to call me Ray. Back in the day, I was respected for my traps. I was able to trick the prey into killing themselves, into tricking the hunter into the hunted. At this, I was a master. One day I even found a Dog, one I was able to befriend and train. I was deadest on becoming a sweep, that is, until it was my turn to kill. I had always been the one leading the animals into traps, having another sweep or my dog kill the beast. However, when it was my turn…. It ended in a bloody mess with one elder and a handful of sweeps dead…. I was demoted to a Rubble. It was an act of grace that I wasn’t executed right there and then.”
The driver burst with laughter at this remark, only to spit up a heavy hairball of mucus and blood.
“My story begins on a cold night after I had just came home from searching the grounds. We had lost three new boys to the rads; a nickname for the monsters. We were already in deep trouble; we shouldn’t have left those boys behind. And the supplies they were carrying. That is when it happened. I was going for a walk with my dog, Hunter, near the town gate trying to get some fresh air when I noticed some Sweeps playing on the gate. I tried to walk by, but it was to no avail. They taunted me, asking how many kills I got today, and threw bottles at me. I tried to run, but I felt a sharp pain on my temple and I collapsed into the mud and bushes near the gate. The last thing I heard was laughter, the sound of someone falling, and mechanical gears. Then it all went dark.”
“I don’t know how long I was asleep for. However, I wish it was longer. When I woke up a horrific sight greeted me. Blood and bodies littered the courtyard, painting the walls and ground a deep shade of red. I couldn’t help the feeling of burning pain in my stomach, and I added my own shades of yellow to the already red ground. The smell, dear god the smell. I have never seen so many dead. Then I heard it. I deep roar coming from within the building, and screaming. Tearing of flesh. A cackle of a howl. Splinters. A pack of splinters, they had found their way in. My greatest fear was coming true! For right in the middle of the dead was a bloodied and battered splinter, looking like any normal oversized dog with two heads. If it wasn’t covered in blood. I knew I had to escape. It was to late for the Creeks, for the Rubbles, even for the splinters. I grabbed the nearest weapon I could find; a small metal rod with barbed wire laced on the top, and ran. I was glad to know Hunter had waited for me outside the gate, and we bolted, never to return home again.”
“I don’t know how long I ran. It was the middle of the night, and the sounds of rads surrounded me. Every here and there I stopped, only to hear the soft skittle of a cockroach, or the slight growl of another splinter. Once I swore I heard a sound coming from a hole in the street, a sound that sounded like a man choking on his own blood. The days passed and I ended on the outskirts of the wasteland. I was attempting to sleep, cuddled up with Hunter’s warm body, when I heard a scuttle noise in the dark. I kept my eyes closed, hoping it would go away. But it got louder. I opened my eyes a little, the curiosity killing me, and what I saw almost had me fait. Ten feet away from Hunter and I was a cockroach, one of the biggest I had ever seen. It was larger then Hunter, its mouth like tendrils dripping with foam and blood. Hunter reacted faster then I did, jumping from the ground and onto the roach. Before I knew what was what there was slimy blood everywhere, and the two of us had something to eat.”
“The smell of blood and food over a warm fire attracted another, a skinny wanderer. The man promised to repay me for some food, which was fine with me. The man was heavily armed and reeked of sweat and blood, and I did not want to offend him in any way. Or piss him off.”
“Well we ate and chatted, turns out the old man is a traveling merchant. Been round to many of the settlements around here. However, there was one place in particular he talked about. His speech went like this:
“… And that’s the settlement of black marsh. Dangerous, seedy, and rat infested. My favorite town to do business!” laughed the the old man, only to start up again with a cough, “However, there is a place that would suit you. It might not be far from here but not even of this same world. I call this place “The Lady!”” I couldn’t help but notice the old man’s gaze harden and glow with the light of the fire. “The Lady is an oasis in this sea of nuclear waste. During the scar of long ago, the storytellers say, it was protected against the raining fire. Life survives on the island, surviving off the Lady’s mighty fire that protects them. Some human life has survived there; suckling the milk from the Lady’s bosom to survive.” It was now I noticed the old man’s gaze turned to one of sadness, even with his wonderful tale. “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 living there are many. None of them have made it.” The old man coughed again.
I couldn’t help but be amazed by the thought of the Lady. “Is there any other way across? Hopefully a way less painful,” I asked the man.
“There is only one way. Some have found mechanisms from long ago, relics from the old ones. I don’t believe in such nonsense, I think they made them. Either way they 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. Her light shines the way. Follow the setting sun and you to can live off the Lady’s milk like a lamb!””
“So that is what you call us, boat runners!” laughed the man, amused at his nickname. He thought of how he should start calling himself that for now on. It was a good name after all.
The boy, irritated by the interruption, started up again, “For two days we traveled until we arrived at a wooden structure stretching out onto the water. Its wood was rotten, creaky, and broken, and attached to it was a machine of the likes I had never seen before. It was brown and green, obviously worn from its long period of use, and cracking. It was magnificent, a magical sight almost enough to make me believe in the religion of the Elders. I guess this was what the old man called a boat runner. I was so stunned by the floating wonder that I didn’t notice a man walked onto the deck of the ship. He was a short and stocky, with small, groggy eyes that seem to follow you, fast hands for picking pockets, stale breath, and wearing an old, dirty white suit. The man snarled and called out to me; “What do you want? Beggars aren’t welcome here,” he sounded like a mad dog waiting for its next meal
“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! I would say we have business, but look at you! What would a pipsqueak like you have to offer me for a ride!” The boat runner laughed, stroking his beard.
“I can give you my weapon,” I said, pulling out my batting stick, still clean and unused.
“You got nothing!” he slapped me with the back of his hand, “Then leave…. unless you’re willing to trade that mutt of yours, little boy!” The captain claimed, hungrily eyeballing Hunter. Why I did what I did next was out of complete fear. The splinters could be heard howling from even at the docks, and night was fast approaching. It was the last time I ever saw Hunter. I traded him away…” Ray broke off into a deep trance of sadness.
“You don’t have much longer, scrub. Hurry up already,” the boat runner of the present said, waking Ray, who sighed at the struggle of speaking.
“The ride was long, the boat couldn’t move that fast. The waves were large and salty, and I got nauseous standing on the deck. The worst part was yet to come, for on the center of the boat was a large glass bottom. At first, 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. I couldn’t help but to think what if I fell in…”
“It took a long while before we made it to the island. At my first glance at The Lady I was brought to tears! It was a giant statue of a woman! The boat runner, unfazed and uncaring of my stature, dropped me off at another wooden structure, 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 remained from the world I had just departed from was an old sign. It was yellow from age, but its large white letters were still legible. It read “Welcome to the Statue of Liberty.” What a weird sign. Yet I continued onward, to amazed by the green and false sense of safety. I wandered the island as yet even more 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, one of those that don’t have a hood. I turned towards 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, sweat, and vomit. I was afraid. So terribly afraid. I wished Hunter was there to save me… but I sacrificed him one last time to save myself.. “Don’t think,” I told myself, “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 again, 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 this time. Besides, I like to watch those girly screamers get their guts ripped out,”
“Look, hese fine. Get up kid, we got a surprise for you,” one of the men chuckled. I was grabbed and pulled onto my feet, wherever they were. I was still too dizzy to determine if I was dead or alive. Slowly my vision came back, and in focus was a man. He was smaller than the first robbed figure, with white skin and brown hair. He had a facial expression that made him look like he was constantly snarling. Maybe because he was. 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 named this man Spittle.”
“Spittle dragged me into a large room full of windows. The other man followed us in here also, and he began to stare out of one of the windows. After a deep breath the darker-skinned guy turned toward me and dismissed Spittle.
“I am the almighty, the leader of the crowned lands. Explain why you are here,” The robed man 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? A pathetic, skinny, weakling such as yourself? 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. Yet you don’t even know what this is do you?” The almighty laughed. “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 peered past his shoulder, and saw what he was pointing at. It was another island, not far from here where a castle lies, surrounded by a fence. It was the opposite of this island, being run down, yellow, and dead. There was subtle 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.” The almighty began licking his lips, and the two guards in the back of the room, who I haven’t noticed until now, began to advance towards me. “Harry did send a fat man here the other day. We are still feasting on his nice, delicious belly. How bout we have a little fun!” The almighty walked towards a window and slid it open. : We have enough food, he shall be Elistement!” His announcement brought a cheer from below, and I was dragged away. By nightfall I was brought onto a slow boat, where I was asked by an ugly old boat runner to tell my story.”
“That’s it! That’s your story! I’ve heard better stories by old men! I can’t wait to see you get ripped to shreds! I already bet 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 where Spittle walked up to him, and, with a twisted laugh, and his usual sneer, brought him to the giant door. With a booming voice he yelled,
“And in this corner is, um, this kid!” a few sarcastic cheers could be heard, “Probably a hundred pounds of tender meat ready to be ripped apart,” this time, a loud chorus of cheers could be heard. “In the other corner, the mysterious Night Stalkers!”
The crowd boomed at this announcement, for the death sentence of Ray. And with a screech, the creatures inside of the building begged for their food. Six men with lights walked up to the doors, and with a loud rattle 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 dead 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 see what was coming, as if it was always planned this way. He used to be the trapper, now he was the defenseless prey. He had finally been trapped in a deliberate and thoughtful mechanism with no way out. His brain screamed at him to stop, told him to remember 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. But could he even use it? Without Hunter would he be defenseless? Those beasts inside could tear him limb for limb, can he fight back? “Just don’t think, everything will be ok if I don’t think.” He whispered as he walked into the darkness as the doors shut and the lights went out. The crowd cheered even louder.
Credit To – Sobellium69