HARD

CHAPTER 18

Kim awoke abruptly, her bladder about to burst, her eyes tired, her head in swinging pyrexia. She walked away from the pyre and the others to relieve herself by the bush. It had been burning for days.

‘Damn it,’ she winced through a tough squeeze. ‘Which one gave me this?’ It smelled funky and she swore she killed the shrub she sprayed on.

Limping back to the campsite, she noticed Kira awake, just looking into the flames, somewhat meditative and distraught.

‘That’s not a good face you’re making,’

‘Just thoughts, you know,’

‘Yeah I know,’ she spat a thick load to the ground.

Kira passed her a tumbler to hydrate. ‘How’s the fever?’ she asked.

‘Better with some of the shit we took from Golgotha. Good thing you’re a doctor huh?’

‘I’m not that kind of doctor. Never mind,’ Kira preferred to keep that conversation for another day.

Kim gnarled trying to sit. ‘Look at her,’ as they passed their glances to Rayna.

‘What about?’ Kira asked.

‘She so… peaceful…’

‘She has no one, that’s why,’ Kira reached her hand to her breast pocket and fiddled with it, dissuading herself not to remove the picture of her daughter.

‘She has you,’ Kim replied taking another gulp before handing the flask back.

‘Why do you that? Why can’t you accept her?’ Kira asked perplexed. ‘You see that she is a good person,’

‘She burned hundreds of men alive. Hardly something I call “good”,

‘She had her reasons,’

‘Wow, Madam Okeke is a fan of genocide. Colour me impressed,’ Kim chuckled.

‘I’m surprised you know that word. Speaking of, it’s not that I’m a fan. Just, it has a close relationship with human history, undeniably. Genocide doesn’t just kill people, you know, it kills ideas. Good ideas AND bad,’

‘So, what she did, it was… good?’

‘As I said,’ Kira stared back at Rayna, watching her torso move in highs and lows of her deep slumber, ‘she had her reasons.’

***

Morning came, the girls were up, and Rayna was gone.

‘Where?’ Kim hastily judged only to see Rayna return with rodents on back, dead, skinned and waiting to be in a pot. Kira noticed she was salivating, heavily. Kim excused herself to pee again.

‘Breakfast girls?’ Rayna smiled.

‘Yes, please. You are the best at this,’ Kira returned her warmth.

Kim went back to the shrubs from the night before just to see if they still haven’t withered yet. ‘Wow, still standing. Ready for round two?’ she started to strip off her shorts and squat.

Just then she heard a rustle and sprang back up. She zipped and went straight for her knife in her belt. She peered around and up into the scanty branches of the tall trees that lay.

She blew a whistle, taunting her predator. ‘You like to watch, you pervert? No show is free,’ her eyes still meticulously scouring.

Kim felt a gust of wind from her back pressing on her. She flipped her torso and caught a glimpse of her assailant, ready to pounce, dressed in loose black, his face masked by loose cloth. She held strong her grip of her weapon and with one swift swipe and in a graceful turn, the assailant was on the ground ahead of her, face buried deep in the shrub and moist dirt drenched from the night before.

Kim noticed her blade had not tasted blood. ‘Stand up.’ She stood before him, guarded with her knife pointed at him.

Slowly the assailant got to his feet and removed his cloth mask to reveal his face. He had a scar of a ‘V’ from eyelash to chin to eyelash. ‘I’m not sure I have heard of you,’ Kim sounded.

‘You are trespassing,’ he exclaimed.

‘And you are a pervert.’

A gun cocked, with a resounding echo. From the west came Rayna, pointing the barrel of Kim’s shotgun at the stranger. ‘What do you want?’

‘I have this under control, Rayna,’ Kim stood her ground, firm, unshaken.

The stranger chuckled. ‘Amateurs, I see.’

Another gun cocked, and a Kira rose from behind the shrub.

‘Oooo,’ Kim grimaced. ‘Not that shrub.’

‘Fine,’ the stranger raised his arms. ‘But heed my warning, leave the lands. Go back South to where you came. We don’t welcome Lucas’s folk down here,’

Kim sneered and then started smiling. ‘The fort is dead, Lucas is probably too,’

The stranger’s face changed, his glare shaken. He started piecing things together, the fires, the stampede of horses, along with the many displaced critters rushing into their lands. He started to believe them.

‘The rumours are true then, of the angel from hell,’

‘Yes,’ Rayna whispered but loud and clear.

He slowly lowered his hands. ‘Watch it,’ Kira aimed her rifle, her hands steady. Kim was impressed at how much her friend had improved. Slowly, he slipped his fingers into his sleeves and took out something; a piece of odd coin. He was cautious and feeling a sense of trust, he respectfully threw the coin a distance away from him onto the ground.

Kim watched the coin shimmer in the glare of the sun. She knew what that meant. ‘Now I know who you are,’

‘Good, I guess you can lower your weapons then.’

Kim signalled at the others, who were now confused at her order but obeyed as soon as Kim replaced her own knife. Kim then proceeded to reach her hand out as their shook forearms. ‘Show us the way, pervert,’

‘I am known as Reike,’ dismissive of the nickname, he was still grateful that they spared his life.

‘I am Kim,’

‘I am Kira,’

‘I am Rayna,’

‘You are the whore that survived,’ Reike stared at her, admiring her looks. Wondering if she was the legend he had heard of. She fit the description perfectly but her face only emanated innocence, not the terrifying image he had imagined.

‘Well, she comes expensive, so don’t get any ideas, alright?’ Kim patted his shoulder and they shared a quick chuckle between them. Kira and Rayna exchanged looks equally puzzled by the whole interaction and how things just abruptly changed.

**

Reike was given a share of their meal, a rodent of his own to feast on. Kira and Rayna were obviously reluctant at first, but they gave Kim the benefit of the doubt nonetheless. She always had an angle.

He was grateful and decided to secure them a path North.

Kira decided for a small little council in the truck space, which they had now covered with sheets to a makeshift tent.

‘See, that’s how we make friends,’ Kim boasted. ‘Now we have safe passage.’

‘What’s with the coin?’ Kira asked directly. She noticed her friend’s attitude suddenly shift with great heft. The girl didn’t want to talk about this, but Kira insisted on an explanation.

‘Let’s just say these folks have a currency of sorts. These coins represent who they are, like an organization.’

‘Like a mob? Gangsters? Assassins?’

‘Yes, one of those,’

‘And you have been associated with them before I’m guessing,’ Kira pressed on, ‘look, I know you don’t like talking about your past but,’

‘Well,’ Kim raised her hands and exhibited her dorsum, she emphasized her gaze on the nails of sharp curved metal digging into her bones.

‘That’s from them,’ Kira’s eye opened to the revelation before her.

Kim gave a simple nod.

Kira was clever to connect the dots, ‘You traded your coin,’

‘For something better,’ Kira moved to leave. ‘for something better,’ reemphasizing, telling it to herself more than to her friend.

Outside, Rayna rested on the ground feeling the grass on her back. It was saddening to her that they will have to leave the forests and go back to the desserts and canyons. She wanted to savour every second of the cold ground and the warm blessings of the sun peeking through leaves, comforted by their sounds and blanketing of the air in between.

‘I know the feeling,’ a disturbance by the stranger whom she now realized was sitting quite approximate to her. Rayna withdrew a slight, wary.

‘No, please don’t be,’

‘You would be smart to keep away,’

‘I have only respect for you,’

‘We can still lust on those we respect,’

He smiled. ‘As much as your friend would have you believe, I am more a lover of… men,’

Rayna instantly got up to sit. She crossed her legs and dragged herself closer to him. She noticed his stare didn’t flicker toward the space between her breast or thighs. That’s how she knew he was telling the truth.

‘What is that like?’ she asked inquisitively.

‘Men?’ shocked by the question. ‘Well, I suppose it would be the same. How is a woman?’

‘Warm,’

‘So is a man,’

Rayna had too many questions popping up in her brain. She remembered her poor departed Karin spoke of such folk once, and they never came to a brothel, not the kinds she worked in at least.

She chose her question after much thought, and as predicted, it was the most obvious one. ‘Which hole do you…’

Kim blew a whistle and signalled, interrupting the rather quaint exchange. It was time for them to leave. ‘Exactly the hole you are thinking of,’ Reike whispered at her ear, not to leave her unsatisfied with doubt. Rayna’s eyes went wider than usual. There were only more questions just flooding her thoughts.

‘What’s the matter with you?’ Kim asked the girl, her face stunned as if she had seen a ghost. Reike was amused. He gestured his finger to his lips, ushering her to keep it quiet, as though it was their little secret. Rayna smiled in return.

Kim watched the two. ‘I don’t like this.’ She remarked while taking her bag and flinging it to the back of her truck.

‘I have a bike parked away from here. Take me to it, then follow,’

‘You have my word, pervert,’ Kim gestured.

Rayna burst a small giggle before quickly containing it. Kim glared at her again. ‘I really don’t’ like this,’ she muttered to herself.

**

Reike’s bike was a heavy machine, low and brazen, the type Kim found sexy, a machine to rival her own. ‘I wonder how she’s doing?’ thinking back to her car still in the woods far away, hoping nobody has done anything to it yet. She begged for a day to head back to it but Kira and she both realised that moving forward would be best for now.

Rayna headed downhill to the river streams to say one last goodbye to their horses, especially her own. She hoped to see him again, someday soon.

Reike helped fuel the four-by-four with gasoline and the bunch of them were packed and ready to leave.

As one journey ended, another begun. The lands changed quickly in their trail, lush forests and streams suddenly morphed back to moribund soil, in the crack of the heat, scorching the very air they breathed, fuming through their lungs.

Their faces covered with wet towels and masks, the sun still burning whatever skin barren, they drove steady, with little to no exchange. Just two drivers, 2 passengers, and the barren silence of the wasteland.

**

Reike had reached a small settlement, a shantytown of nomadic folk.

Kira shook when she saw the people. They reminded her of the cannibals, the clothing, the dirt, the scars, mangled limbs and those disease-riddled faces. These folk looked the same way but they spoke, walked and behaved civilised.

‘Kim.’ She struggled to get her voice out. ‘These people,’

‘Yes,’ Kim answered. ‘Cannibals.

‘But they are so… normal…’

‘If we let them be, they will let us be,’ Reike replied. ‘I’m surprised this is new to you. You don’t have them from where you come from?’ he was having troubles connecting with Kira. Just something about her seemed very odd and it didn’t rub well with him. Kira was clever in avoiding him but he knew he was slowly getting under her skin, and it was only time that delayed her eventual spilling of the truth.

‘Very well,’ Reike returned his glance to the horde. He started to ride forward into the town.

‘WHAT? We’re going in there?’ Kira shouted closing her lips abruptly. ‘Relax,’ Kim tried to reassure her friend.

The bike pushed forward leading the way, through a middle lane, sandwiched by the bustling marketplace. They moved slow, while the horde reluctantly gave passage. When they couldn’t move they respectfully stopped

Kira held her breath, her heart pounding, her eyes watching back in guilt at all the eyes looking back at her. Kira peered too long at one little girl who had her neck tilted back just fixated on her. Her little chest was indrawn, her stomach caved in, at her bones were mapped out underneath her skin. She had not eaten in days and it was obvious.

Kira had horrid flashbacks to the time she was alone with a whole lot of them, rushing at her with their nails and teeth, and the things she did to them, all of them, just to survive another day.

A multitude seemed to concentrate at a corner. There was bustling, erratic movement, then more of them attacked the corner and started ripping apart something. In the rear-view mirror Kira saw them gnawing and teething bone, likely another member of their own, probably someone frail, someone wounded, someone sick enough to devour. They too had a code on what they could and couldn’t eat. ‘Oh God, they are just people. What did I do?’ Kira panicked, stunned, hating on herself.

Rayna who sat in the back, under the cover of sheets for a roof, too stared at them. They were hungry, and she remembered a time she was that hungry too, just that she never reached that point of no return. Her parents made sure of it. She remembered a time when she lived among such crowds, just 4 ages old, scavenging food in the junk until the grown-ups supposedly “rescued her” and asked to fuck her first customer. She had no clue something could go in down there. But then it did, and she was educated on another way to experience pain.

‘That’s where babies come from,’ she remembered her mother said to her, crying. ‘But you won’t have any, child,’ she kept weeping as a group of ruffians tore the young Rayna away from her and held her down face up, by all fours. She remembered a monstrous whirring blade swinging above her approaching her lower half that she was blocked from seeing. She screamed and screamed into the palm of a ruffian. When she woke up, they told her she was finally safe and gave her a meal worth her smile.

It took her many ages to learn how to morph all that pain into something bearable. Pleasure only came much later, by a man whom she’ll never forget, and the tears of joy he gave her. She didn’t want to think of that man, because he broke his promise and never came back. She suddenly thought of Karin and smiled.

The horde was long past them. Rayna stayed in that feeling, bidding farewell to the shantytown getting smaller and smaller in the distance.

Reike suddenly started laughing as he pointed ahead. ‘Excellent, the ocean is nearby,’

In the distance, Kira could make out a shining golden strip over the horizon. She tried to smile.

Kim howled like a wolf livened after a good hunt and Reike joined along. They sped up, roaring their engines, daring a race between them. Kim figured it would be a great distraction from the pain in her infected crotch stewing on top of that hot uncomfortable seat the whole time.

Rayna moved the covers to get a peak of the front. ‘Wow,’ she mouthed in silence.

Kira still couldn’t find herself partaking in the overwhelming excitement.

‘I killed them, Kim,’ Kira cried a tear which drooped down frenetically, clinging desperately to the edge of her chin, her head still miles away behind, stuck in that shantytown. ‘All those people,’

Rayna reached out her frail hands and gently wiped away that tear for her. Kira felt pleasantly touched by the gesture.

Kim turned her head toward her companions. ‘Her immediate instinct was to dismiss the whole charade, and say something like “get a room”, or “this one like girls, be careful”. Instead, she decided to do the grown-up thing for once. Perhaps, she was touched as well. She remembered the conversation she and Kira had just the night before. With a pat on her Kira’s shoulder, Kim resisted her chance to smirk and just said. ‘You had your reasons.’

Kim turned back forward, her eye on the prize, her hands gripped on the wheel, she rammed the accelerator and the race was on as hot as the flames burning deep inside her.

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