BECOME CABBAGE MAN
Time froze. Nothing mattered. Ryan. Meeting those familiar empty dark-brown eyes snapped something inside her.
Her hands stopped trembling. Her doubts faded. Rage. She bared her teeth and shot her eyes wide. By then, she realized that she was already screaming at that figure so loud that it masked the blasts of her gun.
It was a smoky, ringing melody that ended with an emptied magazine and a staccato of clicks that slowed until meeting its eventual rest. But that man remained unhurt.
Her bullets that just killed a person didn’t reach him. And he walked forward, saluting her for a job well done, grinning so wide before her face softened to that of a person that actually cared.
Then, he stopped. He looked around and placed his hand in front of her and acted like a mime, as if there was this unseen wall between them.
“Heya, Leigh,” he flashed her a nauseating smile. “I see that you’re still looking as poor as ever.”
She had no bullets anymore, but it would work. Leigh raised her gun and braced her back onto the wall. Everyone in front of her could go fuck themselves.
Invisible wall bullshit or not.
“Pawn: Fifteen years. I need a cannon—”
Something at the side of her head whirred like a fan burning inside a computer. She wondered why it was so easy for her to tear him to bits. All she needed to do was to keep her hands steady, brace herself for impact, and pull the trigger.
But the sight of a brown woven basket peeking behind Ryan’s leg defused her mood. She clicked her tongue to hide it. But she sighed, lowered her gun, and clenched her fists to ignore the stench of gunpowder, ash, blood, burning kerosene, salt, and vinegar in the air.
Of course, he would be here, too.
Leigh crossed her arms. “Am I smelling Joshua?”
“I was guarding the hallway. I got myself promoted to the chief of rear defense. That sounds cool,” he shouted back. “Don’t worry about me, I’ll just be here… defending, and nothing else. Am I interrupting something?”
“Yes,” Ryan snorted and shrugged at Leigh. “Actually—”
Leigh raised her brow. “N-no, you’re not.”
“Oh no, I’m interrupting, am I?”
“Yes, Joshua, and for your information. Leigh got rude to me because you revealed yourself too early.” Ryan spread his arms at Leigh as though to welcome something. “Well?”
“I was covering for your ass,” Joshua added.
Ryan groaned. “I mean—”
“I was covering for your asses!”
“Just…” Leigh instinctively curled herself into a ball and hugged her legs. “Just get inside and be civil or something. It’s like I found myself a pair of kids to take care of. Don’t get weird about it.”
“Technically, we walked in here and saved your ass. There, I’m helping,” Ryan enunciated. “And a good, reasonable person should?”
“Not important,” Leigh said.
“I can’t desert my position. I have to stand guard no matter what happens—”
“Get inside, now.” Leigh asserted her authority, but her words fell weak towards the end. “Your mission is to protect me and just… get in here and… stand by my…”
Ryan frowned and covered his mouth. “Miss Leigh,” he sniveled and faked a mistful eye. “You’re breaking my heart.”
Leigh sighed. “Stop acting like a kid.”
“Stop acting like you know everything, then.”
“Like I said.”
“Thank you for saving me,” Leigh raised her voice, but her eyes were glued to her knees. “Is that fine?” Her face stiffened. “Are you gonna stop talking now, or do you want me to actually kneel to say thanks?”
“I mean… Fine.” Ryan scratched the back of his head and looked away with that self-serving smile. “You’re welcome. I’m sorry if I went too far.”
“I fought tooth and nail, girl.” Ryan shrugged in her room. “Also, beggars can’t be choosers, right?”
“I had no intention of shooting you. You can still help me change my mind.”
Ryan crossed his arms and leered at her with his dead eyes.
“I was talking to Joshua.” Leigh raised her gun and smiled. “Either you’re coming in now, or you could just take a few steps away from the face of my apartment so I can kill Ryan. Your choice.”
Ryan scoffed and raised both his hands in surrender.
“Why does everyone want to kill me?”
“We are in a death game, where the winner could ask for anything. Everyone here is out to kill you. Although, Joshua and I would probably enjoy it more.”
Ryan sighed. “Fair point.”
“I’m comin’ inside to protect everyone,” Joshua replied. “It’ll suck if you kill each other so suddenly.”
But Joshua dashed towards them. Ryan turned. Everything outside glowed. It was as though a star dropped and showered them with grace, paling Leigh’s face even more.
Her gun might’ve called the attention of a stronger foe.
And she was sure of it.
She saw it herself. How the gun would blast her eyes with light every time she pulled the trigger. A rain of light speared through her front wall but never got to touch them.
Joshua had stepped in by then and kicked Ryan close to the dead body she blanketed. A crude joke, but her hero didn’t get to laugh. Joshua turned to face that carpet of swords and erected a barrier to keep them all safe.
Her mind did freeze.
“On me, Princess!”
Ryan sprawled to touch the leg of her bed. He screamed something cringy, and everything below her turned to a stack of cabbages. She fell to the floor before she could even scream.
Something whooshed by her head, something raw and metallic. She had no idea where or what that enemy wished to get that power, but he had chainsaws for hands, and he missed his swing because her footing turned into veggies. Her life was saved once again.
The chainsaw man roared to finish the job, but Ryan rushed to his side, touched his face with his right hand, said “yeet” and turned this comical enemy into history.
Ryan veered away from the cabbages and faced her. For a moment, he seemed scared, human. He offered his right hand to Leigh, but he pulled it back and helped her with his left instead. He fished a water bottle and an energy bar from his bag and tossed it to her.
“No worries. Eat up while I think.” Ryan turned to Joshua. “You reaching your limit soon?”
“I AM THE UNBROKEN. I AM THE CHIEF OF THE REAR DEFENSE. I AM INVISIBLE!” Joshua yeehawed while the beams peppered his barrier.
Cringy, yet everything beyond his protection was utterly screwed. The smoke it was making was doing more good than harm. Joshua was being pushed back, though.
“Invincible. Glad to see you being unhinged again.” Ryan moved but chose not to touch his best friend’s shoulder.
“What… I mean… the barrier is invisible.”
“It’s not your dick, man.” Ryan’s eyes turned dead again. He gave Joshua a patient nod with a forced smile and turned to Leigh, whispering, “Let’s get the fuck out of here and leave him to die.”
Leigh flipped him off.
“Fine.” Ryan averted his gaze and groaned. “Leigh, finish the bar. Joshua, you listen, too. I’ll make a route for us to escape. That person outside should have a limit. Otherwise, that would be too bullshit, and that’s coming from me. I’m like the Veggie Midas right now.” Ryan laughed at himself and stopped flat. “Anyways, I’ll make a route for us that should lead us to safety—on the other side of the building, far from where the lasers are, or I’ll die trying.”
“That doesn’t sound safe,” Leigh commented.
Ryan raised his brows and both his hands, and laid Leigh’s attention on the beams raining down on the other side of her apartment. “This is why no one likes you.”
“I know, I’m stupid.”
“Yes, you are. Now, drink some water, carry your gun or something, and you’re coming with me. Joshua, prepare to run and follow the cabbages and the hole in the wall, got it?”
“I’m not dumb,” Joshua said.
“Sure, Mr. Invisible.”
“Oh, I’ll be.”
“So this was probably what Rick felt like.” Ryan massaged his brows and touched the right wall of her apartment. “This is not so much sadder than getting shredded this early, and I can’t let you both die. We’re gonna be using command names, okay?”
Joshua turned to him. “Can I be—”
“That’s much less cool than Maximillian Pegasus.”
“And I’m not gonna be Kaiba in this scenario.” Ryan forced a smile. “You’re making this very hard for me.” He pointed them to the corpse. “Queen.” He smiled at Leigh. “And I’m going to be Papa Bear.”
Leigh frowned. “Why the fuck—”
Ryan winked at the both of them, yeeted the wall into a brittle stack of cabbages, and led the way.