Chapter 7:



Joshua domed over them as the apartment building fumbled. Ryan was on his knees with his trembling hand fencing Leigh, who froze at what was happening beyond the barrier.

Another sight for terror. Her lips trembled. They were being sieged. If Joshua weren’t here, then they would be dead. A single rock could’ve ended it. It was this thought that begged her to question if it was the ground that’s shaking cold or if it was her. But those two boys seemed to laugh at this.

It would be painless. But Death failed to come. It was just too easy for her to die. She breathed. She blinked. She gazed beyond, in wonder, to realize how painful it could’ve been, and that there’s nothing that she could do if she was alone. Ryan’s back seemed to be much broader than before.

A dream. Rocks were shattered. Concrete was reaped. Dirt was cleaved and mealed. The attacks got softer and softer. But it was the dusty stench of blood and cabbages that reminded her of her place. Her gaze trailed from Joshua to Ryan.

“Man…” Ryan breathed and carried himself to the floor. “I am now… bread.”

“Right?” Joshua flashed Ryan a satisfied smile. “Now you just need to be cut and chucked into the oven. You know… hell.”

“Can’t you even feel bad for me?”

“Not really,” Joshua sat down. “no. I think Leigh agrees.”

The barrier didn’t disappear. It seemed like it never needed Joshua’s full attention in the first place.

Leigh smirked. “You did deserve it.”

“That’s it?” Joshua raised an eyebrow.

Leigh inched back. Her eyes darted from Ryan to Joshua. She parter her mouth, pacing herself even more, trying to find her words before nodding with a wry smile.

“You guys are mean,” Ryan said. “Absolutely nothing happened. But I just have to say that it was cool. I was cool too, but I know how to suck it up and say how awesome it is to dropkick someone and finish it with a backflip.”

Leigh faced the floor with a sheepish smile. “Yes, I am that amazing, thank you.”

“But did you see the cannonball?”

“Yes,” Ryan replied with a weak monotonous tone. “I heard you scream and drop down like an overgrown squirrel that reeks of vinegar and compensation.”

“Oho, you’re biting back. What did you do, then? I did better this time. You got beat up.”

Leigh froze again.

Ryan breathed and stared into the dust gathering beyond the barrier. “Nothing. Nothing happened. But you guys are mean,” he forced a chuckle. “You know what this makes me remember?”

“Oh,” Joshua said, cracking his knuckles and turning to face Leigh. “Hella. I can still feel it in me.”

Leigh averted her gaze.

“Okay, first off… that’s awkward. You’re making me uncomfortable,” Ryan complained. “It’s only cool when I’m the one doing it.”

“That hardly matters—”

“Secondly… Leigh did more damage than you. And third, I was talking about the fort.”

Leigh perked. “Oh yeah. That one time. We were hung up on gathering chairs and pillows, and we ended up making it too thick that it turned into an oven after lunch. We didn’t want to go inside, so we played like we’re giants and destroyed it.”

“Your choice of words is a pain in my ass.” Ryan smiled at Leigh. “Quite literally, too.”

Leigh chuckled. “Of course, it’s my job to listen and act upon what others say. ‘Tis what I do.”

“You’re too proud for a cute-looking disheveled husk of a human being,” Ryan followed.

Leigh scoffed. “Smart disheveled husk of a human being—”

“Man,” Joshua sighed. “these rocks are heavy.”

Leigh inched herself away again from Joshua. It was just a thought that something was wrong. A part of her just wanted to run away from here as fast as she could.

“Uncool, man.”

“That’s rich, coming from you.” Joshua glanced at Leigh and glared at Ryan. “You do it all the time. I get one opportunity to be strong and cool, and you’re cucking me.”

“I mean…” Ryan’s voice trailed. “It’s awkward to see you like this, man.”

“Hey—” Leigh stopped them both, mustering the confused courage that she had to scowl and assume her control. “The dust would disappear soon. I don’t know if the rocks are still falling. I can smell someone’s sweat in here. I smell alcohol. Actual vinegar. Also shit. And if you’re going to fight in front of me like I’m some sort of piece in an argument that I was never a part of…” She pointed them to the barrier. “Burst this bubble right now. I’ll be more than willing to die with the both of you.”

“That’s the most romantic thing that someone has ever said to me.”

Leigh clicked her tongue. “A low bar, Ryan.”

“But fine. I’ll stop. I’m sorry. Also, the fort wasn’t much anyway. It’s like… we did that once, promised that we’ll be together forever, and didn’t do that again. Who knew that we’ll be stuck in a death game? We should’ve just hung out more.”

“It’s your fault,” Joshua commented.

“Why is it always me? I was the social glue that held things together,” Ryan smiled weakly at Leigh and pointed her to Joshua. “I mean, she still looks like a minion.”

Leigh sighed. “You think you’re so cute…”

“Bitch, I’m adorable.”

Ryan duck-face tilted his head and failed to wink. She was one step away from hurting him, but the blood on his sore face begged her to reconsider. It’s awkward. She felt safe for a moment.

Leigh grimaced. “But you’re good?”

“Yeah. I’m strong as a mountain, as sharp as a thunderbolt, and as high as a kite.”

“You used that expression wrong.”

“I know.”

That poor man’s battered smug smile made her scoff and cover her grin. But that remarked made the air in this safety barrier even more unbearable.

“I might’ve strained my legs by breaking into a run. I should do more exercise in the future.” Joshua groaned, rolled his shoulders, and stretched his legs. “Yep… walking around so much isn’t doing it anymore.”

Ryan chuckled. “Give me a few more minutes. The moment I pick myself up, I’ll go over to you and rub some spit on your sore spots. You’re in luck. My mouth is already dripping hot.”

“Fuuuuuck…” Joshua dragged his words with disgust. “I swear, if I feel even your finger or breath on me, I will drop this barrier and let all of us die.”

“Relax, mister. I’m kidding. Also, you’re holding dust. I’m starting to see the sky, so I doubt anything would fall or be on top of us. And you’re already making us uncomfortable, so the worst thing you could do to us right now is to make us cough.”

“You bitch—”

“Relax, you pussies.” Leigh broke another impending fight. “Stop fighting each other and accept that I’m really the best one here.”

“Oh sure…”

Ryan let out an unbearable groan like a spoiled brat. Joshua seemed to be on edge, but Leigh had her ears open and eyes darting to accept this bit of genuine fun.

“You’re worse than someone that uses steroids. I fought bravely and as I am,” Ryan grinned. “and you modified your body to have rock-hard abs and thighs. The point is, that big-ass fleshy terminator won’t pull a shwar…” His eyes narrowed.


“And you’re wondering why you can’t have friends...”

“I sandwiched him good with my cannonball attack.” Joshua raised his hand. “Also, I don’t know what that is—”

“And you’re just uncultured.”

They all laughed.

“I’ll break his neck over and over again so that he’s gonna wish that he stayed dead.”

“Edgy,” Ryan said.

“I’ll crush him again,” Joshua scoffed. “That’s what I’ll do.”

“Sure. The weak ones bark while the strong ones just stay silent and bask in their internal glory. Don’t talk about what would’ve happened, especially if it’s just about breaking necks and an over-glorified belly flop. He won’t be coming back, because—”

“You got him terminated?”

Joshua and Ryan glared at Leigh.

“Both of you suck and you know it.”

Ryan glared at Leigh. “Bitch,” he enunciated calmly. “you stole my thunder.”

“Yeah. It was so bad that it was begging me to trash talk to Ryan afterward. I can’t even trash talk to you. That’s very unfair. SMH my head.”

“Again. Stop using words you can’t understand,” Ryan said.

Leigh sighed. “What even are you, guys?

“We’re best friends, undoubtedly,” Ryan said, and surprisingly, Joshua agreed.

No one did say anything. It was just they found themselves in silence to the winds creeping the dust away from their bubble. It was the glitching indigo moon setting itself apart from the glinting stars like christmas lights that welcomed them next.

Joshua popped the barrier. Ryan received no help, but he was able to pick himself up and laugh at the flat stretch of bent metal and concrete around them. But it was the eerie silence that sank its nails onto their backs and tightened their grins.

They followed Leigh’s lead to reach the opposite side of their dune, believing it to be safer and would let them circle back to town. They encountered something cringy beyond belief but didn’t allow them to laugh.

Everything was done to deliver a message.

It was a huge “Onii-chan is looking for you...” carving the flattened concrete with blood that ended with three balls of flesh for dots.