BECOME CABBAGE MAN
Joshua grinned in disbelief. His tongue was rancid. His jaws were loose. He wanted to laugh. It was like nothing was wrong. Pure cringe was what was happening.
They were trapped in a death game. He lost his basket of duck eggs. People were going out of their way to kill others. Ryan was like that king who could turn stuff to gold but was cabbage instead. Leigh said something about pawning and became a frail budget version of Bruce Lee.
He got barriers.
Now, they seemed far away. They were talking to each other, smiling like nothing happened. Unfair.
Joshua covered his mouth and coughed to hurl his throat out. They didn’t notice. He sighed audibly. They didn’t notice. He wanted to make them look somewhere and tell them that there was an enemy, but he didn’t want to make them angry.
A pat on the back would be nice. But what he got was a whole lot of silent space. He might as well spread his wings like an eagle and caw-caw into their conversation. Like old times. But he shook his head, clutched his chest, and went on with a sad smile. Turning back to him would be nice. He wasn’t making a sad face to just let the moon be his audience.
Who cares if they were talking about something important? He did something. And just like before, Ryan was hogging everything. It was weird. It was like nothing happened. It would be nice if he was included. But he was boxed out. Bitter. He never became a fan of malls, but this must be how window shopping felt.
Joshua shrugged. A glance would be nice, but that’s not what he needed. Asking him if he was okay would be nice. It wouldn’t hurt. He already knew what he would say. He would just force a smile, rotate his shoulders, groan to let his pain seep out, and tell them that he’s fine.
But he got nothing.
Joshua scoffed. There’s nothing here but space. He was staring through a thick pane of unbreakable glass. There’s nothing that he could do about it. He did everything that kept them alive. He suffered. He risked his life. Ryan got beat up. It was just too sad.
And it was like this until they got to the edge of the dune and got inside the first house they found. It was a house. There was nothing special. It was special in a way that it was way better than his home, which was built upon soil crawling with wet garbage and walled by patches of wood and metal roofing sheets.
The thing was that they managed to live somewhere. Unlike these people, whoever they were, who just inherited this house somewhere. They struggled and won at life to make a home of their own. Sure, he had seven other brothers to feed on top of taking care of his parents, but at least they still managed to remain tight and complete. At least they would get to share their meals under something.
Leigh knocked on the door and apologized for intruding before Ryan cabbaged the door. He shrugged at her. Both of them smiled. He turned and dove into the sofa in the house’s living room. She just followed.
They didn’t have a sofa, but that’s fine. They had each other. It would also mean that they would just be as humble on the floor as they appreciate their meal for the day.
They’re telepaths. What happened to the girl that aimed a gun at that bastard? It’s not like the gun… or cannon that she had was still there. It didn’t go anywhere. How hard would it be to just pull it up and aim it at the back of his head?
Joshua sighed and cut through in between those two. They were looking at each other again, even more so when Ryan let out a breath of relief after making himself comfortable on the couch. Leigh helped herself with the other chair and relaxed as well.
Joshua had no one but the kitchen. He stuffed his face with the bread he looted from the fridge and let out an audible breath after gulping a liter of water. Still nothing.
As someone who helped them. As someone who chose to be there for them in their times of trouble. As someone who sacrificed so much to keep both of them alive, they’re ungrateful. Leigh even looked concerned about that bastard.
Joshua scoffed. Then again, there’s nothing that he could do about it. He’s been there. It would’ve been different. There’s no use in crying over spilled milk, even if you’re getting your ass handed to you for spilling the damn milk. Now, it was just him and his ass resting on the edge of the sink.
Leigh chuckled. “You know… it would be cool, actually, if you admitted that you got your ass handed to you.”
“Man, you didn’t even get to fight back.”
“And you just… nevermind.” Ryan sighed. “Nevermind. You’re dumb, and the only reason we’re alive was that Joshua was half as useful as me.”
“I broke his neck.”
Ryan scoffed. “You wish you broke his neck.”
“But, like you said, the dude was a fucking Terminator!”
“Hey…” Ryan turned his head and grinned at her. “It’s pretty cool to admit that you did everything. All of that for a love tap.”
“You can’t even land correctly.”
“You can’t even kill him.”
Leigh jerked her head back. “But your powers are bullshit!”
“That’s pretty rich when I can say the magic words and suddenly learn how to do a backflip.”
“Ah…” Leigh inched herself deeper into her chair and crossed her arms. “I see where this is going.” She forced a laugh through her gritting teeth. “Well, aren’t you being awfully nice to me?”
“Please…” Ryan groaned. “I had to pretend that Joshua doesn’t exist. Don’t do that to me, too.”
“Why don’t you just say it then?”
“And just like that. You want me to even spell it out for you.”
“I…” Ryan pushed himself up, grimacing at his desperation to hide his pain. “I don’t know what you want me to say.”
“You really think that I’m—”
“Thank you for not kicking my ass.”
It’s not like Ryan changed. He was just beaten. It’s not like his self-serving eyes were resculpted after a few punches. It wasn’t like his tone was different. His arms were at his sides. He leaned into the backrest of the couch. His head was hanging low. His gaze was averted.
But Joshua’s different too.
It’s all wrong.
He saved them both. Joshua risked his life to save them both. That piece of shit was manipulating her. But Leight was the smartest person that Joshua knew. She wouldn’t trust that bastard like nothing happened at all. She could see through Ryan.
It wasn’t true. Leigh could play at that game, too. Even if her eyes glimmered for moments when she talked to him, there would be nothing for him to worry about. Nothing would happen.
“You’re just trying to be super cool again. It’s not working. It’s not like you.” Leigh sighed. “But I guess it’s just me.”
“It might really be just you.”
“Stop speaking for me.”
“It hurts to even breathe. Why would I do more?”
“You didn’t even get to use the code name.”
“It was… awkward. I cringed when you called me out. But that’s fine. I guess they have no way of telling if there’s four or five of us since we could be keeping one of us in silence.”
Ryan shushed her before she could say anything more.
“Fine. It was my fault, too. It was the gun.”
“It's fine, and once again,” Ryan heaved and angled his back onto the chair. “I’ll just let myself be blinded by my undying love for you again.”
Joshua hugged himself.
Leigh cleared her throat. “But then again… that guy was pretty strong, huh?”
“You mean that one that rained rocks? It won’t be a problem. I can just touch him, and he’s bye-bye.”
“I can just shoot him.”
“With a pistol.” Ryan scoffed.
“With a cannon.” Leigh asserted her tone.
Joshua caught something. Shadows. He scrambled forward, screaming for them to get their shit together. He stretched his fingers to summon his barrier and bubbled the three of them as a spark glinted from afar and ate everything around them.
It felt weird.
Joshua grinned. It seemed that this disgusting feeling had returned.
“Everything’s gonna be alright—”
He said those words to Leigh. She stiffed as though she was looking at something disgusting. The blast of flames ended. The bubble was popped. Ryan broke into a run.
What followed was a hallowing beep that summoned the sound of cabbages hitting the floor.