Chapter 11:

Burning Memories


“You fucker—”

Giving up was not an option. Ryan pushed himself but his knees collapsed and scrambled him to the floor. He forgot that his left arm was gone. Everything that hurt turned numb. He chuckled helplessly. But with some sheer willpower and desperation, he pushed himself off the ground to get punched in the face.

“Stop it.” Joshua thumbed his knuckles and stepped on Ryan’s chest. “You’re making me look bad.”

“You… fucker…”

Joshua glanced at Leigh and scoffed. “So, how does it feel to see another Ryan.”

Ryan strained his chest to breathe. “I see a decade of self-pity, a bit of lowkey self-abuse, and a ton of dick sucking. Sunbaked skin despite only going at night. Lack of deodorant, shower. But then again, how would you be able to afford that due to the number of pigs you have to feed?” He grimaced. “Stop being a hero, please. It’s something that only I could do.”

Joshua looked down. “I wasn’t.”

“Yeah, right,” Ryan grimaced. “I… It’s too late, but… I can still… You can still do the right thing—”

Joshua offered him a wry smile. “What do you know?”

“I…” Ryan’s chest twisted. “I don’t know. I don’t know… anything else. But… I… there must be something I still could...”

“That’s what I thought.” Joshua frowned, grinning. “It’s my fight now. Don’t worry. I… I might need something more in life, but you know… Maybe reviving everyone after all of this wasn’t so bad, after all. I’ll fix this. We’ll be… I’ll come back for everyone—”


“I guess being a hero doesn’t make you special.” Joshua shrugged and turned back. “It’s doing the right thing that does, even if it’s painful. Even if it gets you nothing. Even if…” He chuckled and walked away. “Even if everything would be forgotten, yeah?”


Ryan didn’t see anything more. He had never experienced the touch of winter. But this must be how it felt to snuggle up to a patch of snow, only that there was this annoying hint of burnt peanut butter and cabbage in the air. He went still. Everything seemed to matter. He’s tired. And sleep was just a second away. Once more, he failed to stop them from going, and they all didn’t look back. He’s tired of it all. He lost. He waited.

“You fucker—”

He was ready to rest.

But he heard a familiar voice, followed by the presence of a poor man’s shampoo that he could recognize even if he’s in another city. For a moment, it felt warm. He didn’t have the energy to move. He just wanted to smile. And he did so until that sweet girl turned savage and chose to slap a bleeding injured man on the ground in his final moments.

“Do you think it’s fun to sacrifice yourself?” Leigh slapped Ryan again when he tried to turn and placed both her palms on his chest. “Pawn—”

“You bitch… What the fuck do you think you’re doing? What if this… kills you?” Ryan mumbled.

Leigh sniffed, begging her eyes to dry. “So, you’re telling me to let you die?”

“I ain’t dying, you dumb fuck.” Ryan forced a tired laugh. “I don’t feel anything. I took a bite from that Terminator’s cabbage pile, and it seems that few of his powers got transferred to me. I feel great.”

He was much more than bread. He’s just a slosh of goo trying to reform itself. Nothing would challenge what he’s feeling now. It’s getting dark. His left arm was nowhere to be found, but it was still being a bitch by freezing the rest of his body. Even it’s a bit, his bones remembered that nake-apron man’s punches. Everything was like a hallowing thought of a ghost kicking your nuts, again and again. He was feeling nothing, but he’s shrinking at the thought of seeing his future family get dusted.

“You think you’re so cool...”

“It’s a low bar,” Ryan continued. “I was planning to yeet their asses, assassin style, like the world’s greatest detective—only that I leave cabbages on my path instead of bat-shaped,” he coughed. “shurikens.”

“You’d be too noisy for that, Cabbage Man.”

“Hell yeah,” Ryan stretched his pale, dry lips into a full-toothed grin. “Me deleting their asses would be my debut. Then, I’ll save Joshua. Then… I’ll save…”

Leigh put her hands over Ryan’s shoulder. “Do you want to know what I felt about…”

She still struggled to meet his eyes.

“Maybe? I’m not going to blame you, though.”

Leigh thinned her lips. “That’s what I thought.”


“Pawn…” Leigh snatched a breath. “I need you to stabilize.”

Leigh’s right eye twitched. Her whole body shivered and folded as her life was sucked away. Ryan’s vision brightened and cleared. Leigh’s supposedly strong physique paled again. Groans escaped her gritting teeth, but she braved through the pain and kept her place until Ryan could breathe again. To feel warm. To realize his surroundings. To suffer in greater resolution by remembering that he really did lose his arm.

Ryan found the energy to get on his knees and wonder what Leigh had done. He had to say something. Anything was fine. He wanted to reach out to her but was stopped by his own power, his thought of saying a single word that could end it all as Leigh inched herself away.

“You’re so fucking terrible.” Ryan scoffed. “Just how much did you—”

“Is that how you treat the one who saved you?”

“I never asked you to.”

“What the hell did you want me to do, then?” Leigh embraced herself, faced the fake moon, and swallowed her tears with a forced smile. “You’re terrible. It’s not like… I could do anything else. It’s like you wanted me to say it.”

“It’s not—”

“I’m useless, right?” Leigh’s begging eyes met Ryan’s gaze. “Why won’t you just let me admit it?” Just get it over with. I’m useless. It’s just three syllables. It won’t be hard.” Her lips trembled. “Why won’t you… save me?”

“And then what?”

Leigh said nothing. Just like before, she took away those poor eyes and kept them to herself, to tuck them down along with her chin, to bar them behind her teeth. And as he expected, it took her a second to nod at herself, swallow her thoughts, and pull up a brave face as nothing happened.

She ran away, again, to a place that seemed too far away from him.

“Thank you for giving me the energy to move. I need to stop the bleeding, though, which is certainly not fun.” Ryan sighed. “I need you. Drag me into the nearest house where I can find a working stove. And we need to go now. I won’t be able to defend us if someone comes.”

Leigh nodded again. She got on her feet. She turned to leave but stopped after a few steps. “You… You’re not going to bite your tongue while I’m gone, right?”

Ryan stressed his words calmly. “What the fuck is wrong with you?”

“You know what…” Leigh turned back with an awkward grin. “This is easier.”

Pimples? Zero. Blackheads? Zero. His will to live? Zero. His chance at redemption? Zero. Everything hurts. But he’s alive. Sadly that superhuman numbness didn’t last. The price of life was a chance to know how and what it felt like.

He thought that Leigh was weak, but she just swatted his arm yet again before working her way to carry him on her back after a much well-deserved struggle. Living meant that he had enough energy to process this metaphorical kick-in-the-nuts situation much more than he needed for it to be.

“This isn’t… easier. I can walk fine,” Ryan protested.

“And I would be dragging you anyway.”

Still, Ryan didn’t know if it was the contrast of the desolation around them. Or if it was because of the glitching moon above. He minded his weight. He tried his best to angle his crotch away. He tried not to feel embarrassed at the touch of her back as she breathed. Still, when she turned. Breathless. He could swear that he saw the shiniest and most beautiful grime-stained smile looking back at him.

“Focus on walking. Move your feet one after the other. Don’t make me drag you. Gosh, you’re so heavy.”

Ryan didn’t say anything, and he followed her instruction. He didn’t want to do it. But he didn’t want to assume either. She’s making a calculative decision. That’s right. That’s what she’s doing. And their silence continued until she got into a nearby home, where she helped him get to the kitchen.

“Right… There's a stove here.”

“And…” Leigh’s jaws loosened.

Ryan smiled in her stead. “Do you really need to watch me?”


“Just go… I won’t die,” Ryan added.

“You’re looking really pale.”

“Take a good look at yourself in the mirror.”

“I’m going to be fine… You did everything you could. All that’s left is me, and thank the gods that all I need is to just bear with it,” Ryan said.

“Are you sure?”

“Yes.” He begged her in silence to take the hint. “There’s absolutely nothing that you could do for me, except to sit down, chill and wait for me to finish.”

“I see.”

“I also don’t want you to see me piss myself or scream, actually,” he joked, although seeing her smile a bit calmed him down.

“I see.”

Ryan patted her head.

“I’ll be fine. I won’t leave. I’ll be fine.”

Ryan forgot that he was supposed to bite into something, so he settled for grunts and small muffled cries.

The initial steps were mechanical.

He turned the stove. He gazed at that open blue flame. Swallowed the burnt air as he waited for his own sweat to dry. But he had to move soon. He had something to fight for. Someone to return to. He couldn’t explain it. No other thought came to mind, even as he moved his wound over to the fire.

The thought of going back to make a clever joke about cooking chicken failed at the first second. His skin burned. The bright tongues of that flame drilled deep into his flesh, twisting through his nerves as his wound darkened, blistered, and sizzled. His whole body was chewed by blazing centipedes pattering into his nose and ears until everything brightened, blurred, blackened to follow a monotonous beep.

He almost fell to the side.

His brain was ripped apart. His intestines were ravaged and churned. Maybe it was the pain, but he didn’t know. He gritted his teeth until his jaws turned numb. Then the taste of blood came at his tongue.

He wanted to scream, but she’s back there, worried. He wanted to fall, but she’s back there, trusting him to bear everything. He’s in pain, but she’s back there, waiting for him to recover. He wanted to black out and just die, but she’s back there, hoping to be saved.

Ryan grinned and begged his good arm to keep him in place, just until the bleeding stopped, until he reached that victory. He’s fine. He won’t die. The hero won’t die. He won’t let anyone die. He just had to clench his teeth and burn and smile until everything was done.


He had to make that chicken joke for her. He smiled to himself, for a job well done. Oh right, he could make a steak joke, too. Maybe that’ll lighten the mood. He turned off the stove and collapsed onto the kitchen floor.