Chapter 14:



His father’s goodbye was a warm and wet kiss on the cheek. Ryan brushed that alcoholic stink and pushed him away. His eyes yearned for an embrace. But he didn’t fight. He thinned his lips. He nodded to himself, breathing through his nose, before stepping by the door.

He’ll be back one day, he said. He perked a smile at his Mom. He made sure that his gun was strapped to his side. He looked back at him, again. Now that Ryan got to think of it, maybe a part of his Dad wanted for him to say something. But he failed to do that. Maybe, he failed to save them, his family.

His father left his badge on their small table along with a murmured apology and helped himself outside.

His mom was indifferent. She continued to sort out the toasted banana leaves she would use for her rice cakes tomorrow morning. She had a long white towel sitting at her shoulders but she didn’t use it. Her lips were white and thinned. Her fingers trembled.

She said nothing more.

Ryan didn’t dare to step one step further from their doorstep. He glanced at his mom. Their gazes locked. She nodded. Ryan got on his slippers and moved, taking four ant-ish steps, deciding not to run, so that he could at least follow the trail of his father’s back until he got onto the tricycle.

He looked back, frowning. He flashed him a sad smile and waved his hand. And then, he was gone.

Ryan was left alone.

He had seen this on television once. It might be fun. He felt something. But big boys don’t cry. Maybe it would help, so he forgot the Sun, sat by a huge rock by their fence, and hugged his legs. He was wrong. He felt worse.

“Stop crying. Grandma said that people don’t come back when they leave their kids.”

It was a girl. An annoying mass of putrid body odor looking like she eats snot and dirt for breakfast. Guessing how she got so dirty so early in the morning made the opened bag of chips and candy more questionable.

“I’m not,” Ryan replied.

“You are.”

Ryan looked away. “You’re dumb… and ugly.”

“Guess so.”

This girl had a fat forearm peppered by dirt. And she used it to wipe her nose and smear her lips with mucus. Ryan froze. She looked around, shrugged, tucked a bit of her hair behind her ear, and sat next to him. He smiled, hoping that that would be enough so that she would stop offering him candy. The people on the TV wanted to be alone, so he felt the same.

“Stop crying.”

But she didn’t leave him alone.

“I’m not.”

“Grandma said that it’s better to think if they’re dead. And that I should be happy that she’s taking care of me. Are you alone?”

“Why are you here…”

“Some of my friends were playing Doctor Kwak Kwak, and they told me to go away since I’m stinky…” The girl sighed. “I’m not.”

Ryan flashed her a wry smile. “Yeah…”

“So, I’m here,” she offered him candy again. “Don’t you have friends?”

“I have my mom… and my dog.”

“That’s sad.”

“It’s not.”

“Then,” she tilted her head. “you’re not sad at all?”

“I’m…” Ryan hugged his legs tighter. “I don’t know.”

The girl’s voice wavered. “Don’t cry. Stop crying.”


Ryan stood on his feet to shadow her. He planned to raise his voice, but his mind emptied. He didn’t feel much. He’s confused. It turns out that the dirtiest girl that offered him some questionable snacks were crying, too.

“You’re sad,” she continued. “Why are you sad? What was your dad like?”

“He’s a hero. A policeman. He fights bad guys.”

“Cool. My grandma called my dad a pig.”

“Was he fat?”

“Because he probably eats a lot. Grandma says that she’s scared that I’ll be one too when I grow up.”

“I…” Ryan minced his words. “Then that means that I’ll get to be a hero too, but I have to grow up first. I need to be big and strong. I wanna punch people hard.”

“That’s cool.”

“Yeah. Do you think…” Ryan bit his lip to think. “Do you think… I still need to wait to become a strong hero?”

The girl scratched the back of her head. “Grandma called me a pig yesterday.”

“Guess not, so I guess I can help even if I’m small.” Ryan wiped his nose with the bottom of his shirt and smiled at his newfound determination. “You think mom would be happy if I washed the dishes she always gets angry about?”

“I don’t know…” The girl pouted. “Grandma doesn’t let me help. She doesn’t believe that I’m a big girl.”

“You aren’t.”

“Then you’re not, too.”

“But I can do something.”

Ryan smiled wide and took one step for a hug, but he thought twice and ran back to his house. He picked up his pace, almost jumping, pushing what he felt about his dad at the back of his mind and recognizing this newfound hope that he could still do something.

He didn’t need to wait. It wasn’t his fault that his dad left, maybe. He tossed his slippers and decided to jump inside of their home, but he remembered that girl and turned back.

He waved his hand. “What’s your name?”



“Are we friends now?”

“Okay!” A thought suddenly crossed Ryan’s mind. “Why did you cry, Leigh?”

“Because I’m sad.”

“I see, I guess I’ll save you too, then. One day.”

Ryan’s mind drifted to reality and found himself smiling. Everything still hurt. Leigh was nowhere to be found. Maybe she’s just sleeping somewhere. He reeked of sweat, dried alcohol, burned blood, and surprisingly, cabbages and peanut butter. Maybe he was just conscious about how he smelled. Leigh probably just needed a space of her own.

Ryan chuckled. He brushed his grimy hair back. He should stop thinking about those things. He didn’t need to do anything anymore. Now, he’s something special.

“Was it fun… to sacrifice myself in front of other people… huh?”

He had no choice but to be thankful. Maybe, he didn’t need to believe in the reason behind their actions. No, he didn’t want to think about it.

He searched the whole house and helped himself into the kitchen. Leigh should be upstairs, sleeping. He shouldn’t bother her yet. But he poured her a glass of cold water and decided to go upstairs. It should help. He grimaced. Maybe it’s an excuse to see her or to tease her about what she said earlier.

Now, he just needed to get Joshua back and win. He needs to be consistent. He needed to save them both.

The second floor was empty.

Ryan’s smile faltered. He placed his glass of water on the table near the bed. He scratched his cheek. Maybe she’s out scavenging for more food, but it didn’t add up since they still have more.

Maybe she’s showering in another house in fear of getting peeped. Maybe she got abducted by aliens. He failed to laugh away the worry that twisted his chest. It hurt to breathe. His left side began to burn.

His thoughts spiraled even more. There were some fun ones, like being crowned the queen because she’s a hard worker, basically getting a free pass to win in this game. One part suggested that she used all of her life points to make him stable. Another was that she used her ability to turn herself into a super soldier to steamroll through the competition.

But it ended with an explosion that pulled up a colorful smoke that glistened like fireworks.

He walked towards the window.

He gritted his teeth. It’s not a bird. It's not a plane. It wasn’t Superman. Some schmuck was flying in the air and making buildings rain at something.

A second passed.

He chuckled, stepped back to let his laugh leak through his lips, and ran down the stairs to cut into the neighborhood.

Leigh was smart. She would’ve rested while the rest killed each other and made plans with him after he woke up. But she’s also a dumbass, a bull that would horn through something as long as it's someone else telling her to kill herself.

He didn’t want to think about it. He didn’t want to scream. But he ignored the pain ripping his lungs and shoulders, and his feet kicked the ground again and again, no matter how they begged for him to rest.

He gathered his desperate determination yet again, but it lost its gleam in a helpless smile.

There could only be one, as far as he knew. He found two people in the air, and one of them was floating upside down.