Chapter 6:


A Boy and His ****

It all started the day I fell in love.

I was 12 years old and fishing around in a trash heap to see if I couldn’t find anything worth some green.

What I found was worth more green than there was on the entire continent, since barely any of it existed in the wild anymore, and anyone who had it guarded it as fiercely as they might guard their most prized possessions, or even their life. Some people hoarded the stuff in heavily fortified underground bunkers, I’d heard. I’d certainly never seen any of it before, but I knew it the second I laid eyes on it.


It wasn’t anything really serious. Wasn’t even anything at all hardcore. You’d only even really call it pornographic by stretching the definition of the word as far as you could. Wasn't even a full nude. Just a tiny little card — small enough to slip into your pocket and carry around with you, and believe me, I did — with an even tinier picture on it of some chick with her twins out. Hell, you could hardly even see the image clearly. That’s how filthy and faded the thing was. But I burned that sight into my eyes and it’s lived there ever since. I can still see it if I close my eyes and think about it, good as if I was holding the old card in my own two hands.

But anyway, back to the day I found the thing. I was 12 and mesmerized. That night, I learned how to do something I’d never forget. Twenty-four hours later my legs were so weak I couldn’t even stand up.

It was the best day of my life.

Ever since, I’ve been chasing the most impossible dragon anyone ever dreamed up, primarily by yanking mine as often as possible. But nothing ever came close to that first night.

So that was it. That was how masterfully debating became my favorite hobby. My greatest pastime. My simplest and only pleasure. My #1 timesink. My reason for spending so much of my limited lifetime on the can. The hole I chose to dig myself into for better or worse, entrenching myself in a life dedicated to stroking much more than just my ego.

And it was how I had chosen, here at what was clearly the end of my life, to die.

Scratch was right on me, canine maw snapping, hungering for the meat on my bones. I forced myself to keep sprinting, and somehow, I did. It wasn’t the fear of death propelling me forward. It was a promise. The promise of sweet, biological release.

There were some portable toilets left out here for some reason, so I ran into one and locked myself in as fast as I could, just in time to feel Scratch slam into the door as I shut it, shaking the entire shit-reeking box.

This box was my tomb.

But god damn if I wasn’t going to go out in complete and total ecstasy.

I was hellbound, but before I got there, I swore to god I’d reach heaven.

Scratch was bodyslamming the door now, I could tell, trying to force it open or turn the whole toilet topsy-turvy to get at me. Worse, it was working. I could see the flimsy plastic lock that I had slid into place coming more and more undone with every jolt to the door. He was really, truly coming for me. Coming to kill me, hate and murder in his crazed eyes. I could hear him barking wildly. This was wrong. We were supposed to be friends. It was all wrong. All off. Offer than a light switch past power curfew.

But it didn’t matter. This was what was happening and nobody — not Scratch, not god, not anyone — gave half a burp whether I liked it or not.

I didn’t have long.

I tried to relax. Tried to untense all my muscles, unwind my entire wired-up body and just sag. I wanted to die in complete and total comfort, totally detached from all the stress of the painful coincidence called life. And death was, of course, not the only sweet release I was itching for. I unzipped my pants. Stretched my legs out as far as they would go, which was about half an inch considering how folded up I was in here, but hey, beaters can’t be choosers.

I mean beggars. Fuck. Beggars.

Scratch was really banging the door now, every slam rocking my filthy plastic world.


I tried to zone it out. I looked down at my crotch, trying hard to pay attention in spite of the mayhem and my jackhammering heart, my pounding lungs, my throbbing brain. Was I really about to do this? Was I really about to j*rk off as my final act in life?

Yeah. I was.


After all, there was no way out anymore.


And besides. This was it. This was it for me.


I was slowly realizing something now, here at the end.


I said it again, to myself, just to hammer it home inside my own head: this was it for me.


I wasn’t even talking about j*rking off. Fuck j*rking off. J*rking off was only a part of it, I realized, finally, too late to do anything about it, like usual.


No. This was about something else.


Something greater.


This was about the only way I’d ever been able to live. The only way I’d ever been able to make anything in the world make a lick of sense. This was about the only thing I had ever loved.


This was all I had ever loved.


Instant pleasure.


Instant gratification.


Instant dopamine.


Instant instant instant, all at once, no waiting, no wasting precious time.




That was what this was all about.


What I was all about.


That was my god and I’d spent my entire life praying at its altar.


Hell, I’d even converted Ned. I still remember the look on his face, back at that treehouse with outsiders coming on fast, when he had taken the words I’d taught him and spat them right back in my face.


Right now is worth more than the future.


Right now is more important than the future.


So why waste my time setting anything up for a tomorrow that was guaranteed to be worth less than today?


Why sacrifice this moment for one that was guaranteed to be worse in every measurable way?


You could waste today getting ready for tomorrow.


Or you could take tomorrow out on a loan for today, fuck the payback. Gratification all at once and upfront.


That was why everything — pleasure, glory, victory, defeat, death, didn’t matter, everything — had to be right now. Had to be instant.


Who cares about the future?


Forget tomorrow. Just do whatever makes right now the best moment ever.


That way of thinking was everything I ever loved. After all, how could I ever love anything else?


Everything else costs time. Time to do. Time to think. Time to learn.


Everything else takes time away from you. How could I love something that took something away from me?


How could I love something that inherently deprived me?


How could I love something that didn’t give me anything back?


But it was stupid, thinking thoughts like that.


It was stupid and it took me to the sorry end of my stupid life to see it.


Cause I already did love something that was about to take something away from me and give nothing back.


The lock snapped in half and the door fell off and kind of tilted and spun into the doorway towards me and my pants-wrapped ankles, getting stuck on the rough plastic frame. There was Scratch. My friend. My brother. Closer than a brother. Jaws snapping open and shut and his mouth red and steaming and teeth glistening white and hate filling his old eyes.

He was going to kill me.

He was really, truly going to kill me.

Scratch was going to take my life.

And at that moment I knew beyond any possibility of doubt that it didn’t matter.

I still loved him.


When Ned dropped out of that tree a couple of days ago my first instinct was to drop after him.

I followed it. Hit ground hard, my back slamming painfully into the earth. Scratch had the same idea I guess. He landed on his feet.

So there all three of us were. Out in the open. With them. Outsiders. Their evil faces twisted into disgusting masks that promised violence, like gross demented lamps giving off hate instead of light. Their augmented bodies were twisted into forms unimaginable, muscle and bone and metal fused and melted, just a step or two away from becoming something other than human. And their machines. Unholy chimeras of spikes and engines and blades and pipes, all slotted haphazardly together and spewing toxic fumes, slathered in black grease. Torture chambers on wheels, equipped to kill.

All feeling — fear, warmth, survival instinct, hope that I might make it out of this alive — drained out of me in a second, and I knew, then and there, that I was going to die.

But I didn’t.

And Scratch didn’t either.

And Ned didn’t most of all.

It happened cause of him.

The outsiders — I don’t remember how many of them there were — got one look at Ned and something incredible happened.

Their eyes went wide.

Their faces went pale.

That was when I realized these beings were, underneath it all, still human. Their hearts still more like mine than they were different.

And they were scared.

No, terrified.

Of us? How? I thought. How could they be scared of us? We were the ones scared of them.

They weren’t scared of us, I realized.

They were scared of Ned.

As soon as they unfroze from that first piercing instant of fear, they scrammed as fast as they could. Hopped back on their evil machines and hightailed it, screaming bloody murder. But not like they had when they were coming in. They were screaming for their lives and running for the same.

And that was that. That was how we were saved.

Adrenaline rush over, my strength was gone. I dropped to my knees.

“Kid…” I looked at Ned. He looked the same as ever. I could tell he was scared. But I was scareder than scared. I was scareder than I even was 10 seconds ago. Because I knew that what I was looking at — my new friend — was something that went beyond anything I had ever known. He was something that could make outsiders whiz their shorts and hop off like terrified rabbits. And he was something that nobody, far as I knew, had any good explanation for. “What the hell are you?”

Now that I was about to die, I’d never find out.


And that’s where the story ends.

But where one story ends, another one’s always gearing up to take its place. You can count on that. Surer than shit. Surer than death.

Here’s what happened next.

Still barking his esophagus out, Scratch winked at me.

I froze.

I saw it and he knew I saw it and that I understood everything and my terrified face widened into a smile that was like sliding open an old zipper on the first try, no rust and nothing getting stuck. I would’ve laughed too if it weren’t for Ted and them could have still heard me. That was why Scratch had to keep barking. To keep up the act.

He growled loud. I screamed louder. I screamed like someone was ripping me open and eating my guts right out of my body. While I screamed, Scratch whispered the plan in my ear.

“It’s gonna hurt,” I told him.

“I know,” he said.

I took out my lighter and that wax-caked metal saucer I had snatched from the treehouse and told him I would do it with him so that way we’d feel the same pain. Me on my arm. Him on his face and on his paws to make it convincing that he’d chewed me up. Ted and them weren’t the observant type, and this stuff was just the right red. Once it cooled back down they’d take it for blood without question. Mine. Consistency be damned.

“Ready?” I asked.

He nodded.

I slept in the toilet that night. Just when the sun was rising on the next day, I awoke to the sound of pawing against the broken door. Scratch was back. So was someone else.

“Ned!” I said. Couldn’t help but blurt it out.

Scratch smiled the way only animals do, with his eyes. “Figured if I was gonna be in town a night, might as well bust Ned out while I was at it. Nothing better to do after all.”

“Didn’t you meet up with… whatshername?”

“Shell? Oh, that only took a minute.”

“Yeah!” Ned beamed. “And after that he came and broke me out of jail!”

“Jail huh?” I said. Ted was probably just keeping him in some kind of pen or something. Or some back closet or room.

“Well?” I asked him. “How’d you like it? My hometown.”

He appeared to think for a second. “I’d have to say the best part was leaving.”

I just laughed. “That’s funny, kid.” They both helped me out of the toilet and we faced west as the sun rising at our backs burned the gloom off the world and the horizon came into focus. “I was just thinking the same thing.”

“Enough talk, you two,” Scratch said. “We should be getting out of here.”

“Yeah,” Ned agreed.

I did too. “Yeah. Let’s go.”

So we did. We had no plan but to see where the wind took us. It was a dangerous world out there, but somehow I got the feeling that as long as we had all three of us, we’d make it out alright. And I had another feeling too, as we got walking, a feeling I hadn’t felt in a long time. A feeling that if we played this thing right there might just be something good waiting for us in the future.