A battered jeep drove down a lonely road through a stretch of barren land. It had a sturdy metal ramp fixed haphazardly on the front, attached by a couple of alarmingly thin bolts. Abandoned cars adorned the side of the road, gathering dust, as they were slowly rusting. Weeds had sprung up on the cracked and lifeless soil, and the occasional tumbleweed popped up.
There wasn’t a single living soul in sight.
Emphasis on living.
The black tinted windows of the jeep rolled down, and a teenage boy appeared, moving half his body to the outside of the window. He had stern features, but was overall, rather attractive to look at- if you ignored the grime and soot on his face and clothing.
Now, on that stern face, was an expression of unhinged glee, as a spiked bat dangled in his outstretched arms.
The bat hit its target, and a human-shaped head went flying several meters, while the decapitated body stumbled onto the road, before slowly rising back up. The head had been cleaved rather messily, so the decaying flesh and bones splattered all over the road. A flock of crows circled above, but even they didn’t dare come close to feast on what would normally be a meal for days to come.
Not when there were still dozens of them mulling about the area.
The teenage boy plopped back into the passenger’s seat, and rolled up the window, looking quite pleased with himself.
“Did you see that, Five? Huh? Did you see how its head went flying?”
The person named “Five”, was another teenage boy, slightly older than the one next to him. Unlike his wild and dangerous looking acquaintance, Five had a very gentle demeanor. His face was just as grimy as the other boy, but somehow, he still appeared pleasing and kind.
Five frowned, and clenched his hands slightly tighter on the steering wheel. His eyebrows furrowed, as he turned to the side, a hint of disapproval in his expression.
“You shouldn’t do that, Seven. There’s no need to attack them unless our lives are in danger. Besides, that could have very quickly gone wrong, if one of them managed to grab a hold of you, or bite you. “
Even though his words were meant to be scolding, there really wasn’t any harshness put into them. Just like his face, even his chides were gentle.
Seven rolled his eyes, as he wiped the congealed black blood from the surface of his bat, slowly rubbing each spike.
“I knew you would be like this. You take everything so seriously. You’re so nice, that it’s stupid. Who cares if we attack them? It’s not like they’ll die anyway. What’s the harm in having a little fun?”
Five shook his head in exasperation.
“It’s disrespectful-”, he said softly, not looking away from the road.
“Hah! Let’s see if you keep saying that the next time they try to eat you alive, rip you limb from limb, and turn you into one of them- mindless, flesh eating, disgusting rotting creatures.”, spat Seven, clearly annoyed by Five’s disapproval.
Five didn’t react like he wanted, and a disappointed frown hung on his lips.
“They used to have names. Just like us. They were once human too.”, replied Five, even quieter than before.
He didn’t say anything more, but it was clear what he meant.
If one of them turned like that…….
Seven opened his mouth, but promptly closed it, lost for words. He had wanted to say that even if it was Five, he’d still do it- but somehow he couldn’t bring himself to actually utter that.
The silence went on for several kilometers, before Seven slumped down into his seat, and closed his eyes.
“You’re so annoying,” he muttered, as he drifted off.
Out of the corner of his eye, he saw Five smile slightly- the sight was somehow unbearably reassuring.
It had been 3 years since the world- with no better term to use- had ended.
In the beginning, there was order. World governments took charge. They tried to control the spread, look for a cure, and enforce strict regulations.
But the disease was unstoppable.
Just one infected individual was enough to devastate whole cities. In a matter of days, all the major cities fell one by one, like a stack of dominoes. It was a chain reaction of chaos and it was impossible to defeat.
You can only win if there is a fair chance to play in the first place.
“Defeating” was no longer the goal, it was just “Surviving” now.
Seven first met Five a year into “The End of the World.”
Any semblance of order and law had died with the rest of the world. Most areas had become overrun with those things, or were dominated by the worst kinds of people.
Perhaps these people hadn’t originally been so awful, but in a world where you could die a horrible death at any moment- humanity was pointless. It was a lonely existence, but you could only trust yourself.
There were a few pockets of stability, scattered here and there- but people like Five and Seven would never be accepted there.
That didn’t mean Five and Seven were alike though.
They had just been born with shitty, unfortunate lives, at the bottom of the barrel, and had to scrape through mud for just the tiniest bit of dignity.
Seven strongly believed that there were two types of people that could come out with circumstances like theirs.
One was Seven- where they became the scum of the Earth. He would drive everyone to misery, and cause nothing but trouble.
He was filled with every sort of sin imaginable, and there was nothing he wouldn’t sink to. Truly depraved, disgusting and utter filth.
He despised everything and everyone.
And then there were people like Five. Who also had nothing , but instead of resorting to his levels of depravity, they become nothing more than tools for people like Seven to exploit.
Meek, cowardly, pathetic.
Idiots that constantly lost everything, even though they barely had anything in the first place.
Yet somehow, there was a light in their eyes, a naivety, where they believed they still had a fighting chance, even when fate had always spit on them.
It made Seven envious sometimes. He had long forgotten what it meant to hope after all.
Both of them had met after being captured by a group of traders.
Trading what exactly?
Humans, of course. In a normal world, it would be called trafficking, but now human lives were simply commodities. They didn’t even have names anymore, just numbers.
There was no other “good” in higher demand than humans- whether it was for labour, bait, or any other unsavoury purposes.
Five was pathetic, and the traders liked being extra harsh on him. He always got the most dangerous, disgusting, and difficult tasks.
It was a miracle he had even survived through half of them.
On the other hand, Seven was malicious and vindictive- somehow the traders liked that.
Scum recognized scum, he supposed.
Which is why he was surprised they didn’t see his betrayal coming.
Everyone died, except for Five, by that same miracle that allowed him to make it thus far.
At first Seven planned to kill him as well, and finish the deed- but Five begged for his life.
It was so funny. So amusing- seeing that light of hope in his eyes. He wanted to quash it, but in the end he found that he couldn’t.
That had been 2 years ago.
When Seven finally woke up, he found that he was no longer in that dusty old jeep. Instead, he was lying on a lumpy cot inside an abandoned warehouse. A ripped jacket that was so filthy, its original color indistinguishable- had been placed on his shoulders. He pulled the jacket closer, and shivered lightly. It was almost dark and they were still in the desert.
The temperatures would drop drastically, and they needed to gather some material to make a small fire to keep warm.
Seven realized that he had been saying “they” all this time, but Five was nowhere to be found.
Immediately he stumbled out of the cot, his heart pounding furiously.
Had he left? Did he finally run away?
He dashed out the warehouse, a million thoughts running through his head.
If he’s really gone….
What would he do? Bring him back? Threaten him again?
Although countless ideas came to him, the very thought of simply “letting him be” was never one of them.
“You dare try to escape after I warned you so many times…”, muttered Seven, furiously looking around the vicinity.
The sun was low, and the chill was beginning to set in the desert. A gust of sand flew into his face, and he sputtered, trying to expel the abrasive grains that choked him.
He had no choice but to close his eyes, even though every second he spent not searching made Seven feel as though Five was slipping away from him- like holding water in your palms.
With much difficulty, he forced his eyes open, ready to trudge into the open desert.
Yet this time, standing right before him, like a mirage, was Five, holding a black bag in his arms. He looked a bit surprised to see Seven standing outside the warehouse, with a dumbfounded expression.
That gentle grin he had given him when they first met, slowly formed, as though he were amused seeing Seven run around like a headless chicken.
Seven doesn’t say a word, watching him drag his feet through the dunes, walking back towards him.
“Why didn’t you just stay and rest inside? I told you I was getting dinner.”
Seven can’t even find it in him to be angry at Five, so he took it out on the sand beneath him, kicking little plumes into the air.
Five started coughing, bothered by the dust, and Seven instantly stopped.
He settled for just glaring.
“I was fucking asleep, how was I supposed to know where you went?”
Five started to apologize, but even that was irritating Seven, so he grabbed the black bag from Five.
“Dinner huh? What the heck did you find in the middle of the desert?”
“There’s a small abandoned gas station just over that ridge. I found some canned food-”
“There weren’t any of those things right?”
Five shook his head.
“No. There weren’t any.” he muttered, crossing his arms. He looked slightly uncomfortable, and Seven remembered that Five had always been terrified of those creatures.
A calloused hand reassuringly patted his shoulder.
“Relax a bit, and let’s see what sort of trash you brought to eat.”
The flames flickered even brighter, and a soft glow settled on Five’s warm features. He silently munched on a few saltines, his eyes drooping, and movement sluggish.
Seven was laying on the ground, observing him intently, and wondering how Five looked good even when he was covered in grime.
Maybe it was his eyes. They were dark, but held an indescribable sparkle. Those eyes shone no matter what kind of filth it had witnessed.
Five looked at him startled, almost spitting out the saltine he had been chewing, and Seven realized he had said it out loud.
Seven had always been shameless, but in that moment, the foreign feeling known as embarrassment washed through him.
He coughed a few times, trying to create any sort of distraction from what he had just admitted.
“Don’t flatter yourself, I was just…. joking around.”, he mumbled, all too aware how pathetic he sounded.
Five assessed him for a good few minutes, without saying a word, before nodding.
“Of course.”, he replied easily, and then resumed nibbling his crackers.
No one spoke for a while after that, and eventually, Five stopped eating. More than half the can was filled with food, and most of the saltine packet was untouched.
He also laid down near the fire, and huddled his jacket around his shoulders, shivering slightly.
Seven had been pretending to fall asleep all this while, as he was unbearably ashamed.
Yet also incomparably unsatisfied.
This wasn’t what he wanted at all.
And then it occurred to him- since when had he ever shied away from expressing what he wanted?
He had no shame, why must he start now? Why beat around the bush and waste time in a world where every moment could be their last?
He sprung up from the floor, and crawled over to Five, shaking his shoulder.
“Five! Just now! I wasn’t joking.”
“I wasn’t joking.”
Five finally gets up, his eyes still bleary, but he doesn’t say a word.
Wondering if he perhaps didn’t hear him, Seven blurted out again- “It wasn’t a joke-”
“I heard you.”, cuts in Five.
Still there is silence, and Seven couldn’t bear it.
But he also didn’t want to stop now. He needed to say something- anything.
And then he knew.
“Your name. Tell me your name.”
He had once told Five that it was best they never use their real names anymore. Even after they escaped the traders.
That it was a part of themselves that could stay hidden. In a shitty, terrible world, where you had nothing to call your own- not materialistic goods, nor family or friends- you always had your name.
An identity, to show that you were still human, that you were still alive, still surviving, despite everything. To show that you had once been more than what you are now.
They had both agreed to never tell each other their real names- the last untainted part of their identities.
Seven didn’t trust Five with it, and Five definitely had no reason to tell him either.
But now, Seven was desperate to know. He wasn’t eloquent, he was foul-mouthed and illiterate. He had no other way to express what he wanted to say.
Five looked at him, his eyes terrifyingly bloodshot. The veins on his face throbbed and bulged.
“Why do you want to know my name?”
“Who cares why, just tell me!”
“….My name is Five.”
“I mean your real one! The one your parents must have given you! The one you used before everything went downhill. The one that… makes you.. you”
“…I thought we agreed that we wouldn’t tell each other our real names.”
The longer Five tried to avoid answering, the more frustrated Seven became.
He couldn’t understand what it was that he actually felt, but all he knew was that he wanted to know Five’s real name.
It was a part of Five that was missing, and he wanted all of it.
“Fuck! Why can’t you just tell me when I’m asking you nicely? Do I need to beat it out of you?”
The instant he said it, he regretted it- especially when Five’s face turned even more stony. His eyes were twitching, and jaw constantly clenching.
“No.”, he spat out, even more resolute.
“Why? Haven’t we been through so much together? You’re telling me that I’m not worthy of hearing your real name?”
Seven’s anger was rising greater and greater by the second, and it took all his willpower to not do anything rash.
Why was Five being so frustrating? He had always been meek and had no backbone whatsoever. Now suddenly he was being so stubborn?
Or was it that all this time he had just been acting patient with Seven while secretly despising him? And this was simply the final straw?
The thought caused Seven’s chest to feel tight, and throb painfully. Before he could reassure himself that it wasn’t truly the case, the words that exited Five’s mouth next made his heart drop.
“That’s right. I think you aren’t worthy to hear my name. You’re fucking trash, and you know it-”
“YOU-”, roared Seven, grabbing Five’s collar, to make him shut his mouth, but Five kept on going.
It was like a dam had broken open, and tons of polluted water and scum flowed out.
“You think I would consider you a friend? After everything you’ve done to me? You rescued me from the traders, but being with you was no better! You fucking broke my ankle, my ribs, used me as bait- why the fuck would I be kind to you if I didn’t have any other choice? To you, we may have seemed close, but all this time, I was just trying to stay alive, and keep you satisfied. You think I fucking cared about you? You’re nothing but scum in my eyes!”,
Seven just looked at him blankly, processing everything he had said. His grip on Five’s collar loosened. He couldn’t deny a single thing Five had said.
At the beginning he was just having fun, but somewhere along the way, he knew that he could no longer bear to be apart from Five.
Bear to be alone again.
“If you were just pretending… all this time… then… why did you stop now?”, he choked out, unable to ask anything else.
Five sneered at him, beads of sweat rolling down his face.
“I just finally got sick of it, is all.” , he whispered, groaning lightly.
Something wasn’t right.
Five’s pallor was sickly, and he was shivering violently.
“Five….. What’s wrong with you?”
“Nothing. Just fuck off. Leave.”
Seven grabbed him by the shoulder, only to be slammed into the ground.
“Fuck off, don’t come near me, I can’t stand you!”
As he spoke those venomous words, he groaned even more, and whimpered, clutching his arm.
“Are you hurt? Let me see! Stop struggling!”
Seven rolled up Five’s sleeve, and all the colour drained from his face.
On his forearm, was a large bite mark.
The wound was sickly green, with shades of purple and yellow. Blood and pus oozed from the deep indentations, and clot protruding veins throbbed around the mark.
Blood pounded through Seven’s head, and a faint buzzing noise enveloped him. He felt lightheaded and terrified like he had never been before.
“…..You… got bitten. W-When?”
Seven felt dizzy with dread the longer he looked at the wound.
Five rolled his eyes and snorted.
“….While you were getting food. But you said that there-”
“No creatures around? I lied.”
Seven was quiet for a bit longer, before he spoke, so hushed that Five could barely hear him.
“Why didn’t you tell me?”
“WHY DIDN’T YOU TELL ME?”
“Why would I? To have you decapitate me on the spot?”
Seven flinched back, horrified.
“No! No! We could have treated it! If we cut off your arm, there was a chance we could stop it from spreading!”
Seven rolled up the sleeve even further, and pulled up half of Five’s shirt, wondering if there was still a chance.
The sickly green colour and protruding veins covered his entire chest and neck region. The skin was starting to become more translucent, and he could faintly see the outline of his organs.
“Oh my god.”, he choked, unable to hold back the tears he had been furiously fighting.
“It’s too late. There’s nothing you can do now.”, murmured Five, too tired to push away Seven.
Seven knew this too, and he didn’t protest any longer. Silent tears trace down his face, and that horrible sense of sheer powerlessness overcame him.
Clenching the crumpled parts of Five’s shirt, he muttered once again- ”Why didn’t you tell-”
But before he even finished the sentence, he knew why.
If Seven hadn’t decided to ask something so outrageous, to say something so bizarre- he never would have known that Five was bitten.
Five would have never gotten upset with him, upset enough for Seven to discover the bite.
He never would have known, and when morning came, only a creature would have been left behind. A creature that would have mauled him the moment it was born, while Seven would be unguarded and asleep.
Five had intended to drag him down into hell with him.
“…..You really hate me that much?”
Five’s eyes were closed, and his breaths were shaky.
“You already know. Now leave. Fuck off. At least let me die in peace.”
Seven doesn’t move, and he just sat there, staring at Five wheezing for air.
“Are you deaf? I said leave.”
Seven slowly shook his head. His words were careful, and measured, like he feared to hear Five’s reaction.
“…..It’s not like I have any place else to be.”
“……..Do what you want.”, scoffed Five, his gaze never once leaving Seven. “Die with me, for all I care. You’re so damn annoying.”
“I know.”, replied Seven, a tiny smile forming on his face.
Five had never cared for Seven’s grins before- they were usually downright menacing. But somehow, he no longer felt the aching loneliness that had been haunting him throughout his life.
He wondered if meeting Seven had been the greatest misfortune of his life, or his only solace.
The faint rays of morning sunlight peeked through the shattered glass windows of the warehouse.
It felt like time had frozen in that moment, and everything was still.
From the winds, to the din of the fauna, and even the mountains of sand.
It was just Five and Seven, alone together in the world. No one, or nothing else existed.
The faint sounds of Five’s rattling breath was the only thing Seven could hear.
The flushed and sickly face of Five was all Seven could see.
A cold hand wrapped in his, was all that Seven could feel.
Five’s eyes had turned milky, and he barely registered what was in front of him. A high pitched ringing noise flooded his mind, and he couldn’t even hear the world around him.
His extremities had gone numb, and the rot of the disease was spreading, so neither could he feel.
But he knew Seven was there.
It was like he had been plunged into the ocean, sinking deeper and deeper, knowing he’d never reach the surface again. Even if Seven was up there waiting for him.
He had wanted nothing more than to leave him in the past, but in his final moments, Five couldn’t think of any other person who he’d want beside him.
That thought didn’t make him particularly happy or sad.
Seven was saying something, but no matter how hard Five strained his ears, he couldn’t hear.
Five doesn’t move, or show any hint of recognition.
Seven’s tone is pitiful, and dripping with sorrow. He repeated his name over and over again, hoping that Five could hear him.
“Can… hear… name….my name….tell you…”
Five finally nodded, as though he had got it.
In reality, he had no idea what Seven had told him, but he could feel his despair rising. He nodded, trying to reassure him, to show him that he understood.
Even if he didn’t.
A jolt runs through him, and he knows he has hit the ocean floor.
His last thought was how nice it would be, if there was someone who did know his name. Even if it was Seven.
Know that he was once human too, and had a life.
But it died with him, buried inside a shell of what he once was.
There was no turning back, and he felt the last semblance of consciousness he had dissolve like sea foam, turbulently fading into a vast nothingness.
At the end of it all, the waters turn still again.