Two Sides of a Coin

[Competition entry for the "Penpals" competition. By Rodrigo.R.R. Goldlight and Sparrow 3183.] One boy. One girl. A typical love story. But when the boy lives every moment of his life in fear of remembering what used to be? When the girl slowly destroys herself to adapt to a dying world? When there is no hope of escape, no end or respite to the lives they are stuck in? That's not love. That's war.


2. (♂) The Boy and the Girl


He stands, panting, in the middle of the road. His face is wreathed in shadows, his eyes glinting against the darkness. The corners of his thin, pursed mouth is raised in a smile, the lips curled back as he breathes in and out. A slight breeze plays across his hair, the strands of ebony lifting up and curling around. He wears a long coat, also black, which masks his body in a leather armour. His hands are rough and calloused, his slender fingers closed around curved hunting knives, their handles elegant and refined. However, the blades sit coated in a thin flaking layer of dried blood, their beauty dulled with time. He holds the knives backwards, their silver blades curving up behind his back, unseen until the last minute. A melancholy aura seems to emanate from him; the confidence in his eyes, the way he holds himself, seemingly too proud, too knowing, for anyone to ever feel safe around him. He radiates strength, but a dark strength. The strength of a man who will do anything, try everything, to achieve his goal. A man with nothing to lose. 


Around him, the buildings lie in ruin. Houses lie collapsed, bricks scattered carelessly around them. A solitary street-lamp is still giving off light, the others smashed or torn down. Destroyed. The boy does not seem fazed by this. Rather, when his flitting eyes chance upon these remnants of a once glorious town, a slight smile chances upon his lips. It amuses him. The most powerful people, places, ideals, brought down like a fly being swatted by an irritated toddler. And he remained. The loner. The one with no friends. The one holed up in the dark. The one that hid in the shadows. He no more deserved to be here than the cracked roof tile that lay by his feet. But he was. He had made it. He was alive. And he would sure as hell stay that way.


He stays there, frozen in position, his eyes roaming the street, silent and still. As the moon traces its path across the grey sky, the shadows flicker around him. He is playing a game. A game of cat and mouse, a game of annihilation. The enemy appears; he kills it. Normally stragglers, hoping for some unsuspecting prey, an easy catch. But he is the hunter. He does this every night, waiting. it is one of his rituals. One of the only things that keeps him... sane. Suddenly, his eyes snap shut, and he flinches. An almost imperceptible flinch, but a movement nonetheless.
“No.” he whispers, a faint exhalation of breath. He cannot think about that word. He cannot think about what happened. About what he did. It is too painful, in a world already filled with pain.
His foot slowly crawls forward, lifting up off the ground. 
There is no time to stop and think about what could have been. 
He starts walking forward, setting off across the pavement.
There is no point in wishing for another truth.
He is jogging now, his legs moving one after the other in a slow rhythm.
There is no way to fight what has already happened.
He flies along the street, his hair fluttering back in the wind, his coat rustling as his arms pump backwards and forwards.
You can only run.


And run he does. His legs pump rhythmically against the road,  his feet shifting to compensate for the uneven ground without a second thought, his coat fluttering in the wind. He is not simply moving his feet, not just inhaling and exhaling in a pattern, not only moving faster than normal. He is running, in every sense of the world. Running from his fears. Running from his hopes. Running from reality and running to meet it. Running for the hope that somewhere, somehow, there'll be something else. Something better.
But he is also running down the road. Also running from his current hideout in the street of Mornington Crescent, running further and further into the ruined complex of London. Running until the moans around him became louder and louder, until he can make out a thousand hulking figures, devoid of anything but hunger and need, standing in their doorways, watching him silently. The problem with running from your troubles is that it often takes you somewhere worse. “Out of the frying pan, into the fire”, as they say.
'Out of the frying pan, into the fire'. He likes that. If any few words can sum up his situation, there they were. “Life isn't fair”, “Be careful what you wish for”, and “Don't count your chickens until they hatch” all rolled into one. It speaks of unfairness, as does his life. It's about bad situations, made worse. Like his. It's... just an expression. And he is fixating on it. He does that, sometimes. When he panicks, he retreats inside his mind to escape. And he is panicking now. And he is still running. In the heart of London. Far enough inside that even if... when they finally attacked, he couldn't get back. He was trapped. No... not trapped. He was in control of his life, for the first time since the incident. If your life is constantly in danger, the only way to win is to want to... die. There is was. The word. Death. Dying. Pain...

It was sad really. That those were the words which reminded him of her. Even when he tried so, so hard to forget, they just swept right past his defences and sent the past crashing into him. But no more. Enough was enough, even for him. She was his life, sad as it sounds, and he was tearing himself apart because of it. Because no matter how hard he tried, he would never, could never leave her behind. Not without leaving everything.


He made a promise, then. Keep running. Don't stop until everything else is gone. The boy's thoughts were a raging avalanche, and the promise was anchoring them down. He needed it. He couldn't live alone, trying so hard to forget, destroying himself every time he remembered. Enough was enough. So the boy ran, deeper and deeper, until the shapes were blocking him in. Until there was no turning back. And so, when he finally stopped, a towering wall in front of him, houses to either side, there was no escape. The boy smiled; his life had purpose once again. He drew his knives up, their silver blades baying for blood, desperate to feel steel rend through flesh. There was no fear, not anymore. There was just him, and how many of them he could take to the grave.


He leapt forward, suddenly, as graceful as a panther in motion, his blades arcing up, both cutting through an enemy, and then slashing back down to deliver the fatal blow.
“Well,” he said, his voice hoarse from not speaking, as he cut through the arm of someone reaching to grab him, continuing him path of destruction. “They're not really enemies, are they? Are you?” His tone was questioning as he brought his face up against that of a middle age man, perhaps in his thirties. The man opened his mouth to bite the boy, and his head was thrown into the air. His body remained on the ground.
“See? You guys are too easy to kill. You can't even use-” He interrupted his monologue to let out a grunt of effort as he pushed back at a large woman grabbing his shoulder. “-Weapons, and if it was just a one-on-one fight I would tear – you – guys – to – shreds!” Each of his last words was punctuated by the hunting knives taking another half formed life. “You're more like zombies, I guess. And it was a typical story, you know. A new disease starts, we try to kill it, it turns everyone into zombies. I could be the star of a film. Me and... her. We could have been the... the...” The boy feels the same rage boil up inside of him every time he remembers. He attacks faster, more violently, his knives ripping though flesh instead of slicing. He is not a graceful warrior, not any more. He is a butcher. And the zombies are his livestock.


Half an hour later, he still stands there. Well over 100 bodies lie at his feet, to the extent that the remaining zombies are climbing over their fallen comrades. The boy has made the high ground. He annihilates  more zombies with every passing second. But he is not in control. He is fighting one-handed now, the blade that fit so perfectly into his left hand only a few minutes ago lying somewhere beneath the packed bodies. His coat is miraculously unscathed, but there is deep wound is his arm. Bite marks. Probably infected. He is shaking all over, the adrenaline that's keeping him going burning every energy reserve in his body. His earlier remarks had been replaced first by stony silence, and now by painful gritting of teeth. In this one hour, he has killed more than in the past 3 months. But there will be no more deaths. This is it. One last push for a failing nation. Suddenly, the boy grits his teeth tighter, his breath escaping in a hiss. He is pulled forward by his left arm, previously dangling by his side, into the crowd. He quickly slashes out and plunges his blade deep into the zombie, but it is too late. He has lost his ground. There are zombies on all sides. He drops his remaining knife, and it falls to the ground with a clatter. “It's finally over”, he whispers, as the zombies eagerly shuffle forward. At one point, he thought he could take them all. There were perhaps 50 left, far less than half. But he is not infallible. Nobody is. He closes his eyes, promising himself he will never open them. 

And then he hears a scream. 

It is not a scream of pain, however. It is a maniacal, insane scream. A... a scream of pure, unadulterated joy. His eyes snap open, another promise shattered, forgotten. He knows that scream. The zombies around him turn, unsure, and he quickly picks up his knife and scrambles back to the top of the pile of bodies. And what he sees is a whirlwind. A hurricane, swirling through the ranks of zombies, steel slashing through them on a whole other level to his abilities. The figures dives straight to the middle of the crowd not caring that there are zombies on all sides, simply destroying them from the inside out. Anyone or thing that gets close falls to the glinting blade, droplets of blood spraying in the air, far more than when he was battling. In a matter of minutes, the zombies are dead or dying, and the figure stands, panting, a katana in her hands. His gaze rests on the purple hilt of the sword. It can't be. The girl looks up, then, her long brown hair, bloodstained, falling to her shoulders. They stare at each other, the boy pale, the girl smiling. And then she laughs.
“You were pretty good back there. 123 kills in one night. Nice one.” Her voice is lilting, rising and falling, sing-songy. “But try not to die next time, kay?” And she was off, running down the street without a backward glance. She turned a corner and disappeared, her laugh echoing in his mind. Lost for a second time.


He collapsed, then, all the energy leaving him. She was there. He had finally seen her, after all this time. All his dreams had come true. His only wish, the one thing he had spent hours thinking about, was for her to come back. And then... she'd left, all his new-found hope disappearing with her laugh. Too loud to be genuine. Too happy to be real. Too free to be.... sane.

He thought she would know him. He thought she might be better. He thought it would all be okay when he saw her.
He thought wrong.

The girl still forgot.
And the boy still remembered. 

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