Through the balmy night, we eventually reached the shack. One of the four remaining bodyguards threw open the door to reveal two beds on the floor. A very hairy man slept in each bed. Two bodyguards went to each bed, bending down and gruffly shaking each of the bearded men. The men sprung up from the bed, surprised, quickly glancing around the semi-darkened interior of the shack. Thinking they were in some kind of trouble, they quickly rushed for the front door, my father and I standing aside to let them pass. Dad looked at me and clunked his plank arm against his forehead. This was a new habit he had developed ever since his arm had changed. It seemed to imply that he was thinking of something.
“Tired?” he asked.
“A little. But I’m kind of afraid to sleep.”
“We should probably try. We’ll have a long day ahead of us tomorrow.”
The shack had four windows. A bodyguard stood in front of each window, their backs to us, looking out at the night. I sat the flame by the bed on the left and lay down.
“This could be a lot worse,” I said.
“Indeed,” Dad said.
He lay down also, placing his hand behind his head and letting the plank clunk out onto the floor.
“So we might actually make it there tomorrow, huh?” I asked.
“Looks like it.”
“I think we’re doing the right thing.”
“I hope so.”
“Even if we don’t find Mom or Grandpa, I still think we’re doing the right thing.”
“You don’t think so?”
“I just feel like, if we don’t come away with at least one of them, it will all have been in vain. I just want to get home. I feel like I’ve lost all my disguises. I’ve peeled away... years from my life and now I want to get on with how things are supposed to be.”
“That makes sense. But think about it... Especially after leaving Home City... Think about how pure the Nefarions’ culture must be. They live on an island they wouldn’t leave if they didn’t have to fuck with things in our world and all they really had was this flame. That was all they needed to keep them happy. That was all they needed to stay on the island. We’re not like that. Look at the people in Home City. They needed constant entertainment...”
“Yeah, most of them don’t even sleep anymore.”
“And, you know, when they get tired of that city, they’re going to go somewhere else, probably some harmless inoffensive small town, and rape that until it suits the corporations’ needs.”
“There’s no escaping that though, David. It’s capitalism. That’s the way things work. They have to work that way to support our lifestyle.”
“But what about the people who don’t want that lifestyle? I mean, is there no choice in capitalism?”
“Well, you can choose to boycott the stores. You can choose to do a lot of things. You can buy some land and live in a shack in the woods but you’re still going to be paying taxes and everything else that keeps the society thriving. Whether you want to or not. Whether you even should or not. You don’t really have a choice, I guess. So you might as well just sit back and enjoy it. I don’t think it’s changing any time soon and, quite honestly, you’ve never experienced anything else. You’d probably hate it. It seems pretty romantic and fantastic to draw away from all of that but, given the opportunity, I’m guessing you would run screaming home after less than a month.”
“Maybe you’re right.”
“For as much as you long for this purity, it simply doesn’t exist anymore. There really isn’t any part of this world that hasn’t somehow been sullied and dragged, kicking and screaming, from the past. It could be a lot worse. You’ll probably be dead before every place is like Home City.”
“Jeez. I think I hope so.”
“So, I mean, there’s no reason to feel like a criminal just because we have the flame. That’s just how things worked out. If I would have realized the far reaching implications of it a long time ago, I would have worked on returning it. I mean, I would have put a little more effort into it.”
“Then we might not be here now.”
The lights from Home City were so bright they even illuminated the inside of the shack. I lay there and looked up at the ceiling. It was comforting, knowing that we were surrounded by bodyguards. I had always slept with the fear that someone could invade my room on any night and I would just never wake up. Eventually, I heard the deep rhythmic breathing of Dad, now fast asleep. I had a tougher time of it. There was something I was thinking about doing but I wouldn’t really know until we made it to the island. This filled me with a kind of anxiety. It was like trying to go to sleep on the last night of summer vacation, the anticipation of the first day of school turning into a racing series of what ifs. Even this far away, I could hear the sounds coming from the city. They never stopped. Like at home, by the time you went to bed, there wasn’t a sound to be heard. At dawn, the air around you became filled with airplanes and chirping birds, distant trains maybe. But the city was on a twenty-four hour clock. There were enough people to fill every hour of the day. There was something depressing and exhausting about it.
My body and eyes unable to stay awake any longer, I finally drifted off.
When I woke up, all the bodyguards were dead. Luckily, both Dad and I were unharmed. What was the meaning of that? Was it just a warning? Maybe the Nefarions wanted to slowly strip away the bodyguards so when we finally came upon the island nothing stood between us. I no longer felt so secure.
Dad still slept soundly. I rose from my mattress, walked over to his and kicked it roughly. Startled, he woke up. Then he sat up and said, “Well, I guess it’s time to go.”
“We have to make sure we make the ship’s departure.”
I didn’t have a watch and he didn’t have a watch and there weren’t any clocks in the shed so we had no idea what time it was. He stood up and straightened his clothes, tugged his mustache into shape with his good hand. I fluffed my beard with my hands. It was heavy and scratchy. My hands came away greasy.
We left the shed. The two vagrants who occupied it last night were waiting outside the door.
“Have you guys been waiting out here all night?” I asked.
They both hooted and the one on my left punched the other one on the shoulder. He held his shoulder and made a whimpering sound. I figured conversation was probably useless. We took off walking down the other side of the hill, leaving most of what we had known before behind.