Episode 10: Jack The Crowbar
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Within less than an hour, two of my children perished, and two more of my abilities were restored. If I were a woman of malice, I’d say that warranted a celebration. Instead, I remained quiet and unemotional, knowing that my actions are for the greater good and that things will improve on a global scale one I am restored. I had hoped to repress any trepidations and doubts by immersing myself in the idle banter of Jack and Zedaki, yet the two remained silent as they sat in the Blazing Beelzebub while I pushed it onwards, searching for a place to rest for the night.

As darkness loomed and hours passed, we happened across a ramshackle cabin along a forest’s edge. An unassuming dwelling that looked durable enough to keep the elements at bay and seemed likely to have bedding for at least the two of them. It had quickly become a routine process that we had repeated daily since our journey began, and now, this could potentially be the final stop before my mission is completed and all my children are killed.

After parking, or rather placing, the car at an appropriate location, the two left their seats and began digging through the back in order to gather supplies, only for me to interrupt them.

“You need not worry about scrounging for supplies, as I can create just about anything.”

“Oh, right, the Real Booting thing you talked about. I almost forgot,” Zedaki stated, adopting a more reserved tone than what I had come to expect of her.

“Are you sure that’s alright, Abigale? I don’t want to, erm, impose on you or anything,” Jack said, stammering through her limited vocabulary.

“Do not worry. Considering how much I owe you two, this is the least I can do. Plus, I would like an excuse to practice my abilities a bit, even if all I make are water, food, clothes, and possibly some other essentials.”

“Well in that case, can we give you any requests?” Zedaki asked. “Because I probably would’ve killed someone for a good meat pie for the past three or four years. I was never a huge fan of them, but I guess I just miss the taste of home, y’know.”

“Hm… I would be willing to try, but I would not recommend asking me to make anything elaborate. You see, I am still lacking the same intelligence I once possessed, and with it, my intricate knowledge of many things, including the texture and composition of certain objects. Once I regain my intellect, I will gladly make you a meat pie, but for now, I suggest making simpler requests.”

“Hm… all right then… Can you at least make a burger? It’s been too damn long since I had any meat, not from some bird or critter I caught.”

“Not a problem, Zedaki. What about you Jack, is there anything special you would like for dinner?”

“I… I actually had a lot of things from the Flare Foundation… though, meat was a bit scarce, so I guess I’ll just have a burger too… and can I have some onions on mine?” Jack requested, bright-eyed as she mentioned onions.

“Oh, yeah, that sounds good. Hey, can you toss some tomato on mine too?”

“Heh. Well, I can certainly try, but forgive me if things taste a bit strange.”

“Eh, it can’t be that much worse than 7-year-old canned beans,” Zedaki quipped as she and Jack went into the house.

While the two explored the dwelling, I began creating the things I needed in order to prepare their meal. All I needed was some dirt, and I had plenty of that. However, I could not simply make a burger out of nothingness and needed to actually make the blasted thing. As such, I began by creating a metal pan, cutting board, plates, silverware, a spatula, a rack for the pan, a table, and a cleaning solution for the food and my hands, to the materials I needed for the burgers themselves. Creating bread was an art I mastered hundreds of years ago, due to its importance amongst many of the societies I drifted between during what I loosely define as my early years. Vegetables like onions and tomatoes were also a simple process. However, creating the actual meat needed for this meal poised to be its own challenge.

The structure of meat, especially mashed together ground meshes of body parts, had its own complexities and nuances that I had mastered in order to capture the same taste and nutritional value. As for the cooking itself, it was a relatively simple process of gathering firewood, which there was plenty of in the forested area we settled at, and snapping it to set off a spark with a single snap. I mended the ground ‘beef’ into patties, let them sit there, while cutting open the buns and the toppings I had created.

By the time I had placed the bun on the two burgers, both Jack and Zedaki had come out, entranced by the large burgers I had prepared and put on. I gave them the cleaning solution to wash their hands before handing their burgers to them. While the two seemed very excited initially, their faces twisted as they continued eating the burger.

“Hey, Abigale, you sure you got the taste right for this? I mean, it’s not bad, but this doesn’t really taste like a burger. I mean, you agree with me, don’t you, Jack?”

“Um, yes. It tasted a little funny, but it was still really good and nice to have. Thank you for the meal, Abigale.”

“I apologize, you two,” I replied solemnly. “I am still getting to grips with my powers once more. If the meal is not to your liking, I could try to make something else.”

“Nah, don’t bother,” Zedaki replied. “It tastes weird, but it is still leagues better than what I was planning on eating tonight. Besides, it’s been 7 years since either of us had beef, so maybe our taste buds went to shit by living off of scraps for so damn long. Again, thanks a lot Abigale.”

“It really was not a problem you two. I would ask if there was anything else you would want, but considering how dark it has gotten outside, I believe that you two should retire for the evening. Although, I could make you some breakfast in the morning.”

“Seriously?” Zedaki exclaimed. “Well, if you could muster up some bacon and potato hash, I would certainly appreciate it, Abigale.”

“Anything’s fine with me,” Jack muttered in response.

“‘C’mon Jack, you’ve gotta want something,” Zedaki said, putting a hand on Jack’s shoulder.

“Well, um, I liked French toast.”

“See, that’s the spirit! Anyway, Abigale’s right, we ought to get some shut-eye, rise early, and then begin the last leg of our journey.”

As those words left Zedaki’s lips, Jack turned over to me and her expression soured. She and Zedaki wasted little time rallying into the house to rest for the evening, but I had been around Jack enough to know when something was wrong.

“Jack, hold on, I want to talk to you about something.”

With a foot through the door, Jack paused and turned to me, giving me a worried sullen look before shuffling towards me, following me until we were a few meters away from the settlement itself as we moved closer to the woods.

“I never got the chance to talk with you after our incident with Zil. How are you, Jack?”

Jack rubbed her left shoulder in response, poking at the hole in her white shirt and soft blue jacket, both of which had been dyed a murky maroon from her bloodstains.

“Um, it still stings, but I think it should heal up in a few days. Thank you again, Abigale.”

“You really do not need to keep thanking me.”

“Well, I know that you say that, but I really do owe you a lot, Abigale. Although, I, um, I have been keeping things secret for a while. I really have not told you a lot about myself, my past, or, well, anything, and I don’t want to go through this entire adventure of ours without saying anything… so, would it be okay if I told you my story?”

“Of course, Jack. Whatever you want to say, I’m willing to listen,” I said as I leaned up against a nearby tree.”

“So, I told you I lived through the Cataclysm. My parents died. My entire family did. And I was left all alone. Alone in a world that was falling apart all around me, with no clue about how to even take care of myself. I was only 14, and I was thrown out into this crazy world with nothing to help me, or anything I could bring with me… other than my crowbar.”

As she said that, Jack placed her crowbar in both hands and held it softly, taking comfort while she held a tool that doubled as a weapon.

“I spent… about a year just wandering around, looking for food, for shelter, and trying to avoid people. Well, that’s not entirely true. I stayed with some of my neighbors for a while, but after protecting me and giving me food while I did whatever I could, which wasn’t much, they started acting… creepy towards me. I asked them why, but they did not really answer me. They weren’t telling me something, I did not know them very well, and after a few restless nights of worry, I decided that I should leave. I tried to tell them that I wanted to go off on my own, and they told me to stay. I kept saying that I wanted to leave though and they… well, one of them… grabbed me in the middle of the night, took me away from everybody else, and started to… tear my clothes off.”

“I don’t really remember the details, but I know I hit him in the face with my crowbar… and one of his eyes came out, dangling out of his face. I ran away and never saw those people again… but I was scared that I would. So I kept on wandering from place to place, never having much to call my own except my crowbar. It was my only friend in this world, and that made me feel so alone.”

“I was exhausted, but could not go a day without traveling. Hungry, but could never find enough food to be full. And as the summer ended, my days became shorter and my body became colder. I was starving, thirsty, and willing to do anything to sustain myself. That’s when, one night, when I found someone sleeping in an abandoned house. I saw that he had a backpack, a huge one, that was full of food, water, and even had a first aid kit. I thought I would just take a little so I could get by, but as I began looking through his bag, he woke up. I panicked. I knew that I wouldn’t make it for much longer and that without this food, I would probably die. But if he was gone, I could take all of this and keep myself going for days, if now weeks. That’s when I grabbed onto my crowbar and… killed the man.”

“I stabbed the crowbar into his head, and once he started screaming, I couldn’t help but do it again… and again… and again. Until his head was reduced to a bloody stump. I couldn’t move. I was horrified by what I saw. But as I looked at the remains of this man, as I felt his blood grow cold, I smiled. I laughed. I felt… good about what I did. I felt a rush as I beat his head into bits and chunks, and I did not seem bothered by how I just killed someone. Growing up, I was always told that murder was one of the worst things a person could do, but if anything… I found it fun.”

“That is when I began killing people. Throughout the winter and spring of the first year, I murdered 37 different people, either by ambushing them, misleading them or by defending myself with my crowbar. I needed to get by, and that was a good way to get a lot of supplies really quickly. I was so numb to the process that it’s scary to think I was ever like that. That I could be so cruel, so full of… malice.”

“It was near the first anniversary of the Cataclysm that I killed my final person… at least before I killed Marz. I stopped killing because I was captured by the Flare Foundation. It was a typical morning that I spent exploring a nameless roadside town for whatever I could get, and any victims I could claim the spoils of. That is when I saw a strange black van rolling through the remains of a highway, and even though I tried hiding, a squad of soldiers came out running, securing the perimeter, and searching for anyone in the vicinity. I tried to hide, only to be found within minutes, and knocked unconscious with an assault rifle.”

“When I woke up, I was in the van, in handcuffs, with something covering my mouth. I tried to escape, but there were four soldiers in there with me, so that was an impossibility. They eventually started talking to me and mentioned that the Flare Foundation had recruited me, that I would work for them if I wanted to cling to whatever remained of my life. I was confused, but there was nothing I could actually do about my situation. I was not strong, smart, or cunning. I thought that this was the end for me, and… kind of accepted that I was going to be a prisoner or a slave. I knew nothing about the Flare Foundation then, but I had a feeling that it was not a very good place… and it really wasn’t.”

“I was told that I would either behave myself and work for the foundation in exchange for sustenance, or that I would be executed. I had clung to life so hard this past year, that it was not a decision for me. From dawn to dusk, I would work the fields at the courtyard of the facility, toiling the earth and working myself to exhaustion each day, all in exchange for bland meals that failed to fill even my tiny stomach. When I did have the energy, I would cry myself to sleep, my heart filled with hate for what I had become, and what the future had in store for me. But then things changed once I met her. The leader of the Flare Foundation, a woman by the name of Maxxie Flare.”

“She looked a lot younger than she really was, wore a purple suit, and exuded confidence with her every move. One day, she walked up to me while I was working, where she smiled and asked for my name. After I said it, she immediately grabbed me by the arm and said that I had been ‘reassigned’. I thought that she knew about my sins. I thought she knew that I was a relentless murderer. That she was going to kill, torture, or at least punish me for my actions. But looking back, I don’t think she knew about what I did… not that I would describe my time with her as anything but a sick form of punishment.

“Miss Flare made me into her personal ‘fuckdoll’. She would assign me small tasks to do, allow me to walk around important areas of the facility, but at her command, I would drop everything and come to her ‘sex dungeon’. She would do… a lot of things to me, and have me do things to her. I refused at first, but she scolded me for that, threatening to send me back out there if I wouldn’t play with her. I did every twisted thing she wanted. I role-played scenarios with her, stuffed things up my butt, sucked things, and allowed me to treat my body as a ‘canvas’ for whatever fantasy happened across her mind.”

“She was not really a bad person. I feel that she came to love me over time, and after being with her for over 6 years, I feel… I don’t know what, but I don’t really hate her. She would talk to me, teach me things, and gave me far better food than I could’ve found outside… but I don’t know if it was worth it. She, um, she also started calling me Jack.”

“You see… Abigale, I never told you my full name. It’s Jacquelynne Onson, but I used to go by Lynne. However, after she brought me in, Flare… Maxxie, I mean, she would always call me Jack, and I guess I felt that I became such a different person that I couldn’t go back to being Lynne. Lynne was a bright-eyed teenage girl who lost everything, took up a crowbar, and became me. Became Jack. A murderous psycho who was punished for their crimes by becoming a sex toy to an, um, egg-o-mania-keh? No, that’s not it…”

“Egomaniac,” I said, correcting Jack.

“Yeah, Maxxie was an egomaniac who captured you so that she could harness their power, and… I actually always admired you, Abigale. I saw you during the Cataclysm, and seeing you again there, asleep, harmless, and beautiful, it was strange, yet calming. I don’t really know why, but I found it comforting to talk to you, to be around you. Even though it’s pretty silly. Back then, I knew nothing about you, I thought you were just a killer, but I felt, in my heart of hearts, that you could be something more than that. It was silly, but, after getting to know you, I guess my gut feeling was kind of right. I still like being around you, and I’m really glad you let me come along with you on this journey, even though I haven’t been much help.”

As Jack ended that thought, I leaned towards her and embraced her with my arms, placing her in a gentle hug while she did the same, her arms clutching the bottom of my back while her head rested beneath my chest. As we held this position, I moved my left hand to Jack’s head, rubbing her scalp and tussling her hair while she let out a small and adorable coo.

“You have been very helpful in my journey, and I am grateful to have gotten to know you. You may have done some bad things, but given your situation, mental state of the time, and how you are now, I do not think you are a bad person Jack, not at all. I am thankful that you were willing to tell me all of this. It shows how much you trust and appreciate me. For now, I think you should go retire for the evening, but if you have more you would like to say, I am willing to listen.”

“Um, no, you’re right. I did keep you up for a while and… I feel like I got a lot off of my chest. Thank you for understanding Abigale. Oh, and I hate to ask, but, um, is there one thing you can promise me when this is all over?”

“I am careful with what I promise. What is it you would like?”

“Well, after this is all over, could you promise to meet up with Zedaki and I? It doesn’t need to be that often, as I’m sure you’ll be busy, but seeing you once every few years would be really nice.”

“Heh. That sounds like something I could manage. Jack, for helping me out in this journey, I promise, I will visit you and Zedaki once every year for the rest of your lives. Though, I cannot say how long of a visit it will be. I am going to be incredibly busy after this is all said and done.”

“I understand. Thank you, Abigale. For everything.”

With that, Jack began scampering back into our dwelling for the evening. I looked up at the sky, taking in the stars and half-moon that hung above, bringing some light to this night. I focused my senses as I took in a deep breath, trying to pinpoint where my last child could be, and coming away confident that tomorrow truly would be when I would be able to end it all.

After walking her back to the shelter, I crossed eyes with Zedaki, who was leaning against a wall and wore a contemplative expression on her face.

“So, hey. I guess we’re almost done with this whole little journey of yours.”

“Indeed,” I replied while continuing to walk away from the settlement. “I truly did not expect things to go by so quickly.”

“Yeah, me neither. I also didn’t really expect them to go so smoothly. To be honest, I never thought we’d actually make it. I mean, after seeing that B… whatever his name was, the kid with the exploding snaps, I figured that the rest of your kids would be insanely strong. And when we ran into that Marz guy, I thought that it was the end for all of us. Shit, from moment one of day one, I thought that this was a suicide mission. Well, at least for Jack and I.”

“If you thought this was a suicide mission, then why did you join me?”

“To be honest, it’s because of Madeco. I’ve never been much of a leader. I’m not very good at managing people, reading them, or any of that sort of thing. But after she died… after Raiyne died, I was made into the leader of Madeco. Things went… decently, I guess. They were established, there was order, and I tried my best to maintain it. I knew I wasn’t cut out for it and talked about stepping down as the head of the settlement, but I got the vibe that doing so would just bring more problems.”

“That’s when that bomber kid showed up and killed half of my people. I escaped, leaving my people hostage, and I thought about leaving Madeco behind, looking for a new place, as I knew there was no way I could defeat a kid like that. Still, I had to try, and I made some half-decent explosives using supplies in the hardware store. I was ready, willing, and then I lost the nerve after I saw a pile of disfigured corpses. I spent the next day searching for whatever supplies I could before leaving Madeco, as I considered it a lost cause. That’s when I ran into Jack.”

“Yeah. I lied to you about my story. I never made any plans to hunt down the Bomber or anything like that. I just ran away. Then, after I popped that little fucker’s head open like an overripe tomato, I met you. The way I saw it, I had two options. Either return to lead Madeco and deal with all the feces-filled baggage that comes with being a leader or join you on a suicide mission. I was sure that you would live. I saw how you healed when up against the Bomber, after all. But as for Jack and myself? I figured we were both goners.”

“I understand, Zedaki. But why would you willingly go on a ‘suicide mission’?” I asked, following a stretch of silence.

“Like I said, I didn’t want to lead Madeco. I wanted out. I wanted to do something good for the world after I fucked up and got half of my people killed. I figured you were the best shot at things going back to ‘normal’ so I put my life in your hands. I didn’t have much of a reason to walk this joyless husk of a bitch we call Earth, and I guess you could say that I hated myself for being a coward and trying to run away from my problems. That’s why I fought so hard against Marz. I mean, I was one good hit away from having my head smashed against the asphalt.”

“Then, after Jack killed that monster, I started to think about things, about who I was, about how, by wearing my get-up, I was clinging to the memory of a dead woman who I would never see again. Shit, I don’t even have any photos of her, and I probably never will. Now, I’m not entirely sure what I am going to do with myself. I feel like I have spent the past two years or however long in the shadow of someone else, and I am finally myself again. I would ask who I am, but I’m guessing that after we take care of your final kid, and you start rebuilding everything, a lot of people will need to ask themselves that question. For a long time, it was enough to just survive, but it won’t be for much longer.”

“So, I take it you don’t want those three statues of yourself after everything is said and done?” I sarcastically quipped to lighten the mood.

“Pfft, no. But I would like to see Madeco expanded. For it to be a real town. I know you’ll be busy with a thousand different things, but Madeco could really use your help, especially with winter right around the corner.”

“I made a promise, Zedaki, and I intend to keep my promises.”

With that, Zedaki departed to her dwelling once more, only for Jack to flow out of its door beforehand, scampering up to me once more.

“Um, Abigale,” Jack said in her usual meek tone. “It’s pretty cold outside, and seeing as how you have your Real Booting powers back… could you please make me an extra blanket?”

“Oh yeah, could I get an extra too?” Zedaki shouted from the doorframe of the building.

“Sure thing, you two. Just give me a few minutes.”

Rejuvenated by this heart-to-heart, I returned to the churned soil I used previously and created some blankets for my companions. It was a simple request, one I had been fulfilling for centuries, and while the process was complex, like most Real Booting most things, it was a habitual act for me, allowing me to complete the task expediently.

I returned to my companions’ dwelling with the blankets in tow, only to return outside upon wishing them a good night. While prior nights of mine were consumed by slumber, I now had something to preoccupy me. I had a way to spend my time productively, and with this power, with these hours of calm, I made certain to Real Boot a vast array of supplies for my allies, as a way of thanking them for the trials and tribulations I subjected them to. All while they rested for what would become the end of this murderous odyssey.