Word Count: 805
I sat there waiting.
I was waiting for two different things. One was for Cancer to return alive the other was for this damn woman to bugger off somewhere so I could talk to her sons. She was hovering around them like an overprotective sap and something churned in my gut. I couldn’t tell what it was exactly, jealousy maybe? Grief, probably.
Their father had wandered off somewhere after he was satisfied that Cancer was going to go. I found myself disliking the people in this camp, they hadn’t exactly been welcoming. I wondered if it was even worth staying here.
‘Don’t forget to do your chores.’ She kissed each of them on the head before walking away.
Chores? Who has chores in a zombie apocalypse?
I tried to be subtle, make it look like I was heading in no particular direction. Nobody was paying attention though, they were all busy with their own things and I planted myself on the ground next to the teenagers. They looked up at me and gave a small smile but didn’t really say anything.
I tried to choose my words carefully.
‘Where did you say you were from?’
‘Michigan,’ one of them replied. ‘Why?’
‘Your friends, did you have any…’ how could I say this without being obvious or racist? ‘Of mixed culture?’
Mixed culture? How lame did that sound?
They stared at me blankly.
I decided to cut the shit and get straight to it. ‘You called my friend trailer trash. Where did you hear this?’
‘Mom said it,’ the older one said, unfazed. ‘I didn’t.’
‘Yeah well you know you shouldn’t really call people stuff like that.’
‘But he is trailer trash.’
‘He isn’t trailer trash, he’s a human being. He’s like you, like me. You can’t label people based on stuff that you dislike about them.’
The younger one frowned at me and I could sense him getting a little uneasy. Fuck it; make it as uneasy for them as I could, just so long as they’d digest what I was saying.
‘There’s no such thing as “trailer trash”, not in this world, not anymore. That guy has saved my life more times than I can count and he still has feelings, even if he’s stubborn about showing them.’
‘Why are you telling us this?’ The older one said.
‘Because I’m sick of discrimination,’ I sighed. Memories of high school were beginning to resurface; the merciless bullying I had gotten just because I was a little different to everyone else. I wasn’t even that different; it was just because I couldn’t stand up for myself and because I was awkward. ‘We all have blood running through our veins, we all have one mind and one heart and one skeleton. We are the same, despite our beliefs or our mannerisms or our religion.’ I was preaching but I couldn’t stop. ‘So I don’t really want to hear you calling him that again.’
‘Or what?’ the kid was getting cocky and challenging.
‘Or you and I are gonna have a problem,’ I frowned.
‘I could take you.’
Where the hell was this child getting all this confidence and this threatening attitude? He was a couple of years younger than me and any other time I would have let it drop, I probably would have been scared to go any further but I had gone through too much recently to just let it go.
His sibling was goading him onwards which of course gave the little brat the false confidence he needed to stand up to me further. He got to his feet and stared down at me.
This was all very dramatic, and it was all because I had chosen to give them a lecture.
I remained on the floor. ‘Don’t be an idiot; you’re fourteen years old.’
‘I could still take you.’
‘I’m not fighting you,’ I scoffed. ‘I don’t hit children.’ I got up. ‘I’m just saying if I hear language like that from you again you may regret it.’
Oh god, now I was threatening him. Cancer was doing a better job at feigning peace with the others than I was. I was going to be the one to get us kicked out of here, not him.
I saw a little bit of fear in his eyes and I swallowed. ‘Look, sorry. That sounded worse than I meant for it to sound.’
He didn’t say anything; he was trying to be brave.
I ended up patting his shoulder lamely, resisting the urge to tell him to stay in school, or say no to drugs. You know those corny lines that they feed to children?
As I turned to walk away, one single word escaped the child’s lips but of course it was the one that brought the most dread to me.