Xander Cole: Revenge of the Rogue Zombies (Vol. 1 No. 2)

Ryan lived with his father in a small shack that was just on the edge of Safe Zone City. We call it SZC for short. Every morning, just as the bright sun rose over the dark horizon of this decrepit earth, Ryan woke to a few Untamed rattling the Boundary Fence.

He would pop his little head up, and an open window showing Untamed shaking the fence and getting zapped was right there. Next to the open window was a small poster of a dark man in all black clothing. He wielded a staff firmly in his left hand and he stood majestically.

This was Ryan’s idol. This was Xander Cole.

The window wasn’t much of a window at all since the glass was broken, but Ryan didn’t complain. He seemed to just like the idea of looking out of something every morning before yawning widely and stretching his arms to a roof that had surprisingly managed to continue its existence after all this time. The window had been like that since Ryan’s mother and father claimed the place from their fellow bottom feeders a few years back, and the noise was sort of like a wake up call. An alarm of sorts, if you will. And the timing seemed to work out perfectly for Ryan and his father.

Rogue Hunters made sure to be back inside by nightfall unless they wanted to die by  Rogue or were carrying out special missions ordered from The Lead up at Top Branch. With Hunters held at bay while it is darkest, of course, Rogue always try to turn they’re plans in motion, and Untamed always wander.

They’re good at that–Untamed. They wander here and there, in circles, around each other, to corpse meals, sometimes close and sometimes far.

And every morning, there is always a gang of them that have wandered astray from wherever their mushy minds have decided to wander them astray from, and they end up burning on the fences right outside of Ryan and his father’s shack, and right outside of the always open, shack window.

Just when Ryan’s father was supposed to make his way to Boundary and Security Headquarters, like clockwork, he would hear the moaning, the rattling and then the zapping. Then he would calmly rise from his mat just across from Ryan’s as if he had been awake all night, and without uttering a sound besides a slamming door, he would leave the shack just before the crack of dawn.

Ryan’s father was a simple male specimen. Having only been referred to as Father by himself and anyone else around, that’s exactly what Ryan called him. That is, when he even had the chance to speak to him. Ryan had never had an actual conversation with Father outside of him ordering Ryan, “Don’t go outside the Boundary Fence, boy. It’ll be the last thing you ever do.” So Ryan knew Father could speak, and speak well. He nodded his head faster each time Father told him this, partly because he was scared of Father and because he was scared of what was outside of the Boundary Fence.

So, that was all Father had ever told Ryan in his thirteen years of living. And Ryan listened. On the straight and narrow he went as he looked to that fence outside of the open shack window every morning and then looked the other way, back into Top Branch, where he went for classes.

Ryan’s journey to class was a tad-bit different than most, though. He was the only Bottom Branch student. All of the other Bottom Brancher’s kids were working since there was no use for classes where they came from.

That didn’t detour Ryan, though because he loved to learn and see Top Branch.

At this point in his life, he had grown so insensitive to the smell of Untamed’s burning flesh, that you would’ve thought he was actually born that insensitive. He would lower his arms after stretching them and yawning, and then he would scratch his little noggin full of kinky curly hair that was smashed down from sleeping on it all night. Mat hair. Mat hair that the Top and Mid Branch kids in class liked to joke about being “Nasty, smelly, poor poor shack hair from under the Bottom Branch.”

It never bothered Ryan, though. He just smiled and kept it moving. Go home. Go to sleep. Wake up. Scratch his head, and do it all over again. Wash, rinse, repeat.

Every now and then, he would put a peculiar brown substance in his hair to make it more neat and curly like the kids in class, but that was mainly reserved for award and acknowledgment days. He had to handmake the substance, which took a lot of work considering that the ingredients included having to steal rare life berries from the markets in Top Branch. He also had to snatch some water, honey and peppers from Mid Branch and gather a bit of pig fesses from the Browning’s shack next door. The Browning’s bred pigs, but nothing else. No one knew why, but every once and awhile, one of the pigs would go missing if they weren’t watching them carefully.

Normally, Ryan’s hair was anyway it wanted to be when he woke, and he was perfectly fine with that. His hair was just long enough to look matted, but not too messy if he put his fingers through it a few times.

Before heading to Top Branch for classes, he would go behind the shack, lower his dirty ripped pants and grunt loudly. Sometimes he would scream in agony behind that shack while his insides ran right out of him, but that was only when he decided to gather the pig fesses for his hair substance and the pig itself for his dinner the night before. Shortly thereafter, Ryan would grab a few leaves and stick it between his cheeks. He would take them out eventually. Right before entering Top Branch always seemed to be when he remembered the leaves were even there, and then he would throw them out of his pants and let the wind take them away.

Playing with the Untamed seemed to be part of the morning routine too. Right after relieving himself, Ryan would step in front of the fence. Just far enough not to be zapped and just close enough to look at the burning Untamed try to fight their way through.

“You wanna eat me you ugly creature?” Ryan would ask knowing there wouldn’t be a response besides a slow moan. “Well come on then. Go for it. If you feeling’ froggy then jump you ugly creature.”

He would feel really strong at this point and step back and give a couple jabs and punches.

“You…”

Left jab.

“Can’t…”

Right punch.

“Touch…”

Shuffles feet.

“Me!”

Swings with a left haymaker to the air.

Then he would get too close and too comfortable. Too cocky without anything to show for it, you know? An Untamed would make a desperate lunge and almost grab Ryan’s shoulder, and he would stumble back as if he saw a live Rogue.

He would avoid the fence for awhile after that, but give it a day or two, and he would be right back over there. Testing his luck, swinging at nothing and stumbling back. That’s how the cycle went.

Walking to Top Branch and back was routine for Ryan now, but the travel was always long and lonely. Luckily, Ryan knew how to entertain himself. He would click his tongue obnoxiously and once he stepped by someone playing an instrument on the side in Mid Branch, you could be sure that Ryan would be whistling the tune the rest of the journey.

There was always a moment of opening. It happened while walking through the windy gold wheat field at the point when Bottom Branch turned into Mid Branch.

Even though he numbed himself to this fact over time out of his own sense of pride, Ryan would look back at all of the sickness, the heartache, the smell of rotting flesh burning and his downright filthy lifestyle on the edge of the Boundary Fence in Bottom Branch.

He would turn around to face the rising sun and put his left foot in front of the right. That’s when he started to whistle against the early morning wind.

He never whistled anything specific on his own in the mornings, but it never really mattered. The sound of something pure always got him through a day full of obstacles and opposition.

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