Zack is my best friend. He lives down the street in the corner-most house, right at the edge of the woods, which I find equally awesome and terrifying. He's been my best friend for life since we met in the library three years ago, and I found him clutching the special edition comic I'd been waiting for months! I couldn't resist and politely asked his mother - who never seemed to leave his side, and sometimes it seemed overbearing, if you ask me, especially for an eight year old. She asked Zack to hand it to me to read. I suggested that we could read it together, but his mother seemed scared at the prospect, as if I would have hurt him, so she quickly shook her head, forced a smile and took the special edition comic away from him and gave it to me. Anyway, that's a long story, and Miss Clara asked us to write a page a day. Zack is my best friend for life. Mother tells me that I'm quite an unusual boy for my age, which is twelve years, four months and twenty-three days at the moment, not counting the hours and minutes. I could do that too. I have always been able to do that, which is what made Zack interested in a scrawny boy like me and we became best friends. I'm unusual because... well, it sounds like I lack humility, because I haven't yet learned how to phrase words without seeming self-important, but she says I'm a lot kinder for my age. When I think about it, it doesn't seem to make any sense. I mean, Miss Clara tells us to be kind, and it took me a while to know what it meant. I was rather happy too, I will admit, because from what we were told, I figured I was usually kind. But what was the big deal about it? I asked mom once, and she sighed so heavily and smiled so sadly, although lovingly, that I didn't ask her again. Yet, I want to know. What's the big deal if I'm a kind boy? What's so unusual about it?
Benzie left his journal at that. He had already known that Miss Clara would not be reading whole summer journals by everyone in his class, which would be twenty-five. Even then, since he was one of her favourites - and he knew that despite the fact that Miss Clara didn't show it because she wasn't supposed to have favourties - he hoped she would read his journal and answer his questions. He looked at the page again, re-reading his entry five times over, because he did not want to have any spelling or grammatical error. A page a day is too short, he thought, wondering about all the things about Zack he wanted to write. His heart conflicted on a few things, because if he was honest with himself, he thought they were somewhat rude things to mention, like the strange smell of a chemical that fills Zack's house and which Benzie didn't find very pleasant. Nevertheless, he loved spending time with Zack, and his mother, because his mother never left his side even when the boys were eleven, and he didn't mind a little chemical in the air for that.
'Aren't you running late for school?' asked Grandma from the other side of the table while Benzie swallowed what was left of the scrambled eggs on his plate. He nodded vigorously and plopped off his chair. He made it to the door before turning back and planting a kiss on Grandma's cheek.
'Can I go to Zack's straight after school?' he asked, hoping that she'd say yes, despite having been refused each time.
Grandma's mouth opened and quickly shut again. It seemed to Benzie that she'd been about to say yes, but then thought the better of it. However, when he heard her speak, he couldn't have been more surprised.
'Only if you keep a promise,' she said.
His eyes shone bright as stars. 'Really?' he squealed. 'Anything you say grandma. You know I never break promises.'
She smiled. 'Before leaving school, you have to apply the recommended amount of Klotin. You will not go without doing that, all right?'
Benzie nodded, only after a slight pause. 'I'm still not old enough to know everything?' he asked.
Grandma shook her head. 'It's a responsibility to know everything, Zie. Sometimes you're better off not knowing. Be a good boy. Here,' she took out a blue bottle of liquid, a nozzle on top, and put it in an inside zipper of Benzie's bag. 'Rush now.'
Benzie was happy that he would be allowed to go to his best friend's house straight after school, which was happening for the first time ever! Zack used to go to school, but he started homeschooling right after kindergarten. That's also when he started celebrating all his birthdays with his family and no friends. Till the time he met Benzie, that is.
J.C. Valley Middle School was a twenty minute walk from Benzie's place, but Benzie had fifteen minutes to make it. Hitching up his school bag a notch higher and taking care to stay on the pedestrian path, Benzie started running. Thirteen minutes later, he was making his way to the classroom, breathing heavily. Mr Jones was already in class, his back to the room, finishing writing the words 'Maladies of the current times.'
Mr Jones wasn't particularly Benzie's favourite teacher, especially since he taught them Biology, which Benzie wasn't quite fond of. So they'd be learning about maladies today? Ugh. He didn't even like the word.
'What do you know about maladies?' asked Mr Jones, once the class had been settled.
As usual, Kevin's hand shot up.
'An ailment, sir.'
'A serious ailment, sir,' Gina replied sharply. Benzie remembered that her mother was a doctor.
'Very good,' Mr Jones nodded to the two of them. 'An ailment deeprooted, or something that's not easy to resolve is a malady.'
Benzie's stomach twisted itself into knots. He wasn't enjoying this at all. Mr Jones spent the next half hour explaining three maladies to the class, after which Benzie was not the only one who seemed nauseated.
'I'm not sure we fall in the recommended target audience for this topic,' Gina muttered, looking angry. Benzie glanced sideways at her. He usually remained silent in Mr Jones's class, but today he was absolutely mum. The wall clock showed seven minutes and thirty-six seconds for the bell to ring, according to Benzie's calculation. He was about to start thinking about something far more interesting, like stories or numbers, when he heard the word 'Klotin'. Mr Jones was in the process of explaining something, and Benzie realized he had missed it. He peeped into Gina's notebook.
Her handwriting made deep dents into the page as she had written forcefully and furiously.
'... protective chemical... perfumed... mask... safety... flesh... similar to zo-' This was followed by a deep gash in the paper, and Benzie could read no more. He turned his attention to Mr Jones.
'... seems like something from fantasy novels and movies, and if you had any inclination and idea about it, I'm sure you'd understand better. This, however, is real life,' his voice had turned grave, and Benzie noticed how he wasn't the only one equally scared and intrigued. 'The victims then lose sense of smell entirely, except for the smell of skin. Of the scent of human flesh.' Benzie's heart started pumping harder. Mr Jones continued, disregarding Gina's look of pure dislike, which Benzie couldn't ignore. It wasn't her look as much as the angry shuffling of her feet on the floor, even as she sat, 'This malady is presently identified in nine people across the globe.'
A stunned silence reigned in the room. Mr Jones seemed to be enjoying the show. 'Now, who says we aren't really away from a zombie apocalypse?'
'What about those nine people?' Gina asked, her voice strained. Benzie could see her hands clutched together tightly in her lap. 'What happened to them?'
Now Mr Jones turned a slight shade of red as he properly registered Gina's question. Or rather, Gina herself. 'Well, you don't mean to say you don't know?'
What happened next surprised Benzie so much, he was sure he wouldn't do that ever in his life, for it could be so scary for everyone around him. Gina stood up, banging a fist on the table with all the force she could muster, a large tear rolling down her angry cheeks. Grabbing her bag, she cried out, 'No one cares for them! You talk about them like they're an experiment! THIS WORLD IS STUPID!' With that, she stomped out of the class, ignoring Mr Jones's feeble attempts to stop her. Benzie's heart raced. He badly wanted to go after her.
'This was an example of how you are not supposed to behave in class,' Mr Jones spoke in a serious voice, scribbling on an orange detention slip. Undoubtedly for Gina. The bell rang. Benzie spent the entire day looking for Gina - between class breaks, of course, which lasted five minutes - but she was nowhere to be found. By that time, he had already heard rumoured whispers about her, including some as weird as Gina being a zombie herself.
He felt uneasy all day long. Many questions came to his head, and he felt that Gina, with whom he hadn't spoken more than a polite 'Hi, how are you?', would definitely answer some. The final class came to an end. Benzie picked up his bag and rushed to the boys' restroom on the ground floor. He was sure he didn't want the other boys to know about him going to Zack's, especially not when he'd be dabbing himself with four squirts of Klotin on his face and arms, eyes closed. No one understood Zack. In fact, and he hated to recall, some of the boys even went so far as to call him a weirdo. While closing the zipper, he noticed with a sinking feeling, a library book that was due that day. J.C. Valley Library did not entertain late penalties, and Benzie did not want to face mother with a fine on his head.
Sighing heavily, he made his way to the library, hoping he would be able to drop the book and rush back before anyone could make out his strong perfume. To his relief, the librarian wasn't behind her desk, so he swiftly dropped in the book in the Returns stand, and turned around to leave. Just as he did, he caught a glimpse of a figure crouched low in front of the huge windows, bent over a book. He would not have bothered to see who stayed back after school in the library, but he knew it to be Gina, so he quickly went towards her, forgetting all about his perfume.
She looked up, narrowing her eyes at him. Her eyes seemed puffy.
'Hey,' he began.
'What do you want?'
'Umm... I just wanted to know if you're all right,' Benzie replied, unsure if he should sit down. 'I was looking for you. Before.'
'You won't understand. Nobody will. This world is so stupid!' She gasped for air as she said that, and Benzie noticed she had crunched up a page in the library book. He wished she would shut it or confess about it to the librarian, but he felt she wasn't going to do either of the two. She just wasn't there, really.
'Well, I want to. Something about Mr Jones's class was disturbing me too. I just don't know what.'
Gina looked up at that.
Benzie continued, 'Do... do you know anything about Klotin?'
Gina stared at him. It seemed to Benzie that she was at first angry, but it turned to surprise, and then for some reason... to shock.
'What do you know about it?' she asked, closing the book and slowly crawling away from him.
Benzie was tired of questions, and he figured if he didn't keep Gina's attention any longer, she would be gone. He realized his perfume now covered their surroundings.
'My best friend,' he said in a whisper. 'I cannot go to him without Klotin. He is homeschooled. I've been told he is delicate, so he cannot really go to school and play like other boys. You have to trust me, Gina. I want to know.'
It took Benzie a good part of the next ten minutes to explain and convince her to tell him what she knew. Gina told him about herself - her story, her relation with Klotin, and why she thought the world was stupid. Benzie felt hot tears running down his cheeks and surprisingly, he wasn't ashamed of them right then, even not in front of a girl. Perhaps that was because Gina's face was wet too. Klotin happened to be a protective applicant, to be applied on exposed areas of the skin. It was used to mask the scent of human skin, to keep them safe from those suffering from a dangerous disease called kloetinbititis. Benzie didn't even try pronouncing it right.
'We've got to warn them,' Gina said, getting up determinedly. 'I don't want that to happen to anyone else.'
Benzie nodded, trying to rid himself of the shaky feeling that had enveloped his body. He ran with Gina outside the school, and all the way to the end of the lane where Zack's house stood, right next to the woods.
'You got any more of that Klotin?' Gina asked.
Benzie nodded and handed it to her. A sinking feeling filled him as he saw, for the first time, the true purpose of its use.
They went inside. It was chaos.
Clothes, big and small, items of daily use, the silver adornments that always stayed on the mantelpiece, everything lay in a heap. In the middle of it sat Zack's mother, feverishly sorting them out and roughly folding them, keeping them in a couple of large trunks. She looked up at the two kids and for a moment, didn't register them.
'Oh,' she said. 'Benzie! Ohmy. I totally forgot your grandma said you'd come over!' she sounded frantic, getting up and coming over to them. 'You brought a friend?' she asked, glancing at Gina.
'I know,' Benzie said in a tearful whisper. Zack's mother froze.
'Know what, dear?'
'About Zack,' Gina said. 'You've got to hide him. They're looking for such patients. Mr Jones told us in class today and I checked with my mother right before coming here,' she said in a rush. Benzie noticed how she had used the word 'patients' instead of what Mr Jones used - victims.
'But... you... You're mistaken, kids,' Zack's mother said, forcing a smile. Benzie had seen too many of those to know what it was.
'We aren't,' he insisted. He looked around. 'You're leaving? Where's Zack?'
'My dad is one such patient,' Gina muttered, looking steadily at Zack's mother. 'He was taken away. He's one of the nine patients identified with the disease. I don't know what they're doing to him, but from what I overheard mom saying, I know it's not something pleasant. They talk about him like he isn't even human!'
Zack's mother finally seemed to trust them. She looked tenderly at Gina and said, 'Thank you. We got a warning from someone I trust, and we're leaving. I... I'm really grateful to you. I will pray that your father is safe, and that you'd meet him soon enough.'
Gina shrugged. 'Can we see Zack? We've got Klotin on us.' Zack's mother nodded. Benzie ran towards Zack's room, Gina in tow.
Zack was standing in front of his toy-cupboard, a large trunk behind him. 'You're late, Zie,' he said without turning around. 'I feel terrible, Zie. We're going away. We-' he stopped as he saw Gina.
As for Gina, she was looking at the strangest boy she ever saw. Nearly a foot shorter than them despite being the same age, Zack was a small boy, his legs rather thin. His sweet face was an entirely another matter. His hazel-brown eyes seemed like they were perpetually in wonder and his thin lips presently curved into a small smile.
'Hi,' he said, not coming closer.
'Hi,' Gina replied. 'My name is Gina, and I'm Benzie's new friend. Nice to meet you, Zack,' she replied politely. Zack nodded.
'We're going away, Zie,' he repeated, looking at Benzie, his eyes becoming sad.
'I'm so sorry about that,' Benzie replied, going over to where Zack stood. 'Is it far? Where you're going?' he asked, even as he knew the answer.
The two boys stood for a moment, conscious of Gina's presence.
'I'll be waiting for you, Benzie,' she said, turning to the door.
Zack's eyes filled with tears. 'I don't want to go,' he cried. Benzie couldn't help feeling a deep sense of sadness. It was a grave sensation, something he had never felt before. He was too young to know that it was grief. The crying boy in front of him had been his companion, Star Wars and Harry Potter quizzer, playmate and best friend for life. Looking at him without his mother for the first time, he realized how difficult his life was. Suffering from a rare disease with no treatment yet, a boy of eleven, unable to meet other people randomly as other people normally did, for fear that he'd smell their flesh and react to it, living in a house full of chemicals just so he didn't react to his loved ones', or even his own, flesh. He was sure if he were Zack, he would have been a very unhappy, crappy kid. But Zack was the best. He was always polite and knew things even adults wouldn't know. Benzie didn't know what he would do if Zack wasn't there.
Zack wiped off his tears furiously and turned to his trunk. He took out a photograph of the two of them. Benzie remembered the day. They'd spent an entire afternoon staying in the tree-house Zack's mother had built on one of the trees from the woods, the one closest to Zack's house. It showed the two boys, aged nine, grinning cheekily from the tree-house.
'I have a copy too,' Zack said, showing him another one. He flipped it over and wrote, 'I'll always love you, Zie. You're the kindest boy ever. Your best friend.'
Benzie took the pen and wrote on the other picture, 'Always your best friend for life, in heart and soul. You're the bravest boy ever. Love, Zie. Xx'
As if on impulse, the two boys came forward in a long hug, and Benzie realized what Gina meant when she said the world was stupid. Here he was with Zack, a little boy who was the best boy if you came to know him, and he thought he was lucky to have him as a friend. He felt all the times they'd spent together running in his head and heart at that moment, and he felt he hadn't ever been equally happy and sad before. The world was stupid because the world didn't know what this feeling was, how wrong it was to scare off Zack and his nice mother who did everything possible to keep him safe. The little boy had never been responsible for as much as a scar on Benzie, and here he was, frightened because the world was after him for something he hadn't done.
The boys tearfully smiled at each other.
'I'll write you loads of letters,' Benzie said. 'You will have to tell me about any new friends you make too.'
Zack considered that. 'Won't they find me weird, like the boys here?'
'Well,' Benzie replied, 'they're the stupid ones. I think you will find a smart boy like me.'
'Maybe. Maybe I'll get someone who can actually beat me at a Star Wars quiz,' Zack said, sniffing.
'I did beat you twice.'
Then they both burst out laughing. After a pause, Zack said, 'I think you should make Gina a friend. She seems nice.'
'Indeed. But I'll miss you, too,' Benzie said.
Benzie found out, a few days after Zack's departure and getting his Grandma and mother to tell him everything, because he knew most of it anyway, what his mother meant when she said that he was kind. 'You had it in you even before we put it there,' she explained, 'while other boys looked at Zack's small frame, you looked at his friendship. You never questioned the dabbling of Klotin if that meant you could spend time with Zack. I can't tell you how grateful his mother had been. Zack had been craving company for so long. You gave a little boy the very thing that's most precious to him - the gift of a true friend.'
Benzie was honest with himself. He respected his mother's viewpoint, but to him, it was entirely the opposite. He wanted Zack to be his friend. So what if he didn't look exactly like others? So what if he didn't go to regular school? He was still a great boy. Gina had been a regular friend from then on, often telling him about her father, after which Benzie missed Zack all the more, but he thought that Gina couldn't really talk about her father to anyone else, and she seemed much happier after that, so he let her talk.
One evening while the sun began turning a shade of red, and Benzie and Gina were returning from the park, they crossed Zack's house, and as usual, Benzie paused.
'Do you believe he'll be all right?' he asked bravely, for this was one burning question he needed answered.
'Of course,' Gina replied, taking his hand and leading him away, 'it'll happen when I grow up, because when I grow up, I will show this stupid world how wrong they are. I will find a cure.'
is a used to be a fortnightly feature on my blog (now it'll just be whenever I have the time and mind!), where I'll be having fun with putting down those weird thoughts and stories that occupy my mind most of the times. The dictionary definition of 'Theandric' is 'Relating to the joint agency of the divine and human nature'.
If you're interested in participating, write your own Theandric Thursday post and drop your link in the comments section. Feel free to write reality, part-reality-part-fiction or fiction, anything above the 'normality' of our world. ;) You can use this picture on your post and link back to this post.