The Deterioration

Josie Hunter


Sitting in a fort of blankets and pillows, Zuri was reading a book. During those times, it helped to escape reality to stay sane, though one couldn’t afford to escape for too long. It wasn’t safe.

Zuri’s friend, Nova, trudged over, interrupting Zuri’s flow. “Somebody came here to see you. . .” Nova pointed behind her, to the door.

“Girl, what?” Zuri strained to hear her amidst all the noise in the shipping container. She and the other bionics were on the run and in isolation, dodging scrappers.

Nova bent down, her purple hair falling onto her face, contrasting well with her brown skin. “Some dude is here to see you, Z.”

Zuri furrowed her eyebrows, sliding her bookmark in between the pages of the novel then stood up and started for the door. “Who?”

“Girl, I have no idea. Myles is standing guard and he said some dude rolled up in an old truck and asked for you.” Nova shrugged.

“That’s weird. . .” The two friends began the trek to the door, stepping over other refugees’ bags, blankets, and pillows.

“Mhmm. You want me to come witchu?”

“Nah, I’m good.” A pang of bravery struck her. Zuri was curious.

“You sure, Z?”

“Yeah, yeah . . . I’m good.”

“Okay,” Nova sounded unsure in her friend, but she branched off to a few others playing some card game in the corner.

Zuri reached the end of the container and pushed open the door. Myles—muscular and unwavering—stood outside, eying the man. Zuri followed his gaze and their eyes magnetically connected. How the fu—? she thought.

“You know dis guy?” Myles asked her, gawking at the mysterious man.

He seemed familiar—felt familiar. Déjà vu washed over Zuri, but she wasn’t sure where or how she knew him. . . Perhaps a dream. . . I’ve definitely seen him before. . . I think.

“Yeah,” Zuri said reluctantly.

Myles didn’t question her as he began patrolling their surroundings. They couldn’t be too careful in those dilapidated and barren areas. Desperation will make people do crazy things there.

Zuri sensed the man was older than her—way older. By like 20 years, she guessed. But the energy that passed between them—the unusual attraction—suggested that age wasn’t a factor. Age didn’t scare either away.

After all, he found her. Zuri didn’t know how, but he did. This man’s blind faith scared her . . . but she’d be lying if she said it didn’t intrigue her as well. She yearned to know more about him, but she knew to be cautious, for someone this ambitious was dangerous. Ambition could get you killed.

After all, he did find her and she knew—only instinctively—of his existence, but nothing more. She never knew of anyone this committed, this determined. He must’ve used all his resources to find her. This mission, one of pilgrimage proportions, was odd­—unusual, but again, piqued her interest, one she didn’t know she had until now.

This scared Zuri. She needed to be careful. She needn’t fall under any trance to overlook this behavior. This was beyond weird.

He parted his mouth to speak, but no words flowed out. She stood speechless, too, the air around her was choked out by mystery man’s overwhelming presence. He didn’t appear powerful, of affluence, but his presence was strong like rich cologne. He was tall, wearing a yellow corduroy jacket, cargo pants, and boots. An everyman. A grey beanie fit snug on his head as plaits sprouted underneath. His face was square-shaped and he sported an unfinished beard, but it was his eyes that really caught her attention. His eyes were piercing­—intense, seeing past her soul if that was possible.

Moments passed as they both assessed each other’s person and soon he decided to take careful steps towards her. His stride exuded certainty, something she wished she possessed in that moment.

Once in front of her, she noticed that the steady rise and fall of their breaths fell in tandem. It was unusual to be this in sync with someone she didn’t really know. Although her heart didn’t quicken, her mind zoomed with a thousand thoughts, ransacking her memory bank of any possible recollection of this man. It frightened her how comfortable she was around him.

She searched the depths of his light eyes and found nothing but confidence. He knew who she was.

“Come ‘ere,” he gently commanded. His voice was gruff yet smooth.

He brushed past her and she turned around, finding him walking towards the shipping container fashioned as a bathroom. Mystery man pushed down on the door’s rusty lever until it budged open. He gestured for her to walk through first as he held the door open.

Zuri flicked the light switch on, nearly blinded by the white interior. The container had stalls with portable toilets, a mirror, and a long counter with hand sanitizer stations. Running water was scarce during The Deterioration. It seemed like only the rich people who could afford the bionic parts had access to running water.

He pushed the door closed, the sudden sound startling her, then she swiveled around to face him. Before he could speak, she interjected, “DTV?”

He stared at Zuri then nodded. She wasn’t sure how she knew that, but she just did.

“How’d you find me?”

DTV stepped closer to her, rolling up the sleeve covering his right arm. He flexed his muscles and a holographic downward arrow appeared in the crease of his elbow. He tapped it and a keypad appeared, prompting him to enter his PIN. Most people would turn away when entering their code, but not him. A list of commands materialized, and he tapped the first entry. “My link already had your PIN in it.” He turned his arm so Zuri could see.

“But how? We’ve been running and have been in isolation for weeks. The connections aren’t stable enough to receive information out here—let alone someone else’s codes.”

He typed his PIN on his keypad, flexed his arm, and rolled his jacket sleeve down before shrugging his shoulders.

She started pacing. “What’s your full name?”

“Daven Tobias Vaughn. DTV,” he answered immediately, standing with his feet shoulder-width apart.

She nodded. “I’m guessing you already know mine, huh?” Skeptical, Zuri crossed her arms over her chest.

Daven carefully walked over to her. “Zuri Kaleela Mercer.”

He stared at her and uncrossed her arms. She stared back, offended and uncertain. Silence overtook them. Then, in a swift motion, he gripped her thighs and lifted her onto the counter. Her hands planted on his broad shoulders, breathing hitched as they held simmering eye contact. Then their lips smashed into each other, an unexplainable passion exploded—an intensity neither could explain. They gripped and groped one another, their lips and tongues intertwined as they sucked in the same hot air. Want turned into necessity. His hand slipped up her shirt, grazing the slit of her USB po—

“Aye! Unlock this muhfucka! I gotta pee!” Zuri recognized that voice as her friend, Tavian.

Zuri pushed Daven off of her and hopped off the counter. She ushered him into a stall and turned around to adjust her clothes before opening the door. “Hey,” she chirped.

Hey nothing. The fuck you got this door locked for?” He didn’t let her answer before he brushed past her, beelining for one of the stalls to relieve himself.

Zuri left the shipping container and waited on the side for Daven. She saw Tavian leave and enter their temporary living quarters then Daven emerged from the container moments later. He circled the corner to find her posted up on the wall. A smile spread on both of their faces as they continued where they left off: his hands on her waist and her arms cradling his face.

But abruptly, he stopped.

“What?” Zuri asked, concerned.

His head hung low. “They’re coming after you—all of you.”

“Who?”

“Those rich, fat fucks.”

Zuri let her arms fall off of his body and Daven stepped back. With several feet between them now, they searched each other’s eyes. “You’re a scrapper, aren’t you?” She asked with the conviction of an oracle.

Daven simply nodded.

Zuri’s face hardened. “So, what’s this?” She motioned between them, referencing their unusual attraction.

“I ‘on’t know.”

“Are you gonna kill me?” she asked with eyes as thin as blades.

“No,” he answered definitively. If his voice had a foot, he put his foot down. “Originally, I was supposed to—you know, for your parts. But this,” he gestured between them, “is too strong. Honestly, it would’ve felt wrong to complete the job.”

“Sooo—,”

So, I came to warn you all. They’re coming—others like me are coming, other scrappers.”

Zuri seized her head, pacing again. “Shit!” she hissed. “We should run, huh?”

“I ‘on’t know any other options.” He shrugged.

She side-eyed him. “Why should I trust you?”

Daven smiled. He knew she was going to ask. “Because you know me.”

“How do I know you?” He began to walk towards her, Zuri retreated until her back hit the cold metal of the shipping container.

“I ‘on’t know.” Daven brushed her hair out of her face.

“You ‘on’t know nothin’!” They both laughed. “But this is crazy.”

“I know,” a low chuckle tumbled out of his mouth, “but I rather not question the Divine.”

“There is no Divine,” she mocked him. “Only divine wealth,” she stared off at nothing in particular, the weight of their situation finally settling on her, “and from what you said, they’re trying to kill us. I mean I knew that, but damn. There’s more? It’s that bad out there, huh?”

Crestfallen, Daven nodded and said, “You have what they desperately need and they’re willin’ to do whatever it takes to survive. They’re not used to that, Zuri.” She finds another spot to stare at behind Daven. He tipped her chin up to make her look at him. “But we are. We know how to survive. We’re going to fight this thing and we’re gonna be okay.”

His words were confident like everything else about him, but Zuri couldn’t afford that level of certainty. “I ‘on’t know.” She shook her head and crossed her arms.

Daven smiled. “Trust me.”

Zuri immediately gazed up at him, finding solace and comfort in his familiar eyes. “I do.”


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