The Long Walk
CHAPTER SEVEN: MILES 360 – 385.3written by fallingwthstyle - illustrated by mio and Maud W
Promptly at 9:00 just as they’d done all week, the soldiers began handing out daily food rations, starting with the slower walkers behind Kenny and working their way forward. Since there were only six of them left, it took almost no time at all. Kenny and Butters each took a bucket and a canteen, and watched as a jeep roared ahead to bring rations to Tweak, who was now over one hundred feet ahead of them.
“That’s really nice, what you’re doing for him, Ken.” Kenny again marveled at how he had practically turned into an old man overnight. He shook his head. “I think I might need you to do that for me a little later.”
Kenny nodded sadly. “I know, dude. How about...let’s cross that bridge when we get to it though, okay?”
They both turned to face forward and watch as Tweak took his ration bucket from a soldier and turned to look back at them. A moment later he sat down in the middle of the road, followed by the inevitable “Warning! First warning, number fifteen!”
Kenny looked down at his watch. Even with his mind barely functioning, he thought he should be able to time this almost perfectly, and sped up a little after Tweak got his second warning, arriving where Tweak was sitting just as a soldier was raising a megaphone to call out his third. He sat down beside the blond boy and put his arm around him, pulling him close, ignoring the soldier who gave him his own first warning.
“It feels really good to sit down,” Tweak said quietly. He was trembling. “And oh my God, I’m scared.”
“I know, man,” Kenny replied, trying to sound as comforting as he could. “It’s going to all be over soon.” He felt Tweak nod, and reached up to rub his shoulder. “You’re going to see a bright light soon; maybe you already can? When you do, go toward it. It’s the most beautiful place in the universe.”
Tweak looked at him wonderingly. “You’ve been there, haven’t you?” His voice was suddenly perfectly calm, all the shrillness from before replaced with an almost eerie serenity. Kenny had seen this before, watching other people when they knew death was coming for them. Tweak was beginning to see glimpses of the afterlife that lie ahead.
“Many times. You can tell, can’t you?”
Tweak’s eyes were huge. “And I can see the light, too.” A ghost of a smile played over his lips. “Oh God, it is beautiful.”
Behind him, two soldiers raised their guns, and one of them nodded his head at Kenny as if to say Get out of the way. Kenny glared up at them, careful to keep his body relaxed as he leaned in to kiss Tweak’s temple and whisper in his ear. “You got this now, dude. It’s all good.” He stood up and had barely turned away when the guns roared, and Kenny heard the now familiar sound of a body hitting the road.
“I think Stan’s getting pneumonia,” Kyle said without preamble an hour later. Kenny looked over Kyle’s shoulder at his friend. “He hasn’t been feeling good since we got that rain...was it our first day?”
“Yeah, I think so,” Kenny replied. Kyle was probably right; Stan looked terrible, shambling along in boots that were disintegrating, a mere shadow of the athletic boy he had been when Kenny first met him four days ago in what felt like another life.
“He’s got ten minutes to go on a first warning,” Kyle told him. “And once he’s walked that off, we’re both free...and we’re going to sit down together and wait.”
Kenny and Butters were speechless. Kenny wished he could think of something comforting to say and couldn’t.
“We wanted to ask you something,” Kyle went on, speaking to Butters now. “Would it be all right if we have your trash bag? We were gonna ask you if we could borrow it, but kind of figured you wouldn’t want it back afterward...”
Kenny had been thinking after we have sex in it and then realized what he really meant was after we both get shot in it.
“We just want to sit together, and be able to shut out the rest of the world while we wait,” Kyle finished miserably and fell silent, waiting for an answer.
“Of course,” Butters replied. “I won’t be needing it anymore.” He reached into his backpack, removed the trash bag and handed it over. Kenny gave it a nostalgic look as Kyle took it and folded it under his arm.
“Thanks man,” Stan said, joining them and wiping his nose on a tee shirt. “You know...I kind of wish I could have gotten to know you guys better.”
“I think we all would have been really good friends in another life,” Kenny replied and Stan nodded agreeably.
They walked quietly after that until Stan’s warning had been lifted. Afterward, he reached out to shake Kenny’s hand. “Glad I got to know you, Kenny Cramer,” he said and Kenny smiled.
“You too, Stan Marsh.” Kyle tucked the trash bag under his arm so he could shake Kenny’s hand as well. “Now...why don’t you two go out with the biggest bang the Long Walk has ever seen.”
Stan shook his head sadly and reached for Kyle’s hand. “Nah,” he said and sneezed. “Much as I’d like to, I think we’re just going to sit down together. Kyle...?”
They said their goodbyes and Kenny and Butters walked away, speeding up even more when the inevitable “Warning! First warnings, numbers three and nine!” was called. They both turned around to look for a moment; Stan and Kyle had sat down in the middle of the highway together and put the trash bag completely over themselves and were obviously holding each other underneath it. The crowd showed remarkable restraint, watching mostly in silence as their second and third warnings followed, and even when the inevitable gunshots rang out thirty seconds later there was none of the celebratory cheering that had followed all the previous executions.
Kenny and Butters had long since looked away again and walked on. Kenny could sense that this long nightmare was almost over.
With Stan and Kyle gone, that left only Tucker for them to outlast, and he appeared tireless. He repeatedly ignored Kenny’s attempts to speak with him to try to gauge how he was doing, and Kenny finally resigned himself to a long afternoon of trying to walk Tucker down while finding a way to somehow keep Butters going as well.
By 3:30, Butters had progressed from a slight limp to full on lurching, and even leaning on Kenny wasn’t enough and he drew a first warning. He was staring at Kenny helplessly, and when Kenny reluctantly met his eyes he shook his head sadly.
“Kenny? I—I’m done. I can’t do this anymore.”
“Dude...just a little longer, okay?”
Butters closed his eyes and shook head again. “No, Kenny...my feet are bleeding, they really hurt. I...just want to sit down and rest now.”
Kenny regarded him sadly for a long moment. Despite his best efforts, he’d failed. Butters wasn’t going to make it, and he saw no reason for him to keep going afterwards.
“All right, Butters. We’ll...we’ll sit down together, okay?” Butters nodded, relieved that he wouldn’t be doing this last part alone. “I’m just going to go try and tell Tucker he won, all right?”
Butters smiled at him, relief that he could rest soon evident in his face. Kenny nodded and turned to walk toward Tucker just in time to see him lurch drunkenly and fall, his head hitting the road with a sound like a melon being dropped. His feet jerked a couple times as if he was still trying to walk and then lay still.
“Warning! Second warning, number fourteen!”
“Oh my God,” Butters whispered, having witnessed Tucker’s unexpected collapse as well. Tucker wasn’t moving at all now; he appeared to be dead already. “He’s not going to be able to get up from that...”
Kenny turned back to Butters incredulously. Butters was staring at him, trying to piece together what was happening, but one thing was apparent: Everything had just changed.
“Butters...you know what this means, right...?”
The confusion in Butters’ eyes slowly gave way to understanding, and then quickly changed to horror. He began shaking his head in negation.
“Yeah, dude. It’s time for you to win this thing.”
“Third warning, number fourteen!”
“Kenny, no, we can still sit down together—“
“No, we can’t,” Kenny replied at once, sharper than he intended. He tried to soften his voice as he added, “Not anymore; we’re past that point now. Only one of us can win...and it’s going to be you.”
Butters was staring at him, horrified. “Oh, Kenny, no...”
“Yes,” Kenny repeated. “It’s time, dude. When we first entered this, we knew only one of us would win...” Kenny stopped walking, grabbed Butters and pulled him into a hug. “I love you man...but you’ve got to do this last part by yourself.”
“Warning! First warning, number six; second warning, number twelve.”
“Kenny,” Butters moaned, and they clung to each other desperately, Kenny pulling him as close as he could and burying his face in his hair to breathe in his scent one last time. Two gunshots rang out behind them a moment later.
“Remember what I said,” Kenny whispered as the echoes faded. “Go find my family and help them.” He felt Butters nod against his shoulder and was glad he had been able to make this final connection, even though Butters would probably forget all about him and his request by this time tomorrow. Just as the soldier raised his megaphone to give them their next warnings, Kenny shoved Butters away from him and shouted, “Now, go!”
Kenny took two steps back and sat down, watching as Butters stared at him longingly for another moment, then resolutely turn and walk away.
“Second warning, number six!”
“Oh, thank God,” Kenny whispered as he watched Butters retreating from him without getting a third warning. The sky was glowing bright white now, filling the world with the color of burning magnesium. The pavement was still rough under his hands and the footsteps of the approaching soldiers were much too loud but it no longer mattered. His own third warning was eclipsed by the brilliant light filling everything and the joy that he knew lay just beyond. When the two soldiers raised their rifles and Kenny was looking into the barrels of both, he couldn’t help but smile.
The guns roared; Butters screamed and collapsed to the highway immediately afterward, shouting Kenny’s name over and over, his cries drowned out by the sounds of the crowd as well as an approaching helicopter. The soldiers quickly moved in to surround him, several of them firing warning shots into the air while others aimed their rifles at the crowd as people began to rush onto the highway.
“Stay back!” one of the soldiers bellowed into a megaphone. Several more warning shots were fired and order was slowly restored.
The helicopter roared in from the west a few moments later, coming to a hurried landing twenty feet away and throwing up a large cloud of dust. Several of the soldiers crouched around Butters, who was cowering in terror by this point, trying to protect him from flying debris. The President of the United States emerged from the helicopter accompanied by four of his guards and a paramedic. The President hurried over to him and knelt on the highway beside his head, the paramedic kneeling right beside him while his guards took up positions around them. Cameras were trained on the scene from just behind the perimeter the soldiers had set up, broadcasting this moment to the world.
The President looked down at Butters and said, “Congratulations on winning this year’s Long Walk, young man! Now that you can buy anything you could ever need, what do you want first?”
Butters looked up at the President, drew in a deep breath and screamed: “Kenny! I just want Kenny!!”
The President looked up and nodded at the paramedic, who leaned in to slip a hypodermic needle into Butters’ arm. Two of the guards accompanying the President swooped in the moment the needle was withdrawn, lifted Butters and carried him back toward the helicopter.