|Things Were Better Then|
|Written:||April 5, 2015|
|Released:||April 5, 2015|
|Theme song:||The World Has Turned and Left Me Here|
|Things Were Better Then track listing|
This story's theme is The World Has Turned and Left Me Here.
The sun was rising higher and higher into the sky. Yamcha floored it. Come on, Mighty Mouse. Just a little more. Diablo Desert was as quiet as it always had been. Those who lived here did not make themselves known; if one did not know they were there, hiding in the shadows, in the rocks, it would appear the whole place was one giant, solemn graveyard. He looked up as he drove and saw the deep blue of the sky. It was a day of fast-drifting clouds, of burning heat and relentless wind.
The rocky structures had always reminded him of the skeletons of animals - cats and wolves and water buffalo. Yamcha slacked his jaw; that had made him think of Puar. He put his head down and drove on. The sand sprayed up around him as he continued to drive. There was nothing else around, no one else around. It was just Yamcha and his thoughts. And that was what scared him most.
He came upon his home by midday. Stepping out of Mighty Mouse, Yamcha looked up at the stone hideout. At the top of it, the rocks opened up onto a balcony. Standing up there, one could see miles in any direction. I used to stand up there every morning, just looking out over the desert thinking about my future.
The inside of his bandit home was not as robust as its outer shell, for Yamcha found it to be little more than a refuse pile. Chairs and tables were upended, glassware was shattered and ruined, and most of Yamcha’s possessions were either gone or destroyed. He strode through the place silently. It looks like someone has ransacked the place. Well, it’s not like I left much here to take.
There was a stillness in the air; the dust clung to it. Yamcha moved through the room, finding old trinkets and clothes that had been his a lifetime ago. His entire life had once been in this little place. Ruined though it was, he felt pangs of nostalgia hit him. A warmness rippled across his face. I wish I could go back. But there’s nothing to go back to.
Yamcha wandered over to the kitchen, the sound of the screeching wind outside masking his footsteps. The wooden boards that lined the floor were old and rotting, and in a few places, they had caved in. Yamcha nearly fell over as his foot punctured through one, sending splinters flying. But he steadied himself on the edge of the oven and pulled himself back up. I used to like to cook. Back when the whole gang was around, I’d make them dinner every night. A smile flickered across Yamcha’s lips as he remembered. They were terrible people. I was in a bad way. But it’s how I met Puar, how I met Goku. I guess those bandits helped me more than they knew.
A glint of gold caught Yamcha’s eye, and then he saw it - the Azure Dragon Sword. It was mounted on the wall right where he had left it. Why didn’t they take it? That sword’s the most valuable thing in this wretched old place. He walked over to it and brought it down from its mount. Unsheathing it, Yamcha caught a glimpse of his reflection. The scars that covered his face made Yamcha remember back to when Goku had knocked out his tooth all those years back. I thought I’d never get married after that, he thought. Well, I still haven’t. Maybe I was right. She never wanted me.
“Yamcha…?” a voice interjected from behind. It was rough and full of venom. Yamcha spun around to greet it, sword out. There stood a man gaunt and hard of face. His hair was grey-white and his clothes were tattered and old. He wore aviator sunglasses and a leather jacket. His face had a few more scars on it than it had the last time Yamcha had seen it. “Never thought I’d see you again. But I guess, once a bandit, always a bandit,” the man said, sighing. He found a chair, flipped it over, and sat down on it. Then, he took out a flask of liquid. “Want some?” he asked Yamcha. “It’s good whiskey.”
“Suit yourself.” The man took a long swig from his flask and then sat down, leaning in his chair dangerously far back. He scratched his beard and stared at Yamcha. “I bet you’re wondering why I’m here, why old Wolfe has come ridin’ back from the sunset.”
Yamcha’s expression did not change, but he kept the sword out, pointed at the man. “You told me if you ever saw me again, you’d kill me.”
“I did.” The man took another gulp of whiskey. “But the past is the past. It’s all old news. Who cares about that?”
“Why are you here? You can’t kill me. I’m a lot stronger than the last time we fought.”
Wolfe laughed sharply. “I’m not here to kill you, Yamcha. I’m here because this is my home. The band’s gotten back together. Everyone from back in the day who’s still alive and walking is living here; plus we’ve got some new blood too. We’re back to the old ways.”
“Where are they right now?”
“Out. Robbing anyone they can find. They’ll be home by sundown.”
Yamcha gripped the sword tightly. “I’m not a bandit anymore. I’m not like you.”
“But you’re holding my sword all the same,” Wolfe replied coldly.
“You gave it to me. It’s mine.”
Wolfe stood up and moved towards Yamcha. Yamcha tensed up but did not strike at him. The older man patted Yamcha on the shoulder. His wrinkled, dirty face made him look so old, so tired. “Aye, I gave it to you, Yamcha. Back when the future looked bright and there wasn’t nothing to feel bad about,” he stated, whiskey strong on his breath. He took another sip of his drink. “Things were better then…” he murmured wistfully. “How different do you think things would be if you had managed to kill me?”
Yamcha bowed his head and did not respond. In that ruined home, he felt alone, like he was in the deepest part of space. I shouldn’t have come back. This is no longer a part of me.
Wolfe grunted and turned away from Yamcha. “I’m not sorry for what I did to you. But I am sorry for how things turned out. We think we know how everything’s going to go… and, well, life has a funny way of mixing up expectations.”
He moved past Wolfe like a ghost, soundless, deliberate. Yamcha walked right past his old mentor until he came to the rock balcony of his home. Surveying the stretches of desert in all directions, Yamcha stood still and motionless. He wanted to leave, to flee. He couldn’t stand being in the man’s presence for another moment.
“How’s your life turned out, Yamcha? Did you ever get married?”
“I could kill you now if I wanted,” Yamcha said suddenly. There was anger in him, and anger just from seeing Wolfe again. He was dangerously close to doing something stupid, he knew, and he needed to fight that back. That wasn’t who he was. This isn’t a dream. Not anymore.
“Then do it,” Wolfe said. Yamcha faced his old bandit leader and saw him to be standing defiantly, his hands out to either side. “Do it. Do it! Prove you’ve got some fight left in you.”
Yamcha raised the blade and pressed its tip against Wolfe’s collarbone. Yamcha noticed Wolfe was wearing a gold-chained topaz necklace, and it glimmered like an eye staring into Yamcha’s soul. “You think you scare me? You think this matters? My life is meaningless. Why should I want to live?” he laughed humorlessly. “After all these years, I’m back where I started. I haven’t gone anywhere in life. I haven’t lived. So kill me if you wish. Or don’t. But make up your damn mind already.”
Yamcha swallowed. “You don’t know anything about me. I’m not who I once was.”
“No, probably not. But I’m still the bad guy, and you’re still the good guy. Isn’t that true? That’s what you like to pretend. So go on. Do it! Slay the bad guy! Be the hero!”
There’s no black and white, Yamcha thought. He lowered the blade and turned back around. For a fleeting moment, he felt like his younger self again, a feeling of hope for the future beating strong in his heart. This is the most beautiful and saddest sky I’ve ever seen, he realized as he watched the clouds being carried along by the wind. It’s become a deeper shade of blue.
Mighty Mouse bounded across the desert like a free-roaming water buffalo. And then, the wolves came to it, in their necessary desperation. They were so very hungry. The first explosion caused Yamcha to lose control of the wheel, and the second flipped his car. He landed hard in the sand, his ears ringing, dust and smoke in his eyes and mouth.
Their leader was a man with cobalt-dyed hair and a long cigarette in his mouth. All of them held machine guns. As Yamcha sat up, the leader moved forward and put out his hand.
“Give us all ya got and we won’t kill ya. All yer money and dynocaps. Come on, give ‘em here!”
Yamcha coughed the sand out of his throat. “You’re making a mistake… all of you. Walk away and no one will get hurt. Please.”
The bandit leader laughed heartily, spitting and exhaling great puffs of smoke. “Har har har! Ya hear that boys? Guy wants us to walk away! Leave him alone or we’ll get hurt!” The others joined in the laughter. Then, the leader pointed his machine gun at Yamcha again and everyone went quiet. “I wasn’t askin’ ya. Give us yer valuables, or we’ll kill ya. It ain’t goin’ down any other way.”
Yamcha sighed, then reached for something in his overturned car. In a blur, he pulled out his Azure Dragon Sword and stood up. Though they had their guns trained on him, all of the bandits took a step back in surprise. They held their fire.
“I take it you all know what this is.”
“That’s… that’s Wolfe’s sword!” the leader yelled, dumbfounded. “H-how did you get it?!”
“It’s not his sword! It belongs to me, Yamcha!” Yamcha yelled.
He felt the anger coming to him again. They didn’t even know him. They didn’t know what he had done as a young bandit, the feats he had accomplished, the people he had stolen from. They didn’t know that this was his sword, not Wolfe’s. Yamcha had been the most notorious bandit in the entire Diablo Desert all those years back. He looked at all of them. There were a dozen or so, all armed with machine guns, but otherwise pretty ragged. They were skin and bones, their clothes were even dirtier and more worn than Wolfe’s had been. Most of them were no older than Yamcha had been when he had met Goku for the first time. Several of them were significantly younger. Only the leader and one or two others were adults.
Yamcha shook his head and sheathed his sword. “Look, I’m going to teach you all a lesson I should have learned when I was your age. You’re not going to like it, but it’s for the best,” he said, directing his words to the younger bandits. Raising his fists, Yamcha stepped forward. He closed his eyes and took a deep breath. It had been a long time since he’d fought someone. It had been a long time since he’d helped someone. And I haven’t even helped myself.He flew back to the city, as Mighty Mouse was undrivable. I’ll have to take it in to get repaired. A feeling of icy regret bled through his heart, and he bit his lip to hold it back. It was colder higher up in the air, but Yamcha felt comfort there; he was lost in the deep blue. For a moment, he felt relieved. Life is just a dream that you can never wake up from. It doesn’t matter what we do. Yamcha held his car’s capsule tight in his hand. In your place, an empty space is that all remains. I tried to replace it with other things, better things, but it didn’t work. There’s no waking from this dream.