If the Grim Reaper Carries a Pistol, Do Guardian Angels Wear Kevlar?
By Colin Eldred-Cohen
The night air whistled in Dustil Evilan’s ears as he tore around the corner and into a back alley. He kept running, not daring to turn behind him nor to take in the alley itself. His foot splashed through one of the many puddles left by last night’s rain. “Keep running, Forrest!” croaked an old man laying on a stoop and swathed in a brown, ugly, alcohol-soaked blanket as Dustil sprinted by. He could feel his lungs pumping furiously and his legs moving on autopilot as his muscles screamed out in aching protest. But no, he could not stop. Not yet, unless he wanted to die.
Continuing forward, he stole a quick glance to the side. Good, he thought. She’s still with me. Alia Hollis, one of his friends, kept up a good pace with him, which surprised Dustil, considering her heavy-set build. Her shoulder-length red hair trailed behind her like a fiery- No, no, not a good line of thought right now. People’s heads should not be on fire… unless it’s Ghost Rider. Pushing thoughts of having his head on fire out of his mind, he kept going as Alia began to pull ahead.
And that’s when he heard it, the howls and jeers coming from behind them and slowly gaining. Cracks snapped through the air as a few bullets flew past their heads, causing Dustil to cringe. Come on, he thought, looking up at the windows around him, some lit and most not. Can’t anybody hear this going on? Or is a shoot-out that common around here? Alia, now a few feet ahead, quickly grabbed a garbage can from beside a doorway and tossed it into the middle of the alley. Without effort, Dustil vaulted over the newfound obstacle and hit the ground sprinting. Though he knew he was nowhere near as fast as Sarah, that did not deter either of them in the slightest.
The shouts continued from behind them as Dustil and Alia saw the end of the alley in sight. Across the street from the exit was what looked like a large field peppered with a variety of trees, bushes and what looked like a large white wall. Perfect. They practically flew out of the alley and across the street, almost getting hit by a car in the process. But Dustil would not stop, not when he saw the lights coming from the right, not when he heard the tires screech only a few inches away and not when he heard the heavy Chicago accent swearing at him for not watching where he was going. Turning to Alia, he said, “Hide,” before he leapt up and scrambled up the bark of a nearby Spruce. Pulling himself up onto a branch, he hid himself among the dense foliage and hoped that his white wife beater and dark jeans would not catch any unwanted eye.
Alia, he noted as she hid herself among the bushes, might have a bit of trouble. Even if she was well hidden, he was concerned that her turquoise t-shirt and jeans might give her away within the bushes. He didn’t have much time to think on it, for at that moment, he heard the howls again and fought with every muscle in his body to make no noise whatsoever. Oh crap, he thought as he saw the black, white and grey shirts and coats come into view. Oh crap, oh crap, oh crap, oh crap, oh crap oh crap oh crap oh crap…
But let’s backtrack…
“Viva Chicago!” The jubilant yell seemed to spread through the streets from one loud-mouthed young man. Dustil smiled and shook his head; although he had to admit that the city did look amazing that night. The brightly lit buildings that towered above them seemed to guide them along a path with no particular destination. The South Chicago air ruffled Dustil’s short, curly brown hair, making Dustil thank himself, and everyone else, for chipping in for this little trip. Having spent a lot of time at school apart from one another, Kia Hamilton, one of Dustil’s best friends, had suggested that the eight of them pay for a trip to Chicago for spring break. Thankfully, their colleges and high schools had coinciding breaks, so everyone was more than happy to do it. It’s a change from California, he thought, but it’s pretty nice.
Pulling himself out of his thoughts, he turned to Nathan Parisiam, the person who had cried out earlier. Nathan was built in a very muscular fashion, though he was not particularly tall. His dark hair, brown eyes and dark Latino skin all seemed to fit quite nicely together. At the moment, he was walking with his traditional swagger and looking around at the surrounding city with a wide grin.
“Seems a little tacky, don’t you think?” Dustil asked. “I mean, tacking on another city’s tagline like that.”
“If Las Vegas has a problem with it, they can sue me all they like,” he replied. “Personally, I think they can kiss my ass because I had more fun here than Las Vegas could ever hope to offer me. Isn’t that right, Vic?”
Nathan looked to his best friend, who was walking right beside him. Vic Pasco, with a stony expression that almost never changed, cocked his head to the side and made an acknowledging grunt. Vic was usually like this, so no one really took it personally.
“I have to admit, this was a really good day,” Kia’s soprano voice chimed in from behind them. Dustil turned back and smiled at her, though he had to look down since she only stood as high as his solar plexus.
“Indeed,” Alia replied with her trademark smile, a slight grin that you might find on a young girl’s face when showing off her homemade volcano. It was her little eccentricities like that which made her such a unique and enjoyable person. “Between the park, the food, the concert and the-”
“Yes!” A sharp high-pitched squeak from behind Alia interrupted her and made everyone turn around. The sound had come from Sarah Deriman, the short young blond who, at the moment, was locked hand in hand with her boyfriend Kyle Eldacon. “That was the best concert I’ve ever seen! I mean, the orchestra was so well put together, I could have sworn our school could have trained them. Well, one of the cellos, I think it might have been the second chair, was behind tempo for about five seconds, but that was still the most amazing music I’ve heard all year!” Kyle, who was no stranger to his girlfriend’s musical fandom, smiled shyly, looked to the side and let her go on.
Kia smiled as Sarah continued to go on and sighed. Nathan looked as if he was about to interrupt, but Kia stopped him by raising her hand. “Just let her go on,” Kia said. “After all, she’s only seventeen.”
Alia turned towards Kia with a mock-hurt expression on her face. “That’s only a year younger than Vic and I!” she said incredulously.
“And two years younger than the rest of us,” Dustil added, shrugging. He wasn’t trying to hurt Kia or talk down to her. Oh no, he would never do that to her. She was too nice of a person and had brought far too much joy into his life for that. It was merely a candid rebuttal, one of the group’s favorite ways to communicate. Kia merely shrugged back and continued smiling as Sarah continued with her fervent speech.
“See, that’s what makes this city make Las Vegas look like crap,” Nathan said after Sarah had been going on her hyper rant for about a minute. “Great music, less ways to lose your money and a lot less poor people asking you for money and sex.” Dustil shook his head and tried best not to listen. This was not the way he wanted the conversation to go. “I can’t even count the times that I got stalked by some dirty bum who wanted a dollar. If they really wanted some money, they’d stop whining about their ‘old buddies’ in Vietnam, write up an application and get a job at a casino or something.”
“Unbelievable,” muttered Alando Venedric, who was walking in the middle of the group and had chosen now to speak. He was tall, semi-well built, had light brown hair and matching eyes, which were framed by glasses. His skin was not tan, nor was it pale, which gave it a sort of chapped look.
“What was that?” Nathan said, turning to face Alando, his face wearing an are-you-going-to-challenge-me look. “You got something to say, Stargate Boy?”
Alando simply turned towards Nathan, his face neutral but his eyes narrowed. “Yeah,” he replied. “It’s ridiculous that no matter how bad some people have got it, you always find some way of antagonizing them. These people saw a bunch of their friends die and you somehow link it to laziness. Unbe-friggin-lievable.”
“Guess I should have seen that coming,” Nathan sneered. “I forgot, your dad was in ‘Nam, so I guess some of those bums are friends of the family, aren’t they?”
“My dad wasn’t old enough to go to Vietnam, retard,” Alando shot back, his voice becoming sharper and his right hand twitching. “Besides, at least my dad actually got some discipline and skills from his time in the service… unlike yours.”
Dustil shook his head and closed his eyes. He wanted no part in this and he was pretty sure none of the others did. Sure enough, when he glanced around, he found Kyle opening and closing his mouth, desperately trying to get a word in edgewise. Alia had scooted away from the quarreling pair and moved up towards Dustil. Kia looked particularly pained and Dustil could hardly blame her; she really hated it when her friends started arguing around her. Vic still remained stoic.
As they continued walking, Dustil noticed that they seemed to be getting farther away from the city’s main streets. The growling of car motors grew more distant and there were much fewer lighted buildings in this area. In fact, the buildings were starting to look a little more run-down. As they turned into an alleyway, his suspicions were starting to rise.
“Hey guys,” he spoke up, turning back to the rest of them. “Are you sure this is the right way back to the hotel?”
Vic shrugged his shoulders. “Maybe it’s… some kind of shortcut?” Kyle said, looking around nervously.
Dustil looked towards Alando, who threw a look at him that Dustil knew all too well; they had all seen enough movies to know that “shortcuts” never ended well. However, Alando simply nodded, his body remained relaxed as his eyes rapidly survey the area. Dustil turned back to look ahead, almost claustrophobic from the tension he could feel from the others. Great, Dustil thought sarcastically. This is just how the day needs to end.
“Let’s not worry too much about it,” Kia said. If she was nervous, then she was doing an excellent job of hiding it. “As long as we don’t… you know, do anything dangerous-”
“…or stupid…” Alando interjected quietly.
“…then we should be fine,” Kia continued.
“In that case, we don’t need to worry about anyone other than them,” Sarah said, indicating Dustil, Alando and Nathan. The latter two, without even looking at her, raised their hands and flipped her off. Dustil, on the other hand, scoffed and chuckled.
“Well,” he replied, “as long as you and Kyle aren’t making out during the getaway, we’ll have nothing to worry about.”
Everyone laughed at this, even Vic. Usually, Kyle was the humorous one, shy though he may be, but Dustil was no stranger to humor himself. It certainly took everyone’s attention away from the moment.
“Sadly enough, I think they would actually do that,” Alia said with a grin. “I mean, I’m sure everyone remembers that one fire drill two years ago back in high school.” She stared knowingly at the couple.
Kyle turned bright red and stared sheepishly at the ground. Sarah, on the other hand, turned to Alia with her mouth hanging open and said, “That only happened once!”
Kia looked like she was about to say something, but stopped just as she had opened her mouth and looked towards the end of the alley. It was only a moment before Dustil heard it too. Loud shouting and metallic crashes were echoing from the opening across from them. Slowly but surely, the others were starting to catch on as well. Alando and Dustil’s eyes met for a moment and they both nodded. They turned and moved cautiously towards the sounds. He heard the others moving after them, as well as Kyle muttering, “Why are we moving towards the dangerous sounds?”
Moving carefully along the dingy rows of lofts and lodgings, they finally came to the end and looked out into a small square among the buildings. In this square was a flaming trash can near the center and a large group sixteen of people scattered around and yelling jeers towards a brawl in their midst. All of the men (for they were all men) were tall and looked extremely tough, some of them wearing shirts that bared their arms. They were an assorted bunch of blacks, whites and Hispanics, all of them wearing black jeans, white shirts and grey jackets. The exception to this was one of those fighting in the center, who looked as though he was only fifteen. His blue jeans and moss-colored t-shirt, not to mention his face, was covered with fresh blood and from the looks of things, he was losing the fight.
“What the hell is going on?” Sarah said, looking positively stunned, her eyes and mouth hanging wide open.
“A shiatsu, evidently,” Alando replied, his veiled sarcasm unable to mask the tension in his body.
The young man, currently on his knees, staggered and tried to get up, his muscles quivering under the strain of trying to support his broken body. His opponent, a burly white man with hair cut so short that it resembled a fur cap, kicked him in the chest and sent him down to his knees again. He then continued to kick the poor boy while the onlookers cheered him on and made catcalls at the underdog. As the crowd began shaking their fists in the air, encouraging the bloodshed, the flames illuminated a large insignia on the backs of their jackets; a skull with a hood draped over it and oddly drawn corpse between its teeth stared out at the group with the word “Reapers” etched into the forehead.
“Reapers,” Vic read in a monotone drawl. To this day, not one of them could ever figure out how Vic remained so calm during all this.
“Great,” Alando intoned with a very weary air in his voice. “Where’s Commander Shepard when you need him… or her?”
Had Dustil not been fixated on the fight in front of him, he would have shaken his head and rolled his eyes. Leave it to Alando to reference a video game during a heated moment.
“You idiot,” Nathan whispered sharply, not taking his eyes off of the fight. “This is serious shit right here and I don’t think we’re gonna be able to take these guys out just by mashing buttons on a controller.”
Dustil blinked and frowned slightly, hoping desperately that Nathan hadn’t just said what he thought he did. Alia seemed to be thinking along the same lines because she replied, “Um, I assume that when you say ‘take out,’ you mean move away slowly and call the police, right?
“I’m with Alia,” Kyle spoke up, slowly backing up. “The cops could do way more than a pack of-”
A loud clang of bone against metal interrupted him and Dustil turned in horror to see what was happening now. The boy had just had his head slammed into the trashcan, which riled the crowd up even more. He tried to croak something out, but the enormous gangster continued to beat his head against the fiery bin to the sounds of screaming onlookers, practically feral with the prospect of death. After the fifth sickening clang, the boy’s body went limp, his eyes slowly closed and blood began to drip from his mouth like a leaky faucet. The victor then picked up the fallen victim, dipped his head into the fiery bin and pulled it out, holding the corpse with its head aflame for the others to see.
A tremendous roar erupted from the Reapers, making them all seem so much larger in the firelight. Dustil started to feel reality slipping out from under him, unable to believe what he had just seen. The cries seemed to slowly mute in his ears. He could not bring himself to look away, to see how his friends were taking this-
The shout brought everything to a standstill and snapped Dustil out of his daze. Turning, he saw Nathan standing in front of the rest of them, staring down the Reapers as if he was a mighty gladiator and the Reapers were staring back. They were all frozen, gazing at this newcomer, apparently unsure what to think of him.
“Think you’re tough, don’t you, you little bastards!?” Nathan called out to them, throwing his arms up as if to call them towards him. “Why don’t you take on someone that actually poses a challenge!? How many of you do you think can take me, huh!?”
His throat tightened, his eyes scrunched closed, his mouth automatically pulled back into a grimace. Nathan, no! his thoughts screamed, now wishing that he was psychic or something. From behind and beside him, he heard the rest of them hiss small grimaces and Alando slap his forehead and mutter, “This would qualify as something stupid.”
The Reapers, now out of their original shock, slowly began to turn entirely towards Nathan. Some of them even began moving towards him. Dustil looked around at all of this, now wishing that they had taken the bus. This all might have been avoided if he was. But as his eyes continued to survey them, they stopped on one of the men’s hands reaching into his jean pocket and pull out…
“Run!” Dustil called and without a moment of hesitation, he and Alia yanked Nathan back into the alleyway with them just as a loud bang was heard and a bullet hit the wall right next to them. He didn’t have time to check on everyone as they sprinted down the alley away from certain death. He didn’t even acknowledge letting go of Nathan, who had now given up and was running beside them. All he was able to register was that the shouting had begun again and seemed to be drawing closer from behind. Stray bullets just missed him as he continued to sprint forward, panic slowly spreading over his and forcing the adrenaline into his muscles. This was too dangerous; they were too big of a target.
“Scatter!” he cried out and at the first junction, he tore down the right opening and shot forward. Sparing a glance back, he saw Alia hurrying after him while Alando, Nathan and Vic were going the opposite way. Kyle, Sarah and Kia had disappeared. Good, he thought, they’re safer. At that moment, he saw the crowd of shouting Reapers back at the junction break off into smaller groups, one of which was heading right after him and Alia. Not good, he thought, looking forward again and pushing his legs harder for more speed. We’re dead.
…and now back to the present.
…ohcrapohcrapohcrapohcrapohcrapohcrapohcrapohcrapohcrapohcrap… Dustil continued to force himself to stay still as seven Reapers stood below him, all looking about to find any trace of their runaway prey. His entire mind seemed to have frozen, paralyzed with the fear of his foot breaking a twig or his hand slipping from the branch. Thankfully, neither happened.
“Come on out, red!” one of the members called out, pacing around the area. “What’re you scared of, red? We’re just gonna take you and your boyfriend out for a little ride!”
Fat chance, Dustil thought, staring down at them and hoping to God that none of them would think to look up.
“Red!” the same one called out again in a singsong voice. “Why don’t you just come out? We’re not gonna hurt you. We’re just gonna… share you.”
“Seriously,” one of the white men in the group chuckled. “Those jugs looked big enough for all of us to get our hands on.”
The Reapers all laughed, some of them started rolling on the ground clutching their sides, but Dustil stayed firmly where he was. Enough of his brain was working for him to be repulsed by what he heard. If it weren’t for their numbers and size, he would have dropped down on them. But he continued to firmly grasp his branch, looking down on them like he looked at units in a WarCraft game.
After what seemed like a minute, the first catcaller turned to the rest of them. “Looks like those birds flew the coup,” he said. “Whatever. We’ve still got the rest of them running around. Let’s head back and round up more people. Looks like we’ve got a hunt on our hands.”
“Shit,” Dustil mouthed silently, staring forward with his stomach shriveling into a painful prune. More? There were more than just those sixteen? That was a serious problem. Running away from the first wave was bad enough, but running from thirty… fifty… maybe even a hundred… Dustil felt as if he should just paint a bull’s eye on his back and get it over with.
As if they shared one mind, all seven Reapers turned back and ran in the other direction, presumably back towards the alleys. Dustil felt his body aching as he continued to balance on the branch, waiting until he thought they were gone. After a while, Alia clambered out of the bushes, looked up towards Dustil and nodded. Breathing out a sigh of relief, Dustil released his hold and let himself fall out of the tree, landing on his feet perfectly. For anyone else, the wind would have been knocked out of them. For Dustil, it was common practice.
“That,” Dustil said, sitting down to rest his muscles, “was far too close.”
Alia nodded, glancing in the direction their pursuers had gone. “It’s almost sickening to think I’m actually running from those pigs. Next time I see them, I’ll make sure they’ll be running instead.”
Dustil nodded for a bit, then looked back at Alia. “You know, that guy does have a point. Your breasts are… kinda…” He let the sentence trail off, unsure of what to say. In fact, he didn’t understand why he brought it up in the first place.
She sighed deeply. “Yes,” she said in a very flat voice, “I am aware that my boobs are huge. Now let’s move on.”
Dustil continued to nod, looking desperately for some other topic. “You sure you don’t want to talk about it?” I’m an idiot.
Alia turned towards him and stared incredulously. “Okay, fine,” she said curtly. “Once upon a time, my mom and dad decided to have a kid. So they had sex and the right genetic material happened to come together. There, we’ve talked about it.” She sighed, as if letting out her pent-up frustration at the moment. “Out of all the things you could have talked about, why that?”
“Well, I’m sorry!” Dustil blurted out, throwing up his hands and pacing nervously. “I’m just trying to get my mind off of the forty-man death squad that’s on the lookout for us. To tell you the truth, I’m starting to have doubts as to whether we can make it to our hotel alive.” He continued to pace, breathing hard. A moment ago, his breath was struggling to get through the tiny hole that his throat would allow. Now he was having trouble getting himself to stop breathing. It was absolutely maddening.
“I understand,” Alia said softly. “But we need to get moving again. I think the best thing right now would be to get everyone back together.”
Dustil shook his head. “The entire reason I had everyone split up in the first place is to make us smaller targets. They’re going to have to split up their own guys to find us.”
“Considering what we just heard,” Alia replied, and Dustil looked up to see her staring at him fiercely, as if her eyes might glow or catch fire in the next second, “that plan isn’t good enough. Right now, we have to get everyone back together.” She reached into her pocket and pulled out a small phone. “I’ll call the others and see if we can arrange a meeting spot.”
“No!” Without a second thought, Dustil reached out and grabbed her wrist tightly. Alia looked up in surprise. “That’s a really bad idea. Imagine if our phones had rung when we were hiding just now.”
She blinked at him for a moment, then put her phone back in her pocket as soon as he released her wrist. “Good point,” she said. “So then, Major Evilan, what’s the plan?”
Despite the fact that his life was hanging off an edge by both index fingers, Dustil couldn’t help but smile at being addressed by his airsoft title. He and Alando had come up with these a while ago when they began airsofting together and they still enjoyed these little monikers. It was at that moment that he was fully able to take in his surrounding. What he had originally perceived as a wall was actually a solitary archway. On the other side was an expansive field peppered with many trees and, in the distance, he could have sworn he saw a lit up fountain. Unless he was mistaken, they were right next to one of Chicago’s renowned parks, though he couldn’t tell which one.
“All right then,” he said. “Meeting up with the others is a good idea. I think we personally should split up to find them, so we can cover more ground. I’ll head back into the city. I’ll be safer there, fire escapes and rooftops are my friends.”
Alia rolled her eyes slightly. “Don’t forget your Dagger of Time, Prince Dustil,” she said. “Seriously, you ought to cut down on the console games.”
“First of all,” he said, “this is more like Assassin’s Creed, since I’m going on the rooftops to avoid getting spotted and sliced up. Second of all, I’m not a console gamer. It’s strictly PC for me.”
“Is that really important now?”
“Right. Anyway, I’ll take the city, while you take the park.” Alia flashed him the thumbs-up. “Set your phone to vibrate. We’ll communicate by texting and only that. Do not, under any circumstances, call me. Are we clear?”
Alia nodded. “Clear as glacier water.”
“All right,” he finished. “Let’s move out.” Alia took off in the direction of the trees, making sure to weave in between them. After watching her move out of sight, Dustil ran across the street and started looking for a fire escape. He found one on the side of a seedy-looking beige building, which, in Dustil’s opinion, looked like something directly out of a black-and white gangster movie. Backing up a bit, he ran towards the fire escape, leapt up and caught the lowest bar. There was enough rust on there to slice through his hand and as Dustil climbed up with monkey-like agility, he was thankful that it didn’t.
* * *
After minutes of running, twisting and turning, Alando sank to his knees in exhaustion. Breathing felt like acid to his lungs and it felt as if two knives had been jammed into his sides. The labored breathing to his left told him that at least Nathan had kept up with him, but when he turned to look, he saw Vic as well, who barely looked winded. Vic looked at Alando, then at Nathan, who was doubled up against the wall and said, “You guys are lightweights.”
Alando shook his head and took the time to examine his surroundings. The alley they were in was far darker and dingier than any they had run through tonight. The walls showed unmistakable signs of not being cleaned for months and were it not for the lights coming from the windows above them, they would be in complete darkness. However, there was one major advantage over the others: the howls were gone. He didn’t know how and he didn’t care, but they had managed to lose the Reapers. Half the time, when they were weaving through the alleyways, he was almost afraid that he might run into them again. Thankfully, years of airsoft and first-person shooters had bolstered his ability to avoid enemies.
Nathan, still against the wall, was apparently not done using his lungs. “Listen, Squeak,” he said, in response to Vic’s earlier comment, “just because you’ve had years of dance and endurance training under your belt, doesn’t mean you get to talk down to us. Got it, buddy?”
Alando immediately jumped to his feet, rushed over to Nathan, turned him to face him and slammed him against the wall, pinning him with his arm. Nathan’s eyes bugged out at the apparent shock of Alando’s newfound strength. If it weren’t for the glasses, Alando was sure that his eyes would have burned a hole straight through Nathan’s skull.
“You are not allowed to speak!” Alando roared. “It’s your fault we’re in this mess to begin with, you piece of shit! If you ever do that again, I will personally-”
Alando was cut off by Nathan grabbing the front of his shirt and thrusting him off. Falling to the ground and skidding slightly, he barely had time to recover when Nathan descended down on him, bringing his fist down on Alando’s jaw.
“Don’t you ever…” Nathan growled, picking up Alando by the front of his shirt with so much force that it practically broadcasted his fury, “…threaten me like that again.”
“Then don’t be such a dumbass,” Alando retorted, snaking his arm around Nathan’s, placing his thumb between the middle and ring knuckle and twisting sharply, forcing Nathan to release his grip. Nathan struggled desperately to grab Alando with his other hand, but Alando, using the grip he had gotten earlier, twisted his arm in front of him and firmly locked it in place. Two times Nathan tried fruitlessly to grab at him, but because of the lock, his fingers could not even touch him. Alando started to feel a little smug under his anger until a crushing pain on his foot brought him out of his reverie. He looked down to see that Nathan had slammed his foot down onto his own. He looked back up just in time to see Nathan’s fist slam into his left eye. With the shock of the foot attack, Alando had accidentally released his grip on Nathan’s hand.
Like that’s going to make much of a difference, Alando thought as he jabbed two fingers into his attacker’s solar plexus, sending him tumbling backwards. Nathan may outclass me in brute strength, but he’s nowhere near me in terms of skill and finesse. The said brute strength champion got to his feet, rushed over and grabbed Alando by the shoulders. He had just thought of a retaliation when he felt himself getting shoved away from his opponent by some unseen force. The same thing had happened to Nathan who, thoroughly perplexed, looked down. Alando followed suit and instantly discovered the reason; Vic had taken this opportunity to step in and break up the fight and was now holding them apart with his hands on their chests. He looked at both of them with the same rigid face he had on all night and said, “Please. Enough.”
Alando looked from Nathan to Vic, then relaxed his body and put his arms down at his sides in a non-threatening position. Nathan did the same and Vic took his hands off of them and went back to the wall. That’s the thing about Vic, Alando thought as he noted the lack of tension in the air. He may be only 5’2”, he may hardly speak, he may have one primary form of facial expression, but he can still command a presence.
“So what now?” Nathan voiced loudly, sitting down next to a pile of boxes. “Do we just wait this out, or go meet them head on? I’m up for option two, personally. Seriously, there were, what? Twelve guys? Fifteen? I could take that many in my sleep…”
As Nathan continued to talk, Alando moved as far away from him as possible. If it was up to him, he would have Nathan drawn and quartered for almost getting them killed. If anything, he would still be good as a meat shield in case more Reapers came their way. I’d be more than willing to join in if I had my foil with me, he reminisced, shifting into his fencing stance and practicing a few steps to keep himself active. I’m only so good with my fists.
“…don’t see what the big deal is. Just a couple of kids, right? Why are we pulling such a fuss over these runts?”
Alando stopped dead in his tracks. The voices were coming from the other end of the alley, and Alando had one good guess who they belonged to. Vic too seemed to have taken interest in these new voices, having turned slowly in that direction and crouched down to stay small. Alando ducked down on the ground and went into a prone position, keeping his head forward to hear as much as possible. Nathan was still talking to himself.
“From what I heard,” another voice said, “they saw some of us taking out some little punk in the Bone Finger Circle. So that’s two reasons: encroaching on our turf and witnessing the death of a victim.”
“Still,” a new voice said, “that doesn’t seem like a reason to call the entire west side over here. What, is your group not big enough to off a few tykes?”
Alando froze, looking slowly over at the others. Nathan had finally taken notice, stopped talking and was listening intently. Does this mean what I think it means?
“You’re questioning the Grim?” the voice who seemed to know more asked. “’Cause from what I hear, that’s a pretty serious offence too. You don’t want to find yourself next to those kids in a ditch, do you?”
“No,” the other voice replied, now seeming small and timid.
“Good,” the first one said. “Now spread out. Make sure that no street is unprotected. They’ll have to come out eventually, so let’s give them a nice surprise. There’s a reason that the Reapers are feared in these parts. Show them why.”
The telltale cries rose up from the end of the alley and slowly started to move away in different directions. Soon, the only sound came through an open window, where the audible sounds of the news trickled into the alley from some TV. “…and studies show that there have been a rise in kidnappings, murders and rapes in the past five months. Let this be a warning to anyone who thinks it’s a good idea to let your friends or children go wandering into dark alleys. The death rate for this sort of thing is absolute, no ifs, ands or buts.”
Oh, screw you, Bill O’Reilly, Alando thought bitterly as he got to his feet. Keep your two cents to yourself. Shaking his head, he turned to look at the others.
“Well, now we’re kind of screwed,” Alando said bluntly, “but this isn’t an impossible situation. We just have to find a way of getting out of here and back to the hotel. The three of us should be able to make some ground if we stick together, but we can split up if necessary.”
“Here’s a better idea,” Nathan said. “We could just call Dustil or Kyle or someone else and arrange a meeting place.”
“No phones,” Alando said curtly. He didn’t want to shout, in case there were any lingering Reapers, but he had to get this through Nathan’s skull somehow. “Right now, we’re all in enemy territory and in serious danger. By calling someone, we risk giving away their position or giving the enemy a way to draw us out. Turn your phones off and don’t make any calls.” He recited the message word for word the way he had told it to Dustil a hundred times during airsoft sessions. Vic switched his phone off without another word, but Nathan’s scowl plainly showed that he was unhappy with the idea.
“So,” Alando continued, “for the moment we should stay here and think of-“
“Forget it,” Nathan said, standing up, walking in the other direction and grabbing Vic by the shoulder. “No way am I staying here and waiting for some gang-bangers to chop me up. We’re going on the lam.” He started to walk away, but after a few seconds he stopped and turned back to Alando. “And by we, I mean you too.”
Alando shook his head and continued to stare Nathan down. “You may be a retard to the core, but if you think I’m going to get killed on your stupidity, you are sadly mistaken.”
Nathan balled his right hand into a fist and held it up towards Alando, stating, “Sticks and stones may break my bones, but I’ll give you a concussion if you don’t shut up and follow me.” With that, he turned on his heel and dragged a still-stoic Vic behind him, who merely shrugged at this. Alando stared after them for a moment, then shaking his head and letting out an irritated breath from his gritted teeth, he stormed after Nathan.
We’re so going to die, he thought in a resigned way.
* * *
She had been running for a while before she realized that she had been outstripping her companions for quite some time now. Turning to see how far behind they were, Sarah was surprised and pleased to see that Kia and Kyle were only a few yards behind her. But to her dismay, the Reapers were still hot on their tail, whooping and yelling at them with a few knives drawn. Turning back ahead, she shuddered at the thought of those blades stuck in any of them… especially Kyle.
I can’t figure out which makes people go faster, she thought, dropping back to rejoin Kia and Kyle. The desire to live or the desire to kill? If it’s that last one, we’re screwed.
“You guys doing okay back there?” Sarah asked as she sped forward. Though she tried to keep with the others, she found herself pulling ahead again and again.
“I’m fine, thanks,” Kia answered as they turned yet another corner. Sarah could hear the yells start to trail behind them, hopefully meaning that they were starting to lose them.
“Same here,” Kyle answered. “I guess I could be a bit faster, though. Hard to say.”
“Don’t worry about that,” Kia said encouragingly.
“Yeah,” Sarah answered. “Just worry about the people coming to cut us open.” Sprinting forward, she broke out of the alleyway and into the street. This particular lane was devoid of traffic, lit only by one single street lamp and separated the alley from a spacious green field with trees peppering it as far as she could see. The park, she thought. Works for me. Without a second thought, she led the others across the empty street and into the grove.
Wasting no time, she ducked behind a nearby tree and pressed her back to the bark. Kia and Kyle did the same, staying behind trees to her left and right sides, respectively. They stood there for a moment, panting heavily and listening intently. The howls seemed to be coming closer, crying out for blood. Sarah shook her head for a moment. This wasn’t going to be pretty.
“We can’t stay here,” she said, looking at Kyle. “We’ve got to take our chances and get moving again. If we stay here, they’ll probably find us and…” She closed her eyes and shuddered, the image of the beaten young man playing through her head.
Sarah looked at both of them; they seemed to understand and they all pushed off of the trees, moving away from the yelps. This time, however, Sarah ran not to get away from them as quickly as possible, but to stay hidden and out of sight. Kia, she noted, wouldn’t have much trouble with this. Her short stature was enough to make most people overlook her. Kyle, on the other hand, would have a bit more trouble. His height was more than enough to draw attention. But when she looked back to check up on him, she let out a sigh of relief. He seemed to be taking advantage of his lack of width by hiding behind the trees. This may not turn out so bad after all.
A few moments later, she realized that she’d hoped too soon. The farther they got into the park, the less lights were around to light their way. Soon, Sarah was experiencing various lurches in her stomach from stumbling over various rocks and roots. Worse still, she found that it was harder to check on everyone else since she could barely see in front of her. All she knew was that the dreadful sounds from far behind her said that the Reapers hadn’t given up their chase yet.
A sharp cry from behind her, followed by a dull tumbling sound and a rough thud, brought her legs and heart to a standstill. Instinctively, she wheeled around to see what happened, even though she may as well have done it blindfolded. Apart from the various lights in the distance, there was utter blackness in front of her face, but she was still afraid of what those sounds might have meant. That yelp could only have come from-
“Kyle!” Kia’s shriek echoed through the park and probably got the attention of their pursuers, but most of all it got Sarah’s. She hurried in the direction of Kia’s call and arrived at a large gap in the ground with a dimly lit bridge over it. She got there just in time to see Kia sliding down the steep incline and stooping over a fallen figure, one that Sarah, with a chill, recognized all too well…
Abandoning all caution, she hurried down the edge to where Kia was standing. This could not be happening. Kyle wasn’t moving at all. He simply lay on the ground with his eyes closed and his body limp as Kia lifted up his head. Sarah couldn’t move, couldn’t speak, couldn’t do anything but hope that this was just another of Kyle’s jokes, that he would spring up at any moment with a sheepish grin and say “Just kidding.”
Finally, she managed to croak something out. “Is he…”
Kia, who was turning Kyle’s head and pulling back his hair to get a better look at his skin, finally looked up at Sarah. “Don’t worry, he’s fine,” she assured her. “He just hit his head when he fell and got knocked out, I guess. Nothing too serious.” She tilted his head to show Sarah a wide, but rather shallow, scrape near his temple.
Sarah let out a sigh of relief. At least he’s not… She shook that idea out of her head. “Listen,” she said, “I know you’re not going to like this, but right now we don’t have a choice. I need you to stay here and watch over Kyle. I’m going to go back out there, get the Reapers away from here, lose them and get some help.”
Kia shook her head. “You should stay here with Kyle. I think he’d rather come too with you by his side. Besides, I don’t want you to get killed or anything.”
“Better me than you,” she replied, her expression softening and a soft jab of pain entering her chest as she recalled some of the darker times from last year. “We almost lost you once, remember? I personally don’t want to have to live with that fear again. Besides, we both know that I’m a faster runner. I’ll be able to outrun those guys in no time flat.”
Kia sighed and looked down at the unconscious form in her arms. “All right,” she finally said in a defeated voice. Sarah could tell that she didn’t like this, but at the moment, there was no other option. “But promise me that you’ll stay safe. Don’t make us worry too much.”
Sarah simply nodded. “Help’ll be here before you know it.” She walked over to the pair of them, bent down over Kyle and kissed him tenderly. She lingered there for a moment, but finally pulled back and sighed. “Don’t worry,” she whispered. “I’m not going to die on you.” With that, she turned and hurried out to the grassy surface again.
Once she got up there, she spotted the gang of Reapers about ten yards away, still yelling and looking around for them. She took a deep breath, readied herself for what she had to do and bolted. She took off back towards the street with incredible speed, her blonde waist-length hair trailing behind her like a golden cape. She heard one of the gang members yell, “Hey! That chick over there’s making a bolt for it!” and now the screams were following her. Swallowing her disgust at being called a “chick,” she sprinted forward with all the speed she could muster, letting the wind whip her hair about and hurrying across the street, narrowly avoiding a solitary car that honked its horn obnoxiously at her. She hadn’t earned the nickname Speedy Squeaker for nothing, after all.
* * *
“For the record,” Alando said as he struggled to keep his half of the garbage can from falling, “I think this is the stupidest idea you’ve ever come up with.”
He and Nathan were in a different alley this time, one that was far less dirty than their first hideaway and that was actually connected to a street. At the moment, both of them were hauling a large trashcan towards the street, which was a lot more work than Nathan had anticipated. He was at least pleased to see that Alando’s legs were shaking under the pressure of such a heavy object.
“And for the record,” Nathan retorted, continuing to move in the same direction as Alando, “no one gives a shit what you think. I’m tired of putting up with all this second-guessing garbage you keep throwing at me. Let me spell it out for you, Quantum Kid. This. Plan. Is. Foolproof.”
Alando merely rolled his eyes, which aggravated Nathan even more. “Whatever,” he droned. “And you’re sure Vic’s going to be fine?”
“Please,” Nathan scoffed, chuckling a little. “Vic got hit by a twenty-ton truck at full speed and walked away without even a bruise. Something like this will be no problem.”
Right then, the trash can lid popped off slightly next to Nathan and Vic poked his head out to face his friend. “Nathan, you made that story up in the sixth grade to get me a date,” he droned.
Nathan slammed the lid onto the mouth of the bin, forcing Vic’s head back inside. “Pipe down in there!” he barked. Looking back at Alando, he smirked and made a non-committal jerk with his head to the side. “Even so, all those years of dance training this guy’s been through has made his body tough as a rock. He probably has more physical endurance than all of us put together. I swear by all that’s holy, if you smacked him with a two-by-four, he would walk away just fine.”
“Yeah,” Alando replied slowly. “I don’t know exactly what it is that you find holy, but I think I should stay far away from it.”
They came to a stop at the edge of the alley. Looking out, Nathan saw that the street in front of them descended into a large hill that stretched for the entire expansive block. Standing on that hill, looking around, pacing and talking to one another, were no less than ten Reapers. This time, Nathan thought, this time I’ll get my chance.
“All right,” Alando spoke up. “Please run this plan by me again. I need to convince myself that it’s not half as terrible as it sounded the first time.”
“Fine,” Nathan said, steeling himself for the entire thing. Personally, he was surprised by the inspiration that hit him when they scouted out this area. “We put Vic in this trash can, which we’ve already done, and then we roll the can down the hill. The Reapers are obviously going to notice this and come up here to see what caused it to fall. Then Vic, now at the bottom of the hill, crawls out of the trashcan and hurries away to go look for the others, or even better, some help. While he’s doing that, I’ll personally be busy knocking in some Reaper heads. So,” he said, drawing himself up a bit while still holding the trash can, “now that you’ve heard it all again, please tell me what part you see as bad.”
Alando stared at him with his mouth slightly agape. “You want me to give you the whole list or just the top ten?” he asked back.
Closing his eyes, Nathan gritted his teeth and shook his head. “You know,” he said, irritation prominent in his voice, “I’m getting really sick of this know-it-all attitude that you keep around me. There is absolutely no difference between your brainpower and mine, except for the fact that you can play Halo 3 and StarCraft online with both hands at the same time and still manage to win.” He sighed for a moment, not liking what he was going to say next. “…which I have to admit, is pretty damn amazing.”
“Glad you acknowledge it,” Alando said with a slight smirk. He seemed to be enjoying the fact that Nathan had been forced into complimenting him. Enjoy it while it lasts, Nathan thought savagely.
Steeling himself and reaffirming his grip on the trashcan, he got ready for the big moment. “Enough chit-chat,” he said. “It’s time to go. You ready?” Alando nodded, steadying and adjusting himself for the task at hand. “Ready, Vic?” Vic’s right hand poked out from under the lid, flashed the thumbs-up and pulled itself back inside. “All right. One…” Nathan shifted his weight back for the toss.
“…two…” Alando did the same, his hands gripping the bottom of the can.
“…three!” they both yelled and with an almighty heave, they flung the bin forward into the street. True to its mark, the trashcan hit the pavement in front of it and began to roll noisily down the hill. The Reapers looked sharply towards the noise, saw that rather unusual sight and looked back up the hill. Perfect, Nathan thought as he motioned for Alando to move back. He slowly began to move out of sight as the Reapers began to move up the hill. Rolling his shoulders, he balled up his fists and readied himself for the oncoming fight. This was what he had been waiting for this whole time, a fight to the finish with these zealous bastards. This time, though, everything was just right. The blood was coursing through his arm muscles, the fingers were pressing into his neck, the…
All of a sudden, Nathan could feel his legs giving out from under him. Unable to control himself, he slumped to the ground. Shock was starting to spread over him as he tried to pick himself back up with his arms, but found that they too would not respond. As impossible as it seemed, he had been paralyzed somehow.
Then he felt a pair of arms grab him around the chest and start dragging him away from the oncoming Reapers very quickly. His limp neck lolled around and finally tilted back to see Alando above him, somehow moving the same speed as him. Then it finally dawned on him and the shock was replaced by raging anger. Alando, you son of a whore…
“Don’t get me wrong,” Alando said as he continued to drag Nathan off. “You can die anytime you want. Just don’t try to do it on my time.”
* * *
Slinking across the rooftop of yet another rundown building, Dustil stopped for a moment to glance down over the side to the alleys below. Sure enough, the grey jackets of the Reapers were plainly visible, waiting around for some stray prey to walk right into them. Dustil suppressed the urge to spit on them and hurried away, passing by various vents and odd pipes sticking up from the surface. There was still no sign of the others, which put Dustil on edge for a bit.
After moving for a while, he came to yet another gap between buildings where another alley crossed below. Looking over the edge, he saw to his dismay that there were four Reapers passing below him. Balls, he thought, looking from them to the building across from him. Well, it’s not like there’s another way. He backed up a few paces, then, for the third time that night, he rushed forward and leapt towards the other side. His feet landed on the edge, but he could feel his body starting to tilt backwards. Gritting his teeth, he fought desperately to keep his balance and to keep as quiet as possible. If one noise reached the unwanted ears below, Dustil’s “safe haven” would be rendered moot. Thankfully, he pulled himself forward and landed on his chest. He could feel the impact forcing the air out of his body, but he didn’t dare cough.
He lay there for a moment, his lungs fighting to regain air quietly and his mind racing feverishly. This was getting far too risky, but it wasn’t as if he had a choice in the matter. Once he was able, he sat up and dusted himself off, still breathing heavily. Damn it, Nathan! he thought furiously. He turned the situation every way that he could, but it all came down to the same thing: Nathan had needlessly put them all in danger.
After a few deep breaths, he was able to calm himself down. Yes, it was Nathan’s fault, but it was everyone’s problem and he wasn’t going to solve it by sitting around and seething about it. Just keep moving, he thought, regaining his breath fully. There’s plenty of time to kill him later, though I might have to make do with whatever pieces Alando leaves me.
He got up and looked around the new rooftop, which was pretty much the same as the rest of them. Getting focused once again, he began trekking across this urban skyscape. Keeping out of sight was almost no problem now, not as long as he kept near the center of the rooftops. For five more minutes, he kept going without catching anyone’s eyes, except for maybe a few people looking through their windows. Regardless, he kept moving forward until he came to an abrupt halt at the edge of the last building, staring out across the edge.
This, he thought solemnly, could be a problem…
He had now reached the end of the alleyways and was staring out over an actual street, which was much wider than the narrow alley from before. The grey building across from him, which read “Heinfert Hotel” in bright pink flashing letters, was about equal height to the building he was standing on, which was about four stories, but the wider gap made reaching the roof impossible. Hoping for the best, he looked down at the street to see if there was any chance of going on the ground level safely. Nope. A few Reapers were walking around below. Apparently, their territory didn’t end with that cluster of hovels, but he hadn’t really expected it to.
Great, he thought. Now what am I… hold on… He squinted across at the hotel, taking in something he had missed before. Gripping the side of the building facing him was a large steel fire escape, which spanned from the second story to the top. Clearly, the person who built that place had wanted to advertise how safe it was, especially since the building took up the whole city block. Dustil felt a smile creep onto his face. The roof was definitely out of the question, but the fire escape… that, he could make.
Preparing himself for what could be the last jump of his life, he backed up to the center of the rooftop and braced himself. Here goes. His legs gunned him forward as he propelled himself off the edge of the roof toward either a safe fire escape or a very painful death. He felt himself soaring for a moment as he reached the height of his jump, then the free sensation began to give way to one of anticipation as he felt himself plummeting downwards. He reached out with his hands…
…and grabbed on to the edge of the fire escape’s lowest level. His body hit the rail with an almighty clang that he felt sure would carry down to the street. Wasting no time, he pulled himself up onto the solid footing and hurried across the steel catwalk. Looking around desperately, he stopped when he came across an open window and ducked inside as quickly as he could.
He had barely entered the room when a shrill shriek from within the room pierced his ears and stiffened his spine. Great, like I needed to make any more noise, he thought as he turned left towards the source of that sound. A young woman was staring goggle-eyed from the bed, pulling the covers up to hide her body so that only her bare shoulders could be seen and screaming bloody murder at the sight of this intruder. Next to her was a large looking man, who had the bottom half of his body covered, the top half visible and naked and his face alive as he sputtered wildly, clearly stuck between anger and shock.
Oh, crap, Dustil thought desperately, fighting to move his tense body towards the door. “It’s all right,” Dustil called over their yells, saying the first things he could think of. “We’re just filming a movie… student project… it’s a new James Bond spoof… Miramax is paying us a bunch of money for it… nothing to worry about… the Screen Actors Guild will send you your badges in a few weeks… and bye now.”
Reaching the door, he twisted the handle, pulled the door in and hurried out into the hall. He wasn’t sure if the Reapers had heard all of this, but he would not be the one to take chances. He eventually reached the elevator on the left and pressed the down button rapidly. To his surprise, the door opened for him immediately and he hurled himself in. Noticing that the buttons went from P to 4, he quickly pressed on P and leaned against the wall as the elevator began its descent.
After a few seconds, the elevator doors opened at the parking level with a small ding. Dustil stepped out and examined his surroundings. The garage was dimly lit with a large assortment of cars of various shapes, makes and models parked all over the place, a few doorways to the stairwell or emergency exits and an opening for the cars to get out into the street. Perfect. He moved slowly to this exit and peaked around the corner. To his surprise, there were no gang members on this street. In fact, as Dustil moved out and looked around, it seemed as if this street was lower than the one he had just jumped over. After all, from this angle, the hotel seemed much larger on this side.
An odd sound made Dustil stop in his tracks for a moment to listen. He couldn’t be sure, but it sounded like a clanging sound growing slowly louder and coming from the intersecting street to his right. He looked up curiously and his head instinctively cocked to the side in bewilderment. A large trashcan had just bounced into view and had rolled to a standstill. Forgetting all about his predicament, he walked over to see what exactly had happened. When he reached the can, he noticed that the direction it had come from was in fact a large hill. Must have rolled downhill, he thought. It was then that he heard an odd noise at his feet, looked down and dropped his jaw in shock.
The lid popped opened and Vic crawled out, getting to his feet. He stumbled around for a moment, then seemed to regain his footing. He looked around with his same stoic face and found Dustil with his eyes. “Hey,” he said, waving his hand slightly.
Dustil’s mind was completely blank. He had certainly hoped to find the others, but this seemed just so… off. Granted, it was no more bizarre than anything else his friends did, but this thing just seemed to knock him off his feet. Which was kind of ironic because in that moment, he actually was knocked off his feet.
For the second time that night, he found himself on the ground with the wind knocked out of him. But this time, he had some kind of small, moving body on top of him. Shaking himself out of a daze, he looked up to discover that Sarah had apparently run into him and knocked him over. Getting to his feet, he helped her up and set her on her feet. Sarah cleared her hair out of her face and looked up at Dustil with a mixture of shock and relief.
“Well, that was quick,” she breathed. Immediately, she grabbed his arm and tried to drag him in the other direction. “Come on, we’ve got to get moving. I don’t know if Kyle’s up yet, but if we hurry, we can get to him.”
“Whoa, whoa, whoa,” Dustil said as he pulled out of her grip. “Slow down. What are you talking about?”
Sarah took a deep breath before she spoke. “We were trying to hide from those guys in the park and Kyle got hurt pretty badly. He’s knocked out right now, but Kia’s with him, so that’s all right. Anyway, I led the guys chasing us away from them and I came to find anyone who could help. Now I’ve found you, so we need to go!” With desperation in her voice, she began to pull Dustil again, but he got out of her grip.
“Just wait a moment,” he said. “Don’t worry about Kyle. Alia’s looking through the park right now, so she should find them really soon. In the meantime, we should look for Alando and Nathan.” Sarah seemed to relax at this, but she still looked worried. “Look, if you’re that concerned about Kyle, I’ll text Alia and tell her to be on the lookout for them.”
“Text later,” Vic said simply. Dustil turned to Vic to see that he was pointing up the hill he had just rolled down. He turned to look up and saw, to his horror, Reapers appearing from over the bend and starting to move towards them. Dustil suddenly felt as if he were falling towards the fire escape again; in his rush to examine the trashcan and his excitement to see the others again, he had completely abandoned all caution and left himself exposed.
“I think we should run,” Sarah said as she too noticed the imminent danger.
“Then what are we waiting for?” Dustil asked. “Follow me.” And with that, he took off in the direction he had been heading before. He heard the pounding of feet on pavement behind him, which meant that Sarah and Vic were hurrying after him. He kept moving until he saw something that made him skid to a halt. A group of five Reapers were heading right towards them, but whether or not they had seen him, he couldn’t tell.
“No,” he muttered, feeling trapped. He looked desperately around him for some mode of escape, but all he could see were various buildings that all looked closed. All except one.
A bright red sign reading “Broken Knee Club” flashed above their heads and pointed to a place where the lights were on and a lot of people were cheering loudly. Without thinking twice, he motioned for the others to follow, opened the door and walked in.
He was expecting to find more Reapers or possibly even some kind of mobster hovel, but he was surprised to find a den packed with what looked like drunken frat boys, mostly in their seats but some standing up and clapping. The place itself had a wooden floor, ceiling and walls with a large assortment of tables scattered across the floor and a bar against the right most wall. The only thing of interest in this place, however, was a large stage near the back that was populated by an assortment of musicians. Dustil turned to look at Sarah and saw her with a grin as wide as her face.
The group moved further into the place, Dustil on the lookout for someone that could help them. Eventually, he found himself face-to-face with a trim waiter in his early twenties carrying a notepad and some drinks. The musicians, which consisted of two guitarists, a keyboard player and a drummer, had struck up another song, so Dustil had to shout to make himself heard.
“Hey!” he called out, finally getting the waiter’s attention. The man turned to look at Dustil attentively. “Can you tell me what’s going on here!?”
“Live music night tonight!” the waiter called back. “These guys play here until midnight! They also let people come up and perform with them, if you want to give it a shot!”
“I don’t think so!” Dustil replied, laughing and shaking his head. “I’m more of an actor than a singer, and I’m not even warmed up yet!”
“Come on!” the waiter encouraged loudly. “You think any of these guys can sing?! No one’s gonna chuck any beer bottles at you or anything! Give it a shot!”
Dustil was about to reply, but then he noticed something out of the corner of his eye. Two Reapers entered the pub and began poking through the crowd, shoving some people out of their seats and getting very nasty glares sent their way. Turning back to the waiter, Dustil said, “You know, I think I will try singing with the band!”
“That’s the spirit, man!” the waiter said with a smile and then he hurried off towards the stage.
Dustil felt someone grab him around his wrist, someone who he discovered to be Sarah when he turned around. She was standing with Vic, only a few inches shorter than him, and her expression was one of skepticism and seriousness.
“Please explain to me why we’re drawing more attention to ourselves when there are people trying to kill us in here,” said Sarah in a voice with no mirth.
“Simple,” Dustil replied, not having to yell since they were closer together. “If they’re going to kill us, the last place they would do it is on stage. There’re way too many witnesses and odds are these people would all jump them if they tried to stop the music. Besides, when we finish performing, Vic,” he nodded at Vic, “needs to kill the lights so that we can escape through…” he glanced around the entire place until he finally found a side door next to the bar. “…that door right there. Sarah, if you don’t mind, I think you’ll be safer onstage with me. Everyone got that?”
“Just one question,” Sarah said. “How exactly is Vic supposed to ‘kill the lights’?”
“There should be a light switch or a circuit board around here that you can mess with,” he answered. “You’ve done lighting for shows before, so you should know what to do there, right?”
Vic nodded and disappeared into the crowd to look for an appropriate device. Dustil led Sarah to the stage just as the band finished their song. As the crowd erupted for them, the waiter got on stage and spoke with the guitarist.
“Sarah,” Dustil asked quickly, “are you okay doing back-up vocals? I know you’re more of an instrumental person, but I think these guys have that covered.”
She let out a sigh before saying, “As long as I don’t have to do a strip tease for these guys, I’m perfectly fine.”
“Perfect,” he answered. “And don’t worry. If anyone tries that, I’m sure everyone in our group would tear them apart before Kyle has a chance to wake up.” Sarah smirked, appeased for the moment.
“All right everyone,” one of the guitarists called out into his mike, “it looks like someone else has volunteered for our little jam session. Let’s give them a round of applause and drinks!”
A chorus of cheers erupted from the crowd, which Dustil took as a sign to go up onstage. Sarah followed him, which resulted in a few of the crowd wolf-whistling and catcalling at her. Dustil looked at her apologetically, but she was doing a very good job at ignoring them. I swear, it’s like everyone in this whole town is sexist. From the stage, he could see the two Reapers staring at him from the back. One of them tried to go towards the stage, but his companion held him back.
“So you got a song you want to do?” said the guitarist, who looked about thirty with a pair of dark sunglasses and a thick dark mustache.
Dustil looked out at the crowd again, at the frat boys, at the mike stand in front of him, and at the two gang members looking daggers at him from the back. “Yeah,” he said with a nod. “Don’t Fear the Reaper.”
* * *
“You still hanging in there?” Kia asked to the still unconscious Kyle. She looked out from under the bridge, but there was still no sign of anyone. At this point, she had lost track of the time Sarah had been gone, but in truth, she didn’t care that much. She was fairly confident that they weren’t going to be disturbed.
“You’re really lucky, you know,” she continued, fully aware that Kyle couldn’t talk back, but still thankful for the conversation. “There aren’t a lot of people who have friends, or girlfriends, that would risk their lives to help them if they were unconscious. We’re kind of a tight knit family, you know. Even Nathan and Alando fight like brothers, don’t you think? If I were blind, I could swear they were actually related. Doesn’t really matter, though. As far as I’m concerned, we are related. We always catch each other, watch each other, even help each other through the hard times… just like you helped me.”
She blinked for a moment, then she sat down on the ground. With one hand, she balanced herself and remained upright. With the other hand, she traced the scar that was directly over her liver. No, she thought, it’s not mine…
“I still don’t feel like I’ve thanked you enough,” she finally said. “I don’t know if I ever could. You were the only one who was willing to give your life for me when I was sick. I was ready to die peacefully, but you weren’t willing to let me.” She turned to look back at him, a dull ache starting to develop in her chest. “You’re just lucky there was another donor on hand when you signed up for the liver transplant. I don’t think any of us would have wanted to lose you. I guess we’re both lucky that it worked; the doctors said the chances of a Caucasian-to-African-American transplant had almost no chance. I hope you realize that even if we all go our separate ways, we’re never going to forget you. I won’t.”
“If this gets any more soap opera-ish,” a familiar voice said from above, “I’m turning around and going back.”
Surprised, Kia jumped to her feet and hurried out to look up. There was Alia, staring down at her from atop the bridge with a grin on her face. Alia then went to the edge and slid down to meet her. “Surprised to see me?”
“A little,” Kia said, her face breaking out into the hugest smile she’d had all day and hugging her friend tightly. “I thought we might have to wait here all night.” At this, Alia lowered her eyelids, dropped half of her smile and cocked her head sideways, still looking at Kia. “Okay, okay, I had a feeling someone would come for us eventually. Good thing you did, because I’m not sure how well Kyle’s holding up.”
Alia’s smile faltered as she looked past Kia to the prone Kyle. She sighed, walked over to his body and gingerly propped him up in her arms. “Oh boyo,” she said, shaking her head slightly. “What did you do to yourself this time?”
“We were running away and he kind of… fell,” Kia answered.
Alia nodded. “Well, the best thing we can do now is get him out of here,” she said, pulling out her phone and pushing a large amount of buttons. “Found-Kyle-and-Kia,” she said as she punched something into her phone. Kia could only guess that Alia was typing this in. “Kyle’s-hurt. Where-should-we-meet?” She pressed the final key and looked up. “I just sent a message to Dustil, so right now we should get out of here. Dustil headed off to find the others, so hopefully he pulled it off. If not, then we may be in trouble. Help get Kyle onto my back, please?”
“Shouldn’t we wait for Dustil to come to us?” Kia asked as she dragged Kyle and hoisted him onto Alia’s back. Kyle’s dead weight was an immense strain on her arms, not at all the light lift like in the movies.
“Dustil’s way back in the city, Kia,” Alia replied, leaning forward, gripping Kyle’s legs and heading out of the ditch. “It would be a lot easier for us to get to him from here. Of course, how we do that is a different problem.” They were now both back on grassy ground and were both moving back towards the street as quickly as they could. “Personally,” she continued, “I would find a panda, get its back and ride it into battle. But that’s just me.”
Kia laughed slightly at this. She didn’t have to jog to keep up with her friend, but it was still more than an even pace for her short legs to make. “You should say that you did that,” Kia suggested. “I’m sure it would get you a few dates, at least.”
Alia made a dismissive grunt and shrugged her shoulders. “Dating’s not on the top of my list,” she answered. “Most of the attractive people I know are pretty self-absorbed. Plus, I’m not really into guys.”
Kia nodded. “Still, there must be something you look for in a partner. Some trait of a human being has to appeal to your better nature, right?”
“Well,” Alia replied, smirking, “it’s certainly not a Y-chromosome.”
They both laughed at this, though Kia started to feel a little exasperated. Apart from what she’d just heard, which was all information she knew already, Alia’s dating and romantic interests were a complete mystery to her. More than once, she tried to get her to open up and talk about them, but Alia continued to maintain that dating was not a priority for her. While Kia knew that a good number of people did feel this way, she also knew that, sooner or later, the prospect of romantic reciprocation would always call out to someone.
After a few minutes of walking, they had finally come within a yard of the street. It was still empty, save for a parked van with three men standing beside it and talking to one another. As they got closer, Kia was able to see that the van was colored a very ugly brown which certainly brought out the men’s black pants, white shirts and… grey jackets…
“Oh no,” Kia muttered, hardly daring to believe it. They were so close.
“Oh yes.” She turned in shock to see Alia, staring ahead with a wicked grin on her face. “Kia, I know how we’re going to find Dustil. Follow me.” They started to walk forward, Kia looking from the van to Alia with bewilderment.
“Are you crazy?” Kia said, still trying to grasp the fact that they were moving towards the people trying to kill them, rather than running for the hills.
“You know me,” Alia answered, wearing her trademark smile. “I’ve always been crazy.”
They kept walking until they finally reached the van. The three Reapers were talking animatedly about something Kia could not even begin to comprehend. One of them was a white man with his head completely shaved, one was a tall Hispanic with a Mohawk and a scar on his left cheek and the last one was a thin-faced black man with a bandana tied around his right forearm. Alia set Kyle down against the hood of the car and cleared her throat loudly. All three of them stopped talking and turned around slowly.
“Hi,” Alia said brightly, grinning at them and swaying her shoulders a little. “We’re sorry, but we were wondering if you could help us. We’re a little lost and…” She left the sentence hanging and her face grinning. Kia, now completely mortified, smiled as well and nodded her head.
“Well, what a coincidence,” grinned the scarred man, or Mohawk, as Kia decided to name him. “We were just hoping to run into two lovely young ladies who needed a ride. Especially ones so…” His eyes traveled downward on Alia’s body. “…well-equipped.”
“Why, thank you,” she replied in the same bright tone, but Kia mentally braced herself. She had seen that spark light up in Alia’s eyes, that telltale spark that meant that anyone who didn’t move out of her way would meet the oncoming fury. Her voice, however, betrayed none of these emotions. “We’ll just get in the back, shall we? I’m sure you have plenty of room.”
Mohawk and Skinhead were grinning broadly, but Bandana, who was in the back, had begun to eye them suspiciously. All of a sudden, his eyes widened. “Wait a minute,” he said. “You idiots! Those are the people we’ve been looking for!”
The other two turned around to look at their comrade, which gave Alia the perfect opportunity to sink her fist into Skinhead’s kidney. He doubled over and fell to the ground, which opened him up perfectly to her foot slamming down on his neck. The other two looked back to find themselves staring at a completely different Alia, one with no trace of a smile and with fire dancing in her eyes. Looking at this, Kia decided that it would be best to guard Kyle.
The next man, Mohawk, lunged at her and tried to grab her throat, but Alia’s fist met his jaw halfway, sending him back slightly. He tried to regain himself, only to find her forcing her knee into his gut three times in rapid succession. She grabbed at what little hair he had on his head and prepared to smash his head into the van next to her, but Bandana who had moved around behind her, grabbed her from behind and pulled her away from his comrade.
“Get off of me!” Alia yelled as the man pinned her arms to her sides with one arm. “Let go of me right-“
She was cut off as the one grabbing her clamped his other hand over her mouth, reducing her harsh words to muffled protests. The other man seemed to regain himself, swaying on the spot for a moment before shaking the daze off. Just he ran towards her with his fists raised and a deep snarl in his throat, Alia’s foot swung up and caught him directly in the stomach with a dull thud. He came to a halt as his eyes bulged and fell to the ground, coughing desperately.
The Reaper holding Alia let out a snarl of pain and Kia saw, with some unease, blood begin to drip from behind the palm covering her mouth. He pulled the hand away from her face and reached into his pocket, puling out a small black handle. With a small click, a blade shot out from the end.
Kia wasn’t sure when she started running or even when she made the decision. All she knew was that she had grabbed on to his wrist and vehemently held it there, desperate to keep the knife away from her friend. The Reaper turned back towards her, gazing angrily at her. His arm tried to pull out of her grasp, but she continued to hold it there, obstinately refusing to budge. Then he hand shot back and caught her across the face. The blade missed her by only centimeters, but she could still feel the sting of his blow on her nose as she feel to the ground.
The man suddenly let out a sharp cry and Kia looked up to see him release his hold on Alia. From what she could see, she had elbowed him in the stomach when he turned his attention away from her. She turned to face her former captor, but jumped back slightly as the man swung the knife viciously at her. She tried to move in, but the deft swings pushed her back. Three times he swung at her, then without warning, he dove towards Kia and swung at her. Crying out, she ducked out of the way and tried to avoid this man at all costs. Alia ran after him, but the Reaper swung at her again, striking a small cut into her right forearm.
Then a soft but audible groan echoed through the night, causing Kia and the assailant to turn and look in the sounds direction. Kyle, still on the hood, had begun to stir, sit up slightly and blink his eyelids. As Kia looked at him with a slight feeling of relief for a moment, a sudden male cry from behind her made her turn around again. She saw Alia grabbing the man’s wrist and twisting the knife out of his grip. She then brought her fist up, caught him under the jaw, kicked him in the stomach, forced him to the ground and crushed her fists against him nose repeatedly until it was bleeding profusely.
“Next time,” she said, picking his head up and crushing his jugular vein beneath her thumb, “make the effort to make eye contact when you’re talking to a girl.” With that, she slammed her skull into his and let him fall to the ground, limp.
Kia, who was standing a few feet away, watched all of this in amazement and slight terror. There was a reason she stayed out of Alia’s conflicts and it wasn’t simply because she was a pacifist. As Alia began to search through all of the fallen gangsters’ pockets, Kia turned back to look at Kyle. His face was utterly bewildered, his eyes staring blearily at the scene around him, his head tilted slightly to the side.
“Did I miss something?” he asked.
* * *
“You bastard…” Nathan mumbled as he stumbled downhill between a pair of brown buildings after Alando, who rolled his eyes at the insult. He had regained most of the movement in his body, but there were still some rough spots that needed to be ironed out.
“I’m sorry,” he called back. “Did you say something?”
“You moldy pair of vas deferens…” he called out louder. “That was my fight, my chance to break them in half, and you took it all away from me.”
“You’re such a child,” Alando murmured. “I’m sure it didn’t occur to you to thank me for saving your life, did it? Nope, all that matters to you is your goddamn fight. Crap, I should have just left you there. At least you would have gotten some sense slapped into you before you died.”
Nathan chuckled weakly. “So what, you’re my guardian angel now?” he asked. “No, of course you aren’t. My guardian angel would be nowhere near as big of an ass as you are. He would have a machete at his hip, an eternally loaded Uzi on his back and he’d be outfitted in a full Kevlar body suit. Beat that, why don’t you?”
Alando let out a long, irritated breath out of his nose before saying, “Fine. My guardian angel is Iron Man, now shut up.”
He could hear Nathan sigh behind him and felt himself smirk a little. “I should have figured I would get a nerdy response like that,” Nathan muttered, trudging along behind Alando like some injured dog.
They continued to walk for several minutes, not saying one word to one another. Every now and then, Alando would check behind him to find that Nathan’s recovery was almost complete. But honestly, all that really meant was that Alando didn’t have to carry him anymore, so he simply continued to walk forward.
After a while, they both came to a halt. Right in front of them seemed to mark the end of the alleyways, for a large open street crossed their path right in front of them. Peeking out for a moment, Alando was surprised to see that there were only a few Reapers to the right, all of whom were walking away and talking actively. This might be easier than I thought, he mused. “Come on,” he finally said to Nathan, motioning him along and heading out into the street. “And keep your head down. We don’t want to attract any unwanted attention.”
Nathan followed behind him, being surprisingly obedient. Alando supposed that Nathan didn’t want to get paralyzed again, but whatever, he’d take compliance any way that it came. They kept close to the buildings on their left as they moved along quietly, Alando keeping a lookout for any oncoming Reapers. A few blocks later, his watchful eyes spotted another group at the end of their current block, who seemed to be looking around. Gee, Alando thought sarcastically. Who could they possibly be looking for? I cannot imagine for the life of me.
“We need to get out of sight,” he said simply as he tried to hug the walls a bit more. Nathan was gazing around, slightly bored. “Keep on the look-out for any place we can hide and-”
“Found one,” Nathan interrupted, opening the door right next to them and walking in. As he opened the door, Alando could hear the riff of a guitar for a brief moment. Frowning, Alando looked at the building to see that it some kind of bar or club with a brightly lit sign. Broken Knee Club, he read to himself. A small sigh escaped his mouth as he pulled the door open. Oh yeah, that’s not foreboding at all.
The minute he stepped in, his jaw dropped. The room was filled to the brim with what appeared to be drunken college kids all yelling praise at the musicians on stage. These musicians included a guitarist with a thick mustache, another who had a white coat, a drummer who was throwing his head forward with every beat, a keyboardist who had an enormous afro and…
Dustil and Sarah?
He tapped Nathan’s shoulder and pointed him towards the stage. His face contorted in several different ways, as if he were trying to comprehend what he was seeing. He then started to shake his head slowly and mouth, “The hell?”
“Love of two is one,” Dustil sang out. His voice was somewhat flat as he sang, but his pitch was excellent. “Here but now they’re gone.”
“Suddenly, I feel pretty bad about our chances,” Alando muttered as he recognized the song. He wasn’t sure if his friends had seen him yet, but he didn’t try to draw their attention.
Nathan, on the other hand, cleared his throat loudly, which made Alando turn to look at him. As Sarah joined Dustil for the final duet of the song, he simply pointed forward into the crowd. Alando followed his direction and his eyes fell on two grey jackets with the skull-eating-a-corpse insignia.
“Bugger all,” he said, shaking his head. “It never ends.”
“Hold on,” Nathan said, staring at them for a moment. “It looks like they’re more focused on Dustil and Sarah. They don’t notice us at all.” He began to smile as he rolled his shoulders and cracked his knuckles. “I think it’s time for a ballroom blitz, don’t you think?”
“Hold on a moment,” Alando said, grabbing his shoulder. “We’ve got the drop on them, that’s true. But I think starting a fight while the band is still going would be a pretty bad idea. Wait until the song’s over, then go to town on them. It’ll just look like a normal bar fight, so nobody’s going to notice.”
Nathan nodded, the smile still on his face. “I like the way you think,” he said. “I guess that’s what comes from having a father in the military around.”
Alando let out a soft snort. “Yeah, ‘around’. I’ve been living with my mom for about ten years and nowadays, my dad’s all the way in Afghanistan. I only get messages from him once a month, so he could be dead right now and I wouldn’t know it.”
The smile faded slightly from Nathan’s face as he nodded solemnly. “At least you know where he is,” he replied. Alando sighed, feeling a slight surge of understanding pass through him.
At that moment, the band began the final instrumental and the stage lights began to flicker and change. While some light went off, others came on in their place. The crowd began to cheer at this dynamic effect, although most of the band looked confused. Finally, as they struck their final note, all the stage lights went out simultaneously, leaving the back portion of the room in complete darkness. The crowd erupted into applause and drunken cheering while Alando and Nathan looked all around them, wondering what had just happened.
Suddenly a shrill ringing pierced everyone’s ears. A bright white light began flashing on the wall to the right, illuminating Dustil, who had his hand on the handle, and Sarah, who was standing right behind him. Both were wearing a look of utter terror as the alarm continued to shriek at them. Dustil looked at the door, then back at the patrons, saying in a sheepish voice just barely audible above the siren, “And… this is the fire exit, ladies and gentlemen… we hope you’ve enjoyed this surprise safety demonstration… crap.” With that, he and Sarah bolted out the door.
Alando saw the two Reapers immediately try to push through the crowd after them. He nodded to Nathan, who saw this, sprinted forward, grabbed one of them by the shoulder, turned him around and drove his fist into his jaw with a sickening crunch. His friend turned around and grabbed Nathan around the neck and Alando recognized him as the Reaper who had beaten that poor boy to death earlier. Wasting no time, Alando grabbed a beer bottle from the nearest table, earning him a “Hey!” from the person sitting there and broke it over the Reaper’s head. Brown glass scattered through that wool cap of hair as the man stumbled and let go of Nathan.
Alando turned in time to see the man he had stolen the beer from rushing towards him, his fists raised and a yell coming from his throat. Ducking down, he rammed his shoulder into the charging man, lifted him over his back and threw him into the Reaper, who in turn, stumbled into the crowd behind him. The bar was thrown into chaos as everyone began diving on one another and attempting to knock each other’s teeth out. Let’s see a gang fight try to live up to this, Alando thought, ducking out of the way of yet another oncoming attacker as the shouts of drunks along with the breaking of bottles and bones filled his ears.
Out of the corner of his eye, he saw the Reaper he had just attacked rise out of the mob and charge at him. Noticing that he was still clutching the broken bottle neck in his hand, he turned towards his attacker, brought the bottle up to point at the man, brought his other hand up in front of his face and shifted his feet out into a fencing stance. Okay, maybe it’s not a formal stance, he thought, noting that his off-hand should be above his head, but I’d rather looking a little more… intimidating for the moment. The Reaper backed off a bit as he flicked the bottle deftly at him. Then Alando shifted his weight forward into a lunge and thrust his weapon into the man’s arm… which caused half of the bottle to shatter. Shards of glass going into his opponent’s arm, causing him to double up in pain and crumple to his knees. Despite this, Alando’s attention was focused on his broken weapon with slight disappointment. Well, crap, he thought, throwing the remnants of the bottle to the ground and moving quickly away from the fallen Reaper, dodging another tackle.
Looking around for Nathan, he found him forcing the first Reaper to the ground and thrusting his elbow into the man’s face and breaking his nose. “Let’s get out of here!” Alando called out, getting Nathan’s attention and motioning towards the door. Nathan rolled off the man, got up, slugged an oncoming frat boy and the two of them fought through the crowd to get back into the street. Through the haze of raging bodies, Alando spotted what appeared to be a small child. Wondering what he was doing there in the first place, he grabbed the boy’s wrist and pulled him out the door.
Breaking out into the street, he saw Dustil and Sarah hurrying out of a small alcove next to the building he had somehow missed earlier. “Guys!” he called out. They skidded to a halt and turned.
“Alando!” Dustil yelled, hurrying over to his best friend. “What are you guys doing here?”
“Watching your concert, apparently,” he replied. “Right now though, we have to find some way to get out of here and get this kid back to his family.” Alando shook the boy’s wrist at this.
Sarah tilted her head, slightly confused. “You do know that’s Vic, right?” she asked, sounding as if she thought Alando might have had something to drink in there.
Alando blinked and looked down. Sure enough, the wrist belonged to none other than Vic, who stared back at him with an almost bored expression. “So it is,” he said, releasing his wrist. “On another note, does anyone have a way of getting out of here?”
“Not sure,” Dustil said, “but I should probably send a message to Alia.” He pulled out his phone, at which Alando gaped at him, feeling as if he was going to have a heart attack. “Let’s see if she… oh,” he said as he flipped the phone open. Staring at the screen for a moment, he looked up and said, “Looks like she’s found Kia and Kyle already. She wants to know where we should meet.” He looked around for suggestions. “Would this place be good?”
“I don’t think so,” Nathan spoke up. “I think we’ve got company.”
They all looked around, but Alando saw it first. The group of Reapers he had seen before were now moving towards them, slowly making noises of recognition and beginning to howl with triumph. Between the yells from the bar and them talking, he hadn’t been able to hear them coming.
“Let’s move,” he said, taking off away from the Reapers and up a nearby cross street. Stopping for a moment and looking back, he waited until everyone had caught up with him, then led the way further down. He looked around, scanning the horizon, until he saw a moderately tall building with a large satellite dish coming out of the top, arcing upwards like a bowl ready to catch any falling meteors.
“There,” he pointed at the building so that everyone could see. “Tell Alia to meet us at that building.”
“You sure we can lose them before we get there?” Sarah asked, turning back to look at the cluster of killers hurrying after them.
“No,” Alando replied, “but it’s the closest landmark I can see, so we’ve got to give it a shot.”
Dustil made an affirmative grunt, pulled out his phone and began typing on the keypad furiously. Nathan, however, made a small chuckle. “If we don’t lose them, that’s fine with me. I wouldn’t mind giving them a piece of Nathan.”
“Be careful what you wish for,” Dustil said as he pressed the final button on his phone. “They just might take a piece of you with them if you’re not careful.”
Alando led them around a quick left turn down another street and continued forward, hoping to lose the Reapers. After going on for a bit, he made a right turn, heading back on track toward the satellite. As far as he kept going, though, he could still hear the howls of the Reapers.
“Aren’t they ever going to give up?” Sarah said as she pulled ahead of the rest of them, her voice thick with heavy breathing and severe annoyance.
“Not likely,” Dustil replied. He frowned for a moment, took out his phone, flipped it open and looked at the screen. “That was Alia,” he said, putting it back in his pocket. “She says she’s on her way and she’ll be there soon.”
“I’ll go on ahead,” Sarah opted. “I’ll be able to meet her there and tell her what’s going on. See you there.” Without waiting for an answer, she sprinted ahead of them as quickly as she could. In almost no time at all, she had dropped out of sight.
“I can’t believe you’re using your phone,” Alando said, shaking his head. “Haven’t I told you enough times how dangerous that is when you’re in a hot spot?”
“Come on,” Dustil said. “The rule was buzz-only and text-only, so we wouldn’t have given ourselves away. Besides, this was the only way for us to contact each other.”
“Even so,” he replied. “Don’t you remember what I told you? ‘When avoiding detection, radio silence is necessary’.”
“True,” Dustil said. “But I also remember what you and Kyle both told me once. ‘A plan without coordination is doomed to fail’.”
Alando fell silent as he thought over this. Try as he might, he couldn’t think of any counter-argument. “All right,” he finally said. “You win. Now let’s pick up the pace.”
Nathan’s raucous laugh came from behind them. “Nice!” he said laughing. “The Master Sergeant just got told off by his underling.”
“Sometimes,” Alando replied, not giving Nathan the satisfaction of eye contact, “it’s as if you’re trying to get to get the crap beat out of you. You should really work on that.”
They ran for a whole five minutes, ducking down different streets to keep out of sight. But the cries of the Reapers never diminished; they just kept following them and Alando began to wonder how far their turf really stretched. But finally they came to a halt in front of the enormous building. Alando wasn’t entirely sure, but it seemed to be about seven stories with rings of glass windows surrounding it. What little concrete he could see was stony grey and very well polished, giving off almost as much shine and glamour as the windows. However, for all its majesty in this dank and run-down neighborhood, it was still missing something… or rather someone.
At the base of the building, Sarah was waiting and looking around frantically for the others. Her face was unnaturally flushed and her teeth were gritted as she continued to scan her surroundings. When she saw Alando, Dustil, Vic and Nathan, she hurried up to them and looked imploringly at them.
“I’m guessing you didn’t see them on your way here?” she asked, looking at all of them.
Dustil shook his head. “I don’t understand,” he said. “She said she’d be here.”
“Great,” Vic droned, looking back towards the street they had come from. Though they weren’t visible yet, they could hear the Reapers gradually approaching, their howls echoing all the way to the building and beyond. Alando looked at all of them, saw their expressions and knew they were all thinking the same thing: I refuse to die this way.
It was then that a slow hum caught Alando’s attention. Looking all around him, he tried to find where it was coming from. Then, from around the corner furthest from them, an ugly brown van pulled around the corner, barreled up the street and came to a smooth stop right in front of them. The passenger window slowly unrolled to reveal Alia staring out at them with a grin spread across her face and Kia sitting firmly behind the wheel, both staring at their friends on the sidewalk.
“Welcome to the Hollis and Hamilton taxi service,” Alia said, still looking at them with glee. “My name is Alia and I’ll be your host tonight. Where can we take you this evening?”
“Anywhere that’s far away from here,” Dustil said, frantically pulling the side door open to reveal Kyle sitting in the backmost row with the uninjured side of his head propped up against the window. Sarah let out an excited yelp and dove into the van, landing next to Kyle, wrapping her arms around his torso and burying her head in his chest. Smiling softly, he wrapped his arms around her and pulled her closer.
“I vote we follow her example,” Nathan opted, swinging himself into the middle row. “Just, y’know, without the whole snuggling with Kyle thing.”
With that, everyone got in and the truck sped off. Alando let out a big sigh of relief, threw his head back and closed his eyes. Yeah, he thought with a smirk. Screw you, Bill O’Reilly. Punch this into your studies.
* * *
“You know,” Kyle said, resting on the bed with his head on an icepack, “in hindsight, we could have just taken the bus from the music hall and we’d have gotten back here with no problems.”
The hotel room around them was painted a pleasant peach and was laid out with a forest green carpet. The two beds lay side by side with light yellow sheets, while the desk and table were ordinary mahogany. Kyle didn’t think it looked bad; the others thought it looked repulsive.
From behind him, he felt a stroke on his head and a soft shushing sound as Sarah ran her fingers through his hair. “Don’t worry about it, Kyle,” she said softly. “Just rest for a moment.”
“I’m not worried,” he assured her, taking her hand in his. “I just think it’s kind of ironic that we went through all that just because Nathan didn’t want to pay a buck seventy-five.”
“No more!” Nathan warned from the table, where he was playing cards with Alando, Alia and Vic. Dustil’s chair stood empty while Kia was sitting on the other bed. “No more blaming this night’s fiasco on me! I’ve had it up to here with that crap!”
Alia shrugged apologetically. “Well, we’re sorry, but I think it’s pretty obvious that your decisions… kind of put us through that whole thing.”
“Then I’m psychic and I needed an adventure,” he retorted, throwing two of his cards onto the table and picking up two more. “Screw you all.”
“You almost did,” Alando replied, keeping a hold on all of his cards. “It’s a shame your Kevlar-clad angels decided not to make a grand appearance. That probably would have gotten you a lot of points.”
He simply grunted in response. “I’ll remember that the next time I see Iron Man flying around,” he replied in an undertone.
At that moment, the door to the bathroom opened and Dustil emerged with a large smile, his phone grasped tightly in his hands. He cleared his throat and stood near the front of the room until everyone was looking at him. Kyle glanced down, wondering what was coming next.
“Everyone, I have excellent news,” he announced, grinning his widest at them. “I just spoke with the authorities and they’re going to talk with us tomorrow about what happened tonight. They said that with the right stuff, they might be able to get enough people to take the whole gang down.”
“Waste of time,” Nathan proclaimed. “Just send me in there and I’ll take care of the Reaper problem and keep their jail cells nice and free. A win-win situation.”
Kyle rolled his eyes at this and made a derisive noise at the back of his throat. I swear, he thought rather irritably, he likes biting off more than he can chew way too much. Well, maybe next time we run into some crazed street gang, he’ll learn his lesson. He thought this over for a moment. Yeah right.
“Also,” Dustil continued, “they’re sending an ambulance for Kyle to take him in and see if he’s got a concussion or something.” Kyle smiled and he felt Sarah’s hand tighten around his. “They say that anyone who wants to ride with him is more than welcome. I, in the meantime, am going off to bed.” Turing around, he started to make for the door.
“You sure?” Alando asked, turning his body to face him. “Can’t you stay for a game or two?”
Dustil turned back and shook his head. “’Fraid not,” he replied. “I’ve got to rest up and prepare for all the questions the cops are going to throw at me tomorrow.”
“Sleep tight then,” Kia said, smiling at her old friend. “And be careful. We don’t want to make enemies of those guys out there. Tonight’s brush was bad enough, but they might follow us all the way to California if we get them all arrested.”
That’s a good point, Kyle thought, grimacing slightly. I hadn’t thought of that. Oh crap.
Dustil’s smile turned into a more casual one as he looked around at all of his friends. “Hey,” he said, smirking slightly. “Don’t fear the Reapers.” And with that, he walked out the door.
Kyle closed his eyes tightly, trying to ignore the pain left by that remark and heard Sarah let out an exasperated sigh. He opened them just in time to see Alando, Nathan and Alia all slapped their foreheads simultaneously. Kia was smiling and shaking her head. Vic, as usual, remained stoic.