Chapter 13: Liberty
I couldn't look over at Chaz, couldn't look and see his face, flushed with anger, as he concentrated on the road in front of him. We drove over another bump in the road, rounded another sharp corner, dived down a steeper hill, just waiting to get to the bottom and into the city. I couldn't help but feel a little bit happy about Summer's death- I had always thought she'd be the death of me. Now, with myself alive and her in the grave, it was almost as if I'd been the one to take her life. Of course, I hadn't seen her actual corpse just lying there, but after a bit of searching I guess we just assumed she was gone.
Travis was gone too, but we'd heard a car drive away, so we assumed he was alright. Still, a part of me felt guilty about Summer's death, and that's why I couldn't look directly at Chaz. He probably blamed me too. The city finally came into sight and with that also came the abrupt stop of the car. My mouth fell open a little when I saw the toppled buildings, the broken bodies, the smoke that still hung in the air and covered the sun. Chaz's red jeep drove even more slowly down the cracked road until it finally came to a grinding halt. The two of us simultaneously got out and shut the doors behind us, both of us staring up at the smoky sky. I jumped when a gun shot rang in my ears, one that probably came from the next block over. I looked over the hood of the car at Chaz, who didn't meet my gaze.
Forgetting about him and his feelings, I looked over at the structure next to me. It wasn't exactly in great shape, but compared to the towering piles of rubble next to it it looked like a palace. The sound of the gun shot still echoed in my ears. I went over to the door step of the building and sat down. I noticed that the door was already boarded up, as if the person inside had been expecting this to happen, whatever "this" was. I brought my legs closer to my body and lay my arms across them, letting my head droop down. I looked up to see Chaz walking toward me, his head also down. He sat down and I scooted over to make room for him.
We sat in silence for a while, until the silence was broken by a faint noise that sounded like someone yelling into a megaphone. I looked up again when the sound of a car began to get louder. Down the street from the same direction that we had come in was a convertible driven by a young girl, probably about fifteen years old. Another girl was standing up in the car, megaphone in hand, shouting.
"Please!" her voice echoed along the near empty street, "We know we're not the only ones alive! We need to band together and stop this apocalypse! This can't be the end!" Tears starting brimming in her eyes, "I've seen those horrible creatures, I've seen-" the rest of her sentence was cut off by someone firing a gun in the building above me, glass shattering and the girl screaming as the bullet entered her head. The megaphone fell to the ground and the second girl was shot, right before the four tires on the car were punctured. I gasped in pain as I realized that a shard of glass had cut deep into my leg. Looking up, I realized that the shots had literally come from the window right above us and who ever had fired the gun hadn't bothered to open the window first.
The deadly silence didn't last long. Chaz got up and screamed, throwing his fists against the boarded up door, "Come out, you fucking coward! How dare you shoot those girls, you fucking son of a bitch! Agh!" he screamed again and threw his whole body against the wood; it didn't budge. Then he made a sound that was a combination of a laugh and a sobbing cry. I turned away as I saw that he was about to punch the brick wall next to the door. A sickening crack and a gasp of pain wasn't what I heard next. What I heard was the sound of metal hitting something hard. I turned around and was absolutely speechless. Chaz's balled up fists were no longer pink and fleshy. No, in fact, the area on both of his arms from his elbow to the tips of his fingers was completely covered in metal. Not only that, but the tips of his fingers seemed to be glowing a dark red.
Chaz, breathing heavily, looked down at his arms. He turned back toward the door and punched the wood again. When the two connected a small fire burst up from where he had punched through the wood. One more assault and had broken through both the boards and the actual door. I watched for a second as he walked in briskly and stormed up the stairs before following him at a more moderate pace. I got up to the second floor just as Chaz was "opening" another door. We both stepped in and saw an old man with a long rifle in one hand shaking with his back against the wall.
"Please," just like the first words that had come out of the dead girl's mouth, "I mean no harm," his voice was cracking, "But you understand why we can't have people out in the open like that. They might get hurt,"
"But YOU shot them!" Chaz took a step forward, his hand in front of him in a threatening way.
"Don't hurt me, I'm begging you!" The old man dropped the rifle and put his hands in front of his face.
"Too late," I saw a burst of fire start to form in Chaz's metallic palm. I screamed and flung myself at his arm, attempting to move it out of the way. But as soon as I touched the metal I found myself instantly burned. The pain seared up my hand and entered my brain, making me feel dizzy. Thankfully, I had distracted Chaz enough the make his aim slightly off and his blast of fire hit the wall next to the old man. I was as surprised as he was to see that the fire stopped as soon as it hit something tangible.
Chaz suddenly looked defeated; he lowered his arm and sunk to his knees, tears brimming in his eyes. He rolled over onto his back and stared blankly up at the ceiling, "I just miss her so much!" he sobbed, "Summer! Summer, where are you!?" he whipped off his shades and covered his eyes with his hands. Tears came flooding down his face.
The old man and I looked down at him sympathetically. Turning to me, he held out a hand, "Name's Barney," he said, "Barney Cull," Despite the situation I almost found myself grinning. "I'll take care of him," Barney motioned to Chaz, who was still weeping on the floor. He reached over, grabbing a pillow from a nearby sofa and threw it down to him. Chaz grabbed it and sobbed into its softness. Barney looked up and smiled weakly at me, "I knew this day would come," he said.
A sudden desire to do something entered my head. I didn't know what, but I really wanted to get out of that apartment, despite Barney's hospitality. He must've noticed my sudden urgency, "I can see you have somewhere to be," I nodded without taking my eyes off of Chaz, "Be careful. Come back here if you need to. Do you want my rifle?" Still looked at Chaz, I shook my head. Without missing a beat I left the room and nearly ran down the stairs. A cold blast of wind hit my face when I got outside, even though it was the middle of summer. I looked down to the end of the street and saw the car, the megaphone still lying next to the front wheel.
Without thinking I tore off down the sidewalk and ran over to the car. Ignoring the bodies, their eyes still open, I reached for the megaphone and started running back in the direction I had come. Panting, I held my finger over the "talk" button and started yelling, "Don't shoot! Just come out! We need to talk!" I rounded the corner and nearly threw up- there was Travis. He was taped against the wall of Saper's grocery store, almost as if he'd been crucified. The fact that he was here told me that someone else had to be close. Whether they were dangerous or not, I had no choice but to find out.
Standing on the sidewalk across from the store, I turned the microphone back on, "Hey!" No answer. I turned my direction away from the building and started to slowly turn in circles, "I know you've gotta be here somewhere! You killed my friend! But that doesn't matter," I couldn't believe I was saying this, "It doesn't matter," I repeated, "Because so many others are going to die," I thought back to the two girls Barney had shot, "And…and there's power in numbers!" God, what a lame ending. But something about my short speech must've clicked in someone's mind, for I saw the automatic doors to Saper's open and a young girl stepped out. She looked crazy and threatening at first, but when she saw I was alone, a seemingly normal expression cross her face.
She ran over to me and grabbed the microphone out of my hands. Raising it up to her mouth, she screamed, "By the name of the Esquire Empire, Yuki demands that you all come out now!" The girl- Yuki- put emphasis on the word "now". After about two seconds of stillness, I looked around in awe as doors from buildings from all over the street opened tentatively and people stepped out, looking scared, but a little reassured once they saw Yuki with the megaphone.
I looked back at Saper's when the doors opened again and a few more people stepped out. One of them was holding an empty red crate. "Everyone listens to Yuki and Preston," Yuki looked up at me and smiled. Her face got serious for a second and her abnormally high voice dropped to a more normal tone, "You wanted to get everyone together, and now they're going to listen. You'd better make this all better, or they're going to shoot you," Handing me the megaphone and motioning for the crate to be tossed over to me, Yuki walked away. As people gathered around, bloody, dirty, and scared, I got up on the crate and realized I had no choice but to take charge of this band of survivors.