“The world isn’t going to stop being scary just because we’re tired of its crap, Jaime. And if you were to ask me, I’d tell you the world only gets worse because we’re so tired of it. Life has never been fair, and the world will never be either.”
Jaime, tentatively listening, rests the palms of both of her hands against the top of a circular table she finds herself leaning against. “Thanks, Kate. That really makes me feel better about myself.” Letting out a giggle, Kate subtly throws her hands into the air before responding, “That’s not my job.”
“But that’s what I pay you for” Jaime says, only to be met with a resounding denial. “Sure, but if that’s the case, you’re paying me for the wrong reasons. Therapists don’t exist to make you feel better, that’s why we have doctors. Therapists exist to help you find the person you want to be” Kate says, “My job isn’t to help you be able to beat off to a picture of yourself more competently, my job is to make sure you like what you see when looking at it.”
“Awesome advice, I’ll be sure to deposit that one into the spank bank” Jaime says, smirking afterwards.
“Alright then, smartass. Since you’re so special that you can do my job without putting in the hours for a degree, why don’t you tell me what you want me to do?” Kate asks.
With her smirk turning into one of a cornered smile, Jaime responds playfully, “You’re a piece of work, ya know?”
Crossing her left leg over her right, Kate folds her arms in front of her before saying, “That makes two of us… I’m just the one getting paid for this.”
Now, with both women smiling for different yet similar enough reasons, Jaime’s head lowers before she takes her hand and moves the free-flowing hair from her face to behind her ear. “I guess- I guess…” Jaime says, but never concludes before being interrupted by Kate.
“I guess, what?” Kate asks, watching as Jaime’s smile lowers into one of a slight frown.
“I guess I just don’t want to feel alone.”
Noticeably inhaling, Kate refuses to speak for a moment, allowing the silence in the room to begin becoming more apparent as the weight of the statement just uttered falls upon the two women more and more with each click of the second hand on the clock hanging loosely on the wall between them.
As the silence begins growing more unbearable, Jaime begins noticeably becoming more overwhelmed by it, made even more clear by her looking in the direction of Kate from the corner of her eye through deep yet quieted breaths.
Noticing the effect the silence is having on Jaime, Kate leans forward in her chair, allowing each crack and squeak from her chair to momentarily quell the silence, one brief second after another.
“Well?” Jaime finally says, though hidden under the faintest of breaths, the word rings like a coin dropping on a marble countertop throughout the room. Jaime turns her head slightly towards Kate, the free hair previously tucked behind her ear now dangling in front of Jaime’s eyes once more.
“What else?” Kate asks, coupling her hands together as Jaime licks the corner of her mouth.
“I don’t know” Jaime says, looking intently at Kate, who raises an eyebrow in her direction. Uncoupling her hands, Kate drops her fingers to the hardwood surface of her desk and begins tapping her fingernails against it, with the tapping sounds repeating exactly one second apart over and over again.
“Please” Jaime says faintly, with Kate continuing as if nothing was ever said, breaking the silence with an eerily-sequenced combination of taps and clicks. “Kate, stop” Jaime says, now widdling with her hands like a meth addict and Kate slows down the pace of her tapping, no longer matching that of the clocks.
“What else, Jaime?”
Finally slowing down her tapping until the final tap rings through like an atomic bomb detonating, Kate watches as Jaime finally begins breathing steadily and halts the widdling of her hands, finding an inner clarity as the clouds cover the sunlight outside, shielding a portion of light from coming into the window as the room grows cold.
Subtly, Kate pulls a lighter from her desk drawer and lights a flame towards an incense beside her computer monitor. Dying out the flame once the smoke begins wafting throughout the room, Kate watches as Jaime opens her mouth an prepares to speak, watching as the smoke from the incense begins fanning in front of Jaime’s face.
“I just want to do the right thing.”
“You did the right thing.”
Jordan drops the blade in his hand to the ground below as Chevy, Kayla and Kennedy all notice smoke beginning to flood the streets from afar. Noticing the smoke herself, Jaime looks back to her group, now standing anxiously awaiting the opportunity to get off the streets as they begin picking up their belongings.
“Alright” Jaime says, wiping away the tears and snot from her face, “The sanctuary is only a few blocks away now. Now’s our shot to get out of here!”
“But the smoke is coming from there!” Kennedy says before being cut off by Chevy. “Just because there’s smoke coming from that direction, doesn’t mean there’s a problem, it just means there’s a fire of some sort.” Kayla interjects immediately afterwards, “It’s either a dangerous fire or a bonfire of sorts under control. Either way, we’ve traveled this far, we can’t just run away now. Especially without knowing what’s behind these buildings ahead.”
Looking down, Jaime whispers to Jordan to let him know that they have to start moving. Though he doesn’t vocally respond, Jordan nods his head and begins looking around for the pocket knife on the ground, closing it up and reluctantly placing it back into his pocket. Standing to his feet, Jordan and Jaime begin returning to the group as the five survivors begin rushing down the street, passing one survivor after another every few paces or so before turning the final corner to see a sea of humanity extending their arms upwards at the armed militants standing guard atop perches above a large metal fence.
Off to a barricaded onramp, a large fire is being fueled by desperate survivors trying to get the attention of the guards with the tired from cars and clothes of the backs of deceased corpses sprawled out over the ground. Near the entry point of the base, armed guards begin arguing over whether or not to open the gates for guards to put out the fire based on the possibility of survivors using the opening as a way to force themselves into the camp.
As all of these events unfold beneath their eyes, the five survivors stand put in their places, unknowing of what to do.
“Hey, Jaime?” Chevy calls out from behind, prompting Jaime to turn her head in Chevy’s direction despite keeping her eyes glued on the crowd of people.
“What do we do now?” Chevy asks, only to be met with a two-word response.
Walking intently along a crowded backroad, Alex and David carry on moving forward without speaking a word to each other. Eventually, Alex begins peering out of the corner of her eye at the man accompanying her on this journey before breaking the silence. “So what do you do for a living, David?”
Taking an elongated gasp of air, David answers unspecifically. “What is it that I don’t do?”
“I don’t know, who the fuck are you? Shouldn’t you know what you don’t do better than I would?” Alex answers through subtle laughs as David becomes all smiles. “Well, I do a lot of bar shows with cover bands in need of a keyboardist, and I spend a fair amount of time teaching a yoga class at a fitness center in town. But most of the time I spend in a day is at a desk in the back of a credit union filing through an endless mountain of paper work.”
“So you’re a typical Los Angeles resident with less money, but an actual job?”
Laughing, and now finding comfort in having a conversation with the woman, David nods in acceptance of the new way to briefly describe his profession.
“What about you, raven hair? What reason do you have calling L.A. home?”
Pondering, Alex takes a brief moment to respond before saying, “I used to work in sales for a few years until I moved here with my ex husband.”
“Ooh, married were you?” David jokingly asks, “Yeah, he put the ring on this finger” Alex says, flipping David off much to the humor of both. Quick on his feet, David zings back saying, “Gosh, with such a way of making things as vividly clear as that there’s no wonder the marriage didn’t work out!”
Wide eyed and mouth agape, Alex simply says, “Wow!” before quietly nodding to herself. “Okay, I’ll add that one to the bank of zingers I owe you!” Alex says, prompting David to begin laughing as he jokingly puts his hands in the air, admitting the he has one coming.
“In all seriousness though, what happened?” David asks.
With her smile turning into a simple gaze forward, Alex leans her head to the side as she begins answering.
“He left us a few months ago. Just decided that he had enough and walked away.”
“Us?” David asks, with Alex looking at him with confusion on her face. “Whose us?” David asks.
“My daughters. Jaime and Kennedy.”
“Oh. So he walked away from the kids, too…” David says, “I’m sorry. I- I didn’t know the wound was that fresh.”
Facing back to the man beside her, Alex begins assuring David that it’s no problem. “Everyone around us- Including myself- Kind of knew it was heading that way. We were just counting down the days at one point until the day came.”
“So he was the asshole kind, I assume?” David asks, and after a brief moment, Alex raises an eyebrow and responds, “Tell me about it.”
After a few paces forward without speaking, Alex continues explaining. “My oldest, Jaime, is nineteen now. She finished high school early and decided to focus on a few projects of hers that had some… moderate success to say the least. So she skipped college for a year to focus on those until she eventually started getting people interested in this school-centric app for high school and college kids. Every school had a profile for their students to sign into, and you could talk to your own friends privately or people from others schools publically.”
Before she could further her explanation, David briefly cuts her off.
Smiling as her head drops down to the ground, “Yeah. Yeah, Out Source” Alex says, continuing to nod to herself before admitting, “I guess it’s safe to say she struck it big. Proved to her mom that the creative ones could find a way to sneak around college.”
Smiling and laughing to themselves for a few steps, David opens up further, allowing Alex a peak behind the curtain.
“My daughter... She- She was always on that thing. I mean- night and day, day and night, that thing was always running!”
“Daughter? I didn’t know you had a kid, too…” Alex says.
“Yeah, I did! If it makes you feel any more accomplished as a parent, she thought your daughter created this generation’s version of Facebook. So, congratulations on that one!” David says jokingly, only for Alex’s smile to wipe from her face as she stops walking, instead opting to stand in her place before David takes notice a few paces later.
“Everything okay?” David asks.
“You did?” Alex asks in response.
“I- I’m sorry?” David questions.
“I asked if you had a daughter” Alex says, “And you said you did.”
After a brief moment of silence between the two, David’s smile begins slowly disappearing as well before Alex elaborates.
“You didn’t say you do, you said you did” Alex says.
After another brief moment, David takes in a breath before scratching his head and opening the curtain a bit more.
“Barbara. With- with my first wife. We divorced a year after she was born, and she died from cancer a year later. So, it was just Barbie and I since, well since pretty much the beginning, I guess.” After a few brief moments of silence between the two, looking into each other’s eyes, David continues through the tears beginning to form.
“She went to a party last November and was supposed to ride with her friend Stacy, she was something like a straight-A student, so I didn’t have a problem with it. The name ‘Stacy Northcutt’ was always in those little newspaper articles listing honor role students, so I didn’t bat an eyelash. I- I guess Stacy thought she was sober enough to drive.” Another few moments of silence pursue until David continues.
“That was probably the first test she didn’t pass…”
Slowly stepping closer to David, now with tears forming in her own eyes, Alex listens as David moves along through the pain.
“One half of a mile and a freefall down a ravine later, and everyone that got in that car only ever left it in a body bag.”
Now no longer smiling, even in pain, or being able to speak another word, David tries to keep his composure before losing it as Alex wraps her arms around him and embraces him, letting him drop his head into her shoulder as she faintly apologizes for his loss through her own inability to speak through a shared pain.
Hiding behind a car off the back road and abandoned in the grass beside it, Eli wipes away a singular tear as he listens into the conversation from behind his cover. Eventually, Eli reaches down into his pocket before pulling out a folded piece of paper, which shows a news article printed out from the local news website with a picture of Jaime’s face under the headline, “Local Teen’s Social Media app earns $10M in first year.”
Now wiping the tear from his own eye, Eli refolds the piece of paper and places it back into his pocket before overhearing Alex and David begin resuming their journey to the sanctuary, and departing his cover to keep up pace with them behind the cover of the treeline.
“Over here!” Jaime shouts to her group, pointing them in the direction of a car dealership with a broken window at its front before leading them forward. As they approach the building, Chevy begins stepping forward in front of the group before shattering the rest of what was left of the window with his jacket-covered right arm before the five begin piling into the building.
Finally able to stop for a moment, Chevy and Kayla rest up beside a vintage Corvette placed on display in the front of the store, whilst Kennedy props herself up next to a secretary's desk. Standing behind a metal beam bordering the windows, Jaime watches the outside for a moment as the cluster of people begin showing more than just a mob mentality, with everyone huddled together in a chant directed towards those inside the safety of the base, “LET US LIVE!” repeatedly.
Turning back towards the store, Jaime notices Jordan walking slowly towards a back room in an almost trance-like state. “Chevy” Jaime calls out, getting the man’s attention as he finishes wrapping his jacket around Kayla’s to keep her warm. “Yeah, what’s up?” Chevy responds, with Jaime walking towards him. Extending her arm outwards, Jaime hands Chevy the pocket knife that Jordan used to kill the woman in the street before asking him to keep a watch on the window to make sure no one gets inside.
Looking down at the pocket knife before rolling his eyes in an anxious state, Chevy replies by placing his finger over his mouth an motioning for Jaime to keep quiet before reaching behind his back and pulling the barrel of a gun out just enough for it to be unnoticed by anyone other than Jaime and Kayla, but noticeable enough for Jaime to quietly nod her head. Whispering, Chevy replies to the defacto leader of his group.
“I was reaching for it slowly back on the street… But Jordan got to her before I did.” Pausing for a moment after opening his mouth, showing signs of contemplating what he’s about to say next, Chevy shakes his head before accepting the reality as he continues.
“I… I trust you. You haven’t given me a reason not to yet. Don’t tell anyone unless you have to, but only then. I don’t mind using it… But I don’t want to have to unless someone’s in trouble and it’s the last chance we have. Got it?”
Jaime, letting out a small smile, places her hand on Chevy’s shoulder before nodding and motioning for the window as she begins making her way to the back, and Chevy begins walking up to the front of the store.
Turning the knob of a back office slowly before pushing the door in, Jaime steps into the room slowly and shuts the door behind her as Jordan sit on the bed, slouched over with his hands folded in front of him. Looking at her boyfriend, Jaime notices a tear fall from his face to the floor below as Jordan remains sitting there unmoved.
“Hey” Jaime says, but is cut off immediately thereafter by her boyfriend, who looks up at her and responds with an almost pre-prepared line. “I didn’t do the right thing. I don’t know what you thought was the right thing, but it wasn’t that.”
Watching her boyfriend’s eyes swell up with tears, Jaime takes a seat beside him and drops her head into his chest as Jordan continues trying to fight the tears back. Noticing his girlfriend nestling her head into his chest, Jordan places his arm over her and pulls her in closer, dropping his chin to the top of her head as she begins whispering.
“You were protecting us” Jaime says through muffled sobs of her own, “You kept us safe… You kept us alive.”
With yet another tear flowing from his eye and down the skin of his cheek, Jordan begins catching his breath and recapturing his composure.
“She just saw her kid die” Jordan says. “And seconds later… I- I stabbed her over and over and over again until she went too.”
Thinking of a response, Jaime is fruitless to find the words necessary for this moment as Jordan continues.
“And she looked into MY eyes as she went. No one else’s other than mine.”
Now closing her eyes to keep the tears from further staining Jordan’s shirt beside her more than the woman’s blood already has, Jaime sinks further into his chest as she places a hand up onto his shoulder, clutching to him as she whispers through the pain.
Now closing his own eyes in response, Jordan takes his free hand and places it onto that of his girlfriends as he softly kisses the top of his girlfriend’s head repeatedly.
Suddenly, the two overhear a knock at the door before allowing the source of the knocking to enter the room. Opening the door, Kennedy walks through and tells Jaime that Chevy wanted to speak to her. “Yeah, alright. I’ll be right out” Jaime says, prompting Kennedy to return to the lobby as Jaime and Jordan begin wiping away their tears and sharing a genuine kiss before Jaime gently asks her boyfriend a question.
“If we’re going to live in whatever shit show this world is starting to become, there are going to be tough decisions we’ll have to live with having to make. This won’t be the only thing you’re going to be asked to carry with you.”
As Jordan shakes his head and looks into Jaime’s eyes, she finishes the question with her hands placed on both sides of his face wiping away the remaining tears.
“Please never leave me alone here.”
With his lip quivering, Jaime wipes away a final tear from his face as Jordan simply nods his head in response before he and Jaime begin walking back out into the lobby.
“Chevy?” Jaime calls out as she enters the lobby once more, only to be met with the jacketed man motioning for her to walk over to the window alongside him. Taking cover behind the metal borders, Chevy quietly points to a militia truck trying to make its way through the crowd of people and back into the base, only to be surrounded by the horde of people desperate to reach safety.
“What am I supposed to be looking at?” Jaime whispers to the man beside her, only to be met with a response from his girlfriend instead. “Our way inside” Kayla says, with Kennedy stepping up to the window as well, pointing at the three guards stood on top of the base’s makeshift cover tower.
“Do you see where they’re standing, Jai?” Kennedy asks to her older sister, with Jaime noticing the skywalk beside them, with the buildings it’s attached to being contained within the campsite.
“Okay, so they’ve sanctioned off buildings from the outside. What’s the way inside you’re talking about?” Jaime says, with Jordan speaking up from behind the group.
“Just because they sanctioned buildings off… That- that doesn’t mean they were thorough about it.”
“EXACTLY” Kayla says pointing in Jordan’s direction, getting Jaime’s attention for a moment before she is tapped on the collar bone by Chevy, who then points in the direction of a building split in half by the border wall itself.
“It’s guarded” Kayla says, walking up beside Jaime before continuing, “But if we can sneak inside through anything and get onto the other side of the building, we’ll be inside the camp.”
“So… You want to break in?” Jaime asks, only for Chevy to shrug with his eyebrows raised. “Listen… I’m not totally thrilled about this either. But at the end of the day, this crowd isn’t getting in by standing outside the gates and neither are we.” Popping his knuckles, Chevy slowly turns towards Jaime before looking her in the eyes and leaning his head to the side. “If we want to get inside, we’ll need to do it ourselves.”
“Are you in?” Kayla asks, with Jaime turning towards the woman still wearing Chevy’s leather jacket.
“I know I am” Kennedy says from beside her sister, with a second nod of approval coming from Jordan. Looking around to see Chevy and Kayla remaining strong by their idea, Jaime looks back to the building in focus before nodding to herself and answering.
“Clean sweep. What’s the plan?”
Now inside of the city, David and Alex find themselves traversing through the turns and corners of downtown Los Angeles, all whilst trying to navigate their way through crowds of people moving towards and away from the direction of sanctuary. As the pair watch dozens of people fly past them from each direction, David finally chooses to take the arm of one man running opposite of him.
“Hey! Hey kid! What’s going on over there?” David asks, only for the kid to swipe his arm away from him before stopping for a brief moment and responding. “Look man, that place is a fuckin’ war zone! If you ain’t getting in, you ain’t getting in! Best try your luck someplace else!”
Hurrying off into the night, the man disappears from David and Alex’s view as the pair find themselves in the middle of a road taken in two directions, towards hope and away from it.
“We have to get off the streets!” David shouts to Alex, only for the woman to remain clutching to hope despite the sounds of anarchy surrounding them. “I have to find my kids!” Alex shouts, only for David to cut to the truth with her. “You don’t even know if they’re in there! I get that you have to try, but you can’t be reckless about it! Don’t get yourself hurt before you can get to them!”
Losing grasp on any rebuttal as each moment passes, Alex slowly begins sinking into a position impossible to combat against whilst David stands by the same.
“I promise, when there’s an opening, we’re getting inside there no questions asked!” David says, providing a point too emphatic for Alex to find an argument to.
“Fine! Fine! Where do we go?” Alex asks, allowing David to search around the area as the two continue rushing down the street. Finally, the group comes across an intersection propped up in front of the sight of a raging tire fire just near the walls of the sanctuary. Scouring the area, David notices a car surrounded by defenseless and desperate survivors just out of reach from the soldiers beyond the wall to safely get to them.
Looking back, David calls out for Alex as to point her in the direction of the mob. “I think we both may be able to get our way!”
Pointing in the direction of the stranded vehicle, David delivers the plan like a confusingly wrapped Christmas present to the woman beside her, stating that the best chance they have of getting into the sanctuary would be to assist the drivers in getting through and into the walls.
“We’ll be trampled to death trying to make it through there, we stand no chance!” the desperate mother pleads, only for David to shake his head and shrug, admitting that he has no other ideas.
Suddenly, as the two begin slowly approaching the horde of people, the sound of metal buckling and windows shattering begins surrounding the entertainment-mecca of the country in a screeching cry of impending carnage.
Just beside the self-inflicted inferno stands a tower, it’s exterior side closest to the fire appears blackened from the scorching heat. As the metal continues pleading for the evacuation of all life from the area surrounding it, knowing of its own impending demise, the building begins leaning further and further towards the ground below much to the horror of the people below and around it.
Frozen in terror, Alex watches as the tower begins plummeting to earth until she is ripped by the arm by David, who drags her out of reach from falling debris and into a backlot as the tower finally comes cratering into the streets directly above the stranded military vehicle and the individuals responsible for making it so. Smoke and dust from the fire that created the situation at hand begin flooding throughout the streets of downtown Los Angeles as the walls to the sanctuary come crumbling down in a wallowing heap.
Suddenly, the streets beyond fill with smoke, and the alleyway in which David and Alex are forced to take refuge in begin serving as a sort of viewing area with the scenes of blinding debris flooding throughout each entry and exit as the world beside it is covered in the remnants of what once was another contributor to the LA-skyline
As car alarms blare, and screaming of a sort different from fifteen minutes ago begins flooding everything, the silence following the roaring screams of a building moments away from impact begins bringing a truth-filled sickness amongst everyone. After a few brief moments, the sound of whirling helicopters begin swirling about overhead, immediately followed by the sound of metal crashing into yet another building, shattering all windows in the process begins roaring throughout the chaos-filled streets before crashing into the ground at blinding speed and exploding on impact, sending even more heat to crawl its way through the maze of nightmares.
Suddenly, the world becomes a blur to Alex, now stricken with the reality that she has absolutely no clue what she is. To her, she could realistically just be a ghost, stranded in a slower reality to that of her own as she is forced to suffer with the possibility that everything is over. However, she is pried from this moment of desolation by David as he begins tugging at her arm.
Slowly looking to her left, she watches the man beside her move his mouth, seemingly repeating the same words to her over and over again, but she cannot understand what she is saying. Looking past him, she notices a wall of smoke cover anything within viewing distance, creating an eggshell-like blanket of nothingness of either side of her. Looking forward, she notices the tiny bits of rock and concrete dust and cover the lip of the wall providing her some sort of shelter before looking down at her knees, scraped and bloodied by the friction of the concrete she had been dragged to safety over.
As her hearing slowly begins returning, like water draining itself from your ears, Alex notices and can make out the faint sounds of what David is trying to say. She is finally able to barely make out what David is trying to say.
“Are you okay?”
“I… I…” Alex is only able to muster, still blanketed by the existence of shock.
Looking around him quickly, David wraps Alex’s arm over his shoulder before attempting to stand to his feet, only to collapse to the ground in a heap as his back gives out, accidentally tossing Alex to the ground below herself.
Suddenly, both are dropped to the ground, helpless and unable to move before the sound of choking on dust begins grabbing the attention of the two.
Feeling the cold surface of the gravel below her, Alex lets a singular tear fall from her eye as she begins accepting these moments as the final moments of her life. Her mouth begins shaping a frown as she slowly begins whispering to herself.
“Be… safe… girls…”
Closing her eyes to find peace within her final moments, Alex hears the rushing steps of shoes hurrying over crushed rock before she is lifted to her feet by two people.
As one of the individuals finally gets her stable enough to stand on her own, the second rushes over to David to do the same for him. Feeling herself moving, Alex keeps her eyes tightly shut in refusal to allow any hope of living without her children’s safety being assured, as death to her would be a greater fate than life without her children. Hearing the banging of feet on a metal door, a cool rush of air floods over Alex’s face as the door swings open, and the two still unknown souls carry them into safety.
After a few moments, the pain of each step against the floor is alleviated as Alex is approached with the touch of soft, clean sheets and the foam of a mattress comfort her body. Suddenly, the dark and black void in her complete view is obstructed as the red highlight of a flashlight aimed directly into her face becomes impossible to ignore.
With all of her strength, Alex brushes away help and anyone around her before noticing the hands of her arms, and the faces tucked into her neck and head, and begins attributing it to something other than being assisted. Suddenly, Alex opens her eyes and accepts that the feeling of pain will not bring her the sweet, somehow soothing release of death. But she now no longer cares.
Her sight lifts her of that desire, as she comes face to face with the two people she had fought so hard to find.
Her frown turns into one of a pain-filled smile as her hearing returns briefly for yet another moment, long enough for one word to flood its way in through her ears and embed itself into her brain.