The smell of the dumpster was horrendous. The days old refuse lingered around them like some unwanted perfume, permeating the air. No matter how much they would scrub and wash, the smell would never leave their clothes, their hair, or their minds. Tyler could only imagine what was inside of the dumpster: soiled diapers, rotting meat, spoiled milk, perhaps even the atypical dumpster baby. The thought of that caused him to shudder. Of course, following that brief interlude of disgust, he could not help but laugh as he imagined a baby dancing out of the dumpster, singing like Sinatra about its own misfortune. Thanks for that Mr. McFarland.
As a slight sound escaped his lips, perhaps no louder than an exhale, he received a slap on the arm from Peter. Tyler glanced over at his friend, shooting him an angry look. Peter simply raised his finger to his lips. Tyler snorted, silently stating that he did not appreciate the rebuke, and received yet another slap for his horrible habit of breathing. His hands were growing tired as he struggled to keep a firm grip on his gun. It seemed the adrenaline that had been coursing through his veins was running dry and exhaustion was staring to creep into him. His eyelids sagged and it took a great deal of effort to keep focused. The siren song of rest, of sleep was enticing. He wanted to tell Peter that he needed rest but he knew nothing would come of it. Peter would simply remind him that they were in a war zone and that rest was not an option. If they had any hopes of surviving, they would have to stay sharp.
This was something that was easier said than done for Tyler. After all, Peter was an award-winning track star who would wake up at the crack of dawn to train and exercise, while Tyler opted for something a bit more low maintenance. While the drama club could be a stressful experience at times, it was certainly not as exhausting as running a marathon. To add to this distressing situation, their recent escape from the group of Eliminators prowling around the third and fourth quadrants of the city, zapped most of Tyler’s remaining energy.
Tyler was about to speak up, recommending that they should try and sneak away, when suddenly they heard a noise from the end of the alleyway. The alley was a dead end, something that Peter did not take that into account during their dash for safety, and now regretted his decision to stay put for so long. He hoped that they had made enough distance between the Eliminators and themselves so they could catch their breath. While it seemed like this was true, there was no rest for the wicked.
Tyler’s breathing shuddered as the noise echoed throughout the alley. Peter’s eyes widened as he listened. There was a hushed conversation between two shadows, their words lost to the pair as they huddled closer together, afraid of being discovered. Peter quietly removed the magazine from his pistol and inspected his remaining ammunition; only half a mag left and then he was out. Tyler was more frugal than his friend, but only had three quarters of his own magazine. It would have been prudent to just give Peter the rest of his ammo since he was the better shot of the two, but he didn’t like the idea of being unarmed.
As the voices drew nearer, Peter replaced his magazine and leaned towards the edge of the dumpster. The soft footfall of boots against pavement was unmistakable and to make matters worse the sound was drawing closer. The others, the Eliminators, were heading straight for them. Even if Peter and Tyler managed to gain the element of surprise, the Eliminators still possessed machine guns. A sweeping blind fire would have been just as effective as a precision shot at that range.
Peter was not ready to give up though. They had made it this far and he was not about to be another victim of the Man in Charge and his toy soldiers. As the gap between them and the Eliminators closed, he considered his options. It would be suicide to take the soldiers head on. With their superior fire power, he and Tyler wouldn’t stand a chance. Escape or hiding was impossible. The brick wall that stood at the end of the alley was impossible to scale and short of crawling through the side door of the dumpster and hiding inside of it, there was nowhere to keep of out sight. While that was still a viable option, it was a coward’s way out. Peter was not a coward, Tyler... that was yet to be determined. For Peter, however, the element of surprise was their only option.
As silently as he could, Peter slid off his soiled t-shirt. The dirt, sweat, and now garbage, stained the fabric and he was certain that if they made it through this he would have to burn his clothes. Part of him was actually relieved to be free of the clingy mess of cotton and polyester. A cool sensation swept up his skin as the air met with the layer of sweat. Goosebumps stood out all over his body, his nipples standing at attention. Tyler tried to ask what his friend was up to but before he could manage, Peter threw out the shirt as hard as he could.
The balled up article of clothing flew into the alleyway, hitting the pavement with a wet slap. It seemed that the Eliminators noticed this movement and fired on reflex, the rapid pops echoing as the ammo was discharged. The volley lasted only a second when the men realized what they were shooting at but that was all the time Peter needed. As the Eliminators studied the shirt, Peter rounded the corner of the dumpster and fired.
“That was awesome!” Tyler exclaimed as they crossed into the Safe Zone. The soft hum of music that drifted from the door practically slapped them in the face as they stepped inside of the SZ.
The Safe Zone was a designated area that anyone could enter with the strict rule that there was to be no violence. Anyone violating that rule, Eliminators included, would face harsh consequences for their actions. Therefore it was unlikely to see any Eliminators within the designated SZs at all, at least in their armor anyway. It was whispered during hushed conversations that sometimes the Eliminators would enter the zones under the guise of a fighter in order to eavesdrop on locations of real fighters and hidden caches of ammunition and then report to their commanders for a full report. On more than one occasion, the Intel would lead to the complete eradication of all allied fighters in that location or the abandonment of thousands of rounds of ammo and even grenades. So as a rule of thumb, no soldier was to ever discuss plans within an earshot of any other person.
“That was pretty epic.” Peter crooned, examining his new machine gun, his looted prize from his fallen prey. The ammunition and upgraded hardware was exactly what he and Peter needed in order to survive. While the full auto would no doubt rob him of his accuracy, it would be useful in a pinch. The spray and pray method was sloppy but often effective. To add to their fortuitous circumstances, the Eliminators also had several spare magazines for their handguns as well which Peter and Tyler took with great delight.
The pair fell into their chairs at the repurposed pharmacy simply called “Saloon”. While its name indicated that it was a place to get drunk, it did not cater to the finer drinks of beers and whiskeys, but instead bottles of water and even random Gatorades. While an ice cold beer would have felt good on that particularly warm day, water was a suitable substitution. The Saloon was small, but since its former purposes as a modern day apothecary were long gone, most of the shelving was removed, making the area fairly spacious and comfortable.
Their arrival did not go unnoticed, however. Their short break behind the dumpster seemed to have been long enough for the stench of forgotten garbage to cling to their skin and clothes and everyone knew it. Dozens of sets of eyes locked onto the pair as the smell drifted into the stuffy building and immediately the fighters that were near them, ranging from forty somethings to just over twelve year olds, uprooted from their seats and moved away.
Paying as little attention to the unwanted stares as best they could, the duo took a seat at the closest table to the door. As Peter and Tyler sat, and stank together, a man approached them, no doubt the owner of the establishment. Unlike those around him he was a clean looking man wearing a white t-shirt and faded blue jeans. The owner, perhaps in his late thirties with salt and pepper hair and a bushy mustache, offered them a warm smile though they could see that he was choking back a hint of revulsion at their smell.
“Howdy, boys. Welcome to mah Saloon.” He said with a thick southern accent. Peter and Tyler exchanged a glance between one another of sheer amusement. A saloon and a southern bartender? They were certain that this had to be planned.
“Howdy, pardner.” Peter replied with an accent somewhere between Texan and Orange County and Tyler grimaced at the butchered dialect. The owner’s warm smile seemed a bit more strained with the response as if this was not the first time someone has tried to greet him in such a manner and would no doubt not be the last. He ignored the unintended insult and shifted his attention towards Tyler.
“Um, hi.” Tyler said, foregoing the customary greeting and opting for something more neutral.
“What kin I geet you boys?” The owner asked, regaining his composure.
“How about some waters?” Peter asked. The owner nodded and turned but paused before he left.
“Oh by the way, I should add that the coolah is on the fritz and that the wahtah’s are a bit wahrm for now.” He said before returning to his counter to fetch their drinks.
“Crap.” Tyler grumbled.
“So the water is a bit warm. Big deal.” Peter said.
“I don’t like warm water. It tastes weird.” Tyler complained. Peter rolled his eyes.
“You complain too much,” He said, “It’s water. Water tastes like water. You should feel lucky that we are even getting any water. There are people in Africa who don’t even have that much.”
“Jeez, relax, Sally Struthers. I’ll drink the damn water. God.” Tyler replied.
The owner returned with two bottles of water and set them on the table. He offered them a warm thanks and turned his attention towards one of his other customers who clearly had a bit too much to drink earlier that day. Peter watched this with extreme amusement, always reveling in the antics of drunks and the chemically impaired. The drunken man swayed back and forth, yelling at the owner for another Gatorade. The question of the origin of his drunkenness was on Tyler’s lips but with the removal of a barely full pint of Jameson from his pocket seemed to squash his thought.
“I think he started the day smashed and is just digging himself further into the ground.” Tyler said, sipping at his water. Peter laughed.
“He’s not going to last very long like that.” Peter noted, speaking louder than he intended.
His comment didn’t go unnoticed as the drunken man’s attention shifted from the reluctant owner to Peter who was still watching him. The drunk, a short stocky fellow with little to no hair on his head and a beer keg for a stomach, turned to the pair with a look of abject hatred. He staggered towards them, using the counter for support at times when his legs were a bit slow in following his command to step.
“What are you laughing about, you little whelp?” The drunk spat, but his words were extremely slurred and came out as, “whataryoulaughinboutyoulilwhelp?”
Peter shot Tyler a confused glance, as if asking what was said. Tyler simply shrugged his shoulders before turning his attention back to the man. The drunk was closer now, using the odd table and chair here and there so as not to fall on his face. Each step seemed labored and every time the man breathed it was like listening to a hog snort. It was heavy and thick with a healthy coating of phlegm to give it just the right sound.
Peter was not very concerned about this man attempting to lash out at him when the distance was closed. He was fast when he wanted and even faster when he needed. Though he was not particularly strong, his athleticism restricted mainly for running, he was certain he could take a drunken idiot without much problem by allowing gravity and balance to do most of the “heavy lifting.” One wrong move and the drunk would be lying flat on his face, floored by physics alone.
Fighting was not his concern; it was where the drunk’s hand was drifting that mattered. The drunken hands tugged and pulled at a side arm as the man approached. Tyler and Peter were on their feet in seconds when they realized that the man was going for his gun. The pair did not however. They were in the Safe Zone and all firearms were to be kept holstered, slung, or tucked away so that no one was tempted to use one and violate the mandates. Though it seemed that the drunk forgot all about the rules and was opting for his own Wild West style. Shoot first and don’t bother with the questions.
The owner and the other patrons called out for the man to stop once they realized what he was up to. Their words fell on deaf ears as the man finally freed his gun and pointed at Peter. The drunk’s lips were pulled into a sneer, though the wickedness seemed lessened as the man held back several juicy belches. The gun bobbed and weaved between Peter and Tyler who were both stepping away from the drunk, though neither was certain who he was aiming at. Regardless, their hands were raised but this only seemed to spur the drunk onward as his false sense of control grew. His gun traced a lazy figure eight as he pointed at the pair.
“Whoa, whoa, whoa, relax there big fella.” Peter said in a subtle mocking tone. He stepped away from the drunk, the pistol still aimed.
“Youthinkyourabigmandoya?” The drunk slurred.
“I’m sorry, I didn’t quite catch that.” Peter continued, moving further away from Tyler and around the man.
“Dude, shut up.” Tyler snapped, but Peter ignored him.
“Whodoyouthinkyouare?” The drunk said, punctuating his point by stabbing forward with his gun, but doing this caused his aim to drift away from Peter and towards Tyler.
“How much have you had to drink today?” Peter asked, still moving. A smile was on his face, seemingly amused by the spectacle. The drunk followed Peter’s progress but as he did so, his aim seemed to lose interest in its target and the burps he held back returned with greater force.
Unlike the drunk, Peter’s movements were fluid and exact. Each step kept him moving forward in a way that allowed him perfect control. As he stepped, the drunk had to force himself to keep aim and then move along with him. However, the movements seemed to be taking their toll as the burps came back with more force. As Peter rounded the drunk, approaching his friend once more, Tyler knew exactly what his friend was up to.
The conversation that the two shared was nothing more than a ploy to keep the attention on Peter as he goaded the drunk. While the drunk was completely oblivious of what Peter was doing, Tyler was well aware by the time his friend made his first revolution. He knew this because it was a cruel trick that was once performed on him before. One time at a large party one of their fellow juniors threw, Tyler had a lot drink and had made fun of Peter a bit too much. Peter, who could hold his liquor a bit better, decided to pay his friend back. While he and Peter were talking outside, about nothing really, Peter kept walking around and around in a circle, keeping him focused on the conversation so that his friend didn’t suspect anything. While his mind was busy trying to make funny comments, his inner ear was hard at work struggling to maintain balance but after the fifth revolution Tyler couldn’t help but throw up everything he drank that night.
As Peter took his third trip around the drunk, the man’s eyes following his every move, the tell-tale retch appeared and within seconds the drunk was on his knees vomiting up everything his stomach could offer. Peter was quick to move away from the evacuated food and drink and rejoined his friend at the opposite side of the table. As the drunk’s heaving slowed to distasteful spitting, the owner approached them, his smile gone, replaced with a fuming frown.
“Well thanks a lot.” Tyler snapped as he stomped down the street.
“How was I supposed to know we were going to get kicked out?” Peter replied.
“You just had to make that drunk throw up, didn’t you?” Tyler asked, kicking at a discarded water bottle in front of him.
“Well, he pulled a gun on me. What was I supposed to do?” Peter shot back.
“How about not making the guy throw up?” Tyler returned.
“Where’s the fun in that?” Peter said with a boyish smile.
Tyler turned back to his friend, ready to snap at him but stopped as his gaze drifted to something in the distance. Peter watched as Tyler’s eyes widened. First seeing his irises fully and then watching as his lids widened to reveal the white sclera. Curious, Peter glanced behind his shoulder to see what prevented the much deserved chastising, but as he saw them, he felt his heart sink and his stomach roil in both excitement and fear.
“There!” The Eliminator Commander called out, pointing at Tyler and Peter.
Without a word, they started running. Immediately, they heard the telltale pops as the enemy discharged their weapons. Peter and Tyler were fortunate that their pursuers did not have good aim, at least not in a full sprint. Everywhere around them they heard as windows, the pavement, and abandoned cars were struck by their poorly aimed shots, but not either of them was hit. It was a group of about five men, each one armed with machine guns and face masks so it was impossible to see who was actually shooting at them. It didn’t matter though. They were the bad guys and that was all that anyone needed to know.
Peter took several potshots with his handgun as they ran, certain that he was not going to hit anyone but was at least hopeful he could slow their pursuit. He emptied his magazine without landing a single hit. Tyler made no effort at his own retaliation. He needed a steady aim in order to make a decent shot and blind firing while sprinting was not something he was willing to do.
As Peter and Tyler rounded the corner, they were hopeful that with enough space between them and their pursuers that they would find another place to hide; though preferably not behind a dumpster. However those hopes were squashed when they realized that they ran headfirst into a firefight. Their attention had been so focused on what followed behind him, that they forgot what could lie ahead. Man and woman, adult and child were in a vicious fight for survival. It seemed that there were no teams or allies here, only a massive Battle Royale that would end with one victor, or perhaps less. Of course, in about ten seconds a group of Eliminators would be joining the fray and it would no doubt turn into a slaughter. On instinct, Peter grabbed Tyler by the arm and ran for an alleyway just at the edge for the fray. Tyler didn’t argue.
Their presence didn’t go unnoticed as several people called out the new arrivals and immediately started firing at them. While no one seemed to have any alliances, they all had one goal: wipe everyone else out. Peter would have tried to return fire, but his magazine was empty and could not take the chance of reloading on the run. They had the automatic rifles but that required at least two hands to get any sort of decent shot and thus slowing their escape. Instead, it was Tyler who decided to open fire.
As they ran, Tyler did his best to return the favor. Given their current trajectory it was easier to get several shots off. It wasn’t like being chased by the Eliminators and trying to shoot behind your back. This was more of a strafing maneuver and much easier to pull off. Tyler pulled the trigger, firing and striking a man square in the chest and another in the head, sending him sprawling. He fired several more times, but those that redirected fired towards the pair took cover. Fortunately, by the time the aggressors sprung from their barriers, Peter and Tyler were long gone.
As they emerged from the opposite side of the alley, the sounds of battle echoing behind them, they slowed to a walk. Their hearts raced as a cold sweat broke out over both of them. Even with the intermittent breaks, the running was starting to take its toll on Peter in the form of a stitch that persistently pulled at his side while Tyler fought an awful cramp. To make matters worse, Peter felt a terrible pain in his arm.
“Dammit!” Peter cried as he saw the source of his pain. Tyler paused from working out his cramps to investigate his friend’s complaints.
“Dude, you’re hit.” Tyler said, shocked.
“Only in the arm.” Peter corrected. “Help me with this.”
Peter holstered his gun and went to undoing his belt. He folded his arm against his chest while Tyler wrapped the belt around him, pinning the injured arm against his body. This would prevent Peter from using it when he knew he shouldn’t. Fortunately, for the both of them, it was Peter’s right arm that was struck and not his left. It was one of the only times he felt fortunate to be a south paw.
Neither the wild bunch nor the Eliminators followed them into the alley. It seemed that they were too busy shooting at one another to really notice. Yet another stroke of luck on their part. Once Peter’s arm was secured and pistol reloaded, they went on their way to finally find their friends. It had been hours since they were last separated from their compatriots by the arrival of a group of Eliminators and Tyler and Peter hoped that they were alright. While their friend Nick was a fighter, Bill was not. He was just ‘along for the ride’ as he loved to say and they hoped that he was able to ride far enough away from the enemy and into a hiding spot like they were able to.
They travelled south, heading back towards the way they started. By now the area would have been cleared out by both sides of the war and perhaps would be safe enough to enter. They weren’t too far from where they first started, recognizing the streets they had already traveled earlier that day. While the city they were in was impressively large, the area they were running around in was fairly small, not wanting to stray far from their point of origin in case they were separated and needed to find one another.
The city was silent, the only sound coming from the distant battles and firefights around them. The shouts and screams from both sides were like a terrible white noise for the battleground. While there wasn’t anything particularly clear to be heard, it was persistent. As they walked they could hear the pavement crunch underneath their shoes as well as the random scuffle of trash from an animal that snuck into the city with hopes of finding food.
As they walked, barely a word was exchanged between them. They were both too focused on listening for any potential threats, knowing that any sound could give away their positions and send them into another flight for survival. A cramp was still plaguing Tyler, while the stitch had all but evaporated from Pete. The obvious hindrance would have made running much more difficult. So, they kept their mouths closed and their eyes open.
It was as they were passing a store front they suddenly saw movement. The door to an abandoned store swung shut, the glass shuddering in the frame. Peter and Tyler froze as they waited for anything else, but found only silence. They exchanged a glance and both armed themselves. Peter, wielding his pistol finding it too difficult to use the machine gun with one hand, took point while Tyler, armed with the machine gun, covered the rear. Peter peered inside, seeing only trash and empty shelving. There were obvious signs of a recent battle but from what they could tell there was no one inside. The plate glass door was smashed, shards of glass littering the ground around it. Peter was careful not to step onto it, not wanting to make more noise than he already was.
“Anything?” Tyler whispered.
“I don’t think so.” Peter said.
He couldn’t open the door with his left hand still holding the gun, so he motioned for Tyler to take point. After all he still had two good hands. Tyler nodded and moved in front. He reached for the handle but as he did something struck the door frame. They both ducked, but Peter immediately took to firing at where he suspected the shot came from. They had only seconds to either return fire or duck from sight. A brief moment like that could easily turn the tide on any battle and Peter was not going to ignore such an opportunity. Tyler mirrored his friend’s actions and turned, unleashing the power of his machine gun.
“Inside!” Peter called.
He ducked under Tyler’s gun and darted through the broken door and into the store. Tyler continued to fire, moving as he did so; his method of firing resorting to sweeping back and forth. As he stepped back through the door, never letting his finger off the trigger, there was a sudden pain in in leg sending him toppling back into the store. He cursed in pain from both his injury and falling on his ass. He scooted himself back as several more shots came through the door but struck the interior of the store, missing them entirely.
“You alright?” Peter called out.
“I got hit in the leg.” He said as he dumped his magazine, loading up another.
“Damn.” Peter sighed.
“What the hell was that?” Tyler said, sliding himself against a rack of empty shelving and out of sight of the store front.
“Sniper maybe?” Peter said.
“If he was, he’s not a very good one.” Tyler remarked. As he spoke, another volley of shots tore through the store’s shattered front window, missing them entirely but doing well at scaring them.
“So what now?” Peter asked.
In their current state, there was little for either of them to do. With Peter’s arm tied up and Tyler’s leg unusable, it seemed that their time was running short. In order to survive one had to be able to rely on one’s ability to move and react. However, both were now impaired and exhausted. It seemed to Peter that the store would be the site of their last stand and suspected the Sniper knew this as well. As the two sized up their situation, a voice suddenly called from outside.
“We know you’re in there.” A voice called from what they assumed was a megaphone. As they listened there was the sound of numerous footsteps approaching the store front. “We can do this the easy way or the hard way. Your choice.”
“Oh well this is fantastic.” Peter spat.
They glanced at each other and both understood that they were trapped. There was a group of Eliminators waiting outside and there was no way to fight all of them off. Even if they took out one or two, they would still be overwhelmed but sheer numbers. Peter sighed, but it seemed that Tyler still had a trick or two left.
“Peter, go.” He said. Peter glanced at him, clearly confused.
“What?” He asked.
“Go. There has to be a backdoor to this place. Head out into the alley if you can and run. You can make it through this. I know you can.” Tyler said.
“Are you going to come out or are we coming in?” The voice called. Tyler gripped his machine gun tightly, aiming at the front door.
“You can do this, Pete. Go.” Tyler urged.
“But what about you? I can’t just leave you.” Peter said but Tyler shook his head.
“This is the end of the line for me. It’s up to you. Find Bill and Nick if you can. I’ll try to hold them off so you can get away.” Tyler said.
“Alright, it’s the hard way then.” The voice called.
“Get out of here.” Tyler urged, “And good luck.” He handed Pete two full magazines for his pistol, knowing he would not need them anymore.
“You too. See you at the after party.” Peter said, forcing a smile but even Tyler could see the underlying sadness in it. They were supposed to make it together and now it was over.
Without a word, Peter ran towards the back of the building. As predicted there was a door in the backroom that led out into the alley. It was the point of access for store owner to dump the garbage from the store without having to go through it. He only hoped that there wouldn’t be any surprises waiting for him when he emerged. As he pushed open the door he heard it. Tyler screamed as he unleashed his volley but as quickly as it started it ended, over powered by the sound of the numerous guns of the Eliminators. Peter took one last longing look at the store and then ran out into the day.
Night was approaching as the sun started its descent behind the buildings, casting shadows across the city. Street lights flicked on, casting their cool white glow over the pavement. The alley grew darker as the shadows took over where light could not reach. While the darkness was an aid to those hiding within it, it also meant that they could not see any threats that may be lurking as well.
Peter wandered around the city, travelling through alleyways, keeping off the main roads for as long as possible. He ran into several people during his journey but as expected, they were more likely to point a gun at him than help so he did what needed to be done in order to survive. He looted what ammo he could, but he was already overburdened with what he already had and could only take a little. In fact the last person he shot he couldn’t take anything. With his arm the way it was he couldn’t even take their guns. The machine gun he so proudly stole was left back in the alley where he was shot and patched up.
Night was almost upon him and a sense of fear and sadness almost overwhelmed him. The last thing he wanted to do was to spend the night without shelter and alone. The air was growing cooler and without even a shirt on his back, a cold chill was slowly eating away at his strength. He sighed, exhausted, hungry, and entertaining the notion to just give up when he came across a familiar face, but it was not the greeting that he was hoping for. In the distance he saw someone, move into view and there was a burst of renewed energy.
“Bill?” Peter called out. The figure had just run underneath a streetlamp which was the only reason he saw his face in the first place. Peter noticed the motion out of the corner of his vision and reflexively aimed his weapon, ready to open fire but stopped when he realized he recognized his target.
The figure paused a moment and turned. A look of sheer delight pulled across his face as Peter appeared from the shadows and into the cool white light of the street lamps nearby. Bill glanced around him, as if searching for some eavesdropper or sniper waiting in the wings but found no one, at least no one he could outright see. Bill motioned for Peter to join him by the alleyway and it only took several seconds before Peter was across the street and by his friend’s side.
“Bill, I was getting worried. I thought something might have happened to you.” Peter said, relieved. Bill shook his head, readjusting his glasses as he did so.
Bill was a short, wiry sort with glasses and a perpetual cowlick on his head. He could have been submerged underwater for hours, only to resurface and have the cowlick take its standard position at the back of his head. His clothing was covered with dirt, his shirt stained with sweat and mud. As the sun fell, Peter wished he would have kept his shirt, but it was a sacrifice he needed to make in order to survive the day.
“I’m fine and but Nick... well...” Bill said, frowning. Peter sighed, saddened to hear the bad news. “Hey, where’s Tyler?”
“He didn’t make it.” Peter said, his eyes dropping to the pavement, his tone mimicking his friend.
There was a moment of silence between the two, the sounds of the city echoing in the labored pause. The gunfire and screams of the night seemed only to put the two on edge even further. It seemed there was no time to rest while the war continued to rage on. Bill shook off the sadness and motioned for Peter to follow; and he did so, unquestioningly.
Peter and Bill had been good friends. A fellow athlete, they spent a lot of time hanging out during games and meets, getting to know one another. Like Peter, Bill was the only child of a single parent home but was a very well adjusted and upbeat person. He worked as a tutor for his fellow classmates after school, taking on the burden of helping those who were unable to grasp the complexities of high school algebra. It was a type of selflessness that Peter could not bring himself to share. While Bill was busy helping others, Peter wanted to go home and play some Xbox before dinner and homework. Bill was a good person, someone Peter felt he could trust, so he had no reason not to trust him. So what happened next was surprising, to say the least.
Bill led Peter down the alley and onto an adjacent street. Immediately, Peter suspected something wasn’t right but he continued following, certain that his friend was still on the up and up. The street was closed off on both ends by eight foot high fences that were patrolled by several guards. The patrols lacked any armor so Peter suspected that they were not working for The Man in Charge. People moved around here and there, each one visibly shell shocked and well-armed, a bad combination. Flood lights were pointed into the area and out towards the street, casting away the shadows where threats could lurk. Peter’s hand moved instinctively towards his pistol, clutching the grip, but keeping it holstered not wanting to upset the people with the guns.
Peter followed Bill towards a tall man sitting atop an abandoned Prius, the windows shattered and tires slashed. The man was old, a thick white beard sprouting from his face. Not surprisingly he was dressed entirely in camo with the beret to match. It was a tired cliché, but Peter dared not say anything. He watched as this man took a long drag from his cigarette as Bill and he approached. As they walked closer, Peter tightened his grip on the handle of his gun.
“Well well well, whadda ya bring me, Kiddo?” The man asked with fitting southern accent.
“He’s a friend of mine, Kentuck.” Bill said. Kentuck gave Peter a once over, taking another drag.
“He’s lame.” Kentuck said, blue smoke leaking from his mouth.
“He’s made it this long with one arm, I’m sure he can make it all the way.” Bill attested. Kentuck spat distastefully onto the pavement.
“Whadda I say about lame horses?” Kentuck asked. Peter felt an instant flare of anger as the insult stabbed at him. Even with one arm, he knew he could still run circles around this guy. He wanted to say something but Bill spoke up first.
“But he’s a good guy. And a good shot. Trust me. I’ve seen him in action.” Bill argued. But it seemed that Kentuck would not have any of it. He jumped off the car, making a surprisingly graceful landing. Peter suspected that the man was not as old as he appeared. Perhaps he was just a crazy hick without any sense of hygiene.
“And I don’t give a rat’s ass. We already have a lot of people and we are splittin’ it up too many ways for my likin’ as is.” Kentuck said. As he spoke he removed a pistol from behind holster and raised it up towards Peter.
“Whoa whoa whoa.” Peter shouted, snapping his arm up gun in hand, but as he did, the guards nearby took up arms and aimed it at Peter and Bill.
“Kentuck, you can’t do this. I made a promise.” Bill said. Kentuck only laughed at this.
“Was that the same promise you made to your friend, Nicky boy? Right before you shot in him and left him for dead?” Kentuck said.
“You did what?” Peter shouted, in utter awe. He quickly shifted his aim from Kentuck to Bill who glanced over at him ashamed. With that coy expression, Peter immediately knew that his friend was a traitor. It seemed that friendships didn’t mean anything during war. Rage flickered in his eyes and Bill could see the fire within them. If it were not for the other men with guns, he knew Peter would have shot him right then.
“I had to.” Bill pleaded, as if hoping that his words would act as a suitable excuse. “It was either him or me.”
“You traitor!” Peter cried. This prompted Bill to take arm himself and return the favor.
“You would have done the same, Pete.” Bill shouted. “What about Tyler?”
“Tyler got hit in the leg. He couldn’t walk. I was ready to stand by his side and take down as many Eliminators as I could before we both were taken out. It was his idea for me to run, not mine.” Peter defended. “We were supposed to be in this together. All for one.”
“And look where that got us.” Bill shot back.
“You shot Nick!” Peter snapped.
“Alright, enough of this little reunion.” Kentuck shouted. The guards readied their aim, wanting to ensure that they did not hit their leader by mistake.
Peter was torn. He shifted his pistol back and forth between Kentuck and Bill. In his mind, both were threats. The alliance with Bill was officially terminated but now he was trapped in the crosshairs of the guards. Unless there was some divine intervention he was going to be shot by Bill, Kentuck or the guards. The only question remained: who was Peter taking with him. Either Bill or Kentuck would be a suitable choice. But as Peter prepared to pull the trigger his choice clear, it seemed that someone upstairs had different plans. Deus Ex Machina.
It was the sounds of the guards screaming that tore the trio from their standoff. The guards turned their attention towards the southern alley but by then it was too late. The Eliminators were already in the area. It seemed that the small quarrel was too much of a distraction to keep anyone from watching for intruders. Peter, Bill, and Kentuck dove to the ground as the Eliminators riddled the area taking down anyone in sight. Man, woman, or child, it didn’t matter. They were threats that must be eliminated.
“Holy crap!” Peter shouted, ducking out of sight as the fire fight ensued.
“Well what now?” Bill asked. Kentuck simply smiled with a light in his eyes like a child seeing Santa for the first time.
“We fight!” He cried. Immediately he rounded the front of the car and opened fire at the enemy. Peter wasn’t certain if Kentuck had managed to take out any of the Eliminators or even if he got a shot off but all he knew was within seconds, he was on the ground riddled with hits.
“What are we going to do?” Bill asked his voice a high shrill of panic, but before Peter could answer, the gunfire ceased and all they could hear were the sound of boots on pavement moving their way.
Peter’s mind sprang into action thinking of all the possible outcomes he could think of but unfortunately all of them ended with them getting shot. Even if he had an element of surprise they were still outnumbered and out gunned. From what he saw, there were at least eight or even ten Eliminators entering the area, not to mention any that were still in the alley, acting as covering fire if needed. It seemed that there was nothing either of them could do. However in that moment that he realized his folly, the spark of inspiration striking him hard and fast. There was nothing that they could do. He turned his gaze towards Bill with his lips turned up into a pained smile.
“Run.” Peter whispered. Bill shot him a curious glance.
“What? Are you crazy?” He asked. Peter shook his head.
“I’ll draw their fire while you make a break for it.” Peter said, the footsteps drawing nearer. He pointed towards the alley across from them. There was a clear path and as long as the Eliminators were kept preoccupied, it would be a cinch to get there and away from the firefight.
“But...” Bill started but Peter cut him off.
“It’s too late for me. I’m injured. “He said, tapping his arm. “ I might make it a little longer but eventually I’ll be out of the game. You still have a shot. We still have a chance. All four of us. You make it and we all win.”
The pressure seemed too great for Bill and Peter could see it building in his friend’s eyes. Even so, Peter was willing to sacrifice himself for a traitor. Bill knew this to be monumentally unfair. If anyone should survive, it was Peter. He deserved the chance at victory. However, before Bill could protest any further, Peter made a break for the front of the car. He knew he couldn’t waste any more time. It was the end for him, but Bill still had a chance. He made it this far, though at his friend’s expense, but perhaps it was that kind of mentality one needed in order to survive. Peter was just too soft, not cut out to be a survivor. But perhaps Bill was. By looking at him one would never look twice at him and it was that second look that was needed to see the gun behind his back. He was the last of their group and the last to hope at winning. He was cut throat and willing to do what it took to win. It was a horrific quality but one that a survivor needs. One that a winner needs.
As Peter appeared from behind the car, gun raised, he caught a glimpse of movement from the corner of his eye. A brief flash as his friend made a break for it. In that moment however, the Eliminators were all aiming at him. Whether they didn’t see Bill or didn’t care, it did not matter. Peter’s plan worked perfectly. His time was up but there was still hope. And as he pulled the trigger, the Eliminators opened fire.
The restaurant parking lot was well lit and crowded. The patrons, both would be and former, all mingled with one another, at times making it a nightmare for someone to arrive or depart. Several times horns had to be sounded to encourage those on foot to move. The restaurant owner was pleased, yet distressed by all of the people loitering outside of his place of business. While he knew that most, if not all, would all being dining there, he did not enjoy the noise and mess that came along with it.
The mood over the group ranged from solemn to jovial, as they replayed the events of the day. Some discussed their experiences in the thick of the madness while other spoke strategies and how, for the most part, theirs failed. Many were waiting for their friends and family to join them while others just were not ready to go home yet. At the back of the lot, near the rear entrance, Tyler, Bill and Peter waited for their friend.
“I can’t believe he shot you.” Peter said pulling on the spare shirt he kept in his car. It was a stained with days old soda but was far better than being in the cold without anything on.
“You have no idea how pissed I am right now.” Nick said rubbing his stomach where most of the Eliminators had shot him. He knew that there would be deep welts as did Tyler and Peter. They each bore the scars of the day and knew that pain would be an unwelcome visitor for days to come.
“I can’t believe that the Man in Charge had his own personal army.” Peter said.
“Well he did set up the entire thing, so it doesn’t surprise me. He can do whatever the hell he wants I guess.” Nick grumbled. He was still annoyed by the fact that he was taken out so early and missed most of his friend’s adventures.
“Did Bill at least manage to get out of that firefight?” Tyler asked. Peter nodded, sipping on a bottle of water.
“Yup. They all shot me instead. By the time they were finished, Bill was long gone.” Peter said, relieved but still disappointed. “I think they had a little too much fun with that though. One shot is all you need.” They all knew what he meant, each falling victim to the Eliminators and their trigger happy friends. One shot was all they needed but a full auto machine gun was just too tempting to pass up.
“I swear, he better keep to the deal or else.” Nick said.
“I’m sure he will.” Peter said. “He can’t exactly weasel out of it. After all we know where he lives and where he goes to school.” The group laughed, the solemn mood from their defeat lifting further. While they lost, it was still a memorable experience that they were grateful of having.
“Well I say we give him another half hour. If he’s not here by then, we go eat.” Tyler said.
“Sounds good.” Peter seconded.
“Jeez, whoever thought war could be this intense.” Nick laughed.
“Well you know what they say.” Peter said with a beaming smile on his face, “War never changes... even if it is just paintball.”