Previous Story: 3. Big Trouble in Little China
Lucky stood in front of the fifth blockade he’d seen that day: high metal barriers designed to prevent people leaving San Lazaro. But now even the military who had placed them there had withdrawn. People had gone underground. There were rumors of rioting and widespread violence. Food, fuel and medicine were already becoming scarce.
Lucky scratched his head, his shaggy black hair in need of a good wash. How long had it been since the city had run normally? Two weeks? Three? It felt like an eternity. He’d been planning to leave but had met a man earlier in the day who’d relayed some shocking news: the barriers extended around the entire city. Lucky also knew from his friend Gadget that an energy field called an entropic disruptor had been built to protect the perimeter. It all sounded pretty scary. So now Lucky was headed back across the city to Auto Technology Solutions, the auto shop where he and his friends often gathered.
Passing a 24/7 store with a smashed window, Lucky slipped inside. He found some chocolate, bandages, antiseptic and socks. There were also boxes full of curry powder but he knew there were ample spice supplies at ATS. He stuffed his haul into his bag and left via the window. The store owner wasn’t going to miss them – if he was even still alive.
Lucky moved across the city, sticking to the shadows wherever possible. The places that were once the most dangerous had become the best places to hide from the Crazies. Ever since they had appeared, Lucky had been trying to work them out. But many seemed to wander aimlessly and their attacks seemed similarly random. What he did know was that there was no point trying to communicate with them. Whatever had happened to them, they didn’t seem human any more.
Around midday, he found himself in the middle of the commercial district. He had followed the most direct route to ATS, but now felt very exposed on the wide, open avenues. He was surprised to see a few self-driving cars still parked, as if their owners were still inside the nearby offices, doing the usual nine to five. A ride would have useful but these new models were notoriously difficult to hotwire.
Lucky couldn’t be sure but he recognised one particular office building and wondered if his old man had worked there. He’d been so young at the time it was impossible to be sure. Things had changed so much since then. He could barely believe that he had ever lived anything other than a life on the streets. Perhaps his mind was playing tricks.
He was approaching a corner when he heard a fearful screech. Lucky retrieved his recurve bow from his back and crouched down. He inched his way forward until he came to the edge of the building, then peered around the brick wall. A young boy was cowering on the sidewalk, hands over his head, screaming hysterically. He couldn’t have been more than six or seven. On the other side of the street, three businessmen were walking towards him. Except their eyes were dead and their hands stained with blood. Crazies.
And now Lucky could see others further down the street. The boy’s screaming would bring more and more and then he really would be in trouble. Lucky grabbed three arrows from his quiver: all titanium-tipped, not the non-lethal kinetic pulse type he used to stun targets. The three Crazies were about thirty yards away. Lucky nocked an arrow, set himself on one knee, then stared down the sights. There was a zwing as the bolt flew then a thwack as it sunk into the first Crazy’s skull. The man collapsed immediately. Lucky needed four more arrows to take out the other Crazies, downing the last one just twenty feet from the boy.
When he reached him, the youngster had ceased screaming and was simply gazing at the fallen bodies. Somehow, he forced a smile for his savior.
‘Where did you come from, my friend?’
‘St. Mary’s Group Home,’ replied the boy in a whisper. ‘We were on a trip to the park. These … things came after us. I just kept running and before I knew it I was on my own.’
‘When was that?’
‘I don’t know. A few days ago.’
Lucky felt a chill run up his back. Poor kid. He’d met endless youngsters in trouble during his years on the streets. Having been one himself, he always tried to help out when he could. He knew St. Mary’s. It was a well-run place and he recalled the name of the baseball coach.
‘Mr. Latimer still there?’
‘Yeah,’ replied the kid, eyes brightening. ‘I like Mr. Latimer. He brings pizza for after the game.’
‘What’s your name?’
‘Okay, Charlie, I’m just looking for the best way out of here.’
Lucky was trying to remain calm but the Crazies were closing in; and they didn’t seem to care about the three he had killed.
‘All right. This way.’
Charlie took his hand and the pair ran between two cars, along the street, then into an alleyway. For some reason, only four of the Crazies followed but this group was middle-aged and no match for Lucky and Charlie. They sprinted along the alley and eventually emerged onto what Lucky knew to be Fifteenth Street.
Seeing another abandoned area of the city, he could hardly believe what had happened to San Lazaro. The likes of he and this kid were trapped and having to fend for themselves. Was anyone coming to help? Did anyone care? It occurred to Lucky that much of his life had felt the same. At least he was better prepared than most.
‘They’ll be there, won’t they?’ said Charlie as Lucky led him along in the shadows of another towering office block.
‘The guys at St. Mary’s. They’ll all be back by now. I’ll be safe there, won’t I?
Lucky wanted to say yes; to tell the kid that everything would be all right. But he’d heard a lot of lies from adults in his life and he always tried to be truthful.
‘I hope so, Charlie, but I’m afraid I don’t know. I just don’t know.’
Next Story: 5. Alone at the Station