Previous Story: 19. The Kind-Hearted Canadian
It was Thug’s turn for guard duty at Auto Technology Solutions. Second shift had just started, and he’d agreed to cover for Lucky, who was making a run to the homeless shelter.
The afternoon sun cast a warm glow over the city, as dirty and messed up as it was. Thug didn’t even look at the buildings. He was too busy appreciating the sky over his head; a beautiful sight he had rarely seen while behind bars. Ten whole years had gone by, and the entire city had changed.
His favorite pizza place on the corner of Washington - next door to the laundromat owned by Mr. Riley - had closed. Apparently, the owners had gone bankrupt. And the comic store that he used to go to as a boy was now a flower shop. Or, at least it had been before the whole city had fallen apart.
Not for the first time, Thug considered heading across town to explore his old stomping grounds. He hadn’t wanted to during his first few days of freedom but now that some time had passed, he felt as if he might be able to handle it.
He wasn’t proud of his past. Not even a little. But it had made him who he was today. Would he be able to enjoy a normal life if he hadn’t seen the darker side? Would he ever have met his friends, who were now more of a family than his real relatives?
Thug heard a heavy wrench or some other tool strike the ground inside the auto-shop behind him, and a smile appeared on his face. The sound reminded him of his surroundings: that people had taken him in; accepted him. They weren’t afraid of him and they recognized his determination to live a better life.
Inhaling, he smelt ozone; rain was probably not far off. Thug spun his steel pipe in his hands casually, his eyes scanning the area for Crazies.
There was an elementary school across the street. It was modern and brand new, made of reinforced glass, steel, and concrete. It had a digital marquee sign out front that parents and students would pass everyday on their way into the parking lot. The glass on the front screen had been broken, and the light flickered on and off.
But every once in a while, Thug could read the message that still shone brightly, the original hologram projecting in flashes of bright blue and green. It had become a kind of beacon for him.
Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up.
It was aimed at the school kids, reminding them to keep at their studies: work hard, go to college, get a job, do well in life. It reassured them that they would succeed; that their efforts at school would be rewarded. Thug wished he had followed that advice in his younger years but he saw the value in it now. Even though he still had to sometimes fight the urge to look out for himself, he knew these instincts had landed him in trouble. He was part of a group now; a group that supported each other. He was determined to change.
A glimpse of movement made Thug turn and look up the street.
A group of people - real people, not Crazies - were crossing the street a few blocks away. Judging by their hurried movements and the way they kept looking over their shoulders, they were fleeing something. Thug’s heart skipped a beat when he spied the rifles some of the group was carrying. He felt his hand tighten on the steel pipe. His first reaction was to see danger, prepare to defend himself. There had been a time when the sight of such a group coming his way would have pushed him instantly into action.
But times had changed; and the city too. For all he knew, they were simply honest citizens fleeing the Crazies.
Eyes still on the advancing group, Thug took a breath, then called out to the others in the shop behind him.
‘Guys, we’ve got a group approaching. I could use some help here.’
Let us not become weary in doing good…
Next Story: 21. Red Rose Rising