Maverick "Thug" Jones
It was Thug’s turn for guard duty.
Second shift had just started, and Thug had agreed to cover for Lucky, who was making a run to the homeless shelter.
The afternoon sun was casting a warm glow over the city, as dirty and messed up as it was. Thug didn’t even look at the city. He was too busy appreciating the sky over his head.
He had not had the chance to really appreciate the sky over his head for ten years. Ten whole years had gone by, and the entire city around him 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 had changed hands, and was now a flower shop.
Or, at least it had been before the whole city had fallen apart.
Not for the first time, he considered moving across town to go and explore his old stomping grounds. He hadn’t had any desire to do that when he was first let out, but now that some time had passed, and he had been able to wake up in the morning with more peace than panic, he thought he might be able to handle it.
He wasn’t proud of his past. Not even a little. But it was what made him who he was today. Would he be able to appreciate the way the clouds moved above his head like he did if he hadn’t gotten into so much trouble as a kid? Would he ever have met the people that he knew, his new friends, people who treated him like family?
That wasn’t the right way to think about it. If there was some way that he could go back and change everything and still have the life he had now, he would do it.
He heard a heavy metal wrench or some other tool strike the ground inside the building behind him, and a smile crept up one side of his face. That sound reminded him that people had taken him in, accepted him. Believed in his desire to start fresh, to live a better life. They wanted him to be nearby, to live alongside of them.
He inhaled deeply. The air was warm around him. He could smell the ozone; rain was probably not far off. He spun his steel pipe in his hands casually, his eyes scanning the empty streets for any Crazies that might try to sneak up on them.
There was a pretty elementary school across the street. It was modern, brand new at the beginning of that school year, made of reinforced glass, steel, and concrete. It had a digital marquis sign out front that parents and students would pass everyday as their cars drove them into the parking lot. The glass on the front screen had been broken, and the light flickered inconsistently at night as it struggled to function correctly.
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, and it had become a sort of beacon in his life ever since he noticed it.
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 had been for kids at school, reminding them to keep at their studies, to work hard, to go to college, get a job, do well in life. It was an encouraging statement. It said they would succeed.
There would be an end to the struggle and monotony that school brought. Something that Thug was angry he had given up on.
But for Thug, it was even more than that. Doing good, especially in the world he was currently living in, was hard. It would have been way easier to look out for number one. It came naturally to him. He had done it for years. He still fought that urge from time to time.
But living like that is what landed him in trouble in the first place. He wanted to change. He was changing.
Others had noticed the sign, too, but had shaken their heads, determined to ignore it. Thug would challenge them. What was wrong with being hopeful? What was wrong with the desire to not give up?
A movement out of the corner of his eye made Thug turn and look up the street.
A group of people, real people, were crossing the street a few blocks away. Their hurried movements, the way they kept looking over their shoulder, told him that they were not as familiar with being out in the open. They probably were just normal people, trying to survive.
Thug looked up and down the street again, covering for them without them even knowing it. If there was danger, he wouldn’t hesitate to let them know. It was best to look out for one another in these times.
His heart skipped a beat when his eyes fell on the rifles some of the group was carrying. He turned his eyes away, anger and guilt welling up inside of him.
They were using them for protection, he told himself. The world around them demanded that they defend themselves.
Images flashed across his mind, dark and painful. It was a struggle to push them aside, to clear his thoughts. To tell himself over and over that he wasn’t there in that place…and there was no one standing there in front of him. There was nothing but his pipe in his hands. There was no sound of gunfire.
Let us not become weary in doing good…
He was doing good. And he would keep doing good. He was a changed man.
And he would reap his reward at the end of it, and maybe he would finally, finally, have some peace.