“So, what’s the catch?” I eyed the concert tickets that Angel handed to me, suspiciously. Front row, center seats to my favorite band would be an overly generous gift from anyone really, and Angel wasn’t a particularly generous kind of person.
He kicked at something on the dusty floor. “Look, I got to let Joel go.”
“Let go, like in fire?”
“Yeah,” he nodded. “I mean, hey, you know he doesn’t really want to be doing this.”
I think of Joel at home staring blankly into the TV screen, more like a robot that had been powered down than a human. I sighed. “Well, then I’m quitting.”
“C’mon, Syd. You’re the best.” His dark, glossy eyes pleaded.
“He’s my partner. Only one I trust. I can’t do this without that trust.”
“He’s only holding you back.”
“Holding me back from being a pro at killing people? Not really a bad thing.”
“He doesn’t want to be here.”
I knew that. I really did. Sometimes I didn’t want to be here either. I was good at it. Didn’t mean it’s something I like doing. “None of us should want to be here.”
Angel nodded. His long, greasy hair fell over his eyes. It looked like it had been a long time since he showered. “What’ll you do?”
I smiled. “Get a normal job, I guess. Who knows? Maybe Joel and I will get married, have kids, and do the whole regular people thing.”
He stared at me for a long moment. “You know they’re not just gonna let you go, right?”
“You know I’m smarter than that. Like how I know you’re not dumb enough to really think I’d kill him for concert tickets.”
“I always have a plan.”
He shook his head. “Good luck, Kid.”
On the drive home, I thought back to when Joel and I first met. It was my first time going to therapy, and I remember being so terrified my hands wouldn’t stop shaking. At that time, I had a normal job in an office. Some co-workers had been bullying me for too long, and I snapped. It was bad. When I walked towards the therapist’s office, I saw Joel standing outside, smoking a cigarette. I had never seen someone so beautiful. I longed to run my fingers through his thick, dark curls and trace the pale scars on his face. The infatuation came on unexpectedly, since I normally didn’t feel drawn to anyone. Saw people more as parasites that sickened me. I lingered outside. He offered me a cigarette.
“I don’t smoke,” I said softly.
“Okay,” he shrugged. “You waiting for someone?”
He smiled. “I had to take a break. Said I needed one of these.” He held up the cigarette. “She said we could walk and talk, but I needed to be alone.”
“So, it’s going well then.”
He laughed. “You maybe want to get out of here?”
His eyes lit up, and I felt weightless and weak, like a leaf the wind could spiral away with one small breeze. We got cheap beer and sat by the sparkling ocean water. The salty wind whipped through my hair, rays of sun kissed my cheeks, and that breathtaking blue of the water felt better than any amount of talking ever could. All the pain washed away with the crashing waves, and we laughed, until it hurt, about stupid things. It felt like the best day of my life.
If only we hadn’t gotten caught up in all of this. It’s not as hard for me as it is for him. I pictured the faces of those stupid fucking co-workers when I pulled the trigger, and it came surprisingly easy actually. For him, it all collected like heavy stones weighing him down. He wakes up screaming and thrashing in the middle of the night, and spends most of his days with vacant eyes. I wouldn’t say he cared about these people. They’re all bad people. I think I underestimated how much shit he had seen before all this though, and how close he already was to a breaking point.
I pulled in through our garage door. Our house is more like a bunker. Everything is underground, except the garage door. It’s not a regular flimsy garage door either. Perhaps my paranoia will help us through this. I never wanted a home with windows. They break too easily. If our garage door gets barricaded, I do have a secret tunnel system out that has several security doors along the way. Each has different codes. I may have gotten us into this mess, but I’d also get us out.
Joel is where I left him earlier, sitting on the couch and staring blankly at the TV screen. We only watched old DVDs since there’s no reception down here, but he’s only watching the movies that play out inside his head, anyway. I plopped on the couch next to him. We only had a few minutes, but I knew it was important to be gentle in my approach.
“Hey,” I said.
He turned and smiled at me, then leaned over and gave me a kiss so gentle and light, like a feather brushing across my lips. “I thought you were at work.”
“About that,” I said. “Well, I decided to quit.”
“Quit?” He looked confused.
“Yeah, fuck that job. They don’t appreciate us and it’s boring.”
He stared at me, his eyes shifting back and forth, presumably calculating the words I said. He looked scared, so I put a hand on the side of his face in a reassuring way.
“I have a plan.”
I nodded. “When this is all over, I’m thinking about maybe getting a job as one of the backstage people at concerts. You know the ones that test out the instruments and speakers. Tune the drums and all that. I think it’d be fun. What about you?”
His breathing was heavy and I could see the panic in his eyes, but he played along. “Maybe be like a night custodian. I could use the quiet. Most concerts are at night too, so then we’d have our days together.”
“Yeah, I’d like that. I think it’d be good for you. You like when things are tidy. I’ve noticed.” Our house was always spotless and literally sparkling clean.
He laughed. His chestnut brown eyes locked with mine in a way that melted me to slush. “So, what’s the plan?”
“We know there’s at most twelve people coming after us. It’s safe here. We’ve got the cameras and only one way they can come in. I’ve set up some traps around the yard. We’ll take out as many as we can, and then we can run. Get new identities and start over.”
“Nothing we can’t handle.”
“I know this is hard for you, but they’ll be the last. Twelve more and you know you’ll be done. I’ll get as many as I can.”
He nodded. “You're sure there won’t be more?”
“Well, that’s why we’ll run too. Just in case. Shame to leave this place, but maybe not so bad to get a fresh start too.”
“What do you want me to do?”
“Guard the door.”
He picked up the gun he had on the coffee table. We’re never far from guns. Then he was on his knees on the couch with the gun aimed at the door.
“I love you,” I said. Just in case this all goes wrong, and I never get to say it again.
His bottom lip wobbled a bit, “I love you too.”
I headed over to our cameras, ready to engage my traps. It didn’t take long before the first person stepped into view of camera six. I sighed. Of course, they’d send Angel first. Emotionally, he was the hardest, because he’d always been a pretty decent guy to us both. Unfortunately, his not wanting to do this made him an easy target. He stood there hesitantly, next to a tree he shouldn’t have been standing next to. He lit a cigarette, maybe taking some time to think of a way out. Above his head, ready to be dropped, was a heavy metal ball covered in sharp spikes.
“Sorry, Angel,” I whispered. Then I pressed a button to release the ball. The machine I created didn’t just drop the ball. It pushed it out in a way that gave it even more force. I watched it crush Angel’s head and knock his body to the ground. It’s obvious someone is dead when their head is no longer there, so this particular trap offered a lot of comfort. After, the ball is retracted and can be used again if someone else stands in this spot.
About an hour later, three men fanned out across our property, approaching from different angles. I hoped to get them all before they reached the door, so Joel wouldn’t have to shoot anyone else. Luck was on my side. The one guy I hated most, Richie, fell into the pit of snakes. I had lots of well fed and cared for venomous snakes and the pit was deep enough he couldn’t get out on his own. He’d suffer a slower death, which served him right. That guy was a psychopath. Jason stepped on one of the mudball mines, an M26 caked in clay. George didn’t see my tripwire, so a machete whipped across him and sliced him in half. Four down, and only eight more to go.
They should’ve let us leave. We wouldn’t have betrayed them. All we wanted was out. So many people guard their employment like everyone is out to steal their livelihoods at any moment. Their biggest fear might have been us starting our own competing business, which is ridiculous. Then again, life has been hard for everyone. I wanted to save what was left of Joel’s trauma-fractured mind, but I didn’t know if it was possible. Violence had become such a staple of everyday life. I knew he had seen more than a lot of people being in a highly active combat zone for so long, but these days fights broke out on every corner. Could we even find peace?
I noticed Keya and Nevada on the cameras now. They were more cautious than the ones we’d seen so far. They might make it through the traps. Seeing them on camera four gave me hope. If they stepped into the zone that is camera three, I could shoot them. Keya did. I wanted to wait and see if Nevada joined her, but I also didn’t want to miss my shot. Better one to fight than two. I activated the sniper tower, aimed using a camera, and shot. Got her. Now, Nevada knew to avoid that area, but I wasn’t out of options. Nevada ran and stumbled into one of my spike pits. A large metal rod pierced through her center and her flailing body looked like a flag. Then she stopped moving.
I heard gunshots, abandoned my post at the cameras, and jumped in the living room to check on Joel. He had the garage door open and two bloody bodies laid in the grass right outside. Ghost and Melvin. They navigated the blind spots somehow, or maybe I was slipping.
“How’s it going?” Joel asked.
“I got six.”
“Joel!” I saw a man creeping towards him. He whirled around and fired several shots, not taking the time to aim, but one hit the man in the stomach. Then he aimed another shot at his head and hit his mark. It happened so fast, I didn’t register who it was until he laid dead. Ryder was the one I knew the least anyway.
“We only got three more,” Joel said.
I nodded and returned to my screens. That left Ivy, Rusty, and Jayla. The three of them had started our revenge squad, so it made sense they let all the worker bees die first. The CEOs of all businesses sucked.
When we first joined up, I saw us as heroes in a way. We were bringing justice when it never seemed to prevail. I didn’t realize how complicated it’d all get. Not that it mattered much anyway, because it’s hard to survive without being a part of some type of group. We’d do it though. Find a peaceful place for the two of us and forget about all this.
One of my alarms went off. Someone had found the secret exit. I turned to that camera and Ivy climbed down the stairs. I pressed a button locking the door she came through, and turned the poison gas on. I watched her cough and pound on the door, imagining she was my old co-worker, Kristy. The one who took pictures of us while in the bathroom and posted them on the internet. The one who liked to slip things in the company water cooler, so people would act all weird.
Only two more.
Rusty was overly confident enough to think he could just park his car in our driveway. Obviously, I just blew that up. What kind of a person would I be if I didn’t have explosives in the driveway? I almost felt disappointed.
That left Jayla. I stepped into the living room again and saw Joel had a knife to her throat.
“The others will come for you,” Jayla said.
“They already have.” I said. “You should’ve let us go.”
She groaned. “We couldn’t trust you.”
“Cause no one trusts anyone.” That might be the biggest problem with our world.
“I know you don’t want to kill anyone anymore, Joel. Let me go,” She pleaded.
He stabbed the knife into her throat and cut across. Blood ran down her neck like a waterfall.
“We got ‘em all,” I said.
“All the ones we know about,” he said.
“I don’t think there’s more.”
“I hope not.”
“Where should we go?”
We packed our bags, which went quickly. It’s best not to hold onto too much stuff. We loaded the car, and he offered to drive.
“Maybe we should find a place by the water,” he said.
I thought back to that day we first met. “Sounds good to me. Not the ocean though. People like it there too much, even with the crazy weather tearing down all the cities near them. Maybe a mountain lake.”
He put the car in drive and reached one hand over to hold mine. We clasped hands and I wanted to believe we’d be okay. Still, my other hand clutched the gun at my side. My ears listened for any noise that shouldn’t be there. My eyes scanned our surroundings. I doubted we’d ever be fully free.
I turned towards him and he smiled.
“I don’t even know why we were afraid of them,” he said.
“They should’ve been more afraid of us.”
He lifted my hand and kissed my knuckles. “I can’t wait to go swimming in our new lake.”
“I can’t wait to set up new traps.” I packed my grid paper to make blueprints as soon as we picked the place. Though, I knew we’d likely have to build it. Most people don’t want windowless bunkers, after all.
He laughed. “We’ll be okay, you know. However long we can make it, we’ll keep it fun until the end.”
His eyes had more life in them. Seeing this made me smile. I rested my head against the seat, and loosened my grip on the gun. We didn’t always make the best choices, but this time I felt we did.