Authors: Tracey Ward
“Goodbye, Zoe,” I say quickly, turning to leave without waiting for her reply.
Her words follow me, her voice ringing in my ears even as I run through the now empty kitchen to grab my coat, throw my hood up over my head, and burst outside. I rush up the lawn in long strides. My legs take the distance and devour it with this man’s body I’m building and growing into, but inside I’m still a kid. I’m still a coward.
The rain beats down hard on my head and my hands, making them slip precariously as I climb the high fence on the perimeter of the Farm. I drop down into the rain soaked earth on the other side, pull my knife from its sheath on my hip, and immediately take off at a dead sprint. I won’t keep this pace the entire way home, but I know how far I can manage it. I know my body, my limits. I also know it’s stupid to run with a knife in my hand, that I could fall and kill myself on it, but I feel solid holding onto it. I feel ready.
As I run through the trees I see them changing color. They’re bleeding red, the edges of the map on the internet spilling over and creeping in around me. My eyes squint against the pelt of water in my face as I run behind the rain, ahead of the red, and the anxiety I felt over the leak in the roof reaches a crescendo that twists in my gut and pummels at my chest. A storm is coming, closing in on all sides. It’s surrounding us. Smothering us.
When I get home I’m out of breath, my lungs screaming in my chest and burning like fire. I ran the whole way. Every last mile. I made it to the house in record time, but it’s going to cost me. I’ll be exhausted tonight and sore tomorrow and who knows what the next few days have in store.
“Dad!” I shout as I hit the backyard. I easily hurdle the fence in one solid leap and careen toward the back door.
He opens it just as I’m about to slam into it and he grabs me in a painful hug there in the entryway. My jacket drips onto the floor steadily, soaking the stone the way his boot did earlier and I feel like I’ll never be dry again. This rain will be here for five more days, drowning out the sounds of the forest. The sounds of danger coming, knocking at our door.
“I was so worried,” he says roughly, his hands clinging to back of my jacket and pulling it tight against my body. “I was just about to come looking for you.”
“You already know?”
He steps back, his hands holding my shoulders. His eyes look wet but so does everything else in Washington. “Diane radioed me just a minute ago. Zoe told her what was happening, told her you left.” His eyes tighten angrily. “You should have waited there. I would have come to you.”
“I’m sorry,” I reply breathlessly, my chest still heaving and burning from the run. “I just wanted to get out of there. There are too many people. If one has the Fever then they’ll all—”
He reaches up and grasps the sides of my face. “I know. I understand.”
“They’re going to die, aren’t they?”
He flinches the way he always does when I say something too real. He lowers his hands and stands with them on his hips as he considers me and my question, but we both know the answer. I’m not even mad when he doesn’t say it out loud. “We need to get ready,” he says instead. “We have to extend the fence. It needs to be higher and it needs to be stronger.”
“We should go deeper into the woods. The cities will be the worst because there are more people to spread the Fever. If we’re farther away we can avoid it.”
He shakes his head. “We need shelter. We’re deep in December. The weather is going to be nasty and cold for another few months. We’re safer here. We’re already pretty far from town.”
“But we’re not very far from the Farm.”
“We’ll be fine,” he promises. “And so will they. They have fences to keep them safe and once we strengthen ours we’ll be ready.” He grabs his coat and throws it on, pulling the hood up over his head. “Are you armed?”
I hold up my knife still clutched tightly in my hand. “Always.”
“Good. Let’s get to work.”
I make it to the water in no time on the bike. It’s like swimming upstream sometimes, but the sidewalks get clearer the farther I get from the interstate.
The second I pull into the driveway to Sienna’s house the gate starts to swing open and I shake my head in annoyance. I didn’t buzz her, I didn’t show my face to the camera. She just opened right up and let me in, no question.
Sienna lives in a massive three million dollar mansion overlooking Puget Sound a good six miles from my place. Her dad is the CEO of something or other – she was baked when she told me about it and it didn’t make a damn bit of sense – and he’s hardly ever home. He’s constantly country hopping and so Sienna is constantly partying to try to get his attention. Her drug of choice is Molly and I know that because when you make a delivery to a hot girl living alone in a mansion over the water and she asks you come inside, you go inside. You break your rules, you let her open that package in front of you, and even though you don’t touch the shit, you touch her. All of her, every inch, and you realize you might not be addicted to powder, but you’re definitely addicted to something. To the money, to the views, the clean warm glow of a house not even pretending to be a home. To the smell of expensive perfume and the feel of soft skin writhing between your body and six hundred thread count Egyptian cotton sheets.
I roar up the short driveway and park in front of the door just as she throws it open and comes flying out.
“Thank God you’re here,” she says, sounding almost angry.
I shift my duffle on my back and look her over. Her long straight hair is wound dark and intentionally messy up in a bun near the top of her head. She’s wearing tight jeans, a loose sweatshirt hanging off one shoulder showing nothing but skin that’s getting soaking wet in this down pour, and that sight sends my blood running faster than stealing the bike did. Her eyes are smoky and dark, the makeup smudged from crying.
“You alright?” I ask her.
“Yeah, I’m just great,” she snaps sarcastically. “The Fever is coming and we’re all going to die. Things are just peachy.”
I smirk. “Peachy?”
“Can we go inside?” she asks, already sidestepping toward the door. “I don’t want anyone to see us out here and try to jump the fence.”
“You gotta be more careful about that.” I follow her inside and toss my bag on the marble floor as she throws the locks and sets the alarm. “Did you even check to make sure it was me before you opened it?”
“I saw a guy on a bike. I figured it was either you or Anderson.”
She shrugs, turning to face me and crossing her arms over her chest. “A guy I know.”
“And you were going to open the gate for him?”
“Why do you care? Are you jealous?”
“I told you not to open that gate for anyone but me,” I remind her, ignoring her question because it’s not even worth answering. “If you want me here you need to listen to me and do what I say.”
“He’s not sick.”
“What’d I say, Sin?”
She rolls her eyes. “Fine! Yes, I will listen.”
“Or I’m leaving.”
“Vin, stop,” she pleads, exasperated. “I’ll listen. I promise.” She waves her hand at me, calling me after her as she turns toward the living room. Her fingers vibrate, shaking slightly. “Come look at the news. You’ll see what I was talking about.”
I don’t respond and I don’t follow her. Instead I head up the stairs and go straight to her bedroom. There’s a bathroom attached to it that’s flooded with stuff – curling iron, blow dryer, straightener, makeup, hair brushes, hair ties, hair pins, earrings and necklaces scattered everywhere, and a small silver plated jewelry box in the middle of the chaos. I open it, frowning when I see the inside.
It’s full. Pills of different sizes and colors are neatly packed in next to each other in thin plastic bags. I’m the delivery man, not the dealer, and I’m obviously not the only guy making runs up to this house. I had no idea how much she used and I never cared until right now. Until I’m staring into the face of both her addiction and the end of society and I’m wondering which is worse.
“What are you doing?” she asks from the doorway.
I snap the box closed and turn to face her, holding it up in one hand to show her. “Are you high right now?”
“No, but that’s a great idea.”
I lower the box and go to the medicine cabinet. “Do you have any other drugs?”
“Are you serious?” she laughs. “Has hell officially frozen over? Are you actually going to get high with me for once?”
“If I was ever going to start, today would not be the day.” There’s one orange prescription bottle in the cabinet. I snap it up and check the label. Valium.
“I think it’s the perfect day to start,” she argues lightly.
“What’s the Valium for?”
“I have anxiety.”
I laugh in surprise. “Over what?”
“Life,” she says angrily, obviously offended.
“Wow. That’s amazing.”
“What’s funny about it?”
“What are you worried about? What car you’re getting for Christmas this year?”
“School. Friends. Boyfriends.”
I eye her skeptically. “You have a boyfriend?”
“On and off.”
I roll the pill bottle in my palm. “Is he a stressed out rich kid too?”
“Having money doesn’t make life any easier. If anything it makes it harder.”
“How would you know? You’ve never been without it.”
“Whatever,” she grumbles, crossing her arms and looking away.
I smile at her ruffled feathers.
Telling someone ‘whatever’ in the middle of an argument doesn’t mean whatever. It means ‘fuck you’. It means they lose.
I toss her the bottle of Valium and she catches it messily in both hands. “Take one. You need to chill.”
She nods to the jewelry box still in my hand. “I’d rather have one of those.”
“Too bad. I’m flushing them.”
I lift the lid to the toilet and quickly poor the contents of the box inside. She steps into the room to stop me but I hit the handle before she can get close. Her stash quickly disappears into the sewers, trickling down the pipes toward the center of town, back to the ghettos where it came from.
“You asshole!” she shouts at me, her face turning red.
“You calm down!”
“I’m always calm.”
“You’re a piece of shit is what you are. Why would you do that?”
“I need you sharp. If things gets real and we have to bail on this place, I’m not dragging your doped corpse out of here. You run with me or you stay behind.” I take a step forward, looming over her to remind her of my size and my strength, of why she wanted me here. I soften my tone as I stare straight into her eyes. “You asked me to come here to keep you safe so that’s what I’m going to do. If you listen to me, you’ll be fine. You got it?”
She nods grudgingly, her eyes still angry. “Yeah, I got it.”
“Alright. Good.” I reach up and run my hand over her cheek before I lean in to kiss her forehead. I linger for a moment and I can feel her relax from my proximity, under my touch. When I step back her eyes are half closed. She leans forward, unconsciously following my hand as it leaves her face. “Now show me where your dad keeps his gun.”
She leads me to the master bedroom. It’s a space bigger than my apartment but that’s no shock. The garage is bigger than any house I’ve ever known. The bedroom is modern with sleek black cabinets that don’t have handles. You have to push your hand against them in the right spot to get them to pop out and it leaves a small smudge when I do it. I wonder if that happened to Mr. Money Bags too. It seems like a hassle to have to wipe them down every time you touch them, but maybe it’s just me. Maybe my hands are just that dirty.
“You already have a gun,” Sin protests, watching me open the huge floor to ceiling doors on the closet.
I pause to pull out my gun and show it to her. “It’s small. More for show and convenience than anything else. If we’re going to defend ourselves we need more than this.” I stow it back in my pocket, feeling to make sure the safety is still on. “Besides, all the bullets I have are loaded in it. Six in all and I’m not a great shot. I don’t fire it very often.”
“Have you ever killed anyone with it?”
I’m surprised by how casually Suburbia Barbie asks the question, but I don’t flinch and I don’t let it show. “No. I’ve never even fired it at a person.”
I turn toward her and whip it out quickly, aiming for the wall behind her head. I’m careful to keep my finger off the trigger.
She jolts, staggering back with wide eyes.
Just as quickly as I pulled the gun out, I put it away. “That right there is why I carry it,” I explain.
She breathes out shakily, her hand on her chest. “To scare the shit out of people?”
“Yep.” I step into the closet and scan the shelves. “When someone steps to you on a dark street or tries to jump you in a backroom, they think twice about it with a gun in their face. They don’t care what kind it is.”
“Do I get a gun?”
“Have you ever held one before?”
“Then, no. You don’t get a gun. I’m not looking to get shot by mistake.”
“How do you know it’d be a mistake?”
I ignore her. I’ve found the safe in the back of the closet. It’s a serious one because of course it is. I’m in Scrooge McDuck’s mansion and he doesn’t play around. There’s not even a number pad. Just a fingerprint scanner.
“Hey, Sin, can your fingerprint open this thing?”
“Can I have one of the guns inside?” she presses.
I hang my head. “Is there more than one in here?”
“Maybe. Guess you won’t find out without me.”
“I won’t find out without your finger,” I mumble to myself.
“What’d you say?”
“I said get in here and open this safe,” I call out to her.
She comes to stand in the open doorway, arms crossed over her chest. “Do I get a gun?”
“Yes, fine. You get a gun.”
I chuckle, sitting back on my ass to get out of her way. “Don’t push your luck. Open it.”
She steps inside the large closet and presses her index finger to the pad. It scans it, beeps a few times, then unlatches. When I see what’s inside I can’t help but laugh.
Stacks of cash. Stacks and stacks of cash. How much I have no idea because I’ve never seen this much money in one place in my life. And it’s just sitting here doing nothing.
“What is all of this for?” I ask Sin.
She shrugs. “Just in case. You never know.”
“You never know what? When you’re going to need to buy Greece? In cash?”
“I don’t know. Maybe.”
I shove aside the money and let it spill out onto the floor. In the back behind it is a big black box and when I pull it out I knock out more cash in front of it. Along with a passport.
“Is that yours?” I ask absently, dropping the heavy box to the floor with a thud.
She picks up the passport and flips it open. “No, it’s my mom’s. Mine is in my room. I was supposed to go with Dad on his trip to Japan but I didn’t want to. I wanted to stay home for Christmas so I hid mine and said I couldn’t find it.” She carefully lays the passport back in the safe. “Pretty dumb idea.”
“You didn’t know what was going to happen.”
“No, but I fought with him before he left. I didn’t stick around to say goodbye. Now I can’t get him on the phone. He’s probably dead.”
I pause, not willingly to look at her. “Where’s your mom?”
“Dead. Like for years and buried kind of dead. Cancer.”
“It’s okay. She would have hated you.”
“A lot of people do,” I chuckle.
“Not because you’re my dealer—“
“Delivery man,” I correct. “Not a dealer.”
“Anyway, she would have hated you because you’re ethnic. She was super racist.”
I pop the top on the box and smile. It’s full of boxes of shells and two matte black handguns. I’m not good with guns, I don’t know their names or their calibers. I only know how to load them, aim them, and fire them. Knives are more my thing, but I appreciate the efficiency of a gun and this is definitely a time when I’d prefer fast and clean work. I pull my gun out of my pocket and pop out the clip. I check the chamber, find it empty, and put it on the floor next to the clip.
“Come here,” I say, waving Sienna over. She kneels down on the floor next to me and I hand her my gun. “This is yours now.”
She hesitantly picks it up and weighs it in her hand. “It’s heavier than I thought it’d be.”
“Keep it pointed at the ground. It’s empty, I checked the chamber and the clip is out, but treat every weapon like it’s loaded.”
I go through a quick tutorial with her, showing her how to sight a shot, the strongest and most accurate way to hold and fire, and finally how to load it. She doesn’t like the feel of it, I can tell, but she wanted a gun. Now she has one.