Read Redaction: Extinction Level Event (Part I) Online
Authors: Linda Andrews
Tags: #Part I Extinction Level Event
Jose smiled, flashing his oversized front teeth. “Really?”
Mikey picked at the frayed hem of his shorts. “Promise?”
Manny raked his fingers through his hair. The words of denial were nails in his tongue. It was such a simple request, yet filled with danger. “Yes.”
“All right!” Jose pumped the air, hooked his arm through Mikey’s and dragged him out of the room. “Let’s ride bikes and skateboards. Then we can play cars and...”
Shaking his head, Manny turned back to the counter. What had he done? They could all be killed for an hour of sunshine.
His hand trembled when he opened the cabinet and pulled out the only item inside. It weighed nearly nothing. He jiggled the box of powdered milk, before dumping the contents into the measuring cup. Crouching down, he shook the white granules level and eyed the amount. Enough for breakfast. He dumped it into the pitcher then dipped water out of the bucket in the sink, adding a little more water than the directions called for.
After double checking the foil on the window pane and adjusting the curtain, he flicked on the UV light that had been repurposed from a fish tank and used the rest of the water in the bucket to feed the herb growing in pots on the window sill. He fingered the rough leaves of rosemary and the velvety basil, oregano and cilantro. At least, his herbs had come through the Redaction intact.
If only… He blew away the useless wish, drained the beans and refilled the soup pot, before setting it on a small electric burner. Good thing the gangbangers hadn’t seen the usefulness of the burner, or they might not eat at all. He slapped on the tap and refilled the bucket. Just because the water remained on all day, didn’t mean it would last.
God only knew how his neighbors were cooking with the gas lines off to prevent fires.
Brown skins crumbled like confetti onto the counter as he fished out an onion from the basket. How many were left? Tilting the basket, he peered inside. One sprouting onion remained.
No more waiting for the Guard and their handouts.
He’d find food tonight.
And he knew just where to look. Before the Redaction, gringos had moved into the gated community a mile down the street. Sure the Guard would be watching it pretty carefully, but he’d observed their routine from his rooftop. He could find a way inside. Many of them had evacuated early. They should have plenty of supplies. He’d also check their garages for seeds. Surely, they’d have some.
And pigs would smile.
Their kind didn’t grow things. They hired wet backs like him to grow things for them. After sprinkling powdered garlic, onions, cumin and chili powder to the beans, he adjusted the temperature to a simmer and set a lid on the beans. Cleaning his hands, he snipped off cilantro from the window box, chopped it up and tossed it into the rice. Once the water had been added, he set the bowl in the microwave and turned it on.
Hoisting the bucket out of the sink, he filled another with hot water and set the dirty dishes inside.
He should make a list. Going out once was dangerous; twice would be suicide. Opening the drawer near the door, he removed a pad and pencil. One by one, he opened each cabinet. Bare shelves glared back at him. Stick with the basics. Flour. Rice. Salt. The next cabinet had a container of oatmeal. Peeling back the lid, he looked inside. Enough for one more day.
If he didn’t eat again.
His stomach growled.
Oatmeal. Powdered milk. Any mixes. Maybe he’d find a little cash for a trip to the burger joint. He crumbled up the list. Who was he kidding? He’d take whatever he could find.
He picked up his backpack and peered inside. Screwdriver and flashlight. All he’d need to break into someone’s home. And to think Popi thought breaking and entering would ruin his life. His chest tightened at thoughts of his father. “Sorry Popi. But this is the only way I know to keep the
safe and fed.”
Manny set his hand inside the bottom of the pack. If the supplies from this scavenging trip were to last more than a couple days, he’d need more packs. Leaving the kitchen, he walked by Jose and Mikey. The stack of toys by the front door told him they were still planning their adventure outside.
Just as he reached his sister’s bedroom, the wind chimes jangled. Air lodged in his throat. He’d set the chimes up as an alarm, making certain they were too low to the ground to ring from the wind. He paused and caught the clip of words. A heartbeat later, the chain rattled and scratched at the Saltillo tile in the kitchen as someone tried to open the door.
Mavis’s chilled fingers fell away from the metal lock. An arrow. Coming right at her! The brass tip stared like an unblinking eye against the black fletching. Time stretched to an eternity between heartbeats.
Jesus, Mary, and Joseph! She had hoped for a better ending than being skewered by one of her neighbors. Death was not on her schedule today. Sunnie needed her. Crouching in the street, Mavis released the energy stored in her coiled muscles and launched herself from the asphalt.
The wind whistled through the toes of her left foot. Twisting in flight, she focused on the Civic’s hood. The white surface ballooned until it filled her vision. This was going to hurt, but at least not as much as the arrow. She hoped.
Something scratched the sole of her right loafer before she heard the thwack and quiver of the arrow striking the blacktop. A soft thud followed. Good God, I’ve lost a shoe.
Her elbow hit the hood. A lightning bolt of fire zinged along her arm and shot out her fingers and skull. Mavis squeezed her eyes shut. Her hip landed a second before the rest of her body. Metal groaned and buckled under her weight. When she slid over the ‘H’ emblem, the ornament tore at her clothes. Heat scorched her exposed skin as she squeaked to a stop.
Holy crap! She’d done it! Opening her eyes, she stared at the windshield wiper an inch from her nose. She collapsed onto her back and stared up at the purple sky. The world fast-forwarded until she joined the current time stream. Her heart mule-kicked her ribs and terror buzzed inside her skull like Africanized bees.
“No!” Sunnie’s screams pierced the falling darkness.
Not another arrow! Mavis shoved with her right hand. Tucking her other arm close, she rolled to the driver’s side. How long did it take to reload a bow, anyway? Her legs spun in empty space before her stomach squeezed into her esophagus.
Blacktop rose up to pummel her. Mavis extended her arms. Her palms slapped the pavement, then her knees. Joints popped, something creaked and a scream snagged in her dry throat. With the pebbles on the street acting as lubricant, her limbs slid out from under her. The breath left her lungs as she belly flopped.
Darkness crowded her vision. Breathe. She wracked her brain for the technique but only received an empty cartoon bubble.
What kind of genius forgot how to breathe?
Panic swam in the fringes of her control, and her heart pounded in her ears. God, what a stupid way to die—killed in a swan dive off a Honda. Just as her vision had been reduced to a pinpoint of color, she sucked in a lungful of air, and then gagged as a pebble and leaf hit the back of her throat. Mavis spat out the artifacts. If she’d had any inkling her day would go like this, she’d have stayed in bed.
For a month.
She rolled to her side and rested her head on her upper arm. Pain vibrated through her like she’d been struck with tuning fork. Head, shoulders, knees, toes. The aches mimicked the lyrics to a baby’s coordination activity. She blinked. And just how in Hades could her eyelashes hurt?
“Aunt Mavis?” Sunnie’s voice broke over her name before silence permeated the clearing.
Mavis opened her mouth. Instead of words, a moan slipped passed her lips.
“If she’s dead,” her niece yelled. “I’m going to shove your bow and arrows where the sun doesn’t shine, and I’m not talking about Alaska in wintertime.”
Mavis smiled then winced. Pain netted a chuckle before it could shake loose. Only a member of her family would threaten someone who held a weapon.
Sunnie! Mavis’s muscles trembled, but she whipped onto her belly and pushed to her feet. Her groan disappeared in the pops and creaks coming from her body. Forty-two had never seemed so old. Clammy handprints marked the path she used to claw up the Civic’s side. Peering through the driver’s side window, Mavis bit her lip to stop from screaming.
Sunnie stood between the arrow’s source and the car. “Do you hear me?”
The fool girl hadn’t even left a door open so she could dive into the Civic if more projectiles started flying.
“Sunnie!” Mavis hoisted herself to her feet. Her stomach cramped. So what if she’d just made herself a target again? She had to make sure the shooter didn’t target her niece. “Get inside the car!”
“Aunt Mavis.” Sunnie spun around. Her lips parted in a large smile and light blazed from her eyes. “You’re okay.”
Okay was a prognosis she might have in a week.
“I’m not shot if that’s what you mean.” Her niece might not say the same thing if she didn’t find cover soon. Hobbling around the car, Mavis approached Sunnie.
“Oh, you’re hurt.” The girl stepped closer to Mavis, away from the door, away from safety. Her attention swooped down to the ground before soaring back to Mavis’s face. “And you’ve lost a loafer.”
“I don’t care about the stupid shoe.” Gritting her teeth, Mavis toddled to a stop, placing herself between Sunnie and their sniper. “Just get into the car; I’m sure the shooter has reloaded by now.”
Sunnie crossed her arms and planted her feet hip’s width apart. “Obviously, Mr. Quartermain didn’t recognize us when he fired.”
Mavis swore, repeating the curse words in five languages.
“We should report him to the authorities, or at least, take away his bow.” Sunnie gathered her hair into a ponytail and corralled it with her purple scrunchie. “Old people have very poor eyesight.”
Great, now the inside of Mavis’s head hurt, too. She reached for the handle and yanked open the car door. “Get. In. Side.”
Proper elocution did not require moving her jaw.
Sunnie frowned at the Civic’s butter cream interior. “Why is he firing at us anyway?”
Could teenagers do anything on a sane timetable? With the flat of her palm, Mavis spun her around and pushed her toward the open door.
Pausing with her hands on the roof of the car, Sunnie twisted at the waist and rose up on her toes. “We live in this neighborhood, you douche bag. Stop shooting at us!”
“Did it ever occur to you that Mr. Quartermain isn’t the one firing arrows?” Mavis grabbed the back of her niece’s jacket and tugged her down before shoving her face first into the car. “Stay inside and stay down.”
“Of course, it is. No one else would use such a stupid weapon.” Using her feet, Sunnie stopped the door before it could close. “He can’t do this to us, Aunt Mavis.”
“Well, he did.” Blades of yellow light cut across the dark street. Mavis checked her watch. Six-twenty. Curfew was officially in effect. She glanced toward the main intersection.
The cherry on her day would be if the Marines went patrolling in their tanks.
She didn’t want to be blown up any more than she wanted to be shot with an arrow.
Should they abandon the car and walk home? By cutting through the park, they could be home in five minutes. But they’d be unprotected, out in the open. She could think of five places where a sniper could ambush them from the safety of the bushes. And then there was the fence hemming in part of the park.
No walking. No splitting up. They’d take the car, together. But first, she had to get through that lock.
“You work for the government.” Sunnie jerked forward when Mavis reopened her door. “Tell him.”
“In case you missed it, the government isn’t exactly in charge. It was people like Mr. Quartermain who kept the looters, rapists and other undesirables out.” Had the power made him nuts? Mavis doubted it. Despots, dictators and tyrants gave glimmers of the sickening hunger long before they seized absolute power.
Someone else pulled that bow string.
Her skin tightened over her skeleton. She hated unknowns. They had a tendency to blow up in her face. She stroked the white scar following her jaw line. Sometimes literally. Crouching behind the door, she swept her niece’s legs inside then reached under the seat.
“But it’s not right.”
Had she ever been that naive, believed the Hollywood fairytale that good would triumph over evil? Mavis’s fingers brushed smooth duct tape before encountering cold metal.
“People didn’t conform to that rule before the Rattling Death.” Wrapping her hand around the hard edges, she pulled. The ripping sound echoed around the car.
“Well, they should have. We live here. We’re just trying to…” Sunnie jumped on her seat before hugging her knees to her chest. “What are you doing?”
“Surviving.” Mavis rocked back on her heels and inspected the gun. Her tongue felt overly large in her mouth. Stars twinkled in front of her eyes before she deepened her breathing.
Yanking the silver duct tape off the Sig-Sauer, she checked the chamber. A shiny brass casing winked back at her. She ejected the magazine. Full. Good. She might need all thirteen rounds. With shaking hands, she shoved the clip home, spun about and scanned the area.
Not even a lizard stirred in the skeletal remains of the hedge. As for the dumpsters and burned out cars... Mavis dismissed them. The arrow had come from high ground. She focused on the trees. Although two stories tall, the scraggly pines couldn’t conceal the fading pink rays of daylight.
Nowhere to hide there.
“Where did you get that gun?”
“Under the seat.” Refraining from throwing a duh at her niece, Mavis eyed the eucalyptus. Hanging branches and a profusion of silvery leaves provided a possible hunter’s blind in the middle of the third tree and the sixth tree. Could there be more than one shooter?
Wind gusted through the eucalyptus, stirring the round leaves. Red played peek-a-boo in the waving branches of the sixth tree. There. A child’s fort hidden behind the trees. A perfect place for the sniper to pick off his target. She thumbed off the safety and settled her finger on the trigger.