Noah stood trembling against the concrete wall. He hadn’t stopped shaking since the bullets started zipping past his ears.
Not since the back of Johny’s head blew out and splattered all over him. He shuddered, trying to get that image out of his mind. That was totally fucked. He was scared and angry. So pissed with himself for being so damn frightened. He never thought it was possible. He’d been fine whenever they’d gone hunting, but this was different. People shooting at you, trying to kill you. He’d just shit his pants and run. When Johny copped it, he’d run, the stinking crap slipping and sliding as he went, working its way down his legs. He clutched his shiny new AR-15 against the kevlar vest and softly sobbed tears of frustration. In the distance, he could still hear the bursts of automatic fire, the explosions of grenades. Screams and curses. He knew he should go back there.
He hadn’t fired a single fucking round. Not one. He eyed the evil looking bayonet that Johny had fixed to the gun for him, so he could gut one of the Commies. He’d felt invincible moving in there with the boys, only to run away like a coward. Like a freaking little gay. He almost burst into tears at the thought of that. But then he froze. Someone was coming. he ducked down in the shadows and peered over the the top of the half broken wall.
It was just one man, dressed like a civilian. He looked tired and dirty, stumbling along, nervously looking over his shoulder. Noah lifted the AR-15. Maybe he was a Commie. He looked like one, the way his hair was cut, and his fitted jeans – even though they were filthy. He followed the man along with his sights. But he’s unarmed. Noah sighed and lowered the rifle. Then he noticed his hands were no longer shaking. This is what he needed. Just to get started, to kill one. He raised the rifle again, but the man quickly jumped into the blown out shell of a Starbucks. What the hell…
Then he saw another shape. This had to be a soldier. Large, menacing, wearing fatigues and moving with purpose. Darting from shadow to shadow. He looked like he was stalking the first guy. A big Commie, thought Noah. A fucking trophy size Commie. He raised the rifle again, but stopped, moved back and pressed against the wall. The big bastard was walking straight towards him. Noah held his breath. He wished he could disappear into the concrete. He was no match for someone this big. His heart thumped violently. Then the man stopped. Soon as he reached the shadow in front of Noah. Just stopped and turned to face the Starbucks on the other side of the street.
Noah watched him for a minute, not daring to move. Then he stood up slowly and raised the rifle.
aHe set his jaw and moved forward, ramming the bayonet into the big Commie’s back with all his strength.
He must have got him in heart, because the huge man let out a soft gasp and collapsed, dead. So fucking easy, thought Noah, looking at the chunks of flesh stuck on the barbs of the bayonet. My first kill and nobody to see it. He fumbled in his jacket pocket for his iPhone. They’ll never believe this, he thought, but then with dismay, he remembered the dead battery. It had been flat since they’d abandoned the vehicles and walked in to the battle. He regretted taking all the selfies in the motorcade. All his best buddies from school, decked out in camos with assault rifles. Hanging with the militia. He felt for his knife, thinking, maybe I can scalp him, like in the old days. He shuddered and released the knife, remembering he was still covered in all the stuff from Johny’s blown off head.
He crouched down and started going though the big mans pockets. He found some spare 9mm magazines, a really cool hunting knife in a pouch and a wallet. He could show his friends the guy’s wallet. Then they’d believe him. He put everything into the pockets of his jacket. There was also an iPhone with a working battery, but it was locked. Noah sighed and threw it over his shoulder. He felt around for the gun and found it next to one of the huge hands. He recognized it immediately. A Glock with a silencer. Why do you need a silencer in a war? Looking again at the huge man he wondered, Was he a Mafia hit man? He inspected the gun, dropping the magazine. Still full. He clipped it back, slung the AR-15 over his shoulder, being careful to avoid wiping the bayonet, then holding the Glock at the ready, he walked across to the Starbucks.
“Hey.” He was met by silence.
“Heeeeeey.” Still silence.
“I know your in there.” He waited again, there was no reply.
“I’ll start shooting in there, you Commie bastard.” He shouted, arming the Glock.
“Who are you?” The reply was croaked, like a dead man talking.
“He’ll kill you.”
“Who? The big guy?”
“What?” The croak had a bit more life in it.
“I killed him. He’d dead.”
A shape appeared in the gaping hole where the window once was. “You killed him?”
“Yep,” Said Noah, proudly.
“Over there”, he pointed to the side of the street. “He was watching you.”
The man climbed out through the rubble and walked straight past Noah, towards the huge mound of flesh slumped on the footpath. He stood there gaping at the lifeless form. Noah walked over next to him.
“You fucking did. You killed him.”He looked at Noah, eyes filled with excitement, then lowered his eyes to Noah’s canteen, “Can I have some water?”
Noah grabbed the canteen on his webbing and handed it to the man, who drank greedily.
“Hey, easy.” Noah reached up and grabbed his hand, forcing the canteen out of his mouth. “There’s not much left.”
The man reluctantly let go, studying Noah. “Are you with the army?”
Noah shook his head, “Militia.”
“Who are you fighting for?” then he shook his head, “what does it matter anyway.” He sniffed the air and looked at Noah again. “Did you shit yourself?”
“No.” Said Noah quickly, his cheeks glowing red, though he knew it was too dark for the man to see. He gathered himself, “Nah. No paper. Nothing to wipe my ass.”
“Oh,” said the man, turning his nose up in disgust.
“What’s your name?” Noah transferred the Glock to his left hand and held out his right, “I’m Noah,”
The man gingerly took his hand “I’m Bowie.” Then quickly withdrew it, as if he was frightened of what might be on Noah’s hand.
“Bowie…” said Noah thoughtfully. “Sounds like a Commie name.”
“No. I’m a writer.”
“Really? What did you write?”
“You’re a Commie,” cried Noah, raising the Glock.
“You’re just going to shoot me?” Asked Bowie incredulously, the pitch of his voice rising in octave.
Noah thought for a moment, then lowered the gun. “No. Maybe I’ll take you prisoner.”
“Where?” Asked Bowie, motioning to the rubble surrounding them. “Where are you going to take me?”
Noah looked around, rubbing the stubble on his chin. He could hear the fighting off in the distance to their right. He sure didn’t want to go that way. And the opposite way would be enemy territory. So that left, He pointed down the street. “This way. You go first.”
Bowie obediently turned and trudged off down the street, stepping gingerly over the rubble that partly covered the asphalt. Noah followed close behind him.
“How come that big dude was following you?” Noah asked.
“It’s a long story,” grumbled Bowie
Noah caught up and walked up alongside him, “We’ve got plenty of time.”
“Because of this,” he motioned around him, “this war.”
“You didn’t start the war.”
“No. Well, kind of.”
Noah looked him up and down, incredulously, stubbing his boot on a large lump of concrete in the middle of the road. He cursed and looked ahead again, then back at Bowie. “You? A writer? You started the war?”
“Well no, but I didn’t allow for it.”
Noah stopped dead in his tracks, staring at Bowie who also stopped. “What do you mean?” He asked, his hand inadvertently raising the Glock.
Bowie held up his hands. “Can we just go and sit down somewhere? I can’t walk much further.”
Noah thought for a moment. What was the point of going anywhere? He didn’t know where his own guys were, or the enemy. “We could move out in the morning, I guess.” He said. He looked around through the haze, everything seemed to be blown up or burnt out.
“Let’s go back to Starbucks,” suggested Bowie. At least they have some couches there.
“Fuck Starbucks,” said Noah. “Commie shit.” He spat on the ground.
Bowie looked exasperated, he looked around, then got an idea. “There used to be a Chick-Fil-A down that way a couple of blocks.”
“Yeah. That’ll do,” Grunted Noah and they began walking in the direction Bowie had motioned.
Noah was relieved to see the Chick-Fil-A standing proudly on the corner, miraculously undamaged, aside from a couple of blown out windows.
He followed Bowie up to the open doorway and they walked inside.
The cubicles were mostly intact, so they flopped down at one, sitting across the table from each other.
“I’m starving,” said Bowie, looking at the menu “I haven’t eaten for two days.”
“That dude was chasing you for two days?”
“Yes, well, kind of.” He looked up at Noah, his eyes narrowing. “This is your fucking fault. You weren’t supposed to fight back over it.”
“Over all the stuff I wrote.”
“We don’t care about your freaking book. Nobody reads that shit.”
“I’m not talking about my book.” he looked up at the menu again. “Have you got something to eat?”
Noah fished in his pockets and found a couple of the protein bars his mother had packed for him. He handed one to Bowie, who began tearing at the wrapper like a starving junk yard dog. Noah watched him in amusement, carefully unwrapping another bar and taking a bite. When they had finished, Noah passed him the canteen and he drank more carefully this time. “What did you write that was so bad?” He asked, grabbing his canteen back and taking a swig.
“All this,” said Bowie exasperated. “This pandemic, the lockdowns, the election.”
“You work for CNN?” Asked Noah, a hostile tone creeping into his voice.
“No, I wrote it before.”
“Before it happened.” There was silence. Both men sat, watching each other for what seemed like an eternity.
“You’re a psychic?”
“No. No, of course not. I just worked for these billionaires. They are like gods, they make everything happen. You think you’re in control of your life, but you’re not. We’re all just pawns on a chessboard.”
“They control this?” Asked Noah, motioning out to the street.
“No.” Said Bowie impatiently. “I told you, this was not supposed to happen.”
Noah reflected on things for a moment, then spoke softly, “So the virus – they made it in the lab?”
“No. The Chinese.”
“I knew it. I fucking knew it.” Said Noah triumphantly, slapping the table. He looked at Bowie accusingly. “So you planned all this shit, the virus? The lockdowns?”
Bowie shrugged, “I was just one of them.”
Noah raised the Glock again, “I should fucking kill you. No, I should blow your brains out.” He studied Bowie through the sights of the Glock. “My Pa died of that virus.” He gritted his teeth, tightening his grip on the Glock. But somehow he couldn’t bring himself to squeeze the trigger. I need him to tell the story He reminded himself, loosening his grip.
Bowie stared blankly back at him. “I’m sorry, Man.”
“You’re sorry, Man?” Said Noah through gritted teeth, shaking his head, a tear forming in the corner of his right eye.
“Shoot me if it will help. I’m a dead man anyway. They’ve got people everywhere.”
Noah lowered the gun, as if the immensity of the situation began to sink in. “Like the FBI, the CIA, all those creeps?”
“I knew it,” said Noah, triumphantly.
“Don’t get too carried away, Man. You’re dead too, if they catch you with me.”
Noah thought for a minute, he looked at Bowie. He hated him and he hated himself. How could he like this guy too much to shoot him. A freaking Commie who helped kill his Pa. Maybe I’m just too scared to kill someone face-to-face, he thought.
“You really shit yourself, didn’t you?”
Noah couldn’t believe what he’d just heard. He could feel anger rising, his face flushing. “Fuck off.”
“You did. You shit yourself. You white supremacists think you’re tough and soon as you see real fighting, you just shit yourself.”
“I’m going to kill you, motherfucker,” Noah screamed and raised the Glock again, squeezing the trigger.
The bullet grazed the side of Bowie’s head and smashed the glass on booth behind them. Bowie disappeared from view. He lowered the gun, stunned.
“Please.” Wailed Bowie from under the table, “Don’t kill me. Please.”
Noah put the Glock on the table and stared into space. Bowie pushed himself out into the isle and ran to the next booth, where he collapsed on the seat, scowling at Noah.
Noah watched him for a while until Bowie sunk further down in his seat and his eyelids slowly closed. He was asleep. Noah placed the Glock in his lap, put his head on the table and he too, drifted off, completely exhausted.
The whap whap whap of helicopter blades overhead woke Noah with a start.
The grey light of dawn seeped through the screen of smoke that defiantly hung over the city. Noah sat bolt upright looking around him. The chopper sound slowly faded in the direction of the battle.
Bowie slept on at the next table, snoring softly, a raw line of open flesh on the side of his cheek and lines of dried blood flowing down from it. Noah watched him for a moment, piecing together the events of the previous night. He stood up and began awkwardly shuffling along, the dried shit in his pants making it uncomfortable to walk. He moved around behind the counter and froze in his tracks.
A kid lay on his back, spread out on the kitchen floor, with a small neat bullet hole in the center of his forehead. He was dressed in a Chick-Fil-A uniform, with long black trousers. His jet black curly hair was matted with dried blood and his bulging brown eyes stared blankly into space. His mouth hung open as if he’d called out to someone just before death. He seemed to be about the same size as Noah. “Stupid fuck,” said Noah under his breath. “Why would you turn up for work in the middle of a freaking war?” The dead man said nothing, so Noah placed the Glock on the counter, then bent down and began undoing the guy’s belt and shoes, then struggled to pull the black pants down the stiffened legs of the corpse. It took some effort and Noah, cursed and grunted as he struggled to remove the pants.
Behind the kitchen, Noah found a sink filled with water, presumably someone had been about to wash dishes when the fighting started. He cleaned himself up, before trying on the dead man’s trousers. They were a perfect fit. Triumphantly, he slung the AR-15 over his shoulder and walked back to the kitchen, to come face to face with the barrel of the Glock aimed at his forehead and Bowie, his eyes seething hate, a two handed grip on the gun, beginning to tighten his trigger finger.