Chapter Sixteen

     Alphonse LeBray was almost as scared as the children who had only moments before been willing to risk their lives to win the respect of the Hallers. He couldn’t let the other children see this, of course, for he was their leader, their proud encourager, their father figure. But he had never expected that Ron Parsons, the man who called himself ‘leader’ on the inside of City Hall, would bar the doors to the Orphans as well.

     Moments after the speech of the psycho with the sunglasses, they had attempted to retreat to discuss what they had seen and heard with the other Hallers, but they had found the door locked. He had gone around the building, checking through windows, but it seemed that everyone inside had packed up and gone down to the cellars. Al didn’t know if they had heard the speech of the preacher or not, but he suspected that they probably had. Why else would they run and hide with their tails between their legs? he thought, bitter once again.

     There was no use trying to bust through the windows anymore. The Hallers had figured out that it would be safer to bar the windows, long before Alphonse and his Orphans decided to take their town.

     One hour.

     His stomach got butterflies every time he thought about it. What were they going to do? They had come to the entrance hall of City Hall valiantly, had stood there while the Crazy preached and murdered right before their eyes, and yet now they were being locked out to die like insects by the people they had attempted to protect. It was sick punishment, in his opinion, and he wanted answers. It pained him, however, to know that he needed to focus on the madman out there, not the one locked safely within City Hall. One was a craven, no doubt about it, but the other… well the other was just plain deceitful.

     The only thing which had given Al any hope was the few stragglers (about ten in all) who had stayed behind after the speech. They told him that the man had descended from Bonhelm hill, like in the old children’s tales the wives of Minde would tell the kids, and had rallied as many of the townspeople to his side as was possible. One younger child claimed to have met him, and said he went by the name San.

     The original people who had taken him in, and bought his stories about being poor and homeless, had only been seen on that day, standing at the front of the crowd, doing the bidding of San. Until then, everyone else in town had wondered if they decided to join the Hallers after all.

 The person who was telling Al most of this as they circled the building, looking for skipped-over ways of getting inside City Hall, was a boy of about eighteen. He was older than Alphonse, but not so much older that he forgot his courtesy while around the grandson of the greatest benefactor the town had ever known. Al had never been good at listening or paying attention, so hearing all the details the man told him became impossible, to the point where he found himself paying only the slightest amount of attention.

     Marilee told him that the buildings up and down the main road all had people looking out of them, but no one seemed willing to engage. He thanked her and sent her to fetch some sort of latter or something he could use to climb, and threw in at the last moment, “And try to find some wire cutters, as well.” He had noticed a vent with the cover popped off, and wanted to investigate.

     “What’s your name again?” Al suddenly asked the man who was jabbering at him about the dark haired man.

     “Its William, but my friends just call my Jynx,” he replied. “I’m sorry if I’m bothering you, it’s just that there hasn’t been a lot of people to talk to this last week. First with the disappearances, then with the deaths, now with the outright murders. Until today, the only people who were willing to come out of them houses had been them looters, and the gangs, and the hoodlums with their stolen weapons. Please, LeBray, you must understand that not all of us is like that. There’re still some of us outside, who ain’t so bad. We’re hungry, yes, but we didn’t kill nobody and we ain’t gonna kill nobody now, either.”

     “Well, Jynx,” Alphonse said, wiping sweat from his eyes. “We only have less than an hour to find a way to defend ourselves against this man…uh… San, was it?”

     “Yes sir,” the older boy who’s friends called him Jynx replied.

     “Yes, right. Well, I don’t know about you, but I have chosen to heed his warning. Defend ourselves, or die. Are you any good at being stealthy?”

     The boy looked slightly nervous at first, but then he seemed to come to a decision and his face lit up slightly. “I believe I just might be, sir,” he replied with a grin. “Its something I ain’t never told no one before, but I used to sneak in and out o’ places when my family was having a bad time. Got me lots of good stuff on those trips, I did. Never once got myself caughten, neither. I suppose now there ain’t no one to arrest me, so why hide it? What did you have in mind?”

     “I need you to sneak into to City Hall through that vent,” he said, pointing up to a vent which was pretty high up, but on the backside of the building and well out of sight of any windows. “Once inside, I need you to get something and bring it back out with you, okay?”

     The boy was grinning just as hard as ever, with one of his front teeth missing. He’ll stand out like a sore thumb, Alphonse thought, but I guess he will have to do. He certainly doesn’t seem to want to go back to the rest of the town.

     “What did you have in mind?” Jynx asked.

     As Al watched Marilee return from a back alley with a long, extendable latter, he began to tell the boy exactly what he wanted.

**

     Mary Jorgens saw the boy with the tattered clothes, and no one else. That was because she was the only person who had downright refused to hide in the cellar with the rest of them. She had not agreed with the plan of Parsons, and she was still trying to figure out a way to get herself out. They had barred all the doors to the entrance hall after all the guards had safely retreated, leaving the poor Orphans to fend for themselves.

     Mary wasn’t sure if they had been able to hear the entirety of the speech from down in the cellar, but she had sure heard it. The big voice had said there would be a game, and somehow her son was involved with it. She knew for sure in her heart that Benny was no longer the boy she had raised, but she also refused to believe that he wasn’t still in there somewhere, and it hurt her to the core when she heard the man order whatever was controlling him to shoot the body of her son.

     She hoped with all her might that if Benny was within that body somewhere, he hadn’t been able to feel that pain. But the thing that killed my husband, she thought, I hope he felt every burning second of it.

     By the time ten minutes had passed since the end of the speech, Mary had searched every way she could think of to get out, but every window was thickly boarded, the doors were locked with padlocks put across the bolts, and only Parsons had the keys. She tried getting up to the second floor, hoping that perhaps one of the lookout windows had been left open enough for her to squeeze her petite body through, but even the doors at the top of the stairs were blocked by a gate that was normally reserved for when the building was in lock down.

     She had begun to give up hope when she heard thumping from above her. She had followed the noise as long as she could, until another gate stopped her, but watching down the hall, she finally saw the boy crawl past one of the vents.

     “Hey!” she whispered fiercely, hoping the boy would be able to hear her. He looked in her direction with the most startled look she had ever seen on a boy. Apparently, he hadn’t anticipated anyone being in the ground floor of City Hall.

     He spared only the quickest of terrified glances, though, and then he was crawling off at a fast pace. She rattled the gate in frustration, wishing that she was strong enough to just rip the damned thing out of its hinges. She wanted to get out of that dreadful building. The ‘Hallers,’ as they called themselves, were going to die. The man had said so in his speech. Do nothing, don’t defend yourselves, and you die. She did not want to be a part of it in any way, shape, or form.

     She sat down by the gate, waiting for the boy to return (hopefully,) and thought about her son. She was more worried about him than she had ever been in his entire life. Ever since he had been old enough to walk and talk, he had been very independent. They had allowed him to stay home alone for the first time (with the doors locked, of course,) when he was only six years old. She and her husband had been getting ready to go to a lunch gathering with some of their church friends, and they had asked him which babysitter was his favorite.

     He had said he didn’t need a babysitter, and begged for them to let him watch himself. Finally, he had been the one to suggest locking the doors and only opening them to a special knock that they prearranged. When they came home, nothing was on fire, the house was as clean as they had left it, and the boy was sitting watching TV contentedly as if being alone had not been a terrible thing. Later Benny had confided in her, though, and told her that he had been pretty scared until he got the television working. At that point he had been more content, and she had hugged him and told him he didn’t have to ever stay home alone again if he didn’t want to.

     She smiled to herself, remembering the way the boy had pulled away and said, “I was scared, Momma, but not that scared. I don’t want a babysitter ever again! They’re mean!”

     So instead of never staying home alone again, the reverse had happened, and they had never had to pay a babysitter for the rest of his childhood.

     The smile quickly vanished, however, as the cold realization that the same boy had cracked the windpipe of his own father, her lover, and had insulted them both by saying how ugly of a son they had produced together. It wasn’t him, she told herself, not for the first time. It was that man. Somehow. I don’t know how, but he did this to my boy. Somehow. Somehow.

     She wished her husband was there. He hadn’t been the strongest man, or the most intelligent, but he had been hers, and now he was gone forever, ripped away by whatever it was that had possessed her son. She had known, deep inside, that even when he first returned to them with his milky white hair and his vacant eyes, her son was not in there. But she refused to believe that he was gone forever. He would come back to her, someday.

     She was broken from her thoughts by a thud from just out of sight, on the other side of the fencing that blocked the hall. Just ahead, the hall was joined by another hall, making a ‘T’ intersection, and it was from there that she heard the noise. The only thing she could think of that would cause that noise was the boy she had seen, emerging from his vent.

     She heard faint footsteps, as if he were trying to sneak down the hall, away from her. “Hey!” she hissed, trying to keep her voice down. She didn’t know what the boy was up to, but if he could help her out of that death trap, then she didn’t want to be the one to blow his cover. “I need your help! Please!”

     The footsteps stopped, and even though she wasn’t sure if he had stopped to listen to her or had stopped in order to cease being heard, she decided to continue trying to get his attention.

     “I’m not going to tell on you!” she whispered, desperate for something to win the boys trust at least enough for him to talk to her. “I just want to get out of here! I can help you with whatever you’re doing, I’ve been here for a couple of days now. Just please, get me out.”

     She heard the footsteps begin to move towards her, and then a small boy, about nineteen or so by the looks of his facial hair, peered timidly around the corner, a pair of old wire cutters in his hand. His look was one of suspicion, and Mary could easily tell that the boy did not want to trust her right away and was perhaps suspecting a trap.

     “Why should I help you?” the boy asked. “How do I know there ain’t someone standin’ right there around the corner, waitin’ to lock me up? I’m on a mission.”

     He doesn’t want to trust me, but he sure is willing enough to give away his plans, she thought with a slight feeling of gratitude. Perhaps the universe didn’t have it out for her. Apparently, a dull-witted boy had been sent in, and if she played her cards right, she would have no trouble at all getting him to help her get out.

     “This isn’t a trap,” she said, trying to adopt one of her most soothing tones. “All the rest of the people are downstairs, boarded and chained up, as if that will protect them. I just want to get out of here. Please, just help me get out. I don’t want to die here.”

     After a moment of silence from the boy, she rephrased her latter statement.

     “Please don’t let me die here.”

     That got him. She could tell that as the boy stood there, looking at her, down the hall, then at her again, he was dealing with guilt. It was a perfect tool with her son when he was small, and apparently it worked on the more feeble minded as well. He seems childish enough, she thought. Even if he has facial hair.

     “I’ll help ya under one condition,” he said, still eying her wearily.

     “What is that?” she asked, still trying to sound pleasant so as to not scare the boy away. So close.

     “I need to find me a gun, and its ‘posed to be in here someplace, but I can’t find it nowhere. You help me find it, and then…only then… well, then I’ll help you too.”

     If the fence hadn’t been there, she would have jumped on the boy and kissed him with delight. The gun! She thought. They left it when they all hid! So simple.

     “I can do that!” she said, perhaps a little too loud, for the boy quickly sshhhh-ed her.

      “Be quiet!” he reminded her, his harsh whisper only barely more quiet than Mary’s exclamation. “I don’t wanna get caught!”

     “Sorry, sorry,” Mary said, lowering her voice back to a whisper. The boy seemed to be thinking about the choice he was faced with, looking at the ground as he considered the pros and cons.

     “Alright,” he finally said after what seemed like a dreadfully long moment. “But don’t go gettin’ me into no trouble.”

     With that said, the boy crept forward and promptly snipped the chain which kept the gate barred.

     “The names Jynx,” the boy said, pulling it open. “You can call me Jynx, or Jynxy, or William, whichever you like best.”

     Despite his seemingly low intelligence quotient, Mary decided she liked this Jynx boy. He was smiley, innocent, and jolly for someone who had been on the outside during all the chaos. The only sign that he had been on the outside was his weary air.

     She shook his hand briefly and said “Nice to meet you, Jynx. My name is Mary J—“

     She suddenly realized that it was probably best not to say her last name. This boy was cautious and probably a bit on the suspicious side when it came to people from City Hall.

     Barely missing a beat, she corrected herself and said “Jensen. My name is Mary Jensen.”

     “Well, nice to meet you,” the boy who called himself Jynx said. “So about this gun?”

**

     Alphonse was growing impatient. The boy, William, or Jynx, or whatever his name was, had been gone for nearly ten minutes. He was starting to think that the boy had lost his way, perhaps incapable of remembering the directions Al had given him.

     But then there was a creak as the grate covering the large vent slid open and Jynx climbed out of it, a fully automatic weapon dangling from his hand. The surprise came, however, when Mary Jorgens crawled out behind him, and began scurrying down the latter after Jynx.

     As the older boy brought the gun over to Alphonse, he lowered his voice and asked Jynx, “What is she doing here?”

     Jynx explained to Alphonse about how he had met her inside, and she had helped him find the gun. I knew he wouldn’t be able to remember the directions, Al thought while listening to the tale.

     But, the gun was in hand and Al could see no reason to further reprimand the boy after he had risked his hide to sneak in and get it.

     “Thank you, Jynx. You’ve done us well.”

     Even Alphonse had to admit that he had believed everyone to be downstairs in the cellars, so the appearance of Mary Jorgens was a bit of a surprise.

     Watching the lady finish her climb and begin speaking to some of the elders, Alphonse realized that they must have been coming close to the deadline. He checked his watch and found that a half an hour had already passed, and they were all now left with a little less than thirty minutes.

     I hope the time was worth this machine, he thought. Or else I’ve just made the worst mistake I could have made as the leader.

     Most of the Orphans and the people who had decided to join them were all sitting in the shade of a willow tree that grew on the back lawn of City Hall. Al walked over and informed them that half of their time was now spent, and that they needed to begin moving on.

     “There’s no place left for us here,” Al said. “They have barred the doors, a sure sign that we are not welcome. I’d just like to say to all of you who were so brave as to offer to stand in defense, thank you. If the people of City Hall don’t appreciate what you have all done, at least know that I do. But as you are all aware, they have seen fit to cast us out. It seems that all of us, even most of the people of our town, have been duped. Yes, our fear caused the schism which has torn us apart, but not one of us caused these things. I don’t know about you guys, but I have known Johnny Harrison my entire life, and the things we heard about him today simply do not ring true.”

     Wick agreed with him, and a few others nodded and whispered their agreement as well.

     “I also know that Benny Jorgens would never do anything like the brutal murders we have all been hearing of,” he continued, glad that for once he had their attention without having to resort to Marilee’s skills. “That man we saw…no, that thing that spoke to us from the steps of our haven, as if from an evil pulpit, has admitted to these crimes, even though he used pretty language in an attempt to distract. I cannot explain any better than you folks how he has managed to do this, but it seems pretty clear to all of us that Benny Jorgens and Johnny Harrison have been hypnotized by this man, somehow, as well as those that we saw blocking the people of our town.

     “He gave us one hour. We cannot sit around and wait for the inevitable, he made that quite clear. But I also implore you all, do not think of everyone in the town as being on his side. The thing which Jorgens has turned into is wild like an animal, impulsive, and clearly nothing like what we saw just weeks ago. Johnny Harrison seems…bigger, I guess is the only way I can describe him. As for the people that he has somehow bought over to his side, all I can say is that you should be able to tell them apart from your neighbors because they are only intent on whatever the man tells them to do, with blank stares and faces devoid of emotion. Just this morning, we thought that everyone on the outside was crazy, that they all wanted us dead, but this is not true. We must cast aside our fear and try to unite once again. We have twenty minutes left to become a team, to gather as many more people from town and goad them out of their homes to help us fight.

     “You, fellow Orphans, have done a great service in my name already,” he said, switching his tone to a more somber tint. “I ask for this one last thing. Go, find people to fight with us, and for the love of your lives be back here before five o’ clock. When the bell tower begins to toll at five o clock, if you are not here, then you’re on your own. We will be moving by then, and this fine gun you see before us will be unavailable to those who straggle.”

     He could tell that not everyone was comfortable with this, but there was no helping it. He had told them the facts as bluntly as possible, in the hopes that it would sink in, and their nervous shuffles only served to tell him that it had. He still didn’t know for sure if the gun worked, but he had gotten the impression earlier in the day that Mr. Parsons had been lying to him, and the gun was indeed still functional. He needed ammunition to check that theory though, and the gun store was on the other side of town.

     The Orphans were dispersing, and as Al sped away from city hall, transported by Jynx in a shanty old Jeep, he was pleased to see that Marilee had already recruited some people. It was only five or six, and among them was a young boy who looked no more than two, but that was better than leaving the people in their homes. Al wasn’t quite sure what the so called ‘Game’ would be like, but he felt pretty sure that if they could secure the gun shop, the man who called himself San would quickly find that they had more advantages than just sheer numbers.

     He had asked Marilee and Wick, as well as the other elders, to find as many people with access to cars as possible, and to use them to transport everyone to a theatre that bordered the gun shop. He looked behind him and saw a small red car following them with two men and someone else in the back. Al couldn’t tell if the person in the back was a man or a woman, but he supposed that it didn’t really matter.

     By the time he reached the shop on the other side of town about five minutes later (Jynx was dim but he was a good driver, and with the lack of traffic he had been able to cruise through town at near freeway speeds,) there was a small line of cars behind him. One by one, Wick, then Marilee, Jared, and several of the other Orphans had piled out of various cars and gathered on the road between the gun shop and the theatre on the other side of the street.

     When Alphonse did a quick estimate of how many people were there, his conclusion was that roughly fifty or sixty people were all crowded into that space. Looking around, he saw a lot of fright. The people were scared, and he could not blame them. He was scared too. Marilee approached him as he was looking at his watch.

     “How much time?” she asked quietly.

     “Ten minutes,” he said, his heart beating faster at the thought. His attempt to assassinate the San fellow earlier in the day had failed, but inside he knew without a doubt that in the evening, he would have to kill or be killed. He felt ready, and he sure hoped the others were.

     He stepped up onto one of the stairs leading to the gun shop, and whistled to get their attention. Every head turned toward him, and every voice stopped talking in order to hear what he had to say. Good lord, he thought, realizing that once again he had allowed himself to fall into the position of leader. It’s me against that lunatic. How the hell am I going to do this?

     “It’s almost time, people,” he said, using the best authoritative voice he could muster, speaking slowly so as to make sure he said the right things. “It appears that the looters only took what they needed, or rather what they thought they needed, and there is still plenty left for us to take. Many of you have never used a gun before. I must admit that I have only fired one a few times in my entire life, and it was usually at an animal or a paper target. But today we must put aside our fear of killing and realize that if we don’t kill them first, they will kill us without hesitation. I presume all of you were at the speech given by this man, this San?”

     Not everyone nodded, but none of them said that they hadn’t been there, so he took it as a yes.

     “Good. Then you know that the people who have gone over to his side will not hesitate to kill you. Neighbor or not, they are his now and will do as he tells them. All I am telling you to do is defend yourself. Kill them before they can kill you. I don’t know if he has given any of them guns, but it would seem foolish to me to assume that he has not. But there can’t be very many, so we will be grabbing what we can. You have five minutes to get whatever you feel comfortable wielding, and then get over to the theatre as fast as you can. When the bell begins to toll, San’s terrible game will have begun. Good luck to you all. Hopefully God or the gods will be watching us today, because we are about to do battle with the devil.”

     With that he retreated into the gun shop and found the bullets he was looking for. Rounds to an automatic AK-47. His plan was to man the big window directly above the front entrance to the theatre and shoot down anyone who approaches. Hopefully the people would not be moving fast, because he could only carry a limited amount of shells, and they would run out fast if he was not careful about his aim. Tyler, the small boy with the martial arts training, was eying a sniper rifle with a scope on it, with a carbon fiber butt, polished to a beautiful sheen. Al watched as he made up his mind, smiled, and began stuffing shells into a bag he had found somewhere. Why didn’t I think to grab a bag? He thought.

      He settled for a paper bag from behind the counter, and stuffed as cases of cartridges that he could fit into it. He didn’t know just how many rounds he had, but he figured it would be enough to cut down a hundred people.

     When he got to the theatre, Marilee and Wick were already waiting for him, and Jared Black showed up just moments after Al. Wick was holding a shot gun, with more shells crammed into his pockets and belt than Alphonse would have ever thought possible. His pants were literally bulging with shot gun shells, almost to the point of being comical.

     Marilee had chosen a sniper rifle quite similar to the boy Tyler, and Jared had the most unusual weapon of all. It was a long, shiny, brand new machete, its blade so sharp you could cut yourself without even applying any pressure to it. Silent, just like Jared, Al thought, smiling despite the stressful situation.

     The two or three families who had brought their own guns were huddled together in the reception lobby of the theatre, waiting for Alphonse. Perhaps they figured the door to the main part of the theatre would be locked, but that was not the case. It only locked from the inside, so people who had not paid could not get in. There were no side doors, and backstage was only accessible by entering through the stage. Al remembered being in a play there, and the frustration he had felt at having to show up two hours early so the audience wouldn’t see any of the actors as they attempted to get backstage.

     He pushed open the door and peered in cautiously. The house lights were on dimly, but it was dark enough that Al couldn’t see through the gloom. Behind him, he heard the nervous chatter and the pattering of footsteps as people hurried back from the gun shop. He walked a few paces into the theatre.

     Is that someone on the stage?

     It didn’t seem possible, since the only key to the theatre had been entrusted to Jynx. The boy had proven most resourceful, despite his apparent dimness of intellect, and it had been at his suggestion that Al had agreed to come to the theatre to make a new haven, to replace the shelter they had believed was there’s at City Hall. Jynx was the custodian of the theatre, the only job he had ever had since the age of fifteen.

     As he crept further into the gloom, Alphonse realized that he was right about there being someone on the stage. However, person was sitting cross legged with their head down, so it was impossible to tell who it was. The person, be it girl or boy, had his or her hair in a tight pony tail.

     Suddenly a slight commotion broke out behind him, and through the partially ajar door he could hear people trying to get someone to calm down.

     “But we shouldn’t be here—“

     The voice of Mary Jorgens was muffled, and Alphonse couldn’t hear all of what she was saying. But either Wick or Jared were keeping her from entering the dark room, saying that Al was checking it out first.

     “I can feel him—“

     Al moved closer to the place where the small panel that would turn the house lights on should have been. Somewhere on the right hand wall, he remembered Jynx telling him.

     “Must believe—“

     Feeling with his hand, he finally reached the small plastic button, smaller than a penny.

     “He’s in there—“

     Me? Alphonse thought, hitting the button. Of course I’m in here. What is that lady babbling about now? I knew we should have left her behind.

     “-MY SON!”

     The house lights began to rise slowly, filling the room with light. As the light began to show off the backs of over a hundred heads, Alphonse realized what the babbling woman had been trying to get in to warn him about.

     Outside, the bell began to toll the time across the town. Bong! Bong! Bong! Bong! Bong!

     As the last of the tolls rang through the air, the man sitting on the stage lifted his head and put on thick, dark sunglasses. At the same time, a hundred men and women rose in unison, and without a pause began vacating their seats in an orderly march.

     No fucking way, Alphonse thought, panicking. He stumbled backwards and burst through the door, shouting, “Get the hell out of here! They’re all in there. Go! Go!”

     Mary Jorgens started to shout something about how she had tried to warn him, but Alphonse didn’t hear. The people he had led into a trap were making too much of a racket screaming and running over each other in their attempt to get out for Al to hear anything she said. He bowled past her and into the street, holding his gun and attempting to stuff a cartridge in it, one handed.

     Blind fear had seized him, and he had to force himself to stop and remember that he had assumed the role of leader. He stopped and turned around, and saw the last few of his people run out. One man had been trampled, and he lay on the steps bleeding. Al ran over to see if he was okay, but just then the first of the people began filing out of the main theatre area and into the small reception hall.

     He looked up and over the dying man just in time to see Jared black spring from the shadows and drive his blade into the throat of the first person, attempting to hack the head clean off but succeeding only in opening a deep, ugly gash in the throat that instantly sprayed blood on the boy as he wrenched the machete free and attempted to go for the next few people. The noise the first person made as he fell was the worst thing Alphonse had ever heard, a sort of muted gargle as his lungs filled up with blood, and beside him, Marilee let out a piercing scream.

     As Alphonse watched, frozen with a new panic he had not expected before all this had begun, when it had seemed so easy to imagine killing in the name of survival, Jared swung at another person but quickly found out that the people were not as slow as they had all originally hoped they would be. The second person (a girl) ducked and his blade narrowly missed the man behind her, but as soon as the blade was clear of them, they jumped on Jared before he could attempt a back slash.   

     I have to do what I told these people I would do, he thought. That was enough. He felt the freeze of his body lift like a veil, and just as he saw the girl who had pinned Jared to the floor pull out a long, shining hunting knife, he lifted his gun and was glad to find that Rob Parsons had lied to him after all.

     The explosion of bullets from the gun was like nothing he had ever experienced, and the girl who held the knife was jerked to the side as three bullets separated the top of her skull from the rest of her face. The entire upper part of her head seemed to lift up like a flap, sending blood and small bits of brain matter flying back at the people who were still filing through the door. Jared was only momentarily caught off guard, and then he punched the man who had ganged up with the girl to pin him down. The man only seemed to barely register the blow, and Alphonse saw the brass knuckles on his right hand as he raised an arm to return the punch. Just then there was a gunshot from Al’s right, and the man’s shirt instantly turned red with blood.

     Alphonse jerked his head around to see who had fired, and to his amazement, there stood Marilee with the scope still to her eye. Her rifle was bolt action, and as she sent the first shell flying, she adjusted her aim ever so slightly and pulled the trigger again.

     The man’s neck exploded in a shower of dark red blood, covering Jared with it. As the man slumped off of him, Jared rushed to his feet and ran to Al and Marilee, machete clutched firmly in his right hand. He gave them the briefest of thankful looks before they rushed him off to where Wick was waiting with Jynx in the rusty old Jeep, and they all hopped in, speeding after the other people who were making their own getaways in the cars they had all arrived in, hoping to secure weapons and find themselves a haven to hold, a fortress.

     Instead they had found a trap.

     “I didn’t know nothin’ about them bein’ there, I swear it,” Jynx said, frightened, swerving around every corner as he drove seventy miles per hour through town. “I thought it would be good. Please believe me, please, oh man, please—“

     He was beginning to blubber, tears spilling down his cheeks as he pleaded with them to believe him. Luckily Marilee was in the passenger seat, and she slapped him forcefully, causing the car to veer and tilt dangerously, until Jynx got it back under control.

     “If we didn’t trust you, or thought you had led us into a trap intentionally, we wouldn’t be riding in this damned car with you,” she said firmly, yet with a subtle sincerity that amazed Al. She always knew the perfect tone, and sure enough, this time it worked as well, for the boy gave a sheepish smile, as if he knew he were being foolish, and then looked forward again.

     Just then, they passed The Great Shavo Restaurant, the face of it blackened from soot and most of its front wall demolished by patrol car #68, still sticking out from where it had collided. It was the first time Al had seen the damage, and by the way Marilee threw up over the side of the Jeep and the other two elder Orphans turned away, Al guessed that it was the same for them. Only Jynx, who had been on the outside the past couple of days, looked at the wreckage directly and gave a quiet tsk.

     It would have been a lot easier to look, Al felt relatively sure, if the body of Mrs. Shavo, blackened to a crisp, exposed skull grinning from the smashed hood of the car, wasn’t still lying there, her eyes pecked out by the swarm of birds which were still attempting to consume the last bits of burnt flesh. They scattered as the Jeep screamed by, and Al didn’t have to look back to know that they resumed their place as soon as they passed.

     “Where are we going?” Wick asked Jynx, shouting to be heard over the engine of the open-air jeep. The boy seemed to hear,but as he was about to reply, he suddenly began to swerve as something came from an alleyway off the side of the road and stood right in from of them.

     It was Benny Jorgens, and they ran him down. Unfortunately, it appeared to Al that the man in the dark suit had been right: Benny was stronger than his normal self had been, and the effect of the impact from the car was minimal. Jynx slammed on the breaks, and they watched as the ruined Benny Jorgens went rolling across the cement. He thudded to a halt against the curb, and instantly began climbing to his feet. He was fast, Alphonse noticed. He didn’t take long at all to recover from the collision, and he was running at them.

     Alphonse and Wick both had the same idea, and from the back of the car they raised their weapons. They both waited for him to get close enough to the jeep so they could have a clear shot, without having to shoot over the heads of Marilee and Jynx, but it was Al who fired first, letting out a short burst. The boy dodged sideways the moment before the gunfire, as if he had known exactly when it would happen. Wick waited another moment, correcting his aim to follow the white haired boy, and a second later he pulled the trigger of his shot gun, spraying buck shot in the direction of Benny.

     What happened next was enough to frighten even stone faced Jared Black. Several bits of buck shot lodged themselves in Benny’s face, but as he was jerked backwards, no blood came out. A second later, the small bits of metal seemed to ooze back out of the boys skin, dropping onto the cement.

     Al observed it all, and swore to commit it to memory. As the buck shot was seeping its way back out of Benny’s skin, the boy seemed to be dazed and momentarily paralyzed.

     “Go, you god damned fool,” Jared shouted from the back of the Jeep, behind Al and Wick. “How long you think he’s going to just stand there? Good lord, Alphonse, where the hell did you pick up this dimwit?” he added as they finally sped away from the white haired, deadly Benny Jorgens.

     Al ignored Jared, and looking back at Benny, the boy was already on his feet and staring after them. Then he darted into a side alley and out of sight.

     What a fiasco, Alphonse thought. I wonder just how many people I led into death back there.

     There were certainly no cars following them, and over the roar of the old jeep, just barely audible in the distance, Alphonse could hear the steady pattering of gun fire.

 


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