“These people didn’t see any of the mushroom clouds.” Alan determined, leaning over the left side and taking a gander of the town for himself.
“Las Nueva Era was too close to one of the blast zones, and that’s why everyone evacuated. Not these people. Whoever lives in this town is staying
put because it’s their best option. They’re far enough from all the disasters that they don’t have to leave. For the time being, anyway.
Hopefully trouble won’t come knocking on their doors. Literally.”
“Issat right…” Maxi said. “Well, nobody’s guarding the place, so I think we’re in the clear. Eyes peeled, everyone. Just in case.”
Moments later, Caitlin inched the truck closer to the town, and they coasted past the large wooden sign to their right, which read; Welcome To Ash
Something slid up Sandra’s side.
Maxi took her pistol from its holster, and when she opened her mouth to ask why, he made a lowering hand motion and put his finger to his lips.
“Head down.” He said quietly.
Sandra gulped. What is he thinking? It’s not like people are gonna start shooting at us, is it?
When they reached the center of town, two other vehicles entered their view. It was a pair of police cars sitting outside of a motel. Two cops were
leaning on their cars and talking with one another, both wearing large hats, reflective badges, and gun belts. They both stopped talking immediately
and locked their eyes on Caitlin’s truck.
Caitlin brought the truck to a slow stop in front of the two police cars.
“Hey, officers.” Maxi waved from his upright position in the back, keeping his armed hand low and out of sight. “We don’t mean any harm, just
passing through. How’re the springs this time of year?”
“Where’d you come from?” The farther cop, a sheriff, asked.
“Las Nueva Era.” Sandra told them. “We’re traveling to some of my family’s property up north. Is everything okay here? Did everyone
“Nah.” The sheriff replied. “Everything here is fine so far. Motel’s still running, stores are still open, so on and so forth. You’re
welcome to stay here if you need to, just don’t cause any trouble.”
“Wouldn’t dream of it.” Maxi assured.
The cops exchanged glimpses. With Sandra and Maxi—the two out of the group who resembled a couple of alternative punk rock stars from the
90’s—doing all of the talking, the cops might have thought that the group had come to the town with nefarious intent. Judging by appearances,
neither Maxi nor Sandra fit the bill of a model citizen by anyone’s standards.
“Thanks.” Sandra said.
Caitlin was listening with her window rolled down. Once the conversation was over, she drove a little further and parked in front of the motel.
“Sorry.” Maxi inconspicuously slipped Sandra’s gun back into the holster on her hip. “Just wanted to be ready, in case we came across
something unfavorable in this town.”
“Everything’s still running…” Sandra said. “I thought the electricity would be out all over the country by now. How is everything still
running in this place?”
“Isolated places like this tend to have their own generators and water purification systems.” Alan replied.
“Then maybe we can stay here.” Church said. “If this town is pretty much independent, then maybe we can just stay here instead of going to
“No, the stability here won’t last forever.” Maxi told him. “They’ve got power and water, but they won’t be getting anything they relied
on importation for. No clothes, no household tools, no entertainment. They won’t be getting anything that they can’t make for themselves. Plus,
with all the television programs going quiet and with our precious government falling off the face of the world, these people are eventually gonna
succumb to the same thing that everyone else in the country has. They’re gonna become desperate to hear some kind of guidance from the powers that
be, and they ain’t gonna get that wish. What usually follows an impossible situation like that is nothing but chaos and madness.”
“What makes you think that everyone would just go crazy?” Church asked.
“Because… I’m a people person.” Maxi replied, jumping out of the truck. “And when the luxuries go away, the people go cray-cray.”
He snickered at his rhyme. Sandra swallowed a giggle.
“Oh my God, I can’t wait to take a bath…” Caitlin moaned on her way towards the motel’s office building. Everyone else felt the same way.
It would be nice to have a comfy bed and a bathtub at their disposal again.
Alan and Sandra were the last ones to exit the bed of the truck. Before Sandra could follow after everyone else, Alan placed a hand on her collar,
“Did you see what he did?”
He asked in a flabbergasted whisper. “He took your gun without asking.”
“Who, Maxi?” Sandra said. “So? He gave it right back.”
“You can’t just let people take that gun from you, Sandra. Especially not him. He’s shady enough as it is, and we know for a fact that he’s
not above violence or kidnapping. Don’t let him get his hands on your only means of protection.” Alan told her. “From now on, that gun doesn’t
leave your side unless you’re the one holding it, are we clear?”
“Who do you think you are?” Sandra replied. “Don’t start ordering me around. I wouldn’t have let him touch my gun if I thought he
would’ve done something bad with it.”
“Sandra, the only things you can
do with guns are bad things, and he’s a bad person.”
“No he’s not.”
“How can you possibly say that? He kidnapped Dr. Ashraani, then the soldier, then that girl, Caitlin. How can you say that he’s not a bad
“Because he’s just like me.” Sandra told him firmly, not knowing why she said this, but not doubting it one bit. “He’s an outcast who just
happens to hate everything I hate, including judgmental little assholes like you, little know-it-alls who think they’ve got all the #ing answers to
all of life’s questions. That’s
“Sandra, I just—”
“Shut up. I’m done listening to your bullsh!t.”
Sandra shoved his hand away and leaped over the side of the truck’s rear. Alan didn’t bother trying to stop her, fearing that she might smack him
again if he did.
This wasn’t the sort of thing that would usually fester in their minds. Sandra and Alan had a history of bickering. It was normal for them, and
they didn’t typically hold any grudges. Nevertheless, something about this altercation in particular would keep Alan awake late this evening, as it
put an unnerving sensation in the pit of his stomach. The value of trust wasn’t something to be taken for granted in a time like this, and it
certainly wasn’t something that they could afford to damage or dismiss. Maybe he needed to tone it down. Maybe he was being insufferably judgmental
and unforgiving. But he was the logical one, and it was his job to bombard everyone with the hard truths…
Well, the hard truth of it was this; nobody has the right answer.
As Dorian had said in the past and as Sandra had repeated on his behalf, doing the right thing would often bring with it a daunting risk that nobody
could prepare for. Perhaps placing trust in a new face was
the right thing to do, but by no means did that make it the safe, logical option.
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