Death to the ones at then end of the serenade. Dedicated to Eddi
BTW: This chapter goes to my worthy adversary Eddi, who sadly has been as MIA as me.
I blinked awake, my head resting on Christian’s shoulder and my legs draped across the seat. He was already awake, his eyes locked out the back window. I knew he was looking at the parade of cars, vans, and trucks following our own. There were so many of them now. It was kind of awe inspiring. At last check, we had twenty three new members. Not counting the six of us all in the 4runner. It snowballed when I accidently called him Christian instead of Billie Joe. And somehow, without any real way to contact each other, they just started showing up. Rebel children, grown ups who had lost it all in the war, so many people, each with a legitimate reason to hate what the world was becoming. There was this one guy, named Travi Plague, that was the most amazing person at painting. He loved graffiti, if that is the proper name for his murals, and left one everywhere we went. He did one of me one night, I was sitting on the sidewalk, my head in my hands, and then next thing I heard was to not move and then the whoosh of paint leaving the spray can.
There was this other girl named Katy Frankie. She liked to drink Vodka like it was water. I could see her having a liver issue before she was thirty. Then there were the brothers Connor and Murphy, a couple of drunkin’ Irishmen looking for a good booze, a good time, and hopefully a good brawl. So many different people, all with families and stories and pasts, all willing to follow me and my boyfriend to certain death.
There is an old truck stop up here, no one ever comes up here. Lots of the lost ones stay here. The whole camp could stay here. That was Jacob, he was in the car behind us. Mike nodded, grabbing the walkie talkie and relayed the message that we, would, be stopping. I squirmed in Christian’s grasp, letting him know I was awake. When he looked down at me, he had a startled look on his face.
“Death to the lover you were dreaming of.” I teased, leaning up and kissing him softly. I was falling more and more in love with Christian as each day went by. While I had always wanted to find my leading man, I didn’t ever think he was real. I was content in thinking I was alone with the responsibilities of being who I was. I had accepted loneliness. Now that I had Christian, I couldn’t be without him.
“Oh, please no. I need you here, alive.” He smiled a smile just for me, letting go of me so I could sit up more. Just as I looked out the window Mike pulled off onto a dirt path heading straight off the highway we were traveling. In single file, five more vehicles followed our 4runner to an opening in the woods. We parked in a circle, with each vehicle pointing out for a protective ‘circling of the wagons’ that can lead to a quick getaway.
Christian and I climbed out of the car and were instantly assaulted by everyone wanting directions. Like a well oiled machine, we unpacked everything and set up our camp. Once everything was all up and running, I left Christian in charge and, grabbing Molly by the hand, took off into the woods.
“Where are we going, Gloria?” Molly wasn’t at all complaining, she was curious. It was fun spending time with her. I know I didn’t like her when I had first met her, but she was the type of person that grew on you. Molly was fiercely loyal, she grilled the newcomers harder than anyone else. I loved that about her. There was something new about me, this new side that actually opened up and cared about people and liked having them around. But it was that same side that produced the part of me that was wicked, cold, detached and rigid. So the newest of the new saw that Outside Gloria, and it was Outside Gloria who had the reputation that caused rebels to flock to her. There was only a select few that knew there even was an Inside Gloria. But the ones that knew about her were loved by her.
“To look around. Make sure there isn’t anything out here that can be problematic.” Molly was following me, I was blazing the trail ahead of us. This was a commonplace thing. Between me and Christian, there really wasn’t any more room for leaders anyway. So I shed my old follower belief system and led the way like I was raised to do.
“Ah.” And that was all she had to say on the matter. Molly was always of few words, she would get talking if a joint was passed around though. She paused, reaching into her pockets for smokes for the both of us. In the quite we stood, always on alert, always ready. So when we heard a branch break underfoot we both were quick to draw our guns.
“Who’s there?” Molly called, stepping in front of me, acting as a shield. Every time someone moved in front of me, whether it was Molly or Mike or if it was Christian himself, I wondered if it was how princesses felt. More importantly, I wondered if they were as annoyed by it as I was.
“Hey, drop the guns, sis! It’s just me.” Lilly came into view, a blush lighting her youthful face. At thirteen she was the youngest person to hold a gun. It was more at Molly’s request than on Lilly’s merit. I think Lilly knew it, too. I knew Molly did. But in Lilly’s defense, it wasn’t an attack on Lilly’s character, it was an attack on her age. I knew it still stung. I’d been young before. I was still young, but not in the world I lived in.
“I saw you guys take off, and Christian said he didn’t need me for anything. So I thought I would see if you two did.” She sounded embarrassed. I could see what had happened, Christian telling Lilly to stay in her tent and Lilly ducked out of there. I smiled, holstering my gun and held my arms out to her. She came to us willingly enough, and I dropped an arm around her shoulder.
“Sure, sweets, we’re just looking around. Another set of eyes would help.” Lilly grinned at me, and I knew Molly was smiling too. She was thankful for my kindness to her younger sister. So the three of us took off, so quiet we didn’t even disturb the critters around us. The deeper we went into the forest the more strange things became. The first of the ‘random’ things found was a rusted out kitchen sink. It was dented, the rust was eating holes into the metal, and it didn’t have any attachments. No nozzle, no spigots, just the bottom of the sink. I called Molly and Lilly to look at it, but they dismissed it as the trash it should have been. Only moments after walking away, Lilly found a destroyed couch, barely recognizable. Molly found a burnt out van that had crashed into a tree. However inexplicably, the tree had no scorch marks. It was examining the scene that I saw another, more interesting tree.
The numbers were easily a foot tall, carved several inches into the wood. Someone had kept it up over time, you could see where the tree tried to repair itself several times and someone kept the numbers visible. I reached out gently, afraid that if I tried to touch the holy markings they would disappear like everything else in my life, in smoke and flame. I shouted to Molly and Lilly, promising that it wasn’t a joke. When they came to me I showed them the sign of our salvation.
“7/11” with an arrow pointing deep in the woods. I looked to them both, a grin gracing my face as my eyes shone with excitement. Molly’s face looked like what I assumed mine looked like, but Lilly’s face held only questions.
“What does it mean?” Her young voice was so naive, but even so I didn’t understand how she didn’t know what the 7/11 was. I asked Molly what the hell was wrong with her sister with my eyes, and Molly just shrugged refusing to take her eyes off the numbers. I waited a beat or two, hoping that my friend could make the connection. When she didn’t, I cleared my throat and took a deep breath.
“At the center of the earth in the parking lot” I sang gently, and Molly broke out of her trance to begin singing with me. “of the 7/11 where I was taught…” It was then that the realization dawned on her face. She, too, opened her mouth and sang with us. “It says home is where your heart is, but what a shame, because everyone’s heart doesn’t beat the same.”
“It’s the City of the Damned!” Lilly shouted. I shushed her with a laugh, but nodded. The city of the damned, Jesus of Suburbia’s home. In unison we took off, running back to camp. We flew, I didn’t know I could run that fast, but I could and I ran like the wind, as if the gods themselves sending power forth so that our feet may swiftly carry out their commands. And that command was to reunite Christian with the place of his father’s birth. We were getting close, I didn’t realize how far away we had gotten from the camp, when I heard what I thought was a tree breaking. I slammed on my breaks, spinning around. I saw Lilly standing still, a look of shock on her face.
“Lilly?” Molly called, stopping and turning too. Maybe it was their bond of sisters, or maybe I was just still high on the discovery. But Molly ran to Lilly’s side right as I saw the young girl’s hand lift to her abdomen. Instantly her fingers stained a deep red color. It was then I heard another popping sound, and this time I realized it wasn’t a tree cracking.
“Molly!” I screamed, pulling my guns out and scanning the trees for the assailants. “Get Lilly OUT of here! I’ll cover you!”
“No.” Lilly said weakly, wobbling in her sister’s arms. “You have to go. It’s you they want.” I glared at the hurt girl, unsure exactly what I wanted to say to her. Molly saw my look, though, and tugged at Lilly. I followed, my guns drawn and ready to be fired. I saw some movement in the trees, but we outran them quickly.
“CHRISTIAN!” My voice was high, despite the low profile we were intending to keep. I wasn’t sure if we were still being followed, but either way we had to go. We weren’t safe here anymore, and we had to get Lilly out of there to be safe. He came out of a tent in the middle, either one meant to be a base of operations or one meant to be for him and I. Christian’s bright green eyes were wide. He had heard the panic in my voice, and he had come running. “WE HAVE TO GO!”
Christian ran to us, scooping up Lilly and carried her towards the tent he had just emerged from. “Gloria!” He called back to me as he ran the yards shelter. “What happened?” He was afraid sounding as I was starting to feel. Molly was at my side, trying to keep up with us as her panic was starting to become more evident.
“We were headed here, but there was an ambush, or someones with guns didn’t like where we were walking. Either way they landed one good shot first. I think I hit a few of them, but we have to go.” Christian laid Lilly on the bed in the tent, ripping her dark shirt. Behind me I heard retching sounds, and felt similar feelings in my stomach at the sight of the bullet hole. It ripped a violent hole through her chest. With each breath blood gushed from the hole in her shoulder.
“Molly?” Lilly’s voice was faint, and there was a horrific scent in the air. It was a heavy metallic smell that soured in the air. I had smelled this before, many times. It was a smell almost like the smell of the caves, from the tunnels no one ever went down. It was dark and evil, there was too much blood.
“Yea, Lil.” Molly knelt on the floor next to her younger sister, holding their blood soaked hands between them. I attempted to back into a corner, not to intrude on them, but found it occupied by Christian. He didn’t seem to mind sharing, wrapping his arms around me in the comfort I so desperately craved but would have never admitted in a million years.
“I’m sorry I’m not as fast as you.” There was an acceptance in her voice that broke my heart. She really thought she was going to die. Lilly opened her mouth to say something back to her when Helia and Jason came running into the room. They were twins, identical in every way except in their gender, and they seemed born with the healing touch and thus were our resident medics.
“Ok, everyone out of here.” Helia clipped at us, twisting her long blonde hair in a braid as her golden eyes locked with her twin’s. “We need to get to work. This girl is losing a lot of blood, but this should be an easy fix.” Jason knelt next to Lilly as Helia shooed me and Christian from the room. We hesitated by the tent flap, but when Molly wasn’t right behind we assumed the twins made an exception for family. I picked up Christian’s hand and he started to follow me.
“Maybe I should fill you in.”
“So you found the City of the Damned?” Christian asked, his voice torn apart between excitement and utter depression. I understood the emotions, I was lost between them as well. There wasn’t enough excitement in my voice when I told him about the sign, and there wasn’t enough sadness when I discussed the ambush.
“But at what price?” I asked, taking a hit off the joint Christian had rolled for us. Weed was always a part of the underground, not illegal like it was in real life. And it wasn’t hard to find, it was traded as readily as cigarettes and alcohol. Another thing that we were fighting for, free to pick our own poisons. Christian sat down next to me, taking a long draught from the bottle of whiskey he held in place of the joint. He wrapped an arm around my waist and I rested my head on his shoulder.
“I got careless, too excited when I saw that. I wanted to tell you.” The words were pouring from my heart in violent waves. “I should have heard them around us. It’s my fault Lilly…” My words fell away. It was one thing to admit it in my own heart. It was another to say it out loud. But Christian knew where I was going with that statement. He handed me the bottle and I gave him the joint.
“You’re crazy. This isn’t your fault, Gloria. You didn’t know she was coming, you didn’t know there were people around. This is dangerous, and we people we know are going to get hurt, we are going to watch our friends die. All we have to do is be the best at what we do.” He took a long hit off the joint, looking up at the moon. I didn’t know what to say, in my head he was wrong. I had done this, these girls followed me into the woods and I couldn’t protect them. But I didn’t have it in me to fight with him.
“We have to move again.” Christian said before the silence could creep in too much. “I was hoping we could stay here for a while, this traveling is hard on all of us, but with this set back we need to get going as quickly as possible. Whenever Helia and Jason clear Lilly to mo-“
There was a commotion up the path Christian and I had headed down, in the direction of camp. We jumped to our feet, pulling out guns out of the holsters that we even sleep in, and ran towards the camp. There was the sound of gunfire in the camp, people screaming at each other and in general. With a parting glance to Christian we burst into the camp.
There were people we knew with guns drawn, Connor and Murphy stood back to back closest to us. With a well put shot I took out an AMEU agent about ten feet from them that neither saw. They grinned when they saw us and then started shooting again with new force. Christian went off one direction, probably looking for Mike and Tre, and I took off for the medical tent. I had to make sure Lilly wasn’t in any more danger, and I needed Molly out here fighting. Besides me, she was the best shot we had.
I ran as quickly as I could, trying to shoot ever agent I saw. I didn’t make every shot, but I made more than anyone else. I was clear the ambush had just begun, there were hardly anyone on the ground yet. But the agents had battle gear, and we had our clothing. It was lucky we all carried weapons on us. I head a scream from my left and watched in horror as Katy crumpled to the ground, her abdomen exploding in red and intestines. Without breaking stride I sent two bullets through the head of the AMEU who felled my friend.
Dodging a bullet I fell to the ground and rolled into the tent. Molly, Helia and Jason all stood inside, guns drawn but not moving.
“MOLLY! YOU HAVE TO GET OUT HERE! THEY ARE SLAUGHTERING US!” I don’t know if I was shouting to be heard over the chaos outside, or I was shouting because I thought it might wake her up. She simply blinked at me, her face blank. She was looking straight at me, but I knew I wasn’t what she was seeing. I turned to Helia and Jason, the gears in my mind turning at full speed. I instructed them to protect the sisters with their own lives, which they nodded somberly to, and then I ran back out of the tent. Molly wasn’t going to help.
“Gloria!” It was Christian’s voice, and it was close. I spun, and saw an AMEU behind him, taking the perfect shot. Knowing I was too late I fired one over his shoulder. Amazingly enough AMEU fell before Christian did. I ran to him, watching as I did for the now decreasing fire. “Gloria, we are winning!” He was excited, as premature as it was. There were still as many agents as there were vigilantes and we all couldn’t survive.
I killed twelve AMEU agents that evening. Christian killed seven that he could be sure of. There were four left that surrendered. However, this is war, and there is no room for mercy. Thankfully Connor and Murphy took the roles of executioners, and dispatched them quick. We only lost six, including Katy and a little boy named Michael. Without the time or resources for proper funerals, all the bodies were transported a few miles down the road, where they were all burned. Christian and I were standing in the middle of the camp, directing everyone on the quickest way to pack everything up, when Jason came out of the tent, and his face was not smiling. Christian and I stopped speaking, no longer able to remember what we were saying.
“She’s asking for the two of you.” I would never get used to the amount of sorrow in the voices of the people I lived with and loved. Some had it all the time, like Mike or Travis. Others hid it well. There was no hiding it in Jason’s voice then. Mike began shouting orders, taking up the position of Captain so Christian and I could hurry to Lilly’s side.
There was almost no light left outside, and inside the tent it was worse, only two small candles lit the whole room. It didn’t even take that much light to see the pile of rags soaked in Lilly’s blood. I didn’t know there was that much blood in the body, but Lilly’s body was still expelling it from the hole in her chest cavity like a poison.
“Hey Lil.” I called, kneeling on one side of the bed as Christian knelt on the other side. Molly was curled in the corner, her eyes wide and unblinking. “You wanted us, sweetie?” She coughed, looking from Christian to me. Her dried lips pulled into a disturbing smile.
“I just wanted to say thanks… for letting me be a part of this.” Her hand attempted to squeeze mine, and I squeezed back. “You guys are… my best… friends. I… love you… both.”
“We love you too, Lilly. You are the best solider we could have asked for. There will be so many songs about you!” I leaned in to kiss her cheek, unable to say anymore. Christian tried to say something, but I couldn’t hear it over my own tears. She started coughing harder, unable to catch her breath. Molly began rocking in her corner, whimpers coming from her mouth. I knew what was going through her mind, I felt the same helplessness as my mother died.
“Take care… of my sis… ter. I love you, Molly.” And then she stopped breathing. I couldn’t contain the tears that streamed down my cheeks any longer. I looked up and Christian, too, was crying. Ever so gently I stood up, pulling my hand from the now dead girl’s grasp to lean over her and close here eyes.
“Death to the girl at the end of the serenade.” Without saying any more I left the tent. Then entire camp was packed up, and all those able to stand where waiting for further orders. I wiped the tears from my face and took a deep breath. Being hysterical wouldn’t help anyone, and I knew that.
“I’m going to take you back to the place where it all began.” I announced, looking to everyone in the group. “If you can, follow me.” Turning on heal, I grabbed Christian as he was emerging from the tent, and then headed down the fatal path.