Today, I’m putting up a special treat. It’s also late because school is closed and the munchkin has finally decided to give me some time to work. I have 15 minutes or so. He can’t tell time yet, so he could just be counting to 15. Anyway, here is the opening for my newest project, Crossing Bedlam. Still not 100% certain I like calling this post-apocalyptic. Maybe near-apocalyptic? Downtrodden? What’s a dystopia again? (Or a topiary as my computer has suggested I called it. *eye roll*)
Warning: There is a little swearing and some violence.
Her breathing ragged from running for so long, Cassidy wipes sweat from her scarred brow and flicks a long, blonde bang out of her chocolate eyes. The decade of unchecked growth has turned the park into a messy forest, which is harder to traverse than expected. Roots catch her booted feet and she bounces off thick tree trunks while focusing more on listening for her pursuers and companions. Crashing footsteps and disturbed squirrels come from every direction, so she chooses the one with the least amount of noise and prays that it brings her out of the wilderness. Cassidy is tempted to draw her gun and make a stand, but she knows the prison guards are only doing their job. More importantly, bullets are not cheap and she is the only member of group who is armed. At least as far as she knows since the seven prisoners could very well be hiding homemade weapons.
Glancing over her shoulder, Cassidy frowns at the bright orange jumpsuits of her panting companions. The six men and one woman stand out in the early morning forest, making it easy for the guards to see them through the trees. None of them have bothered to stop and remove the prison garb, which cost one of their former allies his life. It was a mistake that Cassidy still regrets since it happened when she ran off to distract the guards. Thanks to her stolen uniform, the blonde has managed to send several groups in the wrong direction, but it meant abandoning the others. Sadistic murderers and traitorous thieves though they may be, she broke them out for a reason and every death is lost money and time. She notices that two of the men in the back are still sporting the drying blood and brain matter from the deceased, neither of them caring about the gore.
Without them uttering a word, Cassidy is sure they are hoping the others are killed and act as a distraction. She is surprised none of them have attempted to betray the group and escape in the chaos, but she senses that her insurance is paying off. Strapped and locked to their right ankles, strange devices blink and occasional hum to remind the prisoners that they have to behave. Until they figure out where their unexpected savior has hidden the remote for the small bombs, the escapees have to be on their best behavior. From what Cassidy can tell, this takes a lot of effort for some of them and she can feel their stares boring into her back. Having survived the Shattered States of America for ten years, she has become used to the waves of mistrust and aggression, but these people are on a level that even makes her skin crawl.
Cassidy hears the snap of a branch to her right, drawing her attention to a trio of faint shadows in the distance. At first, she thinks it is a group of guards and is about to veer to the left when a foul smell hits her nose. The stench is sweat, urine, rotten food, and a feeble attempt to cover the other odors with a strong perfume. It is the last smell that gives Cassidy hope since real Wilders would never bother to use, much less trade, for artificial scents. Waving her arm and pointing toward where she prays is salvation, she charges ahead and breathes easier when the others match her pace. A high-pitched yelp is heard soon after she passes the huddled group and she peeks to see one of her companions has kicked a Wilder. His reward is a rusty fork to the thigh, which gives him a painful limp as he continues and grumbles about getting revenge on the smelly scavengers.
Within five minutes, Cassidy sees that they are sprinting over the remains of old baseball fields. Remembering the map she studied before infiltrating Rikers Island, she knows they are heading toward LaGuardia Airport. Once they cross the border, the only way the guards can follow is if they plan on losing the trade agreement they have with the owners. Even if the warden, who she imagines fuming in his office, makes a deal for their return, Cassidy and her new bodyguards will be long gone before they can find ink for the contract. The metallic ding of a bullet ricocheting off a vine-covered pole snaps her back to reality and she races ahead, barely noticing the remains of a fence.
Bursting from the forest, the group finds themselves heading for large containers that have been long abandoned. Bullets fly from the trees and hit the rusty remains of trucks, several of them showing signs of being used for housing. A ricochet strikes the injured prisoner in the chest and he stumbles for a few steps before crashing to the ground. Gasping for air, he tries to crawl after his companions, none of them stopping to help. He is surprised to hear scuffling from one of the nearby vehicles, shadowy faces watching him take his final breath. Attempting to stand and run, the man takes another bullet to the back of head and flops down dead. The guards are leaving the forest, but stop when the escapees make it across the distant street and into the LaGuardia territory. Cassidy waves back at the departing figures and tosses her identification card into a sewer, the expensive item no longer useful or salvageable.
Coming to a small booth outside a former rent-a-car building, the blonde shows the wrinkled man in a tuxedo her pass. The yellow, crinkled paper is taken by shaky hands that fumble to get a key off a hook. Not wanting to waste any time, Cassidy jogs through the building and sheds the top of her stolen uniform. Enjoying the touch of air conditioning on her bare arms, the yawning blonde tosses the shirt into a trashcan and is vaguely aware of the female prisoner snatching it up. The woman can have it since Cassidy has no intention of returning to Rikers Island and is still amazed her escape plan worked. Even more impressive is that she managed to get eight other people out of the prison and only two died after reaching the coast. As she hurries across a parking lot and climbs the stairs of a parked airplane, the tired woman wonders if anyone would believe she pulled off such a wild stunt.
Leaving the six prisoners in the cabin, Cassidy goes to finish changing in the cockpit and locks the door behind her. It is a welcomed luxury to put a barrier between herself and the primal aggression that wafts off the others. Having rented out the winged apartment beforehand, she finds her bag is still stashed behind the captain’s chair. Changing into her favorite pair of jeans and a black, sleeveless shirt, she pauses to put her weapons in all of their familiar places. A black handgun is tenderly caressed and strapped to her hip, a few experimental draws making sure it is in the perfect position. She dangles a dented, silver locket in front of her face before giving it a kiss and putting it around her neck. From the bottom of the patch-covered duffle bag, Cassidy pulls out a black pea coat and puts it on even though it is early summer. She adjusts it so that an old bullet hole is over her heart and fixes her hair, a mask of calm confidence coming over her face as she prepares to speak with her companions.
“What the fuck happened!?” Cassidy shouts as she opens the door and steps on a blood-oozing finger.