“Jesus Christ, they’re right on us!” Ivy glanced at her rear view mirror. “What the fuck were you thinking?”
“Me? You’re the one who told me to break free.”
“I just suggested it!” she screamed. “I just said it cause it looked like you forgot. You didn’t have to do it.”
“I forgot? You think I forgot I have psychic powers? I thought you had a plan.”
“What the hell makes you think I have a plan?” They came to an intersection. “Where the hell am I supposed to go?”
“Get back to your house,” Ash said, rubbing his temples.
“Why my house?”
“I don’t know. It’ll give us some time at least.”
The intersection came up fast, she spun her wheel hard to the right. “Oh shit, oh shit, oh shit,” she chanted as the compact car threatened to roll over.
“Just go,” he yelled.
“I’m fucking going. I’m going. Oh, god, I’m gonna die. I’m gonna die.” Her eyes darted around like a trapped fox. “What the hell were you thinking?” she screamed.
“Quit fucking asking me that.” He slumped back in his seat and rubbed his neck. He shut his eyes, trying to drown out the sirens. It was only a matter of time before they got a chopper, or a tank. If that happened-
A hard bump jostled Ash out of his thoughts. He opened his eyes and saw the strip mall looming ahead. And they were headed for the one lit compartment.
“What the hell are you doing?” Ash screamed. “I said go to your house.”
“I’m not fucking going to my house. I’m not going to let the cops run into my house and break everything.”
“You fucking idiot. I- you-” His thoughts jammed up in his mouth. “At least you could have told me. I could have thought of a different plan.”
“Oh, like you fucking have a plan. Hold on.”
Still barreling at forty miles per hour, the car skidded to a stop on the sidewalk, short of breaking the windows. Ash’s head rocked forward and bumped the glovebox.
Ivy was already getting out as Ash recovered. Police cars trickled into the lot, their whooping sirens growing louder. Ash fell out of the car and hustled inside.
Anfernee, Jamal, and Squirrel stood in the middle of the room, puzzled and stunned. Ash stumbled over as he crossed the threshold. Red and blue twinkled on the wall.
“Ash? What-” Anfernee said.
Ash reached up and set the deadbolt. “Lock the doors. Barricade the place.
He reached for the nearest window to pull the blinds down, even as the voice in his head said The blinds aren’t bulletproof, you moron.
Anfernee and Jamal sprang into action, pulling down the others. Squirrel stared out the window. “Jesus, what’s going on?”
“No time to explain,” Ash said, looking for supplies he could use.
“You can ask this fuck-up here,” Ivy said.
“Shut up,” he yelled back. “Shut up, shut up, shut up, shut up!”
Stop panicking, he thought. How are you going to lead if you panic at the first unforeseen circumstance. He turned to the three. “Cops are after me. They’re trying to arrest me.”
“Arrest you?” Squirrel said.
“I didn’t do it. But no time for details. We’ve got to barricade ourselves. At least until they’ll listen to reason. What weapons do we have? Any guns?”
“No, you said ‘no guns’,” Jamal said.
“Oh, right. Well, get whatever you can.”
Outside, a gruff voice shouted. “Open the door!”
Ash jumped back. They were going to attack. Maybe trying to find the back door.
“Back door,” Ash said. “Help me!”
He barreled into the storeroom and found the emergency exit. It was covered by shelving, but that wouldn’t stop the cops. “Shove everything in front of it,” he said as he toppled the shelf.
Jamal, Anfernee, and Squirrel threw boxes and anything heavy they could find at the door.
“That’s good,” Ash said. “It’ll slow them down at least. What about our food rations?”
“Food rations?” Jamal said. “We were supposed to have food rations?”
“Yes! In case of emergency. Oh, never mind,” Ash said. He shoved them aside and went back up.
“How long are we planning to stay here?” Jamal asked.
“Um, um, let me think,” Ash said. He rubbed his forehead. “I don’t know. I need to get calm. Everybody needs to calm down. We can get out of this.”
“What do they want?” Squirrel said.
“They want him,” Ivy said.
“They’re not getting me,” Ash said. “I’m not going back to jail. The way they treated me when I didn’t do anything wrong…” He approached the window, then thought better of it. “Squirrel, peek outside. What’s happening?”
Squirrel’s lip trembled. He didn’t move.
“I said, peek outside. NOW!” Ash said and pointed to the farthest window. “Just glance out and tell me what you see.”
Squirrel pulled apart the blinds of the furthest window for a half-second. “There’s three cars. The cops are hiding behind them. One has a bullhorn. The others looked like they were just talking.”
“They’re deploying positions,” Ash said. “Dammit.”
“What do we do?” Squirrel said. “Oh, Jesus.”
“Calm down. Don’t panic. We all need to calm down. We can get through this. Think, think, what do we need?”
“We need, uh, to talk to them?” Squirrel said.
“Yes, that’s it. How? Do we have a bullhorn?”
“I don’t think so,” Anfernee answered. “What about the phone?”
Ash looked toward the phone on the desk. “Unless you’ve got their direct number, I don’t think they’re going to wait for me to get routed through the system.”
“Set something on fire!” Squirrel said.
“How is that supposed to help?” Ash said.
“Just surrender yourself,” Ivy said. “They only want you.”
“Oh, yeah, says the person who told me to get away in the first place. You haven’t been to jail. I have. They threw me in the hole, just because I didn’t have ID. Think of what they’re going to do to me now.”
“So now you’re putting all of us in danger?” Ivy said.
Anfernee brought himself up to full height. “We’re the White Knights,” he said. “We can’t shirk away from danger.”
“Right, good man.” Ash patted him. “We can get through this. I know I can depend on you. We might need to fight, but we can hole up here until everything calms down.”
“Open the door now!” the cop repeated.
Ash’s mind went blank again. He had to say something. “Uh, don’t come in. I have… hostages!” Ash shouted back.
“You do?” Anfernee whispered.
“I’m just saying that, idiot. I’m trying to buy some time. Can we get to the roof?”
“And do what?” Ivy said.
“I don’t know. Escape? We can’t stay in here forever.”
“In the movies, they always put up snipers on the roof,” Squirrel said.
“What if we send out a letter or something?” Jamal said.
“White flag!” Squirrel said, “We need a white flag. I saw this one thing, where they were robbing a bank-“
“I don’t have time for movie reviews right now, Squirrel,” Ash said. “I need some options.”
“Tell them to send someone in to negotiate,” Squirrel added.
The bullhorn blared, “This is your last warning. Open the door.”
“Shit,” Ash said. “Not enough time.”
The door banged, like someone was taking a battering ram to it.
“They’re breaking down the door,” Jamal said.
“Shit. Get your weapons ready,” Ash said. He backed up towards the desk, towards Ivy.
“Oh, this is real good, genius,” Ivy said.
“I said, shut up. And get down.” He grabbed her arm and threw her to the floor.
The door banged again. The doorknob fell off and the deadbolt splintered off the wood.
“Jesus,” Squirrel said. Jamal fumbled for his mace. Anfernee pulled out his club.
“Oh god, where is it?” Squirrel said as he fished for his taser. “Oh god, come on, come on.”
The door burst open. A cop stood in the doorway, shoulder braced. Another stood behind him.
Squirrel pulled out his taser out and pointed it.
“Gun!” the cop shouted.
The man in front crouched as the police force behind him started firing.
The surprise made Ash fall over behind the desk. He rolled over and bunched up into a ball.
Bits of debris broke off from the walls. The plastic blinds shuddered and collapsed. The windows shattered with a tremendous blast. Ash held his ears and shut his eyes.
Clicks and pops, flashes like lightning repeated over and over. Someone screamed out. He couldn’t tell who, but it sounded like one of his.
He felt so powerless, so inadequate. Here he was, hiding and crying like a little boy. His men were dying and there was nothing he could do. He couldn’t come out. He couldn’t do anything. He was weak. He was useless.
The shots ceased. “Hold! Hold!” someone yelled.
Ash opened his eyes. From the side of the desk, he saw Jamal’s outstretched hand on the floor, fingers curled to the sky. Blood pooled around the wrist.
“Get out now!” the cops yelled, “Hands on your head! Get out from there!”
Ash gritted his teeth. He stood up straight. The cops whipped towards him, guns outstretched.
For them, he thought.
He summoned the biggest surge of power he had ever felt and sent it forth. The blaze was more like a hot-white nuclear blast. They didn’t even have time to scream before their flesh evaporated from their bones.
He caught movement in the shot-out windows. More of them. Scattering around their cars, running for cover. Ash thrust his hands out and set them smoldering.
One by one, the four remaining police went up in flames, concentric circles of fire thrumming up and down their bodies. They flailed and screamed, running into each other and falling. Ash kept the fire on them. They should suffer.
As they burned, he took the cars. The parts that were most flammable–the seats, the tires–started up quickly. The fire grew hotter until there was a strange noise.
One of the car’s gas tank’s exploded, sending up a huge sphere of flame. Ash ducked as the explosion set off the two cars next to it. A massive fireball puffed into the sky and dissipated.
Hearing nothing but the crackle of fire, Ash uncovered his eyes. Everything was black and ashen. Cinders popped in the air. It was over.
And there were his men on the floor, lying under broken glass and crumbs of drywall, like three children at naptime. Jamal was dotted with red, like a clown. Anfernee had a sharp piece of glass embedded in his chest but the yawning wound on the forehead was what killed him. Squirrel had held onto his taser gun all the way down. His eyes were still open, staring in perpetual surprised.
“No, no, no,” Ash muttered. He stumbled to one knee and gasped. “Everything I worked for is gone. Everything I tried to rebuild.”
Ivy ventured out. “Oh my God,” she whispered. “You turned this place into a war zone.”
“I didn’t… I didn’t mean to,” Ash said.
“Look at all this,” Ivy said. “This was all you. You did this.”
“It was a mistake. I didn’t mean to.”
“Yeah, like the restaurant was a mistake. And running away was a mistake. Jesus, Ash, what is with you? You’re such a fuck-up.”
Ash wiped his eyes and stood up. He cleared his throat and said, “Oh, what, like you’re so great? What about the mistakes you made?” He approached her. “You act like you’re above everyone, but you’re not. You use people to get what you want. You use your sexuality like a weapon.”
“Hey,” she held up her hands. “Don’t judge me. You can’t judge me.”
“Wrong.” Ash grabbed her hands and held them to the wall like shackles. “That’s exactly what I should have been doing in the first place.”
She burst into flames before she realized what was happening. Her screeches dwindled to a strained groan as the oxygen was sucked from her. Her skin dripped off in black flakes and blood, like a wax sculpture.
Ash held her in place as she struggled. He wanted to look into her eyes, watch them liquefy.
Within the orange glow, she went limp. Ash let her go. Her charred skeleton collapsed in a heap.
Silence again. The adrenaline gave way to a headache like a venomous pounding hammer. With his hand on his forehead, he walked towards the exit, glass crunching under his feet.
More sirens, growing closer. Reinforcements. Of course they would call for backup. He leaned in the doorway, waiting for them to arrive.
Two black sedans with a single red light on the roof escorted a steel van into the parking lot. They’d sent in the big boys now.
How long could he keep this going? Forever? When would it stop? When all the cops in the world were dead?
The vehicles parked halfway across the lot. Four men in suits got out. He couldn’t see their faces through his tunnel vision–holding his head up was difficult–but they were holding guns and calling to each other, like secret agents.
Ash grinned and stepped forward. It felt like he was slogging through a swamp. But body condition didn’t matter when all his power was in his mind.
“Come on,” he whispered. “Come and get me. I got enough pain for all of you.” Smarmy bastards in their nice suits, while he was bleeding, dirty, barely able to stand up. Who did they think they were? Did they think they could take him on?
He hobbled forward. They watched him, and put their hands on their holsters. Why weren’t they raising them? Maybe they thought he was too weak. If only they knew how wrong they were.
“You bastards. You think you can do anything to me? I’ll destroy you all.”
He grinned and held out his hand. With nails driving into his skull, he focused his power until his entire body glowed red. He would show them who they were dealing with.
A sudden wave of overwhelmed him. The pain seeped into all the muscles of his body, like a weight dropping. He doubled over and threw up. White liquid spewed out onto the asphalt.
Ash dropped to his knees, too weak to stand anymore. He was exhausted and sick–the side-effects of overuse. His power did have a limit.
He fell over on his side, avoiding the puddle of puke. Two agents approached and stood over him.
Ash looked up. “Fuckers,” he muttered. He passed out.