Chapter no 18

Five Survive

They were really doing this, were they? Asking to be shot at. Inviting the red dot in.

Red pressed the button, clicking up through the channels on the walkie-talkie, swapping one static for another while she waited, eyes on Oliver.

“Okay, let’s think about our angles, then,” he said. Yes, let’s.

“Windows. We’ve got a big one at the back of the RV. Then on the left we have the small one by the bunks, two windows at the dining table.” He nodded his head at them, Red’s eyes catching on the curtains. “The two side windows at the front and the windshield.” The windshield was the only window they hadn’t covered, their only view out into the total darkness of outside. “Then on the right we have the big one behind the sofa, and the small one in the front door. And that’s it, isn’t it? There isn’t one in the bathroom.”

“There’s the rearview camera, too,” Reyna said quietly from the table, picking at her thumb. “Should come up if we put the RV in reverse. I think.”

“Yes, okay, great,” Oliver said, turning to shoot her a smile. Reyna didn’t return it. “That means we might not need someone to cover the back. The person pressing the horn can use the camera to get that angle. Okay.”

He studied them all and they waited to be assigned their windows, Red skipping back to channel three.

“I’ll take the rearview camera and I’ll press the horn.” He swallowed, like his was the hardest job, but he didn’t have to put his face up to a window with a sniper watching outside. “Reyna, you’ll be with me, you watch out the front, through the windshield. Maddy, you take the front left side, watching out the dining table window. Simon, back left, through the bunk window. Arthur, you’re front right, through the window behind the sofa. And Red, you’re back right, the window in the door.”

Red nodded. At least her window still had glass in it. She glanced at Arthur, a knot forming in her gut. He’d pulled the short straw here; the last two times the sniper shot at them, it had come through that window. He looked okay, though. Nervous, not scared. Not yet, at least. He glanced at her, and she gave him a quick half smile. He caught it from her, stretching onto the other side of his face. Together they made one whole smile, tight and tense.

“I’m taking the riskiest job,” Oliver said. Was he? “He’ll shoot toward whoever is at the steering wheel, like with Maddy. So I’m going to need some protection.”

“You’re not going to ask one of us to be your human shield, are you?” Simon said, backing away with his hands raised.

Red snorted, though none of this was really funny, was it? They might die tonight, all of them, some of them, her. A bullet could come anytime, anywhere. Was that what made these smaller moments funnier, because they might not get any more? Last chances to smile, to laugh, to tell Arthur she liked him and it was okay that he didn’t like her back because she was unlikable at times, she knew that. To tell Simon that, yes, his cheekbones were amazing and it would be a damn shame if he didn’t end up onstage or in front of a camera. To thank Maddy for always being there by her side, to share all those big moments, and small, some so small that Red had probably forgotten them by now. To tell Reyna that maybe she could do better. To tell Oliver, well, Red wasn’t sure what she would tell Oliver. And that didn’t

matter because she wasn’t going to say any of that anyway. Red wasn’t good at last chances, at final moments, was she? I hate you.

She’d never said it since.

A swarm of guilt in her gut as she came back to the room, cooling to shame as she watched Oliver studying the pile of resources on the table. Nothing big enough to protect him there.

“Oh, I know,” he said, darting forward to grab the screwdriver. “Excuse me.” He pushed past Red and Simon, elbow butting hers, walking over to the small closet beside the front door. He pulled it open.

“There’s only a mop and a dustpan and brush in there,” Simon told him. “I know,” Oliver replied, bending down to look at the hinges on the inside

of the door. “Arthur, will you help me here? Hold the door while I remove the hinges?”

“Sure.” Arthur nodded, rolling up the sleeves of his sweatshirt. He walked between Red and Simon, gently resting his hand on her back as he guided himself through. Fingers warm, then gone, leaving something behind. That stupid, pathetic firework again, at the back of her eyes. Didn’t it know there was a man outside with a gun?

Arthur curled his hands around the top corners of the closet door while Oliver guided the screwdriver, slotting it into the first screw.

Red’s eyes returned to the walkie-talkie. Her job. Her responsibility. Her plan. Partly, anyway. She clicked up again, shaping the static with her ears, making it say whatever she wanted it to. You could do that with memories too, sometimes. Lie to yourself, think fake thoughts to cover the ones you didn’t want. Like that time Catherine Lavoy took Red to the mall, because she’d finally outgrown her last pair of jeans, and it was Red’s first good day since everything happened. She’d even smiled. But sometimes Red changed it, and it was her mom instead, not dead anymore, not angry anymore. A lie. Impossible. But it was nicer than the truth.

“So before we get into position, everyone,” Oliver said, one screw removed, turning his attention to the next. “We will have to turn off all the lights in the RV, so we can see out the windows better. Turn off the

headlights too, so Reyna can see out front. So grab one of the flashlights or use your phone’s light to get yourselves into position.”

Simon waded forward, snatching the headlamp from the dining table with a whispered “Yes.” He pulled the elastic over his head, wearing the light over his eye like an eye patch.

Red shook her head at him. She thought the adrenaline would have sobered him up by now. She thought wrong, clearly. She crossed to the kitchen and turned on the faucet, filling Simon another glass of water, pushing it into his chest.

“All right, Mom.” Simon swayed, taking a sip.

“Simon,” Maddy hissed at him, angry lines crisscrossing her forehead.

He’d said the forbidden word.

Oliver grunted as he removed one of the hinges, the muscles in Arthur’s arms stretching as they took the weight of the door. Oliver bent low to remove the hinge at the bottom.

Turning the screwdriver, he said, “You are all responsible for your angle. So you have to be ready when I say I’m about to beep. No blinking, no sneezing, no nothing. We cannot miss the muzzle flash. Simon?”

“Aye aye, Captain.”

No, Red had already worked out it wasn’t anyone from SpongeBob in the curtains. She was going to die before she figured it out, wasn’t she? Her eyes tripped up on Reyna’s face on their way back from the curtains, sitting there, staring straight ahead. Chewing on her tongue and some silent thought, a strange faraway look in her dark eyes. Was she thinking about the plan, about what they were about to do, or something else?

Simon noticed too. He sidled over and whispered in Red’s ear, “You see the way she looked at Oliver when this secret was mentioned? Something going on there.”

Red didn’t respond, but she blinked, and Simon seemed to think that was the same thing. He nodded, too hard, and now Red couldn’t help but think he was trying to deflect somehow.

“Okay.” Oliver placed the second hinge inside the closet and straightened up, his knees clicking. He took the freed closet door from Arthur and swung

it sideways, tucking it under one arm. “Let’s do this. Reyna, look alive.”

She got to her feet, wiping her hand across her face, taking the look in her eyes away with it.

“Flashlights on, everyone.”

Red placed the walkie-talkie down on the dining table, leaving it on channel three, ready for the sniper. She reached into her pocket for her phone. No service of course but, hey, 51% battery, still pretty good for her. She knew that Maddy panicked whenever her own was below 50%, wouldn’t even leave the house.

She swiped down and clicked on the flashlight. “Arthur, hit the lights. Reyna, headlights.”

Reyna leaned across the steering wheel and out went the headlights. Arthur reached up to the control panel by the refrigerator and twisted the lights all the way off. The darkness from outside found its way into the RV, disappearing them all, broken up only by the white swinging beams of their flashlights. A yellow glow from Simon’s headlamp as he readjusted it onto his forehead. Red lit up Maddy as she came to stand next to her, ready to take her position at her window. Her face was ghostly pale, almost blue, white dots in the pools of her eyes.

“Into your positions.”

Thats what she said,” Simon whispered, walking past Red toward the window by the lower bunk.

Red turned, bumping into Arthur. “Sorry, after you,” she said.

Arthur approached his window, resting one knee up on the sofa. Red took her place at the front door, waiting behind the closed shade. She watched over her shoulder as Oliver awkwardly spun the closet door to stand end up and he crouched beside the steering wheel. He shifted the gear into reverse, and the image from the rearview camera flickered into life in the center console. The road eerie white at the bottom of the screen, the sky molded from shades of black and gray.

Oliver shuffled the closet door against himself. A shield. A barricade. But could wood that thin stop a bullet from a high-powered rifle?

Red turned to her own window. She swallowed, fast-forwarding the next few seconds, to her putting her face and eyes up against the bottom of the glass to study the darkness beyond. She imagined the red dot floating right there on her face, joining the freckles on her nose, moving up to her forehead, or against her teeth, and she’d never even know about it. Maybe she’d hear the crack in her last moment, but she wouldn’t know, would she, as it hit its target? Dead too fast for the fear to live. Like how she imagined Mom had died, in those early days when her dad and the other officers spoke in jagged circles around it. Killed in the line of duty was all some would say to her. Your mom was a hero, others.

In Red’s head, Mom didn’t have time to be scared, no time to think her goodbyes, she didn’t know it was her end, she didn’t know and with one blink she was gone. But she wasn’t afraid, and that was one good thing as the world fell apart. Except that wasn’t what happened. At all. Red looked it up, the night before the funeral. Multiple articles about the fatal shooting of Police Captain Grace Kenny of the Philadelphia PD, Third District. She shouldn’t have, because then she wouldn’t know. But it was too late. And the picture in her head changed. Mom on her knees. Begging for her life—the articles didn’t say that part, but Red filled in the gaps. On her knees, terrified, knowing what was about to happen. And then it did: two shots to the back of the head. Killed with her own service weapon. She had time to be afraid, all the time in the world, lifetimes in seconds, there on her knees. Executed was another word the articles used, a word almost too big for thirteen-year-old Red to understand. It didn’t fit in her head, not in the same sentence as her mom.

She understood now, though, thinking about putting her face up to that

window. Thinking about that red dot searching her out in the darkness. Even a fraction of the fear her mom felt, right there at the end of all things.

“Red, are you listening?” Oliver raised his voice. “I said flashlights off!” “S-sorry,” she mumbled, pressing the button, and the pitch-black claimed

the RV for itself, the others no longer full people, just shadows, nightmare figures on this nightmare night. No moonlight even, now that Reyna had pulled down the shade on the windshield.

“Now,” Oliver said, clearing his throat. “If you pull your curtains or shades just a little bit, from the bottom corner, so you can look out.”

“Do we really have to put our fucking faces up against the windows?” Simon’s voice called behind her. “Sounds like a death wish to me.”

“Yes,” Oliver replied. “Because that’s the plan.”

Have to stick to the plan, Red thought. Always. Like she was doing right now. She just had to see through the rest of tonight, the rest of the plan.

“Oh, I know!” Maddy shouted, directly opposite Red at her window. Always side by side. “We can use our phones, like Arthur did before. Record a video of outside, then we definitely won’t miss the flash.”

“Okay, if you’d prefer,” Oliver conceded.

“Yes, I’d fucking prefer,” Simon said, a sound of clumsy rustling from his corner.

“Right, phones out!” Oliver called.

Red watched the dark shape of Arthur struggle with his, fiddling with the front of his jeans. Close enough to reach out and touch. To hold hands, even, if they didn’t need both hands for this plan.

“Put them up against the windows now, make sure they are facing your assigned angle.”

Red unhooked the shade, her fingers gripped hard around the clasp. Do not let it go. She raised it a couple of inches from the bottom and, with her other hand, pressed the camera of her phone against the glass. She shifted her body so she wasn’t directly behind the phone, in the line of sight, and she watched the screen. There was nothing out there. Only black.

She checked over her shoulder at Arthur. His hand had disappeared beyond the lower corner of the mattress, out there in the night, the other still fiddling nervously with his jeans.

“Okay, start recording now!” Oliver shouted, and the dark RV was filled with a chorus of high-pitched bleeps, singing to each other, as they all pressed record.

One second. Two seconds. Three seconds on the recording.

“Ready?” Oliver called, a shadowy arm reaching up behind his shield.

Red’s breath stuttered, the sound of her heart too loud in her ears, too loud and too fast. And then her heart was lost to a scream, the scream of the horn piercing the night and piercing her ears. One long note, then four short bursts.

“Come on.” Oliver’s voice strained as he pressed the horn again. Three short beeps.

One long note.

The RV wailing into the darkness. And again.

Nothing. Not the crack Red’s ears were waiting for, not the clap of the gun. Her phone screen dark and empty.

“Come on!” Oliver tried again, ten sharp beeps, sharper, shorter. The RV screamed and screamed again.

“Why is he not taking the fucking shot?!” Nothing.

The screaming stopped, the ghost of the sound ringing in Red’s ears in the after-silence.

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