Black Friday

In a dark future America where consumerism and gun culture are unchecked, a young family teams up to celebrate the first shopping day of the Christmas season in the most patriotic way possible.

 

 

The Mugs crack the Greenleaf Crossing Galleria’s perimeter security through a fire door off the parking garage sub-basement at 11:56. On the landing, protected from potential incoming fire by the zigzagging stairwell, Caleb Anderson gets out the turkey sandwich. He takes a bite, getting a little cranberry sauce on his thumb, then passes it to the children, oldest to youngest: Brian, JJ, Lucy. Fifteen, fourteen, and Lucy, his Black Friday girl, is about an hour away from turning twelve. Each takes one bite. Tradition. Caleb checks his watch. Eleven fifty-eight. Go time. Anything they get before midnight they’ll have to give back. Anything they weren’t already trying to get by maybe 12:05, well, things would get complicated.

“Happy Thanksgiving, Mugs,” he says. Caleb is a traditionalist. He’s always liked Thanksgiving. “Now let’s get moving.”

In formation, they head up the stairwell: Caleb on point and Brian bringing up the rear. The kids wrote out their lists the day before and argued about what they should hit first. Things degenerated to the point where Caleb had decided to step in and set their mission parameters himself by flipping a coin. Both boys wanted to hit Central Sports for new skates and limited-edition Black Friday Bruins jerseys. Lucy held out for Circuit Shack and a new gaming console bundled with a VR headset and a year’s free DLC of her favorite game, Kraken’s Gate. The coin came up tails, Lucy won, and as far as Caleb was concerned that was the end of it.

The fire door leading to the mall’s second floor is still closed and taped. The cameras would see that the Mugs were the first team through. Viewing audiences with their faces stuffed full of turkey were placing bets. The Mugs were one of sixteen teams that had won the lottery to celebrate Black Friday at the Galleria. They were on TV, and there was prize money out there for the teams that hit their objectives the quickest. Lots of secondary prizes, too: fewest casualties, most loot caches cracked, that kind of thing. Some of the teams were sponsored but Caleb didn’t want to take any money. Every year he turned down millions in sponsorships from people trying to profit off what had happened to Sarah. The Mugs were out only for themselves. They wanted to celebrate the holiday the way it was supposed to be celebrated, without the compromises sponsorship would bring. So that meant they paid for all their own weapons and training, but Caleb liked it that way. It brought the family together.

“Gear and weapons check,” Caleb says. The boys are carrying FN SCAR assault rifles chambered for 7.62. Lucy has a pink Bushmaster carbine because she likes pink, and for the .223 round’s lighter recoil. Caleb’s cradling a trusty Mossberg 500 with red-dot optics and a side saddle holding six extra shells in addition to the five on the rear saddle. Just like the one his great-grandfather carried in Vietnam. He’s sentimental. He and the boys are also carrying Beretta 92FS sidearms. They kick a little too much for Lucy, whose secondary weapon is a Glock 42. Everybody checks their loads. It’s 11:59.

He hands out lollipops. One, the kids like them. Two, it keeps them from talking as much. Three, it differentiates them from other teams. Friendly fire is an issue sometimes near the entry points to the stores with the most coveted exclusives. “For Mom,” Caleb says. The kids all repeat it around the lollipop sticks in the corners of their mouths. They feel her presence for a moment, as if twelve years later her spirit still lingers here.

Then the Mugs crack the tape on the fire door and enter the second floor of the Galleria.

 

He’s chosen this point of entry for a couple of reasons. Most of the camera feeds are set up at the main entrances to the anchor stores, where teams can get some TV time before they go in. The networks like the stories. Caleb doesn’t want to be a story. Also, because most teams hit the outside doors first, going up through a fire door lessens the chance of an engagement before the Mugs can hit their first objective. If there’s going to be shooting, the Mugs won’t back down from it; on the other hand, he’s got his kids to think of. They don’t have their mother anymore.

He leads the way out past vending machines and a stroller rental kiosk. The Galleria is laid out in a long rectangle with six anchor stores spoked out from the ends, two on one side and four on the other. The second floor is a wraparound balcony looking out over the fountains and play areas and knickknack booths in the ground-level concourse. There’s already shooting down there. A drone hovers near the second floor’s glass ceiling, and another one is scooting in the Mugs’ direction. Probably there are fixed cameras in the fake plants and around doorways, too. The Celebration is must-see TV, a festive patriotic commemoration and a sporting event and a holiday all wrapped in one—and the Mugs are always a story. Caleb hates being a story. There’s one commentator in particular, Lyle Odenkirk, who won’t leave it alone. He does color for MSNBCNN, which has been airing Black Friday pre-game since the end of the Tracy’s parade. Every year they tell Sarah’s story, and Lucy’s: the tragic origins of the first Celebration. Caleb keeps an earbud tuned to the commentary even though it makes him want to gouge Odenkirk’s eyes out. It’s within the rules as long as he keeps it to the audio feed. Nobody is supposed to piggyback the video from the drones.

Now that the networks know where the Mugs are, so will the other teams. It’s time to hit their first objective before someone comes gunning for them.

But just as Caleb has that thought, an intense firefight breaks out on the second floor of Circuit Shack. No way is he walking into that. Better to let the teams involved sort it out and then move in after they’ve gone on to the next items on their list. Lucy has her phone out, checking the Celebration Team Live Status app while both drones veer toward the battle. One of the conditions of entry into the Celebration is that all teams fill out a list of their target items so the broadcast teams can do horse-race commentary. The fight in Circuit Shack is over quickly and there are still three MindCast console bundles in the store inventory. The two engaged teams were the Shopaholics and the Turkey Legs, teams 4 and 8 respectively. Both are apparently still active but with reduced manpower.

The Mugs are team 7. Odenkirk talks about them more than he should because of their history. The way he adores Lucy really chafes Caleb, but there’s nothing he can do about it.

“Change of plans, Mugs,” he says. “We’re going to skirt the balcony to the left, hit Central Sports first. Circuit Shack’s going to be hot for a while.” The more predatory teams would be hunting for the wounded, aiming to finish them off under the pretext of checking items off their lists. This is known as vulturing. It’s one of the things Caleb doesn’t like about the Celebration, but the Mugs can take advantage. Hit ’em where they ain’t.

“No fair,” Lucy complains. “I won the toss.”

“I know, sweetheart,” Caleb says. “But nobody’s gotten one of the consoles, right?”

“Not yet.” She’s sulking.

“No plan survives contact with the enemy,” JJ says. “Right, Dad?”

“By the time we crash Central Sports and get back out, Circuit Shack will be quiet again.” Caleb’s still paying attention to Lucy. “Remember, we have to adapt.”

She doesn’t answer, but she does put her phone away. In formation, the Mugs swing around the western end of the mall, passing the upstairs entrances to Hudson’s and Tracy’s. Nothing they want in there. Circuit Shack is in the southeast corner, Central Sports the northeast. Between them are Model 21 and AC Rennie. Plenty of room to give the hot zone a wide berth.

At least that’s what Caleb is thinking as they make the turn east.

 

The first group they engage is clearly way over their heads. That happens sometimes, when teams form in areas that don’t have big malls and just have to keep entering lotteries all over the country until they get blessed to enter the Celebration. The feed in Caleb’s ear identifies this team as number 9, a quintet called the Pecan Sandies out of Aroostook County, Maine. Closest mall is in Bangor, and it’s maybe one-fifth the size of the Greenleaf. Also, the Sandies haven’t had a chance to get the sightlines and cover in this mall down, whereas Caleb and his brood have been running drills in the Greenleaf for four years. The Sandies have made an elementary error by using the elevator. There’s no better kill zone in a shopping mall. The doors open, bang. Team Mug takes them down in fifteen seconds flat, from initial contact to cease-fire. The elevator doors close again and the car carries the remains of the Pecan Sandies back downstairs. Mueller and Odenkirk praise their efficiency.

But their exchange has drawn attention, possibly from some other more established teams that qualified out of regional tournaments in bigger malls like South Coast Plaza or the Houston Galleria. The Mugs withdraw to a safe and defensible position down a hallway spur that leads to bathrooms and a maintenance room. “Anyone have to take a leak?” JJ cracks. It’s 12:02. Eighty yards of mall concourse yawn between them and the front entrance to Central Sports. They can see it from their position, but they can’t see who else might be looking.

Caleb is keeping an eye on Lucy. The Pecan Sandies were her first live fire engagement and her first kill. You never know how someone will handle that. But she’s fine, not shaky or too stone-faced. Either would be cause for concern. She’s locked-in, on mission, still sucking on her lollipop. Must be just about down to the stick by now. The Mugs have always gnawed the sticks. Tradition. He sees that Brian is a little sweaty. “Stay cool, Bri,” he says. This is Brian’s third Celebration. Usually he’s steady. Caleb figures he’ll smooth out now that the first shooting is out of the way.

The first time they did the Celebration, the Mugs didn’t go for the big prizes. They got in, tagged a few things, got out. Timid. Testing the waters. Even now they’re not going for the most expensive stuff. Caleb doesn’t mind defending his family, but too many of the Celebration teams have started acting like the real point of it is the shootouts instead of the holiday specials. Lyle Odenkirk is a cheerleader for bloodshed, and his ratings suggest many Americans feel the same. To Caleb this borders on blasphemy, a legacy perversion from the days when open-carry groups started patrolling the malls. To him, the guns were never the point. It was about family. Still is.

 

He doesn’t want to wait more than sixty seconds for the vultures to come and go. Shooting starts up again on both floors of Tracy’s. That’s at least four teams, Caleb thinks. Lyle Odenkirk is calling out bodies hitting the floor while Frank Mueller calmly ticks off goals achieved. He’s also talking about the big loot caches, left as incentives to keep teams from just grabbing their specified loot and getting out. There’s more drama if teams are competing for the same items. Nobody’s found any of the loot caches yet.

Sixty seconds are up. The Mugs hopscotch from kiosk to planter to bench until they have a clear field of fire covering the entrance to Central Sports. On a signal from Caleb, Lucy breaks cover and sprints into the store. She gets in, pulls the tickets for two pairs of skates and two jerseys, and gets back out in thirty seconds. Along the way she has the presence of mind to notice when someone from another team starts hunting her. She ducks under hanging sweatshirts on a clearance rack and kneecaps him as he passes by, then makes tracks for the door. It’s better than either of the boys could have done. They would have been distracted by other goodies—signed hats, ticket exclusives, that kind of thing—and walked into an ambush. Caleb is proud of her. She stayed on mission. She’s slick. Not mean or bloodthirsty like some of the teams who put body counts ahead of the Celebration. She knows what Black Friday is all about. She’s 100 percent American, the pure product.

They reconvene on the far side of the fountain. The wounded man in Central Sports is screaming, but alive. Lucy would have been 100 percent within the law to coup him, but she’s not like that. Did you see that, Frank? Lyle Odenkirk marvels. She had him dead to rights and walked away. This Lucy Anderson, she’s one to watch.

She’s the Black Friday baby, Mueller answers. It’s in her blood.

No, Caleb thinks. Leave my girl alone.

But he’s got to stay focused. “We’re in the black, Mugs,” he says. They high-five. But they’re not done yet. Now that the boys are squared away, Lucy’s ready to hit Circuit Shack.

Calm and precise, they leapfrog from cover to cover around the long north side of the balcony, back the way they came because there’s still action inside the Model 21 and it could spill out at any moment. The downstairs level is chaos from the sounds of the announcers, but up here there’s still room to move. Watching his kids work together, Caleb realizes how much he has to be thankful for.

 

They run into trouble making the turn near the elevator at the north side, where they eliminated the Pecan Sandies. Someone’s shooting at them from Build-A-Bear. They hit the deck behind the carousel near the elevator. Lyle Odenkirk is getting that feral edge to his voice that always comes when the Celebration gets personal between two teams. And there we have other members of Team Zub pinning the Mugs behind the second-level carousel! They’ll be looking for revenge after little Lucy Anderson took down Hiram Zubowski’s older son Walter in Central Sports.

Fascinating developments here, adds Frank Mueller.

Caleb hears the name Zubowski and sees red. Hiram Zubowski is Caleb’s mortal enemy, has been since the first Greenleaf Celebration, when he went out of his way to corner JJ in GameZone even though Team Zub had no registered objectives there. Zubowski is a survivalist nut who lives in a compound in Idaho, home-schools his four boys, keeps his wife practically hobbled except when he lets her out to shoot. Caleb’s a liberal, doesn’t go in for all that ZOG end-of-the-world fundamentalist crap. But Team Zub is very, very good, and Hiram would like nothing better than to put a bullet in every Mug and pray over their bodies while his kids looted their presents. The hatred is mutual, but if Caleb got Hiram he would make sure Hiram’s kids were taken care of. There’s a difference between good healthy competition and bloodlust.

“Bug out, Mugs,” he says. They retreat back into Tracy’s, where the shooting has died down. Bri trips over a body. Team 10, the Midnight Ramblers. One of the good ones out of Houston. The Mugs move fast, staying low, through menswear and shoes, stopping near the central escalator to see if Team Zub has followed them in.

Nobody comes through the main entrance. Zubowski will be out for blood after one of the hated Mugs crippled his boy Walter, but won’t wait forever. He’s got his own team objectives, and he can’t win without claiming them. If he has to nurse his grudge against Caleb until the next Celebration, that’s what he’ll do.

But the Mugs have another problem. Rifle fire tears the rubber belt off the escalator. Another shot, probably a ricochet, hits Caleb in the heel. The Mugs peel away seeking cover and spot the rest of the Midnight Ramblers in a defensive position around the men’s changing rooms. There are only three of them, and one is obviously wounded. Blood soaks his pants. At first Caleb’s instinct is to retreat again, but Odenkirk and Mueller are already commenting on how the Mugs have been thrown off their schedule, and against his better judgment this makes Caleb angry. Also his foot hurts like hell. He can feel the dent in the steel heel cup.

He huddles behind a customer service desk, too far away for the Mossberg to be useful. Before the Ramblers can get comfortable, he gets the Beretta in his hand and fires a half-dozen shots past the cash register. One of the Midnight Ramblers drops. Head or neck. Lucky but Caleb will take it. The boys and Lucy follow his lead, spreading out and forcing the other two Midnight Ramblers back into the changing room. Whoa! Odenkirk exclaims. The Mugs are showing a little backbone there! But they’re still a long way from Circuit Shack

I know, Lyle, Caleb thinks. The Mugs close in on the changing room door. What were the Midnight Ramblers doing in there? Why protect a position when no one is attacking it?

The answer, when he sees it, is so obvious he’s irritated it took him so long to figure it out.

The Midnight Ramblers are guarding a cache.

 

Judgment wars with adrenaline and loses. “Lulu,” Caleb says. “We’re going to do one more quick thing before we get to Circuit Shack.”

“Dad! You promised!”

“We’ll hit this cache and then cut right back down the access hall behind the food court, pop the lock on the top floor of the Circuit Shack, be in and out before the other teams know we’re there.”

He can tell she doesn’t like it, and he understands why. There are only three of those VR bundles in the Circuit Shack, and with five teams still out there, the Mugs are taking a chance by spending time on the loot cache first. The potential upside is that one of the caches has a million dollars in it. The potential downside, other than missing the VR bundle and infuriating Lucy, is that some of the caches are protected by puzzles.

So quick action is best action. Caleb pulls a rack of clearance suits toward the changing room door. He shoves it in and watches the mirror just inside the doorway for motion. There. Feet inside one of the changing rooms. He slides the Mossberg forward and pumps two shots in the direction of the feet. The Rambler’s lower legs splatter across the back wall of the changing room. He falls screaming and his gun clatters out from under the door. Caleb doesn’t finish him off. He hustles along the length of the changing room, following the spots of blood on the carpet. The wounded Rambler won’t be able to hide.

The blood spots become a spreading stain at the end of the room, and in the triple mirror Caleb sees the Rambler from various angles. He’s dead, or close enough that Caleb doesn’t have to worry about him. The boys have kicked open the other changing room and dragged the wounded Rambler out. Lucy covers him.

Inside the changing room is a piece of ornamental plastic. Fake feathers mounted in what looks like…

It’s a bridle.

Caleb’s first thought is that Lucy is going to be furious. They’ve stumbled on a two-part cache, and once the other teams see them carrying the plastic bridle, they’re all going to know the other part is at the carousel. He looks at her and sees the expression on her face. For a minute he doesn’t say anything.

There are Celebrations going on in malls all over the country. Not all of them participate, but the tradition is taking hold. Give thanks for the bounty, then go collect the bounty. Frank Mueller, in his standard yearly moment of patriotism, is yammering about how the Black Friday Celebrations display Americans at their best, showing the world they’ll fight to protect what they love. Can you imagine this happening in Saudi Arabia? he snickers. Or France?

“A million dollars, Lu,” he says.

“Yeah,” JJ says. “It’s on the way to Circuit Shack anyway, right?”

It isn’t, but Caleb doesn’t correct him. Lucy still doesn’t say anything. He sees her finger curl on the pink AR’s trigger guard. She’s keeping trigger discipline, but she’s real angry. The wounded Rambler closes his eyes.

“Come on,” Caleb says. “A million dollars.”

Of all the teams who might have run across the million-dollar cache, Mueller says, can you imagine a better story than the Mugs? Who wouldn’t love to see little Lucy claiming that prize?

It’s a great story, Frank, agrees Lyle Odenkirk. Now let’s see if they can pull it off.

 

Opposite the carousel is one of the hall spurs that connects the concourse with the maintenance corridors. Caleb leads the Mugs through the Tracy’s stock room and along that corridor. A drone is following them. It’s against the rules to shoot them. When they get to the right door, the Mugs reload. “Everybody good?” Caleb asks.

“Someone got one of the MindCasts,” Lucy says.

“We’ll be right there, Lu,” Caleb says. “And worst-case scenario, we’ll buy you one with part of our million dollars.”

“I don’t want to buy one,” she says. “The whole point of this is to get what we came for, Dad. You promised.”

“I know, honey. I know.” Caleb eases the door open. There’s no one in the connecting hall. He leads the Mugs through. They stick tight to the left-hand wall. The carousel is just a few feet in that direction from the juncture with the concourse. When they’re close, Caleb says, “JJ. Mirror.”

JJ extends a small mirror out along the floor, angling it so he can see the carousel and the concourse area around it. A drone hovers over the open drop to the ground floor. There’s intense shooting near the south entrance. Someone’s getting ambushed on their way out. Odenkirk can barely contain himself. Look there, Lyle, Mueller says. The Mugs are about to make their move.

They’re in for a surprise, looks like, Odenkirk says. At the same moment JJ says, “Dad. They’re covering the carousel.”

“Who?” Caleb already knows but the question is automatic.

“Zub.”

“They know,” Lucy says.

“Pull the mirror, JJ. Nice and slow.” JJ does. Caleb forces himself to breathe slowly and master his outrage. The only way Zub could know the second part of the cache was at the carousel was if he was pirating the video feed. That son of a bitch. It’s the kind of thing he would do.

He feels something give way inside him. He’s tried to do everything right. He’s tried to have ideals. He’s tried to honor the Celebration, honor Sarah, and this is where it’s gotten him. He can’t do it anymore. He’s sick of being the sob story, sick of the reporters who call him every November wanting to talk about Sarah. Sick of the way he always knows exactly where he is in relation to the spot where she died, mangled by ball bearings and bent nails outside the ground-floor entrance to Tracy’s. Thirty-seven weeks pregnant, 12:41 a.m., shopping bags in either hand while Caleb and the boys slept.

Caleb steps around the corner and pumps the Mossberg until it’s empty, stepping calmly to his right as he fires. Blood and pieces of the carousel fly. When the last shell spins out onto the marble floor, Caleb is behind a row of kiddie carts. He reloads and hears the snap of the kids’ rifles, holding Team Zub down. They might not agree with him, but the Mugs are a team. Caleb has dealt the cards, and the kids are playing them.

The area fills with smoke. This is a clear violation of the rules, which prohibit any kind of smoke or gas, as well as mines and grenades. Zubowski. He’s laying down fire to keep Caleb away from the kids, but to their credit they’ve holed up at the edge of the smoke and as Caleb blinks the tears out of his eyes he sees that Mrs. Zubowski is face-down next to one of her boys against the balcony wall behind the carousel. For a moment Caleb is poleaxed by grief, seeing the TV images of Sarah lying on the cold Greenleaf marble, twelve years ago almost to the minute. Her death the rallying cry that gave birth to the Celebrations just as her dead body gave birth to Lucy.

This is the story of the Celebration! Odenkirk is hoarse. We rose to answer the people who hate our freedom, and now Caleb Anderson, whose daughter Lucy was born in the carnage of the Black Friday bombing twelve years ago today…Caleb Anderson is the hero of this Celebration! Have you ever seen anything like it!?

He’s reloaded the Mossberg and now Hiram Zubowski has seen his wife. Animal sounds are coming out of him and he empties his clip at the kiddie carts. The sound of ricochets is all Caleb can hear. When Hiram runs out of ammunition Caleb sprints through the smoke back to his kids, slamming into the wall and dropping. They’ve got Zub on the run.

Then JJ says, “Dad. Bri’s hit.”

Caleb looks at Brian and for a moment doesn’t register the fifteen-year-old with whiskers starting to appear on his lip, face pale, hands clutched over the hole in his thigh. All Caleb sees is Brian learning to walk, his toothless baby smiles as he bounced in his crib way too early on summer mornings. Then in the here and now Bri says, “Dad.” Holding in his fear. Bleeding, trying to tough it out. Caleb is sorry about every time he ever told any of the kids to get up, handle it, don’t let yourself be weak. He’s no drill sergeant, but in this world you couldn’t raise hothouse flowers.

There are medics outside the Greenleaf, staged in all the parking lots, but if they get Bri to the nearest station there’s no chance at the cache—or Lucy’s MindCast.

They’re taking fire. He has to do something. A burst stipples the wall over their heads. Teams aren’t supposed to have full auto weapons, but clearly Team Zub isn’t the only group that’s decided to flout the rules. Every year some of the teams push the envelope a little, daring the refs to disqualify them. It never happens.

He hears Mueller and Odenkirk perk up as they identify the Mugs’ pursuers as the Lochenloads, out of Interlochen, Michigan. They’re notorious vultures. Caleb thinks they ought to be banned from the Celebration, but they have big-time sponsors so nobody has the guts to make them play by the rules.

Lucy and JJ are firing back at the Lochenloads, holding them off for now. Zub is shooting at something too, but in all the smoke Caleb can’t tell what. Who.

“We can go back into the maintenance halls,” Lucy says. “Like you said before, around and down to Circuit Shack. Then there’s a med station right outside.”

She’s right. That’s the quickest way out. The Lochenloads are maneuvering for a clear shot at the Mugs, who can’t move because Zub is covering their only way forward. Caleb rakes the Lochenloads with buckshot, but they’re careful and he can’t see if he’s hit any of them. He reloads again. “Dad,” Lucy says. “We have to go.”

They’re holding off the Lochenloads, and Zub can’t make a move yet. Odenkirk is screaming about the heroic stand of the Mugs. Any second he’ll start singing the national anthem. He’s done it before. The polished marble concourse is streaked with blood and Caleb can see five bodies. He knows there are at least three more to the left near the carousel. But they don’t have the second part of the cache, they don’t have the MindCast…and they haven’t settled things with Hiram Zubowski. Ten million people are watching, and by the end of the day the Celebration YouTube channel would have three hundred million views. What did Caleb want them to see?

If the Mugs run now, Team Zub wins. That’s a repudiation of everything Caleb believes. Everything he’s taught his children. It’s the Hiram Zubowskis of the world who take a fine idea and turn it into a horror. Sarah wouldn’t have wanted them to run.

“We can’t,” he says. “Not yet. Do you want to let them win? They’re cheaters and killers. Is that what the Celebration is about? Are we going to let the Celebration be about that?”

No one is shooting at them. Caleb stands up and pivots around the corner. Hiram Zubowski is nowhere to be seen. Caleb swings the Mossberg to his right and sees a drone hovering over the far side of the concourse. Then he sees Hiram Zubowski, staggering, and one of the Lochenloads breaks cover briefly to haul him behind the pillars in front of Blondie’s Stitch. I knew it, Caleb thinks. Cheaters. Teams aren’t supposed to coordinate. That perverts everything the Celebration is supposed to stand for, pisses all over Sarah’s memory…

The kids are all shouting but Caleb doesn’t listen. “Let’s go, Mugs,” he says. “We’re not letting Zubowski get away now.”

Something hits him low in the back and he drops.

 

“Jeez, Lu,” JJ says.

“He promised,” she says. She has her phone in her hand. “We have to get Bri some help.”

It’s in the rules that a team can choose a new leader and register new objectives during the event. Caleb tries to work through his reasons for thinking this, but he can’t pin them down. He rolls over on his side. His fingers find two exit holes punched through the Kevlar, one about three inches to the right of his navel and the other about the same distance above it. He can’t feel his legs.

“You switched loads without telling me?” For some reason that bothers Caleb more than the holes. The Mugs had a plan. Together. Where had she gotten jacketed ammunition? She must have saved up for it herself. Initiative. She’s always had it.

“You let it get personal, Dad,” Lucy says. “Bri got shot, and we’re…” There are tears in her eyes. She spits out the remains of her lollipop stick. “You were supposed to protect us.”

The announcers sound excited about something but Caleb is having trouble following their commentary. Can you believe it!? Lyle Odenkirk shouts over and over. Put her face on the Statue of Liberty! Our Black Friday girl!

No, Caleb thinks. My Black Friday girl. She was right. He’d let it get personal, put the Mugs in danger by sidetracking them on the cache hunt and running into Team Zub. Fucking Hiram Zubowski. Lucy did the right thing, he thinks. Little Lu, born in blood and terror, who he never had to tell to get up because she was always tougher than the boys. He should have known she would do the right thing. What’s a million dollars?

Go, baby girl, he says. Get that MindCast. It’s all he can think of. Oh. And you take care of your brothers, too. Lucy got that steel from her mother. Caleb realizes he can’t see, and he’s talking to a picture of Lucy in his mind, and maybe he isn’t talking at all. He’s ashamed of his pride. All he wanted was skates and a MindCast and smiles around a campfire. Take care of your brothers, he says again, oh, and happy birthday, but he’s not sure the kids are still there. A drone buzzes somewhere close by.

Text copyright © 2018 by Alex Irvine
Art copyright © 2018 by Kyle Stecker

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