“You got any ketchup?”
“What do ya need ketchup for?”
“…? My taco?”
“You don’t put ketchup on tacos.”
“Uh, yeah, I do. Hot sauce gives me indigestion.”
“Well too bad, eat it plain. We don’t have ketchup here.”
“No need for the attitude, Paco. Jeez.” The woman turns and stalks away, flipping the bird behind her as she goes.
“You white people are crazy.” Miguel sits back down on his stool. “Ketchup on tacos … that’s as bad as pineapple on pizza.”
“I like pineapple on pizza,” I say.
“That is sick and disgusting and you are going to hell. The only thing that goes on pizza is cheese, sauce and meat.”
“I’m a vegetarian.”
Miguel rolls his eyes. “Then I tell you what I told her—eat it plain. Don’t go ruinin’ it with stuff don’t belong on it.”
“It is a miracle you have any customers,” I reach over to the soda machine and refill my cup. I’ve been guzzling soda all day. I know it’s bad for me and I’ll spend an extra half hour at the gym tomorrow to burn it off, but for right now I need the refreshment. It’s over ninety outside with 100% humidity, and it’s even worse inside the truck thanks to the stove. Even with a fan pointed straight at me, I’ve got sweat pouring off me. My shirt is clinging to me.
“You’re not a customer,” Miguel says.
Fair enough. I’m mooching today. We’ve been here since eight in the morning, and all I’ve done is check social media and eat chips while Miguel cooks the food and rings up customers. Business had been slow at first—people had either eaten before setting out this morning, or they’d stopped at Starbucks on the way here—but it had finally picked up after eleven and been pretty steady through most of the afternoon. Only in the last half-hour had it died down—I guess it’s late enough now that anyone who’s hungry is holding out for a proper meal, not something they bought from a truck on the side of the road.
I look outside. The Mall is still packed. Metro had tweeted that this was their second busiest day on record—bigger than the Women’s March, but still not the level of Obama’s inauguration. Though unlike the Women’s March, this had been an impromptu affair, only organized in the last three days, so you don’t have people pouring into DC on charter buses.
“Excuse me,” a man calls from outside the truck.
“Yes?” Miguel stands up again.
“I’d like a bean burrito, if you wouldn’t mind. Sour cream and heavy on the cheese.”
While Miguel’s busy fixing the order, I check Twitter. The first item in my feed is an update from the Washington Post.
BREAKING: North Korea releases footage of captured American soldiers.
I click through to the article.
North Korean television stations began their broadcast day on Monday by airing footage of US soldiers that it claims to have captured in the Demilitarized Zone. The footage shows six soldiers in US Army uniforms in an unadorned concrete room. The men appear in good health, and one soldier, identified as Lieutenant Brian Kilpatrick, spoke briefly to the camera to say that he and his men have been treated humanely and are unharmed.
The rest of the article is repeating stuff I already know, so I tap back to Twitter. Most of my feed is taken up by pics and vids of the protest. I’d walked around a bit earlier, but we’re parked on the opposite end of the Mall from the speakers’ platform, so I haven’t been able to hear any of the speeches. Even the loudspeakers sound like Charlie Brown’s teacher at this distance. I check out a clip of Natalie Portman warning that war with North Korea could mean the end of human civilization. That’s nice and all, hon, but where have you been until now? Weren’t you a Hillary supporter? She’s as much a warmonger as the Tangerine Menace. And if she were threatening war, I bet you wouldn’t be out here, now would you?
I’ve got no time for these wannabe Hollywood “progressives”. Only folk like Susan Sarandon and Oliver Stone have decent political views, and they’re treated like pariahs by the liberal set.
My phone chimes with an incoming text. It’s from Sass.
Getting off at the Smithsonian Metro now.
I hit reply and type out,
We’re parked on Constitution north of the Washington Monument.
A few seconds go by before Sass responds.
K. Be right there.
Miguel’s finishing up with the customer. Once he’s done, I tell him, “They’re on their way.”
“All right. I’ll close up, you get everything ready.” He opens the truck’s back door and steps outside. He lowers the shutter, plunging the interior into darkness.
I flip on the overhead light, then kneel by the cabinet where we have everything stowed. There are a dozen plastic bags, each one containing a pair of sweatpants, a sweatshirt and a ski mask, all black. We already have them sorted by size, and each one is labeled for its recipient. I wipe a few stray bits of cheese and lettuce off the counter and lay the bags out.
We also have baseball bats stowed down there, but only half a dozen. We don’t dare pass them out to everyone—there are going to be too many newbies with us today.
There’s clanging outside as Miguel lowers the truck’s awning and folds up the signs, then he climbs back in, shutting the door behind him.
“You nervous?” he says.
“Nothing I haven’t done before.” Unlike these Jennies-come-lately outside, I’ve been protesting against American fascism since before it was cool. Been arrested … seven times, I think it is now. And that’s nothing compared to Sass. She was around for Occupy DC. She told me back then she got arrested nearly every week. And people think American fascism is something that happened recently? Just because their lives were comfortable, they ignored what was really happening in this country.
Miguel’s like that. He only got involved with our group after the election. He’s not even coming with us today—he’s afraid if he gets arrested, the truck’ll get towed and he’ll be in trouble with his uncle. We had to twist his arm to even use it as a base.
“Well, good luck,” he says and goes up to the driver’s seat. He puts on NPR.
“…while the National Park Service won’t issue an official estimate, organizers say the protest has attracted a million people. Similar protests are taking place across the country. A march through Central Park in New York is pegged at five-hundred thousand people, and protests in San Francisco and Los Angeles are shaping up to be in the same range. So far the protests have been peaceful, apart from a small riot in New York where a group of so-called ‘Black Bloc’ protesters smashed the windows of stores in Times Square.”
Peaceful protests. They talk about that like it’s what we should be aspiring to. At a time like this! If the people on the Mall turned north and marched en masse on the White House, this whole crisis would be over within an hour. But the bourgie horde outside doesn’t want to do anything that requires real effort on their part—maybe even a sacrifice or two.
Somebody knocks on the back door.
This is it. This is the moment when we’re at the greatest risk of being stopped.
“Street looks clear,” Miguel says.
I open the door and find Sass waiting outside.
“C’mon.” I offer her a hand and pull her up, then help the next person and the next. We have to get everyone inside quickly. If a cop sees a bunch of people going into a food truck, they’re gonna get suspicious and come to investigate. We’d considered having everyone break into groups and do it two or three at a time, but in the end we’d decided there’d be less risk if everyone went in one go.
The interior of the truck is cramped to begin with thanks to all the equipment, with the central aisle being barely wide enough for two people to stand facing each other, but we manage to get everyone packed in and I shut the door. That leaves me facing the back of the truck, though. Turning around is a real trick, and I end up stepping on someone’s foot.
“Ouch,” the guy next to me says. Duncan. One of the college students who joined our group recently.
He’s got a stubbly beard and gelled hair, and when I’d first met him, I’d assumed he was a douchebro who was only coming out to meet women—we get a lot of that, but they usually lose interest after a couple meetings. They all come in thinking they’re going to be Luke Skywalker, hero of the Rebellion, but they end up mansplaining and tone-policing, then somebody tells them to check their privilege and they fall apart. There’d been one guy who got mad and accused us of creating a hostile environment, but most simply stopped showing up. Duncan, though, he’s stuck around.
Which is nice.
Despite the douchebro vibe, he’s cute as hell. He’s got a lean and tight body, well muscled but not ripped. I know every girl in our group has their eye on him—half the guys, too—but so far no one’s bagged him that I know of.
“Sorry,” I tell him.
“S’allright.” Ooo, what a smile. And those eyes … sparkle! Mmm-mmm.
This isn’t the right time. Maybe if we make it through this afternoon without being arrested, maybe we’ll go out for drinks afterwards, or back to Sass’s place to celebrate and I can drool over him there, but for right now we need to focus on the action.
“Okay,” I say, “I’ve got the clothes laid out on the side. If someone will pass them out.”
Les grabs a bag from the counter and reads the tag. “Tessa?”
“Up here,” a girl at the front says.
Les passes the bag down, then takes another one. “Duncan?”
Les tosses the bag like a frisbee, but it goes off course and pegs me in the face.
“Pass them out, I said.”
“My bad. Shawna?”
Duncan pulls the sweatshirt from the bag and puts it on over his T-shirt, then he places the ski mask atop his head like a hat. The final part proves the most difficult. We don’t have enough room to bend down, so he has to drop the sweatpants on the ground and step into them, then lower himself into a crouch to pull them up.
“Lori,” Les says and reaches their arm towards me. I grab the bag and start dressing myself. Looks like mine’s the last one.
“Okay,” Sass says. “Now I know some of you, this is your first action. Relax and don’t worry. As long as you remember the plan, everything will be all right. If you get arrested, it’s no big deal. You’ll spend a night in jail and be out on bail in time for lunch tomorrow. Keep your mouth shut and don’t say anything except, ‘I want a lawyer.’ I’ve got some cards, they have a phone number on them. Call it, give the person on the other end your information and they’ll take care of everything.”
She passes a stack of business cards to Shawna, who takes one and gives the rest to Tessa.
Despite the speech, the newbies look nervous. That’s good. If any of them looked confident, I’d be worried they were five-o. The cops have tried to infiltrate our group in the past, but we’ve always caught them before they could do much damage. The only time they actually stopped an action was when we were planning to graffiti the President’s hotel, and they ended up dropping charges because they moved on us too early and didn’t have enough evidence.
But today’s not like anything we’ve done before. This isn’t going to be a simple disruptive protest. We’re going for the big time here. That’s why we’re bringing so many newbs along—we can afford to lose them, but they don’t know enough to bring the rest of us down. They don’t even know the full extent of our plan for today. They think this is going to be like the Inaugural protest a couple years back, just marching in the street, making a spectacle.
“Everyone have a card?” Sass asks.
“I still need one,” says a girl named Genevieve—or as she insists we pronounce it, Zhone-vee-ev. Everyone calls her Jean for short.
Someone passes the stack to her and she takes a card, hands the rest to Sass.
“Okay then, I think we’r—”
“Guys, be quiet,” Miguel calls from the front. He pulls the curtain between us and him closed. A second later we hear a knock on the window.
Nobody breathes. Nobody moves.
“Yes, officer,” Miguel says. Shit. Just what we do not need right now.
We can’t hear what the cop says, but after a moment Miguel says, “I ran outta propane. I wasn’ expecting how busy it’d be today.” Another pause, then Miguel says, “Ah, nah, nah, my uncle, he’s gon’ bring me another tank.”
A really long pause.
“Yeah. Shoul’n’ be too long. Half hour, say.”
The cops says something else.
Then total silence. Thirty seconds go by. A full minute.
The curtain whips open. Miguel leans back and smiles, gives us a thumbs up. “All clear.”
“Thank the Goddess in all her glory,” Les says.
“You sure he’s gone?” Sass says.
“Yeah, he headed towards the Monument. He’s lost in the crowd. Even if he looks back and sees you guys leaving, he won’t be able to react in time.”
“Everything else clear?”
Miguel checks all the mirrors and even sticks his head through the driver side window. “We good.”
“Then let’s do this!” Sass shouts.
We all cheer back, and I twist around to open the door.
We pour into the street, pulling down our ski masks as we jump out. Sass and Les have the bats, and they pass them out as we form into a troupe. Duncan heads straight into the street and holds up his hand to block traffic. We charge across the street.
Miguel had parked across from the south-east corner of the Ellipse. Some of the overflow from the protest has moved over there, mainly people who want to take a breather, but compared to the Mall it’s pretty sparse.
The actual Ellipse—the circular road that gives the park its name—has long been closed to traffic and turned into a parking area for White House personnel. And this is supposed to be the people’s property! We’re lucky they haven’t banned the public from the park entirely—they’ve already extended the “security area” around the White House into the north end. The road into the park is blocked off by giant flower planters full of marigolds that have withered in the extreme heat, but the sidewalk is open. We follow it down.
Sass is on the phone next to me. “Yeah, we’re moving now. Get ready.” She hangs up. “Olatunde and the others are in place. C’mon.” She sprints ahead, forcing the rest of us to pick up our pace to keep up.
Protesters are staring at us like we’re maniacs. I’m not surprised. Most of them probably voted for Hillary—sure, some of them might’ve supported Bernie in the primaries, but they went with her when it counted. They could’ve voted for Dr. Stein, but no, they actually believe that nonsense about choosing the lesser of two evils. They’re exactly the reason America’s in the state it is. If sheeple weren’t brainwashed into voting for morally compromised corporate shills, we could’ve had an honest election about values, and we wouldn’t be in this situation. But no, they had to go with the corrupt status quo—and then they blame those of us who didn’t for everything that’s going wrong. They refuse to see that both sides are fascist, it’s just one is more open about it.
We reach the end of the path and cross the road to the center of the park. There are people with blankets spread on the ground, their protest signs laid out beside them. Somebody has their phone hooked up to speakers, they’re pumping out beats, and in the distance I see a group playing frisbee. Are these people really here protesting?
But the good news is, I don’t see any cops or other security. Good. We want to get noticed, but not just yet. First we have to get to the north end of the park.
We turn and run, following the path along the road. Les takes a swipe at a black SUV, shattering a headlight. Duncan takes that as a cue, and he chops his bat down on a side-view mirror, snapping it clean off.
“All right!” Tessa shouts.
“C’mon,” I clap. “No war! No KKK! No fascist USA!”
The others take up the chant.
Now we’re attracting real attention. People are taking out their cell phones to film us. Good. Our actions gain power the more people can see them.
The first cop appears as we approach the fence line. He holds back, clearly afraid of us. That’s the great thing about wearing all black like this—it makes us look tougher than we are. Cops never want to tangle with us unless they have plenty of back up. He stops twenty yards away and speaks into the radio clipped to his epaulet.
While he’s distracted, those of us with bats approach a sports car—all red and shiny, must belong to somebody important—and begin wailing on it. Les smashes the windshield. Sass takes a couple swings at the rear window but doesn’t manage to do more than crack it, but Duncan dents the hood and front grille. I take out my Swiss Army knife and slash the front tire. In less than a minute, we’ve got the thing wrecked. Whoever owns this is gonna be sobbing when he leaves to go home—and the car’s such a penismobile, you know it’s gotta be a he. I’m hoping it’s Klausner, the President’s son-in-law.
By the time we’ve finished with the car, more cops are hurrying over, and a couple guys that must be Secret Service.
I notice one of our group—Shawna, I think, but it’s hard to tell when everyone has a mask on—standing away from the rest of us. That’s not good. She’s gonna be an easy mark when the cops come at us. We need her to give them a merry chase before they take her down.
I go over to get her, but she shies away from me.
“What the hell’s going on?”
“No, no, no, no. Nobody said nothing ‘bout none this.”
Yeah, it’s Shawna. She’s one of our newest members, and this is her first action. I thought she knew what our group was. I mean yeah, we hadn’t divulged the full extent of our plan for the day—just in case one of the newbies was a narc—but she must’ve known we were gonna be doing something like this. Otherwise we’d be out with the regular protesters, waving signs and chanting.
“C’mon, or you’re gonna get—”
“Stay where you are. You’re all under arrest,” a cop says. He hasn’t drawn a weapon, but his hands are on his pepper spray cannister and tazer.
“Go to hell, you fascist pig!” Les shouts.
“I’m warning you, it’s best if you submit peacefully.”
I count about five cops here now, and two Secret Service guys. That’s nowhere near enough. We’ve gotta draw more attention. “Let’s split up,” I say and make a run for the road, dragging Shawna with me.
“Wait!” the cop shouts.
When I get to the other side of the street, I smash the window on a minivan. My bat connects with the glass hard enough to leave a spiderweb of cracks, but the glass doesn’t shatter. The blow sends a shockwave up my arm, so harsh it feels like my shoulders are about to pop out of their sockets.
“Oh my God, we’re going to get arrested!” Shawna says.
“Yeah, probably. Didn’t we make that clear?”
“For like trespassing, or refusing to disperse. Nobody said anything about vandalism.”
“These vehicles belong to fascists. Why should you care?”
“You’re fucking crazy. I’m outta here.”
She breaks into a run, but she only gets a dozen yards before a cop tackles her. While he’s busy with her, I turn and run the other way.
Across the street, it’s total chaos. Black-clad figures are running every which way, trampling over people’s picnics and through frisbee matches. The cops are in pursuit, but they’re outnumbered. One of them takes down a girl—Tessa looks like, judging by her thick build—and cuffs her. But now that she’s a prisoner, he has to do something with her. That means withdrawing and leaving his comrades a man down.
But not for long. More cops are pouring into the park, and Secret Service, too. Sirens start to sound in the distance as reinforcements make their way towards the Ellipse.
I look towards the security perimeter in the north. There are three figures sprinting across the field beyond the fence. Yes! Olatunde and the others are through. We can pull back now.
I take out my phone and open a text message I’d prepared earlier. The message is nothing more than “go,” but I doubt anyone will read it. The sound of an incoming text will be the signal. I tap the SEND icon and a spinny circle appears for a couple seconds. With a million people around, the phone needs a moment to push the message through. Figure another couple seconds for it to bounce off the cell tower and back to the recipients. Sass and Les have similar messages ready on their phones, that way if one of us were arrested, incapacitated, or just plain too busy, there’d still be someone to send it.
I don’t wait to see if the message got through. I hightail it out of the park, cutting across the grass towards 15th Street. We need to get the cops outta here, away from Olatunde and his team. On my way I whip off my ski mask and toss it aside.
There’s a wooden fence around the edge of the park, but it’s a flimsy thing made of wooden slats, meant only to encourage people to enter the park through the designated entrances. In a number of spots, it’s been blown nearly flat. I head towards one of these and vault over it. I haven’t run track since eleventh grade, nearly a decade ago, but I make the jump no problem.
I hit the sidewalk and run towards the Mall, dodging past people who are starting to head home.
I pass a trashcan and toss my phone into it, making sure it sinks deep inside. It’s only a burner, and I’d paid cash for it, but there’s always the possibility the cops could trace it back to the store and get security camera footage. Even that won’t do them much good, though; I was wearing a baseball cap the whole time I was in the store, and I made sure to keep my head down so the cameras couldn’t get a good look at me. But you always want to send the pigs through as many hoops as you can.
The street is lined with charter busses and food trucks. I stop and hide between a couple so I can take my sweat suit off—it’s too conspicuous in this heat. A cop could spot me from a block away. I tear my sweatshirt off and toss it on top of a truck. I’m about to drop my pants when a man shouts at me from across the street. Even without looking over, I can tell he’s po-po. It’s the tone of his voice, that “I don’t take no shit from anyone” attitude that all cops have.
He steps into the street, raising his hand for traffic to stop, but a car blasts by him without even tapping its brakes. He jumps back.
While he’s distracted, I step back to the sidewalk and start running. I reach the corner, not far from where we’d entered the park, and sprint across Constitution.
Miguel’s food truck is still there—he’s got it open again and is serving a mid-sized family. Be a good place to hide, but with a cop on my tail, I don’t dare. I keep running, south onto the Mall.
“Hey! You! Stop!”
I don’t look behind me, but I can tell the cop’s closing in on me.
I plunge into the crowd, cutting in front of a group of Asian tourists who are gawking at the Washington Monument despite everything that’s going on around them. I elbow my way deeper, not paying attention to the nasty looks people are giving me. The cop keeps on shouting, but his voice is getting more and more distant.
I come to a stop in front of a huge TV. The thing is bigger than my living room floor! A crowd has gathered to watch Elizabeth Warren speaking in front of the Capitol. The people around me are eating up her speech. Don’t they realize she used to be a Republican? How can they trust her? Idiots. They’ll take whatever the Democrats shovel out, even if it’s conservative politics with the edges filed off. And they probably call themselves “progressives.”
I need to get my sweatpants off. Those are the one thing that could give me away. But I can’t very well strip here—it’d draw too much attention, even if I do have shorts on underneath. But where else can I do it? There are port-a-potties nearby, but the line is ridiculously long.
Maybe I should get on the Metro and head home. The nearest station isn’t too far off. By the time I get back to my place, anyone who’s been captured should be booked. I can call Weiner-Hartman-Ferrell and find out how many calls they’ve gotten so far.
“Hey.” A hand clamps down on my shoulder and I jump nearly outta my skin, but it’s just Duncan. He’s sweating and outta breath—he wipes his forehead on the sleeve of his—oh, shit, he’s still got his sweatshirt on. People are looking at him funny. Even if they don’t know what’s going on precisely, a guy wearing long sleeves in ninety-plus weather must be up to something, especially if he’s dressed in black.
“Let’s head outta here.” I tug his arm.
As we walk, he pulls the sweatshirt off, but he keeps it in his hand, which I suppose is an improvement.
“Did you see what happened to the others?” I ask.
“George and Shawna got arrested, I know that. Saw a couple others running out the park, but they had cops on their butts. No idea who they were. And, uh, Les and Sass—they were headed towards Pennsylvania Av last I saw.”
“Let’s head up there.”
We keep to the thickest part of the crowd for as long as we can, which takes us towards the Natural History Museum. I don’t wanna go near there. I’d called in sick this morning. The last thing I need is for someone to spot me out here. Brad likes me and cuts me a lot of slack, but there are limits. If he finds out I’m playing hooky, I’ll be in trouble.
And I’m right to be worried, cuz as we’re nearing 12th Street, I spot River moving down the sidewalk. I’ve never liked that guy. He’s always quiet, and you try to talk to him he just nods and mumbles, doesn’t say anything other than “yeah” or “no” no matter how much you say to him.
Duncan and I are almost to the edge of the crowd, but I turn back so River can’t see me even if he looks over.
“What is it, a cop?” Duncan says, following my lead.
“What? You take part in the capitalist economy? Didn’t think you were the type.”
“Food costs money, so does a roof. Even Marx had a job.”
River’s headed away from us now, so we resume our trek north. We move beyond the fringe of the crowd and onto 12th Street, keeping to the side of the road farthest from the museum.
We’re halfway to Constitution when I spot Jean up ahead. She’s managed to ditch her sweatsuit and looks like any other middle class, African-American woman out protesting—which, considering the crowd is overwhelmingly white, means she still sticks out.
“You guys seen anyone else?” she asks.
I shake my head and Duncan tells her what he told me.
“Yeah,” Jean says, “I saw George get arrested. Adriana tried to run for the entrance, but a squad car pulled up before she got there. I think a couple guys got out on the far side of the park.”
“So what do we do? Call it a day, go home, or try to meet up with Les?”
“The thing is, the cops are not reacting well,” Jean says.
“Whadaya mean?” Duncan says.
“I dunno what Olatunde did, but he pissed somebody off bigly. More than we expected. The cops are really out searching right now. Not just on foot, either.”
As if on cue, one of DC’s finest passes the end of the block, making a slow sweep of the street. We’re far enough back that the officer can’t see me and Duncan’s black sweatpants, but if the car turned down 12th, we’d be caught.
“Well, it’s not like Les’s never spent a night in jail before,” I say.
“I guess,” Jean says. She’s been on a couple actions with us, but never one where there’ve been arrests.
“Look,” Duncan says, “I vote we get the hell outta here. Isn’t there a Metro station up ahead?”
“Yeah,” I say. “Federal Triangle.” That’s the one I usually use when leaving work.
Jean doesn’t look convinced, but she nods. “Sure.”
We cross Constitution and enter a canyon of Federal buildings, all of them ugly, fascist-looking stone hulks.
And speaking of fascism, there’s a TV van parked on the street—WTTG, Fox5.
“Excuse me.” A blonde woman pokes her head through the window. She’s got so much hairspray on that her hair doesn’t budge when she tilts her head. “Are you guys protesters, by any chance?”
“Fuck you, Nazi Barbie,” Jean says, emphasizing her point with an upraised middle finger.
“No need to be nasty,” the woman replies.
“To you, yeah there is,” Duncan says.
We hurry past.
We’re almost to the station when a couple figures turn the far corner. From the waist up they’re wearing regular clothes, but they have on the familiar black sweatpants of our group. Les and Sass. They’re both running at full speed, and the reason why soon becomes apparent—they’ve got a cop car on their tails.
“Ah, no,” Jean says.
This is definitely not good, but we aren’t caught yet. “This way!” I wave for everyone to follow me.
The Federal building to our left curves back from the street, forming a semicircular plaza. There’s a colonnade around the first floor of the building, and in the middle of it is an open passage to the interior of the block. That’s where I head, vaulting over a heavy concrete flower planter—the sort that’s supposed to prevent a car bomb from getting close to the building, which means the cop car can’t get through either. They’ll have to get out and chase us on foot, or else circle the block. If we’re fast enough, we can break away.
The others follow me under the archway. Jean heads towards the escalators for the Metro, but I call her back. Federal Triangle is one of those stations that only has one exit, so if we go down there, we’ll be trapped. All the cops have to do is stop the trains while they search for us.
Instead I run straight through to the other side and into a second plaza—really a glorified alley between two sets of buildings. There are sculptures, and benches, and cafe-style seating, but ultimately it’s an alley with a wide area in the middle. Though part of that area’s been cut away, making a circular pit with a bunch of shops and restaurants at the bottom.
Maybe we should head down there, hide out.
No. At this time on a Sunday, the stores will be deserted, probably getting ready to close. If the cops check down there, we’ll never get away.
Our best hope is to head north. If the cops stay in their cars, they’ll have to go almost all the way around the block to catch up with us. We have a chance of beating them.
I break to the right. The walls close in until the passage is barely wide enough to accommodate a vehicle. The shadows are deep here, the buildings around us blotting out the sun, but even with the shade it’s oppressively hot. By the time we get to the end of the alley, I’m gasping for breath.
And then we come out onto the street, and it’s even worse. We can’t go on like this. If we keep running in this heat, we’ll keel over in no time. We have to find somewhere safe and air-conditioned to hide out.
There’s a possibility. I don’t like it. It’s going to mess my life up if we go there, but if the cops are as worked up as Jean says, we’re gonna have to.
“Come on,” I say. “I have an idea.”
There it is. The end of the block up ahead. The Natural History Museum. If we can get in there, we can hide.
The trick is, getting in there. We’ve been running for two blocks now. That doesn’t sound so far, but in this heat … ohhh. I’m gonna drop dead. This is too much. Global Warming.
But we need to run. Have to keep running. We’d snuck past the cops on 12th Street—looked like they were searching the station, thank the Goddess, with only a single officer up on the street—but we can’t let our guard down. There are other prowl cars around. We’ve caught sight of them in the distance, still searching for us.
Our luck only needs to hold out until we reach the museum. Maybe fifty feet. We can do this!
But it can’t be that simple. Of course it can’t.
We’re almost to the corner when a cop car passes ahead of us. It’s a T-intersection with no stop signs for the cross-street, but the car’s rolling along at a crawl. The pig behind the wheel looks over at us. We’re in the shade of a tree, but otherwise he has a clear view.
He flips his siren on and stomps the gas, turning across the intersection towards us. The sun flashes across his windshield, nearly blinding me, but for a second I have a clear view of him with a mic to his mouth. I can’t hear what he’s saying and I can’t see his lips moving, but I can guess exactly what he’s saying.
“Book it!” Sass shouts.
We run into the road, barely even checking for traffic. A car whizzes behind me, the driver laying on his horn. Another squeals its brakes as it comes to a halt with its nose in the intersection. We hit the sidewalk and sprint for the museum doors. I yank them open and usher everyone inside. The guard inside looks up in surprise, but relaxes when he sees me.
“Hey, Lori, awfully late to be comin’ in.”
“Yeah, busy day.”
I cast a glance back at the street. The cop’s gone up to the end of the block and is making an illegal U-turn, his siren still screaming. Like a wolf’s call, it’s answered by more in the distance. We don’t have much time.
I step inside, and I’m bathed in air so cool I feel like I’ve been transported to the arctic. Ten seconds ago I was burning up, and now I’m shivering.
We’ve come in through the museum’s rear entrance. Because the building’s built into a slope, we’re on a different floor from the main lobby, and there are no exhibits down here, only the cafeteria and gift stores. The hall’s virtually deserted, and the cafe only has one family eating inside.
“Where is everyone?” Duncan says.
“Protest scared ‘em away. It’s been dead all day, other than the movie upstairs.”
But that’s okay. I wasn’t planning on hiding in a crowd.
“Why don’t you stay back and keep an eye out,” Sass suggests to Jean.
“Yeah, okay.” She nods.
I head towards the souvenir shop. It isn’t particularly busy either, just a middle aged man poking around the puzzle section. I approach the counter. Amy and Brad are the only employees I can see, and they’re both hunched over a cell phone, watching a video.
“Ah, man.” Brad laughs. He’s a little older than me—he’s never mentioned his age, but when we talk about our childhoods he’ll occasionally drop a reference to fads and cartoons that were before my time. He’s pretty chill for a manager, at least when it comes to female employees, but even so I’m pushing my luck by showing up after calling out sick.
But too late for that now.
Amy taps the screen and slides her finger to the side. “This is never gonna get old.” She’s much younger, a twiggy college student, super bourgeois. Her parents are covering all her tuition and living costs. The only reason she has a job is so she’ll have money to go clubbing once the new semester starts.
Brad is leaning over her as they watch the video, his nose so close to her hair he must be able to tell what kind of shampoo she uses. He doesn’t see me until I’m in front of the counter.
He looks up with a start. “Lori. What the hell are you doing here? I thought you were sick.”
“No,” I admit. “I went to the protest.”
“Oh. Don’t let River find out. I hadda call him in, and he was not happy.”
“How can you tell?” Amy says. “The guy’s like a robot. ‘May I help you?’ ‘Is that all for you?’ ‘Have a wonderful day.’”
“I’m sorry, but this is important and we don’t have a lot of time,” I say.
“What? Did you forget your paycheck?” Brad reaches under the counter for the binder where we keep the checks.
“No. No, we’re in trouble and we need help.”
“Call for back-up.”
“Intruder on the South Lawn. Go to lockdown.”
I look down at Amy’s cell phone. The video is jumbled for a moment, just flashes of green and black and blue, but after a moment the camera operator gets everything under control and steps back, revealing a pile of men in black suits on top of a large, squirming African-American man.
“Ah, some guy broke onto the White House grounds, jumped Bast Kroga in the middle of an interview. Just ran up and—bam!—right in the nose. It’s like five kinds of awesome.”
We don’t have much time, but … “Can I see that?”
Without waiting for an answer, I grab the phone and rewind the video. There’s Kroga talking on Fox News. There’s some noise off camera, someone shouts, and then—yes! Olatunde barrels onto the screen and plows his fist into Kroga’s face. This wasn’t exactly what we’d had planned—our goal was for Olatunde to make it into the press room and deliver a statement denouncing US military aggression—but this will probably bring more attention to us.
Though at the same time, it means extra trouble for us. We do something this eye catching, the government’s going to come down hard on us, just like they did after the inaugural protests. No wonder the cops are running a dragnet. They’re sure to come up with some bullshit federal charge against us.
If they catch us, that is.
I hold up the phone. “This was us.”
“What was you?” Amy says.
“This. We’re with DI45. You know, the group that protested the inaugural?”
“You mean the rioters?” she says.
Of course. She’s one of those people. The first time we’d worked together, politics had come up and she’d turned out to be a total Hillary-bot, blaming Bernie for Hillary’s loss and refusing to recognize that the Democrats nominated a lousy candidate. She’s the sort of person who thinks she’s a left-wing progressive, but she spouts neo-liberal talking points.
“Yeah,” I say. “That’s us. And we were doing it again, just now. And now the cops are after us. We need to hide.”
As if on cue, Jean runs into the store. “They’re here.”
“And you want us to help?”
“C’mon, Brad, you’re our only hope.”
He thinks for a moment, then turns to Amy. “Can you hold down the register by yourself?”
She looks around the empty store, shrugs. “Yeah, sure.”
“And pretend you don’t know anything, the cops come in,” Sass says.
“Fine.” Amy’s less than enthused, but I get the feeling she’ll keep her word.
I hope she’ll keep her word.
“Okay, c’mon.” Brad steps from behind the counter and leads us to the back of the store. He stops at a door and punches a number on a keypad. An electronic chime whoops twice and he opens it.
We step through to a dimly lit corridor with doors along one side—the break room, an employee restroom, and a small storeroom. At the end of the hall there’s a pair of heavy-duty metal doors with an exit sign above them, but a huge red and white sticker warns, “ALARM WILL SOUND IF DOORS ARE OPENED.” Beyond this is the loading dock, but only Brad and Keisha have the keys to get through without triggering the fire alarm. This is the main reason I grabbed Brad instead of using my own passcode to get back here. Well, that and if Brad had seen us going back without knowing what was up, he might’ve called the cops himself.
Once we’re all in the hallway and the door’s closed, me and the others take the opportunity to take off our sweatpants. We stuff them into a trashcan in the break room. Duncan and Les rearrange the garbage so the pants aren’t visible at first glance.
“Can you let us through?” I nod towards the loading dock door.
“We need to get outta here. That’s the fastest way.”
“I’m only supposed to open that door if we’re getting a truck.” The loading dock is also used by the museum people when they’re getting new specimens, so it has access to the parts of the building that are off limits to the public—the labs you see on Bones, I suppose. I’ve never been able to get back there myself.
“Look, you’ve already let us in here,” I say. “If the cops want to search the whole store and they find us, you’ll be in trouble too.”
I’ve got him and he knows it. “Yeah, okay.” He takes his keychain off his belt loop and flips through to find the one he needs. He twists the key in the lock until something beeps, then pushes through.
The loading dock is dark and deserted—unsurprising for a Sunday afternoon—and the metal shutters over the loading bay are locked, but Brad has a key to these as well. With nobody around, we can get outside, no problem.
But before Brad can get the dock opened, his phone rings.
“Don’t answer,” I tell him, but he does anyway.
“Yello? … Yeah … Yeah, I understand … Yeah, let them through.” He hangs up. “That was Amy. Cops wanna check the backroom.”
Dammit. That was faster than I expected. I figured they’d search all the public areas before they wanted backstage. But at least Amy can only let them into the break room. Without Brad, they can’t get into this part of the building unless they get the museum’s administration to let them in.
I’m about to urge Brad to open the loading dock and let us out when I’m startled by a loud, creaking noise from the other side of the bay. For a moment I think it’s the cops, that somehow they’ve managed to outflank us, but it turns out to be a couple of women and a guy coming out of a dark stairwell that’s marked OFF LIMITS. I recognize the women as museum employees—the actual museum, not the gift shop or cafeteria. I’ve seen them around before, but we’ve never talked—they never talk to the peons. The guy is a stranger to me, but the way he’s got his arm around one of the women, he must be a boyfriend or husband.
“—so much shorter than I expected,” one of the women is saying.
“And his voice sounds deeper on TV,” the other one—the one accompanied by the guy—says.
For his part, the man says, “I’m just surprised he didn’t like the new Star Trek. I thought it was awesome.”
They disappear around a corner, towards the door that leads to the museum’s back area, without ever glancing in our direction. I hear a beep and the door opens. Their voices disappear through to the other side.
But the other door, the one they’d come through, is hanging open. It’s on one of those pneumatic arms that’s supposed to pull it closed, but it’s stuck half way.
“What’s down there?” Les says.
“Tunnels,” Brad says. “They connect all the museums.”
“All the museums?” Duncan says.
“That’s what I heard. I’ve never been down there myself—it’s off limits.”
“There’s a museum on the far side of the Mall, right?” Duncan says.
“The Castle,” I say.
“Then if we can get to it underground …” Duncan says.
He’s right. If we go out through the loading bay, there’s still a chance the cops will spot us, but not if we go underground. And the Castle is right next to the Smithsonian Metro. “Yeah, let’s go.”
“I’m not sure that’s a wise idea,” Brad says.
“You don’t have to come,” Les says.
“I can’t get back to the store while the cops are snooping around the back.”
“Sounds like a personal problem,” Les says.
We head for the door. Brad hesitates for a couple seconds then comes after us.
We descend a badly lit stairwell, looks like it hasn’t been renovated in decades—if ever. There’s dust on the hand rails, and cobwebs on the ceiling.
“This isn’t used much anymore,” Brad says. “Somebody told me it’s from the olden days, they needed to pump steam from the Castle to the subsidiary museums because they didn’t have boilers of their own.”
“So why were those people down here?” Sass says.
“Haven’t a clue.”
We reach the bottom. It looks like a huge broom closet, with tools and cleaning equipment stacked against the wall. And there are indeed pipes running along the ceiling, so low that Les and Duncan have to duck their heads.
There’s only one way we can go from here—down the tunnel. It’s no better lit than the stairwell, but it is lit … which is weird. Why waste the electricity? Did the museum employees forget to hit a switch when they came up? You’d think people into science would care more for the environment.
We’ve gone some distance—it’s hard to judge down here, but I think we’ve gone far enough to be under the Mall—when Les stops short. Since he’s in the lead, the rest of us end up piling into each other.
“Listen,” he says.
I don’t hear any—no … there are people talking in the distance. Someone laughs, real loud.
“Oh shit,” Brad says.
“What?” Sass says.
It takes me a moment for me to figure out what he’s talking about, but then it hits me—the museum’s IMAX theater has been showing the new Liam LaGrange Bassett documentary all weekend, with a special Q&A session afterwards with the doctor himself.
“The last showing got out an hour ago,” Brad says. “They’re probably giving him the behind-the-scenes tour now.”
That would mean those are the museum bigwigs up ahead. Those folks earlier, they’d been down here hobnobbing. And unless we can find a branch tunnel to one of the other museum’s, we’re going to run right into them.
Either that or we have to turn around and go back—but even then, we might not get out of the loading dock before these guys catch up with us. Damn.
“We can get past them, I bet,” Duncan says.
“It’s possible,” Les says.
“Whoa, whoa, whoa. This is way more than I bargained for,” Brad says.
“You chose to come,” Sass says.
She’s right. I like Brad. He’s a decent guy, not too exploitative for a capitalist lackey. But you’ve gotta prioritize what’s important. Watching a YouTube video’s not going to topple this fascist regime. Only those of us out here fighting for what’s right can do that. And to do that, we need to get away. We’ll do no good in a cell.
“Go back if you’re afraid,” I tell Brad.
“Yeah. I think I will.” He turns and heads away.
“Okay, so do we just rush at these guys?” Duncan says.
“The only way out is through,” Sass says.
“If we run at ‘em and yell, I bet they’ll step aside and be too confused to do anything,” Les says.
So that’s the plan. “On three,” I say. “One. Two. Three.”
I take off running and so does Les, but the others wait a second before they follow. Come on, guys. I said “on three.” On. You know what that means?
Well, too late to do anything now. The museum employees are dead ahead, their backs to us.
“Yooooooooooooooooo!” Les screams.
They jump at the noise and most of them step aside, but one man just turns and stares at us in bewilderment. He’s heavy, too, and takes up a large portion of the tunnel. There’s no way around him. Les tries, but he trips and goes flying face first onto the floor. I stop short.
One man adjusts his glasses in a way that says he’s in charge. “Who are you people? How did you get down here?”
But before I can respond, the tunnel rumbles. For a moment I think we must be under the street and a large truck is passing over us, but the shaking is too intense, and goes on too long.
“Earthquake,” a man says from the back of the crowd. I recognize him from television. Liam LaGrange Bassett. “I don’t suppose this was designed to withst—”
He doesn’t finish the sentence. The ceiling chooses that moment to crack open and pour a ton of dirt down onto us.
To Be Continued...
The waitresses are looking at us funny. I can’t blame them. Twenty-odd teenagers dressed as anime characters crammed around a table—yeah, we’re freaks. Go ahead and snap some photos, post them to Instagram. “Hey, look at these weirdos who came into my work today! Can you believe these losers?”
I wish we’d gone home, straight home, when the convention let out, but my dad and the other chaperons wanted to grab coffee before getting on the Metro, so here we are. They’re all over at another table, chatting. They said they didn’t want to get in our way, but I expect they’re tired of dealing with a bunch of high-strung teenagers.
I know I am.
I’d rather be at a table by myself, reading some of the manga I’d picked up at the con, but my dad insisted I sit with the group. It’ll be good for me, he said. It’ll help me make friends. We can talk about our shared interests.
So now I’m sitting at a corner of the table, trying not to look like a loser who isn’t part of the conversation around her, even though I am, in fact, a loser who’s not part of the conversation around her.
“I don’t get it,” Elijah says. He’s in an old fashioned black tailcoat, looks like he should be helping a woman in a fancy gown out of a coach. “Why do they announce series so far in advance? I mean, they show these previews and we’re all like, ‘Whoa, that looks so a-mazing!’ then they tell us, ‘Yeah, it’ll be out in another two years.’ It’s like, I’m going to be in college by then.”
“If the world don’t blow up first,” Faythe says. She’s wearing a Sailor Moon costume, and even has her hair dyed blonde and tied up in dango buns. Somehow Faythe doesn’t look ridiculous dressed like that. She could probably wear a garbage bag and look good.
“The world’s not going to blow up,” Ed says. “That’s the Fake News media talking. They want to scare everybody into thinking the President’s screwing up. He’s not.” Ed’s dressed in an outfit from some mecha show—one of the Gundams maybe? I dunno, I’ve never liked mecha, and all the Gundams look alike to me.
“Ed, shut up,” Elijah says.
“How’re you guys doing?” Our waitress stops by.
We mutter, “Good,” and “Fine thanks,” in a jumbled response.
“More tea,” Faythe says.
“Another Coke,” Ed says.
“How ‘bout you, sweetie?” the waitress asks me.
“No, I’m fine.”
“You sure? You hardly ordered anything. If you don’t want an entrée, we’ve got dessert.”
All I’m having is a Dr. Pepper and an appetizer platter. Dad said I could get whatever I wanted, but I know he’s already blown a few hundred bucks on the convention, so I’m trying to go easy on his wallet. “I’m good.”
“’Kay.” The waitress moves down the table to take more refill requests.
“Oh hey,” Mandy says, “did I show you guys the pics I got with IKB-45?” Unlike most of us, she’s not in cosplay—her hair is dyed purple, but that’s normal for her, as is the black leather jacket she has on, and the fishnet stockings she’s wearing as gloves. Back in middle school she’d been a loser like me. We ate lunch together—or at least at the same table, though since we both read the entire time, we’d never really been friends. Back then she’d worn hand-me-downs from her sister, who was old enough that her clothes were out of fashion by the time Mandy got to them. Being an only child, I’d always had new clothes, even if my dad bought them from the clearance rack at TJ Maxx, and I’d actually felt superior because of that. But in the summer between eighth and ninth grade, Mandy had metamorphosed. She dyed her hair (green at first, then blue and red, and finally violet), gotten a barbell piercing through the top of each ear, and started wearing all black. Guys who used to make fun of her now thought she was freaky-scary and stayed away.
She takes out her cell phone and taps it a couple times before handing it to Faythe.
“What? How’d you get pics with them?” Faythe says.
“I ran into them in the elevator last night.” Unlike me and my dad, who’ve been going home every evening, Mandy, Faythe and the others have been staying in a hotel near the convention center. Most of the conversation today had been about the parties they went to last night.
Faythe flicks through the photos. “Jealous!”
“Come on, it’s not like they’re a real band,” Ed says. “They don’t even play instruments. All they do is dance and sing—and they aren’t even good at that.”
For once I agree with him. IKB-45 is a manufactured pop group. The members are interchangeable—literally. At any one time, there are forty-five of them—hence the name—and they’re divided into five teams that travel around doing concerts. If one girl retires, they simply promote an understudy to take her place. I read somewhere that there’ve been more than two hundred members over the years. That’s crazy.
How anyone can like music that’s put together on an assembly line, I can’t fathom.
“You know what I heard?” Chris says. Like me, he’s in a Survey Corps uniform from Attack on Titan. Judging by his ascot and the bandanna tied over his head, he’s supposed to be Levi. “The whole idol thing is a scam. The guy who runs the group makes the girls sleep with him to get into the band. He’s like Hugh Hefner.”
“Who?” Mandy says.
“He created Playboy,” Ed says.
“Yeah, so every night at his mansion, there’s this huge orgy, and he invites all the rich and famous men in Japan to come over and bang these sixteen year old girls.”
“That is not true,” Faythe says. She hands the phone to Elijah, who quickly thumbs through the pictures and passes it to Ed. Ed doesn’t even glace at it, hands it straight to me.
The first picture shows Mandy standing with five Japanese girls, all dressed in identical frilly skirts with matching jackets. The girls are all making peace signs at the camera.
They are cute. I can understand why guys like looking at them, but the popularity of their music is another matter. Anytime they do an anime theme song, I end up fast-forwarding through the credits. They sound like gerbils on helium.
“I dunno,” Elijah says. “There’ve been some nasty news stories about idol groups—remember the one who committed suicide last year? Or the girl who shaved her head after getting caught with a boyfriend?”
I flip to the next photo. It’s a two-shot of Mandy and Kyouko Tamura. Even I know who that is—she’s famous as the “tough” member of the group who supposedly got into all kinds of fights when she was in school. Looking at the two of them together, maybe it’s true. Kyouko isn’t even as tall as Mandy’s shoulder, but even though Mandy’s in her leather jacket, she doesn’t look half as tough as Kyouko.
“That proves my point, though,” Faythe says. “If that stuff were true, it’d be all over the tabloids. Anime News Network and Kotaku would report on it. But they don’t.”
I look at the remaining photos. They show Mandy posing with various members of the group. One of them is making a funny face, like she’s barking at Mandy.
“The companies that run idol groups are part of the yakuza, that’s why it doesn’t get reported,” Ed says. “Japanese media is afraid to touch the subject, and sites like ANN don’t do investigative reporting—they just repeat stuff from Japanese sites.”
“You’re making that up. You don’t know anything,” Mandy says.
“I so do,” Ed says.
I pass the phone over to Chris. “Ooo, can you text me this one?” He holds up the photo of the barking girl. “That’s super cute.”
“You’re not going to jack-off to it, are you?” Faythe says.
“Yeah, but don’t worry. Only to Hana-chan, not Amanda.”
“Don’t be gross,” Faythe says.
“What? I’m not good enough for your fantasies?” Mandy asks with mock-dramatics.
“I can fantasize about you any time.”
Faythe covers her ears. “Not listening! La-la-la-la!”
“Nope,” Mandy says. “I won’t text it to you unless you promise to imagine a three-way with me and that girl.”
“Okay, fine, as soon as I get home, I’m going to lock myself in my room and whack-off while imagining you lezzing out with this girl. That make you happy?”
“Yes, very much so.” Mandy preens.
“Here ... are your drinks.” The waitress puts a pitcher of tea in the middle of the table and hands Ed a glass of soda. She’s heard the conversation, or enough of it at least. If she’d been looking at us weird before, now her expression is that of a woman who’s discovered cockroaches performing The Sound of Music. “Let me know if you need anything else.” She moves down the table and hands out more refills.
“So,” Faythe says, “changing the subject. Anyone read the new Realist Hero yet?”
“I’m waiting for the books to get beyond the anime,” Mandy says.
“They did that like two books ago.”
“Really? I gotta pick it up then. You loan me a copy?”
“Sorry, digital only.”
I have no clue what they’re talking about. I think I’d watched an episode of Realist Hero—I watch at least one episode of everything on Crunchyroll—but I can’t remember anything about it. One of those stupid stories about a guy who gets stuck in another world, I think.
Further down the table, I catch snippets about Railgun, but they’re talking about the manga, which I’m not current on. I tune them out before I catch any spoilers.
“Hey.” Ed pokes me in the shoulder.
“I’m sorry, I’ve been wondering—are you a real anime fan?”
Huh? “Yeah.” Why else would I go to a convention?
“It’s just you’re dressed like that.”
What’s wrong with my costume? I though I’d done a good job with it. People had been coming up to me at the con and asking me where I bought it. They’d been amazed when I said it was homemade.
“I mean, Shingeki no Kyojin?” Why’s he using the Japanese title? “Even people who don’t watch anime know what that is. It’s on Cartoon Network, fer Christ’s sake!”
“Yeah, with the filthy casuals.”
The filthy what?
“Do you know any real anime?” he asks.
Isn’t Attack on Titan a real anime? It’s a cartoon. It’s made in Japan. Aren’t those the requirements? “How do you mean?”
“Have you ever seen OreImo?”
“Isn’t that the gross one where the guy wants to have sex with his sister?”
“You shouldn’t say it like that, it’s racist.”
“What? That’s not racist. Incest is gross.”
“The Japanese, they have different values than us. You can’t judge them by American standards. OreImo is a touching love story about a forbidden romance. If you’re a true anime fan, you embrace that. You learn to understand the Japanese culture that produced it.”
Wasn’t he badmouthing idols five minutes ago? That’s Japanese culture, too. “I can’t get into something like that,” I say.
“Okay, then what about mecha. What’s your favorite mecha series?”
I can’t stand mecha. All those shows have convoluted plot lines, and too many factions backstabbing each other. Though that one Urobuchi created, that hadn’t been too bad. “Aldnoah, I guess.”
“Oh come on! That’s another series for casuals. Are you really an ani—” A straw wrapper bops into his forehead.
“Oi. Ed. Leave her alone,” Mandy says.
“What was that for?”
“How many times do we have to tell you, don’t be a dick to people.”
“I’m not being a dick. I’m just asking her about her tastes.”
That felt more like an interrogation.
“Everything going all right?” Elijah’s dad asks.
He surveys the table. “Is everyone about done?”
“I think so, yeah,” Elijah says.
“Good. We should head out before the protest on the Mall ends. I spent the last three days in a convention center full of sweaty teenagers. Last thing I want is to spend the rest of the afternoon crammed on a train full of sweaty protesters.”
My dad had been watching the news this morning before we left for the convention, and they estimated there’d be half a million people on the Mall today. We’d seen a lot of them on the ride into the city, though we’d come early enough to miss the main flood.
“Everyone use the bathroom before we leave,” Elijah’s dad says. “Once we’re on the Metro, there’s nowhere to go.”
While our parents take care of the bill, we all head for the restrooms. The women’s room only has three stalls, and there are twelve girls in our group, so we have to wait while everyone takes a turn.
“Oh God, this is going to be so hard,” Maria says. She’s in a gothic-lolita dress that makes her look like an evil Alice in Wonderland. She has thick pettycoats underneath that make the skirt poof out. Sitting on a toilet with those must be a chore.
“I told you, you should’ve dressed in casual clothes today,” Destiny says. Yesterday she’d worn a harpy costume from one of those monster-girl shows, but today she’s in shorts and a halter top.
“Can you help me get my underwear down? How did women wear this stuff back then?”
“No, I ain’t helping you with no underwear,” Destiny says.
Maria enters the handicap stall—the only one wide enough to fit her in that dress—and locks the door.
“I just hope the seat’s clean,” Mandy says, “otherwise shit and piss is gonna get on her dress, and it’ll be rubbing against her legs the whole way home.”
“Hey, I can hear you!”
I wait for a chance to use the toilet, but every time a door opens, somebody slips in ahead of me. I didn’t have much to eat, so I could probably get away without going ... though I do feel a slight pressure in my bladder. Better not risk it.
In the end, me and Mandy are the last ones waiting. She’s leaning on the counter while Faythe washes her hands.
“You got plans for the night?” Faythe asks.
“Crash,” Mandy says.
“Yeah. Me too, probably. As fun as this was, I don’t wanna do it again any time soon.” Faythe waves her hands under the blow drier. It doesn’t come on. “Once a year is enough for me.” She tries again. Still no luck. “What about tomorrow? What’re you up to?”
“I need to go see JT. I’m almost out of ...” Mandy eyes me. “Y’know.” Like I can’t figure out they’re talking about drugs? I know they’re both stoners. Everyone knows they’re stoners. Even teachers know it—in Algebra one day, Faythe had been passed out at her desk and Mrs. Tang had been making jokes about her being stoned.
“Yeah, me too,” Faythe says. She gives up on the blow drier and switches to the paper towel dispenser. “I’ll ask Eli, he can give us a ride.”
“Gag,” Mandy says. “I do not want to be stuck watching you two make goo-goo eyes at each other all day.”
“We do not make goo-goo eyes at each other.”
“Yeah you do!” Krissy shouts from a stall.
“You’re just jealous you can’t get Chris to ask you out,” Faythe says.
“Why would I want him to ask me out? I like my guys skinny.”
“Uh-huh. That’s why you’re always flirting with him?”
“I do not flirt with him.”
“Oh Chris, aren’t you going to masturbate to me?” I guess that’s supposed to be Faythe’s imitation of Mandy, though it sounds more like Cookie Monster.
“You are completely misreading the situation.”
“Riiiiight.” Faythe finishes drying her hands and tosses the paper towel in the garbage. “I’ll be outside.”
Mandy gives her the finger.
“Love you, too.” Air kiss.
The room’s silent for a moment, then somebody lets out a loud fart from one of the stalls.
“Gross!” Krissy says.
“Don’t pretend that wasn’t you,” Mandy says.
Mandy busts out laughing. Even I giggle.
“So you do laugh,” Mandy says.
“Sometimes.” I laugh quite a bit. But only at things I think are funny. Which isn’t what other people find funny. I tend to like old comedies better than new stuff. I’ve never laughed at a modern episode of Saturday Night Live, but I’ve seen reruns from the ‘80s that are hilarious. The original Ghostbusters is the funniest thing I’ve ever seen, but the remake only made me laugh once. I Love Lucy—genius. Family Guy—ugh. I’d learned early on that if I actually say that, though, people think I’m stuck up. So I pretend to be serious all the time. They still think I’m uptight, but they don’t take offense.
“I never knew you were into anime,” Mandy says.
“Yeah. A little.”
She squints at my outfit. “Yeah. A little.”
I cross my arms in embarrassment.
“Why didn’t you ever come to the club?”
Mandy and most of her group are part of the anime club at our high school. I’m not though. I’m only hanging out with them right now because I ran into them at the convention. Well, if you want the whole truth, I’m only hanging out with them because my dad’s the head of custodial services at Parker Elementary where Mrs. Hurlburt—that’s Faythe’s mom—teaches. If it weren’t for that, I doubt I would’ve done more than wave at everyone when we passed, but my dad had stopped to chat, and the next thing I knew, I was part of the group. Of course it helps that Mrs. Hurlburt used to be my teacher, so she knows what a loser I am. She probably thought she was doing a good deed by inviting us along.
I shrug. “I dunno.”
I’d thought about joining, back when I first started at high school. I hadn’t even realized such a thing existed until I heard it mentioned on the afternoon announcements. At first I figured I’d misheard—I mean, drama club or academic trivia team I can understand; those have practical applications. But anime? Couldn’t be. But a couple days later I saw a flier for the club on a bulletin board. I’d really wanted to go, but when I thought about it, I realized the sort of people who’d join an anime club would be hard-core fans who know all about voice actors and writers and directors. They’d be familiar with obscure old shows I’d never heard of, and know all about upcoming series.
If I walked in there, it’d be five whole minutes before someone would ask, “Why are you even here? You don’t know anything about anime. You haven’t even seen Princess Mononoke.” Just like Ed had done, in fact.
No, I didn’t want to get embarrassed like that. I’m sure the club had plenty of people. There was nothing I could add to it.
“Well, come out when school starts. It’ll be cool to hang out again, like in middle school.”
“Hey, don’t mind Ed. He’s an idiot. Everyone hates him. Most of the people in the club, though, they’re cool. You’ll have fun.”
A toilet flushes. After a moment Krissy comes out, comes over to wash her hands.
Mandy makes an after-you gesture.
“Thanks.” I go into the stall. The seat’s still warm when I sit down—I’ve always found that creepy, even at home.
I only have to tinkle, but I find myself sitting there after I run dry.
Should I take Mandy up on her offer? I’ve never thought of her as more than a vague acquaintance, and the way she is now is way different from how she’d been in middle school. But she sounded like she’d be happy for me to join the club. If there’s one person in the club who’ll welcome me, then ... maybe ...?
But did she really mean it? Maybe she was being nice. I don’t mind silence, but I know a lot of people get nervous if nobody’s talking. Once Faythe left, maybe she felt awkward standing with me and came up with some topic to fill the quiet. That seems more likely than her having fond memories of reading next to me in eighth grade. She was going through the motions, and if I actually show up to the club, she’ll think I’m an idiot for not having a clue.
That happened to me in fifth grade. A girl in my class had a birthday party and handed out invitations to everyone, but when I showed up at her house, she got mad. “I only gave you an invitation because my mom said I should give them to everyone. I didn’t really mean for you to come. How stupid do you have to be to think I’d want you here?” Her mom had intervened and let me come in, but none of the other kids (only the cool ones had shown up; the other losers had taken the hint and stayed away) would talk to me. When she opened my present—a princess comb-and-brush set—she’d laughed and asked if I got it from Wal-Mart. I had, but I said no. The worst part was, my dad was late picking me up, so I ended up staying there after the other guests had left. The girl had gone up to her room to play with her new toys, leaving me to watch a home improvement show with her dad.
No. Mandy probably didn’t mean the invitation. I shouldn’t go to the club.
I stand up and flush, pull up my pants. I go out and wash my hands. Looks like I’m the last one to finish. I hope they aren’t all waiting on me.
I step out of the restroom and immediately find myself face-to-face with Ed.
“Oh hey, I was just looking for you.”
“Sorry I took a while.”
“What? Oh no, there are guys still dooking in the men’s room, no worries.”
“I just wanted to ...” He crouches down until his face is on a level with my chest. What the hell?
“Mmm, yes.” He takes a scrap of paper from his pocket. I can’t see what it is, but he peels a sticker from it. He holds it up to my shirt. “Right there.” He smooths it onto the lower half of my right breast. It has a picture of a nipple on it.
“What?” I rip it off.
“It’s a game we were playing last night. Pin the Nipple on the Boobie. Guys have to guess where a girl’s nipples are and put the sticker on. I’m right, aren’t I? You’ve got droopy boobs, I can tell.”
“Way off!” I push him aside and head out to the lobby.
Though the truth is, he was only off on the horizontal, not the vertical. There’d been a two month period in seventh grade when my breasts had reached their full size and looked good. I’d thought, if I could lose ten or twenty pounds, guys might actually like me. But then they started sagging. And sagging. And sagging. I couldn’t ask my father for advice, so I’d went to my Aunt Sophia, and she’d taken me shopping for good bras. They didn’t make a difference, though. By the time I started high school, my nipples were pointing closer to the ground than the horizon.
I never take showers during gym because I’m afraid someone will notice and make fun of me—“Look at Purse, she’s got droopy tits!” It’d be like Carrie. Or worse—what if word got around to the guys? I mean, I’m not popular, but my unpopularity is at least neutral. People don’t notice me, which means they don’t make fun of me either. The last thing I want is something that draws attention to me.
“Is everyone here?” Mrs. Hurlburt asks when she sees me.
“Ed’s not,” somebody says.
“Great, let’s get away while we can,” Faythe says, which draws giggles from all the girls.
“Tim and Jay are still in the bathroom,” Elijah says.
“Drat!” Faythe snaps her fingers.
I go over to my father, who’s having a conversation with Elijah’s dad.
“You don’t think he’d do it, do you?” my dad asks.
“With that man, who the hell knows.”
“Who cares about North Korea? I don’t see why we can’t let them alone. Instead, we push them, they build nukes, we tell them they can’t have any, so they build missiles. It’s crazy.”
“Yeah. Kim Jong Un’s crazy. Our President’s crazy. It’s like Alice in Wonderland—we’re all crazy here.”
“I never thought I’d be saying this—” dad lowers his voice “—but I’d be down with a military takeover about now.”
“Yeah, I know. It’s not my ideal solution, but if the other choice is nuclear war, I say bring on the junta. Gotta be careful saying that, though. Some of these kids have parents—no one here, thankfully—who are total MAGA heads. You don’t want them spreading tales, you know what I mean.”
“Yeah,” dad says, “I read you.”
Tim and Jay come out from the bathroom area. They both stink of cigarettes, but the adults pretend not to notice. Ed appears right behind them.
“We ready to move out?” Elijah’s dad says.
“Yeah,” we all say half-heartedly.
We file through the door and into the summer heat. It had been eighty when dad and I left the apartment this morning, and the sun had barely been up. It must be twenty degrees hotter now. And the humidity ... a fish could swim in the air out here.
Elijah’s dad turns to the right.
“Shouldn’t we be going the other way?” Faythe says.
“Nope, this is the right way,” he says.
“The convention center’s back that way, isn’t it?” The Metro station was right under the convention hall, nice and convenient.
“Yeah,” Elijah’s dad says, “but that’s the Green Line. If we get on there, we have to transfer to the Red Line after one station. We can walk to that station, it’s only two blocks from here. That way we only have to wait for one train instead of two.”
“Yeah,” says Mandy, “but we’d be waiting in nice, air conditioned station. Instead of walking through an oven.”
“A little exercise never hurt anyone.”
“I think it has,” Chris says.
But we keep walking. Before we even get to the first intersection, I’m soaking with sweat. I take my jacket off, but that doesn’t help much. My shirt clings to me. Up ahead, Krissy’s T-shirt is so damp it’s turning transluscent, and Ed and some of the other guys are gawking at her back, even though all they can see is her bra-strap and shoulder blades.
Maria’s got it tough. Even though her outfit is made with modern materials and nowhere near as heavy as a genuine Victorian dress, it’s far from light, especially with all those petticoats. The sweat is pouring off her and she’s panting for breath. Her hair hangs like a rag. Elijah has a water bottle in his backpack, which he lends to her. She gulps it down in one go, but she’s breathing heavy again after a few steps.
Of course we’re drawing attention as we walk. Doesn’t help that it’s Sunday and this is a part of the city that’s virtually deserted on weekends. Of course the few people who are out and about are going to gawk at a small army trekking through the streets. They’d do it even if half of us weren’t decked out in cosplay. A couple people even stop to take photos of us as we pass.
“This is killing me,” Mandy says. “If I don’t make it home, tell my mother I’m sorry. She was right. No good comes from a grown child watching cartoons.”
“You could take your jacket off,” Chris says. “Leather and summer do not go together.”
“How many times do I have to tell you, I am not stripping for you.”
“Taking off your jacket isn’t stripping,” Chris says.
“Depends on your culture. Some places, they think it’s sinful to show your ankles in public. Taking off your socks is like pole dancing.”
“Yeah. We don’t live there. Take your jacket off and quit complaining.”
She doesn’t. “Whose bright idea was it to hold a convention in August? In DC! That’s crazy talk.”
“Hey, when I was your age, I walked everywhere,” dad says. Oh no. He’s going to start telling stories. “I used to walk down to the local mall every day during the summer.”
“Why? Did you have a job there?” Faythe says.
“No. To hang out.”
“At the mall?”
“Yeah. Everyone hung out at the mall back in the day.”
“That’s weird,” Faythe says.
“No, malls used to be cool,” Elijah’s dad says. “You’d go down there to play video games at the arcade.”
“Why would you go somewhere to play video games?” Elijah says.
“Believe it or not, there was a time when not everyone had a console at home,” his dad says. “And even if you did, you couldn’t play the best new games on it, like Mortal Kombat or Street Fighter II.”
“So they had free video games you could play the mall?” Chris says. “Why would they do that?”
“No, you had to pay,” my dad says.
“How long could you play for?”
“Until you died.”
“Sounds like a ripoff,” Faythe says.
“Yeah,” Elijah’s dad says, “it was. The guys who owned those places were raking in the bucks from dumb kids who’d drop a quarter on anything. I’m glad the current generation is so much more discerning. You wouldn’t fall for some dumb fad like, I dunno, a heavy plastic pinwheel that you spin with your hands.”
“Not this again,” Elijah moans.
“How many fidget spinners do you have collecting dust on your dresser?”
“Like three. Four. I dunno.”
“Uh-huh. And how much did you spend on them?”
“A bit. Not much.”
“I seem to recall one was twenty bucks?”
“That one has LEDs, and it’s made of die-cast metal,” Elijah says.
“Uh-huh,” his dad says. “Well worth the money, I’m sure.”
Twenty dollars for a fidget spinner? How does he have that kind of money to blow? I’d been saving my allowance all summer so I could buy stuff at the convention—I’d even sold some of my old books at the used bookstore—and I’d only managed to put together seventy dollars.
“Hey look, we’re almost there,” Destiny says.
On the other side of the next intersection, there’s a black pylon that marks the entrance to a Metro station.
“Oh, thank you Lord,” Mandy says.
“Air conditioning. Air conditioning,” Faythe pants.
“Some place to sit,” Chris says, “that’s all I want.”
The number of people coming in and out of the station is surprisingly large considering all the other streets around here are empty, but as we get closer, I see it’s next to the National Portrait Gallery. I suppose with all the protesters on the Mall, tourists are coming over here to avoid the crowd.
“Everybody stay together,” Elijah’s dad says as we cross the street.
Thats easier said than done. We’re a large enough group that we end up clogging the sidewalk, and we get annoyed glares from people who find their path blocked. Ironically enough, I see a woman get separated from her husband and kids because we cut her off.
We reach the escalators and ride them down. At the bottom, Mrs. Hurlburt gathers us all around and takes a head count. Satisfied we’re all here, she asks, “Everyone have their tickets?”
Dad has mine. He pulls it out of his wallet and hands it to me. Everyone else pulls theirs out.
“Uh, wait … hold on … I know it’s here someplace,” Maria says as she searches through a pocketbook.
Ed snickers. He’s standing off to the side with Tim, Jay and Krissy. “I hope she takes better care of her Green Card.”
The other three laugh.
Maria pulls out a big pack of cards and shuffles through them. “Ah, here it is.”
“Okay. Is everyone else good?” Elijah’s dad asks.
We all nod, and he signals us to follow him through the fare gates. This would take a while under the best of circumstances, but things go wrong when Maria’s dress gets snagged on the gate. We can’t get it loose, so Elijah and his dad go to find the station manager, leaving the rest of us to wait. We try to stand out of the way, but there are so many of us that it’s kinda hard. Plus, it’s obvious from the way we’re dressed that we’re all part of a group with the silly girl who’s blocking one of the gates.
“Oh God, I’m so embarrassed,” Maria says. Jordan and Destiny are waiting with her, though Mrs. Hurlburt keeps telling them to get out of people’s way.
“You know,” I whisper to my dad, “we don’t have to wait here. We can just ... go.”
“Come on, you’re part of the group. Why don’t you go mingle?”
What planet is he on where I’m part of the group? We’ve been following the group around, sure, but my interaction with them has been limited to not strangling Ed, and a kinda awkward discussion with Mandy in the bathroom.
But dad’s got a delusion that the only reason I don’t have friends is because I don’t try. He thinks if he pushes me out the nest like a good papa-bird, I’ll spread my wings and become ... a social ... butterfly ... okay, that metaphor went wrong somewhere along the line. But you get the point. And I don’t want to disappoint him, not after the kind of money he spent on me this weekend, so I’ll make an effort to mingle.
I wander over to where Faythe and Mandy are talking.
“See, I think a woman Doctor Who is just weird,” Mandy says.
“But he can turn into anything. Why does he always have to be a guy?”
“That’s the problem, though. If he can be anything, why is he always a white guy? Why doesn’t he ever turn Japanese? Or Samoan? Why does he even have to look human? Once you go there, it raises all kinda questions. Like, why didn’t they ever go there before? You can’t introduce a random change to a story this old.”
“Sure you can,” Faythe says. “You can do anything. It’s Doctor Who. There aren’t any rules.”
I’m with Faythe here. I’ve watched the old series with my dad, and expecting consistency from Doctor Who is like expecting coherency from the President. But I don’t say anything. I’m afraid if I inject myself into the discussion, they’ll be like, “Why would we care what you think?” or “Yeah, old Doctor Who sucks. Nobody watches that crap.”
Instead, I drift away.
Chris and a couple other guys are debating whether the newest Star Wars movies are better than the originals.
“All I’m saying is, the thing with the new Death Star, or Peace Moon, or whatever the hell it’s supposed to be—it’s tacked on,” one of the guys says. Steve, I think his name is. We had English together last year. “There’s no foreshadowing at all. It’s like JJ realized, ‘Oh shit, I need an epic battle for the end of the movie. Better insert a new superweapon!’”
“Come on,” Chris says, “you’re going to tell me the X-Wings and Tie Fighters going at it in the snow isn’t the most awesome battle in the series?”
“Yeah. Yeah, that’s exactly what I’m saying.”
“Blasphemy!” the third guy says.
I agree with Steve. The new movies suck. What they’ve done to Han and Luke is unforgivable.
“Okay, okay,” Steve says, “we need a second opinion.”
“We’ve got second and third opinions,” Chirs says. “Majority rules. You’re wrong.”
“Nope, right of appeal. It’s in the Constitution. You, you, you.” He points at me.
“What do you think? Force Awakens. The ending kinda sucked, right?”
“Uh ... I dunno.” Should I tell them what I think? No. Probably not. “It was okay. I thought. I mean, pretty good.”
The guy’s face falls.
“Owned!” The third guy says.
“Nobody agrees with Steve. Same as always,” Chris says.
“Genius is not appreciated in its time.”
“Keep telling yourself that, man.”
I fake a laugh, then move on like I have somewhere else to be. Like I hadn’t been hoping to glom onto their conversation.
I should go back to dad, tell him I’m not cut out for this sort of thing. I know he thinks this is for my own good, and I don’t want to disappoint him, but I’d rather he accept me as a social failure and let me do my own thing. You know, sit in the corner and read. Why do I need other people? They only hurt you. You think he of all people would realize that, after what happened with mom.
But I know how much he works. We don’t have much, but he kills himself for it—starting next week, he’s going to be pulling overtime getting the school ready for the new year. He’ll work ten hour days and more. If he wants me to go out and make friends, I have to at least try.
So I wander through the group some more. But what am I supposed to do? Go up to someone and start talking? Force myself into a conversation? I see other people do that sort of thing, but I don’t understand how they pull it off. If I try, they’re gonna say, “Get lost, loser.”
I reach the end of the group and turn around for another pass. But when I do, I find Ed standing behind me.
“Hey,” he says.
“Um, yeah.” Okay, I need to talk to someone, just to show my dad I can do it ... but does it have to be him? Why couldn’t it be Elijah? Why not Chris? Or Mandy?
“This sucks,” he says.
“Yeah, I guess.”
“I said we should’ve driven down, but everyone was like, ‘No, we’d need too many vehicles, let’s go Metro.’”
I wish they had. It would’ve given my dad and I a reason to go home separately from everyone else.
“This is such a fucking pain,” Ed says. “Why do we gotta wait around because of some fucking Mexican, you know?”
“She’s Mexican?” I don’t know Maria very well, but we’ve had classes together off and on since second grade, and she’s always spoken perfect English without an accent. So did her mom, that one time she’d been a chaperon for a field trip.
“Mexican, Colombian, Puerto Rican, who cares. The point is, she doesn’t belong in this country.”
“Yeah, and now that we’ve got an actual American as President again, she’s gonna get sent back to Meh-hee-coh. I’m gonna laugh so hard when it happens. I hope they do a raid at school, round up all the Mexicans. Wouldn’t that be cool, having ICE agents walking into classrooms and telling people, ‘I needa see your Green Card’? Ha-ha-ha-ha.”
I don’t know what’s funny. “Uh, sure,” I say.
Luckily Elijah and his dad get back right then, and they have a Metro employee with them. The distraction gives me a chance to slip away from Ed.
The manager takes five minutes to get Maria’s dress uncaught. Part of it had been sucked into the machinery when the gate barriers retracted, and it’s totally chewed up when they finally get it loose.
“Oh man, my mother’s gonna kill me,” she says as she examines the damage. “We spent three months making this.”
“Didn’t I tell you not to wear it today?” Destiny says.
“Shut up,” Maria says.
“Argue later. We’ve got a train to catch,” Elijah’s dad says.
We gather up again and head downstairs to the platform. I’m halfway down the escalator when a glow appears in the tunnel.
Elijah’s dad, at the head of the group, turns to us. “Come on, guys, let’s hustle.” He starts walking down the escalator.
“But don’t rush,” Mrs. Hurlburt tells us.
“Okay, I’ll hurry slowly,” Ed says.
As we get to the bottom, by dad’s standing to the side counting heads. He’s barely finished when the train screeches to a halt. He gives Mrs. Hurlburt a thumbs up and we get on board.
It’s one of the new models, and ones that have been setup with almost all the seats turned towards the aisle. And the handful that aren’t are all occupied. I get carsick anytime I’m in a moving vehicle and not facing forward. While everyone else finds a place to sit, I grab onto one of the handles.
“You can have my seat if you want,” Elijah says.
“Mm-hmm.” Nod, nod.
With the way Faythe has her arm around his shoulder, I don’t think she’d be happy with me trading places.
My dad, of course, remains standing, and so does Ed, though thankfully he’s at the other end of the car.
As we get into motion, Ed grabs one of the ceiling bars and hoists himself into the air. It’s not a full pull-up—if this were gym, Mr. Buchanan would be yelling at him—but his feet are off the ground, and they tilt towards the back of the train as we accelerate.
“Inertia!” he calls out.
“Edward, you stop that,” Mrs. Hurlburt says.
“It’s a scientific experiment. It’s educational.”
She rolls her eyes.
The train reaches full speed, and his body returns to hanging vertically. He lets go and drops to the floor.
But we’re in the heart of DC right now, so we’ve hardly gone any distance when the train slows for the next station. Ed hops right back onto the bars, this time with his feet swinging towards the front of the train. “Inertia!”
Mrs. Hurlburt shakes her head, but she doesn’t say anything. Yeah, it’s probably best to let him wear himself out.
At Metro Center, a couple dozen people get on board, some of them tourists by the looks of them, but most being protesters. That’s still not a lot, though. Did the protests fizzle? Or are these just people leaving early to beat the rush?
Some of the protesters are in cosplay themselves—one woman’s dressed as the Statue of Liberty, and there’s a guy wearing an Uncle Sam outfit—so we don’t get too many funny looks. At least not until the doors close and Ed does his inertia demonstration again.
“He’s so embarrassing,” Mandy says.
We stop again at Farragut North and a few more protesters get on, along with a couple tourists. The train’s not quite crowded yet, but it’s getting there. I can still see Ed, but the back of the train is obscured from view by people.
“Inertia!” Ed shouts. By now nobody’s paying attention to him except the new arrivals, but that doesn’t deter him from trying one more time. Then we hit cruising speed and he drops to the floor.
But when he lands, he tilts to the side and smashes his head into a pole.
“Woo-hoo, yeah,” Mandy cheers and claps.
“Shush.” Mrs. Hurlburt stands up, but when she takes a step, she lurches to the side.
I’ve already noticed it—the train is shaking. Not the normal shaking of a Metro car in motion. This is something else. And it’s growing more intense. After a moment, even the people in their seats notice.
“What’s going on?” Krissy says.
“That an earthquake?” Elijah says.
“In DC?” Chris says.
The lights flicker.
“I don’t like that,” Faythe says.
Elijah puts an arm around her.
Behind me, my dad puts a hand on my shoulder.
Then everything goes black.
To Be Continued...