Hope everyone has a safe and wonderful Christmas. Stay warm and be good to each other.
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Thanks again for your support...and for those of you who are waiting for Sunset 2, here's a small teaser.
Sunset: Bloodstained by JJ Ritonya
An explosion rocked the “TAP” sending the survivors scurrying for cover. The building shook as if it were going to collapse and drop them eighteen stories to their death. Luckily, the building the group now called home stood in downtown San Francisco and had been engineered to withstand a 7 in the Richter scale. The blast that just occurred barely registered above a 1. The “TAP” was short for Trans American Pyramid, the structure resembling a towering pyramid.
Brandi, the newest member of the group peered out from under the table she had crawled under. She arrived just a few days earlier with her companion and newly found lover, Stanley, who was currently on a recon mission with another member of the group, Green.
Lipman, the mechanic of the group sat up from where he snoozed on the couch and looked around frantically for Joan.
“What the hell was that?” Joan cried as she picked herself up from the floor.
Gunney, a former tow truck driver and reservist in the United States Army stood at the western facing windows and looked down toward the street. He stood on his tip-toes in an attempt to get a better view.
“I can’t see anything from here. Just some smoke. Whatever it was…”
Another explosion rocked the building. Gunney ran toward the north side of the building, where the report from the blast seemed to originate. The rest of the group followed in his path just as McCaffery came out of the rest room.
“What the hell is goin’ on?” he cried as he finished pulling up his trousers.
“Don’t know,” Joan answered hurriedly on her way past.
The group reached the north end of the building, each pushing their noses to the glass, desperate for a glimpse of what had caused the commotion. Black smoke drifted up past the windows toward the morning sky making it difficult to see the street below.
Gunney was the first to spot them. “I see a black SUV down there. All four doors are open but I can’t see anyone.”
Brandi stood at the end of the line of survivors, furthest to the east. “I see someone,” she said. “He’s carrying a pipe or something on his shoulder.”
McCaffery had finished adjusting his fly and now joined the group. He peered over Brandi’s shoulder toward the street below.
“That’s not a pipe, it’s a rocket launcher,” he said.
Just as he finished his sentence, the man below was joined by another man. An assault rifle was slung over one shoulder and he carried a grey metal box by a handle on the top. He stopped next to the man with rocket launcher and opened the box, pulling out an object that at first no one recognized. He opened the rear port of the rocket launcher and put the object inside then closed the blast door and patted his partner on the top of the head.
Dropping to place one knee on the pavement for stability, the man aimed the rocket launcher upwards. To Brandi, it appeared he was aiming straight for her. A white flash accompanied by a trail of white smoke whisked upward toward the group at an amazing speed.
“DOWN!” McCaffery screamed as he grabbed Brandi from behind and pulled her to the floor.
A blast much louder and closer than the previous two rocked the building as the missile exploded into the windows just a few floors below them. Glass and metal shards burst from the building. Iron beams and supports groaned against the force of the blast.
“We’ve got to get out of here!” Joan screamed as she tried to quickly formulate an escape plan. The noise of the explosion had subsided but no one noticed as Joan continued to scream.
“Gunney, you and McCaffery grab your rifles and head to the lobby! No one gets in! We’ll meet in the garage in ten minutes! And while you’re down there, see if you can pick that bastard off before he brings the whole building down!”
Gunney nodded and he and McCaffery sprinted off to their rooms to retrieve their weapons and ammo.
“You two are with me,” Joan told Brandi and Lipman. “Grab as many supplies as you can. Weapons, ammo, food and water. Nothing else. We’re out of here in five. GO!”
Brandi struggled to her feet and ran off to her room. She had only shared it with Stan for a couple nights before they had been separated. She was so mad at him. He had actually volunteered for the mission in an attempt to prove his worth to the group, but goddamnit, she needed him.
They met only a few weeks earlier in Las Vegas. Stan had found her just hours after her escape from a gang of thugs in the city. She had actually mistaken him for one of their kind momentarily and scared him off when she showed her rough side. When he backed off, she realized her mistake and followed him to a strip mall on the outskirts of the city. After saving his life from a horde of the undead, the two traveled west toward San Francisco for no other reason to than to stand on the shores of the Pacific Ocean. Gunney found them on the beach and invited them to join up with the group at the “TAP”.
Now she scurried around her and Stan’s apartment looking for her pistol and any other items that might prove valuable later. After a quick scan of the rooms, she decided there was nothing else she needed. She ran back to the hallway just as the elevator doors closed on Gunney and McCaffery who were just heading to the lobby. Lipman was a wiz mechanic and had the generator in the basement running like a top. Power was supplied to the first floor, the elevator and the eighteenth floor where the group kept their apartments. The rest of the power to the building had been cut off to conserve what little energy there was.
Brandi arrived at Joan’s room just as she was coming out. She held an automatic rifle in one hand and had a brown backpack slung over her shoulder. She looked down at Brandi’s mostly empty hands.
“That’s it?” she asked, nodding at the pistol.
Brandi nodded. She and Stanley had only been with the groups a few days and hadn’t had the time to accumulate any worthy possessions.
“Good,” Joan said. “Traveling light means we can most fast. Lipman!”
Lipman emerged from his room across the hall, his arms full of items. Joan walked over and began taking objects from him and throwing them to the floor.
“Don’t need this, this or this,” she said as the removed a pillow, a book and screwdriver from his inventory. She left him with his hunting rifle and backpack.
“Let’s go she said,” and headed off toward the elevator.
After several tense minutes of waiting for the elevator to rise from the ground floor, Joan grew impatient. “Must be out of service. Looks like it’s the stairs.”
The group backtracked down the hallway, past their rooms and entered the stairwell at the far end of the building. Security lights lit their way but were slightly darkened from the smoke and soot that drifted up the stairwell The group could smell burning paper and charred metal as they quickly made their way down flight after flight. As they grew near street level, they could hear gunfire coming from below. Some shots sounded very close while other seemed to come from outside on the street.
Slapping feet on concrete risers sounded and the group halted. Joan’s eyes grew wide as she moved her rifle from her shoulder and pointed it toward the stairwell below. She put her finger to her lips to signal Brandi and Lipman to be quiet as the group waited. After a few tense moments, a figure rounded the corner. Brandi immediately recognized Gunney.
She grabbed Joan by the arm. “Don’t shoot,” she screamed.
Gunney hadn’t seen them as he looked up, startled by their appearance in the stairwell. Then he smiled. “Thank God,” he gasped, trying to suck in air. “I was hoping you were heading down. I didn’t want to have to go all the way back up.”
The group now stood on the landing in between the third and fourth floor of the skyscraper. Gunfire and small explosions continued to drift up from the ground floor.
“What’s going on down there?” Joan asked.
“I’ll tell you while we move. Right now we have to go,” Gunney wheezed.
The group continued their descent as Gunney explained their situation.
“There’s four or five of them out front of the lobby,” he began. “I think they’re out of rockets but they seem to have plenty of grenades. They keep chucking them through the front windows. It’s a good thing none of them have a good arm otherwise me and McCaffery would be goners.”
Joan’s eyes grew wide. “What do they want?” she asked.
“Fuck if I know,” Gunney said. “But if I had to guess, I’d say they want us dead.”
The group finally reached ground level and stopped at the security door which led to the rear hall and eventually the lobby. Gunney had just reached out to grasp the handle when the door burst inward. McCaffery shot into the stairwell running face first into Gunney, knocking them both to the floor. The two men picked themselves up off the floor, both glad to see the other.
“Here’s the deal,” McCaffery told the group as he tried to catch his breath. “You all head down to the garage, load up in the van and get the hell out of here. I’ll stay behind and keep them distracted. Head to Santa Cruz and hole up in the City Hall building. I’ll meet up with you in a couple days.”
“No,” Joan said. She had a stern look on her face. “We stay together.”
McCaffery was about to protest when Brandi spoke up.
“What about Stanley and Green?” she cried.
“That’s why I’m staying behind. Someone will have to let them know where we went and we sure as hell can’t stay here,” McCaffery argued.
Joan opened her mouth to reply when a blast, closer than any so far shook the walls. Their attackers were becoming more accurate with their grenade tosses.
“There’s no time!” McCaffery screamed. “GO!” He disappeared back through the security door and ran toward the lobby.
Joan sighed in resignation. “Let’s go!” she yelled.
The group descended the final flight of stairs to the parking garage. A white delivery van sat at the far end of the garage. Blue letters ran across the side which read “Ming Cleaners: We Deliver!”
The group quickly piled into the van. Gunney in the driver’s seat, Joan rode shotgun and Brandi sat on the floor in the back. Lipman ran over to the metal security gate which was lowered and locked in place. He released the lock and hit the button to raise the door to the overhead position, then sprinted back toward the van and jumped in the side door.
“Hang on!” Gunney screamed as he put the van in gear and stomped on the gas.
The van lurched forward and picked up speed as they neared the garage door. Joan rolled her window down and set the muzzle of her weapon on the window sill, ready to fire at the attackers. As the van shot out of the garage and onto the street she opened fire on the surprised group of men. Gunney saw the look of shock on their faces as he quickly pulled the wheel to the left and accelerated down the empty road away from the “TAP”. Joan screamed as she sprayed bullets at the men, surprised when she saw one go down with a hole in his chest. The men scrambled for cover then returned fire as the van sped away, the rear window of the van shattering when a bullet struck the glass.
“Get down!” Joan shouted as Brandi and Lipman flattened themselves on the floorboards. Shards of glass sprinkled down on their backs.
The attackers sprinted toward their vehicles to give chase. Two men ran toward the black SUV they spotted earlier and the other two ran toward red pickup truck leaving their fallen comrade behind.
The survivors sped east out of downtown San Francisco and across the Bay Bridge hoping to outrun or somehow lose their pursuers. Santa Cruz was their goal and destination, although no one knew if things would be any better there.
Brandi held herself and shivered with fear, hoping that her farewell just a few days earlier would not be the last time she would see her precious Stanley. She continued to tell herself that it couldn’t be the end. They had only been together a few weeks now, but she loved him more than she had loved any man. In the short time they had been together he had showed her an unconditional love and kindness that she had never known.
“It wouldn’t be the end,” she told herself as a tear ran down her cheek. Lying to yourself was easy. Believing the lie was the hard part.