By ANDREW FLYNN, Storyteller
The following is the third of three mind-crushing parts of Afterwards, right here and only on The Daily Damn.
Time was frozen. Levi’s breathing had slowed to near-corpse levels as he held onto Stephanie’s upper body and brushed her blood-caked hair away from her face. Her face that ceased to have human expression on it.
The man from the Blue Honda stood over Levi and Stephanie. While he had made a worthy appearance and a heroic effort, full credit just could not be given to the man. There was disbelief in his face, almost more than Levi’s.
“No, no…hell, fucking no!” he gasped while he clasped his hands over his face.
“Where…how…how did you know we were going to be here?” a puzzled Levi asked as his eyes glazed over in utter sadness.
“There’s time for all of that later,” the man struggled to say.
Levi went on, as his inner monologue was processing too much already. “Dale, I literally have no idea what to do next. Stephanie and I were going to stay here for a while to figure out how to reach you.”
The man from the Blue Honda began to get his marbles together soon after Levi said this. His kids didn’t want anything to do with him after all. They wanted to find him. Dale shot into another frame of mind.
“We pretty much only have one way we can do this, Levi,” he began.
“One way for what?” Levi resisted.
“To get safe.”
“You—you shot the guys over there. See them? They’re lying on the pavement. The fucking pavement over there! They’re dead, Dad!”
“There are more of them coming!”
“More? What…who and why are they–”
Dale suddenly pulled Levi up off the ground, ending the support that Stephanie’s body was getting. Her body slumped over and became parallel with the concrete, just below the steps of her porch. There was no more life and no more breath for her, and she had bled out. Stephanie had become relegated to the past tense.
“We can’t stay here!” Dale screamed at his son as he grabbed Levi’s arm.
Sirens began to pack the distant background of the quiet city street. There were more than one source, in fact, it seemed that a chorus of emergency vehicles were close to the neighborhood.
Suddenly, Levi was standing at the passenger’s side door of Dale’s Honda. Dazed but aware of Dale’s persistence, he attempted to grab the handle of the car door. It slipped from his grasp, too much blood. Levi shook both hands in a violent fashion, showering the night air with countless droplets of Stephanie’s warm plasma. It was a body movement that he thought he would never have had to make, yet he was doing it.
Dale was already primed to go. Seat belt clicked on, he beckoned his son. “C’mon, Levi!”
Levi swung the car door closed, and the Honda bolted down the street without a second thought.
“You’re going to start explaining some shit to me…right now,” he demanded.
There was almost a full minute of pause between father and son. Dale struggled to eek out a few words initially, trading glances with his son and the neighborhood streets ahead of him. He thought to himself that there may be have been more opportune times to give his offspring some knowledge here, but this time was as good as any other.
“I’m not who you think I am, Levi,” Dale began.
“Oh great, now you’re going to tell me that you’re not even my father,” Levi shot back.
Dale grew immediately impatient at this retort, and became stern.
“Look, I owe you a lot right now, but you really need to shut your fucking mouth right now so I can figure out how to tell you all of this.”
Levi was hysterical. “Shut my mouth? You come out of nowhere after how many years of not seeing your kids, only it’s in the dead of night, and it’s at the single weirdest time possible. You show up like fucking Batman, guns blazing, and kill the two assholes chasing us, and I don’t even know how you knew where the hell we even were, maybe that’s just good timing, I dunno…or maybe you were following us the entire time, since even we got out Chicago this morning, which by the way, isn’t even fucking there anymore, so yeah, you do owe me a lot right now!”
Levi had no more breath left. It was only then could Dale get into the argument.
“You have to realize, Son, that—,” Dale continued.
A few helpings of sweet oxygen returned Levi to his current form. “And then my sister, who is dead on the ground back there after getting shot in the back, you just leave her there, and I don’t know what to think at all right now, so I hope you sure do!”
Dale broke hard, screeching his Michelins hard against the city street. This was the only way to get Levi to somewhat focus and shut his ranting up. He let another forty seconds pass, and got back to driving and control of the conversation.
“I was part of a team, you have to realize,” Dale said slowly.
“Oh? A team?”
“And on this team I was on, we did a lot of good things for this country over the last decade or so. But we also did a lot of bad things too. See, when you have a lot of power and influence at your disposal, at least on our team anyways, reality gets skewed.”
“This team is inside the government, I assume?”
“You could say that, Levi.”
“In a manner of speaking, yes.”
Levi turned his head away from his father and slumped in his seat. Some of the exhaustion was beginning to set in as the adrenaline faded away. Dale went on.
“And maybe it’s human nature that led my team, or rather, the team that I was a part of, to do some of the things we did. Control is an incredible thing, and it can only be fully understood when you’ve experienced both sides of it.”
“You’re going to stop being so vague soon, right?”
Dale was cornered, and had nowhere else to go. Like a javelina in the same position, he plowed right into the meat and potatoes of his point.
“I’m responsible for the detonation of the nuke in Chicago, Levi. I killed all those people. It was me.”
More silence. Levi didn’t want to believe this at all.
“It was you? How can that be?” asked Levi.
“Oh, it be. And after I get you in a safe place, I’ll be turning myself in,” Dale said. “The grief is too much.”
“You might as well just drop me off right now then, anywhere,” Levi loudly whispered.
“No, see, they’re going to be coming for anyone I know. This is too big to fully get away from.”
“Then why are we even driving, Dad?”
“Sticking around at Stephanie’s house talking to the police and all that, we weren’t going to get anywhere. And more men would have eventually gotten to us. And killed me, and then killed you.”
“You don’t think Stephanie was enough for them?”
“Again, they’re going to kill all of us. Or try at least. It goes to some of the highest levels of our government. Silence is now desired by those who wield the power of the sword.”
“So we’re going to just keep driving then? Where are we even going anyways?”
“I’ve got a plane at the airport in Kansas City, it’s going to be ready for us by the time we’re there.”
Levi grew cynical. “I suppose you’re got this all figured out, Pops.”
“No, I don’t. But we’ve got to get in the air and back to D.C.”
“D.C.? What makes you even think that we can get in the air? Aren’t flights usually cancelled when something happens like this? Like back during 9/11? We’re better off driving there.”
“No one said it was going to be easy getting air-bound. But we’re going to do it anyways.”
“And just how, pray tell, are we going to do that?”
“When you’re on a team, Levi, you get access to a lot of weapons. So I want you to look in the backseat right now, and see what I’m talking about.”
Dale didn’t disappoint. Encompassing the seats and space of the backseat of the blue Honda was a ridiculous amount of ammunition, handguns, shotguns, flash grenades, and body armor to outfit the military of a small army. Levi had to do a few double-takes. There was a glimmer of a smile across his face.
“Well, Dad, maybe that weekend of training at the shooting range you put me through will finally pay off.”