The day Erika Moonwood turned seventeen, there was a big explosion. And now, the world seems to be dead. There's only one person who knows what's going on – Liam. But who is Liam and why is he helping her?
The party was in full swing. It was the first time since it’s opening earlier that year that Giovanni’s Restaurant was bursting at the seams with customers. Apparently, the 17th birthday bash of town sweetheart, Erika Moonwood, was not something that people wanted to miss. The entire restaurant had been booked for the night by the Moonwoods for this occasion. Every where his wary gaze landed, Liam saw people talking and laughing, kids scurrying around tables throwing balloons and confetti at each other. Liam signed, checking the time for the umpteenth time. There were still five minutes to go. He had tried to break up the party at 11 but Mr. Moonwood had slid some greens under the table to make Liam go away. Internally grumbling in anger but not stupid enough to refuse such an offer, Liam retreated back into the shadows. If only Mr. Moonwood knew that Liam was just trying to help. It was better if no one witnessed what was about to happen in five – no wait – two minutes. Now there was nothing he could do except wait for the inevitable. He popped a piece of garlic bread into his mouth and checked his watch again. Ten seconds to go…
When, all of a sudden, the ground began to shake violently and people started shrieking, Liam glanced at Erika one last time before preparing himself for the worst. For a second, time stopped and everything was quiet, then the air exploded and pure white light filled the restaurant.
When Liam opened his eyes and looked around at his surroundings, he felt as if he was still dreaming. The restaurant was in shambles, the people were gone, the air was dusty and heavy, a large portion of Archie’s Clementine Cake adorned the ceiling and, to his relief, Erika was lying in the middle of the debris and it looked like she was waking up. Liam extracted a pistol from his jacket and, ignoring the dull ache in his head, tried to stand up. But before he could, footsteps sounded loud from the corridor outside and within seconds, the door to the restaurant banged open and two police officers barged in, heading straight for the now fully awake but totally confused Erika and starting to handcuff her.
“What’s going on? Why am I being – ,” Erika’s questions ended with a shrill scream when Liam fired his pistol at the officers. One of them went down like a sack of potatoes but the other dodged the bullet and sprinted towards Liam, who braced himself for an attack.
“Erika,” he grunted, blocking punches and trying to score a grip on the officer’s fists. Erika sat watching the scene in shock. “Erika… knock him out.” A fist connected with Liam’s face and his vision blurred. He tried to reach his pistol but it was too far from his reach. “Erika, you can do it. Help me.”
“I can’t, I can’t,” she sobbed, big fat tears leaking down her scared face. “I don’t know how.”
The officer was stronger than Liam was used to. He blocked another punch to his Adam’s apple and then another to his face. “Darn it!” he groaned, eyeing his pistol again. It wasn’t going to just magically appear his hands. He only had his strength to depend on. Erika was obviously in shock and not in a situation to help him.
A loud Tarzan-like howl escaped him and he successfully managed to head-punch the officer, effectively breaking his nose. The officer scrambled off him in pain and Liam made a grab for his pistol. “You’re going down, bitch!” he shouted, aiming a shot at the officer’s head. Erika screamed again as the man fell down, apparently dead.
Liam stood up and dusted himself. A sigh escaped his lips. “Let’s go,” he ordered in a low voice. “There’ll be more on their way.”
Ignoring the wet-eyed blank stare the seventeen year old was giving him, Liam carefully scaled the debris and left the restaurant. He was not surprised when Erika did not follow immediately. He waited a while before she walked out in her tattered birthday dress, tears wiped clean from her otherwise dirty face. She was looking at him but he watched as her focus wavered and she took in her surroundings. Her eyes widened and a low gasp escaped her lips.
“What happened here?” she whispered, gaping at the rotting architecture, the empty street and the dead vehicles. So maybe the explosion hadn’t just been in Giovanni’s, it had rocked the entire city… or maybe the entire world. Goosebumps erupted on her skin at the thought. No, it couldn’t be.
Liam grabbed her hand. “Not here, come with me,” he said, tugging on her hand, urging her to follow him.
Liam did not stop running for almost an hour. Erika was wheezing behind him, he was too fast for her. “Just a little further,” he coaxed, producing a tiny bottle of water from his jacket. He handed it to her. “Don’t drink too much.”
She ignored his advice and drained the bottle. “Where are the hell are we going?” she huffed, then said, “And who the hell are you?”
Before Liam could reply, a beam of red light zoomed past Erika’s head. “Duck!” he commanded, grabbing her by the elbow and pulling her behind an abandoned car in the middle of the road. In their slouched positions, they could not see who was attacking them but Liam kept firing his pistol without looking back. They were running again, heads down and legs bent. “The safe house is right there,” he told Erika. “Just round that corner.”
“Okay,” she panted and they increased their pace a little. A couple more red beams of light streaked past them but both of them made it to the safe house without getting injured.
Liam slammed the door shut behind them and heaved a huge sigh. “We could have died out there!” Erika exclaimed, to which he turned to glare at her. “You think?” he muttered.
“We should bar the doors and windows. They can get in!”
“No, this is a safe house. They can’t get in.”
“Yes, but – ,”
“This is a safe house,” Liam repeated forcefully. “No one can get in after us. We’re safe here.” He looked into her eyes. “Trust me.”
Erika shut her lips and looked at him for a while, then she took a deep shaky breath and nodded. “Okay.”
Liam smiled, but his smile did not reach his eyes. Erika was showing no signs of success. Maybe he should lay off on telling her about their upcoming adventure… or the fact that he wouldn’t live to see if she would pass or fail her test.
“Liam,” she began and he started, staring at her in surprise.
How did she know his name? Had he mentioned his name to her after the explosion? No, he was sure he hadn’t. Had Mr. Moonwood mentioned him to his daughter? No, that wasn’t possible. Mr. Moonwood thought Liam worked for Giovanni’s. No reason to share about Liam’s existence with his daughter. “Then, how do you know my name?” he whispered.
“I…” she paused uncertainly. “I don’t know.” She, too, looked surprised, but not as much as Liam.
So maybe Erika Moonwood was special after all. And maybe she wouldn’t fail. A small but genuine smile spread across Liam’s face and he put a comforting hand on her shoulder.
“What were you going to say to me?” he asked kindly.
“I want to know what’s going on and I want to know now.” At least her voice was steady. That was definitely a good sign.
“I’ll tell you everything,” nodded Liam. “But first, you need to know where you come from…”