“Joker and the Thief”

[Estimated reading time: 2 minutes]

[This is a work in progress.]

The world smoulders and burns.
The cracked pavement belches gases from deep below.
The abandoned cars have already burned, but even their old carcases still smoke under the blazing heat.

I spend half an hour in the hills that overlook LA, watching the former metropolis as it crumbles to dust.
Prince looks up at me and meows, for the hundredth time, and I finally give in.
I dribble a few ounces from my canteen and take a swig as well, both of us happy to be hydrating.
Then we set off through the mostly-expressways route that I scoped out.

I put away Prince's bowl, then stoop down and let the little guy jump up onto my shoulder, and we set out.
We stay away from downtown and make our way through Burbank and onward, northwest, to the promise land.

It's quiet, the rumors were true, LA is a dead zone.
The cement jungle offers no reprieve from the end of the world, so no one spends much time here.
My own path leads north, out of the city and into the San Joaquin Valley.

There's no one around, but I'm still taking the city one block at a time, hiding behind abandoned cars and rushing through the open and terrifying intersections.
The safety is off on my pistol, but of course I pray that I never have to use it.

Our first (and hopefully last) night in LA, we stay in a cool basement on Laurel Canyon.
The windows have already been boarded up, though the former owners are nowhere to be found.
They did leave a hoard of canned food and MREs, though, so Prince and I scrounge up a warm meal before the sun sets.

Then I triple-check the barricade on the door, go around a few more times and make sure the windows are closed, pile up towels behind each one to block out the light.
The usual.

There's a sound, somewhere above us, possibly outside the house.
I grab the gun and hold it close.
The safety is off, my finger is close to the trigger, and I wait, listen.

But it's nothing.
I glance over at Prince and note that he's asleep.
His soft white belly rises and falls in a slow rhythm and I know all is good.
I double-check the perimeter of the basement and, satisfied that there's no way for Prince to sneak out, go to sleep.
Though first I make sure Prince's leash is tied loosely around my hand.

The old wind-up clock wakes us both up as its bells are struck time and time again by the little hammer.
It's 5 in the morning and Prince looks at me and radiates something like annoyance.
Then he yawns in that terrifying way, showing me all of his sharp little teeth, and it's a new day.

I make us up an MRE pack that the previous owners left behind, pasta in a beef sauce.
Prince isn't too keen on the pasta, but he's a fiend for the beef.
We share a small bar of chocolate, which he seems to enjoy.
It's the first chocolate I've had in weeks.

We're on the road when the first rays light up the mountains around us.
It's a long day of walking over the crumbling I5 interstate, and we get to Valencia just the sun touches the mountains to the west.

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