The Chair

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 AJ's heart was pounding in his chest. He was trying to control his breathing but it was hard. He felt like he was yelling with each breath.

His ears rang against the silence. He was searching, listening against the blood pumping and his panic breath.

He was listening for any signs of life and any movements.

A tap on his shoulder almost made him shout.

"We need to move," Damien whispered in his ear.

"God damn it," AJ whispered, "You scared the shit out of me."

"Cut the shit," Damien insisted, "and the chatter. Let's go."

Damien stood and made his way out of the front door of the house. He seemed to move like a ghost, barely touching the floor. AJ scrambled out of the bay window and tried to follow. He bumbled and bumped his way after.

This was Damien's element. Ex-military and ex-police, he had the training for these kinds of situations. AJ had spent most of his life inside on the couch.

He remembered the Call of Duty tournaments in High School and College. They all thought they were badasses then. He could one-shot anyone from half-way across the map. Fifteen years later, he finally held a real gun and it scared him.

But this was life now: running and hiding. It was wondering if the people you meet mean you harm or good. It was never trusting anyone.

Damien seemed to know where they were going. They were moving in a distinct direction but AJ didn't know where.

 They were moving in a distinct direction but AJ didn't know where

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He and Damien had been chasing a legend for two years now. A Shangri-La in what was left of the world. AJ thought it was a just a story, but Damien believed. Maybe it was because Damien needed something to believe in. AJ was just along for the ride. A few weeks before, Damien had a lengthy and deep conversation with a fellow former jarhead. He had given him distance and heading to the next stop. In the morning, they were off.

They had developed a symbiotic relationship. Damien took care of him and kept him safe. He taught him how to use a gun, how to hunt, how to purify water, how to make a camp: survival skills. AJ could offer Damien none of that. It was lucky really, for AJ, that he ran into Damien. 

AJ couldn't offer anything to anyone. He spent his formative years playing video games and dungeons & dragons. Then, in college, he got into card games as well.

Once he finished undergrad, it was off to graduate school and he lived in the labs. He thought maybe things would get more exciting when he entered the work world, but they didn't. Different labs and better pay but it was all basically the same. Before long, he had spent more than half his life looking down into microscopes and operating gene manipulators.

Genetic virology: not exactly what his parents had hoped for, but he found it rewarding. His mother could say her son was a doctor. His father could justify all of those hours at his store. He was a South Asian success story: Dr. Ajeet Kapour.

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