CHAPTER THIRTY-FOUR (draft)

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“Me neither,” says the surfer guy. “My name is Jared. Screw this, I just want to get to downtown, you know what I mean. Don’t wanna fight you or anyone. Peace!”

“Ok, peace works for me. So let’s team up.” I wipe my forehead and squint in the hot sun. “Where are you guys from originally? How well do you know L.A.? Although I live in Vermont, I was born here.”

“Me too,” Jared nods. “Parents are in Arizona. But me, Venice Beach, dude.”

I smile. “You look it.”

He grins back crookedly. “He-he-he, like, yeah. Totally.”

I cannot help smiling, because that’s really old school, like fifty-year-old slang called Valley Girl slang. My grandma used to speak it back in her day.

Sarah says, “I’m from North Carolina, and my dad is British, but I lived here for many years, it’s why I chose it.”

“All right, can anyone see the nearest freeway overpass sign?” I stare out at the road where the cars are moving, and suddenly see something blinking colorfully along the wall fence. It’s a long ovoid light fixture, made of four stacked color sections, and I realize it’s a Semi-Finals zone beacon.

“Hey, I know where we are, it’s the 210 Freeway, and this is Glendora!” Sarah says.

But I point at the beacon.

“There,” I say. “That’s a new zone indicator, the wall’s a boundary, and I think we’ll need to cross the freeway.”

We move down closer to the wall, and now we see the rainbow beacon, one of several. They stretch out every thirty feet along the top of the wall.

“How the hell are we going to cross? Look at that crazy traffic!” Jared mutters. He then leans over the concrete wall and stares down on the other side.

Below, a stream of cars, trucks, and semis is roaring along the road in both directions. It occurs to me, there are probably hidden cameras all around.

“Um, is the red strip on the other side supposed to mean a hot zone?”

“Oh, crap, yeah.” Sarah leans in to stare over the freeway also.

I pause, utterly at a loss.

Suddenly behind us I hear more nose, more shots, wild screams, and the sound of more Candidates running down the long hillside toward us.

“Okay, we need to get the hell away from here, run!

The three of us start moving, running parallel to the wall, having nowhere else to go but down, more than twenty feet and into the freeway traffic.

Meanwhile, I whirl around to look, and it’s the same Blues armed with rifles, and they’re basically picking off Candidates one by one, since we are all equally trapped by the boundary wall, with nowhere to go. Apparently that’s their technique, simply eliminate all nearest competition.

We’re all on foot, and we’re all screwed.

And then I get a wild idea.

I open my mouth and start to sing at the top of my voice.

* * *

Sarah and Jared stop running and whirl around to stare at me like I am insane. But my clear voice soars in the wind, and I am making a single, perfect, precise note, an F Major, which appears to be my trademark emergency “go-to” note. And then I follow it up by a chord sequence of several others, sustaining each one.

“Are you crazy? What the hell are you doing?” Jared exclaims. “You want to bring everyone down on us, here?”

Indeed, the Blues have heard me and seen us, and they are coming directly at us down the hill.

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