I am hardwired to love and protect that woman.
We’re passing through Bucktown.
In the distance, an entire city block is hurling hundred-foot flames at the sky.
The interstate is dark and empty.
Amanda reaches over and pulls the mask off my face.
The smell of death from inside my home lingers in my nose.
I can’t shake it.
I keep thinking of Daniela, lying dead under a blanket on our front porch.
As we pass to the west of downtown, I glance out my window.
There’s just enough starlight to profile the towers.
They’re black, lifeless.
Amanda says, “Jason?”
“There’s a car following us.”
I look in the rearview mirror.
With no lights, it looks like a phantom riding my bumper.
Blinding high beams and red-and-blues kick on, sending splinters of light through the interior of the car.
A voice booms through a megaphone behind us: Pull your vehicle onto the shoulder.
We have nothing to defend ourselves with.
We can’t outrun anything in this piece of shit.
I take my foot off the gas, watch the speedometer needle swing counterclockwise.
Amanda says, “You’re stopping?”
I ease down on the brake pedal, and as our speed falls, I veer onto the shoulder and bring the car to a stop.
“Jason.” Amanda grabs my arm. “What are you doing?”
In the side mirror, I watch a black SUV pull to a stop behind us.
Turn off your vehicle and drop the keys out the window.
“Just trust me.”
This is your last warning. Turn off the car and drop the keys out the window. Any attempt to flee will be met with lethal force.
A mile or so back, more headlights appear.
I shift the car into PARK and kill the lights. Then I lower my window several inches, stick my arm through, and pretend to drop a set of keys outside.
The driver’s-side door to the SUV opens, and a man in a gas mask steps out with his weapon already drawn.
I throw the car back into gear, hit the lights, and floor the accelerator.
I hear a gunshot over the roar of the engine.
A bullet hole stars the windshield.
One rips into the cassette deck.
Looking back, I see the SUV now several hundred yards down the shoulder.
The speedometer is at sixty and climbing.
“How far are we from our exit?” Amanda asks.
“A mile or two.”
“There’s a bunch of them coming.”
“I see them.”
“Jason, if they catch us—”
I’m doing a little over ninety now, the engine straining to maintain speed, the RPMs inching into the red.
We blow past a sign giving notice that our exit is a quarter mile ahead on the right.
At this speed, we reach it in a matter of seconds.
I hit the exit at seventy-five and brake hard.
Neither of us are buckled in.
The inertia slams Amanda into the glove box and shoves me forward into the steering wheel.
At the end of the ramp, I take a brutal left turn through a stop sign—tires squealing, rubber burning. It slings Amanda against her door and nearly sends me flying into her seat.
As I drive across the overpass, I count five sets of flashing lights on the interstate, the closest SUV now speeding onto the exit ramp with two Humvees in tow.
We tear through the vacated streets of South Chicago.
Amanda leans forward, stares out the windshield.
“What is it?” I ask.
She’s looking at the sky.
“I see lights up there.”
“Like a helicopter?”
I scream through empty intersections, past the shuttered El station, and then we’re clear of the ghetto, speeding alongside abandoned warehouses and train yards.
In the boondocks of the city.
“They’re getting close,” Amanda says.
A round thunks into the trunk of the car.
Followed by three more in fast succession, like someone taking a hammer to metal.
She says, “That’s a machine gun.”
“Get down on the floorboard.”
I can hear the anthem of sirens drawing near.
This antiquated sedan is no match for what’s coming.
Two more rounds pierce the back window and the windshield.
One rips through the middle of Amanda’s seat.
Through the bullet-riddled glass, I see the lake straight ahead.
I say, “Hang on, we’re almost there.”
I make a hard right onto Pulaski Drive, and as a trio of bullets peppers the rear passenger door, I cut the lights.
The first few seconds of driving without headlights feels like we’re flying through total darkness.
Then my eyes begin to adjust.
I can see the pavement ahead, the black silhouettes of structures all around us.
It’s as dark as the countryside out here.
I take my foot off the gas, but I don’t touch the brake.
Glancing back, I see two SUVs make aggressive turns onto Pulaski.
Up ahead, I can just make out the pair of familiar smokestacks spearing the starlit sky.
Our speed is under twenty miles per hour, and though the SUVs are gaining fast, I don’t think their high beams have touched us yet.
I see the fence.
Our speed keeps dropping.
I steer across the road, and the grille smashes into the locked gate, splitting the doors apart.
We roll slowly into the parking lot, and as I maneuver around the toppled light poles, I look back toward the road.
The sirens are getting louder.
Three SUVs streak past the gate, trailed by two Humvees with machine-gun turrets mounted to their roofs.
I kill the engine.
In the new silence, I listen to the sirens fading away.
Amanda climbs up from the floorboard as I grab our pack from the backseat.
The slams of our doors bounce off the brick building straight ahead.
We move toward the crumbling structure and all that’s left of the original signage: CAGO POWER.
A helicopter buzzes overhead, a brilliant spotlight scraping across the parking lot.
Now I hear a revving engine.
A black SUV skids sideways across Pulaski.
Headlights blind us.
As we run toward the building, a man’s voice through a megaphone orders us to stop.