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...no mad skillz, no sacred destiny, just a pink tracksuit that will take her places she never wanted to go...
It's been said that a sure sign of the coming apocalypse is an 80s roller skate disco movie coming to DVD (with special features). In my science-fiction novel series entitled Apocalypse Babes, a stylish group of twenty-something friends are torn from the Babylonian arms of 2006 West Hollywood and flung nearly thirty years into the past. It might be because one of them purchased the taboo film in a nostalgic moment, setting off a chain of events more disturbing than a roller skating conga line. They wake up in an apocalyptic—but strangely familiar—landscape, complete with a hidden mountain compound and retro survivalists, hinting at hidden and retro issues they must face if they want to survive.

Saturday, July 4, 2009

The Z Word chapter one

Chapter One

It's not the end of the world.
The words confused Seffy for a moment, then were lost in a sudden whirl of explosive noise and flashes, not unlike bad disco lights and a smoke machine from an 80s nightclub. She felt a tremendous force pulling on her, hurtling her into some vast unknown, then a terrifying weightlessness which could only end badly.
Did the tanning salon explode? There had been that fraying tanning bed cord and spilled diet Rockstar at Verity's feet.
How could she? I could kill her. Seffy's head swam as she sailed through the atmosphere. Maybe I did. Her and me both. O crap.
Suddenly the velocity of her descent increased. Seffy put out her hands to break her fall. The ground rushed up to meet her. She closed her eyes and braced for a long future of chiropractic visits.
“Ohhh...umph....” After several excruciating moments air began to seep into her lungs and, with her eyes squeezed shut, she lay there sipping the oxygen in measured amounts. She noticed it tasted funny. Like burnt ozone smelled—sharp, metallic...with a hint of almond.
The force of the blast had surely thrown her into the lobby of the salon. Maybe even the parking lot. Seffy slowly unscrunched her eyes and took a peek to get her bearings.
The sky? I'm outside? She squinted to take in the decidedly non-blue heavens above. Whoa. Pearly pink light shimmered overhead and the sun seemed to be a neon magenta color. Taking a deep breath, Seffy attempted to sit up, only to be tasered in the ribs by a shock of pain. Broken ribs? Crap.
“Seffy? Oh my God, is that you?”
Seffy recognized Gareth's voice. A shadow blocked the freakish sky and concerned golden brown eyes suddenly stared down into hers. Johnny Depp, eat your heart out. She offered her friend a weak smile. His sculpted lips lifted in response.
“I can't believe I found you. What happened?”
“Do you mean the blast?” Her voice came out in a streppy croak.
He nodded, kneeling down and brushing away a lock of hair that was stuck in her mouth.
“I was in the salon with—” She bit her lip. “I'd just finished a tanning session and was going to get my roots lightened after that. Were you there? I didn't see you.”
Gareth's brows knitted together on his noble brow. “That doesn't make sense. I wasn't anywhere near the salon.” He lowered his gaze. “I was at Radio Shack.”
“What!” she screeched. “Someone could've seen you there!”
“I know, I know, but they were having a huge sale on computer p—”
Seffy pressed her hands to her cheeks. “Gareth, I just can't know that!”
“...and well, I was weak. The next thing I knew, I was being thrown like a rag doll through space. Or something.”
Seffy blew out a breath and eased into a sitting position, defying the screaming of her rib cage. Gareth put his gym-enhanced arm around her, encouraging her to lean against him. She nestled against the soft brushed cotton of his designer turtleneck and inhaled his cologne. It was good that some things didn't change...much.
“You were with Verity, right? Addison said you two were going to tan this morning.”
Seffy stiffened and let out a cry of pain. Gareth soothed her for a moment, which gave her a chance to think. “Um, yes, she was there...but I don't know what happened to her.”
“Where are we?” he asked in a gobsmacked voice.
They gazed out at their surroundings—at the pink atmosphere, rusted buildings in piles, fires burning in the oddly sparkly red dirt around them. Seffy closed her eyes again. Something wasn't right but her head hurt too much to think. Besides, her new bombshell pink Juicy Couture velour tracksuit was probably toast.
Gareth gently released her and stood up. “I have to try and find Verity. She must be here somewhere.”
She glanced up at him and nodded, noticing the way his Adam's apple bobbed in the strong column of his throat. She looked away, not needing the stab of conscience to add to the physical pain wracking her frame. Anyway, he's the one who went off the reservation, not me. Radio Shack indeed.
Vaguely aware of Gareth going through the rubble in the near distance, Seffy tested her legs to make sure they worked. She checked the rest of her body and didn't find any wounds. How had she escaped bloody harm? Struggling to her feet, she attempted a deeper breath. The pain had lessened a bit, but the air felt thick and hot.
She watched Gareth frantically paw through some rubble, then realized that the debris could not possibly represent the strip mall where she'd been that afternoon. The buildings must have—
“They've vaporized, Seffy!” Gareth yelled in a strangled voice. He came back to her and braced his hands against his thighs, breathing hard. “Everything's gone! Maybe more. Verity. I don't think she's here. Do you think—?”
Seffy touched his shoulder. “Don't say it.” He looked up at her and she offered a small smile. “Let's go and see if we can find her together.”
Gareth straightened and took her outstretched hand. They walked around small fires burning in seemingly random spots and nudged through what little rubble littered the ground. Shielding his eyes from the glare of the pink sun, Gareth blew out a breath. “Are we even in L.A.? I mean where are the fire trucks and ambulances? Where are the cars?”
“Yeah, I see what you mean.” She looked out at the glittering dirt and sage scrub stretching to the horizon. “Do you think it was a nuclear bomb or something?”
Gareth shook his head. “Doesn't make sense that we'd survive. Remember, you and I weren't even in the same vicinity when the blast happened. And we're both more or less unharmed.”
“Riiight.” Seffy tried to fight down a rising rush of panic. “You said something about Addison? And was Lani working today?” She grimaced. “Ugh, my head hurts.”
Gareth squeezed her hand. “Yes. Lani was working at the spa and Addison was supposed to meet me for lunch at Yoshi's.”
“Wow, I really could go for some good sushi right now.” When she saw Gareth's expression, she bit her lip. “Sorry, levity not such a good idea right now.”
“I just want to find our friends and figure out what happened.”
“Me, too.”
Seffy watched as Gareth flipped open his cell phone. It made her realize she didn't have her purse. No phone, no makeup, no money. Craptastic.
After attempting to make a call, Gareth frowned and shoved the phone back into his pocket. He shook his head. “Nothing. Not even a network busy signal.” He looked up at the sky, which was now taking on the hues of rainbow sherbet.
Seffy watched the emotions flicker across his chiseled yet sensitive features. The mellowing light tipped his fashionably mussed dark hair with gold. He was breathy-sigh handsome and they had nearly a lifetime of memories together. Something Verity couldn't touch.
“Did you hear that?”
Seffy listened hard and was able to pick up a far off keening sound. “A wounded animal?”
“I think someone is crying. C'mon.” He gripped her hand and pulled her along with him. Seffy gasped, a little louder than necessary, as her rib cage protested. He led her up and over a hill. Below was more glittery dirt and some scrubby blue and yellowish green vegetation. A flicker of purple could be seen through a clump of bushes. The keening sound got louder. Down the hill they went. Ouch ouch ouch.
“It's Addison!”
Seffy squinted at the prone figure Gareth had identified as their friend. The red hair could be called a clue, but lots of people had red hair—
“Gareth? Oh, thank God!”
They were close enough now to see that Addison's face was streaked with glittery grime and her eyes shiny with tears. She glanced at their clasped hands and frowned. Seffy lifted her chin. “Are you okay?”
Addison looked away and motioned behind the bushes. “I'm fine but I don't know about her.”
Gareth dropped her hand and went to investigate. Seffy followed, wishing she was still connected to him. She found Gareth kneeling next to an outstretched figure. “Lani?”
The brunette lay splayed in the dirt, her teal flowered dress covered in what looked like red diamond dust, her blue eyes wide, staring upwards. Seffy pressed her hand to her mouth. “Is she breathing?”
Gareth patted her face. “Are you still with us, sweetie?” Addison came around the bushes and crossed her arms over her chest, emitting a sniffle.
“Bonnie Bell.”
Seffy peered at Lani. On a good day she didn't know whether her xippie friend was right in the head. “Bonnie Bell?”
Lani turned her head slightly and looked at Seffy. “Like the pink lip gloss we used in grade school. The sparkly stuff.”
“She means the sky, you dolt.”
Seffy sent Addy stink eye. “Whatever.”
“How did you two get here?” Gareth brushed some dirt from Lani's cheek.
Addison roughly wiped the tears from her face. “I don't know. One minute I was visiting Lani at Euphoria's—”
“You mean hitting her up for a free spa treatment.”
“Seffy,” Gareth said in a low voice.
“Yeah, shut up, Sef.” Addy took a deep breath and continued. “The next minute there was this huge roar and we were yanked, thrown, whatever, from where we were. We woke up right here on the ground.”
I am breathing and the earth glows for me right now
all at once I'm in this place.”
Lani's thready voice hit a high note as she sang.
Misplaced in a different sphere, many miles from earth
but what about it?
I am breathing, I am breathing
“Okay, so you're breathing.” Addy looked at Gareth. “This is what I've been dealing with.”
Gareth's eyes softened as he gazed at Lani. “I remember that song, too,” he said softly.
“I miss that music,” she whispered. Lani got to her feet and began a slow spin, singing, “I am breathing.”
Seffy looked around in alarm. “Okay, this needs to stop now. Someone might hear you.”
“Um, it looks like we're pretty much alone out here in case you haven't noticed.”
“Yes, Addison, I noticed. But we can never be too careful.” She pinned Lani with a gentle glare. “Understand?”
Lani didn't appear to hear her, but spun into a kind of skip dance, her arms outstretched. “Don't you guys hear it?” She twirled past, her feet kicking up a cloud of sparkle dust against a backdrop of what looked like a cheap dreamscape scene on a back lot sound stage.
Seffy blew out a ragged breath. “Okay, we're all stressed out. We just need to stay calm and think this through.”
Addy snorted. “So you're the leader now? Who died and made you queen? By the way, where's Verity? I thought she was with you.”
Seffy stared at her for a long moment. “I don't know where she is. And I'm not trying to be a 'leader'.”
The redhead brushed off her designer jeans and violet silk blouse, pretending to be nonchalant. “I just think you're acting high-handed.”
“We're in the middle of a friggin' blast zone. I'm sorry you didn't like my tone.”
Gareth came up to them with Lani in tow, who was humming and swirling her hand about. “Okay, ladies, let's look for Verity before it gets dark.”
“Verity?” Lani's movements ceased and her expression faltered.
Addy crossed her arms. “She was with Seffy.”
“Look, I don't have a clue where she is. I had the same experience as you two.” Seffy struggled to maintain a blank expression under Addison's penetrating stare.
“Interesting. And I see you didn't waste any time.”
“What are you talking about?”
Addy's gaze swiveled to Gareth before returning to hers. “You know what I mean.”
Seffy snorted. “I'm ignoring that.” She turned to the others. “Let's go back up onto the hill. We'll have a good vantage point up there. Maybe we'll see Verity in the distance.”
“I hope for your sake we find her.”
“God, Addison, what is with you?” Seffy turned and marched back up the hill, the soft dirt sending up little glistening clouds under each step. Her throat was parched, her body ached, and now to complete the package, she had a serious pain in her posterior following right behind her. When she reached the top of the hill, she did a full sweep and saw nothing but sandy dirt, rocks, small fires, and apparently inconsequential piles of debris. This just couldn't be West Hollywood, even in a post-apocalyptic scenario. For one thing, there'd be more survivors. And maybe a burned out food coach or two.
The others reached the summit and stood following her direction of sight.
“No Verity?” Lani asked.
“I don't see another soul.” The big magenta sun quavered low in the sky. Seffy began to feel light-headed and shaky. Had she known she was going to survive a quasi-explosion, she would've splurged on that pumpkin cranberry muffin that had sounded so good for breakfast. Instead she'd had ice water with lemon. Dieting never seemed to do any damn good anyway and this just proved it.
“It'll be dark soon,” Gareth said. “Maybe we should try to look for shelter.”
Addison let out a sharp bark of laughter. “I'm looking. Not exactly seeing.” Gareth's hurt expression made her blush. “I'm just saying.”
“Well, let's walk toward the sun to make the most of the remaining light,” he said. “Looks like there might be another hill in the distance. Maybe there's something at the bottom of it.”
Addison lowered her gaze. “It's not like there's anything else to do.”
Seffy felt like kicking Addy in the shin, but didn't want to upset Gareth any more than he already was. She inhaled deeply, wondered momentarily just what the un-eco-friendly stuff she was breathing, then began to trudge down the hill toward the setting orb. As the others followed, Seffy tried to make sense of their predicament. Was this a dream? A nightmare? How could any of it be real?
Seffy pushed a windblown lock of hair from her eyes and focused on a point in front of her. Lani continued to hum that song, which made her skin crawl.
Verity's last words rang in her mind. It's not the end of the world.
And it's not, obviously. There's still a glowy thing in the sky—even if the sky does look like Bonnie Bell lip gloss. And it only hurts a little bit to breathe the heavy air. Plus, I'm still kickin', so...
“Do you think it runs?”
Seffy turned and looked at Lani. “Huh?”
Lani pointed down the second hill. “There's a car down there near those trees. Maybe it can take us home.”
Seffy refrained from pointing out that cars in blast zones in the middle of nowhere rarely ran. They mostly loomed, or in this case, squatted...menacingly.
“Looks like a Caddy,” Gareth said. “An old one.”
They headed down the hill and toward a straggly grove of pine trees, which cast long shadows in the fading light.
“A Coupe de Ville,” Gareth said in that voice tinged with awe and that osmosis-gained male knowledge of all things automotive. “1971.”
“Will it drive?” Lani asked in a nervous voice.
“No, hun,” he said gently. “But it will be a good place to spend the night.”
“Spend the night?” Addison snapped, her eyes flared. “Are you serious? Let's keep walking until we find civilization—”
“Or at least a modestly priced hotel,” Seffy said.
“With a pool,” Lani added.
Gareth turned to Addison and put his hands on her shoulders. “Look around you. We can see for miles. There are no roads and we don't know what direction civilization is in.”
She bit her lip. “It just feels like we're totally giving in here and going all survival modey.”
“It's getting dark. We just need a place to regroup.”
“And then what?” Addison said, her voice trembling. “What happens in the morning? Help arrives?”
Gareth sent her a steady look. “We don't know. Let's just take this one step at a time.” He pulled her close in a side hug. “And we're together. That's something to be thankful for.”
Addy twisted away from his touch. “Except for Verity.”
“Except for Verity,” he echoed in a hollow voice. Gareth straightened. “You know what, I'm just going to assume she's okay, where ever she is. I mean, she's hardly the only person who didn't show up with us. We have to assume the vast majority of L.A. is fine.”
“Unless this is L.A.” Addison crossed her arms over her chest. “Verity is probably drinking a tonic tea at Elixir right now. Right, Sef?”
Seffy distanced herself from Addison's insinuations and walked up to the old car. She peered in the dusty windows and tried the rusted handle. She was shocked when the door actually creaked open. Beating away some of the cobwebs and dust on the seats, she stuck her head inside. “At least it's got a leather interior.”
Gareth joined her perusal then checked along the dash and visor for keys, but found none. He smiled at Seffy. “You never know.”
She sighed. “You never know.”
“It's probably full of snakes.”
“Addison, you'll freak Lani out.”
“Lani's already freaked,” Lani said. “Gareth, can you check for snakes?”
He nodded and grabbed a stick from the ground. After poking and prodding under the seats, he declared the car snake free.
“You probably just stirred up the black widows.”
“Okay, Addison,” Seffy huffed, “you can sleep outside with the wild animals.”
“There aren't any wild animals in WeHo.”
“You weren't with me on the Strip last weekend,” Gareth said with a grin.
Seffy rolled her eyes. “Maybe we're on some other planet, you know, a time warpy thing.”
“Gee, and I thought Gareth was the only one in touch with his inner geek,” Addison quipped.
“Hey!” Gareth said with mock offense. “Let's not get nasty.”
Lani smiled. “So we're not mad anymore?”
“Just give Addison another minute or so and I'm sure we'll be at each other's throats.”
Addy stuck her tongue out at Seffy.
“Also, the sky is green,” Lani said.
Indeed it was. And green coming off of pink just couldn't be good. “Can this day get any creepier?” Seffy slid into the backseat of the car. The leather was warm but the air smelled musty. Exhaustion made her sink into the upholstery and close her eyes. Lani scooted in next to her, emitting a passionfruit scent from her hair.
“You using a new shampoo?”
“Yes,” she enthused, “it's one of the new botanicals the spa is carrying.”
“It smells a lot better than the inside of this car.”
“And it's on sale.”
Seffy laughed, then her smile faded. “If we get back before the sale ends, I'll buy some.”
Lani sensed the direction of her thoughts. She looked down at her hands. “Yeah.”
“Addy, after you,” Gareth said to Addison.
“Should you and I sit in the front?”
Seffy watched her friend's agenda with a jaundiced eye. So desperate, so sad, dear Addy.
“Since it seems like we're in some kind of desert, we might all want to be together for warmth if it gets chilly.”
Seffy could almost feel Addy's disappointment at not having Gareth all to herself for the night in the front seat. She suppressed a smile and tried to get comfortable. Lani's head fell onto her shoulder as the other two got in and pulled the door closed.
A muffled silence fell after they all got settled.
“I'm hungry,” Seffy said after a minute, hoping to lighten the mood. “Think there are any sushi restaurants around?”
“Look at the bright side, Sef. This way you might lose that last fifteen pounds you're always yammering about.”
Seffy mashed her lips together. She'd always been jealous of Addison's whipcord lean physique.
“Not nice,” Lani scolded in a sleepy voice.
“Agreed,” Gareth rumbled from the other side of the seat. “Let's not get into body image issues tonight.”
Seffy glanced over and saw Gareth leaning his head against the seat, one wrist propped on his denimed knee, looking for all the world like a model from Abercrombie & Fitch.
“Besides, you girls are the prettiest little things this side of paradise.”
“And it's that fake countrified twang that gives your words such credibility.”
“Okay, Addison,” he said, “let's start with you. How many natural redheads do you know that have your beautiful olive skin tone and mossy green eyes?”
Even in the failing light Seffy could see Addison's cheeks redden. She stifled a pang of jealousy.
“And Lani, you have that whole wide-eyed Mischa Barton thing going. Very gamine.”
“How does a guy know the word 'gamine'?” Addy said, rolling her eyes.
Lani clapped her hands together. “I always love Mischa's outfits.”
Natch. Seffy glanced at Lani's loud dress and suppressed a shudder.
Gareth leaned forward and caught her eye. “And Seffy reminds me of the beautiful Diane Krueger, without the German accent of course.”
“Or the figure.”
Seffy ignored Addison and smiled at Gareth. “Thanks, sweetie. You always cheer me up.” Diane Krueger. Dang. I can live with that. Suddenly the foreign world they found themselves in didn't seem so bad.
“What about you, Gareth?” Lani asked, not wanting him to be left out.
They regarded him with irresistible smiles. He grinned back, his bleached teeth a slash of white in the gloom. “Hottie,” they said in unison, and laughed.
“See, now everyone feels better,” he said, obviously gratified.
Seffy sighed.“You just flattered us so we'd stop complaining.”
“Admit it, it didn't take much to divert you.”
Addison punched him lightly on the shoulder. “Very funny.”
Seffy closed her eyes, knowing their camaraderie wouldn't last long. In fact they hadn't been this lighthearted since...since forever. As in high school forever. She turned toward the window, not wanting to stumble down reminiscence lane just now. Opening her eyes, she saw the remnant of the neon sun sink below the horizon as an eerie green glow descended on the land. Where in the world are we? How will we get home?
Her heart began to pound out an odd rhythm. She swallowed.
“Is it the end of the world?” Lani's voice broke the suddenly tense silence.
But no one answered the question.

Copyright June 2009 by Bella Street All Rights Reserved

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