Chapter 1

At least there's no traffic, I say to myself. I'm trying to find the bright side of living in a version of California with no infrastructure or rule of law.

I daydream while behind the wheel of an Isuzu Hombre, I had a learners permit. Considering I am a driver on a post apocalyptic version of the Mulholland Highway I wonder if my driving would pass for legal before the collapse. My daydreaming is interrupted by a figure in the highway. I depress the brakes calmly; the '98 pickup halts without squealing. I promptly open the door and step out the figure proves to be a women. She seems to be slightly older than me. Then again it's hard to tell with girls my age. I'm 16 and she could be anywhere between that and 30. I catch a glimpse of her face she's definitely around my age. Our eyes meet and she speaks first. "Thanks for stopping" she says out of breath. "You all right" I say with audible concern for this stranger. This woman's blonde with blue eyes. She sits down, points to her right leg and breathes, "I hurt my knee a while back, again thank you for stopping." "No problem" I respond. I'm stare at the leg that she complains of; black leggings cover the leg. I lean in closer, but then catch myself. "I have a first aid kit in the car I'll get that for you." As I turn around I see a man run past and hop into the Hombre. I hear the distinct rev of an engine and my blue Isuzu speeds away. I stand in shock filled for a moment as I process the situation. I then turn to face the women. The realization of her involvement hits me like a cedar bat to a baseball. My goodwill turns to rage.

"What the hell was that."? I instinctively reach for the Luger on my belt and raise it towards her. She immediately begins sobbing, "Please I was just trying to get to the town on Lake Eleanor." Her tears disarm me. I lower my gun slightly. "There's civilization near Lake Eleanor " I say in a stunned tone. "Yes" she gasps. I hesitate to trust her, as she tricked once before. "Well why don't you take me there." Ha ha I called her bluff. "Okay I will, I'm Courtney by the way." Well then Courtney show the way, I think to myself. I respond with a cautious retort. "Sounds good let's walk towards see if we can find a car." Courtney Looks relieved and we begin to walk. After walking for a couple in silence, I introduce myself. "Hey, just so you know I'm Josh." She quickly responds seeming to have calmed herself in past minutes. "Good to meet you." "Again sorry for what happened back there." "It'll be, okay cars are common we'll find one." Why am I comforting her, she got my car stolen? Perhaps my forgiveness towards her is due to her feminine persuasion. I had stared at her pre collapse leggings for a good 30 seconds. Her lower body is shapely. I suddenly recall how the girls at school before the collapse would where next to nothing and still act coy. My wet dreams are interrupted by their subject's speech.

"Hey there's an SUV over there." I notice a Pontiac Aztec parked on the roads shoulder. It's an older model but it looks as if it still runs. I turn towards Courtney and tell her wait while try to start the truck. The truck is surprisingly unlocked.

The interior reveals 7 seats. I instinctively open the visor in search of a key. Feeling stupid I look to see that the key is lying on the seat.

I pick it up, step out of the Aztec, and wave it triumphantly towards Courtney. She smiles warmly and says. "I think I should drive, your like 16 and doubt you a have a license." I'm not sure how old she is either, so I ask. "So are you of age." She quickly responds, "for your information I'm 18." Wow she's 2 years older than me, which would have been a deal breaker before the collapse, but now I could have a chance. I set aside my romantic intentions and yield to her request. Soon after we commence driving Courtney pipes up.

"It's good you let me drive, you know I was a licensed driver so I know what I'm doing." She pauses then starts back up. "Ok I got my license suspended and had to quit." She drifts between lanes and I hit her with my quick wit. "Women can't drive, huh." She glares at me for a moment, and then bursts out laughing. An arm lays on my shoulder, it's her, "I think I'm going to like you." As we near the 101 highway an amazing sight greets us. The northbound side of the 101 is completely full of abandoned cars; yet the southbound side is deserted. Courtney promptly comments. "Looks like people were trying to flee from the city and got into one hell of a traffic jam." " I think we could cop ourselves some good supplies here." "All right, Josh let's scavenge together" she retorts with a grin, and were off. We move together combing through car after car, which is fortunately unlocked. Most yield minimal supplies. If I had the siphon from my Hombre I could have taken a boatload of gas from these cars. Then I remember how Courtney helped some guy steal it. I'm kinda pissed at her but then I see her bend over to search the trunk of a Toyota Echo and all is forgiven. Get a hold of yourself Josh I say to myself. Courtney then calls for me. "Hey Josh I found this bag think its worth our time." She raises a small red backpack, there's writing on it. Oh yeah, that's one of those premade emergency bags. "Nice find, lemme check it out." She tosses me the bag I open it promptly and inspect the interior. I find some preserved rations, tasteless but better than starving. As I look up crisis stares back. Some vagrant has a kitchen knife.

Post apocalyptia is just unrelenting. The vagrant obviously has been tailing us for a bit. He sneers with glee. This guy looks like he could of be a salary man before the collapse. He wears a dirty button down shirt. "The bag, hand it over or I cut your girlfriend." My girlfriend? Just give him the bag. I tentatively reach my left hand, which holds the bag, out. As the vagrant reaches for his loot, he makes a fatal mistake. His knife moves down from Courtney's jugular vein to her collar bone.

Courtney notices his slip. She deftly knees him in the groin then runs away towards me. The next moments rush past me at lightning speed. Without thinking, I draw the Luger and fire. Boom, headshot the vagrant is dead before he hits the ground. I holster my weapon, and realizations of my actions sink in. My eyes widen and Courtney notices my distress. She promptly wraps her arms around me can proceeds to console my conscience. "It's okay baby you had kill him." In this spontaneous moment of intimacy I put my hands on her waist then move the left one lower. She smiles as we lock gazes. Then we lock lips. Of course, this completely blindsides me, during this tender moment I realize this is the first time I've kissed someone since an errant game of truth or dare in 8th grade. I pull away, to be honest neither of our breaths are too good. Courtney must have noticed as well, "let's keep going," she breathes. We proceed to get back into the Aztec and drive away.