Ashley swung the rusted length of rebar with all of her might. It crashed through the store-front window, spraying glass shards across the interior floor tiling and street alike. A stray fragment cut open her right cheek, but she scarcely noticed the wound as she clambered into the opening and dashed toward the scantly populated shelves of the convenience store. She heard the other looters start pouring in behind her. Moving quickly, she turned down an aisle and began stuffing a number of squat pull-tab cans into the front pocket of her black hoodie.
Abruptly, someone shoved her aside and swept the remaining cans into a sack. Ashley tumbled to the floor on her side, then, snarling, bolted upright and kicked her assailant in the back of his left knee. His legs collapsed, sending him toppling down onto his back. She swiped up the rebar from where she’d dropped it, raised it high into the air, then brought it down at full force on one of the dazed figure’s kneecaps.
She was distantly aware of the crunching impact, punctuated by a loud yell. When her tunnel vision cleared, she found herself sprinting away from the store, the rebar and the sack of cans clutched in her hands. Ducking into an alleyway halfway down the next block, she pulled her hood up over her tangled mop of white hair, hiding on the far side of a dumpster just as a squad of riot police marched past the alley toward the havoc she’d started.
Once they’d passed, she exhaled in relief, then rummaged through the sack and retrieved one of the cans. To her intense dismay, it was canned meat. Groaning, she pulled off the lid and scooped out two fingerfuls of the unappetizing pink gel, her mind wandering as she ate.
It wasn’t that she’d started that ruckus over there, not really. Even if she’d not done it, someone else would’ve a moment or two later, considering the total chaos throughout the city right now. She glanced up at the night sky.
An assortment of burning debris, cars, and buildings belched up opaque, black smoke, blotting out whatever few stars that might’ve been visible. A colossal pillar of fire in the distance—a skyscraper set aflame, she guessed—threw out a faint orange flow against the hazy gray ceiling. Sirens from police cruisers, fire trucks, and ambulances alike filled the air, all but drowning out the confused din of shouting from the roving mobs of looters and arsonists.
Ashley chucked the empty can on the ground, gathered up rebar and bag, then cautiously poked her head out of the alley only to lock eyes with a pair of SWAT officers, each sporting an assault rifle.
“You there! Don’t move! Identify yourse—”
She scrambled back toward the far end of the alley, the officers bellowing after her. Right as she went to turn the corner and make her escape, they opened fire at her. A bullet ripped through her left arm; she screeched in pain and immediately dropped the rebar, but forced herself to keep running. She exited the alley, coming face-to-face with a crowd of people armed with molotov cocktails and other improvised weaponry. She pushed her way through them without a moment’s hesitation—she knew they were too disarmed by her sudden appearance and small stature to consider her a threat.
Ignoring the gunfire and anguished outcries behind her, she dove through the empty window frame of a darkened store, hustling into the first door she found and locking it behind her. She sank down to a seated position, clutching her arm. After waiting for a moment to catch her breath, she carefully removed her hoodie, folded one of the arms over several times, then bit down on the wadded cloth as she jammed her fingers into the bullet wound.
Some part of her mind far removed from the searing pain informed her that she’d gripped the bullet. She yanked out the metal slug and chucked it into the surrounding darkness, vaguely conscious of her own muffled yelling. She collapsed, the pain reluctantly ebbing away into unconsciousness.
She awoke to a faint light shining from beneath the door. She slowly sat upright, her head and arm throbbing in sync with her pulse. She staggered to her feet in a daze, clenching her temples with her good hand. How long had she been out? She’d meant to bandage up her arm, but it looked like the bleeding stopped on its own. Thank goodness the bullet had only struck the fatty part of her upper arm rather than the muscle or bone.