Waiting for the End (Of the Line)

The resplendent lights of America City drew more than a few visitors. All eight roads which led in and out of the nation's capital city were fully loaded and slow as ever. In the midst of the perpetual traffic jam on Central Highway 4, the two of us sat restlessly in our car as the sluggish line of vehicles progressed. Surprisingly, not one person attempted to simply leave their car and enter the city by foot.

Immediately after that thought however, I remembered that entering America City by foot was prohibited by law and could earn you a heavy fine. Beside me in the passenger seat, Josh was tinkering with his tablet. The eight inch pad sat idly in his left palm as his right hand interacted with the screen. The dim light of the gadget illuminated his face in the darkness cast by the hatchback's roof. Out of curiosity, I leaned over and took a look. The image of a map filled the screen and I recognized it immediately. "America City; doing a little research?"

My scholarly brother nodded. If our family had enough money for university, Josh would rock that place. I noticed on the digital display that this particular map of the famous metropolis was divided into colored territories instead of the regular districts. The largest portion was covered in red, taking up a massive amount of the centre of the city. "What's-"

"This is a map of the city divided into gang territories," Josh explained, cutting me off, "I downloaded a program for a buck a few minutes ago."

"You can download a map that shows where gangs live for a dollar? Is that legal?" I wondered aloud.

"Entirely", he muttered, returning his focus on the map.

Somehow, I just didn't believe him. Feeling mildy neglected, I turned to my left and stared out the window. It'd been a whole day since we left Gordon, a small town in the state of Washington. Suddenly, I received a call. I turned on my smartphone to find that a certain Abigail Littleton was calling. "Hello?" I inquiringly greeted, as most people do.

"Hello," the voice on the other end of the line greeted in reply, "This is Mrs. Littleton."

Her voice was aging but stern, her voice alone indicated that she was one who should always be taken seriously. "I trust that you're not slacking off?" she asked.

"Not at all, Mrs. Littleton," I answered casually, "We're actually outside of America City right now. The traffic is like Hell's waiting room though, so it could take a while."

"I'll be waiting", she ominously reminded me, indicating the conversation's end.

I said my courteous goodbyes and shut off the phone, glad to be rid of her insane level of seriousness. "Hey I did some research on phoenix ashes", Josh exclaimed.

"Of course you did, Josh", I teased, once again leaning over to observe my brother's progress.

"Phoenixes aren't just, you know, immortal. The resurrection process is extremely complicated and involves a minimum of two phoenixes. Basically, phoenixes are attracted to and can identify different phoenix ashes. They gather the feathers and pile them together. Afterwards, the phoenix lights the ashes on fire with its own breath and resurrects the dead phoenix. Additionally, phoenix ashes of the same bird are attracted to each other via worldwide bio-magnetism and are practically indestructible", he lectured.

"That's dumb," I ignorantly dismissed, "What kind of mythical creature relies on other mythical creatures to come back to life? What if I just went and shot every single phoenix dead? How'd they be immortal then, huh?"

"That's just it, bro," Josh sighed, "Phoenixes aren't mythical creatures at all. They're species of animals. Animals generally rely on each other to survive. Lions have prides, wolves have packs. Phoenixes, as weird as it may sound, have clans."

I invaded my brother's private space and flicked the screen downwards with my right index finger. The encyclopedia page scrolled up to reveal an image of a phoenix. It turns out that all phoenixes are female, which isn't much of a problem when you consider the resurrection part of their life cycles. The bird resembled a cross between a peregrine falcon and a golden pheasant, borrowing the falcon's slim, aerodynamic shape and the pheasant's long hair and tail. As for the colors, the phoenix was primarily golden but sported streaks of red and orange along its tail and hair.

The website claimed that phoenixes were between 3 to 3.5' long. Although not actually on fire like many mythical depictions of the bird, phoenix's breath was an incredibly flammable gas, sometimes combusting all on its own. Satisfied with this new knowledge I'd quickly forget, I turned forwards towards the city and waited for the impossibly slow line of traffic in silence.

"We're not going to get in until morning at this rate," I groaned, "Man the car while I run and grab a coffee?"

Josh sighed and reluctantly accepted. I got out of the rusted blue hatchback as Josh climbed over into the driver's seat. Shutting the door behind me, I began to head down the street towards the nearest coffee shop, a little more than half a mile away. America City was surrounded by small suburbs and hamlets, each with its own interesting history. In the declining autumn weather, I could see my breath in the air with every exhalation. It was three in the morning and I wasn't planning on sleeping, so an extra-large was a perfect purchase.

Not at all surprising, the coffee shop was packed. Every table was filled and the drive-thru and lineups were almost busier than the road into America City itself. I stood awkwardly at the end of the line, which extended to the end of the freaking parking lot. "This was the stupidest idea ever," I muttered under my breath, "I'm cold, I'm bored and Josh is probably gonna get into the city before I even get to the door."

"Excuse me," a man's voice began, his fingers tapping on the tip of my right shoulder, "D'you know anythin' 'bout the Firebrand gang or however they call it?"

I turned around to find a slim, bearded fellow with a trucker hat. There was a good chance that he was a trucker. "Sorry man, I've never heard of them", I lied blatantly.

In truth, the Firebrand gang was the whole reason we were so desperately attempting to get into America City. According to our client Abigail Littleton, there was a good chance that the Firebrand gang was in possession of her phoenix ashes.

"Why do you ask?" I continued, trying to be as unsuspicious as possible.

"Let's just say that a very nice woman offered me a very nice prize for finding something that the Firebrand gang stole from her", he answered.

Wait, was this guy serious? In attempting to sound unsuspicious, he himself basically revealed that Abigail Littleton, the same one who hired us, was also hiring this clown to find her phoenix ashes. For the past several hours, I'd thought that this was an exclusive job. But, it did make sense. If you want something valuable retrieved, you don't simply hire one team; you hire several. "Oh, the 'Firebrand' gang!" I gasped falsely, "I thought you were talking about the Firehand Man. Yeah, the Firebrand gang is pretty well known, but not around these parts. I'd suggest searching in New York or Baltimore", I suggested, lies literally erupting from my pores.

"Thank you kindly", he thanked me, tipping his hat and walking away.

Wait, did he just go from being a hillbilly to a cowboy? This question and many more plagued my thoughts as the coffee line stayed relatively rigid. It was going to be a long night for the Hartfield brothers.

The End

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