Sam was a loyal employee.
So loyal, in fact, that he’d moved to the arid state of Arizona to a camp in the middle of nowhere.
Sam Maddox was a security guard for the Unites States Federal Government, protecting sensitive top-secret information from foreign spies and saboteurs.
Sam’s life hadn’t always been this exciting and full of responsibility. He was a kid from California. He’d lived in a city all his life, around people, crowds, noise, and light. He was a very social person, so adjusting to the empty social scene that came with the job was more than difficult—it had been nearly impossible.
Sam descended from a military family, but he didn’t want to go to war or join the armed forces. He didn’t want to die in a pointless war or be blown to pieces by roadside bombs for a country that would only throw him to the streets when he returned a veteran. He wasn’t patriotic, but he wasn’t one to shame his family either.
Sam was scared to death about death; he wasn’t courageous (or as Sam considered it, foolhardy) enough to stare death in the face.
The best job his brother Cornelius could score him was a job as a security guard for the government. It sounded more prestigious and dangerous than it really was, but the money and the image that came with it was good.
In his heart, Sam had always wanted to be a film director. He didn’t expect to make it big, but he just thought he could direct movies that were worth watching.
The hot and desolate Arizona climate wasn’t very inspiring, either. It launched Sam into a sort of depression and imposed a writer’s block even a cup of coffee and a strong will couldn’t lift.
Sam liked to go on walks around the impenetrable steel facility to stay in shape and get outdoors. (Sam didn’t want to be a stereotypical fat cop).
The sun was blindingly hot, so Sam wore his sunglasses 24/7.
The lonely facility lay in the middle of the desert. Trucks and supplies only came once a week, on Wednesdays at 3:00pm sharp. The scientists who worked inside the facility were indoors all day. Sam had only spoken to them once. He barely ever saw them.
The curiosity of what lay inside the facility, of what he guarded—the need-to-know had worn off long ago. Sam had learned not to think about it. He didn’t want to get killed over unwittingly knowing top-secret government information. At the guard academy, they’d trained them to remain ignorant in case enemy spies captured them; they wouldn’t leak any info.
The Killers blasted from Sam’s headphones as he walked atop the shifting sand. He hummed the words absentmindedly. His mind wandered to memories of home and the pride his job brought his family.
“My son! An officer for the federal government!” his father Spencer had rejoiced. “Who could’ve thought, eh?”
Sam wasn’t an officer, just a guard, but that was how his dad was. He loved exaggerating things. Sam guessed it came with the big Maddox ego.
Maybe I can write a script about someone who gets stuck in the desert and has to survive by themselves, Sam pondered and scribbled the thought down in his personal journal: “The Book Of Potential Films.” He was always looking for more ideas.
Maybe a horror movie about evil scientists working in the middle of the desert?
Sam checked that one off.
“Excuse me! EXCUSE ME!” Sam jumped, startled at the sudden sound among the silent wilderness. He pulled out his headphones.
A redheaded boy came into view; barefoot, white button-up shirt tattered. He didn’t look so hot.
“Help!” the boy yelped. He looked like he was in his late teens. His lips were chapped and his face was sharp and sullen.
Sam rushed over to him.
“Sir! What’s wrong?” he asked, catching the redhead before he fell into the sand. His feet were red and raw from walking on blisteringly hot sand.
“I—I just got lost,” the boy explained breathlessly. “My motorbike broke down a few miles away; there was no one…need water,” he struggled to explain.
Sam’s eyes shifted away unsurely. Of course it was awfully odd that someone had suddenly appeared in need of assistance. It was sort of suspicious, but did that mean Sam shouldn’t help him?
He looked in pretty bad shape, so he couldn’t really be faking it.
“Please,” the boy pleaded, green eyes heavy. “Water…”
Sam fished out the water bottle from his backpack (he was always prepared) and offered it to the boy. The redhead gulped the water down greedily.
“Let me take you back to base,” Sam offered. “I’ll be able to help you there best.”
Sam took hold of the redhead’s arm and helped him back to the facility.
Sam lay him down on the couch inside the guard building adjoining the rest of the facility.
The boy sighed heavily, crumpled on the couch. He fell into an exhausted sleep.
Sam looked down at him worriedly. He hoped he would recuperate soon.
* * *
“My name is Joey,” the redhead said about an hour later. “Joey Brobeck.”
“How did you end up here?” Sam asked curiously.
The redhead took a bite of the pre-made food Sam had given him: lukewarm fish sticks and salad. It was pretty disgusting, but Sam had grown used to it.
The government was on a budget, Sam always joked.
The redhead didn’t complain.
“I was on my bike trying to explore the terrain. I’m a photographer, you know, and the desert and its hidden life is just inspiring,” he explained. “It might sound crazy, but I enjoy it. Photography is something that makes me complete.”
You should be a guard, then, Sam thought bitterly. About the most solitary job you can find. Especially when the people that you guard don’t speak to you.
“You have a lot of free time, then?” Sam asked. “It isn’t a short commute from here to civilization.”
The redhead nodded. “Yeah. I’ve never gone this far into the desert before,” Joey said. “I was looking for the right lighting. But I obviously couldn’t handle it,” Joey laughed.
Sam shook his head. “You could’ve died. Over a photo.”
“Well, it’s a passion.” Joey shrugged, swallowing a spoonful of refrigerator-cold salad. “It means the world to me.”
Sam suddenly envied Brobeck’s foolish bravery. Although he would never risk his life for a photograph, Sam wished he had the guts to even consider it. Death was a concept he’d rather avoid, especially when he knew it frightened him more than anything in the world.
“So, what are you doing here?” Joey asked curiously. “I mean besides rescuing photographers in distress.”
Sam smiled despite himself. The kid sure knew how to keep it positive for someone who’d been ne death a while ago.
“I’m a security guard for the building next door,” Sam answered truthfully.
“Exciting,” Joey said dryly.
“Well, it’s a federal building, not just any building,” Sam huffed, unable to let his pride take a hit. “The feds want it protected, so they hired the best man for the job.”
“Really? Didn’t think they needed a post office so far out,” Joey laughed.
His jokes had just lost their charm.
Sam stood up and straightened out the wrinkles in his pressed uniform that weren’t there, suddenly feeling annoyed. Who was this kid? And who was he to say Sam’s job wasn’t important? At least he wasn’t some freelance risking his life for money. Sort of.
“I think you should leave,” Sam said, voice rough and commanding.
“And go where?” Joey asked, shrinking back into the vulnerable kid Sam had found in the wilderness. “I don’t have any shelter or water. My clothes are torn and I’m barefoot; I won’t survive long. Why would you do that to me?”
Joey’s eyes were wide and innocent, the smirked wiped off his face as soon as he was confronted with the very real possibility of being let back into the wild alone.
Joey’s eyes searched Sam’s, a stare that forced a guilty Sam to look away.
“The next transport is due in a few days,” Sam said regretfully. “I guess you’ll have to wait until then.”
“You have a car to drive to town?” Joey asked, confused.
“It’s against procedure—,” Sam began to explain, but that sounded like a lame excuse, even to his ears.
“What if something happens? When you need assistance…there’s no way for anyone here to get away,” Joey wondered.
“I—we’ll wait for the transport,” Sam repeated, flustered by the question. He’d never thought about it that way. When Cornelius had signed him up for the job, the contract had explicitly said everyone inside the facility couldn’t leave until the government executed an order for them to do so. Sam guessed he’d been too caught up in guard procedures to read over the safety guidelines the contract had in place for his well being.
“So, are you still asking me to leave?” Joey asked anxiously.
“Well—no,” Sam said, now slightly confused. “No. You can stay.”
Joey brightened; his green eyes gleamed. “Good.”
They sat in silence, the atmosphere buzzing with increasing tension, or so it appeared to Sam. Everything and nothing seemed the same.
“So…what is this place exactly?” Joey asked, sinking into the snug sofa pillows. “A mental hospital? A prison? By the looks of things, something very important is housed here, something the government doesn’t want to get out.”
Joey whacked the steel wall with his fist.
“It’s a lab,” Sam found himself saying.
He was breaking the first rule he’d been taught at the guard academy: never say anything you know about your condition or position. He didn’t know why, but he felt increasingly more comfortable around Joey, like a friend he’d known for years.
“Really? What are you guarding,” Joey asked, leaning forward. His eyes danced with mischief.
“I—don’t know,” Sam admitted.
“You don’t know?” Joey looked amused, but genuinely surprised. “That complicates things slightly. Allow me to enlighten you, Sam.”
Joey stood upright, his face shedding the mask of youthful guilelessness.
“Do you want to know what you’re guarding?” Joey asked, his demeanor changing rapidly from vulnerable and wounded to glacial and calculating. “Do you really want to know?”
He circled Sam’s sitting figure slowly.
“Yes,” Sam found himself admitting.
“You’re guarding the key to control of the world and the supernaturals in it,” Joey explained swiftly. “You, sir, are guarding the Solution: you can control who has powers, and who doesn’t.”
“How do you know this?” Sam asked, bewildered but irrevocably fascinated. “Who are you really?”
Sam’s mind was yelling at him to call for help, to press the green button hidden behind his belt buckle to set off the silent alarm that would warn the scientists an intruder was in their midst. Worst-case scenario: he would press the black button, which would detonate the facility and everything inside it.
His instructor at the guard academy had tested same aggressively to respond to intruders and Sam had never failed. But that was only because the threat wasn’t real and his life wasn’t in danger. This was real, and Sam found himself hesitating.
Joey Brobeck, if that was even the real name of the man before him, was some sort of delusional extremist; whatever he was, Sam was supposed to protect the facility against him. If he could only get to the button without letting Joey know…
“Ah, Sam, that’s irrelevant. Who I am is irrelevant when it comes to the matter at hand.”
Joey’s conspiring green eyes locked Sam’s gaze.
“What matters,” he whispered, “Is that I will spare you if you help me. I’ll give you your share of the Solution. You can give yourself any power you want, how many you want…”
Joey moved closer, green eyes blazing with the prospect.
“Make your family proud, Sam Maddox. Give yourself the power of Immortality. You can join the armed forces; you’ll never be afraid of death again. Death will fear you—because you will never die.”
Sam looked at him, shaken to the core, unwilling to admit to himself that what Joey had said had aroused his interest.
“Sam—will you help me?” Joey asked.
Sam held his gaze but his fingers moved automatically, searching for the button that would trigger the silent alarm at his belt. His fingers, slicked with nervous sweat, slipped.
Joey glanced down and shook his head, jerking the belt off violently, startling Sam.
“I really thought you would help me. I handpicked you, thought you’d man up for once in your life, Sam,” Joey smirked. “But none of that matters now. I’m sorry. In advance.”
Joey smiled coldly. He abruptly seized Sam by the throat, flinging him against the steel wall like a bothersome toy. The impact was teeth chattering, strong enough to disorient and injure Sam.
Joey dashed out the open door of Sam’s building like a well-fired dart.
Sam had promised he’d never die for something he didn’t believe in. He wasn’t the patriotic type. But Joey wasn’t sane, either.
Sam wasn’t deterred.
Although the death tugged at his heart like a clenched fist, although he feared it more than anything imaginable, he knew what was right. Fear no longer mattered when death was imminent.
I should write a script about the guard who gave his life and overcame death, Sam thought bitter-sweetly.
With his last ounce of strength, Sam Maddox reached for the black button on his belt.
Sam was a loyal employee. He wasn’t the patriotic type, but he went out with fireworks.
Kim Mejia-Cuellar is a member of our Youth Advisory Board. She is 16 years old.
About the Youth Advisory Board
The YAB (Youth Advisory Board) is an energetic squad of students aged fourteen to eighteen who represent different schools and are an integral part of 826 programing. yAb students act as ambassadors to the schools and communities we serve. We meet twice a month to help with various events, and to develop strategies for recruiting students to take advantage of our free writing services. The yAb will build your college and professional resumé, opening future doors of opportunity.
As a YAB member, you could earn $200 to
* organize and run youth-focused readings and events at 826 Support and attend fundraising events
* recruit high school students to attend our workshops, events, and activities
* support 826 Valencia’s tutors and interns during tutoring & workshops
*serve as liaisons to schools, friends, families, and the community
For more information on how to join, contact Raúl Alcantar by email at firstname.lastname@example.org, or by phone at 415.642.5905, ext. 205