It was day by the time I got anywhere near the buildings I saw last night. Even with my long stride and fast pace, one person can only move so fast.
“At least I know I’m still a good judge of distance,” I mutter, glaring at the buildings that are slowly growing closer. She doesn’t have a hazmat suit, but first things first. This air and dust is basically toxic... without a gas mask she doesn’t stand a chance. “It’s not like I didn’t notice she wasn’t wearing a mask when I found her,” I sigh, my hand resting on the top of my gas mask. “She can’t even defend herself. Why am I even thinking about her right now?”
The dirt kicks up as I walk, leaving a small trail that dances in the wind. Even though the world has gone to shit, sometimes there is still beauty to be seen. Grass that tries to grow in the shady part of a house or an old forgotten can of food that’s still good. Small things that make these days just a bit more manageable. There’s not much of those left in the world now, mostly just empty houses and bodies of the long dead rotting in forgotten corners. Those still alive lost their kindness or joy when the world lost its mind. The nukes didn’t just destroy the world, the nukes destroyed that bit of good hiding in even the most despicable person. The boiling sun and the deserted wasteland serves to cultivate callousness and hatred while it stomps out the light.
My mind sharpens, falling back into the familiar survival instincts, as I finally make my way to the front steps of what looks like an old supply store. Its sign is faded and most of it lies in a broken heap to the left of the steps so reading the name is impossible. Not that names of stores matter anymore. Still... sometimes it’s nice to know where you’re going into. I pull my crowbar from my pack with a practiced movement, before quickly sweeping my surroundings. A few dilapidated buildings rest on either side of store, while only an endless sea of dirt covers the rest. With the coast clear, I take stock of the door in front of me. It’s a thick glass. There are scrapes and spiderwebs of cracks along most of the door’s surface. It looks like someone really wanted whatever was in here, but they didn’t have the time to stick around trying to break some glass. I pull my arm back and with one well placed and forceful movement, shatter the glass with my crowbar. It clatters to the ground making me cringe at the volume of the sound.
“Well, now I’m breaking and entering,” I think to myself sarcastically, reaching through the door searching for a lock. “I hope there aren’t any cops around.” My hand brushes against a small smooth piece of metal and I immediately turn it. The lock clicks and I pull the door open with ease.
“Everyone else is an amateur, they can all go home,” I brag as I walk through the entrance, a smug smile on my face. The store is dark, it’s only windows in the front of the store covered by a curtain of sorts. It doesn’t take me long to fish my flashlight out of my bag, although I could really do with a second pack. I mean if I’m going to keep Miss Timid around, she might as well carry half of our supplies.
“I need you to work,” I complain to my flashlight as I unscrew the bottom, letting its two batteries fall into my palm. I wipe both the batteries down with a bit of fabric from my hoodie in a last ditch effort to get them to work. Holding the batteries and flashlight in one hand, I slam the flashlight down on the heel of my other, cleaning out whatever may have taken residence inside the fixture. A few specks of something fall out on my third hit and I nod with satisfaction. I carefully place the batteries back in and with bated breath, replace the flashlight’s bottom. With one swift motion I click the switch and a cone of light bursts from my flashlight.
“Well, looks like I still have some luck left,” I sigh, looking back towards the inside of the shop. With the flashlight on, my surroundings are clear. This was a disaster shop. One of those stores you could go to and buy supplies for an apocalypse. As the beam of light from my flashlight makes its way across the store, I can see all of the empty shelves. Some are overturned on their side, while others have been completely broken. Once people heard about the nukes these were the first shops people went to, at least that’s what I would do. They must have run out of supplies first. This shop was probably cleaned out and locked up a while ago and forgotten about.
“I’ve already spent enough energy trying to get in here I might as well see if it has anything left to offer,” I mumble half-heartedly. “I mean who knows, no one is going to stick around to look in an empty shop right?”
I never liked the quiet. Something about the absolute stillness of the room would always set me on edge. The only sounds in the store are the occasional scrapes my shoes make against the carpet. The shelves that haven’t been knocked over are empty, only dust or the occasional piece of string remains. After three shelves of nothing, my flashlight catches something, its light reflecting back into my eyes.
“Hunch don’t fail me now,” I whisper as I bend down to lift the fallen shelf. My hands grasp the cold metal and I brace my shoulder against the structure. Taking a breath, I push against the shelf with most of my strength. For a moment the shelf doesn’t move, and in another, it’s upright standing once again on its sturdy legs.
“Not what I was expecting, but I’ll take it,” I think to myself as I bend down to pick up the silver duct tape that now lies exposed on the ground. There’s plenty left on the roll and I smile slightly to myself before ripping off a good long piece and fixing the hole in my pants. I smooth the line of tape over a few times with my hand before ripping off a second piece just to be safe. Satisfied with the job I’ve done, I continue my careful search of the store. As I take my first step towards another overturned shelf, my foot catches something small and sends it a few feet across the carpeted floor. Never one to pass up free stuff, I investigate.
“Holy shit! Batteries!” I exclaim, picking up the small package. Batteries are hard to come by, especially ones that fit what you need. Once everything started to calm down after the nukes hit, people went back to raiding stores for everything they could find. I know I did, at least. I went straight for batteries and anything else that would come in handy later. I can’t believe someone managed to overlook these. At that moment my flashlight dies, thrusting me back into an oppressive darkness.
“Well, there goes the rest of my luck,” I sigh, squinting in vain at the batteries in my hand. Come to think of it, I think my flashlight needs bigger batteries than these, either way, I’ll never say no to batteries.
Making your way through an almost pitch black store is about as easy as it sounds. If you’re not bumping into shelving, you’re too worried about hitting them and are moving at a snail’s pace. It’s hard to think of one person who is comfortable walking forward blindly with their hands outstretched, searching for a wall to ground them. Either way, if that’s what you have to do, there’s no point in pussy-footing around. You either do it or you don’t, there can’t really be an in-between anymore.
“At least I got to most of the the shelving before the light went out,” I concede as I inch myself forward, my eyes slowly adjusting to the darkness. My steps are slow, and the feeling that something is going to jump out at me only intensifies every second my hand is suspended in the empty air in front of my face. The only place still worth checking at this point is the office. I mean, if I ran one of these stores, I would always make sure I had a small supply for myself incase the worst happened. The moment my hand brushes up against something I jump back, nearly colliding with the shelving behind me.
“God damn wall,” I curse, looking around in an old habit, making sure no one saw me jump. Compensating for lost time, I make quick work of the wall, finding the office door in a snap. On instinct I try the handle. Finding it locked, I quickly pull my crowbar from its place in my overflowing pack again, readying it in my hand. I start tapping on different spots of the door, checking for breakable glass. It only takes a few knocks before I find the glass. I don’t hesitate and swing my crowbar down with a grunt. I cringe again as the glass shatters and falls to the floor. Quickly reaching through, I find the lock and let myself in.
“I wonder if this would count as a second charge of breaking and entering?” I muse to myself, as my eyes finally adjust to the darkness. The office is small, only a desk and two chairs fit comfortably in the room, leaving little space for much else. Without warning the unmistakable stench of death reaches my nostrils, causing me to almost gag in my mask. My eyes scan over the room quickly trying to locate the source of the smell. Searching the room, my eyes fall upon the leather desk chair facing away from me.
“Only place left they could be,” I whisper to myself as I try to steel my nerves for what comes next. My steps are loud in the small space, the sound seems to almost echo off the walls. Each step brings me closer to the chair, the smell growing stronger by the second. I’ve seen my share of decomposing corpses, but who knows how long they have been sitting here, slowly rotting away. My hand brushes the leather of the chair and I cringe back a fraction before taking a breath and spinning the chair around. With just a glimpse, I have to turn around to avoid throwing up in my suit as I gag. The person itself isn’t nearly as bad off as I would have thought. They have... deflated in a way. Their skin is shallow and grey, maggots somehow crawling seemingly everywhere. Their left hand rested calmly on the armrest while the other hung limply, a pistol clutched in their hand. Their face was the worst of it. I could only stomach a quick glance before I had to look away. There was an obvious gunshot wound around the temple, or at least I think that’s what it was. With the number of maggots crawling around, it was hard to tell where it actually was. The yellow pus surrounding the area didn’t help much either. But just seeing all of those little creatures crawling in and out of its mouth and eyes and ears... I got itchy just looking at it.
Looking over my shoulder slightly, I grab the leather office chair again and spin in around away from me, allowing myself to take a breath. Intent on searching the room, I push the corpse into the farthest corner away from me that I can manage.
“Just a quick check of the desk and I am out of here.” I think, as a note lying in the center of the desk catches my eye. There’s no harm in reading a note so I might as well fulfill a person’s last request. In one movement the note is in my hand and I turn it over quickly, making sure there are no maggots hiding on the page. My paranoia getting the better of me when it comes to maggots at least. Finding it clear, I flip the page back over and begin to read the somewhat faded letters.
I know that’s who you are because I locked this store up about ten minutes ago, so unless you have one of the two keys made for that lock, you are a thief. Now seeing as it is the end of the world there won’t be any pressed charges, I mean, at this point, I’m just a note I can’t really do much.
Anyway, I heard on the news maybe a week ago that a nuke went off in Russia. The smart people started swarming my store the next day. It was like a stampede. They were running over each other and shoving others just to get to the supplies. Most just threw money at the cash register, while others ran out with their supplies. I didn’t and don’t care for money, with the state of our government World War Three is bound to happen any day now.
I commend you for actually getting into the store, and my office. The glass for the front door was the strongest I could find, to keep the nut jobs who can’t or won’t pay for survival supplies out. I also want to give you my condolences for surviving the apocalypse. I don’t know what else to call it when nukes start raining from the sky.
Long story short, I didn’t want to live in a world that has torn itself apart. What quality of life would we as a people have at that point anyway? Either way, I kept a gas mask and a go bag with a few cans of food and bottles of water in my bottom left desk drawer, incase the worst happened. I always figured I’d be man enough to keep myself alive after, but faced with it now, I’d rather find out what comes after death, if anything. Live for me will you stranger?
Good luck to you,
I’d always assumed there were people who did this, took their own lives rather than face what was to come. I silently thanked Greg for being paranoid enough to have a small stash for himself as I reach for the handle of the aforementioned drawer. With a small tug to the handle I frown, it didn’t budge. I grunt as I pull harder, attempting to open the small treasure trove of supplies. After attempt number three with no success, I decide to inspect the drawer and see if there is something keeping it in place. Checking the ground for maggots, I slowly lower myself to the drawer height and sigh for what feels like the millionth time today. Staring back at me is a small silver lock. From what I can tell, it’s one of those drawers that will stay locked unless you have a certain other one open.
“You have got to be kidding me,” I grumble as I pull my pack off my shoulders. I quickly locate, for the third and hopefully final time today, my crowbar. I do not have the time nor the patience for this. I grunt as I swing my overflowing bag over my shoulders again, it’s familiar weight quickly settling, and position my crowbar on the side of the drawer. After a few minutes of positioning, I am finally able to get my crowbar in the small space between drawer and desk. Anger finding its way to the surface, I push my crowbar back as hard as I can, grunting in exertion. Sweat starts beading up on my forehead before the drawer gives way with a resounding crackle of wood, splinters flying off in a few directions.
“I thought you said go bag Greg,” I mutter frustratedly as I stare into the newly opened drawer. Inside there is a gas mask on top, I snatch it up and quickly place it in my pack as though someone would steal it from me if I didn’t. There’s a few water bottles inside the drawer and some canned food, but unlike what Greg said, there is no bag to be seen. I don’t have the time for this, I have to get back. I quickly gather my supplies, and with a surprising amount of force, manage to get the cans and water safely in my bag.
“I’ve been gone for too long. I don’t even know if I left her something to eat.” I grumble, rubbing a hand over my mask in habit. “Knowing my luck, she probably bled out somehow or died of starvation. Maybe she managed to fall on the corner of a table. Either way I still need to get back,” I huff as I stand and head back out towards the blinding sunlight.