Three and a half years ago the world came to an end. I was one of the few people who managed to stay alive against all odds. I should have been happy right? Wrong. Most would have celebrated surviving that far, but I almost hated myself for doing so. Everything was gone and anybody still alive was either set on killing me, or set on stealing what little I had left. You’d think people would have tried to help each other during the apocalypse, but I guess not.
I had nothing with me, except a worn out blue backpack I’d been carrying since the beginning of the end. My outfit was tattered and faded beyond measure, and I wore what used to pass as a navy blue jacket. It was now the dull grey color of elephant skin thanks to the dust from the ground. My khaki pants had several holes in them and were covered in everything from dirt to some red stuff I hoped wasn’t blood.
I need new clothes, I thought.
I stopped at a red sports car on the side of the broken road. The car had several dents and all the tires were flat. It looked like someone punctured them with a knife. I tried to open the passenger door, but as soon as I touched the handle, it broke off the hinges and clattered to the ground. I grunted and took a look inside.
There was nothing but a forest green hoodie lying across the passenger seat. It was wrapped in the same plastic I used to see on new clothes in department stores a few years ago. I picked up the hoodie and analyzed it. There were no tears, stains, or marks anywhere. It appeared brand new which made me suspicious. Who would leave a brand new jacket behind in times like these?
A blast of chilling air ran up my leg and I shivered violently. I swear I hated the cold. I looked around for anyone in case it was a trap because this was the kind of thing people did to other survivors. They would leave something out that people needed like water or clothes, and then while you picked it up, they’d rob you. Even though I thought it was wrong, its was a genius way to survive. You’d end up keeping your supplies and theirs if everything went well.
After I made sure the coast was clear, I tore open the package and laid the hoodie on the seat. I took off my current jacket and tossed it to the ground. I’d grown pretty attached to it, but it wasn’t doing its job anymore. I needed something better. I pulled the hoodie over my head and instantly felt warmer.
“That’s better.” I said.
With a relieved sigh, I adjusted my bag and pulled a photo from my pant pocket. It was a picture of my younger sister Aiyana. She had warm olive brown skin and long flowing black hair. Her almond colored eyes and smile made me happy for a brief moment.
Unfortunately she was no longer with me. She had been killed by a random survivor while we searched a grocery store in Texas about a year ago. She was only twelve at the time.
Before she passed, she always talked about finding someplace stable, or an area where we could start over again. A new beginning for the world she’d say. She wouldn’t let the idea go no matter what.
A few nights before she died, she made me to promise that I’d keep searching in the event of her death. It had been more important to her than anything. Even finding food and water couldn’t come close to her passion for finding safety. I had agreed reluctantly to her promise. Personally, I believed everything was gone and nothing survived all the destruction, but I continued on for her. If it weren’t for my promise, I would have killed myself long ago.
I pocketed the photo and kept moving. As I walked, I took in my usual view of the ruined wasteland. The ground sported several holes thanks to all the earthquakes from the past. Rubble sat piled high on both sides of the street and more broken down cars were ahead. It looked like a depressing junkyard.
As I hopped over a hole in the pavement, a dog’s barking erupted in the distance behind me. I drew my pocket knife and turned around. I scanned the desolate horizon for the barking dog, but there was nothing but ruins. I tried to relax and started walking again.
I couldn’t stand dogs. They either played around too much, or they wanted to attack you for food. That was the big thing. Food. Everyone alive needed it and would do whatever it took to get it.
A bolt of lightning flashed in the distance and I shielded my eyes. Even through closed eyes I was blinded from the light. Seconds later, an energy wave with force of a nuclear bomb rushed towards me. I was knocked over and shoved towards a nearby crevice in the ground. Fortunately, I stopped a few feet from the edge. I stood up and brushed the dust off my new hoodie. It already looked like I’d been wearing it for months.
“Great.” I said.
I glared at the cherry colored clouds swirling above. I hated when the nuclear lightning bolts struck the earth. It was like the sky was toying with me, and I hated to be toyed with.
There was no sunshine or moonlight anywhere; both were gone at this point. They had disappeared shortly after the collapse of society. I liked to think they went on vacation for a while, but it had been years and they still hadn’t come back. I doubt I’d ever see them again.
When the collapse started, nobody could figure out why the clouds had turned red. Or why the lightning now produced waves of energy equivalent to nuclear blasts. Or why our natural sources of light had left the planet. Even the most brilliant scientists and philosophers had been stumped for answers. The best explanation suggested, “Things were out of balance due to climate change,” but I was pretty sure it was more than that.
I kept moving in search for a place to sleep for the night. Ahead I spotted a sign lying on the side of the road. Its words were barely legible in the dim light and I tried my best to make sense of them.
“Amelia’s….Groceries? Half…mile?” I read.
At the conclusion of my reading, bright lights flashed on a building in the distance like an SOS signal. I squinted and saw Amelia’s name plastered across the front of the building.
They still have lights?, I thought
The power and electricity were the first things to go when everything fell. The person inside had to have some kind of generator to power the store. It wasn’t smart to use if you asked me. As soon as night settled in fully, the lights would turn the building into a beacon for other survivors, as if saying, “Here I am! Come and get me!”
I pulled a flashlight from my pocket and clicked it on. Its light was dim and it flickered on and off several times, but I figured I could use it before it went out completely. I made my way towards the building before there was a noise behind me.
“Who’s there?” I asked.
Suddenly a stray dog was growling next to me. It was a brown boxer with a white stripe running along the middle of its body. I must’ve looked like the perfect bone or something because the boxer bared its teeth at me. It was just my luck that one of the few animals left wanted to sink its teeth in my flesh.
I backpedaled at the boxer’s deep throated snarl. Beads of sweat ran down my neck despite the cold and my breath quickened. I stole a glance at the road behind me and swore. There were even more crevices than before. Way too many for me to have a chance at running from the stray.
“Damn it.” I whispered.
I turned back towards the boxer and tried to come up with a plan. I had no weapons besides my pocket knife, which I doubted would do much help. The road was my only chance.
Without a second thought, I ran down the street with the boxer on my heels. I hoped the holes in the pavement would keep the boxer at bay because there was no way I could win a fight. I’d been walking for days without much to eat or drink. I’d probably pass out from exhaustion during the scuffle. I shined my light on the road ahead and saw a wide gap in my path.
I sped up and jumped across the hole. I landed on the other side with ease thanks to my training in long jump years ago. Before the end of the world, I had several gold medals at my high school in the event. I had been the best in my county during my sophomore year. I glanced back and saw the boxer waiting other side of the hole.
“That was close.” I said.
I jogged towards the store slowly, in case the cracks reappeared. The boxer kept barking as I got further away. It was probably unhappy that its prey was escaping. My flashlight flickered on and off, threatening to give up on me, and when I reached the store, it shut off for the last time.
Great, I thought.
I stopped to catch my breath for a moment. The boxer’s furious barks continued to echoe behind me. I was pretty agitated with the whole situation. I found a seemingly good place to stay for the night, but then a stray dog had to show up wanting blood. Whenever there was a positive, two negatives were always lined up behind it.
I walked across the parking lot, eager to get inside before the dog caught up. Fortunately, the store lights were on, so I could still see a little. On the way there, I tripped over a shopping cart and fell.
When I stood, I saw my hoodie had a tear on the left sleeve. I couldn’t have anything new anymore. I looked around and saw shopping carts scattered everywhere. Some were overturned. Others had missing wheels. Others were without baskets. I counted at least thirty in all parts of the lot. A few of the light posts lay on the ground with broken bulbs next to several empty cars. It must’ve been utter chaos in the early stages of the end.
Halfway across the lot, I came to a small chasm blocking my path. It was about twenty feet across and I couldn’t see the bottom. I searched for a way around, but it stretched the length of the parking lot like a moat protecting a castle.
On the other side of the hole, I found the missing I from Amelia’s name lying in front of the double doors. Inside the store, everything from canned beans to cereal were stacked high to the ceiling. There was enough food to last at least three months.
Jackpot! I thought.
Behind me the boxer’s barking grew louder and I turned to see it fast approaching. Drooling over the food would have to wait. I stuck the flashlight in my mouth and ran at the hole. At the last moment I jumped and landed on the other side...sort of. I had come up short and held onto the other side of the cliff. My feet dangled in thin air as I searched for a stronghold alongside the hole. Both of my arms trembled, and it took all my strength to hold on.
Come on! I thought.
With my last burst of energy, I pulled myself up and collapsed onto the hard pavement. The boxer reached the cliff precipice and ceased barking. It seemed wary about jumping over the hole and paced along the edge of the crack. I stood, shoving the flashlight in my pocket.
“Not tonight buddy.” I mumbled.
The dog barked in response, and I headed for the store. As I approached the building, I noticed the majority of the building was still intact. Every now and then I came across something that managed to survive the destruction, but that was rarer than finding people who were willing to help you out of the goodness of their heart.
I jumped up and down, hoping to signal the door’s motion sensors, but they didn’t open. Whoever risked using lights was smart enough to at least turn off that feature. I looked around for something heavy to break the doors with and found a chunk of concrete a few feet away. I heaved it at the doors and covered my face as glass shattered around me.
Before entering, I turned around to find the dog, but it was gone. My stomach did several flips as I wondered where it could have went. I broke the remaining pieces of glass off the door and hurried inside.
Except for the large pile of food sitting in the center, everything was neat and well taken care of. None of the inner lights flickered and there weren’t any holes in sight. The majority of the shelves stood upright, some of them with extra cans and boxes. All the shelves with food were organized by their brand, food type, color. It was perfectly coded to form a sort of rainbow arrangement. Everything looked perfect. Too perfect.
I walked over to the first register and grabbed a six pack of water sitting on the conveyor belt. I ripped the plastic off, opened the first bottle, and took long gulps, not bothering to pause for air. When I finished, I let out a satisfied sigh, then inspected the remaining registers. Each had identical packages of water sitting on their conveyor belts. At this point my conscious was screaming for me to leave, but the mountain of food was calling my name.
“Hello? Anybody in here?” I called out as I walked towards the pile.
As I expected nobody answered. If I was holed up in a grocery store with this much food, I wouldn’t let people know I was here either. I looked at the mountain, searching for something to satisfy my hunger. It was a rather hard decision for me to make. Everything looked better than the stale crackers I’d been finding in abandoned cars for the past few weeks. This store was a pocket of heaven.
I decided on Frosted Flakes because I hadn’t eaten them in years. I tore open the box and stuffed handfuls of the sugary cereal into my mouth. For a moment, I forgot about the world outside and became engrossed in the sweetness. It reminded me of all the times I had eaten cereal with Aiyana. She used to eat them dry because she thought cow’s milk was gross. I used to make fun of her for doing that, but now it didn’t seem so bad.
A growl from the front of the store as I picked up a can of beans. I turned around and saw the boxer standing at the entrance. My heart pumped faster, and I pulled out my pocket knife. I was fully prepared to defend myself and my newfound mountain of food. The dog ran at me and I braced for the attack, but a gunshot rang through the store and the dog stopped short.
“Sit!” a voice behind me commanded.
The dog slunk away and sat at the entrance. I turned around to thank whoever saved me, but I couldn’t find the words. A little girl stood before me, aiming a gun at my chest.