So, let’s continue on this brief history lesson, shall we?
When shit got real, there were any number of issues to be overcome. Idiots tried to hoard and steal money. The ignorant bought steak. Tech geeks were uploading and downloading…I dunno; whatever it is that tech geeks do. There was a bit of a frantic pace to it, to be sure, but most people behaved in a very civil manner given the circumstances. After all, in the early days you could never really tell who was in the early stages of infection; who would explode and attack you if you so much as looked at them the wrong way. Most of us gradually learned that if your normally docile associate randomly tried to rip your throat out, they might be infected. So we all played nice.
It was intriguing to me how polite everyone became when dealing with their fellow man under those circumstances. There were far more “pleases” and “thank yous” than I was used to hearing when I held the door open for someone. Small as it was, to me this was the first sign of remaining society drawing together.
So while the idiots were stealing money and booze, and the ignorant were buying perishable steak, I walked into the local all-purpose grocery store a mile from my house. I wasn’t alone, though; it was me and my best friend- brother- Lewis. We’d known each other since grade school, and had never really strayed that far away from one another. Even now, he lived only three doors down the street from my house. I even got along with his long-time girlfriend, and that strengthened our bond. Lewis and his girlfriend would be dead within the year, but in that moment we were together, the way that siblings are supposed to be.
Ignoring everything around us, we worked our way to the rear of the store. There were only two checkout lines open, both clogged with deep lines of anxious people shuffling forward to buy what they deemed necessities. Idiots, all of them; they still thought that paper currency would matter for much longer. In contrast, our cheap plastic grocery baskets were filled with simple things that we planned to walk out the door with: aspirin, gauze, peroxide. While most people were mopping up any canned goods that they could get, we knew that these-these- were the true perishables. This, then, is why we made our way to the back of the store to where the pharmacy window sat.
The guy standing nervously behind the window was older than us by a couple of decades. His overcoat was white, and his hair was headed the same direction. He had a skittish look in his eyes from behind his spectacles as we approached. A scream from near the front of the store made him jump, and his eyes twitched that way for just a moment before returning to us. We then proceeded to ask him very politely for all of the amoxicillin products that he had on the shelves. The clerk informed us that he couldn’t provide any of those without a prescription. I casually slipped my hand to the back of my belt as I glanced at the clerk’s name tag. It read “Larry.”
When possible, I always prefer to know the names of the people I kill.
“Hey, Larry?” Lewis had asked in a reasonable voice as I stood silently next to him, my knuckles curled tight around the knife hilt tucked into the back of my jeans, “You know what’s happening out there, right? You’ve seen the news? You’re obviously an educated guy. You wouldn’t be the”- Lewis reached a slow hand out to tilt up Larry’s nametag so that he could read the small ingrained print at the bottom- “Head Pharmacist if you weren’t.”
That was Lewis; always the voice of reason, and he had the silver tipped tongue of the Devil to go with it.
Larry the Pharmacist drew back from Lewis’s hand looking more nervous yet, but he didn’t take his eyes off of us. Lewis smiled in a disarming way. It was a smile that I’d seen a million times; It was a smile that I’d seen get him out of trouble at work; it was the smile that had led countless girls to his bed. It was a smile that never failed.
“Listen, Larry,” Lewis continued, dropping his voice and leaning forward on the counter like he had a secret to tell. Body language has its own magnetism, and Larry leaned forward, too. “We aren’t looking to rob you; we would never do that. We’re not that type of people. We don’t want everything, just what you can spare. There’s way too much for us to even carry. But we’re thinking long term, and we’ll take whatever you can give us.”
Larry seemed skeptical, and I gripped my knife tighter.
“Look,” Lewis said in a soothing tone, his voice velvet smooth as he smiled that smile, “You can see what’s happening outside, yeah? You can see where all of this is going?”
Larry nodded, nervous sweat beginning to bead at his hairline. Lewis- the calm, soothing, shark that he was- didn’t relent in the least.
“I’m guessing that you don’t have much in the way of family, am I right?” Lewis continued. The aging pharmacist shrugged in a false, disinterested manner.
“What makes you say that?” Larry asked in a sullen fashion, and- smelling blood- Lew didn’t miss a beat.
“Because I’ve only seen three workers in this entire store, and you’re one of’em. If you had a better place to be, you’d be there. Instead,”- Lewis spread his hands wide- “you’re here.”
Larry didn’t say anything, but I could see that Lewis had his attention. I allowed my hand to loosen from around the knife at my back. Larry didn’t know it yet, but the deal had already been sealed.
“Loyalty is important,” Lewis said, his voice dropping to little more than a whisper. “We respect that. Now, we have a place; a safe place. There’s hellfire coming, you know it as well as we do, but our place is safe. There’s a couple dozen of us, and we could use someone like you. Give us what we need and you can come with us. Stay for a few days until this blows over, or as long as you like. We’ve got water, food, batteries...We’re only missing one thing, and I think that one thing is you.”
Lewis trailed off suggestively, but I knew that the deed was already done. I could see the wheels turning in Larry’s mind as he worked things over. Local news in our area gave constant updates to the burgeoning virus in our area, and everyone except Lew and me seemed to be going a bit nuts.
“We’ll need more,” Larry stated, giving us a last wavering glance before he turned towards the shelves that held a countless field of bottles and vials. The pharmacist started to grab bottles of pills off of the shelves, shuffling them over to us. “Cillian based products won’t be enough. We’ll need anti inflammatories, bronchodilators, sedatives…”And just like that, we had a doctor for our meager society.