I stopped at the highway between Andy’s convenience store and the superstore, aware of how silent the world had become. Tires on pavement, engines purring, growling, or sputtering, music fading in and out, the occasional car horn and yelled curse word. Instead there was only the chirping of birds and rustling leaves. I crossed looking for zombies instead of the erratic drivers that normally made it hazardous to cross.
From the last bit of cover at the edge, I surveyed the parking lot. A few cars had been left behind scattered around the lot but most of it was empty and thankfully zombie free. I hoped it would stay that way until I got inside at least.
The doors were shut and the store beyond dark. I pulled the tire iron out of my bag and stuck it between the doors. I pulled and pushed against the tire iron. The door creaked but remained locked. I looked around again wary of being exposed for so long. I removed the tire iron from between the doors and tried shoving it into the key hole twisting and turning it as much as I could. Several hard turns broke something loose inside and I pulled the lock out of the door. A minute of fiddling with the mechanism and the door unlocked. I looked around the parking lot one more time before slipping inside. I repeated my lock-picking skills on the inner doors.
As I opened the inner doors, a wave of heat washed over me. With no air conditioning, the store had turned into a hot house. The stench of spoiling meat and produce tainted the air, not overpowering but present with every breath. Beyond the meager light cast through the doors, the store aisles were enveloped in darkness.
Briefly, I considered returning to my apartment for a flashlight. I knew that I would need to take an extended route home to avoid Andy’s convenience store. I couldn’t take the chance of him seeing where I was staying, not after what I had told him about myself. A woman alone might be potential “damsel in distress”. A trans woman alone was just a potential victim. Two long trips for the flashlight, plus one more to get anything I scavenged home. Too many trips, I decided, too risky. I knew, of course, there were flashlights in the sporting goods department. In the back of the store. In the dark.
Plan B then. Barbecue lighters, glow sticks, LED keychain fobs, anything that would make light and was stocked near the registers among the other impulse items. Walking toward the registers I was soon standing in near complete darkness. I stopped and waited for my eyes to adjust enough for me to see the vague shapes of shelves and racks, not enough to see any detail, just enough to not walk into them. I groped the hanging plastic fruit and found a rack of LED keychain fobs on the first shelf. Grabbing a handful, I turned around and walked back to the meager square of light from the doors.
The normally difficult task of opening the sealed plastic was compounded by not having a knife or scissors. My tire iron did not possess a sharp edge but I was able to puncture the plastic and tear it open enough to extract the LED light. I opened two more and stuffed the rest into my duffel bag. I squeezed the lights on and headed into the darkness.
First stop was to get a better flashlight. I headed to the back of the store, toward the sporting goods department. I had shopped at that superstore often and usually felt comfortable there but in the dark the store felt strange. Like the highway, it was too quiet. My ears strained to hear anything. Music, people talking, or announcements over the PA. Ringing silence greeted me. The lack of the air conditioner hum could be felt in the hot air and the sweat I wiped from my brow.
Shining my lights around, I saw full racks of clothing, shelves of dvds and toys. I wondered if the rest of the store was as untouched. It had been a couple of weeks since the power had shut down, I had assumed there would have been more looting. Perhaps things had deteriorated too quickly to reach the looting stage. If enough people had fled at the first sign of order collapsing, that might also have cut back on the amount of looting.
The flashlight racks, I found, were not untouched. Most of the wire hooks hung empty, others lay on the floor, and neighboring racks had been disarranged by what most have been a crowd of people. I sorted through the remaining flashlights for the biggest one left. Ripping the cardboard holder apart and inserting the included batteries soon shed more light on the aisle. I extinguished and pocketed the keychain fobs before grabbing a few more of the good flashlights that were left.
Looking around it seemed the rest of the sporting goods section had fared better. The rush for flashlights must have happened shortly after the power had gone down. Likely the store had generators for short interruptions of power but once they had given out the decision to close the store must have been made. Lack of man power might also have contributed to the store closing. Many employees probably stayed safe at home rather than risk the zombies, who had attacked anyone they saw on the streets.
In any event, there was plenty of camping gear still sitting on the shelves. Including some five liter polyurethane water bags that would help me store water for the probable failure of the city water system. A knife, scissors, a few cans of sterno, and a small first aid kit joined the bags and lights in my duffel. The guns around the corner tempted me from their glass case with security but my inexperience with any kind of firearm made them as much a danger to myself as anyone else, so I left them, for now.
With the camping water bags, I had achieved my goal of being able to store water for when the city water failed. I had also found a few other items that would help out. Food was not as immediate a concern but while I was there I decided to buff up my food supplies.
As I walked across the back of the store toward the food aisles, I shined my flashlight around at the shelves full towels, pillows, sheets, blankets, bath mats, door mats, curtains, and other various home decor items. More than enough here to keep a person comfortable for sometime, I thought.
The spoiled smell grew stronger as I approached the, now warm, open air coolers. Packages of ham, turkey, cheese, sausage, steaks, chicken breasts, and bacon lay spoiling in their coolers. I walked away from them and headed for the aisles of unrefrigerated food, the only food I could trust to not be spoiled. The food aisles had been picked over slightly, probably during the panic that followed the power shutting down but there was still more than enough to keep me feed for some time. I started grabbing the store brand items, before remembering I didn’t have to pay and began grabbing some name brand food. Tuna, veggies, chili, soups, fruits, even some Chef Boyardee ravioli went into my duffel bag.
After several minutes of ‘shopping’, my duffel began to get heavy. Not heavier than I could carry but enough that I probably couldn’t run with it. The thought of being hobbled by my duffel was not attractive. A video of a man attacked by a group of zombies flashed through my mind. The first zombie had swung wildly for the man’s head. He blocked a couple of hits, even shoved the zombie back, but as others surrounded him and joined the assault he fell. The zombies had switched to kicking and stomping the downed man. In all the attack took less than a minute from the first blow to the zombies walking away from the still body.
I decided to err on the side of caution and sorted through my bag for items to leave behind. After stacking about half the cans on the floor, I hefted the now lighter duffel, considering it’s weight. It would still slow me down if I had to run but not as much. I swung the strap over my head and tightened it until the strap was tight across my chest and the duffel clung to my back. With the duffel slung this way, it wouldn’t swing around if I had to run. With no more reasons to stay, I walked back toward the doors.
The inner doors had to be opened a little wider for me to slip out with the duffel on my back. As I approached the outer doors, cool air breezed in through the opening. Peering out at the parking lot, I watched for movement. At the edge of the lot behind one of the few remaining cars, I thought I saw something duck behind the car but the distance was too great to be sure. I watched for a few more minutes, wishing I had grabbed a pair of binoculars in the sporting goods section. There was no reason I couldn’t go back and get a pair, except I was more than ready to leave the store for the more secure setting of my apartment.