Half an hour later I was physically and mentally clean of zombie head gore. I dropped my shirt and pants in a trash bag. Before everything went to hell, I would have tried to salvage them. The pants especially, since before I didn’t have many pairs and wasn’t exactly rolling in cash. If things went well on my trip, I wouldn’t have to worry about clothes. If they didn’t, I still wouldn’t need to worry either.
I redressed for my first trip out into the new world. T-shirt and jeans for ease of movement. A sports bra in case I had to run. My hair was pulled back into a sporty ponytail. I dug a duffel bag out of the closet and adjusted the strap until it was tight against my back. Baseball bat and pepper spray for protection. From the back of my closet, I pulled out a small tire iron I had kept from my last car and stuck in my the duffel bag, just in case.
I moved the sofas from in front of the door and peered through the peephole. I didn’t see anyone. Was I being too cautious? The deadbolts scraped and squeaked as I twisted the knobs to open them. I reminded myself to get oil. From the main entrance to the apartment complex I headed north, staying close to the complex’s fence while looking around. At the corner I looked down the cross street. No one in sight. I dashed across the open ground of the first intersection to the relative cover of the nearest house.
The smaller residential street I had been following met a larger four lane street bordered by a few small businesses. I stopped by the dry cleaner on the corner and looked around. On the other side of the street was the convenience store. Around it was lots of open ground. Good for me to see zombies, bad for me to have to cross.
The area between me and the store looked clear. Farther away I saw motion in my periphery. At least I thought I had. There was nothing there when I focused on the area. Maybe it had gone behind something. I looked around again, seemed clear. It was now or never. I separated from the dry cleaner’s wall and began walking to the convenience store. Across the dry cleaner’s parking lot, the four lane street, and across the store’s parking lot. I kept a steady pace while looking around, especially behind me, until I reached the front doors.
As I pulled open one of the doors I realized I wasn’t the first person to come by. The store was almost stripped clean. I began searching anyway. A package of Snoballs on a rack and a couple cans of beans on the floor. Bags of chips torn open, their contents spilled all over the floor. They crunched under my shoes as I walked between the aisles looking for anything else that had been left behind.
I heard chips crunch behind me. Spinning around, I raised my baseball bat and found myself face to face with a skinny white guy also holding a baseball bat. He flinched and jumped back. I stopped, heart beating fast, teeth gritted, panic flooding my mind.
“Woah, woah I’m not gonna hurt you,” he said releasing one hand from the bat and holding it palm out, “I wasn’t sure if you were a zombie or not.”
My panic faded as I breathed slow and deep. I grabbed a shelf to steady myself as the post panic dizziness set in.
“Hey are you ok?” He looked at me concerned as I tried not to collapse.
“Yeah, just give me a minute,” I wheezed.
“Ok, um… I’m Andy,” he said.
“Lisa,” I replied. Andy’s brow furrowed slightly. I cleared my throat, smiled, and said in my most feminine voice, “Hi, I’m Lisa.” He smiled mollified by my femme voice.
“What are you doing here?” he said.
“I was looking for water and food.” I stood up straighter.
“Why?” he asked, “The water is still running here. Did it stop where you were staying?”
“Not yet but when it does I want to have some water around.”
“Good point,” he said.
“Looks like you got cleaned out,” I said gesturing around the store.
“Yeah when the power went out I tried to close the store but the customers didn’t want to leave and started taking stuff. Some of them started fighting, so I locked myself in the back room until they left.”
“You were here alone?”
“No one else would work. I was the only one not to bail on my manager. I kind of wish I had now.”
“How long have you been here?”
“Since the power went out. A week, maybe a little more.”
“Why didn’t you just leave?”
“I don’t have a car and no one was answering the phone at home. I didn’t want to try walking with everything that was going down. What about you, why are you still here?”
“No car either and I couldn’t get in touch with anyone.” I pointed at the chip covered floor, “Did you do this?”
“Part of it. When they started grabbing stuff, some chip bags got busted open and dropped. I just spread them out. I thought it would help to alert me to someone coming into the store,” he grinned at his cleverness.
“You could have just locked the door,” I said, “I guess I’m going to have to look somewhere else for water.”
“There’s a pallet of bottled water in the back,” he said. “And I packed everything they didn’t take back there too.” I looked toward the open door he had come from. “I probably shouldn’t have said that. I would share…” he halfheartedly offered.
“No,” I said turning back to face him, “You have to protect what you have. I’d do the same.”
“Oh yeah,” he said, “Hey are you staying some place nearby?”
“Uh… I don’t think…” I trailed off not sure how to say, ‘I don’t trust you.’
“Hey don’t worry about it. Sorry I asked.”
“No, it’s not like that. I don’t know you. You don’t know me either remember. You have your storeroom with water and who knows what else that you need to protect. You don’t know if I’m going to kill you for your water and food.”
“I don’t think you would-” he protested.
“But I might. You should start thinking like that.” I already had, apparently.
“I should start thinking everyone is out to get me?” he asked.
“Look at this place. They took everything they could and that was before it got really bad. When I spun around, I could have killed you. I almost did out of instinct. I could have taken everything you have.” He paled as I talked. I might not be as strong as I used to be but I was still taller and a little bigger than him. “I’m going to go now. Lock the door after me.”
“Wait, you can’t just leave me here alone,” he pleaded.
“I… I can’t trust you either. You could leave. Try to find a house nearby to hole up in,” I said.
“Is that where you’re staying?”
I locked eyes with him, “If you follow me I will kill you.”
“I don’t know you. I can’t trust you,” I stated. Guess I was over being shy with my emotions.
“Come on this isn’t some post apocalyptic wasteland. Everything was normal a couple weeks ago. Why wouldn’t you trust me?”
I turned and walked a few steps away from him, putting a shelf unit between us, before turning back, “I’m transgender.”
“What does that mean?” he asked confused.
“It means when I was born the doctor looked between my legs and said, ‘It’s a boy.’ and everyone believed him but I’m not.”
“You’re a guy?” his brow furrowed.
“No, I’m a woman, just – a different kind of woman.” I watched him thinking through it. Watching for him for signs of violence.
“You have a dick?” he finally asked.
“Yes,” I watched his eyes flick back and forth, his face scrunched up in confusion,
“And that is why I can’t trust you. Right now you’re trying to decide how to treat me now that you know I’m a woman with a penis. You’re trying to decide if I’ve tricked you. You’re trying to decide if you should be angry. You are trying to decide if you should attack me.”
“It’s ok, I’ll see myself out.” I walked down the aisle away from him and made my way to the door. I turned back to him and said, “Don’t forget to lock the door after me.” He said nothing, just watched me leave.
I walked away from the store, past the dead pumps, the package of Snoballs still in my hand. I thought for a second about taking it back as some sort of peace offering for rejecting him. No, I thought, I have the right to be defensive. They’ve always killed us but now there really was nothing to stop them.
A few hundred feet ahead, the superstore loomed over a mostly deserted parking lot.