The darkness within the building, even with the daylight pouring in through the windows, was intimidating.
Edgar took point, carefully stepping on the layer of broken glass in an attempt to muffle as much of the crunching as he could. There was little to be done and he paused, frustrated. He finally gave up and made his way toward the carpeted floor, wincing at the sound of glass beneath his heavy feet.
The store had the scent of mold and mildew. Edgar watched a light cloud of spores and dust puff into the air as he stepped onto the carpet. Dani and Jimmy entered and the three of them overlooked the darkened store. Many of the shelves were bare from a combination of looting or spillage onto the aisles.
Jimmy grabbed one of the carts and wriggled it from the collection between the entrance and exit doors. The sound of clashing metal gave everyone pause. They all held their breath, wary of any telltale moans of the undead, but heard nothing in response. Jimmy shrugged and grabbed another two carts from the tangled rows.
He rolled the cart slightly, making sure the wheels weren’t jammed. He looked at Dani and Edgar. “I figure we can load up everything we can, fill the car, and then stash these elsewhere. Sound good?”
“That can work. Just grab anything helpful,” Dani added.
Edgar took one of the carts which looked overly small compared to him. Not that he was incredibly tall, but his thick frame tended to dwarf anything near him. He began to wheel his cart away but turned back to Dani and Jimmy.
“I’m going to hit the food area. See what canned stuff is left.”
Jimmy nodded. “I’ll go to the pharmacy and see what is left.”
Dani began to roll her cart down one of the aisles. “I’m going to poke around in the stockroom, then. Maybe that didn’t get hit as hard by scavengers.”
“Wish we had some walkies or something,” Edgar added.
Dani nodded. “There may be some in the back. We’ll see.”
The three survivors wheeled off in search of supplies.
Jimmy grabbed everything he felt was potentially useful from the shelves leading toward the pharmacy itself. It was mostly off-the-shelf supplies and medications. He weighed the importance of antacids in his mind, shrugged, and threw the few remaining bottles into the cart. He had also found a pair of canvas totes in the seasonal aisle on the way and had them slung over his shoulder. He could stand to carry a couple of bags of goods if the cart proved too full.
Given the state of the store that was unlikely. Pickings were slim. Bandages, cough medicine, and typical cabinet supplies were certainly diminished. Painkillers were virtually non-existent. He did manage to find a couple of bottles of aspirin and some ointments. Anything at this point was a stroke of luck.
He paused for a moment, looking over the meager haul. What Jimmy hoped was that he could convince Edgar of the plan to stay in Emmett. The idea of heading to San Diego was a lost cause. It had to be. Maybe enough supplies would convince him to stick around.
He stopped pushing the cart when the wheel hit a metal shelf that had been pried from the shelving unit. The clang made him wince, but he heard nothing after. He bent down to clear the shelf and caught a glimpse of a feral cat resting on a bottom shelf, hiding between a couple of bottles of hydrogen peroxide.
“Hey, how are you, little guy?”
He set the loose shelf against the unit and turned his attention back to the cat. “You gonna help me out?”
The cat’s eyes were wide. Clearly, the world had not been kind to it since the dead rose. Jimmy wondered if the ghouls were eating animals. He hadn’t seen anything like that, yet, but it was always possible.
He shook his head. He didn’t want to consider it.
He thought for a moment about trying to take the cat with him. There was no point, not now. Maybe he’d bring a towel and a plastic carrier from the storage units next time he came back to the store. Not that there’d be a guarantee the cat would be there, though.
He sighed, clicked his tongue, and gently reached for a bottle of hydrogen peroxide. The cat yelped and hissed, swiping at his hand but missing. Jimmy instinctively retracted his hand. There was no sense in dipping into the peroxide, yet.
He extended his sneaker out toward the bottle and knocked it onto the ground. The cat lept out from the shelf and darted down the aisle with a dramatic howl, knocking down a wire rack as it rounded a corner. The rack clattered loudly as it hit a shelf and then the floor.
He shrugged and grabbed the peroxide bottles, placing them in the cart.
Edgar dutifully grabbed whatever dented can he could find. Any box, plastic bottle, crinkling package, and aluminum case found its way into his cart. And yet his cart was maybe half full by an optimistic estimate. Still, it was more food he had seen in days, and if most of it was good they’d eat well with a little rationing. Not that he had intended to stay all that long. He’d already begun earmarking his haul for stuff he could take with him on the road.
Jimmy was adamant about sticking around town; San Diego was a “kill box,” he argued. Edgar wondered what the skinny redheaded fuck knew about “kill boxes.” Edgar’s Papá had been in Desert Storm. He’d seen some real shit. Edgar knew more about the idea of a kill box second-hand than his tweaker friend ever did.
Edgar peered down at a burn-mark on his hand. He knew a lot about the results of a kill box, he thought. His papá’s anger was an example. That was why San Diego was important. Papá was there, with Mamá, Ttía, Abuela, Angel, Mari, Maria… La Familia. They were around. Papá had to keep them safe. He was a tough son of a bitch.
Edgar grabbed a couple of likely stale single-serving bags of tortilla chips from a pile of broken bags and loose chips. A nearby rat squeaked as he ripped the bag away. Edgar snorted. “Good times for you, eh?”
The rat did not respond.
He wheeled his cart further into the next aisle, which seemed to be sodas and drinks. There weren’t many cases and bottles left.
Edgar agreed that there was some sense in Jimmy’s plan. The storage facility had proven pretty safe and there was certainly room enough. The plan to reinforce it also seemed like a good idea. But that was fine for everyone else. They didn’t have their own people waiting for them.
Edgar paused for a moment, staring at a can of soda that was standing alone on a shelf, a thin layer of dust dulling the shiny aluminum top. What was it about the soda? He stared at the can a moment longer and realized he had seen it just a few minutes ago in the car. It had tumbled out of the bag in the passenger seat and onto the floorboard. It remained there, undisturbed for weeks next to the thrashing, undead mother.
He thought about the car, what the woman’s final moments must have been like, and the baby in the back. He could have sworn he’d seen something move under the overturned child’s seat. Edgar’s breath caught in his throat for a moment and he let out an ugly half-choked gasp. He felt tears coming on and quickly wiped his eyes with his massive forearm. He punched himself in the side of his head for good measure.
The stockroom seemed mostly untouched. Most of what was inside were still packaged as it had been when they arrived. Dani was excited about the potential of it all. They could come back with one of the moving trucks.
The small forklift also seemed promising. Maybe that could be useful. She had no idea if it ran on gas or electricity, but the ability to move large things around might make it easier to build a reinforced wall at the storage yard. This trip turned out to be a lot more successful than she had hoped. It was just a matter of planning.
The thunk of a cardboard box onto the concrete floor broke Dani’s concentration. She spied the box, slightly bent and battered, and looked up the high shelves that made up the wall of the storeroom. On the second tier, maybe about eight feet from the ground, she spied the source of the disturbance. A wide-eyed woman and a teenage girl stared at her. The girl’s brow was furrowed in concern while the mother’s eyes were shockingly wide and bloodshot.
Dani raised her hands up in a peaceful gesture, but did not release the poker. “Holy shit, are you two… okay?”
Neither responded. Dani looked into the mother’s eyes and tried to follow her gaze. Dani hadn’t noticed anything alarming until she felt the weight of the fireplace poker in her own hand.
“Oh, right,” she whispered.
Dani bent down, placing the poker on the ground and scooting it ahead of her with her foot. The scraping of the metal on the concrete was uncomfortable in the echoing stockroom. “Look, I am just here on a supply run. Do you need help? Do you have someplace to go? My name is Danielle, but you can call me Dani.”
Dani waited for a response. The girl looked at her mother for a moment, who sighed and finally blinked.
The girl spoke first, her voice was low and hoarse. “We’re trapped here. There’s one of those things in the store and my mom’s leg is really hurt.”
Dani glanced around the stockroom. “I haven’t seen anything? Maybe it wandered off? How long have you two been in here?”
“I think about an hour,” the woman replied.
Dani kept her distance, not wanting to intimidate them. She raised her hands up in an open gesture like she was surrendering. “Where did you last see it?”
“There’s an office, around the corner,” the girl whispered.
Dani peered behind her and saw the corner that led to the presumed office. She turned back to the two women and held her finger to her lips to signal them to keep quiet. She picked up the poker from the concrete as carefully as she could. She was worried about the noise that she had already made, surely if something was there, it was alert by now.
She sighed and started toward the corner. The loading doors ahead rattled slightly, probably from the wind. Or maybe a ravenous ghoul just on the other side.
It was hard to tell these days.