Saturday, January 15, 2011

Hollow World Chapter 24


Sam left the mattress store and began his trek towards Hoover Dam.  Stepping down off the curb, his foot landed in a puddle, the water soaking all the way through to his skin.  He looked down at his shoes, the soles were wearing thin and were black with caked on mud where they had once been white, and now one was soaking wet.  Despite his concerns for his safety, he knew it was time to find new ones.  He scanned the surrounding stores and found a sign for what he thought would work, and might offer more supplies as well.  A billboard for a Sports Authority, claiming it was “two blocks up on the left,” sat askew on the ground, the post it had once sat atop a jagged spire.  His cold, wet foot made the two blocks unbearably long, but once he entered through the broken sliding doors, his cold feet were the least of his worries.  What little light leaked through the ruined storefront fell upon broken mannequins and mangled shelves.

Creeping into the store past the overturned cash registers and counters full of what until so recently he had considered impulse purchases, Sam resisted the urge to stop, making a mental note to come back on his way out.  A motion off to his left caught his attention, and he turned in time to see the tail end of a deer bounding deeper into the darkness that covered the rest of the store.  Grabbing the flashlight from his pack, he held it ready, determined not to use the batteries until absolutely necessary.   He prowled toward where the deer disappeared, quietly navigating the obstacle course the store had become.  He spent almost as much time looking at where he was placing his feet as he did at where he was going, trying to avoid the small free-weights and empty water bottles that littered the floor.  A strong odor assaulted his nostrils as he got close enough to see the shattered remains of a jar labeled "deer urine" resting in a puddle on the tile. 

He debated whether or not to follow the deer, or just get the supplies he wanted and get out.  Sam decided that he could find a better use for the bullets later and ignored the deer.  Casting one last glance at the broken bottle, Sam stepped further into the store.  Miraculously, he found an unopened box of protein bars and tossed it into his pack as he went deeper into the store, flipping on his flashlight as the shadows lengthened.  The back of the store did not appear nearly as ransacked as the front.  Shining the light toward the ceiling, he looked for signs.  Finally, he found the shoe department and made a beeline for it.  He startled the deer again and heard it crashing through the debris of the damaged shelving as it bolted toward the front of the store.  Empty shoeboxes littered the worn tile floor, their previous contents in a large pile near a stool.  Sam spent half an hour going through them and came up empty handed.  Scanning the shoe department one last time, his eyes fell on a package of white socks.  At least he had clean socks he thought as he stuffed them into his sack.  Dejected, he started towards the front of the store, his flashlight leading the way.  Swinging the beam back and forth, it fell on a box as he passed by the ski poles. 

Excitedly, he hurried to the box, keeping his head enough to remain silent.  Lifting the lid revealed a black and blue pair of cross trainers.  He pulled them out and shined the flashlight inside.  They were his size, at least according to the label.  He pulled out his new socks, afraid to ruin his new find.
Discarding the damp and dirty pair, Sam pulled the socks on, reveling in their dryness momentarily before sliding into the shoes.  They felt a little loose so he took them off and put on a second pair of socks.  The shoes back on, he stood up and took a few steps.

A goofy grin made its way to his face as the few steps became more and he walked back towards the store's bike racks.  A few kid's cycles were all that remained, the training wheels still attached to each of them.  He pulled down the largest one out of sheer hope and sat astride it.  He began to pedal a slow circle but his knees almost touched his chest.  Disheartened, he dismounted, making sure to set the bike down quietly, and walked back toward the front of the store, intent upon going through the impulse purchases.  He switched off the flashlight and dug through the front counters, looking for batteries or anything else he might be able to use. 

A noise from behind alerted him to the fact that he was not alone.  Expecting to find the deer, he turned around and the sight of a petite blonde stood with a shotgun leveled at his head surprised him.  He raised his hands and stood up slowly.  The blonde was too slow to cover the look of surprise that crossed her face.

“That was my deer.  Wait, you’re Sam!” 

Upset that he had not seen the woman earlier, Sam peered at her warily.  He judged the woman to be no older than twenty, a thin men's white cotton t-shirt hugging her lithe body.  She shifted under his scrutiny and offered him a glimpse at her eyes.  A chill ran down his spine as he peered into their hollow depths.  He nodded, “Yes miss um?”

She ignored the question and continued.  “Graham told me I would find you.”

“Who’s Graham?”

“He said I would find you,” She repeated as she cocked the shotgun, “and kill you.”

He dropped to the floor and felt the air move above him, the shotgun blast ringing in his ears.  The sound of the woman pumping another shell into place spurred him to motion.   He grabbed the gun from his hip and popped up quickly, firing toward where he hoped the girl still stood.  His first shot flew wide but the thud he heard told him that his second shot connected.  He realized that his eyes were tightly shut and opened them to see the girl lying in a pool of her own blood, the shotgun still clutched in her hand.  A ragged hole in her right cheek stared at him like a third eye.  More movement appeared at the edge of his vision and he spun, firing twice.  Neither shot landed on the deer as it leaped out the shattered storefront.

He peeled the dead woman’s hand from the shotgun and searched her quickly.  He thought he could feel her going cold as he rifled through her pockets, but found nothing other than an empty lighter.  Still wary of the anything fuel based, he left it lying on her chest.  Shaken, Sam turned the flashlight on again and found the aisle for the gun department.  His heart racing, he made his way to the glass display case and found that it too had been shattered.  Looking through the broken glass, all he found was a small knife.  He grabbed the blade and slid its sheath onto his belt.  He also found a holster for the pistol and slid that on to the belt as well.  A flash of light on metal reflected back to him from the floor and he stooped to investigate.  A box of shotgun shells sat open underneath a nearby display.  He grabbed the shells, stuffed them in his bag and left the store.

Contemplating who Graham could be, he managed to place a few miles between himself and the woman he had shot.  A mound appeared in the distance and as he got closer he could see a dark clad figure moving around its base.  His gaze turned to the sky where a number of winged forms circled overhead.  He unslung the shotgun and continued his approach.

If you read something you liked, didn't like, or just have a question about the story in general, I would love to hear from you. even if it is as minor as an misspelled word or a misplaced apostrophe, it made it this far so someone obviously missed it.\

I take feedback seriously, it is the best way for me to improve and the easiest way for you to help me improve.


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