Saturday, August 27, 2011
Posted by Jonathan Martin
Sam ran his hand through the blonde beard that had taken over his chin and peered at his ragged reflection in the sun visor’s mirror. He was darker than he had ever been, but that had helped against the sunburn as Texas had skipped fall, and what he felt was likely most of winter, the summer sun maintaining its vigil over him.
The rumble of the engine echoed back to him from the artificial canyon of the shops that lined road. He had pulled off of the highway about three miles back, looking for a place that he might be able to at least pull over and eat in peace. A pack of scrawny dogs ran across the road in front of him, causing him to brake to a halt.
Well, this is as good a place as any, he thought to himself, turning the car off, pocketing the key, and stepping out. One of the dogs had turned to glare at him, but when he retrieved the shotgun from the back of the car, the dog ran off to rejoin its brethren. Sam reached back into the car and pulled a strip of beef jerky from a bag and shoved it into his mouth before pulling on the gloves and hat that he hoped would keep out the worst of the wind. Snarling from a few blocks away told him that the dogs had found something, and luckily, it had not been him.
The buildings to his left looked less disturbed, so he decided to start there, and began a slow walk towards the storefronts, keeping an eye out for an sign of movement. Nothing caught his eye as he approached the door to a small shop called the Kountry Kafe. Breaking the glass door, he flipped the lock and let himself in. His feet crunched as he walked across a carpet of dead bugs, but otherwise the front of the restaurant looked unmolested. Pushing his way through a pair of swinging doors and turning on his flashlight, he found himself in a cramped kitchen, a pair of deep fryers held what looked to have once been french fries or possibly chicken fingers, the gnarled, blackened shapes resting in the baskets next to the congealed oil. He inspected the knives that hung from a hook on the wall, all three of which were too dull to offer him much help. Looking around he found a roll of plastic bags which he took, along with some silverware, before moving into a small room off of the kitchen. A large metal door marked the entrance to a walk in refrigerator, which he completely skipped, remembering the rancid smell that had greeted him when he had opened the last one. He swept his flashlight to the other side of the room where it fell across bags moldy bread and packages of uncooked pasta that looked to have been gnawed on by rodents. About to give up on finding any food, he spotted two large cans of nacho cheese resting on the top shelf behind an unopened package of napkins. Grabbing the cans, and the napkins for good measure, he carried his finds out to the car and tossed them in the back seat.
Walking past the Kafe, he found himself in front of a Radio Shack and began the short walk past it until something caught his eye. In the window sat a DC power convertor, with a standard outlet. His reflection in the stores window stared back at him beyond the device and he found himself smashing the window with the butt of the shotgun. and taking the adapter. With his new lease on power, Sam used the gun to widen the hole until he could enter, and walked out of the building with a number of packages of batteries, as well as a digital calendar and an electric razor. He looked around the store to make sure there were no other treasures he thought he could use now that he had electricity and, despite himself, could not think of anything else he might want. Exiting the store, he grabbed the remaining three power convertors off the shelf and headed back to his car.
Eyes focused on his new stash of goods, it took him a minute to register the noise of someone or something shuffling through the back seat of his car. Sam dropped everything and raised the shotgun just as a female voice called out.
“Russ look out!”
“Yeah Russ, you better back away from my car, real slow.” Sam told the figure he could barely make out leaning through the vehicles window.
“Sorry man!” Russ slid slowly out of the window, revealing a dirty brown mullet framing the face of a man barely into his twenties. “We didn’t know it belonged to anyone.” He was quickly joined by a slight Asian woman who came running up from around the corner where she had been hiding.
“Hold it right there lady!”
“Woah, we didn’t take anything yet. Calm down,” said the woman.
Sam motioned with the gun for them to walk around the car and they obeyed. “What are you two doing here?”
“Looking for stuff to trade at the Bazaar.” Russ said as he stepped from behind the car with one of the spare batteries in his hand.
“Put that down. NOW!” Sam said with more force as Russ opened his mouth to protest.
“I bet you don’t have any ammo for that,” the woman, who had yet to identify herself, said.
“You want to test me?” Sam sidestepped to the cars trunk and opened it with one hand, the other keeping the shotgun steady on the two interlopers. The trunk swung open, revealing boxes of shells that Gina had managed to collect before he had come along. Russ’ jaw dropped open and an elbow from the woman convinced him to shut it. “You mentioned a Bazaar?”
“Not A. The Bazaar. It’s set up in a Wal-Mart about two days walk west of here off the highway.”
“And what is it exactly?”
“It is a trading post, you can get just about anything there. Mister, you will be a rich man if you show up with that much ammo,” said the woman.
“Ok, now why hasn’t this place been scavenged already?” Sam asked, glancing around at all the unbroken windows that lined the street.
“This place was quarantined right before the explosions. Something about a smallpox outbreak or something.”
“No, they would have had roadblocks up when I came through.”
“We had to pass through one, about a mile that way,” Russ pointed in the direction Sam’s car was pointed.
“Ok, I’m inclined to believe you, because I really don’t feel like wasting the ammo right now.” Sam said as he slammed the trunk closed. “Now, the two of you get going, I am going to pick my stuff up, put it in the car, and be on my way. I don’t expect to see you here again. Be careful, there’s a pack of dogs nearby, they attacked something earlier.”
Russ and his female companion backed away slowly until they were around a corner, and Sam wasted no time tossing the battery back into the rear of the car, along with the rest of his newly acquired electronics. Key in the ignition, the car then growled to life, and he passed through the rest of the town, the bag of beef jerky at his side. As he drove slowly through the rest of the town, he came to the quarantine roadblock that Russ had mentioned, and had to get out of the car to clear the barricades from the road, muttering to himself about contagions the entire time. While he was stopped, Sam took a moment to plug in the calendar, and it the glow from its screen brought a smile to his face. It started without a problem, revealing that it was Christmas Eve. He looked at his new pile of gadgets and thought that his haul of presents was pretty good this year, considering. He passed the barrier, Sam seeking out signs back to the highway and was soon on the open road again, the crisp night air coming in the windows over the sounds of more of the 90’s Greatest hard rock hits.
The brakes screeched as he rounded a corner and stomped on the pedal. A glow lit the night a few miles distant, and in the light, Sam could make out the large white sign with the blue writing that read Wal-Mart. “I guess I am going shopping.” He chuckled to himself.