Alex woke with a start, he thought he heard a dog snarling; he stood and surveyed the parking lot but didn’t see anything. He just figured he had dreamt it. He started to wonder what had happened to all the pets. He had never been much of a pet owner, although he loved animals. He had fish and that had pleased him enough. He wasn’t comfortable with having another creature depending on him.
He relieved himself , stretched , yawned and using some bottled water washed his face and brushed his teeth. He wanted a shower, but with the power out and swimming pools being about the only good source of water he’d have to skip it. “Maybe I can find a park with a lake to camp in tonight.” He said to himself.
He felt an urgent need to get moving, he had no real explanation for this other than maybe his own paranoia. He ate two of the MRE’s got the six ton running, familiarized himself with its operation and decided to tow another of the vehicles behind it. He would take a hummer, just in case he needed it. He was sure this monster he picked to drive was more than capable of pulling the extra weight. He could always use more storage space.
He got on the road at 8:00 am and started towards the interstate, although it wasn’t very far it took him quite some time, and to his dismay the on and off ramps for each were clogged with stalled cars. “Damn it!” He cursed aloud. “Well may as well see what this thing can do.”
He took a road that paralleled the interstate and once he found a grade he liked, drove through the fence separating that road from the interstate. The ground was soft , but the grade was at a downward angle so he had no problems, just a seriously bumpy ride. Once he was on level paved ground he thought to check the CB.
“Good morning post-apocalyptic North Carolina, anyone out there?” He was in a good mood, he finally felt where ever this adventure was heading, it had finally begun. It was hard to feel bad after all that he had been through and lived, sitting here in the bright sun.
“Morning.” Came a distorted voice.
“Hey, thank God there is someone else alive!” Alex shouted with joy into the handset.
“My names Red, we just passed Raleigh and it’s rough going, we are heading your way. Not real sure how long, it’s gonna take us to get to Burlington.” Red had excitement in his voice, but also a bit of wariness.
Hearing him say Burlington, Alex knew they had been listening last night when he had spoken of the execution. “Well I hope if ya heard me last night ya didn’t get the wrong idea. I felt I didn’t have a choice, what would you have done?”
“Look son, from what you said, I think maybe you did the right thing, that man could have killed a lot more people.” Red, didn’t want to piss off this guy who was so close, and a survivor. It was a new world, and the rules had changed. The man had taken three lives, red had never been a proponent of the death penalty, but he had spent much of the previous night considering what he would have done. He had decided he probably would have done the same.
This he had been talking about quietly with his wife, while Beth snoozed in the back seat. Beth had fallen asleep no sooner than they were underway. At breakfast, Sandra and Phil had been the joyous duo they had begun to expect.
“Thank you,” Alex answered.
“Where ya headed Alex?” Red asked, the conversation had grown awkward, he was trying to move it along.
“West, not sure exactly where yet, somewhere, where there never were many people in the first place. I dunno, maybe I am just being paranoid, but I don’t want to be here, there are just so many bodies, there is no way to get rid of them all. What if the assholes that did this survived? How long before they get tired of the desert and want to upgrade?” Alex was on the verge of one of his rants, which happens when he is talking about something he feels is important, gets nervous and just can’t stop talking about it.
“I think that is pretty wise son, we are heading west also, we aren’t sure where we are going. It’s me, my wife, Sherry, a young lady named Beth, and a couple driving in their own vehicle, but not so sure if they are gonna stay with us. The don’t seem to like company.” Replied Red.
“Wyoming or Montana maybe. I don’t want to go any further west than that, with the nukes they set off in California.” Alex suggested.
“So the kid was right, they bombed California, New York to then?” Red asked.
“Yeah, from what I heard on the news New York City was decimated, they used three or four detonated at the same time. The news got real hard to understand, the reporters were asking questions more than answering them. No one seemed to know what was going on.
“My God, all those people.” Red said with despair rising in his voice.
“They were the lucky ones, most suffered terribly before they died. This virus, some called it a version of Ebola, but we may never know, it melted them basically, their organs liquefied. I could barely stand to watch the news, it showed people dying in the streets lined up to get in the hospitals. People were going insane shooting each other right in front of the cameras, trying to make the line shorter so they could get inside for the cure. Sad fact was, there was no cure.” Answered Alex dismally, he felt his lighthearted mood failing. He had forgotten those broadcasts, convinced it was a bad hoax, the modern day War Of The Worlds. How wrong he had been.
“Well son we are heading in your direction, I don’t know if you feel like having traveling companions, strength in numbers and all that.” Offered Red.
“Sounds great, maybe I could head in your direction maybe help you get through this mess.” Eagerly answered Alex, he couldn’t bare being alone any longer, he felt good, but the loneliness was stifling.
“We are making progress, slowly but surely, if you don’t mind waiting we’ll be there hopefully by this afternoon.” Said red.
Alex wondered what kind of man Red was, he sounded like a kind grandfatherly sort. Then he wondered about the couple Red said was traveling with them, Alex couldn’t imagine anyone wanting to go it alone in this world, which had seemingly gone mad overnight. “I don’t mind at all, I am gonna go until I find a nice spot to camp. Just let me know when you are close, I will get a nice fire going and we can swap stories.”
Red agreed, “that will be nice,” they both had so much they wanted to ask each other, but they were being interrupted by bursts of static. They wanted to have stuff to talk about that night, so they signed off just checking back and forth every hour or so.
Alex climbed out of his truck, stretched his legs, although he hadn’t been driving long, the last few nights sleeping in cars had given him a stiffness he was having trouble shaking off. He had stopped at a nice open stretch of interstate. The nearest vehicles were nothing more than specs in the distance.
Alex unhooked the Hummer and decided to make their evenings meeting a bit of a celebration. There wasn’t much to celebrate he thought, only the fact that they had basically won the lottery. The prize had not been hundreds of millions of dollars, instead the grand prize had been life.
“A morbid thought.” He said aloud as he started the Hummer. He headed on towards the Elon College exit. He stopped the Hummer realizing he had left the keys in the 5 ton, then he thought the chances of someone stealing the large truck were slim to none. He continued on.
Alex had plenty to share, but he knew the pre-packaged military food would never go bad, not before it was all eaten, but it would get boring in time. Variety, The Spice Of Life, he saw on a billboard as he approached the exit. “How right you are.” He smiled.
He approached the Wal-Mart and noticed there were quite a few vehicles in the parking lot. He thought, looks like any store parking lot on any given day, except there are no people walking around, and there are bodies in some of these cars, not kids or spouses who waited outside. They weren’t waiting on their wives or mothers to finish the shopping. They were dead, each and all, dead.
He felt the guilt a bit and forced it down, it was getting easier to stop the involuntary emotions. “Is this maturity?” He asked aloud.
The front of the Wal-Mart looked like it had been bombed. Glass in every direction, the metal door frames were twisted and broken. He then saw the car someone had driven into the store. There was a sign on the ground to the right of where the main entrance had been, now a gaping hole.
The sign simply read closed. It had been hand painted on a piece of poster board. He drove a little closer and saw that the driver of the car was half hanging out of the car, he couldn’t tell if he had died from the crash, but to Alex, it appeared the guy had been shot. He would have to find a different entrance. What if someone is in there, trying to claim Wal-Mart and all its property as their own.
Alex drove around the large building looking for a better entrance, he had taken all the unused Hazmat suits from the armory, and for this he was thankful. He approached the lawn and garden area, knowing the store pretty well, he had been there dozens of times since it had been built. He would enter there.
He got out of the vehicle, donned the suit and grabbed his rifle. He then changed his mind and opted for one of the assault rifles he had found. He edged towards the double glass doors, each of which was fully intact. He thought he’d have to break them, but when he got in range of the sensor the doors opened of their own accord. “Holy shit!” He yelled inside the suit.
Alex half expected to see armed zombies come piling out the door trying to kill him. None came, and after a few minutes his heart slowed, he had let the door close and waited, after a few minutes he had control of his fear.
He entered, trying to look in every direction at once, not wanting to be surprised. He made it inside and crouched down behind the nearest shelf and waited. There was some sort of barricade in the middle of the isle, he could just see the top of some one’s head.
“Hey, you over there, you ok?” He yelled, the sound was muffled of course, but he couldn’t imagine anyone not hearing him.
He waited, yelled a few more times, then realized this guy must be dead, or the soundest sleeper he had ever heard of. He grabbed a small ceramic planter and crept farther down the aisle, he launched the planter in a high arc, it landed with a thundering crash which reverberated around the store. He knew this may have been a mistake, then thought that hummer is loud enough to wake the dead. He knew he was right, his tenseness was fading, not entirely, but he knew he was safe now, everyone here was dead.
He was still careful, he made his way around behind the barricade and saw he had been correct, the man behind the barricade had been sick, and took his own life. It was a gruesome sight, but Alex had seen worse. He unconsciously pressed his hand to his chest where under the suit he had placed the little girls book in his breast pocket.
As would become and old habit very quickly when entering any building, he would search every room, and every isle, to make sure no one was waiting in ambush, and worse yet, no one had died leaving their corpse for him to stumble over.
He had seen more than a few possible ends in his life, horrible car crash,(his parents) bombings,(on the news everyday) shootings, (on the news, but more recently the people at the store) and the virus. He decided if he had to go, he’d pick any way but the later.
He had searched the entire store he checked by the main entrance last, he understood better what had happened. The man in the car did not appear to be sick at all, he had been shot in the top of his head as he tried to exit his car through the window. In the passenger seat was a woman, she too had been shot. She as best as Alex could tell had not been infected, but there was no way to know. They had been dead a few days.
Hiding behind a barricade by the optical center were their executioners. All infected, it was pretty obvious, the discoloration of the skin, the green slime, which had disgusted him so only a few days ago, seemed nothing more to him now than the power lines running down the sides of the roads he had grown up on.
“So many things we took for granted,” he remarked inside his white suit, his only defense against death. Then he realized, “the door opened all by itself,” the power was still on here. He made his way to the rear of the store and found the main light switches, they all came on.
He went through to the loading dock and opened one of the bay doors, went and got the hummer and drove it around back. He grabbed a cart and went through the half of the store that sold groceries, he filled the cart and emptied it five times, carefully picking things he knew were sealed and thus could be disinfected without spoiling the contents.
After he had gotten all the food he thought necessary, with what was in the big truck they could take a trip to the moon and back and still have some left over. Too much is better than not enough. He found a large plastic tub and then grabbed thirty gallons of Clorox bleach.
He poured it all into the tub. He began dipping each of the things he had gotten into the bleach. He then carefully spread them so they could dry, some of the labels peeled away, he didn’t care. Food was food, and they weren’t making anymore at the moment.
This process took him quite a while, he realized he hadn’t checked in with Red since before entering the store. He had let him know it may be a while before he called back. When he finished he poured bleach all over himself, fully saturating the suit, he was not taking any chances. He then loaded the stuff he had gotten into the rear of the hummer then stripped off the suit leaving it where it had fallen. He had 4 more, but knew he would need to find more.
His next stop was the Tractor Supply store next door. This he didn’t feel he needed to be wearing a suit for, the store was smaller and locked up tight. He broke through the glass with a sledge hammer he had gotten from John’s garage. He went in found the keys to the large chain that ran through all the trailers and other equipment that was parked outside. He selected a pretty big trailer, one with three foot side rails, he filled it with things he thought he would need.
He spent about thirty minutes collecting things, then decided to take a break and call Red. “Red, Alex here, you there?”
“Yeah bud, everything ok? We were getting worried.” Replied Red.
“Yeah, just had a bit of a scare at Wal-Mart.” He then briefly explained the scene and what he thought had happened.
“It’s just awful,” He heard a woman say, “hi Alex, Sherry here. I had to take over for Red a minute, we kind of hit a roadblock and he needs both hands to get through.”
“Whew that was rough,” he heard her say, “good driving hon.”
“Sherry honey ya have to let go of the button when you’re done talking.” Alex heard Red say.
“Pleased to meet ya Sherry, and glad you made it through.” Alex laughed a little.
“Phil and Sandra about rolled over; we had to go down the embankment a bit to get by all the wrecks.” Red said solemnly, but Alex could hear a tinge of excitement in his voice.
“Well we got all sorts of food, canned mostly, but there are a few other things. I am at the Tractor Supply company, you need anything?” asked Alex.
“My garage back home looks like the inside of one of those already,” Red paused, seemingly choked by his words. “Well we got all sorts of food, canned mostly, but you never know what we may run into, maybe some chain, a come along or two, anything we can use to move these wrecks out of our way. I have a feeling we are going to hit far worse traffic jams in other places. You can never have to many tools.”
“OK then, I will get all I can get, this is on our way, I may just pack up another trailer and we can swing through and grab it tomorrow if ya want.” Offered Alex.
“That sounds great.” Red answered.
Alex went back to work, he filled the trailer he had picked for himself, then found another one of similar size. He filled each with nearly half the contents of the store. Afraid to miss anything, he took things he was almost sure he wouldn’t need, but just didn’t want to take the chance.
He finished at the store within the hour and headed back towards where he’d left his truck. As he pulled away from the Wal-Mart he thought he heard a dog growling, but after carefully scanning the parking lot and even circling around once, he was sure he had imagined it.