What the Old Man Did 8

April 16, 2012

The sun was up when consciousness returned and I exited my pleasant-painful dream. I’d slept quietly as far as I knew. I felt something warm against my back. So. I guess she was as tired as I was. I spoke.

“I’m getting up.” She stirred and then started. Apparently she thought this was a bit too friendly, no matter what happened last night. I stood carefully, noting some pains in my torso and arms. Last night had been a workout. Crouching, I moved toward the roof parapet. Peering over, I could see the burned out cars and the burned bodies of what seemed to be hundreds of “victims.” Nothing was moving. I leaned over and she grabbed at me. “Be careful!” I ignored her, looking up and down the street below and off to the barely visible garbage truck. Pulling back, I sat up looking at the rooftops nearby. On the next roof to the south there must have been 200 of them, straining toward the edge of their roofline, somehow hoping to cross the 30 feet that separated us.

The girl moaned slightly. Instinctively, I reached out to her. Touching her hand. She grasped it.

“It’s ok. They are too stupid to go down.”

“What happens to them? Don’t they just starve or something?” she said.

“Don’t know.” I offered. “But I think they somehow hibernate or something like that.” I was guessing of course, but I couldn’t imagine how the inhabitants of the recent grocery store incident had managed to stay alive for a decade until some fool (me) had blundered inside, unless they could do something like that.

“And they don’t feel pain.” She shivered.

I looked at her. I was startled a little. She was quite pretty, but in a tom-boy kind of way. Short dark red hair, green eyes. She was thin, I figured from being on the run, but still you could see the muscles. She flushed a bit at my gaze. I dropped her hand. I didn’t want her getting the wrong idea. I had no interest in her in “that” way.

I thought about our position, but wanting to be democratic for some reason I asked her: “So what do think? Shall we head for some food and drink, get out of here?”

“Obviously.”

Well that was settled. I started to pack up, but she beat me to it.

“Look, do you have a name? I’m Gary.” I put out my hand.

“Toni. Uh, Antonia. But no one calls me that. Actually, no one calls me anything now.” I saw tears. No way was I going there now.

“Let’s take a look over here.” I moved to the fire escape. The ladder looked solid. I swung my leg over and started to climb down. She was right behind me. We reached the street and I took my knife out and began to head north. I knew this would take us through the entire city, and though I wanted out of here as quickly as possible and I wanted to see what I might find that was useful in this ghost town. I was afraid of the possibility of more stragglers, but we needed supplies.

We walked in silence, for my part because I didn’t want to give us away. Mostly.

For three hours we moved quietly through sun and shadow. Never seeing or saying anything. Finally she broke the silence as we approached what appeared to be an intact store front.

“We need to be careful. I was attacked in a store once.”

“Join the club,” I laughed.

I was hoping for canned goods maybe. Entering slowly, allowing my eyes to adjust to the dark I peered around. Toni stood behind me. Advancing into the first aisle, I couldn’t see much in the gloom at the far end. I pointed to some items on the shelf. There were fruit juice bottles. She quietly pushed two of them into the pack. It looked like we would need another one of those. Moving down the aisle, there was stew and dried fruit. I had no idea if it was any good but she picked it up and looked at it like she knew. At the end of the aisle, there was a pharmacy. I quietly searched for items. She was way ahead of me. Looking through the racks for what, I didn’t know.

She must have scored something because she was smiling. We moved down another aisle. I spotted toilet paper. Always a fine thing after trying various alternatives. Now that I had to fake some civilization again, I picked up some soap. I saw her smile slightly. Another backpack was here and I handed it to her. She made to hand me the full one, but I froze. There was movement up at the front.

Putting my finger to my lips, I moved back to the pharmacy area, looking for another exit. There had to be one. I heard more footsteps, this time on the other side of store. I handed her the knife. Her eyes were wide. I gave her a look. She stared into my eyes for a moment and seemed to see something there. She took the knife. I took the shotgun off my shoulder and moved quietly to the next aisle. Looking down it I saw three of them. They weren’t looking my way. I made a quick decision and waved her forward. We moved fast. Heads snapped around. I missed my first shot. I heard a gasp behind me and turned to see two more dragging Toni back. I took aim at the three in front and got each of them. Toni started to scream. I took a chance and moved down one row and sprinted to the back. I caught the two bending over the girl and blew both of them away. One shot left. She struggled to her feet.

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