The next day I headed outside again. This time I took a different route through the neighborhood to avoid the corner store and approach the superstore from the same way I had left yesterday. I was outfitted in much the same way as before, except this time I had a flashlight.
I walked cautiously through the deserted urban setting, bat out and ready, looking for movement and listening for any sound other than birds. Luck was with me and I made it to the superstore without incident. I slid an outer door open, slipped inside, and closed it behind me.
One of the inner doors was open a few inches. Had I left it like that? I thought I had closed it all the way. Maybe I hadn’t. I remember pushing it closed until it stopped moving. Maybe it had snagged on something and not closed all the way and I hadn’t noticed. I pushed against the door and it slid closed easily. So, I had closed it yesterday but today it was partly open. Someone else had been there or might still be there.
Sweat trickled down my neck as I stood there trying to figure out what to do. I needed nails and a hammer to board up my apartment windows. Also, there was enough canned food here to last a long time. Plus everything else I could get from there like clothing and tools. On the other hand “stranger danger”.
I didn’t even know if there was one or several people. I didn’t know how they would react to me walking in on them. If I startled them, I could easily end up dead. The safest thing to do would have been to leave and go back later. Instead I opened the inner door and slipped inside the store.
My eyes had adjusted some to the dark while I debated with myself in the in the airlock but the light from the doors only reached so far. Beyond the light the darkness seemed more menacing than yesterday. I stepped to the side of the doors so I wasn’t silhouetted in the light and listened and looked. The silence rang in my ears as I strained to hear voices or footsteps or zippers or anything. The black of the darkness seared my eyes as I looked for movement or a light.
What now? Do I wait here until I see or hear something? How long should I wait? Five minutes? Half an hour? Should I try sneaking through the store? Maybe make a noise and see if someone came to investigate? My thoughts were cut short as a beam of light flashed out from an aisle. That’s at least one, I thought. They were in the food aisles, probably scavenging like I had the day before.
I crept through the dark store an aisle length away from the food aisles. Moving from endcap to endcap, peering around corners, I tried to make as little sound as possible. As I reached the aisle the light had come from I began to have second thoughts. I didn’t need to confront whoever was in the store. I could just leave and go back later. Leaving and returning would mean spending more time walking around outside. More time during which I might find another zombie.
Resigning myself to at least seeing who was in the store, I leaned out and looked down the aisle. A flashlight sat on the floor spilling light in the general direction of a bent over figure. The figure was putting cans in a plastic bag and tying it shut. On the ground another more bag slumped full of more cans. A guy, kind of skinny, but not recognizable until he picked up the flashlight and the light reflected off his face. It was Andy, the guy I had left in the convenience store. Great, like I needed this. I pulled back from looking down the aisle and considered my options. With a stranger, in the dark, I might have just passed as a woman and worked out a deal or…
But he already knows about me. I don’t know what I was thinking outing myself like that. Not that I wouldn’t have told him but maybe not as bluntly. I could wait for him to leave but what about the next time. Maybe I should… What if he catches me here next time? Might be better to work something out before I have to deal with that.
I walked down the next aisle as quietly as I could and stood at the end of the aisle just out of sight. Gripping my bat I stepped out and stood at the mouth of the aisle about six feet away from Andy. He didn’t move or seem to notice me, so I tapped my bat on the floor. He froze and turned toward the sound. His flashlight was on the ground, he bent to pick it up.
“Don’t move,” I said raising my bat. Fuck, what am I doing? Why didn’t I just say hi?
“What? Who are you?” he straightened up and awkwardly held his hands up.
“I’m Lisa. We met at the convenience store.” You know yesterday when you had a bat and I almost caved your skull in with my bat.
“Oh yeah.” He dropped his hands.
“What are you doing here?” What am I saying, I know what his doing here.
“Looking for food,” he said picking up a can of soup, “I think we got off on the wrong foot. You kind of caught me off guard with that I’m a man stuff.”
“I’m a woman. I just was born different,” I said. Maybe leaving him alive isn’t worth the risk?
“Yeah, yeah. I get that. My cousin’s gay,” I snorted and rolled my eyes, which he didn’t see, “The point is I’m not going to kill you just because you’re a woman with a dick.”
I considered him with his plastic bags, small flashlight and no weapon I could see. Maybe I couldn’t really trust him but he wasn’t much of a threat if I kept my distance. “Fair enough, I guess. I did kind of spring it on you,” I said, “Ok, I guess we can share the store. It’s not like there isn’t enough for both of us,” I said.
Andy smiled, “Yeah, ok. So, now what?”
Now what what? Does he think I’m going to be his buddy now? “Um, I have some things I need to get over there,” I gesture towards the other side of the store, “So I’m going to do that and you can go back to getting food.”
“Oh, I thought maybe we could, um, get stuff together or something,” he said.
“No.” Not in this lifetime.
“Are you sure? I mean two people working together have to be better than one, right?”
“Do you have a weapon?” I asked wagging my bat at him.
“If a zombie was charging at you right now could you kill it? You had a bat before; where is it?” Maybe a zombie will take care of him for me. No guilt that way.
“I left it in the store. Forgot it.”
“And if a zombie attacked you?” Yeah I give him a week, two tops.
“I… I don’t know,” he looked down at his feet.
I pointed at his plastic bags, “Where did you get those?”
“From my store. I grabbed a handful so I’d have something to carry stuff in,” he said smiling seemingly proud of thinking ahead at least once.
“Why not get a backpack from here,” I asked gesturing at the store around us.
His smile fell, “Oh, I didn’t think of that.”
“You came here without a weapon, didn’t think about finding a backpack or even a canvas shopping bag… The only thing you did right was bringing a flashlight.” Great, now if I don’t at least help him get setup, I will feel guilty when a zombie beats him to death.
“I’m not useless. This isn’t an everyday situation you know.”
“Yeah, I know, which is why I expect more from someone who wants to team up. Putting aside the possibility that you might kill me for being trans–”
“I wouldn’t do that.”
“Putting that aside,” I continued, “I can’t carry you through the zombie apocalypse. I’ll help you get some gear together but outside this store we’re not a team or partners, got it?”
“Ok, I guess. Thanks.”
I helped him find a backpack and sleeping bag to start with. He wanted to grab a mattress but I nixed that idea when I said he’d have to carry it alone. I upgraded from my duffel bag to a backpack with several pockets and a quick release buckles. We found some more flashlights at the registers, small but bright LED ones and divvied them up. In the hardware section, I found some nails and a hammer. From the food aisles, I grabbed a few more cans of tuna, chili, and soup before heading out of the store.
Andy was waiting at the door.
“Hey, I just wanted to say thanks for your help,” he said, “All this hasn’t sunk in yet, you know?”
“Sure no problem. I know it’s weird but we have to survive,” I said looking out at the mostly empty parking lot.
“So, are you coming back tomorrow?”
“No, it’s probably not safe to go out to often. You shouldn’t go outside unless you have to either.” I scanned the edges of the parking lot for movement.
“Oh, right,” he said with a little sigh of disappointment. Jeez, was I really feeling sad enough for this guy to set up a “play date” in the zombie apocalypse? Maybe.
“Next time I go out for supplies, I’ll swing by your store. It’s safer to travel in a pair anyways. Ok?” I said.
“Sure that sounds great.” He smiled and bobbed his head looking all the world like an excited puppy. I walked passed him and slipped outside.