Crap, I forgot to make a story for the start of this month…So, here’s the first part of a story that I had tried to get off of the ground (like all of my stories) from back in grad school. Enjoy!
I woke up coughing again. There was a bit of blood on my hand, and I was finally convinced that I was reaching my limits. Only a matter of time before I succumbed to the environment, I kept telling myself, better do what I can now. Breakfast was the same as dinner – canned soup that I ate jellified. The only power that I had left was a small, battery operated lantern, barely enough to see, let alone heat anything. As I ate, the 38% DV sodium in the can was irritating my sores. My mouth screamed bloody murder, but I endured it for as long as possible. Eventually, I gave up, covering the can with a handkerchief. My situation was beyond hopeless, and I couldn’t take it for much longer.
At least the Beretta was still working, and I was glad for that. I checked the magazine, loading a single round. Cocking the action, I placed the barrel right under my chin. My hand, weak as it was from muscle deterioration, started to jitter as sweat poured down my face. Taking a deep breath, I steadied my hand, and pulled the trigger. Click. What did I expect? The only rounds I had left were duds, and I was praying that they were only duds because they were wet. No luck – they were duds because they were poorly made. Tossing the round into a bag, I placed the handgun back on a shelf. Surprisingly calm, I reached for my last bottle of water. Although I was completely parched, I limited myself to two swigs, and then placed it in my backpack. It had to last me through the day.
Wake up, eat breakfast, try to kill myself, get a drink. I’d been following this routine for nearly a month now, and it didn’t even seem morbid anymore. Surreal, maybe. Morbid, not at all. I finished packing my bag with a few empty water bottles, a granola bar, and a few rocks. Strapping my KA-BAR to my thigh, I picked up a crowbar and left the room. The stairways were completely demolished, which made them difficult for anyone to negotiate. In my condition, it was impossible. The fire escape, on the other hand, was still functional, and I used that to get to street level. Hitting the concrete, I stumbled for a few steps before catching myself on the wall.
There was nothing around, thank goodness. A mile or so up the street was the crater, but going there would be suicidal. Instead, I wandered in the other direction, hoping to at least find a water source, and if I was lucky, survivors. Only able to manage a fast walk, I stayed close to the buildings, moving from shadow to shadow. The first building I passed was the bodega that I ransacked when I moved into this sector of the city. I had already grabbed all the food that I thought safe to eat, and there was no bottled water left.
Surprisingly, there was very little debris in the streets besides abandoned cars. I had thought about taking one of them, but I knew that unless I found a Hummer or some other beast, I wouldn’t be able to get around the other cars. And who knew what could be lurking between the cars, just waiting for the moment to strike? I found it better to just avoid the streets altogether.
On the sidewalks, though, pieces of building were making it difficult to move quickly. Good thing I wasn’t in any hurry to get anywhere. I scrambled over the chunks of concrete and iron. Three mini-mountains later, and I had to stop to take a breath. Not more than a week ago, they would’ve been cake. Now, I need to be careful not to fall. Who knows if I’d be able to get back up?
A moan snapped me to my senses. Even in it’s state, my arms reflexively went to draw the Beretta. Instead, they reached for air. “Shit,” I rasped to myself. There was little chance that I was gonna get away, not with the moan that loud. Instead, I stumbled behind a car. The moan got louder. Despite the danger, my curiosity was peaked. I looked over the top of the trunk.
It was a man, slowly shambling through the intersection. His suit was in tatters, exposing slightly yellowed flesh that was coming off in flakes. Every once in a while, his hand would go to his stomach, his throat, his heart. The guttural moan was disconcerting. It was low and trembling, almost as if he was trying to sing at a register far below what he was capable of. Still he shambled on, regardless of my staring at him. That was all I could do – watch. To get close would be certain death, and I wasn’t ready for that yet. Hopefully one of those cowboys in the high-rises would do it for me.
I counted to 25, and then looked up again. He was past the intersection, although his voice could still be heard. I continued down the street. There was a small liquor store on the corner that seemed surprisingly intact. The door was still closed and locked. I pulled out my crowbar, and held it firmly in both hands. Craaack! I swung the crowbar like a baseball bat. It lodged itself firmly in the door, splintering parts of it on the ground. I pushed and pulled, and the crowbar did its job. After 5 minutes or so, there was a hole large enough for me to squeeze my hand through and fumble for the lock. I coughed again, and wiped the blood on my jeans. Reaching a bit further, I turned the bolt, and the door creaked open. One of those doorbell things tinkled when I walked through.
It was very dirty. A thick layer of dust covered every possible surface, making me wonder if the place was even open before it happened. The plus – the dust meant that it hadn’t been raided. The minus – I had no idea how old anything in the store was. I didn’t care as much about the alcohol – it only got better with age, and I didn’t need any of that – but I hoped that there was possibly some food that wasn’t all salt. I set my bag down, and dumped the water bottles.
Grabbing a granola bar, I unwrapped it as I walked down the first aisle. Vodka and mixers. Chewing slowly, I turned the corner. Beer of all varieties and sizes. Still not what I was looking for. Another bite, another aisle. Beer nuts, pretzels. My sores cried at the mere thought of those items, and I moved on quickly.
Over by the tequila was what I was looking for. There was a small stash of 1-liter bottles of Poland Springs. Without thinking, I popped one open and took a deep drink from it. Almost instantly, I gagged, coughing half of it back up. “That was stupid,” I told myself as I sipped from the bottle. Even while lukewarm, it was the best thing I had had in my system in a while. After going through a quarter of the bottle, I stopped. Any more, and I might just vomit it back up. I went back for my bag. Filling it up with 5 bottles – I could come back for more later – I continued my search. There was very little else of use, but one thing caught my eye.
One small, roundish green bottle sat on the top shelf. I opened it and sniffed. It smelled like lime juice, and my hopes began to rise slightly. I took a few drops of it, and gagged. Yes, it was definitely lime juice. Artificial, maybe, but it still should have some nutrients, most importantly Vitamin C. Pocketing it, I looked around again when I heard the bell ring. My hand dipped to my waist as I ducked behind the shelves. No moans, no noise at all for that matter.
I looked over the top. There was no one there. Sighing, I stood back up and started for the exit. I made a note of a door in the corner, and decided that I would take a look over there next time. I closed the door back behind me. The sun was just starting to set, and I started quickly back for my lair. The water invigorated me, and what took an hour or so earlier was accomplished in half the time. Even climbing back up the fire escape didn’t seem half as bad as it was earlier. I was safely back in my room by nightfall, my new findings on the shelf.
Despite my lack of hunger, I forced myself to finish the can of soup before going to sleep. It was no better than before, although having something to drink made it a little better. It was silent outside. After running a quick inventory of my possessions, I decided to call it a night. I added a few squirts of lime juice to the opened water bottle. Walking over to my bed, I sipped from the bottle and grimaced a bit. My mouth was just not ready for citric acid just yet.
The only light was from the moon, obscured by the clouds. The moonlight cast wavering shadows on my floor, making it difficult to sleep. Instead, I continued to run through my inventory. Water was no longer an issue, at least for the next few weeks. Food was a different story. Although I knew it very unlikely to find any real food in this hellhole, anything besides uncooked Campbell’s would be a relief.
The Beretta was fully serviceable, just lacking in good bullets. Crowbar, knife, rope, first aid kit…I had plenty of stuff to hole up for a while. And with the water, I wouldn’t have to worry about going outside for a little while. Nothing could be more important than that. At least I had three different flavors of Campbell’s. It wouldn’t be completely hopeless.
Something toppled over downstairs. I nearly fell out of my bed, but caught myself just in time. What was it, an animal? Not likely, I told myself, the only animals I saw nowadays were ravens and other birds. Looters? They were only a threat if they tried to come up the staircase. More items were being overturned. Whomever it was, didn’t care about what he could be attracting with that racket.
My hand reached for the knife on the end table. It hit the water bottle instead, sending it crashing to the ground. “Shit.” The noise stopped, and all I could hear was my erratic breathing. Just when I started to relax, I heard the moan. This one was raspy, sounding more like a cough than a moan. It started low, then ended slightly higher before cutting off. Then, almost as suddenly as the moan, the rummaging began again. I closed my eyes and tried to think of the inventory again. All I could think of was the sound of feet shuffling up the stairs to meet me.
I ‘woke up’ early – I don’t think I ever actually fell asleep in the first place. I emptied the backpack on the floor, and pooled together all my stuff. The essentials – first aid kit, rope, crowbar, lime juice – went straight into the bag, followed by some food and water. Half of my stuff was still around when I decided the bag was as heavy as I could manage. I hid the leftovers under the bed. Veiled by the sheets, they should be safe if I decided to come back for them. The knife was placed in its usual spot.
I tested the backpack, and found it sound and balanced. Heading for the fire escape I turned back to the shelf where the Beretta was. You have no time for this, I told myself, then decided, ah, what the hell. One round was loaded into the magazine, and then the barrel was placed firmly against by throat. Click. “What a shame,” I muttered, grabbing the ammunition. Although it was just extra weight, I wasn’t willing to leave it behind.
The gun was back where it belonged – hanging from my hip – and loaded with the dud bullets that had been tried the least. Just in case. My stomach rumbled, but I wasn’t going to appease it until I had found a new home. I dropped down from the fire escape, starting for the liquor store.