By: Paul William Fassett
Long aisle’s of produce that was brown, dry, covered in flies. Dust laid in icing spread layers which stuck to the grout between the white, and blue checkered tiles. Natural light glinted off the front of every rack of food, but disappeared into gradual blackness with the smell of decaying meat. Randon walked in, and created a long shadow with the low sun. With deep probing scans, he scouted each end of the grocery store. His eyes were flushed with tiny veins of blood, and small, puffy dark rings gathered under his eye lids. Curly black, dirty, and greasy hair hung long over his eyes. Stroking his beard with his puffy, calloused fingers, he pulled the dirt, and mud from the tangled strands. This place was in his dreams, and every waking thought. Only now it was real, and right in front of him.
In the back room. He thought.
Wind had pushed a cart into the turnstiles which made loud squealing noises that echoed through the space to the high ceilings. It was hollow like a pumpkin. Everything scavenged, everything valuable, gutted to the bones and skin. He passed the cash registers which remained untouched for months. Money meant nothing to him, just paper, old world stuff. Didn’t mean anything, didn’t even remember the names on them. Famous faces forgotten. Nothing on the shelves save for dust, expired cans, moldy boxes, and rats. His boots were tattered. Pieces of it hung, and flopped like dog ears on all sides, but they made perfect prints on the grimy floor. The further back he got, the darker everything became. As he drew closer to the back room, the stench which had attracted him was getting stronger.
Where there was decay, there was food.
At the end of the aisle he saw packets of cakes he used to eat when he was stressed out at work. Junk food, double chocolate cake, with milk chocolate icing, with a thin layer of raspberry jelly in the middle. A cartoon man with a cake for a head beckoned him to try the delicious treat, but behind the plastic wrapping was a pile black mush, and bacteria. He’d forgotten how they tasted, the texture of cake even, or the sweetness of sugar.
He cut to the right towards what used to be a seafood section, passing empty shells, and fish bones, and headed straight for a door leading through the beef section. Rotten meat hanging in maggot ridden chunks, dripping into a slushy black mush on the linoleum.
On the other side of a curtain made of sections of hanging plastic was an empty storage house. Boxes were ripped open, cans laid ankle deep in the parts by the storage racks. At the very back was his prize. A storage container. Only a pad lock kept him from what could be anything. Hopefully food. But at this point he was willing to settle for water. From his bag, he took out a rusty crow bar, and used his weight to try and pry open the lock. Standing above the thing wasn’t making any progress so he leveraged the bar against the side corner of the container, and leaned back with everything he had. When the lock popped he fell to his back tumbling almost head over heels.
He stood wasting no time swinging open the doors, and there it was. A veritable treasure. Untouched, unspoiled cans of food. Five ten pound bags of rice, a box of beans. Enough to last him a year, maybe more. He dug through the boxes picking out things that were good, things that were bad, and things he just couldn’t stomach, and before he knew it he was in the back of the container, staring at a pallet of jugs. Water, purified. Enough to last him a month, maybe more if he was careful about it.
That night he ate until his belly couldn’t hold anymore, and he passed out mid chew and fell fast asleep.
When he woke up he felt like he did a thousand sit-ups, and his body ached from lying strangely on the hard concrete floor. He was cold, wet, but full. He struck out into the store looking around the isles. He found lighter fluid, and he stuck that in his bag. He found bundles of fire wood, and he smiled. I have everything I need.
He made a pig of himself, stuffing food both raw and cooked into his mouth as if it were going to go bad in moments, and nothing would be left. He had a fire going and he was fed, happy, and warm. Yet his mind continued to go to dark places, and when the sun went down he felt heavy, and tired. He started to cry, but he didn’t know why.
The next day he was bored of eating, and his stomach felt like it had stretched, and was near about to burst, so instead of eating some more, he decided to explore. In the aisle he found nothing but empty boxes, rotten produce, vegetables which had long ago turned into piles of black sludge. The fruit was much the same, and smelled foul, but in all that sludge he saw something. Little tiny things floating around in the fruit sludge. He stuck his fingers in and pulled out a handful of the black mess, cringing and gagging at the sight and smell which was now disturbed, and thriving in his nostrils. With the tips of his fingers he surveyed the little things and came to realize what they were… Seeds.
He ran to the back and opened the gates in the delivery area, and walked outside into the blinding morning sun to survey the dirt, which was less like dirt, and more a fine sand which was colored brown like dirt, but was infertile. He knew this, but it didn’t stop him from trying to plant those seeds. Head first into the dirt he went like a dog digging for a ground hog, scattering out the loose dry clumps to make a round hole. He dumped the seeds in, and covered them gently with his hands, and there he sat, waiting. As if at any moment a tree trunk would shoot up, and start spitting oranges at him.
When it became obvious that sitting there would do nothing he went back into that lonely place and made himself some beans, and rice, and he ate until he threw up. The cleanup was a horrible job, and he swore to himself that day that he would slow down, conserve. No more waste.
Every day he went out to the little spot in the middle of the dirt where his little mound was. He poured a little of his water on the seeds twice, sometimes three times a day, but still, in two weeks he saw nothing. He remembered that people used to use cow shit to grow grain on the farms that used to surround the city before the civil war, before the fires. They were everywhere. Huge plots of golden land, waving in the wind. A symbol to their prosperity now reduced to carbon, and smoke drifting off into the sky, eaten by fires which seemed to have consumed everything.
He used a shovel he found in one of the isles with all the cookware. In reality it was a big spoon, and he scooped his garbage, and waste into a bucket, and brought it outside. Above head the maggot beaks were circling. What were they looking for? There didn’t seem to be anything dead nearby, and he didn’t have the smell about him. He was well fed, and living well. So concentrated he was on the circular patterns of the birds flying, and crying above him, he almost didn’t hear the sounds of trotting feet getting closer in time enough to whirl towards the dog which leapt upon him, and latched firmly to his forearm, tearing and ripping, whipping it’s head around in great arcs, pulling him down to the ground.
He punched at the dogs maw with his free hand, striking it hard with his knuckles, hard enough to loosen its grasp, but in mere seconds it was lurching forward at him again, snapping as he held it tightly around its neck with his free hand. His grip tightened until its snarls became labored, and hidden behinds coughs, and gasps for air, and its eyes got wider, and wet. It yelped, quivered, shook, and clawed, trying to break free. For a moment it looked like a dog again, silent, arms flailing in the sky slowly, scared, but in time it slowed, it’s body coming to a halt, and finally to a dead limpness which caused Randon to drop the wretched thing. So skinny. Nothing but bones, and tightly wrapped skin with patches of fur missing. A hind leg ridden with rot from a bite, but wrapped in bandages… Randons arm was in shreds, and bleeding everywhere, soaking the seeds beneath the ground in crimson, and tears.
Randon ran to the bathroom, where he had hidden a first aid kit. Inside was a tiny brown plastic bottle labeled peroxide. It was nearly empty, and barely enough to soak one tooth mark. They were deep, so deep he could jam his pinky in and probably lose the nail completely, but worse yet were the gashes. The thing wanted him dead, wanted him for food.
Randon sobbed and shook as he tried to dab at the wound with what little peroxide he had. It was not enough, and he knew the thing would fester. Water! I could at least wash it!
So he grabbed up a bottle of filtered water, and started slowly to wash the blood from his torn hand, and every drop, every single tiny tear of water sent shivers trembling up his arm in a spastic electric shock of pain. There was no needle, no thread, and not a scrap of anything clean and he hated the thought of wasting any more water to clean a rag, but there was no other choice. He tore off strips of his shirt and began to soak them in the water, using some detergent he found in the grocery store, and set about the task of dressing the horrible, twisted, flapping wound.
But that dog. It was no feral thing… It had to be someone’s pet.