I don’t think I like Ruth. We don’t have much in common. From what I can gather she’s your typical old church lady. At least until the state decided to shut down the churches. Ruth is 70 years old and a widow. Her husband died four years ago. They used to own a farm that was foreclosed on in the 2000s. That’s when they moved less than a mile from the house I would one day buy.
The first day I met her she insisted on coming with me. I really don’t like having other people in my house, but she promised if I took her with me she would answer all my questions about what happened. She even cooked diner for me that night. Since I didn’t feel like arguing, I let her take my bed. I slept on the couch I kept in my office once I moved all the boxes off of it. This was the first night I remember thinking my house was cold.
She woke me up the next morning with breakfast. Which at first I thought was just her being nice. Then she gave me a list of stuff she said we would need, and asked me to go get it. I had already left the house two days in a row and I was not happy about having to do it a third time. After ten minutes of arguing I folded. Her winning point was if I wanted to keep eating this is what she needed to cook.
I never kept my car full of gas. It’s a trick I learned over the years. Since my car would often sit for six months at a time it made it easier to flush out the old gas or to simply add more to dilute it, if it was just starting to turn. I had about a quarter tank left. I could get all the food stuff from the supermarket. Getting more propane would require me to go somewhere else. I figured I would try the sporting goods store by the mall. Maybe I would find someone else who knew more about what was going on. They may even have power. I was starting to feel like a thief and would rather just pay for stuff.
The highway was empty. It’s weird driving down a three-lane road in the middle of the day and not seeing any other cars. I remember watching zombie and disaster movies with the roads all blocked up from people trying to escape. Reality is much weirder. There are two cars in the parking lot of the sporting goods store. Still no people or power. Luckily, I brought my crowbar. Unluckily it took nearly half an hour of beating to break the glass and unlock the door. I cursed the directors of all those disaster movies that lead me to believe in mass looting. At least then the doors would already be open.
This store has skylights, which I quickly thank the universe for. It’s weird being in a store with no artificial light but a least I can see. I grab a cart and decide to go shopping. The list Ruth gave me only required propane and maybe some pots and pans from this store, but it wouldn’t hurt to have a look around. I grab a few sleeping bags, the square ones. This way I can unzip them and use them as blankets. I also found a Kerosene heater and a few cans of fuel. I had to take this to my car since the cart was full and come back. The propane is further into the camping stuff. I clear the shelf of all the little green cylinders and continue looking around.
Then I came to the guns. I’d never even held a gun before, but every zombie movie I’ve ever seen told me they were important. I jump behind the counter and start to browse. As I complete my first pass I noticed none of the labels said anything like assault rifle, sniper rifle, or SMG, all names I’m familiar with through media. The ammo isn’t much better. Most are labeled with numbers. I recognize 9mm, but am stumped by 380 ACP and 223 /5.56. The numbers ring some bells but I not sure if I understand which gun they go to. I make a second pass and see a 12 gauge shot gun. A felt a thrill of excitement. A 12 gauge, I knew what that was. The ammo type was right in the name. It didn’t take long before I found boxes of ammo labeled 12 gauge.
Unfortunately, they also have names like club load, game load, 00 buckshot, and rifled slug. Having no idea what is what, I just put as much as I could in the cart. Ruth owned a farm, farm people knew guns. I made a quick stop by the camping stuff and picked up the pots and pans as well. The second trip to the car fills up my trunk. I decided that I should get the food she asked for next while I still had room.
The lights in the grocery store are completely out. Luckily, I brought a flashlight. It doesn’t look like anyone else has come by since I was last here. I’m starting to think I may never have to pay for the stuff I’m taking. Grabbing some bags from the front and a cart I make my way down the aisles. Most of what Ruth wants his here. I bag it as I go. Having been here twice I’m tired of carrying arm loads of stuff out. Having realized at the sporting goods store how to unlock sliding doors from the inside, getting back to the car is easier than the last few times. I packed my car full of canned food, pasta, and water.
I decided to grab more flashlights and batteries as well. I’m tired of coming out here and I’m not sure if I can get more gas for the car. Still no people on my way home, but I do see more animals. I wonder if they were always there and I never noticed. It’s midday by the time I get home. Ruth made a lunch of macaroni and cheese, the boxed kind. She’s also cleaned up most of the trash and opened all the blinds. She took cleaning supplies from the neighbors’ house without the bodies. She also told me I should make a new bedroom upstairs after we unload the car. That a young man like me should let an old woman have the room with less stairs. I’m starting to doubt her frailty, especially after she carried in more stuff from the car than me.
I decided I would take the mattress from the parents’ room next door, or I would have. It turns out mattresses are heavy. After struggling with it for about an hour I decide to take one of the twin mattresses from one of the kid’s rooms. I originally wanted both but after struggling to get one downstairs, then up my stairs, I decided one was enough. Ruth handed me a stack of my folded clothes to take with me. By evening most of my small stuff is in the large bedroom upstairs.
Ruth was very happy to see the heater. She even showed me how to set it up. It turned out it could be used as a stove as well. She made us beef stew from a can that night and cleaned the pots with the cold water that still comes out of the tap. I started to wonder how long that would last.
I spent a few hours talking with her around the heater after the sun went down. There’s really nothing else to do. She tells me about her son. He lives on the other side of the country. When he got married he decided he would buy a new family farm. He and her husband had a falling out that lasted almost a decade but made up a few years before the father died. He asked if she wanted to come live with his family on their farm. She turned him down every year until this year when he stopped calling a few months ago. I guessed her son would be in his fifties, but Ruth was never clear on the subject. After a few hours she turned off the heater and went to bed.
I grudgingly went to my new room. I unzipped my new sleeping bags. I realized when I laid down, I had no pillows. I thought about getting one from my old room. That seemed like a lot of trouble so I used some of my folded clothes. I turned on my phone. There was no signal. I started browsing through some of the files. Since I never used the thing there was little on it. I did have several thousand emails, almost all of them from clients. Not wanting to read spec sheets and receipts I turned the phone off.
As I lay in the dark, I thought about my own family. I hadn’t talked to them in years. It’s not because we had a falling out like Ruth’s husband and son. They just kept inviting me to stuff, and I kept turning them down. Eventually they just stopped calling. I wondered about where they were now and if they were still alive. Surely it couldn’t just be me and Ruth left in the world. That would be a miserable way for the species to die. I cracked one of my windows and listened hard. Trying to hear any signs of life, anything that would tell me there were other people out there. A greater silence than I had ever heard was my only reply. My dreams were filled with endless streets of houses full of no one.
November 12, 2021