I’m so tired. I remember that old joke from tv shows that went something like “I hurt in places I didn’t even know I have”. Well, that’s me right now. My back hurts, my legs and arms hurt, hell even my fingers hurt. Why do I have so many aches and pains? Because every morning Ruth gives me a list of stuff we need and it’s up to me to go find it.
It’s been a week since my last entry into my impromptu journal. That’s because I’ve been out “foraging” as Ruth calls it. Saturday, she gave me her sizes and told me we needed to get all the clothes we could. I made a trip to the mall which like everything else was devoid of people. I wanted to make two trips but it took hours to get past the metal cage they roll over the doors. I loaded up my car with as much as I could which took longer than I thought. Ruth said specifically we needed coats and warm clothes and her size wasn’t easy to find.
What was my reward for my efforts? The next day she sent me to the hardware store to find a large metal tub to make hot water for baths. She said this became a priority as I was starting to smell like the neighbor’s house. This was the day my car finally ran out of gas. Luckily, I was near a neighborhood and was able to find a truck after breaking into another house that smelled like rotten meat.
I used to laugh at people with these big trucks. I hated how loud they were when they drove by. After being able to load more stuff than I could in my car I can’t say I like them, but I do like them more than I did. I was able to get everything Ruth asked for in one trip. She was happy to see a truck, and even praised me for picking a better vehicle. Her thanks amounted to another list the next day.
The next five days progressed much the same. With the only exception being Tuesday when the truck was almost out of gas. Ruth taught me how to syphon fuel. She also stopped me from putting gasoline into the truck. Apparently, gasoline and diesel don’t mix. After searching for an hour for another vehicle with diesel I made a mental note to find a truck that used gas.
On the note of finding stuff, my house has never been so full. Since I’ve been going out everyday to get food, supplies, and one weird day to get shelves to stock the supplies all the empty rooms upstairs have filled up. As well as the downstairs and most of my basement. While I’ve been gone, Ruth cleared out the neighbors’ house that didn’t have bodies in it to store more stuff. She’s in her seventies and she moved all that stuff by herself and it doesn’t seem to bother her. I can’t believe I’m jealous of a geriatric.
My relationship with Ruth is weird. She sends me off to find all this stuff but when I’m around she treats me like a kid. The day she sent me out for clothes she packed me a lunch. I threw it in my back seat feeling insulted. I wasn’t a child. But after spending hours trying to break into a mall, I had to admit I was happy to have it. She was far too happy to hear that I ate it for my liking and told me the next day to find a good lunch box so she can make sure I get enough to eat. She’ll often scold me for not changing my clothes or leaving things out. It’s really hard to argue with her. I yelled at her once and she treated me like a fussy kid. She does make sure we have a hot meal in the morning and evenings, and she does keep the house clean. The house even smells different with her here. It’s like lemon and pine needles.
Today she sent me to one of those tractor stores. You know the kind that farmers go to. I felt very blue collar driving toward the interstate with my big truck and cooler full of lunch. I wish I had some music. I may need to dig through one of the neighbors’ houses and find an old mp3 player or some CDs. The sound of wind is rather boring. As I approached the exit to interstate I had to stop. The road ahead is piled high with cars and debris. I looked at the other side of the highway for the on ramp, and it has the same problem. I cautiously drive up to the blockage.
There are dead people in the cars. At first, I though they must have died like my neighbors, but when I got out to look, I saw the vehicles were full of holes. Looking through the windows I noticed so were the bodies. I started to back away toward my truck, when I noticed a road sign that had fallen face up on top of one of the cars. It’s angled just right for me to see the underside. There were handwritten letters on it.
Steeling myself I approached the cars full of corpses. I kept reminding myself, they’re just dead bodies they can’t do anything. I pushed the sign up and leaned it against the wall of debris as well as I could. On the back of the sign was a message written in red spray paint. Stay in your city. We don’t want you. We can’t feed you. We will shoot you. At least they were brief.
My first thought was that others had survived. My second was, did they kill these people trying to flee? My third was that I definitely didn’t want to find out right now. I knew the quickest way to the store I needed to get to was up the interstate, but there is a second road that travels around the airport that should get me there. I should also start traveling with my gun.
Ruth taught me a little about how to shoot the shotgun I had picked up. I decided I needed something smaller after 15 minutes of shooting left a bruise on my entire right shoulder. She told me to look for a 9mm hand gun or a 20-gauge shotgun when I got a chance. I decided if I had time today, I could go back to the sporting goods store and look.
The road behind the airport is filled with self-storage places and small businesses. I haven’t been this far out yet but I still haven’t seen any new people. Now I’m actively looking since I know someone shot all those people at the barrier. The parking lots around me are almost entirely bare. I see a few animals running around but nothing else.
You can see the interstate from the farm store’s parking lot since it sits on a large hill overlooking it. I can also see the overpass that would allow me to get on or off the interstate has been demolished. The rubble left to block the road and another sign that’s too far away to read sits on top. Luckily who ever blew up the bridge didn’t touch the store, it’s locked tight. I have become a lot more skilled at using my crowbar. I can now break open store doors without breaking the glass. A skill I’m absurdly proud of.
The store is dark, but I now have more flashlights than I could ever need. I grab a cart and start looting. A lot of the stuff Ruth put on the list I’ve never heard of so it took a while to find. I brought my lunch in with me for the second load. I thought I might have a snack while I rummaged. The cart was about half full when I heard something else moving in the store. There was a loud click, click, click. “Hello?” I said to announce myself. The clicking grew much more rapid. Into the aisle ran the biggest dog I’d ever seen in my entire life.
It’s only by luck I didn’t need to change my pants when I saw the hulking beast running at me. I discovered that yes, I can out run a dog, provided one is chasing me in a dark store. It chased me around the aisles gaining on me through the straights but faltering in the curves. I’m not sure how but I soon found myself on top of one of the higher shelves.
The dog barked at me but it couldn’t reach me. I looked over the edge and saw him staring up at me. I remember thinking, ‘all I have to do is find a way to distract it, then I can run for the truck’. Then like life often does, my plan was ruined. A second dog, this one smaller but pitch-black ran around the corner to join the first. It looked up at me and sat right at the end of the aisle, as if challenging me to run. The big dog circled around the base of the shelves and continued to bark.
I sat up and took several deep breaths and tried to think. This shelf was one of the highest in the store. I could see the tops of the other shelves; most were free of stuff. A strange idea came to me to run across the top of the shelves like one might in a ninja movie. The pain of my sore muscles chiming in to put an end to that. When the dog was chasing me, my adrenaline was up and I could run. Now that I was safe-ish it was retreating. I doubt I could have done something like that even if I didn’t hurt everywhere I had muscles.
I looked around me, I was sitting next to several large bags. Pet food bags. Maybe life wasn’t so cruel after all. I grabbed the nearest one. It had a picture of a large cat on it licking its chops. Was cat food good for dogs? Maybe it would be better if it wasn’t. I tried to open it. I never though of paper being tough. I know it can cut you but I never thought of it being strong. I wouldn’t be surprised if this stuff could stop a bullet. I worried at the bag for ten minutes or so before I found a string dangling off one side. After pulling the string as hard as I could seven or eight times the bag ripped open and the food spilled out in a rush. I pushed it off the side of the shelf and dumped it all next to the biggest dog.
Both ran toward the food. Maybe with them both distracted I could get away. I started slowly crawling toward the edge of the shelf, hoping to put as much distance between me and the dogs as I could before I tried to make a run for it. I noticed they were definitely eating fast so I picked up my pace. At the edge I counted to three before jumping off. I ran for the door as fast as I could. I was knocked off my feet halfway there by the big dog. I threw my hands over my face in fear or instinct, I’m still not sure which.
The dog started licking me. It’s breath reeked of cat food. The second dog did the same. I slowly realized I wasn’t going to die. That is until the big one laid down on top of me. After a lot of pushing to get free, I stood back up. Both dogs were looking up at me expectantly wagging their tails. I never owned a dog. One of my neighbors did for a while. I remember it waking me up at the god-awful hour of 9am. I didn’t know what was involved. But I bet Ruth did.
I decided to take the dogs with me. I say I decided because it’s easier than saying they wouldn’t stop following me and I couldn’t bring myself to leave them behind. They followed me through the store as I finished Ruth’s list, then as I got dog food, bowls, treats, toys, and all the medicine that was in the sliding glass case. Outside the store I noticed the big dog had a collar. The name on the tag was Rusty. It fit, he was reddish orange in color. The black dog had no collar. I guess that meant I got to name her.
The whole trip home my new furry friends hung their heads out the window barking at animals in parking lots.
November 18, 2021