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Vaxdemic Chapter 9

talexratcliffeOct 10, 2021, 9:39:30 PM

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Chapter 9

So, Christmas. I haven’t really thought about it since I was a little kid. Sure, it was fun to get new stuff. I wasn’t so wild about the whole, go to all the relatives’ houses thing. I remember how to get to those places but they’re hundreds of miles away. A daunting trek for some ham and punch that’s probably not even there.

Ruth on the other hand is a Christmas nut. When I came home the inside of the house was full of garland and evergreen. It turns out Ruth is one of those weird people born on Christmas, so she really gets into the holiday. She even found a fake tree in one of the neighbor's houses and put it up in the living room. She strung lights on it but none of them were on. That’s when she handed me a blank piece of paper and told me to make a list of things I wanted for Christmas.

I thought this was patronizing, but I did my best to not show what I thought. I assumed she was going to try and get me a Christmas gift, but I couldn’t think of anything she could get for me. I wrote down some things I wanted for dinner, one being ham. We have meat, or canned meat to be exact. I’m getting really tired of canned chicken and canned sea chicken also known as tuna. The only thing I really want is some not canned meat. I was almost hesitant to give her back the list since I knew she could never find any.

She took the list anyway and presented me with one of her own. I guess I should have seen that coming. The list wasn’t very long. She wanted an inverter and battery to power the Christmas lights, and some candy, preferably mint chocolate. This was going to be a bit of a challenge. The inverter and battery would be easy, I could raid an auto parts store or go to the RV lot near the tractor store and get both. The candy meant going into a grocery store.

The first two weeks after the power went off, grocery stores were my number one visit. Unfortunately, November weather isn’t cold enough to preserve food and soon the stink of rotten food was too much for me. This was not true for the animals I’ve seen since. I’ve had to go back to these stores on occasion. With the exception of those whose doors I didn’t completely destroy, they’ve become an uncomfortable game of “please don’t let there be an opossum in that box”. They’re all filled with vermin. The mice aren’t so bad, they just run from you. The rats are a little harder to deal with, but they will often leave you alone if you do the same for them. I didn’t know rats could get so big. I’ve also seen dogs wandering around the outside. Abby doesn’t like them, and the feeling appears to be mutual.

I guess it would be rude of me to not at least try, but I want to play it safe. I found an old yellow pages phone book in one of the neighbors’ houses. Using it with the map from the hardware store I was able to locate a gun store inside the city. The quickest route would take me by the hospital but I’m still weary about going near the place. I’m not sure what I may find and I’m pretty sure I don’t want to know.

The store is called Apocalypse Tactical. I’ve seen billboards for it on in my foraging. I need to find a 20-gauge shotgun and maybe a hand gun. I’m embarrassed to say that I’m not ready for the 12 gauge I took from the sporting good store. I’m not accurate with it, and I’m scared of the kickback (there’s no better way to say it). Every time I tell Ruth about the animals I see, she tells me I need to get a gun, one that I can handle. Well, I decided Tuesday would be the day.

My first thought when I saw the brick-and-mortar building of Apocalypse tactical was much that of any store in the city. Brick and mortar exterior, small cracking parking lot, overly dramatic sign. Then I spotted the doors, and the name becomes a little more understandable. There is a security cage over the doors, a thick one. I grab it and give it a test shack. It doesn’t even rattle. The bars of the cage are really thick as far as cages I’ve seen so far. I can tell right away they didn’t order this cage, they built it. The windows have a similar cage around them I can see where the cage merges with the wall but I can’t see any screws, nails, or other fasteners I can use to take the cage down. I guess I have to do this the hard way.

First, I try some of my metal cutting blades with my reciprocating saw. They don’t even wear the color off the bars. I try my crow bar on the side of the cage but there’s no cracks I can fit it under. I try my newest tool, a torch, I decided I needed to at least try. Even fire can’t break it free. I had an idea. I took some chain and rapped it around the cage and attached the other end to my truck. First, I tried to gently pull it from the wall. The tires started to squeal before the chain snapped.

I was not a happy customer. I went to check the cage. A strange thrill went up my spine when I saw that one of the bars, I had wrapped the chain around was bent ever so slightly. Clearly this plan could work I was just lacking something. I had an idea one may call evil. All I really needed was more power, and I had a city worth of resources to make that happen.

As it so happens, I passed by a Caterpillar dealer on one of my recent foraging operations. If my truck couldn’t do it, I bet something I could find there could. I made a quick stop off at the hardware store and loaded my truck with the thickest chains I could find and after some work to figure it out took one of their biggest pull-behind trailers in their rental lot. Strangely breaking in to the Caterpillar dealer was easier than Speedy gas. I wish I had known about this place earlier because I wasn’t there five minutes when I saw the gas pumps, non-electric gas pumps with a big tank standing nearby. I guess it was gravity fed.

Found a bulldozer I thought wouldn’t crush the trailer I brought and after rummaging in the office for a bit found an operator’s manual. I spent an hour teaching myself how to drive the thing, in which time I almost crashed it once or twice. Then I loaded it up, topped both my vehicles off with fuel, and took off for the gun shop.

I was almost laughing as I pulled into the empty lot and unloaded my giant yellow “key”. I hooked half a dozen chains to the security gate and the tow hook on the back of the bulldozer. Laughing to myself I climbed into the cab and started her up. The bulldozer creeped slowly forward as the chains grew taught. The bulldozer stopped advancing as quickly and I could hear the groan of metal. I kept applying pressure. One of the chains snapped and half of it hit the back cage on the bulldozer. I almost soiled myself at the sound, but kept pulling. I could see the bars starting to deform. Another chain broke, this one didn’t scare me so bad. Then with a sound like a screech mixed with a rumble the cage pulled the door right out of the building, along with a small bit of roof and almost a foot of wall on either side.

It took most of the day, and what would undoubtedly be the biggest felony I ever committed if there were still people around but I could finally get my gun. As far as gun shopping, I think I picked the right store. They not only had the gun I was looking for it already had the little nubs needed for a sling. I got a sling with stretchy little shell holders to go with my new weapon and I took all their 20-gauge shells. I grabbed a 9mm handgun, but there wasn’t much ammo for it. I also grabbed a 45 caliber because it had the most ammo available. I may not be able to use it comfortably right now, but when I run out of 9mm I may be happy to have it. Then I noticed a kit they had in the corner for an ammo press. A quick read of the box told me it allowed you to make more bullets and shells, it was in the middle of an aisle of all the stuff I needed. Granted the aisle was half empty, but it would be good to learn how to do this. I returned home with far more than I had intended, but unlike with the windmill I’m still trying to figure out at least this was a success.

The next day I loaded Abby into the truck with my new shotgun and set off to the grocery store. I could smell the rot as soon as we pulled into the lot. I brought a face mask I got from the hardware store. One of those big plastic ones with the removable filters on either side. It helped, but the stink was so bad it was almost visible. Abby seemed far more interested than I and happily walked into the store beside me sniffing everything she could.

We weren’t in the store long before we found our first rat, or should I say rats. Abby growled and made them scatter, but I have an eerie feeling they didn’t go far. The store is different now, I raided most of the nonperishables from it over a month ago, but the shelves didn’t stay entirely empty. Nests of trash, and animal droppings are everywhere, along with several bones of the small animals eaten by larger ones. I left the candy aisle alone for the most part and stuck to Ruth’s lists. I wish I had gotten to it earlier.

The candy aisle is a complete reck. Multicolored wrappers lay everywhere and I can hear things moving deep in the shelves. I find a few intact boxes but most have been chewed open and gutted. I searched for an hour probing the shelves with my gun to scare off vermin which Abby promptly chases out of the aisle. I find one box of Andes mints still in their wrapper, I tried looking for more, but all I find are empty boxes. One may have to do.

I call Abby to me so we can leave and I hear unfamiliar growling. At the end of the aisle is a huge black and white dog with a red collar. To either side of him is another dog. Abby starts growling from behind me. I chance a look and there are three other dogs at the other end. I level my gun.

“Get out of here!” I shout, trying to be intimidating. The dogs start to slowly advance. I said, "Git!” They don’t seem keen on listening to me. I hear yelping from behind me and turn to see one of the dogs has leapt on to Abby. I see a flash out of the corner of my eye I know is the other dogs leaping for me.

I’m not sure if it was fear or instinct that made me pull the trigger, but immediately the room was filled with a loud bang. Followed by the cries of dogs. The one that leapt knocked me over, but immediately ran away with the others. When I regained my senses, I noticed Abby was leaning against me shaking. I patted her head to reassure her and carefully lead her out of the store. She turned out to be fine. Ruth treated her scratches.

Christmas came and Ruth was very excited to get her chocolate. I felt strangely proud and happy to be able to give it to her. She surprised me with an actual ham for Christmas dinner. I have no idea how or where she got it, but maybe I shouldn’t question the good things in life when being alive is the best Christmas gift.

Bob Stackey

December 25, 2021

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