Today was the day…
We spent the early hours of the morning in preparation of our journey. To call it a journey would have sounded comical only a week ago – the convenience store was barely 100 metres from our office building, but what once would have been a leisurely stroll was now fraught with dangerous uncertainty.
We had listened anxiously throughout the night for any indication that ‘they’ might have been close by, but it had been unusually quiet. I kept telling the others (and myself) that they must have moved on to other parts of the city, but in truth I had no idea.
The silence was a good sign though, and it gave me confidence that we were making the right decision.
Our plan was simple, but we had planned it out meticulously. We would take the basement entrance out into the street, cross the road, move just a little further down and around the corner to reach our destination.
Once inside we would grab what we could find and then regroup to reassess the situation. Charlotte had pointed out that there was a good chance that the store might already have been looted of its supplies, so we had come up with a backup plan.
Another store lay a short distance away from the closest to us, and another beyond that. In fact we had mapped out all the local stores in our area from memory and planned a route by which we could hop from store to store along the shortest distance between each before finally arriving back at the office.
Assuming everything went to plan, we would make it back in a couple of hours. But we had also planned for the worst case scenario too. If anyone became separated from the others, or should something spot us out in the open, we had chosen a number of potential safe-houses and rendezvous points to meet at – undercover and out-of-sight locations such as garages and alleyways where we might be able to hide.
We had also considered the possibility that we might come across other survivors like us. Although we hadn’t spotted another soul in several days, we had agreed to take a cautious approach and avoid them if possible. The memory of the man who had tried to attack us was still fresh, and the added factor of desperation (especially if we had acquired any supplies) could result in a less-than-harmonious encounter.
We each had a carefully labeled hand-drawn map of the planned route and enough backpacks and satchel bags (most of them taken from our former students) to maximize our potential transport capacity. Needless to say, we also armed ourselves with our crudely designed weapons, just in case things went sour.
With everything prepared, we were ready to face the terrifying new world we had come to know.
We made our way down to the basement level via the stairwell. As expected, it was pitch black. Although the power was still working, it was too great a risk to turn on the lights so instead we relied on the light from our phones to guide ourselves through the maze of abandoned cars.
This wasn’t our first time down here. We had previously searched the area for supplies and also to ensure nothing unwelcome was lurking in the darkness. It was here that we had also come into possession of a crowbar which, apart from being a useful weapon, might also come in handy with any locked doors in need of persuading.
As we approached the ramp to the surface, I saw that the heavy garbage containers we had moved to block the entrance had been undisturbed – another good sign. We moved one of the containers to the side slowly so as not to make any unnecessary noise and ventured onward, weapons at the ready…
We paused just inside the entryway and listened. The street was still and silent; an unnatural atmosphere in a city so well-known for its erratic hustle and bustle. It was an altogether unnerving experience.
Once we were reasonably sure the coast was clear, we dashed one-at-a-time across the road to the predetermined alcove on the other side. We paused again… so far, so good. Clinging as close to the wall as possible, we crept along the side of the building to the street corner, all the while keeping a close eye on the street around us and the sky above.
I would like to say that our tactic of remaining hidden was worthy of trained military personnel, but in reality none of us had any sort of expertise in such things. All we had to go on was our experience in watching war-films and our best attempts at imitation.
As we approached the main intersection, we ducked behind a couple of conveniently placed bushes. The store was only a short distance around the corner, but this was the most risky leg of our journey so far.
The main road was wide and uncomfortably open compared with the side street we had just come from. Although we didn’t need to cross, we would still be heavily exposed from multiple directions should anyone or anything happen to be looking our way. Our best chance was to make a run for it.
We waited a few more minutes before making our move. I held up three fingers and counted down – our agreed upon signal, then we broke cover and legged it.
Bags bounced up and down awkwardly as I ran, and I immediately realised the glaring flaw in our plan… The more life-saving items we attempted to carry, the less mobile and more vulnerable we would be – a classic catch 22. How could I have been so stupid as to overlook it?
The store was just ahead, and it was with a chilling dread of foreboding that I saw that the glass door had been smashed in. We hurried in all the same and took a moment to catch our breath before inspecting our objective.
Sure enough, the place and been ransacked. Empty aisles lined the store without a scrap in sight. We exchanged defeated looks, but checked the shelves one by one just in case anything had escaped the notice of previous scavengers.
I suddenly noticed Charlotte gesturing to me to join her. She stood before another door, much studier than the glass one at the entrance; locked and still intact!
It is a desperate fool who allows hope to get the better of them, but I felt myself swell with relief at the thought that just beyond this door might be our ticket to survival.
Vivian joined us too and handed me the crowbar. I wedged the end of the implement between the door and the lock and pushed downward with some force. Unsurprisingly my first attempt was unsuccessful. I had never actually attempted to break open a door before, but after some effort, the lock eventually broke free.
I pushed the door open and was immediately hit by an awful stench causing me to lurch backwards in repulsion. I covered my nose and mouth with a rag and aimed the light from my phone into the darkness.
The space beyond was small, but I felt a rush of relief as the spotlight passed over a shelf of cans and bottles, then I saw it…
The limp figure was slumped against the far wall; clearly diseased, flys buzzed about the corpse in the early stages of decay. A hand was clasped against its side where a large red red stain was clearly visible.
Trying our best to ignore the decrepit form, and grim reminder of our own still-possible fate, we quickly gathered the supplies from the store room and packed them away, eager to leave as soon as possible.
We journeyed onward, relived, but with heavy hearts through the silent graveyard that had once been a thriving metropolis…
to be continued…