Atomic America

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The Wanderer

The scratching and clawing from the back room caused James to look up from his place. When he had first entered the store it had been muffled and quiet. It hadn’t bothered him before then; but now the noise was getting louder. More noise meant that they were awake. Them being awake meant a much more complicated situation then James was comfortable with.

And James preferred to be comfortable.

Gently, he lowered the can of expired soup into his patchwork bag. After adjusting the flashlight into his opposite hand, James slung the bag over his shoulder and silently crept deeper into the crumbling supermarket.

He had only planned on being in the building for about twenty minutes. The rows of empty shelves weren’t much to pick from, it would’ve been a quick run through. And with it being day and all, it had seemed like a calculated risk to sneak around them. But something decided to awake these nocturnal beasts from their slumber.

James kept his gaze shifting between his feet and the path ahead. The building was dark. Faded sunlight came in through the windows up above but the glass was so packed with dust and dirt it barely let any in; not enough to help make out what lay inside this cavern. A perfect home for creatures of the night.

In the patches where sunlight did manage to get in, grew moss and other small plants; all breaking through the broken tile that once covered the ground of the store. The tile ran in square pieces up and down the market. You could tell they were once patterned black and white, one after the other. Once they were. Now they had faded to a dark gray and a slight less dark gray. Still though, under all that dirt and rubble, you could make out the difference.

James found himself stepping in the center of each tile piece, avoiding the lines that separated the different squares. He huffed in amusement at himself. James could only remember fragments of the Old World. He had only been between the ages of nine or ten so not much had stuck. But James could catch glimpses of his memory from time to time. Looking at the floor, he could remember his father- or maybe it was his mother, taking him to a store like this and he’d walk behind them as they put bags and cans into a cart. James remembered stepping between the tiles just as he did now.

It’s funny how one’s mind holds onto such simple things. Such simple memories that invoke such powerful emotions. James would guess the feeling was nestalgia, but there was nothing to be nostalgic of. Those memories felt more like dreams. Something never really physical enough to grasp in your hands. Dreams that he’d woken up from a long time ago.

James tilted the flashlight upwards. He was almost to the back room. The eerie sight of the rows of blank shelves against the dark empty space of the high ceilings didn’t phase James. His eyes were on the cracked door. Full attention pinpointed there. His hand hovered over the holster that hung from his belt and clipped around his thigh. His fingers, poking out from the glove, brushing against the handle of the glock that sat snug inside it. He was a few yards away before James carefully pulled the gun out from its holster and lifted it up to eye line. Holding the flashlight in his left hand, James slid it under the gun. Wrist to wrist, his arms locked together to become a unit. The barrel of the pistol trained on the doorway, the flashlight a ray of visibility. He was ready.

The scratching was now followed by a chattering sound. Very not good.

James froze when he saw the door shift. It closed a bit more now but was still open nonetheless.

He took in a long drawn out breath before side stepping over. Eyes on the cracked door, James kept the flashlight shining. Finally, he was there. The handle only a couple feet away from him now and the air still. James let out the breath he had been holding in and peaked around the door.

In what was once a storage room, had now had become a nest. A horde of white and gray mangy fur, long flesh tails and glistening fangs all weaved tightly together. Their milky eyes either closed or halfway there. None of them seemed to be awake at the moment.

James swallowed. He had never seen a nest as big as this.  

Not letting his eyes wonder for too long, James quickly reached for the knob. Slowly, he shut the door on the sleeping horde.

He knew that before the world had changed, these creatures used to be a quarter of the size they were now with an even smaller fraction of that for the appetite of human flesh. But James, for the life of him, couldn’t remember what they were called.

Oh well, it would come back to him.

After holstering his gun and gripping the flashlight between his teeth, James carefully slid one of the shelves in front of the doorway. He let out a sigh before taking the flashlight back in his hands. Swinging his bag around over his chest, James checked inside. He nodded, deciding he was satisfied with his haul. Besides, the idea of staying in here a minute longer kind of lost its novelty with the breathing and scraping back behind him.

James began making his way back down the aisles. His boots padded mutely across the floor; his eyes on the front doors while his hands gripped at the straps of his bag. But as soon as James got to those doors, he froze. Something caught the corner of his eye. Glancing over, James’ gaze landed on a room off to the side of the cash registers. A small boxed sign hung on the wall beside it.

Looking back at the door before turning around, James made his way to the sign. The plaque was coated in grime. Taking his thumb, James wiped it clean. In white chiseled lettering it read ‘Manager’s Office’. He bit his lip and lowered his eyes to the handle. Grabbing it, James gave it a tug. Nothing. He pulled harder this time. Nothing still.


Edited: 11.06.2019

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