The rum was a white hot centre in his stomach. The sidewalk danced under his feet as he trod towards the convenience store three blocks away. It was the first time he’d left his house since the event. His street seemed unchanged except for the smallest details. Like someone put up a movie set but didn’t get everything just right. The grass was getting a little long on Mr. Watkins yard.Tim estimated it at shin height. He knew Mr. Watkins would’ve scowled at it, puffing smoke from a long pipe dangling from the corner of his mouth. A car sat on a lawn with the door open. A smear of dark blood, colored black by the night, dirtied the light upholstery. Tim never knew the people who lived there. The houses were stenciled with death and the silence sharpened the scenery, as though it leeched the drunkenness from him.
Tim’s breath raced from his mouth. Maybe the night trip wasn’t such a good idea. The night hid things, scary things unseen yet felt things. In that moment, Tim understood the importance of fire to his ancestors in a very real way his history teacher could never get across. The pitiful glow of the streetlights didn’t illuminate much. Instead, they weaved more shadows in which cruel things could lie in wait.
The intense quiet added another layer of fear. The buzz of the insects and the low hum of the power lines rode the air uncontested. No cars drove the streets, no wailing sirens, no bustle of people moving, breathing or interacting could be heard. Still moving forward, relief flooded his chest relief he neared E-Z Convenience, the red letters shining against a bright white backdrop. Tim had visited this store so many times in the past. He half expected to see some of his friends shooting the shit under the NO LOITERING sign and a disinterested college kid working the cash register. The nostalgia drew a smile on his face.
Moving closer, his lips tightened, the smile short lived. There were no friends to greet him. A bloated corpse ripened at the curb as bugs covered it like a thick carpet. Cars stopped in strange locations, the insides moving with darkness, swirling. A hand pressed the window of a yellow hatchback, unmoving. Insects caressed it. The humming of the hungry multitude intensified and a stench, like rotted meat, hung in the air, heavy, leaving a trail on the tongue with each inhalation.
Just get the damn candy bars and soda and get the hell out of here, Tim thought, walking forward on the balls of his feet, afraid to wake the dead or attract the interest of those feasting. He stepped inside the store. The overhead fluorescents shone brightly on the racks of gum, chips, candy and chocolate bars. So much stuff! Tim’s horror of the outside lifted. This was known and familiar to him, something from before, when everyone he cared about was alive. Classical music played over the speakers and comforted him, like sliding into his own bed. He choked back a sob and swiped saliva from his chin. He wanted to take the whole store with him!
Crap! He forgot to bring a bag! How was he supposed to get the stuff he wanted home? He scanned the store and frowned. He walked around the counter, remembering the plastic bags the college kids used to throw his stuff in and stubbed his toe on someone’s head. He jumped back and muttered a “Fuck!” The man was dead. A large knife cleaved his chest and his eyes were wide and his mouth pursed in an ‘O’ as though it surprised him. A young man with the promise of a mustache and goatee darkening his skin. No bugs crawled over him. Was he immune, the way Tim and Jason were? Who killed him?
“This is my store!”
Tim turned towards the voice. A large man, sweaty with half lidded eyes swayed in the aisle. He looked as though he’d just woken up. On the floor, behind him was a blanket and pillow yellowed with sweat. The man raised a machete and pointed it at Tim. Dried blood coated the end of the blade. “All mine,” he said.
“Okay, man, it’s your store. I’m just gonna leave, alright?”
The man shook his head and leaned forward, squinting at Tim and then he lost his balance and staggered forward a step. The machete’s tip drifted down. The man’s jacket and revealed a red gash, shaped like a garish, lipsticked smile, dirtying the man’s shirt and making it stick to his ribs. Did he earn it killing the guy behind the counter?
Tim couldn’t figure out how to pass the man without being in reach of the dirty blade. Was there a back way out? His head swiveled around the store, keeping the man in his periphery all the time. No red exit sign he could see. Wasn’t that against fire codes or something?
In one swift move, graceful considering the state of the guy, the man darted forward swinging the machete. Tim grunted and jumped back as the blade passed under his chin and the man hit the counter and the breath whooshed out of him. Tim fell onto the dead man and in between his legs was the knife handle. Tim pictured the man straightening and edging around the counter. Slowly, laboriously, with murder on his mind.
Tim grasped the knife handle and pulled. It slid out but it was hard work. The machete blade cleared the counter. He scrambled to his knees and when the man’s belly turned the corner, Tim stabbed the knife upwards with a two handed grip. The knife slid under the ribs and into the heart. The man grunted and drool spilled from his mouth. He dropped to his knees and then fell forward with his head landing on Tim’s chest. Tim swore. He was sandwiched between two dead bodies.