The plastic placard was missing letters but the message was still clear, NO GAS. The weathered overhang covered four pumps with brown paper bags covering the nozzles. When they came to the glass door it was locked. Jack walked over and reached into the single windshield cleaning bucket, pulling out a filthy rag. As he wrapped it around his hand June saw discolored purple and black nail beds on his left hand.
“You get that from Miasma?” she asked.
“Yep.” he answered, smashing the glass door near the handle and unlocking it from inside.
Inside, the store looked almost normal, except there were no lights. Windows from three sides of the building let in the natural morning light.
“What are you short on?” Jack asked.
“Uh… probably matches. I’ve been looking for flint everywhere I go. And water, of course. You?”
Jack chuckled, motioning down his body at his tattered clothing, “I’m short on everything.”
She watched him as he turned and opened a packet of chips and started to munch.
“Where were you headed?” she asked.
He shrugged, “To the next place.”
“Do you have anyone-“ but the rolling of his eyes cut her off, “Do you? Come on, I’m just like you, wandering and clueless.”
Her brow furrowed, “I’m not clueless. I’m quite clueful. Clued-in, even.”
“Then why haven’t you found anyone to travel with?” Jack smiled, leaning into a warm refrigerator and pulling back a gallon of water.
“Who says I need to travel with anyone?” she said, her voice taking on a teenage whine that her mother had despised.
“I do. You are small, so you can’t carry very much, and you can’t defend yourself. Which means you are taking a huge risk of being robbed or worse every time you go to sleep. If I were you I would have pimped myself out in the cities, at least you would know your life was being protected.” he took a huge mouthful of warm water and sighed afterwards.
“Well, forgive me if I’m not as cynical as you.” she said.
“Hey,” he shrugged again, “be as optimistic as you want. I’m just amazed you haven’t been killed yet. You must find really great hiding places.”
The backdoor to the convenience store was heavy and they could hear it slam shut just as someone came through the back. Jack grabbed June and shoved her down beneath a display of Funyuns just as someone whisked through the butler door that separated the store from the storage area. The person was humming to themselves and sounded like a girl, possibly June’s age. Underneath the stacks they saw that her shoes were dusty, as if she’d had to walk through the desert to get there. June peeked around the corner and saw the girl, who had dark hair grab a square basket and toss goods into it just as she made her way towards them. June motioned to Jack just as the girl happened upon them and screamed hysterically, raising a rifle towards them.
“It’s okay!” Jack said, standing slowly with his hands in the air. “We’re just passing through.”
The girl was much younger than June. She couldn’t have been older than twelve. Her hands shook around the barrel and tears sprang to her eyes. Slowly she began to back away from them.
“Are you infected?” she asked.
Jack laughed, “Well, yeah. Everyone’s infected.”
“When did you catch it?” the girl screamed.
June set down her own rifle and stood, hands up like Jack’s, “You don’t have it?”
“Everyone catches it.” Jack whispered.
“Not everyone. Back away from me.” The girl ordered.
“What did you touch?” the girl asked, tears streaming down her face now.
June turned to Jack.
“Just the chips and the fridge.” Jack said, “I don’t think she-“
“I didn’t touch anything.” June said, “I was just looking for matches.”
“There aren’t any,” the girl said, “leave and don’t come back and I won’t kill you.”
Jack saw chips in the basket that the girl had dropped on the floor, “You shouldn’t go back.”
“What?” the girl started shaking her head at him feverishly.
“You are staying somewhere with someone? You could have gotten it from us. If you go back you could give it to them. Don’t go back.” Jack said.
A long moment passed, the girl looked like she was trying to decide what to say.
“Just leave.” she said.
Twenty minutes later the two hadn’t spoken until June asked, “Did she get the same chips as you?”
“Doritos,” Jack nodded, “usually I would say ‘good choice.’”