Mack is on the floor, body tensed, gawking at me, while Allis laps at my face in a desperate attempt to calm me down. I woke up screaming...again. I had another hour before my final alarm...again. I sigh and scratch Allis behind the ears.
“It’s okay. I’m alright,” I assure her. She looks unconvinced. Mack looks hungry. I stretch, yawn, and hop out of bed. Halfway down the stairs, I turn back to grab a hoodie. This is the first morning it has been too chilly to wander into the kitchen in just my underwear. It’s only September. Winter might be harsh this year. Oh, goodie.
For breakfast, I decide on an old favorite. It’s simple, just fried eggs over toast, but my mom used to make it for me all the time. I fire up the generator and plug in my hot plate and toaster. My egg basket is empty so while I wait for the hot plate to heat up, I throw on a pair of rubber boots and go out to the chicken coop. My cousins had a small farm. I’m sure they wouldn’t mind that I stole a few chickens and a cow. The dogs follow me out to relieve themselves while I go collect breakfast.
Inside the coop, my hens have graciously provided three eggs. Quickly, I set them in my basket and return to the house. It was stupid to come out here in a hoodie, my underwear, and a pair of cold rubber boots.
Just as I slide the second egg off the pan, I hear the creak of the back door and the dogs stomping into the mudroom.
“Ah ah ah, you two. Wipe your feet first.” If they could roll their eyes at me they would, but the dogs do as they’re told and swipe their paws across the welcome mat before trotting into the kitchen. Their bowls, full of kibble, are waiting just inside the archway. Happily, they bury their faces into their breakfasts.
“Would you care for some?” I offer up my plate to Jim. He doesn’t respond. Jim is the strong silent type. He never seems to be hungry. I worry about Jim. The guy never stops smiling, though.
Once the dishes are washed and put away, I run back upstairs and put on some jeans and a t-shirt. I grab the milk bucket, put my boots on again, and go to the garage, which is now a makeshift barn. Belle is waiting patiently when I walk in.
“Morning,” I greet her. Belle is a small Jersey cow. She produces four or five gallons of milk each day, which is the perfect amount for the dogs and I. I don’t know about them, but I get so tired of flavorless water. At least milk has taste. I skid the bucket beneath her and start tugging.
Once I finish with Belle, it’s about time I leave for town. I heft the bucket into the house and grab some empty milk jugs. Milk gurgles and bubbles as it rushes into each submerged jug. Belle provides two gallons this morning. I take them downstairs. The refrigerator doesn’t work anymore, so I had to improvise with a few picnic coolers. I keep them in the basement where there isn’t any heat. My grandmother worked in a nursing home. When they got medications shipped in, many had to be kept at a certain temperature. They shipped those meds in these thick foil sleeves. She used to bring them home to use as lunch boxes. Now I use them as cooler liners.
Before I leave, I have to grab a few things. Namely my backpack, my rifle, and some ammo. I do a quick round of the house, checking every window lock and pulling all the plywood coverings securely into place. Mack and Allis follow me out as I shimmy the boards into their brackets before closing and locking the back door.
The three of us pile into grandma’s hybrid sedan. I only have so much gasoline at any time, so the more fuel efficient, the better. While the car warms up I pop in my favorite CD, a spoken word album titled “Secrets.”
The first poem begins to play. “My heart is whispering my secrets to me.” We pass a field. There is a group of Virals tearing into something on the ground. I take another glance and realize the something is another Viral. It’s writhing. “Inarticulate one-two strikes against my eardrum.”
I return my focus to the road and start mouthing the words as they stream from the speakers. “... still, I cannot discern what my secrets are. They are so well kept, even I have never heard them.”
I decide to stop at the hardware store first. I’m hoping to find some wood screws to reinforce some of my window coverings before winter sets in. When we pull up, I can’t see any Virals or, potentially worse, wild hogs. Most animals will just run off, but hogs are ballsy and they can do some damage.
I waste no time finding what I need. Allis and Mack scout out the aisles while I poke around for the right sized screws. “Ah ha!” I empty the small drawer into my bag. Might as well take all I can now. I whistle for the dogs and head back to the car. Next stop, the pharmacy.
By now all the drugs on the shelves have expired, but I need gauze and anti-bacterial ointment. I thought I’d never run out at the house -- did I mention my grandmother was a nurse? I finally used the last of it after Mack got himself tangled in some discarded barbed wiring. He was chasing after a rabbit and must not have seen it in the weeds. Humanity may be pretty much wiped out, but litter is forever.
I swipe as much gauze, medical tape, and anti-bacterial ointment as I can cram into my bag and make for the car again. Time for grocery shopping.
At the supermarket, I scan the parking lot for threats and find nothing obvious. Mack and Allis hop down from the back seat and jog ahead, noses in the air. Now comes the fun part. Most of the store windows have been shattered, so Virals frequently seek shelter here. I check my rifle. Locked and loaded.
I stretch my legs Jim Carrey-style over the jagged shards sticking up from the door frame. Allis and Mack know the drill. They creep away in opposite directions, ears pricked and eyes wide. First, I seek out the cleaning supplies. We need a new mop and more bleach if there is any left here. I snag a stray cart, trying to keep it from rattling too much. If there are any Virals around, noise will only piss them off.
I’m in luck. I grab the last jug of bleach and a fancy new Swiffer Wet Jet. Next on my list -- dog food. I go to the pet aisle and haul out four of the biggest bags of kibble I can find. The stock here is getting low. I’ll have to start venturing farther before long. It’s a wonder this one store has provided four years of supplies for me. Then again, I shoot most of my food myself and I don’t usually go through an entire bleach jug in a day. I didn’t even need dog food until about a year ago.
Allis appears at the other end of the row. I pat my hip to summon her to my side and we proceed to the next aisle for salt. Just as I’m plopping a fifth cannister into the cart, I hear Mack barking viciously a couple aisles down. Something crashes to the floor.
I look down at Allis. “Kill it.”
She bolts away and I do my best to keep up. We skid around a corner to find Mack, still barking, but clearly unsure of himself. Allis is less hesitant, but a barricade of metal shelving keeps her from her target. The pair of them bark and tremble with pent up adrenaline while I stare, mouth agape, not at a Viral, but at another human being.