A drizzle of rain spattered the windshield of the green sedan as it careened over the slick streets of Tyson city. Within, a brunette girl looked uncertainly out the window at the darkness. Did they hide shapes? Was it just her imagination?
She glanced back at the driver, a brown haired young man hunched over the wheel trying to gaze through the misty rain. He cursed under his breath and increased the speed of the wipers, only to turn them off again as the windshield streaked lines of moisture across the view, causing streetlights to reflect in glare in bands and spots of color.
"Why don't you turn the headlights on, Michael?" Lisa suggested tentatively.
"No, we can't," he replied irritably. "According to the police, we shouldn't even be out after dark. You heard the city ordinance, 'Everyone should stay at home until the situation is contained,'" he quoted with sarcasm. " Yeah, right! Easy to say if you've got months of food in the pantry."
"So we just break in a store?" the young woman replied testily. She wiped her hand across her eyes in exasperation. "That's REALLY going to go over well with the police."
"We're going to leave payment," Michael reasoned. "Anyway, we don't have a choice; especially after that firefight at Albertson's this afternoon. No way I'm going to risk that, even with my carbine."
The driver gestured to the small rifle lying in the seat between them. It was an old M1 carbine, of World War II vintage. Michael had told Lisa that it worked just fine, but she'd always disliked guns and even with the current troubles she hadn't changed her mind.
Suddenly, Michael stopped the car at the intersection of Fifth Street and Copeland. The engine idled, and only the spattering of raindrops could be heard in the night. The driver turned his hazel eyes upon his passenger, concern written across his face. "Do you want me to take you back? I can do this myself you know."
"Noooo." She drew out her reply into a deep sigh. "If you're going to do something stupid... again... I ought to be there too." A wry smile appeared on her lips. "After all, you always say you can't do anything without me."
He grinned in reply. "True, but I know you don't like this. It's just safer at night, without those crowds. Besides, Brookshire's is supposed to be open 24 hours right?"
"Yeah, and so is 7-11." She replied archly.
The driver winced and rolled his eyes in exasperation. "Look, Beth forgave me for cutting out on the store. Heck, she said if she'd been there with those sick people she'd have done the same thing! Plus..."
His excuses cut off as both of them noted shambling humanoid shapes staggering out of the darkness towards the car. Only two of them, but Michael decided it was time to get moving again.
* * *
As the sedan crossed the intersection Michael was able to take advantage of the streetlights at the corner to better navigate the roadway. Fortunately there was no other traffic so only the rain was a concern. Well, that and the two zombies behind them. Michael knew they were zombies, but the authorities refused to use the 'z' word. Lisa didn't like it either, so he kept calling them sick people. 'Yeah...' he thought to himself. 'Death is an illness. Sure.' He broke his reverie to concentrate on the drive. He slowed the car into a glide that coasted through a brief patch of darkness and turn right into the Brookshire's Grocery parking lot. The front of the building was lit up as usual, but only one vehicle was in the lot, an older conversion van parked with its nose facing away from the store and towards the street.
"Odd." Michael muttered as they closed on the lone vehicle. "You'd think there would be more cars in the lot than this? Even just counting employees, there should be a half dozen at a minimum."
Lisa glanced out the rear window and back again, her black hair tossing across her shoulders. "Michael, this is feeling worse and worse. There are two of those sickos back there at the intersection and I'm sure they saw us."
"Probably, but it will take them a while to get to the store." He shrugged and moved to park the sedan. "We'll just hop in, grab some stuff and we'll just cruise right out of..."
With a cough, the engine promptly died. Momentum carried the sedan to a near-perfect park in front of the store, silently rolling between the yellow lines and bumping softly into the concrete divider.
"Michael...." Lisa began, with a flash of her brown eyes and an edge of tension in her voice. "What was that?"
"Erm.... I don't know." He temporized uncertainly. "The fuel gauge was low, but it wasn't that low. Maybe if I pop the hood I can..."
"NO!" Lisa said with determination, shaking her head vigorously. "We're not going to stand out here in the rain while God knows what comes down the road at us!"
"Ok, ok," Michael replied in a brave attempt at sounding calm. "We'll just go into the store and see what we can find. Perhaps we can get whoever's running the place to call us a tow truck or something."
With that he grabbed his carbine and stepped out of the car, glancing around to make sure there were no threats in range. There were none, nor any people. Outside the car he could see that the glass doors of the store were broken in and some black fluid in a puddle just inside the grocery. With a sigh, he reversed his hold on his rifle and used the butt to clear more of the glass out of the doorway. Unfortunately, he hit the remaining glass too hard and his weapon jammed up against the frame. This sudden jolt caused the rifle to fire, fortunately into the air. Michael winced and looked guiltily around to see if the shot brought anyone or anything. Apparently not, or at least not yet.
Lisa closed her door and dashed up to the walkway to reach the dubious shelter of the storefront. She glanced at the crushed glass, apparently either unaware or ignoring Michael's accidental gunshot.
"Open 24 hours, eh?" She said, trying to look amused but her eyes were anxiously looking inside the front of the grocery. "I thought the interior lights were brighter than that?"
Michael shrugged and stepped inside, careful to avoid the noxious pool of, whatever it was. "Maybe they're starting to have power brownouts. Wouldn't surprise me after those riots in North Tyson."
The young woman quickly joined her companion, and once inside they could see that the lighting wasn't weak at all. The illumination was dim because the store was filling with smoke. No fires could be seen, but the smoke had the telltale odor of burning wood, paper and plastic to it; a miasma that set warning bells off in Michael's mind.
"Awwww, Come On!" Michael shouted in utter frustration. "Now a fire? Give us a break!"
The young man glanced outside the doors- which were still locked even though the glass was shattered out of the doorframe. So Lisa was the first of them to see a large shape moving quickly out of the smoke, directly for them.
"Michael!" She shouted, bringing her freshly sharpened practice rapier into an en garde position. At her shout, he turned around and aimed his rifle directly at the shadow barreling towards them.
Before he could fire or even shout out a warning, the sound of a large box hitting the floor echoed in the entryway, followed quickly by curses in a woman's voice. The duo tried to peer deeper into the gloom, and finally could make out a large box of groceries; mostly cereal, dry goods and cans spilled in front of them. Above this was a young blonde woman of about 20, her blue eyes streaming from the smoke but staring with confusion at them. They stood like that for several seconds, each too surprised to speak. With a glare at the two in her way, the unlikely shopper raised a baseball bat in a threatening manner, her eyes darting back and forth between the sword wielding Lisa and the rifle armed Michael.
"Get out of the way, damnit!" The woman said in a voice high pitched with stress and fear. "The building is on fire!"
"Nooo, really?" Michael said in an exaggerated manner. Lisa gave him a warning look, so he tried again. "Right, and I'll bet you were the arsonist?"
"NO I wasn't!" She said defensively, her words rushing over themselves to get out. "It was one of those things, I thought I got the one here at the door and I guess I did because he's still dead or re-dead or undead or whatever they're saying it is now but I was looking in the back for something better than was left on the shelves and there was another one and it jumped me but I'm not bit or anything 'cuz I jumped out of the way see and I hit him good but he fell into the breaker box and something sparked and he caught fire and then staggered around still trying to get me and he grabbed things and they caught on fire again and again until this started and..."
"Ok, Ok, OK!" Michael broke in to the avalanche of words, lowering his carbine in what he hoped was a reassuring manner. "I'm sure it's not your fault, but the police won't see it that way, not for any of us! Now, is that your van out there?"
Broken out of her stream of consciousness monologue, the blonde blinked as if coming out of a trance. "What? Um, yeah that's my van."
"Good!" Michael replied with some relief. Now if you don't mind maybe we could possibly siphon off some of your gas? Not much!" he hastily amended, as she seemed to be gathering her words for another verbal barrage. "Just a gallon or two to get us back to the house."
"House?" The unwilling arsonist said with concern. "Well, I don't' have a place to stay except that van, and I'm from Houston so I'm going to need every drop I've got to get back there."
"You could come to our place instead?" Lisa offered. "Just for a day or so, until we can get you more gas? That way, we can get back home and you have a place to stay for a bit...until all this blows over?"
"Yeah" Michael agreed. "Besides, from what I've heard on CNN you don't want to go towards Houston. Or Dallas, or any major city right now. The riots here in Tyson are nothing to what they've been suffering."
"Ummmm. Ok." Their new companion said with some relief. "Truth is, I was going back to Houston because I don't know anyone here. A safe place to crash would be great...<cough - cough! >"
"Cool. Now let's get outta this place before we go up with it!"
As Michael stepped outside to watch for trouble, Lisa helped the blonde girl with repacking the box and getting out of the smoky interior. "By the way, my name's Lisa and that's Michael. What's yours?"
"Kailee. Kailee Warner. Nice to meet you," she said with a weak smile, trying to be sociable but obviously feeling awkward.
Michael walked into the parking lot, glancing through the rain towards the intersection south of them. The rain seemed to be letting up, so the streetlights gave enough light to se four or five of the staggering monstrosities gathering into a group and coming their way.
He turned and jogged back to the girls, who were loading the box into the side of the van. "We've got company. Five or more of those folks. We need to move!"
As if on cue, a burst of flame came from the rear-side of the grocery store, a sharp contrast to the night and could probably be seen for a mile. Needing no further encouragement, Kailee dove through the van to the driver's seat. Lisa pulled open the door and slid into the passenger's side front. Michael stepped into the back interior of the van, with seats pushed to the rear to maximize room. There were two other boxes of foodstuffs in the vehicle; which made him feel a little better about the evening's events.
"Michael, this is Kailee. Now, what are we going to do about your car?" Lisa turned to face behind her as Kailee started the van and pulled it out towards the street.
"No big deal." Michael replied with irritation, giving his sedan a parting glare. "I didn't have anything of real use in it. Besides, if the cops ask questions I'll say it was stolen. Easy enough to explain considering how things have been going in the past 48 hours..Oof!"
The half-standing man lunged for a strap on one of the seats as Kailee made a hairpin turn into the street.
Which way are we going?" the blonde shouted, though there was little noise to shout over. Michael imagined it was still nerves; the stress of the past few hours catching up with her.
"Go south, then turn right; to the west. There's too many of those people in the street, so we'll take Copeland back instead. It's a bit roundabout, but if the cops show up maybe we don't want to head straight to your house Lisa."
Her only reply was a nod of silent agreement as the blonde continued her manic drive across the street, avoiding the intersection by hopping up on the curb. She turned right, lightly clipping one of those...zombies? As she dropped the van back onto the street and floored the accelerator, careening at high speed into the darkening night.