Thursday, February 16, 2012
Kelly insisted on helping with what Tina called “procurement.” “This is going to be a big hassle,” she said, “and if it turns out to be a waste of time, it should be my time wasted too.” And so, on a chilly day that promised rain or snow later, she rode with Tim, Cody, and Johnny to a nearby Green’s Home Center. All of them pulled trailers.
Skirting the truck parked near the main entrance, Johnny led them to the contractors’ entrance. “The stuff we want is closer to this door,” he explained. “We can open the overhead door and ride in, too. No sense in lugging it out if we can just ride it out.”
“Yeah,” said Kelly. “Sooner we’re outta here, the better. These stores creep me out.”
“Hey, all the ghosts are in trucks now,” Cody laughed. “Maybe… ooooOOOOOoooo!” He waggled his fingers on either side of his head.
Kelly snorted and they walked their bikes to the entrance. Johnny and Tim forced the sliding glass doors open, and they wheeled the bikes inside. Birds fussed at the intrusion, flapping between the rafters.
Cody sniffed. “Smells funky in here. Like something died.”
“Didn’t this chain have a fast food counter in each store?” Johnny asked.
“Most of them, but I don’t think this one —” Tim stopped short as a scuffing noise echoed around the shelves. “What was that?” He put a hand on his revolver.
“Possums. Groundhogs. Who knows?” Johnny shrugged. “Let’s get the door open.”
The overhead door rattled and banged on its way up; dust and pieces of a bird’s nest rained down. As the echoes died away, they heard more skittering noises under the chattering birds. The open door let in more daylight; it lacked enthusiasm but did help the grimy skylights a little. Moving away, they turned on flashlights.
“What’s that?” asked Kelly, pointing her beam at something on the floor as Johnny and Tim walked by it.
“Cody squatted down for a look, nudging it with his shoe. “Looks like dog crap,” he said. “Not that old —” he jumped up, drawing his revolver. “Guys! Weapons out!”
A low growling sound, then they heard Tim and Johnny yell. Seconds later, barking, shouts, and Johnny’s carbine filled the store with noise. Birds roosting in the rafters above flew back and forth, cursing and looking for a way out.
“Shit shit shit,” Cody chanted, taking two steps toward the others then stopping. “Kelly! Do you have a gun?” She shook her head, wide-eyed, rooted to the floor. Cody cursed again, darting his light around the shelves. “There!” He pointed at a rack of pipes as they heard more gunfire. “I’ll boost you up on that shelf. Watch down there so we don’t get blindsided!”
They rushed to the shelf. Cody looked down the aisle, then laid the revolver at his feet and linked his hands. Kelly stepped in, jumped up on the shelf, then Cody grabbed up Sondra’s gun and ran to join the others.
“Dogs,” said Johnny, back to back with Tim, “or maybe coyotes. Not good either way.”
“You hit the ones you shot at?”
“Not sure. They ran like hell. Hey! Where’s Kelly?”
“Two aisles down, up in the shelves. I boosted her up. She should be safe up there.”
“Let’s hope,” said Tim. “Okay — with three of us, we can cover all the angles — one look forward, one look back, one down the aisles.”
“Yeah,” said Johnny, “but I need both hands free. Hang on.” He stepped over to the nearest checkout counter, gave a satisfied grunt, and returned with a roll of duct tape. He tore off a strip and bound his flashlight under the barrel, then nodded.
At the next aisle down, a big dog charged headlong, barking. Johnny fired and it fell tumbling and sliding across the concrete floor, stopping a few feet from them. He dropped another in the next aisle, but its fellow dodged behind some merchandise.
“We’ll have to get —” Johnny began —
A scream cut him off. “Cody! Help!”
“Shit! You guys get that one, I’m going back!” He ran back before either could protest, nearly overshooting Kelly’s aisle and skidding to a stop. He played his flashlight down the aisle. “Kelly!”
“Cody! They’re up here!” Cody shone his light along the shelf, and saw two dogs — one black, one white — about fifteen feet from Kelly. She had a short length of plastic pipe, whipping it back and forth to keep them back. They started barking at Cody’s light, making him wince at the racket.
Kelly dropped the pipe and grabbed a large coupling. She thrust it two-handed at the black dog, bouncing it off its snout.
“Good one, Kelly!” he yelled.
“Just a basketball pass!” Kelly grinned in spite of the situation and took up her pipe again. Both dogs stopped barking; the black dog snorted and jumped down to face Cody.
Cody reacted, pumping four quick shots into the black dog without thinking. “No!” he yelled, raising the pistol. Sondra taught me better! “Not this time,” he growled, as the dog twitched its last. The white dog closed the gap with Kelly, snarling just outside the reach of her pipe. “Hang on, Kelly! I got it!” One shot, one kill, Sondra had told him once, that’s what Dad taught me. He nodded to himself, aimed, fired. The white dog jumped as Cody shot — Kelly screamed, but it fell squirming and twitching, just short of her knees. She clubbed it several times with her pipe, then scrambled back.
Shots and shouts rang out farther down as Kelly slid to the edge and jumped down. She wrapped herself around Cody, shaking, her head buried in his shoulder.
“Let’s get down there with the others,” said Cody. “Quick! I gotta reload!”
Kelly squeezed once before letting Cody go. “Five shots — you got one left, right?”
“No. I had the hammer on an empty chamber. Let’s move!” They hustled down to Johnny and Tim.
“We got that one in the shelves,” said Tim, as Cody reloaded.
“Two came after Kelly. That’s five.”
“You need to learn to shoot, Kelly,” Tim told her, “if you want to keep coming on these trips.”
“Yeah. Is that all of them?”
“I don’t know. Do we want to clear this place out, or just get our stuff and go?”
“Clear it,” said Cody, looking grim. “We’ll have to come back for the rest of the blocks, and the pipe and other stuff sooner or later. I don’t wanna go through this again.”
There were four more dogs; they shot two and the survivors bolted through an open gate in the garden section. Tim latched the gate and they boarded the broken glass door going into the main building. Only then did they feel safe wheeling the bikes into the aisles and loading concrete blocks and bags of cement onto the trailers. Johnny added buckets, trowels, two wheelbarrows, and several long broom handles to the load.
“You think we’ll have any extra?” Kelly asked as they pushed their bikes to the door.
“Maybe — after we get two more loads like this one!” Johnny laughed.
“I almost got eaten by a dog, and we gotta do this two more times? I knew this was a crazy idea.”
As Johnny pulled down the overhead door, Kelly hugged Cody again. “Thanks.”
“No, really. You did good in there.”
“You did good too. You kept ’em off you until I could get back.”
“Yeah, but you didn’t panic.” She kissed his cheek. “Sondra would be proud.” He gave her a curious look as she jumped on her bike and got her load rolling.