The night grew darker as Rickett distanced himself from the fires. His ankle throbbed each time his foot hit the asphalt. He didn’t exert himself too much; another coughing fit could be the end of him. He needed shelter, and he needed it soon.
Patches of light projected from solar powered street lamps shown over the four lane road. Lincoln had become a ghost town; only the spirit of a once thriving population remained. The setting at eye level told the story of a town evacuated peacefully. Buildings looked to be in relatively good condition; automobiles in the area were organized in the parking lots or parked on the side of the road. But the ground, when Rickett looked down, told a very different story. Blood stains, shards of glass, spent casings from firefights. The litter and stains told a tale of violence, panic, and death.
All was quiet until he heard the faint pops of two gun shots. He tightened his grip on the bat and the gun and quickened his pace. The shots were well off in the distance, but there’s no telling who is shooting at whom or what. Was it the military? The civilian pirates he came across on the way into Lincoln? Someone had to pull the trigger, and he knew it couldn’t have been a biter. They didn’t have the mind for it; they would rather use hands and teeth to kill. Rickett just wanted cover. To catch his breath. To think.
Rickett sprinted away from the street, through a parking lot, and toward a building to tug on the first door handle he crossed. While the doors were unlocked, a taught chain with a key lock barred his entrance. He tugged on the lock in frustration and considered breaking the glass before realizing it would announce his arrival. He read the sign on the door: “Pharmacy’s hours.” Makes sense, he thought. Secure the drugs. The lock was to keep people like him out, not to keep anything in. This was an area under someone’s control, but whose?
A single shot, a single pop in the distance. No screaming, no yelling. He could only hope someone was killing the biters.
He rushed from building to building, door to door, lock to lock. A gas station, restaurants, and other shops were chained and locked. Eventually, he came upon a series of chained doors, but one of the doors was only a frame. Shards of glass, spent casings, and large blood stains spread across the sidewalk. Someone died here for sure, and Rickett summoned optimism by thinking the spent casings were a sign of self-defense, someone fighting back but being gunned down in the process. Before crossing the threshold, he looked up to a once lit neon sign of a mug of beer striking bowling pins. Under the image hung the establishment’s name: Pins and Pints.
He entered the building slowly, the pistol in his left hand, and with his right hand, he held the bat, ready to strike. Dim slivers of light entered through windows lining the front of the building, barely penetrating the darkness. But since it was a bowling alley and bar, Rickett only needed to navigate the front entrance and the few rooms beyond, if that. He only needed to find a place to put himself in a defensible position. Biters and gunslingers were outside, and he wanted to make sure they couldn’t attack without him knowing first.
To his left was the service counter, and to his right was the bar area. The kitchen area would be behind the bar, most likely. While he was hungry, trying to navigate the building without more lighting would only be asking for trouble, especially if any biters remained in the area. Rickett moved toward the service counter, assuming the office or a dry storage area would be there.
He crouched and moved slowly, weapons ready, while his eyes adjusted to the darkness. He could make out silhouettes and shapes, but not details. When he came across an opening, he moved behind the counter. The place was clean and organized. The registers, though powerless, were there, and bowling shoes of various sizes cubby holes. He put the gun into his waistband to free his left hand and drug his hand across the wall as he continued. A few steps later he came across a closed door. Taking a deep breath, he turned the handle.
The door opened into a small office. Three narrow windows lined the top of the room and cast the dim mixture of streetlight and starlight over two large file cabinets, a desk with chairs on each side, and a storage cabinet. He entered and closed the door behind him quickly. He looked around the floor and under the desk to ensure there were no surprises—no killers or victims. After turning the lock on the door handle, he put his back against the wall between the desk and the file cabinets standing behind it. He slid down the wall, exhaling as if his body were deflating.
Rickett found his current situation ironic. Here was a man who had done what he could to stay away from the city, the buzz of progress and innovation, after he suffered the loss of his children. Now, when he returned to the city, he was alone.
He pulled the keychain out of his pocket, slipping his finger through the ring and mindlessly spinning the keys forward and then backward, stopping after a few spins to thumb the tennis racquet trinket.
She could be out there, he thought, and so could Gavin’s parents. So what do I do? Go back to the ways of solitude? Become a hermit again? I can’t go back home. Home is gone, overrun by the dead.
He pulled his knees to his chest and rubbed his sore ankle.
Tomorrow will bring daylight, and then I can move on. Forward motion. Just keep the teeth and bullets away for another day. And then one foot in front of the other, slow and steady. There has to be someone, some place where killing isn’t the only way to survive. People will be working together to exist and remain beyond this disaster.
There are still humans out there. There must be. And I will find them.
Exhaustion overwhelmed Rickett, and he slept. He dreamed of teeth, death, and anguish. He dreamed of rot, chaos, and ruin. Had anyone been around the building, he or she would have heard the hoarse screams evoked by his nightmares.
But the town, for now, lay dead in the night.
A revving engine and honking horn woke him. His hands immediately went to the weapons before he even opened his eyes. Sunlight shown through the narrow windows above the file cabinets and he could truly see his surroundings for the first time.
Men yelled back and forth with purpose instead of anger. This was no heated argument or confrontation; this was, as far as Rickett could tell, men covering distance and communicating their findings. He moved the office’s desk toward the cabinets and climbed on top to look through the narrow window.
The men weren’t military. They had resources: trucks, gas, and weapons. But they lacked clear procedures, leadership, and tactics. They yelled to each other as they loaded bags into the bed of a black pickup truck. These were common men, civilians armed and working towards a common goal. A white cargo van drove into the scene playing out in the four lane road in front of the bowling alley. It slowed and came to a stop, the driver communicating something to a man standing in the road in blue jeans and a long sleeve shirt. The van drove off shortly after. The blue jeaned man then climbed into the black truck’s cab, yelled something, and pointed in the direction of the school. Another engine roared to life. Doors slammed. The men drove off. Rickett listened to the engines fade.
Yes, others are out there, he thought. And they’ll be back. The only things in that direction are fire and death.
Yes, they’ll be back