A Brewing Storm
Minutes passed before Rickett would consider leaving the room after the others drove off toward the school. Rickett took advantage of the daylight and began sifting through the materials in the office. He ruffled through the files in the file cabinet and checked behind the drawers in the desk only to find flash drives, papers, receipts, and other items only essential to running a business, not to surviving the terror outside.
In the storage cabinet, Rickett at least found a few stacks of black polo shirts embroidered with the Pins and Pints logo. He replaced his gray sweater with an extra-large long sleeved shirt. At least he can feel a little cleaner by removing bloodied clothing.
Out in the main area, behind the counter and under the register, Rickett found a set of keys next to a box of clean white socks for bowlers who didn’t bring their own, a quick way for the place to make a buck. He replaced his own soiled socks with a new pair and shoved a second pair into his pocket.
Behind the seating and computers for the lanes at the far end of the building were stacks of small lockers. Rickett walked with a slight limp to the lockers, gently swinging the bat in his left hand and tossing the new keys in his other. The silence was welcomed after what he had been through the past few days, but he knew not to get too comfortable with his surroundings.
After a trying a few of the keys on the first few lockers (there were fifty on each side of the building), Rickett discovered the master key. He went through the fifty lockers in front of him, but the majority were empty. Only a few lockers had bowling ball bags for those habitual bowlers, a small jacket, and a canvas drawstring bag. Rickett dumped the contents onto the floor, and a pen, small notepad, and textbook fell to the floor. Someone left their schoolwork, but he was sure that was the least of anyone’s concerns now that the local college was overrun with biters. He rolled up the bag and shoved it into his back pocket.
He went into the kitchen area next, which was located behind the bar. All the alcohol was gone, which didn’t surprise him, and the kitchen area had been stripped of anything edible. Even the walk-cooler and freezer were empty. Rickett needed to eat; he would have to leave the bowling alley, and he needed to do it soon.
He looked through the windows and scanned the area. Across the street were a few buildings, but the one that stood out was the fitness center. Who would raid a gym? There could be protein in there. Even water, perhaps. In his head, Rickett formulated a quick plan.
After a few deep breaths, he ran as quickly and his hobbled ankle would let him. He clenched his teeth and hissed with each impact as he raced across the four lane road, through the parking lot, and around the corner of the fitness building. The windows were two tiered, the bottom level being just large enough for him to crawl through without making much of a noticeable mess by smashing through the door. Rickett broke the lower window with the bat and knocked glass shards from the frame. He crawled through the opening, keeping both hands on the bat so he wouldn’t drag his palms across the broken glass on the floor.
Once inside, he moved toward the building’s entrance. On the counter were small displays for energy and protein bars. He hastily ate two and shoved more into the bag he pulled from his back pocket. He turned around and saw a tall cooler stocked with bottled water and energy drinks. He put some bottles into the draw string bag and the cracked on open. He downed the water in large gulps, not caring about it spilling from his mouth and rolling down his chin and throat. He cast the empty bottle aside and looked around. Behind the on the wall adjacent to the main counter and register were athletic items. He helped himself to a pair of black weightlifting gloves and a roll of athletic tape.
He sat down, removed his shoe and sock, and massaged his swollen ankle. He’d had worse sprains inhis life, but he needed to nurse this injury or it would be the end of him. For him, surviving lately was mostly a game of chase: he had to outrun the biters to see another dawn. He took the white athletic tape and wrapped his ankle, testing his ankle’s stability and how much pressure it could take before putting on his footwear.
He cracked open another bottle of water and sat with his back to the counter so he could look out into the parking lot that separated him from the road. The sky was a bright blue until he looked in the direction of the college he escaped last night. The others must have reignited the fires as the smoke was thicker, blacker, and climbing into the sky like an ominous storm ready to roll in his direction.
The gunfire was distant at first, but he couldn’t tell how far away it was. The others must have made contact with the biters, he thought. Rickett felt better now that he had some food, albeit not enough, on his stomach and had drank his fill of water. They must have lost containment when the fires were low last night. The well of adrenaline opened within him.
He checked the ammunition in the revolver: three rounds left. He chuckled. Ain’t much, but it’ll have to do. He thought about how one of those spent rounds had ripped through Gavin’s throat, and Rickett’s initial burst of adrenaline was replaced with anger. The shots fired in his memories were as loud, if not louder than, the shots fired in the distance. The scene replayed itself over: Henry’s finger pulling the trigger, Gavin falling over—wounded—pleading for help, and then Rickett pulling another trigger. So many simple, common movements—the bending of fingers—took the last of what he had from him within seconds. He regretted pulling that trigger. The guilt for killing her and leaving Gavin gnawed at him, twisting his guts.
He stood and moved towards the glass doors to have a better view of the road. The smoke was closer, and so was the gunfire. A storm had been brewing in the early hours of the morning, and now it was headed his way.
Rickett heard the motor before he could see the black pickup. The truck swerved back and forth for a few hundred yards before taking one sharp turn across the road and smashing into the side of an SUV. Rickett sucked in a deep breath and held it in anticipation of what would come next. There was only silence after the initial impact. Rickett exhaled slowly, but before he could finish exhaling, someone in the truck’s cab fired one shot.
Rickett was tempted to open the door. The guilt he harbored almost forced him to, and he realized the doors to this building were not chained. They are only chaining what they want to control: drugs, food, equipment. There’s plenty of exercise when running from biters, so why waste a chain and lock on a gym? He turned the lock, and the click of the bolt retracting to unlock the door snapped him back to his senses. No. Wait. Maybe the storm will blow over.
The other two trucks pulling up to the black pickup told him that the storm was just beginning, that the smoke and death and biters were only so far away. But it was the second shot echoing from the black pickup that punctuated his revelation: an exclamation point of death.