Dressed in enough layers to warm the dead, he wandered in from the street, caked in ash and smelling of chlorine. Through the ashen death coat his eyes showed a perfect green almost glowing in the toneless world behind him. He looks at each of us just once, an acknowledgment of presence. From there he wanders over to one of the booths, second or third from the door depending on if you count the one dismantled and charred remains thrown into the make-shift fire pit sitting in the center of the room.
Jim keeps his eye on him, one hand on the butt of his pistol, the other hidden under the bar, hand wrapped around the sawed-off he found over on 17th and Nittle. Beth eyes him cautiously but keeps on scavenging through the back office looking for some impossible stash of hand warmers and pre-packaged food. I just keep working, digging at sides of the locked shelf near the back office. It’s shitty, just not shitty enough to be able to kick it in without damaging your foot or worse, your shoes. I’ve been working on it for about twenty minutes now, scrapping away the wood with a Ka-bar, trying to break my way around it. Jim says it’ll probably just be cash, given the neighborhood my money’s on something a little more valuable.
The silence continues on until eventually Jim’s curiosity gets the better of him.
“You got a name?” a piece of phlegm hides in the back of his throat, causes his voice to ripple between tones. He clears his throat before the emerald-eyed man can answer, but answer he does.
“Look, I know we all have to pretend to be all surprised and distrustful to see each other, it being the end of the world and everything, but I don’t suppose you’d be willing to just dispense with the bullshit and tell me whether or not you’re going to shoot me?”
Jim smiles, allowing himself a brief look at the back towards the Beth. “Not to put too fine a point on it or anything, but if I wanted to shoot you I would have.” He takes another look down at the gun at his side, “or tried to. Cold makes guns a little finicky and I haven’t really gotten to test these just yet.”
“Jim!” my voice croaks at him the sound rough and manly, not at all like it should sound. He’s being stupid, he knows it as well as I do. My throat burns up past the top of my mouth, it was an even dumber idea to try and talk, but I’m still not entirely used to the sickness sitting in my chest. The noise seems to startle the man in the booth, but that’s probably just because he didn’t see me from behind the bar. Both of them ignore me so I go back to making sawdust.
“You hit the Gunz N’ Gold across the street? Surprised there was anything left.”
“Nah, we got these a while back, just as we were coming in. Just didn’t want,” his eyes shift towards the door, “company.”
I hear the man’s full body nod through one of his layers of fleece. “Yeah, there are few of them hanging around, but it’s been a few days since I’ve seen them.”
“Uh huh. Well, you’ll have to forgive me if I don’t take your word for it.”
A file cabinet slams shut somewhere behind me. Beth must be getting frustrated.
“If all you’ve got is the 9mm at your side, I wouldn’t bother. All the ones around here are too big for that.”
Jim grunts uncomfortably. If the guy is right that spells bad luck for us. It would also explain why all the high caliber weapons were gone and why each of us now has a handgun with enough bullets to, apparently, make a very pretty dent on whatever is lurking around here.
As if on cue the ground behind to vibrate, sending each of us stepping back to brace ourselves. The seated man seems comfortably pinned between the table and his seat and only casually grasps at wall.
Jim hits the bar harder than any of us anticipated; causing a several bottles of flavored vodka to crash down from the second shelf to the floor, only one of them breaks, thankfully closer to Jim than me. I look up to chastise him only to find him gripping his orange covered copy of the New Testament against his chest, whispering a hymn to himself. Instead I grab a couple of the unbroken bottles and set them right side up, no sense in wasting the closest thing we’ve got to medicine.
The man seems to the little orange book, “Oh, Jesus, you’re not going to throw a bible at it are you?”
“You watch your mouth or I’m going to throw it at you,” Jim hisses.
“Relax, it’s probably coming from a few blocks over. There’s a group of them that hide over there,” his voice is not nearly as confident as his words.
Eventually it fades, leaving me only with the smell of pineapple-flavored alcohol. Jim tucks his New Testament away and pats his chest twice before look back over at the man.
“So anyone around here?”
“Not as far as I know. There might be an woman holed up in one of those second story apartments but she hasn’t made a beep in days.”
“So none of you left when it happened?”
“Leave where? The damn thing was barely on the news before we were struck by it. Radios blocked, that dust everywhere, sure, some left, my neighbors never showed back up, so I assume they took off, but it’s hard to tell. Liked my odds better in my apartment. Had a few canned things left, running water, even electricity for the first day or so. Got to watch a few of the damn things wander by the window, watch one take down the power lines and left me without heat.”
“So how many are there here?”
“What? The monsters?”
“You call them monsters?”
“Sure what do you call them?”
“I just took to calling them demons.”
“In an I-saw-demon-mounting-a-minivan sort of way.”
The man laughs again, Jim doesn’t say anything. I smile before blowing the residue from half line I’ve got etched into the wood. My hand aches from gripping the knife and I’m beginning to heavily favoring the option of just saying screw it and grabbing one of those
“So how many?”
“Only seen the one recently.”
This seems to please Jim.
“So, you live here now then?” Jim motions with his head over to the blackened fire pit.
“Sometimes. I wander, not far, but enough to keep my scent from sticking”
The man shrugs, “I’m not dead yet.”