Back then ...
"Sammy, let's go check out the file room." Ginny shrugged and followed me as we dodged the spare parts and clunky machinery that hadn't been stolen for scrap or resold when my cousin's business was going down. Some pieces defied explanation as to their function since I'd never worked in a garage. Others were so corroded I doubted they'd survive being pushed or pulled out of the building without falling into pieces of rust. Eventually I found the small door that was nearly invisible in the structure. The key was still on the top of the frame, and to my shock the door was still locked. I had to wiggle the key but it gave in, and I was able to pull the door out. Cobwebs filled the closed space. I pulled a stick from the edge of the floor near the file room and flayed it inside the space, clearing as many of the webs as I could. Soon it was less webby, but still dusty. Looking at Ginny I asked, "Is this clean enough or should I go find more supplies to clear it out?"
She smiled weakly and said, "I'll do some more cleaning, you go run your errand. Hey, and Sammy, can you lock me in?"
Understanding her worries I said, "Sure. If you need to use the bathroom, there are two here. One near the front that probably is pretty trashed, but also one in the office we just left that is usually cleaner. My cousin kept the water on so the toilet actually flushes. I don't think he left the electricity on, but I wouldn't use it either way cause I think attracting any attention could be dangerous." She nodded and said, "I see why you had me bring the toilet paper. Smart move."
I grinned, "I have my moments."
She blushed and it made me feel tons better. I sketched a wave to her and left quickly. I didn't want to chicken out. My game plan was risky but I was pretty sure the whole town had been abandoned, and I knew where to find some things we hadn't thought to pack. The hardware store three doors down was owned by another cousin, and I knew where the key to the back door was -- and the alarm code if it was still set. He was family on my mom's side, and came over to drink with her during the holidays so he trusted me. And since he got blotto, I often heard much more about his store when he was trying to impress my mom. I think he had a crush on her, and she liked the attention so she let him flirt and bring liquor.
I didn't go down the main street, but ducked through the alleys and back streets until I was at the hardware store exit. Sure enough, there was a key beneath the smoker's bench in the alley. The key was in a hide-a-key metal box crazy glued to the back corner. I slid it open and was happy when the key fell into my hand. A quick check and I used the key in the door. No squeaking here, because this cousin's store was still making money. And from the lack of beeping, the alarm wasn't turned on. Weird, but from the news reports, I think anyone with a car and a brain ran out of town quickly. My cousin wasn't the sharpest knife in the drawer, and from his bragging I knew he had kick ass insurance, so he didn't care if someone tried to rob him. The place wasn't clean, but not really dirty. Just a typical hardware store with tons of stuff. I went to the section I remembered and was happy to find it wasn't trashed. I quickly grabbed four sleeping bags rated for Mount Everest and a few other camping supplies. Not wanting to leave Ginny too long, I made my way back checking for anyone during my trip.
I didn't see anyone or hear anyone. It was totally scary.
Once back in the garage I called out softly, "Ginny?"
She came running and said, "You came back!"
I was slightly hurt but said, "Of course. Wanna see?"
She nodded and we pulled my surprises back to the office. I'd liberated a winter sled and strapped on the various items on top with tons of rope. Over the years I'd realized you could never have too much rope.
Ginny squealed with delight as she unpacked the plastic sled.
"Sammy! Four sleeping bags? There's only two of us."
Ducking my head I said, "The extra two are for us to lay on top of to be comfortable."
"But you got two air mattresses also."
"Have you seen those floors?" I laughed and she did too. But I wasn't joking. They were icky not to mention seriously sticky. I didn't even want to think of why.
She dove into the stuff and soon was grinning ear to ear.
"Grammy was right, you are a good boy." She finally said after unpacking the sled. She wasn't sad any more, so I felt good.
I read more of my notes and remembered those years ago with Dean, when we met Sammy ...
Back then ...
"Ginny, stop yanking on my arm," the kid said with little effect on her. She tugged him back further inside and gestured rapidly to us to get all the way inside before 'they' saw us. After the last town, I was quick to move. Dean dithered a bit, but after I shot him a nasty look he closed the door and came inside with the rest of us.
"We need to get out of the front. Sammy, grab the baggage and let's go now!" She was looking frantically at the street, where I didn't even see a bird flying or a pigeon wandering around picking at bugs on the ground. There weren't any threats that I could detect, but she was nearly shaking apart trying to rush us out of the front of the building. I wasn't even sure what kind of business was done in here, since there hadn't been any signs that I'd noticed. Catching my puzzled look she said, "This used to be where the local folks came to get their taxes done. In spring it was rented by tax preparers, and at other times, when disasters hit the mines and such, it was rented by government types or lawyers. The owner lives down south somewhere and isn't so picky about who rents." Looking around I could see that.
"Why are you guys here?" I was looking for some explanation.
"'Cause the gas station was getting too windy, and I started wondering how long it would be before one of my other loser cousins would remember the running water and come to squat." It was the most the boy had said. Sammy, I thought that was what Ginny had called him.
Dean spit out, "I thought this town had people in it."
Sammy coughed roughly and laughed, "Nope, a week or so ago I think it was that everyone was told to evacuate and not wait to be rescued. They showed some fucked up shit on the news and said it was going to be a dead zone."
Dean and I looked at each other and I blinked first. 'Dead zone' and that was on the news? What kind of idiots ran this state?
"We didn't see anything on the news." Dean said, trying to sound like he knew something. On the other hand, I was damn aware of how screwed up our past few days and nights had been and it sounded like the 'illness' hadn't been confined just to the last town.
"You guys see anything odd?" I tried for casual.
From the frightened looks that flew across both of their faces, I'd hit the nail on the head and right into the lid on the coffin. Ginny yanked Sammy into a large room that was lit by battery powered lanterns and I noticed had no outside windows. They had set up house quite nicely. Air mattresses with layers of sleeping bags, and there were bins of food and clothes lining the walls along with bottled water. They even had a small TV and radio that were battery operated. There was a door partially open in the corner and I could see that is was an obviously working bathroom. They had chosen well.
Dean looked around mildly impressed, I could tell.
"Who are you guys?" Sammy spit out while tucking the luggage over in a corner that was vacant.
Dean didn't answer so I did, "We left the last town a day or so ago and came here. The last town had some issues."
Ginny snorted and said, "Zombies or crazies?"
It was my turn to look impressed. "A bit of both."
Now it was Sammy and Ginny's turn to look a bit taken back. I think they were used to adults lying to them. They were young -- teenagers --but hauntingly young, with nearly dead eyes. For their tender years they'd both seen too much. Part of me lumped them with Dean on the uselessness scale, but that they'd packed up and moved when threatened and had some pretty decent supplies, I wasn't completely ready to write them off just yet.
Then I saw Dean's damned puppy dog eyes. He was hurt to hear my admission of seeing zombies. He was still trying to sell the 'sick infected people' bit and even these kids knew better. It pretty much sucked to be him.
Excited, Ginny waved her hand to the chairs in the room. They were the expensive ones, the kind most executives ordered that cost more than the average couch. I was happy to sit my ass down and feel the creature comforts of a chair that cost over a thousand dollars. Yeah, my bosses had them back at the real estate office, but it wasn't something I'd been offered.
"When did you get here?" She seemed excited to find we were from elsewhere.
"Late last night." Dean actually spoke. But I could see the bliss lighting up his face sitting in one of the cushy chairs.
Looking puzzled Sammy asked, "Where'd you sleep?"
Shrugging I said, "Over at the hotel or motel -- I never know what they are called -- at the edge of town, why?"
Now Sammy looked even more confused. "Who the hell checked you in? We've been across the street for weeks and never saw any signs of life."
Glancing at him with a smile I said, "Yeah, I figured that from your use of the Slim-Jim in the parking lot."
His eyes went huge and he said, "I can explain."
"Don't bother. We were checked in by this guy that didn't charge us much, but left in the middle of the night."
Ginny and Sammy looked at each other and said simultaneously, "Emmett! He's alive."
I smiled and said, "So I gather he's not a zombie, but a local crazy?"
Laughing Ginny said, "Yes. Thanks for the news. Both Sammy and I were really worried. Forgive my lack of manners. As you gathered I am Ginny and this here is Sammy. We share his grandma."
Sammy rolled his eyes, but I saw a slight grin so I knew there was a bit of fact to the comment.
Dean shocked me by saying, "I'm Dean and this is Lindy."
Everyone nodded like it was a tea party and then Dean volunteered more, "She's not from around here."
Then all three of them laughed and I wanted to puke. That totally self-involved small town bullshit where everyone outside their precious circle is mocked. But come to think of it, I guess that was a good thing. I doubted I would have been able to grow up in the town and not become a criminal of some kind. Totally not my scene, and I had yet to see a single shop that I'd ever gone into when at home. I'd taken a long time to come to terms with my place in the world. I knew that I wouldn't ever be 'native' to anywhere. I'd grown up with parents that moved every four or five years. No, not military parents. They both were constantly searching for the 'next great thing' that would yield millions, all the while never setting down roots anywhere. No surprise I went into real estate -- tons of practice looking at houses over my life time.