Picking up his knife, he started moving again. Rhoda stared longingly at the dark smear of molasses before following. With food in his belly, he was feeling bolder. Rhoda kept her tail down, urging him to caution.
“I know you don’t want to go in there, but we need to think about it rationally. We need a new water filter or some chemicals, the first aid kit is empty, and I don’t have fur so I’ll need a warmer coat soon.
The dog stared into his eyes without blinking.
“I know those aren’t worth dying over, but remember what happened last time I got sick?”
They kept walking, constantly watching all around.
“I’ve got it. I’ll climb up on a roof and see what kind of stores we’re looking at. No sense taking a risk for no reward.”
As they squeezed between fences and vehicles left in driveways or the middle of the road, he looked for suitable candidates. Most were too low, or looked like they’d be too hard to get to. He was running out of buildings at the edge of town, having gone most of the way around, when he saw one that was just right. A two story with a sloped roof, it had a tree with branches that looked thick enough to climb overhanging one side. Rhoda whined when she saw him going for the tree.
“You can’t follow me up there, but I need you to keep a lookout anyway. Let me know if you see something.”
Wrapping his fingers around a branch, he started pulling himself up. Rough bark scraped against his skin. Below, Rhoda paced around the trunk. The higher he got, the more the tree shook under his weight. Leaves started falling, twisting through the air and trying to land on Rhoda. She dodged as best she could.
He reached a foot down from where he was balancing over the roof’s edge. The shingles looked like they were in good condition, but he still ran the toe of his sneakers against them before committing any weight. Sliding off his branch, he kept a firm grip on it as he leaned onto the house.
His fingers crawled over the roof, finding some kind of exhaust pipe. A few feet beyond an antenna beckoned, its brackets crying tears of rust towards him. Pushing off the branch, he managed to grab the thin metal frame. It groaned and he held his breath, ready to lunge for the tree if he started to go over. The antenna held, and he used it to pull himself up to the top of the roof.
The view wasn’t nearly as impressive as he’d thought it would be. The trees in town were taller than the buildings. Making sure he was balanced, he slipped one arm out of this backpack and reached into one of the smaller pouches. He pulled out a pair of binoculars and took off the lens caps. One side was cracked, but if he closed that eye he could still see alright. Through a gap in the trees, he caught a glimpse of the town’s Main Street. It might have some other name, but it didn’t really matter. Scanning, he saw an antique store which wouldn’t be much help. The second building was a lawyer’s office—another strike. Next he saw some kind of sheriff or police station or whatever it was they had up here.
There might be something useful, but probably nothing worth the risk. Then he saw it: a camping goods store. If it wasn’t already picked over, it would be the Holy freaking Grail. He knew there’d be water filters, coats, sleeping bags, fire starters, and lightweight freeze-dried meals. Thinking about it all took him back to the hiking and camping trips he used to go on when he was a kid.