Chasing Winter 7

Rhoda’s nose twitched, so he knew what was coming.  In a few moments he smelled it too.  Decay oozed into the store.  The smell of rot was like the molded groceries, but that was like comparing a match to a bonfire.  Bile rose up in his throat but he forced it down.  Rhoda, with her stronger nose, began to gulp air by the mouthful.  He picked her up and pressed her snout into his chest, trying to give her something else to smell.

He didn’t know if the stench lessened or if their noses got used to it.  There was still movement around the store, but not as much.  Most of them had moved on.  They’d wander around for a while before slipping back to the ground.  If they couldn’t find anything to eat, they wouldn’t stay active for long.  The dim light slipping in between the boarded up windows wasn’t really enough to see by, but he risked moving anyway.

He took slow, shuffling steps, dragging his feet across the ground.  Debris rattled, but as long as he didn’t kick anything or knock something over, the noise shouldn’t travel past the walls.  Besides, it’d be dark soon and then he wouldn’t be able to find anything.  If they were going to be stuck in here, maybe for the whole night, he at least wanted to get some supplies out of it.

He didn’t make any attempt to barricade the door.  He didn’t know the condition of the other entrances or what else might be in here with him.  Squinting, he tried to make out labels.  Some things he could recognize just by the shape.  A flashlight was risky, but handy in a pinch.  He slipped the whole thing into his backpack.  Tamperproof packaging was way too noisy to open in town.  He’d wait.

Freeze-dried meals were next.  He stopped in the middle of picking up the first one to see if the crinkling was attracting anything.  Luckily he’d found a metal water bottle a while back, so he could boil water if he needed to.  He wracked his brain from his camping days for more ideas of what to look for.  A mess kit would be nice, but it was also extra weight.  He found a protein bar stand, but it’d been picked clean.  Around the next aisle he thought he saw water filters.

Forgetting caution, he turned the corner.  Rhoda tried to warn him with a low whine, but it was too late.  He was staring right at it.  Its back was towards him.  It just stood there, leaning to one side against a shelf.  It’d been human once, but now was nothing more than a mockery, a rotting copy.  A bright red t-shirt was visible even in the gloomy store.  The tattered blue jeans were crusted with dark splotches.  He didn’t know if they were dirt or blood.  Its skin was half gone, and what little was left was some unnatural color that he was glad he didn’t have enough light to make out.  Where the skin was missing, rotting muscle or even bone showed through.  Part of its scalp was hanging by a few strings of flesh.  It was in bad shape.  Must’ve been fed on before it turned.

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