The dead began to rise, and the rest descended into chaos. In the aftermath, humanity returned to an oral history. Stories told by campfire and candlelight, to ward off the dark.
Molly, her mother and a group of others had stumbled upon the warehouse. It was like a dream. Shelf after shelf, aisle after aisle of food and supplies tucked away in this nondescript little building. It did not appear guarded, but surely something like this was planned and whoever planned it would return. So rather than stay in the little warehouse, they cleared out an apartment building a few blocks away that gave them a clear view of the stock of goods.
The group worked together, slowly clearing other nearby buildings, creating an intricate maze of pathways, bridges and ladders, from building to building leading from their chosen home to the warehouse. Each bridge, each ladder or swing, could be pulled up or disabled from either side and hidden, lest they giveaway their safe living to anyone passing through with ill intentions. But also they made sure not to do anything that drew attention to the warehouse itself. They always entered from the roof, and while they barred the ground level doors from the inside, they made no attempt to obscure any of them from the outside or to chain them or lock them with visible locks. The warehouse was made to simply look uninteresting, just as it was back when they almost passed it by.
They limited their trips to the store of supplies, carrying as much as they could back to their apartment homes, but never so much as to make them slow when the world had become a place where quickness was most precious. A few days worth was all they could bring safely, and so they had to return every few days to get more.
As time went on, mistakes were made, and people were lost. Some to accidents, slips or falls. Some to illness they did not have the medicine to treat. And some, of course, to the grasping hands and gnashing teeth of those no longer living but refusing to rest. Others still would take their leave, load up a pack full of food and supplies, and leave to go somewhere they were sure loved ones must surely also be surviving. But Molly and her mother had no surviving loved ones. They had been witness to that.
There came a day when the only ones left were Molly and her mother. And her mother had taken a fall and broken her leg and her arm. Both were set and healing, but slowly. She tired of waiting on her mother. Making the food and fetching her books, changing the sheets and changing her dressing, fetching food from the warehouse alone, and collecting rainwater from the buckets and storing it in bottles in the extra room.
“Why do you keep staring out the window,” her mother asked one day from her chair where she kept her leg raised to stop the throbbing that came and went.
Molly looked at her mother, then back out the window and then to her mother again. “There is a car there that wasn’t there this morning.”
“What sort of car?”
“A white one.” Molly looked back again, she squinted her eyes and finally relented to use the binoculars. The lenses where missing from one side, so even though she held them up to both eyes, she closed the left eye and looked out only the right. “I think it’s a convertible.”
She continued to scan around the car to see if there was motion outside the warehouse, but she saw nothing. And then, perhaps the wind blew, she saw a rope sway, it was hanging off the roof and appeared to have a hook at one end, the end at the roof. Molly watched the roof so intently she almost did not hear her mother.
“What’s going on? What do you see?”
“A rope, mother, leading to the roof. I think someone has found our warehouse.” And just as she said it, a man with two bags, one on his back and one in his arms appeared on the roof. “A man,” she exclaimed. “What should I do, mother?”
Her mother settled back into her chair. “Nothing, I should think. Just let him take what he wants, like we do, and perhaps he’ll not return.”
Sure enough, the man dropped his bags to the car, climbed down his rope and then caused it to release from the building, loaded everything in and drove away.
That night, Molly slept uneasily.
Every day she watched. With just the two of them, she could carry back weeks worth of food, and having gone just a day before the car first arrived she had no reason to go. But then, just three days later, the white car reappeared. It pulled into the same spot and she watched the man use his rope and hook to climb to the roof and carry his two bags inside.
“Mother,” Molly said, “I have a taste for vegetables, and I forgot to bring some last time. So I’m going to the warehouse to get some.”
“Be careful,” her mother warned, and returned to reading her latest book.
Molly gathered her outdoor things and quickly made her way through the buildings. At each between place, she lowered the bridge or ladder or used the swing, and on the other side she carefully hid her method of passing. And when she came to the warehouse she did not slow down. She laid down the last bridge, hurried across and pulled it back up again, then she rushed to the rooftop door.
It had taken her longer than she thought and as she reached the door it opened. The man was startled, dropped the bag in his hands and quickly patted around his waist for a weapon. He stopped as he simultaneously realized that his gun was in the outside pouch of the bag he had dropped and that her gun was aimed at his head.
“I thought,” he began.
“You thought you would just come and take my things.” Out of habit she referred to herself only in the singular. In case the worst happened, she didn’t want some marauder knowing that her mother was nearby.
He raised his hands in surrender. “I didn’t know this belonged to someone, but I’ve only taken what I need, and I’ve told no one else.” Molly relaxed just a bit, but did not lower her aim. “You know, a pretty girl like you, you could come with me. Come with me in my Volkswagen. I have a safe place, with others.”
Finally she lowered her aim. “I will not go, but you should. Take these two bags as a parting gift, and don’t return.”
He took his bags and went down his rope to his car and he drove away.
Molly went inside and got a few cans of vegetables and then made her way back home.
Three days later, she saw the white car drive in again. It pulled to the same spot and the man used his rope to climb the building.
“Mother,” Molly said, “I have a taste for fruit, and we appear to have run out here. So I’m going to the warehouse to get some.”
“Be careful,” her mother warned, and returned to reading her latest book.
Molly gathered her things and made her way to the warehouse again, carefully hiding her path as she went. And again she met the man on the roof.
“I told you not to return,” she said, with her aim centered on his chest.
“But there is so much here, and my people, we need food.” His hands were raised in surrender as before. “And I have told no one of where I got my supplies. I lie and tell them I got lucky and took all that was there in the cache that I found. However, a pretty girl like you, you could come with me. Come with me in my Volkswagen. Our place is safe, and I would protect you.”
Molly lowered her aim. “I will not go, but you should. Take these two bags as a parting gift, and don’t return.”
He left as before, and she went inside, got some cans of fruit and returned home.
Another three days later, she saw the white car return. It pulled up to the same spot, and the man used his rope to climb the building.
“Mother,” Molly said, “I have a taste for candy, and I ate my last bit last night. So I’m going to the warehouse to get some.”
“Be careful,”Â her mother warned, and returned to reading her latest book.
Molly gathered her things and made her way again to the warehouse. She met the man on the roof as he exited, just as before.
“I told you not to return,” she said, with her gun aimed at his knees.
He did not raise his hands this time and said, “I only take what is needed, like you, or else this food would not be here. I tell no one else of it, or you. A pretty girl like you, you could come with me. Come with my in my Volkswagen. Our place is safe.”
And she put away her gun, and she helped him carry his bags to his white car, and they both climbed down his rope, and she drove away with him.
They drove out of the city and out to a farm-house. The fields they passed were dotted with restless walkers. Outside the farm, they came to a gate which was opened by another man and then closed and locked behind them. The fence, he explained was six feet high and surrounded the house completely. When they got out of the car and brought the bags of food inside, every face she saw was happy and smiling, and it made her happy too. They ate a good meal and she was given a room, just off the kitchen, and she slept deeply and well.
In the morning, Molly was asked to make breakfast, which she did, gladly repaying the hospitality. And then she was asked to make lunch, which she did, still smiling and happy to be around others again. As it grew dark, she was asked to make dinner, which she did, but Molly was growing tired of doing all the cooking. But still she slept well.
The next morning, she was told to make breakfast. And later she was told to make lunch. And later still, as darkness came, she was told to make dinner. And day after day she was told to make the food, and night after night her sleep became less restful. In a week, Molly was simply expected to make the meals and she was yelled at when she didn’t.
That night, as she lay awake, she thought back to the warehouse and how she had it much better watching and waiting, even if she had to tend to her mother. With that though she bolted out of bed. She gathered her clothes and ran outside. Most everyone was sleeping, and Molly saw only two people, the man she’d come here with and the man who opened the gate. Quickly she ran to the white car and leaped in behind the driver’s seat. The men, unafraid of having it stolen, left the keys inside.
She started the car and drove at the gate. Molly didn’t stop to ask them to open it, she just drove straight through. The gate buckled and broke, coming free and tumbling over the top of the car. Something else that had been at the gate rolled under the car as she drove. The headlights flashed on shapes shambling through the darkness as she sped back to the city.
Molly pulled up to the warehouse where the white car had previously parked. She looked in the back seat for the rope and hook but did not find it. When she looked back at the warehouse, however, she saw she wouldn’t need it as the nearest door stood wide open.
Inside, the shelves were mostly empty. Over time, Molly, her mother and the rest of her group had eaten much, but the shelves were practically cleared now. Someone had come and found the warehouse and taken most everything. As she rushed toward the stairs to the roof she heard the sounds of things bumping against the metal framework of the aisles.
She dashed to the roof and immediately saw the last bridge in its place. Not its proper hiding place, but the place it should only be when it was in use, the place that she left it days ago. Molly crossed it and every other, all of them where they should not be but where she left them, and at last she came to her home.
Molly stood warily at the first bridge, three dining tables lashed together, raised and lowered by wires that might easily be mistaken as any other wires that stretched between buildings in the city. She stared across into the black apartment, held her breath and waited, and worried, until finally she heard a sound coming from the darkness.
It was an all too familiar shuffling sound. Molly clicked on the flashlight and shined it around, settling finally on the shape of her mother. Molly’s mother wavered, standing on both legs. For just an instant her heart brightened that her mother was walking, but that quickly faded as she saw the blood that soaked her shirt. Her mother did not walk because she was healed but instead because she no longer felt pain.
Molly found the right wires and hoisted the dining table bridge to an upright position. She clicked off her flashlight, which caused her eyes to be drawn to the headlights on the street below where she had left the white car running. Shapes moved in the dark of the night toward the car and toward the open door of the warehouse. Molly moved through the building back to the other crossing, a ladder, and pulled it up. Then she found a closet, entered it and pulled the door closed.
Molly slept uneasily.