With one pressing need sated, others eagerly take its place. I find trains of thought, so recently derailed, reopened to traffic. A rushing freight of bad memories reacquaints me with close-up pictures of sharp claws and long fangs.
Self-preservation and his cronies, Paranoia and Alarm, browbeat Compassion about my ill-advised back-down. The ferocity of their argument gives me a splitting headache.
Kristine feels guilty after winning and fawns over me. I take advantage of her sympathy while privately agonising over the choices in front of me.
Letting her go out there by herself.
Me, going out there alone.
And the final unappealing options; going together.
Kristine was intending to take the ute. I point out she’d need to make several trips if she was going to cross off her entire list. I insist we take the truck, loaded it to the top and never need to do anything this stupid again. Mine is an air-tight case that she readily agrees to.
The truck hasn’t moved for some time and needs maintenance. We gear up and slink down to the loading dock where it is parked. A dump truck alongside the flat-bed holds several months’ worth of rotting garbage. Getting rid of that will be a challenge for another day.
We aren’t as exposed in the loading dock as we are when servicing the genset. The dock is fully enclosed and has securely closed electric gates. Nevertheless, I remain armed and wide eyed for untoward movement.
A boot kick tests the trucks’ tyre pressures and a glance at the fuel gauge show me how little fuel remains in the tank. I glow the plugs and crank the easily started motor. I’m amazed the battery has held its charge.
The truck is mid-sized rig, made with inner city manoeuvrability in mind. Its usable seven tonne capacity and steel-framed canvas canopy is large enough to fit eight pallets. An hydraulic ramp at the rear is a godsend for heavy lifts, like beer and liquor.
With the truck prepped we make our plan of attack and retire early.
The barest hint of dawn’s light finds us shivering in the loading bay. I hold one cold finger over the gate switch while Kristine sits in the idling truck, sipping coffee and being warmed by the heater. With bleary eyes I eventually judge the visibility as adequate and hit the button to roll back the gate.
We fuel up at the tanker. Kristine shivers more than me in her layers of prison smocks while holding a garden hose that is slowly filling the truck’s tank with fuel.
I have dressed more appropriately in full offensive motorcycle gear, and circle the truck, armed and ready for a fight. My trusty backpack inside the cab, filled with ammo, drugs and water. Kristine’s exposed head reminds me to add a helmet for her to the new list I preside over.
As ready as we’ll ever be I putter down the driveway to the main gate where the press of a card against the proximity sensor releases us. The sliding gate whines as it tears free of a possessive vine. I make a mental note to poison those weeds before they jam the mechanism completely; maybe with us on the wrong side. I should write stuff like that down; my mental notes aren’t worth the paper they’re not written on.
No Creeps are in sight. I unnecessarily repeat a reminder to Kristine about keeping a close eye out for them as we idle through the gate. I stop to watch it glide shut in the mirror and say the fifteenth most stupid thing of the morning.
“I’ve got a bad feeling about this.”
Mr Pessimism refuses to stay silent.
“Don’t worry. Nothing will go wrong.”
I’m astounded Kristine would even think such a thing let alone say it. Just because I don't believe in Fate doesn’t mean we should provoke its wrath.
“You’re so superstitious.”
Oh, ha, ha fucking ha. I ready to turn around and go back in.
“Hey don’t be mad. I was only kidding.”
She’s contrite; alarmed by my tense jaw that is grinding teeth flat. Before I lose my nerve I let the clutch pedal out and we roar down the quiet, empty street.
I take the motorway. It’s covered in wrecked cars, but the army had bulldozed a single lane through most major roads before they were overwhelmed. Kristine monitors her side mirror and scans the road ahead with fierce concentration. The atmosphere is tense.
Several pistols and assorted bullets rattle around in the document tray between our seats. A readied shotgun nestles between Kristine’s legs, pointed to the floor for safety.
We’ve decided to hit a minor mall on the south side of town. It’s a good half hour drive to get there but we think it’s big enough to supply our needs. We are hoping the rioting, fires and looting that make other areas useless for salvage are not as bad over here.
Other than huge flocks of birds and the occasional cat or dog, we see nothing dangerous along the way. Hosts must be still abed or otherwise engaged.
The silent cars on either side of us reflect the trucks engine annoyingly. Kristine must feel the same as she jams a CD into the player to assail me with a female singer harping about love and loss. I grit my teeth, wishing I’d thought to bring my own selection.
We arrive at the mall without incident. The shopping precinct is one of those street conversions, blocked by bollards to prevent vehicular traffic; brick paved with an airy canvas sails that partially roof its expanse. One of the concrete anti-ram-raid posts, meant to keep people like us out, has laid down its life to a previous looters’ vehicle. It’s a disheartening sign but I bump over the jagged stump and enter the mall, slowly weave between garden beds and benches to peruse what wares are left.
At the far end Kristine complains about the carnage the looters have wrought but I am confident there is enough let to warrant a closer look. Before we dive in I choose to wait for a bit, and watch our back-trail closely. Kristin is right; most of the shops have been violated beyond mere looting. Some morons have no thought for the future. Even as a rough and ready thief, I believe I’m not that short-sighted. The places I raid are entered with minimal damage and closed up afterwards. Windows shut, shutters closed. I like to preserve goods for later use, knowing they may never be manufactured again.
The fear I am nursing springs up brightly when three Creeps emerge from an ice-cream shop. They’re young, early teens, in strangely mismatched clothes. Parasites care nothing for their Host’s fashion sense.
“Shit, I never saw them on the way through. How’d you know they were there?”
“I didn't. That’s why I do a drive-by. Rule Sixty Three.”
The unfashionable individuals are bearing down on us. I take my time turning the truck around so I can lead them away. I use the pied piper trick as opposed to shooting. We need to avoid noise where possible. I could run them down I suppose, but why risk damaging the truck.
We draw them away until a suitable distance is amassed and then I accelerate, losing them in back streets. My suspicion that they have called others to this position will leave the mall area free of them while we plunder it. Low revs and a circuitous route return us to the vacated mall unmolested.
An efficient routine to our thievery is quickly devised. Namely; I break in where required, sweep a shop for enemies and then Kristine rummages. I move on to unlock the neighbouring store and duck back to load the truck with all the girlie crap she can deliver.
Some of the store interiors are dark caves. The early morning light won’t penetrate here for hours yet. I’m not much help when it comes to grabbing stuff. My hands are occupied by a torch that lights one area, and a gun that points in another. Shifting shadows are a constant distraction from the goods I’m supposed to be examining. Even stores with generous skylights are gloomy when rain clouds visit and threaten to dampen our outing.
As I get ahead of Kristine’s progress, I keep one eye on her last location, ensuring her slashing torch beam doesn’t stop moving for too long as she delves for specialties in the darkest recesses.
Brand name clothing stores are Kristine’s weakness. She seems to have completely forgotten the inhuman monsters out here who seek to do us harm. Instead of wantonly grabbing at whatever is available I see her picking outfits from racks with careful consideration.
“Everything’s so last season,” she complains.
“However could that be?” I exclaim, after breathlessly running back to see what the hold-up is.
A coat hanger whizzes through the air, aimed at my head, so I leave her to it.
Every clothing shop is still locked up, disregarded by raiders who’d sensibly concerned themselves more with food and drink than dressing for a party. I ignore the mobile phone stall and ice-creamery. A shattered jeweller’s doors shows greed has overridden someone's good sense. Sure, I’d taken a few watches in the past when the opportunity had presented itself. Even now I can’t help sifting aside the broken glass for a matching set of earrings to replace the one I’d ripped from Kristine’s ear all those long weeks ago.
I guiltily remind myself of our schedule and move quickly to work on the next entrance. It is a vehicle accessory shop that contains tools I’m not sure I need, but want anyway.
Kristine bower bird streak is as wide as mine. She has seen the jewellers’ sparkling dross and she must have snuck inside while I’m occupied by an obstinate shutter lock next door. I catch her out when I take a breather and yell at her to concentrate on the list. She is not apologetic. I get the finger and a cheeky grin as she runs over to the truck and tosses handfuls of shiny shit into the cabin.
Out-done by her excesses I toss my suddenly less-than-special earrings into her pile of glittering trinkets.
Prior to our arrival I note that several methodologies have been used to break in to the most promising shops. Doors suffer from the unnecessary force of a bull-bar that smash them from their hinges. The wanton destruction inside leaves me picking up tins from the floor in an Asian grocery. The opportunity to restock our pantry with canned Asian vegetables is dictated by what had been shunned by the previous scavengers. They were primarily after pre-packaged meals and I grunt contemptuously that they have left the seeds and tools needed to grow them behind. These destructive ghosts of yesterday aren’t collecting provisions for a siege; they are living hand to mouth, raiding in response to a rumbling stomach. Their chances of survival are unfavourably slimmed by such behaviour.
We continue working our way down the line of shops, making good time. I snatch opportunistically at a few things that I want but Kristine remains the dedicated, hard-core bargain hunter. She gleefully delivers trolley after trolley to me, full of her heart’s desires. I endlessly load them into the truck in untidy piles and morosely consider the weeks it will take to sort out this junk after we get home.
Aluminium grinds against steel as I break into yet another fashion outlet. Kristine sally’s forth and models various styles against her front, making micro-second decisions on what suits her and what doesn’t. I shake my head but resist telling her that I’d managed to kit myself out for the next ten years in fifteen minutes by robbing a work-wear shop.
In the last three hours I’ve seen not one sign of danger. My guard has drooped a bit by the time I’ve moved the truck for the seventeenth time, pulling up opposite a gutted liquor store. The smell of spilled spirits wakes a thirst that water won’t quench. I stand in front of the shop to inspect the remains. Not a lot. Even the cheap wine casks have been stolen or popped under malicious heels.
An unopened packet of cigarettes lies at my feet. Bored, I pick them up and remove my helmet to light up.
Kristine is rushing towards me with another full tub when the smoke drifting from my fingers reaches her sensitive nose. I am given ‘the look’ at close quarters with a tilted head emphasis. She maintains the glare until I sheepishly toss the cigarette aside. Satisfied with her win she thunders away pushing a bin I’d emptied earlier. I immediately light another cigarette even though I hadn’t been enjoying the first one.
I sigh at the injustice of living with a health freak and click the button to lift her latest load. I upend the contents of her latest haul inside, like tipping out a wheelbarrow load of dirt. She’s shown no signs of slowing so I make room for more by tossing everything as far back as possible. All attempts to stack the items neatly are abandoned.
Popping a Xanax relaxes me further. I’m determined to give Kristine all the time she needs on this outing. Forbearance now will eliminating the whining later when I’m accused of making her miss out on the full collection of toenail polishing pads or something equally ridiculous.
A rumbling of distant thunder reminds me of the coming storm. I silently hope it will piss down. Rain will wrap this trip up without my urgings. Failing that, we’ll soon run out of space and have to leave anyway.
Kristine pushes another full tub of assorted boxes towards me and has a short breather while I lower the ramp. I list her haul and don’t leave out the sarcasm.
“Makeup, perfume, brushes, mirrors, glass bowls,” (for fuck’s sake, if we become Host snacks while stealing this rubbish I’d never forgive her), “washing powder, bleach, sulphuric acid,” (hope none of these bust open or she can say goodbye to all these clothes), “motor oil. Tiffany lamp! Are you sure you don't want more than one lamp. I hear interior designers are pairing them now for full effect.”
“Oh, I think there was another one. I’ll go get it.”
“I was being sarcastic!”
“Reallllyyy. I never would have guessed.”
She leaves me fuming and jogs off to source more knick-knacks.
I reach for the ramp controller to ascend her junk in a God-like manner. I’m not expecting the viciously sharp fingernails that dig into my wrist, or the short flight through the air as I’m wrenched from the platform I hit the ground, face down. Son of a bitch; that hurt. Belted weapons have jabbed hard into soft guts. Worse than this, a fist is poundings at my head and a rough hand has gripped my hair to pin my face to the pavement.
“Stay down, movverfucka,” a voice hisses in my ear. “Make a noise an’ I’ll carve ya."