Written by Ricardo
“What is this?” Charlotte asked in the gap between shoving more of the half-melted brown substance into her mouth, occasionally stopping to wedge a chunk out from between her molars with her tongue. “It looks kinda like poop,” she stopped chewing then, with several blocks of the stuff in her right hand and looked up at the man beside her, horrified. “It isn’t poop is it?”
“No, you idiot, of course you haven’t,” the man replied. “It’s a food from the Old World.”
“Oh, so it isn’t…?”
“No,” he interjected. “Just eat it.”
“Oh, okay.” Charlotte looked down at her hands, where the chunks she had been holding had begun to melt, creating a hardened shell around her palm and the base of her fingers. She shoved the chunks in her mouth, chewing at her hands like a cat trying to groom itself.
The man shook his head, looking up and away from the girl pulling more of the stuff from a broken vending machine. He scanned the area around him, trying to mark out any potential hiding spots or escape routes, either for himself or for anybody else currently in here. But he found it difficult to concentrate when all his eyes could see was what used to be there.
It had been nearly fifteen years since he was in this particular supermarket. He with his girlfriend the last time, buying groceries and kitchen appliances for their new house. He even remembered, rather oddly, the vending machine. He tried buying a drink from it but the damn thing ate his money. It took almost two decades, but he finally showed that vending machine what for.
Illuminated aisles showed shoppers the way to their selected produce for the day. The burning heat of thirty 700 watt light bulbs went largely unnoticed. Nobody cared, it was normal. But there was a brief moment after stepping back outside from your weekly shop when natural sunlight was appreciated. And the warmth of it too, rather than the chilled air conditioning and stale smell of sweat.
Now all that surrounded him were filthy floors, shattered windows, and the shelves were pushed into each other in order to create makeshift camp sites and barricades. Everything was either riddled with bullet holes, or plastered in blood, or the green sludge that those things emitted whenever you so much as touched them. This was a hot-spot for them. In actuality, this was good as it meant it was one of the few places where no humans came, meaning supplies. And lots of them. He checked his bag was still intact and nothing was leaking, tightening the cross-body strap around him. They made a good haul today, they’d have enough to survive the next three months.
“Shaun, what’s that man doing?”
The man stopped right where he was looking, between two empty and defrosted chest freezers with the lids torn off. Charlotte must have started looking around too and saw him before Shaun did. He could see the figure between the freezers clear as day, on his knees, with one hand on the freezer beside him vomiting blood and a puddle of green sludge in front of him. Shaun’s heartbeat seemed to triple in speed after seeing the man at the freezers and hearing the Howler tear the revolving door out of the wall, throwing it into the parking lot behind it, and showering the entrance in a glowing green spatter of goo.
Shaun dropped behind the shelving units where the vending machine was and where Charlotte was sitting wide-eyed, a mouthful of the chunky sweet stopping her from screaming. As her eyes filled with tears, they locked on to Shaun. He never thought he’d be so thankful that she had an insatiable sweet tooth. He placed a hand over her full mouth.
“Listen, we’re going to get out of here the way we came in, okay?” he waited for her to nod in confirmation, her tears now streaming down his hand. “You go to the manhole, I wedged it open so you can pull it back open. Get back to the shelter, I’ll be right behind you.”
Charlotte obeyed, crawling through the door entitled Staff Only. Shaun heard the manhole cover drag across the ground, and her footsteps descend the ladder. He took several deep breaths, getting his thoughts together. Now that she was gone, all he had to worry about was getting out with his supplies. He clenched his hands into fists until his knuckles turned white and peered over the shelving unit.
With our next batch of content coming up in October under the theme “Halloween Scarefest”, it’s a great time to conclude August’s work with a post-apocalyptic short story. Loosely tying into both themes, Ricardo’s story was written on behalf of a past Half Hour Challenge and we can’t get enough of it. In fact, we hope he writes more! If you enjoyed his HHC, you can read his other stellar work published on Inkblots, including “A Sweetened Ache” and “Love After Death”.
Featured Image CC // Revan Jinn