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Close Encounters

Close Encounters

Wilde, Oregon

 

They were out of soap.

And Band aids. And most importantly, cigarettes.

It would only be a matter of weeks before all the food was gone.

And that was just in regard to their personal supplies. The tiny gas station they owned was in much worse shape, but Tina refused to throw in the towel.

After all, just days earlier, in a windfall of great fortune, her husband Jerry had bartered with a trucker and managed to get his hands on a drum of gasoline. If he could keep wrangling out supplies like that in the leanest of times, they’d do just fine.

The bells tied to the gas station door jingled, and Tina looked up to see Jerry hobble in. She clucked in sympathy at his awkward gait, a sign that the arthritis in his knee was acting up again.

He swiped the ratty ball cap from his head, ran a hand through his matted gray hair, and then plunked the cap back into place. A grimace drew deep lines into his craggy face as he leaned on the counter. “We’re down to the last of the meat. I’ll have to take off in the morning and go hunting.”

She’d suspected as much. “You taking Beasley with you?”

He eyed the old bloodhound, who failed to stir from its comfortable roost next to Tina’s barstool. Though cataracts clouded the aging dog’s eyes, the hound still had a keen nose that proved on many occasions to be a valuable asset. “Nah, he’ll stay with you. Gotta have somebody here to protect my little hottie.” He winked.

She snorted. Maybe she’d been a looker a couple of decades ago, but the hard years at the station had dulled the vibrant blue of her eyes and stripped the rosy glow from her face. Her skin had turned leathery, somehow wrinkled and tight at the same time, and she’d given up perms and highlights ages ago. She now scraped her mousy brown hair into a ponytail every day, a severe look that intensified the bony angles of her face. She cast Jerry a dismissive wave. “You always were a smooth talker, but I’ll be fine without him. He’ll make your trip easier.”

“I know you’re capable, but it’ll help this old man sleep at night if he knows you’ve got some extra protection.”

“With all the log sawing you do, it’s me who needs a good night’s rest!”

Jerry gave her a triumphant smile, his hazel eyes twinkling. “Well, there you go. Beasley doesn’t snore half as much as I do, so you’ll have your peace and quiet.”

“Fine, you win.” She plunked her hands on her hips. “But promise me that you’ll be smart out there. You’re no spring chicken, you know.”

He rubbed his knee. “Trust me, darling, I get a daily reminder. Now let’s pack up. The sun’s going down.”

Exhaustion settled in Tina’s bones while they packed up their meager selection of supplies and pulled the iron bars across the station’s windows. Once finished, they set out for their little two bedroom home that sat hidden in the forest behind the highway.

Another day with no customers. Another day with no cigarettes.

Jerry was a little too enthusiastic about Tina’s forced abstinence from tobacco. He declared that this whole apocalyptic situation would end up being a life saver for her, since even her own mother’s death from lung cancer hadn’t been enough motivation to quit.

Tina fell asleep late that night, after restless hours of tossing and turning from nicotine withdrawal. When she woke up in the morning, the house was still. Jerry had headed out, then. Grumpy from lack of sleep and lack of cigarettes, she moped her way into the kitchen. Surprise softened her features when she discovered a giftwrapped package on the breakfast bar.

She picked up the note that accompanied it. To my tough little cookie, it said. Sorry for missing out on our 27th anniversary. Promise I’ll be back soon. And next year I’ll take you to Fiji.

Their longstanding joke. Neither of them had ever stepped a foot outside of Oregon, and they preferred it that way.

She glanced at the calendar. Sure enough, today marked their anniversary.

She tore the wrapping paper off the package, lifted the lid, and pulled out an orange vest. It felt thick and heavy, and upon further inspection she saw that it was lined with Kevlar. That was Jerry for you. Always giving practical presents. Sliding on the bulky apparel, she whistled to Beasley, who was staring mournfully at the front door. “Don’t go pouting on me now. He said he’d be back. He’ll be back.”

Grabbing the handle of her large luggage case, she yanked open the door. “He always keeps his promises.”

Together they stomped down the front steps, the luggage clanging with each jolt. Tina relied on the sturdy Samsonite to hold all of their ware, and once she got to the store, she’d put the inventory on display in hopes that any passing motorist would stop in and have something worthwhile to barter.

Beasley whined as they started the half mile trek through the woods to the station, but she had no sympathy. “Oh, quit complaining, you lazy bag of bones.”

He came to a halt.

A low growl rumbled from his throat, raising the hairs on the back of Tina’s neck. She froze next to him. Ears attuned, she could make out a faint rustling in the brush behind them. She whipped around at the same time as Beasley and, her hands patting down the pockets of her vest, realized belatedly that she’d left her semi-automatic pistol in the house.

A man stumbled out of the trees and onto the trail. “Help me, please! I’m hurt! I’m hurt!” Dirty blonde hair fell over his eyes. He was bent over at the waist, hands clamped to his side.

Tina took a step toward him but tried to maintain a good distance. “What happened?” she called.

He groaned in distress. “Please help me! I can barely –“ he sucked in a shaky breath.

Had he been attacked? Was he infected? Tina’s gaze darted around the forest trees surrounding them. Maybe it was a bear attack. She gripped the handle of her luggage, as if she could use the oversized box on wheels as a weapon. It’s hibernation season, the rational voice in her mind piped up.

“I’ve been hurt!” the man wailed. “I just – this guy came up to me and just –“ he clutched his ribs.

Terror struck Tina, forced the air from her lungs. It must’ve been one of those zombie things. She took a step back. It was too late for this guy.

“Please, don’t leave me.” Slowly the man raised up from his bowled over position.

Tina braced herself, expecting to see blood pouring down his side, but the man’s shirt was clean. Then her eyes focused on his hands.

And the gun he had aimed at her.

 

To be continued…

* I’ve always found the idea fascinating that some people fare better in times of great upheaval than they do under normal living circumstances. Since Tina’s been forced to give up her smoking habit, her life expectancy might actually improve. (Of course, it might also end abruptly since she’s currently being held at gunpoint.)

What about you? Do you think you’d thrive in an apocalyptic world, or would you cave under dire situations? For the record, I think I’d wither away if I didn’t have access to chocolate.

 

Photo Credit: Carl Milner/CC BY 2.0

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  1. Wendy Lenard says:

    Wow, this had me spellbound. I was so expecting a Zombie to come stumbling out of the woods only to have to have this guy that I can only assume wants to take what they have come out of the woods and is willing to kill for it. I can’t wait to read what happens next.

    I don’t think that an apocalyptic world would bring out the best in most people in general. I think most of us like to think that our neighbors would be willing to help, but would they really? It’s proven that people wear a mask and only let you see what they want you to see. What are your neighbors hiding behind their mask??

    • Yes, it’s scary to think what might be lurking behind a person’s mask! Major crises have a tendency to bring out our true natures, and unfortunately, it can get pretty ugly.

  2. Hopefully Tina survives as it isn’t her time to go I can just tell. You never the old dog might just come through and protect her. Can’t wait for the next part

  3. Jeffrey Goff says:

    Yep, I’m going with a heroic Beasley to save forgetful Tina. It’s about time to get all these stories rounded up into a single volume. As always, great job!

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