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Out of all the news stations, only a lone local weatherman had shown up to work. He took calls, scoured the internet, and each hour, on the hour, he’d switch on the camera to update his viewers on God’s last known location.

At 3pm, Tate Peirano reported God was in Buttonwoods. Which meant God was at least half a dozen blocks away from where we needed to be, unless he opted to travel by water. He could do that. He had options. We, unfortunately, had only one. And Oakland Beach Avenue was a long road to walk.

The cool breeze carried with it the smell of rotted fish and cigarettes. Cars clogged up the street, each vehicle crunched into another. Drivers slumped over wheels.

We crept with caution up blood speckled sidewalks, past the fenced-off yards of wooden houses painted in powdery pastels. We gave the stink-eye to the multi-story church and a wide berth to the looted single story shop. At the top of the road, the red-brick elementary school screamed with silence.

Fire fumed in the centre of the intersection, confined by smashed up automobiles. It smelt of BBQ.

“I don’t like it,” said Sylvie in a hushed tone. “It’s too quiet.”

The lights changed red for no one in particular.

“You want me to check the app?” asked Marline.

Sylvie nodded.

Barnes and MacGregor led the front, crowbar and wet bar in hand. I headed up the back, a net of Christmas lights coiled around one shoulder and a pool cue resting on the other — just in case.

“What’s it say?” I called up in a harsh whisper. The God Tracker App had come out nearly a week after initial contact. It depended on survivors, those passed over for reaping like me, to update it and let the rest of the world know where the danger currently was.

There was only one flaw. For some reason, God’s presence blocked out cell signals, but that too was informative in its way.

“Airport road.” Marline stared at her smartphone.

“He’s getting further away.” My chest lightened. As bad as it made me feel to hope it, the sooner he moved on to another area the better.

“Or looping back around.” She placed the device back in her pocket.

A back-firing exhaust made us drop to the ground. My heart beat quick against the cement. Several more bangs sent crows scattering from the power lines. Not a car, gunshots.

A floppy eared dog patted down the pavement toward us, dragging his leash behind him.

“Aw, go on, get outta here.” MacGregor shooed it away.

The dog trotted through to Sylvie and Marline who flinched as it sniffed them.

I strained my head to look behind us, only to find a wet nose tickling my ear. My muscles tightened. As fond as I was of four-legged creatures, I didn’t like anything with sharp teeth in close proximity to my bare neck.

The dog continued on.

“Where’s its owner?” Marline asked.

“Who gives a fuck? The shots stopped.” MacGregor pushed himself up, taking care not to lose any bottles. “We should go.”

The rest of the walk proved uneventful, and after passing a smattering of homes with doorposts smeared with what I hoped was lambs’ blood, we arrived at the parking lot of the hardware store.

“Mind the shells.” Barnes motioned with his crowbar to several people in the lot with us. One stood frozen with a key in their car door caught mid-unlocking. Another’s legs moved but found their path blocked by a red pickup. The third stood just outside the automatic doors hunched over their phone. Their weight triggering the glass to re-open as soon as it closed.

We squeezed by and made our way inside. Under heavy florescent lights there were more shells, as Barnes liked to call them — manning registers, holding red baskets, and staring blankly at shelves — all of them alive, but only in the most technical sense.

When God harvested, he left behind the body. Apparently flesh wasn’t part of his diet. And from what I had heard and seen, those leftover bits continued on doing whatever it was they were doing before their souls got added to his menu.

“We will paint it on the beaches.” MacGregor’s voice echoed through the store. “We will paint it on the sidewalks.” The lunatic whizzed by riding on the front of a shopping cart. He pushed it like a skateboard around the shop. “We will paint it on the cars and in the streets”

“You’re an idiot.” Marline shook her head. “We’ll get the brushes.” She and Sylvie ventured down an aisle.

Barnes chuckled. “Bring that thing over here. Let’s fill it up.”
 I looked above the aisles and scanned the signs for paint. Marline might be right about him, but if it wasn’t for MacGregor and Barnes, I don’t know where I’d be. They rescued me, took me in when others would have killed me for the karma. Sure, he was half in the bag and more than a little crazy, but Barnes kept him in check — most of the time.

Metal rang from where MacGregor had been last.

“Shit,” he swore. “Shit, shit, shit. I’m sorry.”

MacGregor leaned over a blonde haired woman. Barnes and I ran over.

“Be careful Mac, we dunno what’ll happen if you disturb them too much.” Barnes waved his hands, but it was too late. MacGregor already had her halfway up.

“Oh, don’t help or anything.” He groaned.

Barnes stepped over. Together the two of them restored her to her upright position. Her limbs locked in place like a mannequin. Her eyes moved as if reading. They released her, only for her to tilt back over.

“Oh for fuck sakes, lady, get it together.”

“I think I’ll take this.” I placed my hand on MacGregor’s cart and tossed in my pool cue and lights. “Meet me in the paint aisle when you’re done.” It rattled as I pushed it away. Behind me Barnes and MacGregor struggled to restore the shell in a way that matched her balance.

I passed some tarps and threw them in for good measure. While Barnes’ idea seemed a good one, I wasn’t sure of how well sand would go with paint. The cart squeaked around the corner into a never-ending aisle of paint canisters. Latex, non-latex, liquid gloss, egg shell — it meant little to me. I closed my eyes and rapped my knuckles on the side of my head, trying to shake loose some DIY knowledge that deep down I knew never existed.

The strong stench of alcohol wafted to my nose.

“I see you eyeing that blue paint, Braveheart.”

“You caught me.” I turned to see MacGregor smirk. Barnes followed a few steps behind, a bunch of folded up tarps under his arm.

“I knows it. But no blue, don’t want to scare the fucker off.” MacGregor’s eyes scanned me up and down. “On second thought…” He dropped in several tins into the cart with a clatter. “You know, for us.

“Remember that we have to carry that.” Barnes tossed his tarps in with mine.

MacGregor stared down at the cans of blue paint and placed one back on the shelf.

“Much better.” Barnes grinned.

“I think we should add a different colour too.” I reached for a white but stopped. Something brighter would have better visibility. I added a tin of red to our cart.

“Good thinking.” Barnes grabbed another and placed it with the others. “Don’t wanna run out.”

We pushed the cart back the way we came. Marline and Sylvie met us at the top of the aisle. Their arms full of paint brushes, trays and rollers.

“This should do it.” Marline released the items she’d been hugging into the cart, followed by Sylvie.

“Hold up.” MacGregor sprinted toward the registers. He returned with display boxes filled with candy. He beamed.

“Really?” Marline pointed to the horde with her palm up.

“What are we going to write?” Sylvie’s soft voice came from next to me. Despite her bravado back at the bar, she looked scared. Though, for all I knew, that’s how she always looked.

“I’m not sure.”

“It’s a good question.” Barnes tapped his chin. “If he knew English, he’d of probably of figured it out by now.”

We walked together as I pushed the carriage to the automatic doors. It’d have to be a symbol of some sort. Something so universal that even God could figure it out. The doors opened as we approached. We passed through. “I think it’d have to be — ”

“Where’s the shell?” Barnes cut me off.

I stopped and looked where the third shell had been, then down. There, on the ground it laid in a puddle of blood.

A bang exploded from somewhere in the lot. The bullet whizzed past. Barnes’ head rolled back as it ripped through his skull. He dropped.

“Barnes!” MacGregor fell down beside him. “Buddy, come on, you’re alright.” He cradled Barnes’ head, blood flowing over his lap.

Another shot. I crouched down beside the cart in time to hear it strike a nearby car with a crunch.

“Get down.” Marline barked to Sylvie. Sylvie joined me. The doors caught in a loop of opening and closing behind us. A bang fired from above. Marline stood elbows bent, one wrist resting on the other, a slick looking gun in her hands. She let off another shot.

“Jake…” MacGregor’s face contorted with pain.

“You gotta leave him.” Marline punctuated the order with another loud bullet. “We gotta get somewhere safe.”

“Fuck you!” MacGregor spat. “You fucking heartless bitch.” His eyes were wet.

“Fuck me?” A bullet struck the door behind us, cracking the glass. “He’s dead. He just got shot in the fucking head. Look at him! We’re gonna be dead too if we stay here.”

The tears overflowed onto MacGregor’s cheeks.

“I’m sorry.” I placed my hand on his shoulder and scanned the lot for where the first shell had been. I spotted the car with the keys dangling from the keyhole. “We have to go. We got to finish this thing.” I squeezed his shoulder. “For Barnes.”

He pushed off my hand. “Then go.”

I looked at Barnes’ blank stare and then to Sylvie. There wasn’t time. “Follow me, I got an idea.”

“I’ll cover you.” Marline stood over MacGregor and Barnes.

Shots fired as I sprinted across the lot. Stepping over the stiff, I fiddled with the keys. Humidity seeped from my seams. Sylvie skirted past the hood.
 The lock clicked open. I jumped in and unlocked the other doors. More shots. Louder. Sylvie hopped into the passenger seat and slammed her door shut.

Tires squealed as I tore out of the spot and headed for the front of the store. Sylvie leaned and opened the back door as I stopped short.

“Grab the stuff,” I shouted.

Marline began tossing paint brushes and candy bars into the back seat, rollers and trays came next and then tins started clunking behind me.
 MacGregor gently placed Barnes’ head down and stood. He reached into the cart retrieving a single tin.

“For Barnes,” he muttered. He pulled open the can, stuck in his hand and smeared blue paint down his cheeks. “I gotta leave you buddy, but I ain’t gonna leave you to get eaten.”

MacGregor poured the rest of the blue paint over Barnes’ body. “You hear me you bastard!” he shouted up to the sky. “You leave my fucking friend alone.”

“Come on, get in the car.” Marline climbed in the back and moved to make space. A bullet clinked off the fender.

MacGregor leaned over and whispered something in Barnes’ ear before joining us. We all watched him as he slammed the door shut.

“Let’s do this.” He wiped some blue off his face and flicked it at Sylvie.
 Sylvie flinched and scrunched her eyes.

“Cut that out,” Marline growled.

“It’s for her own protection.”

“You better cut that shit out, for your own protection.”

I turned the wheel and drove through the parking lot. My chest ached as I looked back at Barnes in my rear view mirror. Another person dead instead of me.

Continue to part 3…