The Common: Max & Samuel

“Dad, what are we gonna do? The shelves are empty and…” Max tugged at this father’s coat sleeve.

“We haven’t gotten to the back yet son, just relax,” Samuel replied impatiently, quickly dodging a man and his wife who were pushing their cart recklessly. Samuel forcefully grabbed Max’s right arm and pushed their way through the crowd toward the grocery section. The force of the mob of people moving out of the store was becoming stronger than the movement of people working back toward the food isles. The lights flickered causing the giant box store to plunge into a fit of dark blue light, bars of moonlight hard to find in the tiny open shafts of the ceiling, then just as fast, it was bright white again, blinding and sterile.

“Dad…we’re almost there and I don’t see…any…thing…” Max’s voice trailed off mid-sentence and his mouth hung open while his brain tried hard to comprehend what he was seeing. The boy stood frozen, slightly turned toward the dairy isle but his head faced the candy section. Samuel looked down at his son and followed his gaze toward the cluster of people huddled by the candy shelves, name brand wrappers covered the floor, leaving no traces of the white linoleum tiles. Two individuals growled as they shoved piece after piece of hard candy into their mouths, red-brown drool leaking down their chins, almost in unison.

“Dad?!?!” Max was shaking, Samuel could feel his son’s fear shooting down his left thigh as the boy pressed his body into his father’s for safety. Samuel scooped Max up quickly before the growlers noticed, pushed his way down the cleaning supply isle, and headed toward the lunch meat section. That was a mistake.

The entire thoroughfare was packed. Children were crying, adults were yelling, angry fists shot up into the air. There was some confusion about how to get out, which Samuel didn’t understand because they had just come from the open front entrance.

“YOU CAN’T KEEP US IN HERE!!!!” shouted a man to the far right, others hollered in agreement.

“It’s just a precaution,” stated a manager who stood nervously in front of the meat doors, the plastic windows reflecting artificial light as he cautiously moved backward and knocked the doors with his heels.

“Several individuals are infected and we have instructions to keep this thing contained or we will be shut down permanently,” he shouted and then whisked behind the doors and disappeared. The crowd lurched forward, a herd of men headed through the brown doors causing them to flap open loudly.

“Dad, are we stuck in here?!?” Max looked at Samuel, fear had taken over and the boy now had sweat on his forehead.

“No, son. Just this section of the store is closed off. These people packed themselves in here and they couldn’t go back the other way…” Samuel was cut off by a guttural scream, one that made the hair on the back of his neck stand straight up and chills go down his spine. “We’ll go out the back way and go somewhere else, OK?” Samuel asked Max in a stiff, parental way and patted the boy’s back. Max nodded, hooked his hands around his father’s neck and held on tightly.

Wasting no time, Samuel cut back down the cleaning isle, which had cleared tremendously in less than five minutes, sped past the growlers who were still busy fighting over Lifesavers, and quickly walked past the empty entertainment section, televisions blared about the benefits of HDTV.

Following the straight line past pet supplies, Samuel’s left eye caught movement and that’s when he saw the location of the scream. It had come from the Junior’s section, a female toddler sat screaming in a cart, tears soaked her cheeks and the front of her shirt. A quick passerby would have thought the girl had been abandoned but the blood covered underwear panel told a different story. Samuel heard a barbaric growl rising up from the floor and he almost swore that he felt vibrations from it in his shoes, wet, mashy sounds disturbed his ears and made him sick to his stomach. He assumed the girl’s mother had been torn apart, her married hand lay delicately balanced on a clothing rack of white winter coats, now stained a dark red from her flesh and blood. Based on the competitive movement that he saw and how violently the displays rattled, it was clear that there was more than one growler on the floor digesting the woman.

Samuel turned the boy’s head away from the gory scene and silently rushed toward the automotive section, remembering that there was an exit that led through the service garages, about one-hundred feet away.

They had just passed the camping section when Max started whimpering and squeezing Samuel’s neck, “What is it? We’re almost the…”

“Behind us,” Max’s shaky whisper boomed in Samuel’s left ear.

Slowly, Samuel turned around. Three growlers stood hunched over and spread out, drooling and rocking from left to right. They didn’t make eye contact, they didn’t have to, Samuel knew what they wanted. Carefully he slid the boy down his left thigh, pushed Max behind him and said, ”GO!”

Max pulled at his daddy’s shirt, hard, but then backed away. The growlers moved closer to Samuel as he slipped a tire iron off the closest rack and repositioned into a fighting stance.

Max ran out the door and didn’t look back before it shut but he could hear the faint sounds of broken bones, pain, and bloody yelps coming from where he had left his father. He also felt the pain of hunger in his gut. As he crouched down into the farthest corner of the large service garage he quietly sobbed and wondered if he would ever get to hug his daddy again. Sounds of the fight had become more faint and then he heard the tire iron hit the floor.

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