Mark was the only employee left in the entire hardware store. Christy had been there earlier, and Jerad, and both had mysteriously disappeared. Karina hadn’t returned from lunch.
Flakes, the whole lot of them. Where Mark came from, you didn’t abandon your post, no matter what.
But as night began to fall, he started getting nervous. They were supposed to stay open until 9:00, but they were also supposed to be staffed by no less than three employees. Hell, if the boss can’t even make in, why should he stay?
The irony was, he’d probably made more money today than the store had ever earned. People had stripped the store.
But it was what they were buying that was most alarming. Camping gear, guns, knives, ammo, survival gear, propane, nails, hammers. Like it was the coming end of the world. Like a zombie apocalypse.
He kept hearing the term javelinas, and had to look it up on his cellphone. Some kind of pig. Then his phone service had blinked off.
When the electricity went out in the store just before dark that was the final straw. Besides, he was pretty sure he wasn’t supposed to stay open when the lights were out anyway.
He hurriedly locked the front door, counted the till, and dropped the money in the safe. He was headed out the door when he remembered Mr. Pederson’s words.
“Buy one of your fine wares,” he said, “and take it home with a box of ammunition.”
Rumor was, the old man was a millionaire and only pretended to be a hick.
Mark turned around. There was single rifle left in the entire store, a .30-06, which was just fine with him. It was what he was accustomed to using when deer hunting. He took a box of shells. He wrote an I.O.U. and slipped it in with his Hours Sheet. He wasn’t sure what store policy was about draws, because he hated taking them. He might lose his job, but old man Pederson had been pretty compelling.
Something was going on.
He locked the door behind him, and turned to find the street completely empty. Not a soul in sight, not even a moving car. The three guys who drank on the corner and pestered him for loose chain every night even though he hadn’t once given them any, were gone.
What the hell is going on?
He wanted to call Peggy so bad, he couldn’t stand it. It occurred to him that he’d gotten in the habit of calling her every hour, on the hour. He’d heard of Internet withdrawal, but never thought he’d suffer from it. This wasn’t Internet withdrawal, he told himself, this was Peggy withdrawal.
He’d followed her down to this hot dusty god forsaken place because he was madly in love with her. He’d thought she was so smart, so sophisticated, that wherever she had come from had to be smart and sophisticated too. At least more than Moscow, Idaho.
He couldn’t have been more wrong. Wasn’t anyone here but old people.
He slung the rifle strap over his shoulder, feeling silly. Even in Moscow, people didn’t usually walk around with a gun strapped to their back.
He carried the box of ammunition in his other hand.
It was a short five-minute walk to their apartment. The town was only so big, but he’d managed to find a job about as far as he could possibly get. It was OK. It gave him five minutes in the morning to savor the glow of being in her presence all night and it gave him five minutes every night to anticipate being in her presence again. Actually, all he had to do was think of her, and it was as if she was with him. Like she had pried open a part of his brain and crawled inside.
He smiled at the image. Maybe he should take up drawing again while he was down here. He’d wanted to be a comic book artist for a while, and he actually had some talent. Peggy was always bugging him to start up again.
He was so lost in the thought that he didn’t notice the pig at first. It was standing still, in the middle of the sidewalk, as if waiting for him. He was a dozen yards away before he saw it.
Weird. That’s something you don’t see every day. But, hey. There were herds of deer wandering around Moscow, so this was probably the same kind of thing. He took another step forward, expecting the animal to run away.
Instead, it lowered its head and took a step toward him.
“Bug off, you mangy critter!” he shouted, waving his arms.
The pig backed up a couple steps and then turned again. Something in the angle of its head caught to last of the day’s light, and it sent a shock into Mark’s chest. He’d seen that look delivering newspapers. A mean look, the look a dog gave when it wanted to chew your leg off.
He swung the gun around. He opened the bolt, and then carefully got to his knees and fumbled with the box of ammo. He pulled out a single bullet, and started to load, when the animal charged. He managed to slam the bolt home and take aim.
It wouldn’t fire. He’d forgot to release the safety. Amateur mistake, the kind that cost you chances at a trophy buck.
The kind that might get you killed.
He didn’t look for the safety, he just swung the stock with all he might at the charging pig and connected, sending the animal tumbling off the sidewalk into the street. As Mark completing the swing, his finger landed on a familiar feeling switch, and he clicked it. He managed to turn the barrel toward the charging pig and pull the trigger.
Half of its head disappeared. It flopped back off the sidewalk into the street. Mark stepped off and toed it curiously.
So that’s a javelina? It’s just a hairy pig.
As if in answer, he heard a grunt. A classic pig grunt, like from a cartoon. Only it was joined by a bunch of other grunts. He turned slowly. Half a block away, a dozen of the creatures were staring him down.
Mark reached down for the box of ammunition.
Then he turned and ran.