Wednesday, September 10, 2014

The Family Business

The Family Business

By Plot Roach

(Copyright Plot Roach 2014. All Rights Reserved. All characters and events are fictional... we hope.)

“Dean…Death?” the receptionist asked.

A young man in a teal polo shirt and faded jeans walked to the front of the line and smiled sheepishly at her. “That’s me.”

“This way, please.” She said, gesturing down the long hallway. “You’ll be in room 4, on the right.” She said, giving him a wide berth in the closed in space of the hall. She couldn’t have explained it if she tried, but there was something beyond the last name of the man that troubled her.

Once inside the sterile white room, he sat on the observation table and waited for the torrent of questions to begin. It didn’t take long. After answering, again, all of the questions he had already answered on the paperwork that they had given him in the waiting room, she took his temperature, his pulse and looked into his eyes, throat and ears.

“So what are your symptoms?” she asked.

“I feel tired, depressed and achy.”

“Have you had a fever lately?”


“Has anyone around you been sick lately?”


“What do you think it might be from?” she asked, writing each answer down on a little slip of paper with a small pencil which looked to him incredibly hard to use while standing and talking to a patient. She used his chart as a makeshift clipboard and it was failing miserably, bending under the pressure of her writing. He tried to chuckle, but it came out dry and forced. He wished he had just kept it in, because she gave him a look that he thought bugs might see just before some collector pinned them to a specimen board.

“Um” he said, trying to break the tension in the room.

“What do you think it might be?”


“What-who?” She asked. “What do you think is going on with you?”

Just then the pain hit. “Stomach cramps and dizziness.” He wheezed. “Chills.” He fell to the floor.

“Sir? Sir!” she rushed to him, yet still she held back from touching him. “Are you alright?”

He felt the pressure build until it threatened to crush him from the weight. “It’s fatigue.” He said, between clenched teeth. “I need to stop working so hard.”

Just then there was another thump in the office. Across the hall another patient hit the floor. Only this one was an older man, in his late forties.

“Someone help him!” a woman in the same room, perhaps his wife or sister, called out upon seeing his prone form on the floor. “I think he’s had a heart attack!”

The rest of the nurses rushed to the fallen man, but the one with Dean stayed rooted to the floor. She wanted to help both the young man and the old one, but was suddenly afraid to touch either one. She wanted to warn the others, but could not say what to warn them about. She just had a feeling.  Like the one a rabbit gets just before a hawk swoops overhead. Run or hide?

The doctors came and attempted CPR, one even called out for the AED device on the wall to try and get the man’s heart beating again. Slowly Dean pulled himself up off of the floor, stretched and his joints audibly cracked.

“I feel better now.”  he said, nodding o the terrified nurse.

“You better stay, the doctor will want to have a look at you.” she said. But secretly she hoped that he would leave anyway.

“Oh, it’s okay now.” He said, looking over at the man that they failed to revive on the floor of the hallway. “It’s a family condition that I’ve learned to live with over the years.” He walked out of the room which had gotten far too small for the nurse. He stepped over the body of the fallen man as if he were nothing more than garbage or a pile of fallen leaves.

It was then that the nurse noticed that he cast no shadow.

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

The Pure Ones

The Pure Ones

By Plot Roach

(All characters and events are fictional, yadda yadda yadda...)
(All rights of said story/characters/events belong to me. Please do not steal. Copyright Plot Roach 2014 yadda yadda yadda...)

Now hold it out Bobby, he heard his mother’s voice say in his head. So I don’t splash any on the rest of you. He smelled the fumes of the gasoline as it coated his private parts. Sometimes she used bleach and once even weak acid she had taken from a chemical supply store. He remembers the burning and the pain. He remembers crying and telling her to stop. She wouldn’t listen to him then, and even if she were alive today, he doubts that she would listen to him now.

He remembered the humiliation afterwards as she held him and told him that it was for his own good. He needed to be pure in the eyes of their lord and savior. The first half of his life was spent in fear of this great and powerful entity that could watch him everywhere, even in the dark. And that he found Bobby sinful even if he toughed himself to pee.

Those days he thought of god as one big word “Lordandsavior”, and his world was comprised only of the wrath of his mother and the promised wrath of the Bible. He was older now, no longer “Bobby”, but “Robert”. But he would always see himself as that tainted little boy.

He shook himself out of his thoughts of the past and registered that the gas tank was full. It was the smell of the gas, he told himself. Not the dead spirit of Mother haunting me. But try as he might, he found her everywhere: in the waft of second hand smoke, in the snagged nylons of an old woman, in the screams of small children –even at play. He remembered her, and no matter where he roamed, he could not hide from what plagued him within his own skull.

“My good boy.” She always crooned to him afterward. “I had wanted a girl, but our Lordandsavior brought you to me instead.” She sighed and patted the area above his pants where his ‘bad parts’ burned. “If only you had died as a baby, then you would have been pure before the gates of Heaven and in His judgment. Now I fear you will not meet me in Heaven when the End Times come.”

He got into his car, unable to shake the feeling that he was lacking something, that he was corrupt and without a soul –much less a pure one. He started the engine and slowly backed into traffic, his mother's nagging voice still haranguing him about purity and the afterlife.

Why? She had asked many times over, why couldn’t you have been born a girl? Girls were naturally pure, born to the kingdom of all that was holy. After all, didn’t God use a woman to help make our Lordandsavior and not a man?

He winced at the sunlight reflected off a window from a passing car shone into his eyes. He had a splitting migraine and knew it would only get worse as the day wore on. Knew he could not escape the pain as he could not escape his mother’s ministrations as a child.

You left me alone, he heard her voice say. There will be no one with me in Heaven. She had never actually spoken those words allowed, for he had never given her opportunity to. Instead those words rang like bells for the dead from her blank eyes as he strangled the life from her. He buried her body at a friend’s house just before the man had a pool installed. At the time he laughed as he thought of his mother’s disapproving stare up at the scantily clad people swimming above her corpse.

Then the words came, her angry voice a wasp in his brain. Constantly stinging away, yet never dying.  You left me alone, she said. You left me.

The traffic in front of him was a horrendous stream of cars, with no end in sight. He looked in the rear view mirror and saw a small child, a girl, pull away from her father’s hand and run behind his car.

Suddenly, he put the car into reverse and stomped on the gas pedal as hard as he could. That was when the screaming started. But, blessedly, his mother finally shut up.

Monday, September 8, 2014

Why So Blue?

Why So Blue?
By Plot Roach

"Hey, John." I said, trying not to laugh. "Why so blue?" Then I really did bust up laughing.

"Ha Ha" He whined, trying to towel himself off. "That was so funny I forgot to laugh." he said in a tone that reminded me of a cranky seven year old boy.

It really was funny, for he was head to toe blue. Not a light blue, powder blue or sky blue. But a real deep blue. Like the way kids draw the ocean in a picture.

His toweling had no effect at removing the pigment from his skin, it only served to irritate him further. He threw the towel down in disgust and sighed. He opened the fridge for a beer when my roommate, Mandy, came in from the shower.

"Oh my god!" she exclaimed. Her big eyes taking him in from cobalt colored hair to cornflower blue midsection. We could only guess as to whether the hue continued further. But by the look of his toes, it did. There was a brief pause before she added: "John, I would close the fridge if I were you -you look so cold you're blue!"

"Or maybe he had a fight with a Papa Smurf, and for pun-ishment he was beaten black and blue." I said.

"Oh, no. I've got one." Mandy said. "It's been so long that you've had a date that you have blue balls all the way up to your eyebrows."

John just cringed and pretended to look further in the refrigerator, trying to ignore us.

"Let's not tease the Woad Warrior too much," I said.

"Or maybe I'm just so frustrated with you two that I'm blue in the face!" he yelled, slamming the refrigerator door and turning to face us.

Mandy and I turned to one another and then back to him, shaking our heads. "Nah," Mandy said, never missing a beat. "I bet you were the test subject for wiener dysfunction and took too many of the little blue pills."

"Oh, Neo" I said. "You should have taken the red pill instead."

Just then there was a knock at the door. Mandy answered it and I heard a familiar voice in the hallway. Mandy raced back into the kitchen, laughing so much that she could hardly breathe.

"What's so funny?" I asked. And then Bill walked in, in his own Technicolor glory.

"Bill?" I asked, trying desperately not to laugh and losing the battle. "Why are you chartreuse?"

"You won't believe the kind of day I've had." He said.

"You're preaching to the choir, brother." John said and handed Bill a beer.

Sunday, September 7, 2014

A Gnome of My Own

A Gnome of My Own

By Plot Roach

Nancy wiped the sweat off her forehead, careful not to touch her face with the noxious chemicals she was using to scrub the boulder clean. She was twenty minutes into the job and it looked as if her scouring were for naught. The colors of the spray paint bled a bit, but were not removed.

"You'll just have to go through the rest of your life with a bad tattoo, my friend" she said and patted the boulder while throwing the scouring pad in the bucket beside her. She shifted off the group of rocks and lost her balance when her foot came down on a pebble that rolled out from under her shoe.

Serves me right to die out here where no one would look for me or care, she thought, pulling herself up from the ground. Her hand came down on the side of the boulder and she pulled it back lightning fast -but not fast enough. Somewhere an edge she had not seen on the rock was sharp enough to cut her. A red line opened up in the middle of her palm and she flicked her hand, flinging red droplets everywhere.
Nancy rummaged through her backpack looking for a bandana to stop the bleeding until she could clean and tend to the wound -which was hard to do one handed, since she didn’t want to bleed all over her bag if she could help it.

It wasn’t until she calmed down that she remembered to rinse the cut with water from her water bottle and remembered that she had tucked a spare bandana in her back pocket when it had fallen off her head earlier during her work on cleaning up the graffiti off of the boulders in the park.

Nature Walk Reserve was a little patch of peace and quiet in a city overrun by gangs, hoodlums and otherwise unsavory people. She wasn’t paid for the upkeep of the park, but she did it in the knowledge that she tried to keep this one little oasis from being swallowed up by the rest of the taint of the city.

She turned to the boulder and checked to see what kind of bloody mess she had left on the rock along with the smudged graffiti. But in her search she found nothing, not a trace of red that had not been added to the boulder from a spray paint can. She closely inspected the edge that had cut her
no, nothing there that she could see.

It was at that point that the poorly wrapped bandana felt off her hand and she began dripping again. She watched as tiny droplets of red splashed the base of the boulder -and then watched as they disappeared into the rock itself.

"What in the –" was all she managed to get out before the rock started moving and she was forced to backpedal in order to keep from being crushed by the rock thing- that now stood before her. She tripped and her feet went out from under her it was probably that damned pebble again.

"Help!" She squawked, going down. But the boulder-man moved faster than she even thought possible for such a large chunk of rock.

"By your command." It said. A voice low and filled with deep friction, as if it was made by the rubbing of stone on stone. Well what else would it be? She thought. He’s made of stone.

"Er..Can I help you?" She asked, extricating herself from the large stone person who had recently partaken of her blood and hoped that he had had his fill.

"I am here to help you." it said.

"How is that possible?" she asked.

"You bled and brought me to life." The stone man said.

"And?" She asked, still backing away, afraid that he might get thirsty again.

"It is a pact between mage and elemental: You bleed to pay our price and we serve you until you banish us."

"Wait," she said. "I’m no mage."

"But magic flows in your blood." The stone man said.

Nancy was about ask what the stone thing meant when she remembered that her mother had said that her biological father had been a magician for kids parties and small events. Her mother had said that he was very talented, and could have made more of his life if he had only applied himself more. He had died in a car accident before Nancy was born. Coming home from a show at the children’s hospital to perform for terminally ill children, he had been side-swiped by a drunk driver and his car flew over a guardrail into the canyon below, killing not only himself, but his doves. Of the rabbit, they only found tufts of hair and assumed that coyotes had run off with it.

"Magic, huh?"

"Yes, my mistress. I am at your command."

He wasn’t bad looking for a boulder, she thought. Maybe I’ll call him Cliff, or Stone or something clever, but definitely suited to him.

"What is your first order?"

As she shifted her position to get a better look at him, her foot once again slipped out from under her, and she ended up twisting her ankle and wounding her pride. Once she was up, she glared at the ground and pointed, screaming: "Squash that damned pebble!"


Saturday, September 6, 2014

The Dark Spot in the Road

The Dark Spot in the Road

By Plot Roach

"Right there is where it happened," said a voice from behind Gracie. She paused reading her book, raising her eyes to look out the window of the us..

"No way, man. They wouldn't just leave stuff hanging round like that." said the other voice. "All body parts and evidence just hanging out in the breeze."

"They don't leave parts around, dude." said the first voice. "But you can totally see the scorch marks the crash left behind."

"What did you say?" asked a man to the side of Gracie. She had given up completely on her romance novel and put her finger in between the pages to keep her place. She was in the mood now for a little suspense, so she looked out the window as the man behind her pointed to the dark spot in the road.

"Right there is where is happened. Right there is where she died."

"What? Who? How?" The man beside Gracie asked.

Indeed, Gracie thought. Do tell.

"My cousin said two weeks ago another bus driver on this route was rushing through the curve real fast because he was running late on his route and was trying to make up the time. But this lady pulled out of her driveway and on to the main road without looking. They smashed up and the bus driver was sent flying while she was stuck in her car."

"What then?"

"Well..." he took  breath and waited, knowing that they were waiting on his every word. "The bus driver shot through the front window."

"-And was killed?" his friend asked from beside him.

"No, man -he lived."

"How? He must have been thrown at high speed onto the hard street. No one could have survived that."

"But he did. All he had were some cuts from the glass and a mild concussion."

"Wait," said the man from beside Gracie. "Why wasn't he wearing his seatbelt?"

"My cousin says that it was the last tip of the night and that he had forgotten to buckle himself in after taking a smoke break -thus the reason why he was running late."

"And the lady driver?"

"Well she got stuck in her car. It got banged up real good from the bus, the doors wouldn't open, though she fought like hell to get out."

"And your cousin say all this?"

"Yeah, he and the other passengers got a little shaken up from the accident, a few even were thrown from their seats. He was walking to the front of the bus to get a better look at things and to see what was what. That's when they saw the car catch fire."

"And your cousin did nothing -just watched her die. Man, that is low."

"No way, he and some others got out through the emergency exits on the bus windows and tried to pull the car doors open. One guy even broke his arm trying to get the driver's side window to break by punching it -but it did no good, she was stuck for good and the flames started getting really wild. In the end all they could do was stand back from the flames and watch her die."

"Man, that must have been a rough way to go."

"Yeah, she was conscious all the way until the end."

The dark spot in the road was long past them now, but the story stayed with Gracie for the rest of the day and many days afterward. It chewed at her relentlessly like a rat, gnawing her from the inside out.
She tried Google-ing the accident, but got only perverted porn sites and ads for accident insurance. As the bus passed the site twice a day (to and from her job) she couldn't help but feel a chill as they passed over the spot. She tried looking away, holding her breath and focusing on something -anything- but the horrible way that the woman had died. She wondered if her spirit still haunted the spot where the scorched road met the small white cross nailed into the earth. There were other crosses in the dirt beside it. The spot had seen a lot of deaths, but Gracie had never paid attention to it -until now.

On a hunch, she visited the local library and told the woman at the reference desk that she was writing an online article about the spot where all the crosses were. The woman helped her pull up some of the articles from their online database and a few that were on microfiche.

Gracie waded through the piles given to her, creating a list of the people who had died at the exact same spot. A child that had run out into traffic and had died. There were several traffic accidents, one involving a man who hadn't died at the site -but had died at the hospital he had been taken to. One newspaper article spoke of an elderly woman who, having battled the onset of dementia, strode into the oncoming traffic as though he were walking into the gates of heaven. Nearby onlookers questioned her actions, saying that maybe it wasn't a hallucination, maybe she chose this way to commit suicide.

Twenty seven people died at that spot -or because of it. And finally she came across the story of the most recent victim.

Amanda Higgins, known as Mandy to her friends, was in a hurry that night to get her cat to the pet hospital. A neighbor had said that it looked as if a stray dog had attacked the feline and was scared off. The cat was wounded and Amanda did what any cat lover would do -she headed for the hospital as fast as she could -forgetting to check the rear view mirror as she pulled out onto the street and into the path of the oncoming bus. Witnesses at the accident said that they tried to free her from the car wreck, but were unable to do so as the fire consumed the car. An autopsy reveled that she had been conscious as the flames closed in around her. Along with the article was a picture of Amanda holding her calico cat.

Oh, what an awful way to die, Gracie thought, bundling up the paper copies of the articles. Though why she wanted to keep such gruesome stories she could not say why.
She took the usual bus home, hoping now that the chills would plague her no longer. If only I could have talked with Amanda, she thought. I could have told her what a loving and wonderful heart she had for trying to save her wounded cat and told her that I was sorry that she had died in such a horrible way. Still, Gracie had questions she knew would go unanswered, because she could not speak with Amanda herself. Simple things that ranged from what had the cat's name been? to what was death like?

She gathered up her things and headed home, one less question on her mind.

The bus lurched in traffic, and Gracie's water bottle fell from her bag and rolled to the front of the bus. Embarrassed, she walked up to retrieve it.

"Hey, lady, the driver scolded. You're supposed to be behind the yellow safety line. Don't you know that-" but that was all he said before an oncoming car swerved from its lane into theirs and ploughed into the bus.

The driver, seatbelt latched, ended up smacking his head on the steering wheel. Most of the passengers had been seated and would suffer from mild bumps and bruises.

Most, but not all.

Having been at the front of the bus, Gracie was thrown through the window like the driver of the fateful bus had been through this same spot just a few weeks earlier. Unlike the driver, Gracie suffered from more than just a couple of cuts and a concussion. But unlike Amanda, her death was not drawn out and painful. Gracie could see a crowd gathering at the side of the road and joined them, looking at the poor soul who had crashed through the front window of the bus. She had come to a stop at the area where the street had met the curb. And from the look of the odd angle her head was at, it looked like she had snapped her neck upon impact.

I hope the poor thing went as quick as I think she did. Gracie said, peeking through the crowd at the dead woman's body.

It was then that she noticed the people around her and shivered when she realized why they had looked so familiar. A cat was chasing a sheet of paper blowing in the breeze, Gracie tried to pick it up, but it passed through her fingers like mist. She tried again, and saw that it was her fingers, not the paper that were as insubstantial as a hologram.

But then the cat rubbed up against her leg before bounding off to the places where the crosses had been nailed into the earth.

A woman then bent over to pick up the cat, cradling it in her arms as she smiled and beckoned for Amanda to follow.   

All of the questions and the words of awe that had been trapped like a gnawing rat could now be finally released. The sheaf of papers that Gracie had kept, detailing the deaths of those around her, flew like birds on the wind.

A few weeks later when Gracie visited the spot, she smiled as her own marker was displayed next to Amanda's. it was nice of her neighbor, Mr. Zimman to make it for her. She tried to touch it, but her hand passed though the wood. This ghost thing is hard to get used to, she thought. But at least  she had good company. The calico batted at her shoelaces as she turned away from her cross, pained blue -her favorite color. At least Zimman remember that I liked blue, she thought. Now if only he had remembered that I was Jewish.

And as she began to turn away and follow the cat, a bus passed by. A woman looked out the window and shivered at the dark spot in the road.       

Sunday, September 30, 2012

The Tyranny of Owls

Yeah, it's a poem. Try not to gag....Not my usual thing. But at least I'm writing again...

The Tyranny of Owls
by A. A. Floyd

They raid our nests in the night
Taking not the weak and the infirm on the wing
But fledglings too young to fly
And mothers plump with those yet unhatched
This crime will not go unpunished
Too many have died
Come! Come! Now! Now!
The call resounds
Echoes through the trees
Sharp beaks rap against the bark
Clawed feet jostle to find better purchase
A deep breath and a pause
Before an explosion of black upon the night sky
Blotting out the stars and moon
As if to murder the night itself.
A flash of black and white
The battle is engaged
Many soldiers of the Black will fall before our foe is vanquished
But we are many
As common as the dandelion
As ubiquitous as blades of grass in the valley
As long as there have been shadows there have been crows
Feathers and forms fall from the sky
The battle won
But at great consequence
Their chick is flung from the nest to the hungry ground below
The hen’s eye is pierced by a Black warrior, who surrenders his life in the conquest
Winging away into the night, she will be lucky to survive the month,
Much less to find another mate to further harass our patch of sky.
The cock lies broken upon the battlefield,
His wing crumpled useless and dragging behind him.
Come! Come! Here! Here!
We call to the executioners
Shadows slip from nearby shrubs
Coyotes heed our call
They break the bodies of our enemies and our siblings
Shattering bones between strong teeth to release the souls of our mothers, lovers, sisters and children
And send them to Mother sky
White down released to the wind will be woven into our nests to warn future predators
That we will not abide
The tyranny of owls

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Hope part 1

I produced a lot of writing for Nanowrimo last November. After taking December off, I decided that I would try again at another novel. I will attempt to post my daily ramblings in the hope that eventually it will become a book which will entertain you as well as myself…

This is a work of fiction. No real people, places or events were used. Copyright ã 2012 Plot Roach.

Hope part 1

By Plot Roach

She shook the spray paint can with her right hand as she lined up the rocks with her left. She heard the clacking of the ball bearing in the can and imagined that she could feel the pressure building up in the metal beneath her fingers. When the river polished stones were lined up in front of her, she popped the top off of the can and tossed it over her shoulder, releasing a spray of bright biohazard orange over the waiting rocks. Chemicals were released upon the wind, finding the rocks, the pavement beneath them and the shoes of the woman who held the spray paint can.

"I don't know why you keep making those things." Darla said, watching as her friend’s shoes took on yet another spray painted hue. "It's a waste of time when you should be helping me."

"It looks like you have it covered," The painter said as she laid on another layer of paint.


"Sky," the woman corrected. "I'm calling myself 'Sky' now."

"It doesn't matter what you call yourself, you're gonna starve if you don't stop this nonsense and start looking for food instead of spray-paint."

"We have more than enough and you know that," the woman said. "What's really bugging you?"

There was a rumble in the distance and the gloomy morning took on an even more ominous tone. Both women looked off into the distance. "It's gonna rain." Darla said, pulling her jacket closed as if the coat could close off something more dangerous than the morning chill.

"You think?" The woman who called herself Sky asked with a teasing note in her voice. She chased after the plastic cap of the spray paint as it rolled in the wind and pulled on Darla's sleeve. "Let's go inside before the rain falls."

"I don't want to."

"They can't hurt you, you know."

Darla didn't know if the woman meant her memories or the dead bodies that they had left behind them. “Won’t the rain ruin your paintings?" Darla asked, raising an eyebrow at Sky. She remained where she stood despite the woman pulling on her sleeve.

"If anything, the rain might make a nice background pattern through the paint," Sky said, pushing a stray lock of dirty brown hair out of her eyes. "I'm going to go inside and stay dry. Feel free to keep my rocks company." She dashed off into the distance, stopping under the eves of the store to look back at Darla before she negotiated her way through the broken glass door and back into the dark building.

Darla spared one last look up into the brooding sky that matched her mood and sighed. She kicked a glowing orange rock and it smeared a little of the paint along one edge of her sneaker, she tried rubbing if off with a finger, but only succeeded in getting the stuff further along her shoe and covering the index finger of her hand. "It figures." she mumbled and ambled through the deserted parking lot and toward the store. As she walked, Darla wondered why Sky even bothered painting the rocks that she left behind. It’s not like she’s keeping them or making them to give to someone, she thought. Not that there’s anyone left to give things to.
Pausing at the broken front door, she steeled herself and stepped inside, picking her way through broken glass and bits of refuse. She picked up the electric lantern that she had left by the entrance that morning. Though the place was not completely dark, the clouds had choked away the sun's brilliance until a sickly light filtered through the murky shadows of the store. Windows, tinted to reduce the glare of a summer sun, only made the place look darker in the winter months.

She knew that she would find Sky in the crafting aisle, planning her next art project. And though the woman did not fear the dark as Darla had, she would take a flashlight, not to see her way through the tangle of aisles and downed goods abandoned by shoppers, but to see the color of the paints she would pick for the next day's work.

"Just once you could start up the stove and maybe get the water boiling for me," Darla whined into the darkness. She paused at the craft aisle and shined her lantern into the dark. She was met with a scattering of tools, broken wooden dowels and a few skeins of variegated yarn in a mess upon the floor. The rest of the racks were as pristine as when they had been faithfully stocked by the store's workers. When Ginny -no, Sky- she reminded herself, had gone down these aisles to seek her materials she had taken what she needed and left the rest as she had found it, as if afraid to wake the ghosts of the dead who once stocked these aisles.

No, Darla thought. She's not the one afraid of waking the dead. I am. She tried several other aisles and panicked. "Where are you?" she called into the darkness. Both her pulse and her feet picked up speed as her search of the dark spaces proved fruitless. There was no other sound than the drumming of her heart in her body and her feet upon the cold linoleum floor. "Ginny! -dammit- Sky?! Where the hell are you?"

She wandered from Crafts to House-wares to the Pharmacy department with no luck. She flashed her light down each dark corridor of forgotten goods until, at last, she thought she caught a familiar flash. She stood still, unable to move from the ice in her veins, as her lantern illuminated the floor of the aisle in front of her. There, amidst the wreckage that had been the automotive aisle, was Sky's zippered sweat shirt, crumpled on the ground like an abandoned husk. Darla's mind raced as she tried to calm herself. Why had Sky not answered her? Was someone in here with them? Someone who had been watching them as they made the abandoned store their home? Had he been following them for days? Months? What if this place had been his home before they had come? Was he angry that they had taken things without asking for his permission? What had he done with her friend and what would he do with her if Darla let her guard down enough to get caught herself?

The rattle of metal in metal made Darla jump. She turned and threw her lantern, though she was loath to lose the light. It was her only weapon.

"Hey!" Sky called out. "What was that for?"

"Where the hell were you and why didn't you answer me?" Darla asked, squinting into the near darkness.

"You scared me to death!"

"Me?" Sky asked, retrieving the lantern from the floor, dropping the spray paint can she had been shaking to the ground. She gave the plastic lantern a good thump on the side and checked the battery hatch before switching the lantern's light back on. "You damn near killed this thing." Sky said, handing back the lantern to Darla. "And me in the process."

"Well, I thought..."

"What? You thought that I was the boogeyman?" Sky asked.

"You didn't answer and..."

"There's no one here, Darla. And there's no going to be."

"Then, why?...." Darla began to ask. It was the rocks that bugged her. Why was Sky making the rocks and leaving them behind if she didn’t think that there was anyone alive to find them?

"Why what?" Sky asked.

"Nothing... never mind..." Darla said, she turned on her heel and headed for the camping section. They had a makeshift home there, in a display of lawn furniture and a dome tent. She turned on the propane tank and put a large pot onto the small ring of fire. She filled the pot with water and rummaged through the basket of goods she had scavenged earlier while she waited for the water to boil.

"You don't have to cook tonight," Sky said, dragging her zippered sweatshirt jacket behind her. She had piled it high with spray paint cans and bottles of varnish. "I'm sure we can just eat some of the prepackaged stuff out of the cans instead."

Darla looked at the sweatshirt and almost pointed out to Sky that she was going to get her jacket dirty and it would have been much easier to bring her supplies over by using a cart, but she held her tongue. It was sky’s way of doing things, always jumping in without planning and heedless of the consequences of her actions. "I'm saving that for when we leave," she told Sky.

"Why are we leaving?"

"We can't stay here forever."

"Why not?" Sky asked. She was busily setting out the cans of spray paint by color.

"Because we'll run out of food eventually."

"Are you blind?" Sky asked. "There's enough food here to last a year easily, even if we ate like pigs."

"It won't all last that long, Gin-"

"Sky" her friend corrected her.

"Why do you want to be called sky all of a sudden?"

"Why do you want to leave?"

"There might be other people out there." Darla said.

"Aren't you the one always telling me that we're better off by ourselves? That we should hide from strangers because they might be dangerous, especially now that the flu has wiped out most of humanity?"

"That was before."

"Before what?" Sky asked.

Darla rummaged in the pocked of the oversized hunting jacket she wore and pulled out a long white piece of plastic, brandishing it at Sky as she had the lantern, but not throwing it this time.

On the end of the plastic stick were two small windows, both colored pink. "I'm pregnant," she said.