NOTHING MOVED APART FROM the crows as I waited and watched.

My hand went to the Glock at my hip. I crouched alongside a rusted-out, four-door, Oldsmobile Delta 88 in my police issued tactical uniform, complete with vest, boots, and black ball cap.

Nothing continued to happen. I gazed out at the empty parking lot and, despite that part of my brain that shouted incessantly to get up and move, I waited.

I have many faults, not least of which is my lack of patience.

I make no excuses for it, waiting just wasn’t a skill set I was born with. Grilling the perfect steak, knowing all the lyrics to every Kiss song, and finding the right buttons to push on a person to bring them to a full boiled rage, sure. But patience?

Well let’s just say I’ve never had the patience for it.

I’ve had to learn, though. I used to be a cop. Regardless of what you used to see on television, a career as a police officer isn’t all action. It’s mostly driving around, sitting around, and even sometimes, walking around. Even moments of actual excitement are followed up by hours of paperwork.

When I was promoted to detective I thought it would all change.

It didn’t. I just got to wear a suit and tie to work.

Nowadays, regardless of the apocalyptic event, patience is even more important. Some would say essential. Best practice these days was to ensure it was safe before venturing out in to the open. That meant a heck of a lot of waiting and a crap ton of watching.

I hated it.

I glanced at my watch. It had been the better part of an hour since I’d ducked down behind the car and my legs were beginning to feel the effects. Pins and needles and all that.

I took a chance and stood. A crow perched on a lamp post above me cried out and took flight. I ignored it as best I could as I stretched. The other crows in the area responded to their fleeing companion with their own cries and I ducked back down behind the car.

Nothing happened.

The car sat in the lot of The Malls Shopping Center, a strip mall at the corner of 23rd and Louisiana Streets in my old hometown of Lawrence, Kansas. Strip malls are named as such due to their shape, usually one long strip of shops stretching out in a straight line. The Louisiana Purchase, however, started in the Southeast corner of the lot and ended at the Northwest, meeting in the Southwest corner to form a right angle.

I remembered the place fondly. My barber shop had been in the mall. This was where I would go to get hardware supplies or a pizza. The mall had been around for as long as I could remember, but it never looked as old as it did right now.

The entire area looked like one of those war-torn cities you used to see on the news. Like Baghdad after Desert Storm. The few cars that were in the lot, the Oldsmobile included, had tires that were flat, shredded, or missing altogether. Most of the vehicles had had their windows busted out at some point, and bits of glass were strewn about around them. Great gouges marred the surface of the lot near the Southeast corner as if Optimus Prime had run his giant, metal fingers through the asphalt. The crows perched here and there atop the lot’s few standing lamp posts continued with their incessant cawing and it reverberated through the air, bouncing around among the storefronts and digging into my skull like a drill.

The shops themselves were in your typical modern, strip mall style. A glass storefront with a door — glass in a metal frame — that swung in and out. In days past, each storefront would have had a large sign mounted above the door. The signs would have been made of colorful plastic and would have been big enough to be seen by passing traffic. The few signs that remained had been torn open and smashed or were riddled with bullet holes.

Most of the stores had been broken into by looters during the panic from those first few days, and then later by the survivors looking for anything the keep them alive. Food, water, clothing, toilet paper (you can never have enough toilet paper, trust me on that fact), weapons, pretty much anything. I myself had rooted through a couple of those shops on one occasion or another.

The general state of the area would make it difficult for your average outsider to determine which shop was which. Fortunately, I wasn’t an outsider. I had come for the third shop down from the middle on the West side. The Comic Market. Amazingly it was the only store in the entire complex that stood relatively untouched, its doors and windows unbroken. All I would need to do would be to walk across the parking lot, get myself through those doors, collect what I came for, and be on my way.

Easy-peasy, lemon squeezy.

I threw another glance at my watch. I’d been waiting long enough. If there were shufflers about, they weren’t showing themselves. Still, I stood slowly and took one last look around the lot before stepping out from behind the Oldsmobile.

Two steps later and three figures came into view, shuffling out of the shop to the left of the Comic Market. I slipped back behind the car and peered over the hood. It was just my luck. Nothing for an hour, then bang, the moment I get moving the plan goes to crap.

The Comic Market stood just two rows of parking spaces from where I crouched, a walk in the park before the world went ass over end. At most, back then, you had to worry about some idiot behind the wheel, tooling through the lot like he was trying to get up enough speed to travel through time.

Now however, the danger was much, much slower. Yet infinitely more deadly. For between me and my goal stood the reason behind the apocalypse.


To be continued . . .

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