Zeds 1.3 Michael

Any one can navigate these bumpy, hole ridden dirt roads in a monstrous 4×4, but it takes someone with a TRUE sense of adventure to traverse them in a compact, four-door family sedan. My car is just such a car; a true adventurer’s car. Everyone would think a proper adventurer’s vehicle would be a Jeep, or a Hummer, but no… it’s a little Toyota. Those other cars can go through anything without any worry, but where is the adventure without worry? You haven’t lived until you’ve been towed out of a small snow drift.

My little car is covered in dirty, mud, chipped paint, and features a little green haired troll doll on the dash with a wedding ring for an arm-band. It’s not my ring! No, I’m not married; never have been. This is something I just picked up at a second-hand shop as inspiration for the end of chapter thirteen, when Kenneth proposes to Shari after a near death experience with a man-eating troll with – can you guess? – green hair.

It usually takes an hour to make it down the twisting dirt roads, but when it rains it can take an extra half hour to forty-five minutes. Subsequently, it takes almost two hours from locking my door to reaching the paved road into town. I reach down and click on my static box; most people refer tot hem as radios but given my exceptional distance from a radio tower all it produces is static most of the time. 

On some occasions when I hit the freeway I can get hints of some local public radio station or gospel, assuming the weather is decent, the car is in just the right place, the sun doesn’t have any flare-ups, it’s a new moon, and all the planets of the solar system are perfectly aligned.

This does not seem to be such a day; I’m blaming Pluto. The radio scans through one dead station after another, sharing nothing but a quiet hiss. Oh well, I can suffer silence for the remaining half hour.

It’s almost nine by the time I pass the sign welcoming me to the small town of Twin Oaks. This place is not found on any maps and very few people know about it. It’s kind of a secret society of extremely rich people; most of them are unknown and wish tor remain that way, but there are a few celebrities that drop in as well. If my great-grandfather hadn’t built that cabin and laid claim to that bit of land a hundred or so years ago, my family would have never heard of this place either. We might still never know if the only road leading up to the cabin didn’t run through the town.

The streets are empty, but that’s pretty normal for Twin Oaks; especially this time of year with this kind of rain. I pull into the supermarket’s parking lot and slip in beside someone’s male compensation unit. I exit my car, lock the doors, and hurry inside to avoid the rain as best I can. The doors slide open, greeting me with a quiet whirr, as I approach and I enter the building with the he soft elevator music. They don’t play normal radio music here because sometimes the guests who come in don’t want to hear their own music playing.

The store seems a little messier than usual; some of the carts are laying on their sides and there is another cart abandoned, full of groceries. I shrug it off as I know the employees here know what they’re doing. They get paid a lot, so I am sure it’s either intentional or someone is already rushing here to fix it. I grab a cart from the corral and move toward the produce section.

Carrots, celery, lettuce, these, those, that and the other things that I avoid and walk past. I’m no chef and I don’t cook every night. I’m more of a frozen foods, microwave meals kind of person so I leave the produce section with an empty cart and cross into the frozen aisle. I find a variety of wonderful, low cost meals meant for the few locals who run the shops and do the laundry. The “staff”, as they’re occasionally referred to, can’t afford to shop at their own stores since everything here is ridiculously overpriced for those with winter cabins and summer homes. I toss a few low budget so-called-gourmet microwave dinners in my cart and move on.

After a visit through the snack and soda aisle, I manage to half-fill my cart and head up front. The cashier is away from the counter so I unload my cart onto the conveyor belt and I wait. A few magazines catch my fancy and I skim their headlines.

A new relation between those two? He’s cheating on her again, again?! My goodness, another baby for her? Oh my!

Several minutes pass and I have added bubble gum and a few candy bars to the stack of froze, packaged goods. I glance about to the other registers, down the nearest aisle, up towards the manager’s window above the customer service counter. I try to focus my eyes as though I can peer through the two way mirror. There is no one as far as I can tell. I am a patient person, but it’s beginning to slip away from me.

The customer service desk if empty as well, but I smack the bell on the counter a few times. Another minute passes and still no one arrives. I look around again, then walk to the front of the store, checking every aisle as I pass and I make a startling discover; the store is completely empty! There isn’t a single person here. Not a single customer, or employee. Curious… and disturbing. I head to the front door and peer out into the parking-lot. There are several cars out there, including one I recognize as belonging to the manager.

I scratch my head.

Where is everyone? Is there a storm coming that I missed?

That would make a lot of sense, considering my lack of radio and the close proximity to the ocean. Storms aren’t a common occurrence out here but once every decade or so we get something heavy. It usually comes in the December through February period as the town gets dumped upon by a dozen feet of snow or so, but there have been a few records of severe rain and mudslides.

The local posting board hangs just inside the entrance, on the right across from the carts. I didn’t notice it as I came in at first because I have no interest in local events right now, but I check it for postings on coming storms, gas leaks, or nuclear wars. There are no postings of the sorts… only the usual spring festival that will arrive at its regularly scheduled date, and a startlingly high number of memorials and missing persons from the last four weeks. I skim over a few of them; seems a lot of people went missing on a camping trip, and a whole tour bus vanished into the mountains without a word. I notice that the newest article is two weeks old.

“Huh,” I mutter quietly to myself. “I must have taken a wrong turn somewhere. I’ve found up in the Twilight Zone.”

I’m sure that I will soon discover I am the last man alive and have all the time in the world… then I’ll realize all the donut shops are permanently out of service and conclude that life is simply unfair.

Author: CJ Stark

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