Crestwood Centre. It appeared as busy as a normal weekday, with the lot full of varying makes and brands of vehicles. But closer scrutiny showed erratic hastiness–cars angled this way and that, some partially taking up four different stalls, bumpers resting against dented fenders. The helter-skelter of it demanded noise, shouting, chaos–the silence overwhelmed.
What happened here? Roger wondered. They obviously arrived with a plan, so why’d they leave without their vehicles? He looked around for any signs of the dead. He was alone. Just him, his thoughts, and the empty shells of the vehicles, whose colors were being lost under a dusty greyish-beige.
Every place Roger looked, nostalgia hit at him like a villain in a Batman comic book: Café Blackbird–his and Mary’s little coffee spot (jab!), the Toronto Dominion Bank–which had financed their cars and house and holds their investments (biff!), CareIt Urban Deli–lunch stop when on their walks (bam!), Allegro Italian Kitchen–Mary’s favorite place to dine, Deluxe Burger Bar–his favorite (paff!). Each memory of Crestwood Centre was like a little jab that added up to one big haymaker that almost brought Roger to his knees. kaPOW!
The initial hit landed as he crossed 96th avenue. Café Blackbird resided on the corner, where the aroma of coffee would wander several steps from the coffee house to welcome you inside. Today, there was only the scent of decay, which made the Blackbird as welcoming as anywhere else in the city–just another spot that died along with Edmonton. Its shattered windows didn’t bode well for the Apothecary.
He and Mary had visited just about all the shops and restaurants of Crestwood Centre over the years. It was their place–a little spot of living within Crestwood. How he wished to stroll it one last time with Mary; buy a knickknack for the living room, have a not-too-real argument about where to eat, then pick up a bottle of wine to enjoy in front of the fire at the end of the day.
So much lost in a couple of years. Roger sighed. He still had Mary though, her illness may have robbed her of the decades they had spent together, but he still had all of that wonderful time with each other to draw upon. That, and being able to look across a room and see her, made life worth the struggle.
He passed the door for the Bella Casa Design Centre. Its door and windows were intact, but the sidewalk in front of the pharmacy was covered in shattered glass. The steel lattice security curtain, or whatever they called such a thing, which sat behind the window was worked free and bent back enough to let a person enter.
Before entering, Roger noted a couple of zombies off in the distance, but they weren’t close enough to be of concern and didn’t appear to be coming his way. The more immediate concern was what was on the other side of the bent security curtain; he could smell the decay wafting out through the hole in the broken window, but there were no accompanying sounds of anything moving around.
The interior of the pharmacy was lost to him; heavy drapes made it impossible to see inside. Roger tapped on the glass and listened carefully. Everything was still, but his heart sped up anyway as he stepped into the apothecary.
As he pushed the drapes aside he gagged heavily. The smell of rot was overwhelming, reminding him of the Muttart Conservatory. He went with Mary one year after reading an Edmonton Journal article proclaiming that the Corpse Flower was in bloom, which was billed as smelling like “rotting flesh.” With the rise of Deadmonton, Roger had the knowledge to concur. It was as if Edmonton was now the greenhouse, growing corpse flowers by the hundreds of thousands, only these walked, ate, and killed.
Mary had lasted longer in the conservatory than he had, throwing open the door and gasping for fresh air. He remembered how they laughed, perhaps out the absurdity of paying money to almost make themselves sick. There were no doors to stumble through now, though; nothing to get back to a comfortable reality.
Roger gave himself a moment, breathing through his mouth to try and get around the pungent air, then entered the Crestwood Apothecary.
The person responsible, or so Roger assumed, for his easy entrance to the store was dead. Truly dead. She sat with shelves of medicine standing protectively by. On the wall, above the shelves, “PRESCRIPTIONS” was written in a large font.
Scattered bottles of rubbing alcohol surrounded her, adding the look of a hobo on a binger to her slumped over posture. Bandages were wrapped tightly around her right bicep and thigh. She hadn’t finished changing the bandage on her left forearm, the old blood-encrusted one was only half removed and the missing flesh of the exposed wound told a tale. Roger assumed the other bandages wrapped further bite marks, which meant she was attacked and bitten by zombies yet she hadn’t turned. The whole scenario lent truth to the rumors of possible immunity, as well as concern for his plan “B”, should it be required.
Possible immunity. It was talked about, but no proof was ever provided. In the beginning, it was one “expert” trying to position their theory over another’s. Grabbing for a few minutes in the spotlight or creating a catchphrase to win the next day’s headline. After a continuing parade of one expert providing their findings while another expert disputed those findings the next day, it became apparent that no one really knew what was behind the active dead. The illusion of life, one of them called it, that seemed to fit as well as any other description and it was what stuck with Roger: The illusion of life.
Possible immunity. It was talked about, but no proof was ever provided.
He found a smock hanging behind the counter and covered the woman with it. Perhaps, with the immunity thing, humans wouldn’t become extinct after all, at least not until there were enough of them again to find a way to blow up the world. In his mind, he could see the old Mary shaking her head at him, the way she always had when he served up some thought wholly negative in tone.
Roger searched the pharmacy, including the desks and offices of the staff, looking for items on his list. Perhaps if he were younger he would have found some fun in the looting, knowing no repercussions were forthcoming, but he felt he was invading the privacy of people who were nothing but helpful towards him whenever he dropped by.
Roger mostly wanted a drug guide, but once found, he gave up on it quickly; it wasn’t organized in any way that would be of use to him. Instead, he looked up the name of a drug he knew, Ciprofloxacin. He had read an article, at one time, how prolonged use could cause tendon issues, which was the main point of the article, but it also mentioned that is was used to treat many bacterial infections, even some forms of plague. The drug guide confirmed these points. If it was strong enough for something like that, then it should be enough for what ails Mary.
“She can’t take these?” Roger said, once he located the antibiotic and saw the size of the pills. Another look at the guide showed that it came in a suspension form. Mary would still have to be coaxed, but it would be their best bet. He finally found it, three kits were inside the fridge. He took them all and put them in a plastic bag found near the cash register, adding bottles of extra-strength Advil, peroxide, and alcohol to clean his own wounds, along with sterile dressing and tape. He also grabbed a bunch of syringes–once mixed, the Cipro needed to be refrigerated, something the bunker didn’t have the luxury of, so he couldn’t reconstitute one full bottle at a time, he’d have to prepare one dose at a time. Which meant the dosages wouldn’t be exact, but he figured he’d be able to get them close enough.
Roger was hurrying now. Mary should have had the first dose of Cipro a while ago, but his encounters with the zombies and the subsequent time to recover had caused a delay he hadn’t anticipated. He took a quick drink from the distilled water he found in the contact lens aisle, then headed back to the window.
...his encounters with the zombies and the subsequent time to recover had caused a delay he hadn’t anticipated.
There was a distant racket that caught his attention, but as he stepped back through the broken window, the plastic bag caught on a jagged piece of glass, tearing a hole in the side of the bag, a couple of needle-topped syringes fell to the ground.
No big deal, Roger thought as he picked them up. He would transfer everything to the backpack he’d left by the fence–with his wound bandaged, the backpack wouldn’t rub and irritate it further.
He slid the syringes into this pocket and turned back towards the bunker. To Mary. And with a clear view across the street, Roger saw the cause of the noises he had noticed earlier.
And they saw him.
The final chapter to Illusion of Life will be posted first week of October.