The gun shop door was open but half the ceiling had collapsed. The Sherman Oaks Outdoorsman. Here too hissing sprinklers, shrieking alarms. He had to press his fingertip into his left ear and still the back of his head rang with the sound of cicadas. Shelves fallen into each other. Tile floor covered with flashlights and Rambo knives, spreadeagled Guns & Ammo magazines. Soldier of Fortune open to honeypot ads in the back for hit men, all sopping wet. Marcy still catatonic in the ’79 Mercedes outside, in the handicapped space. He’d wrapped her in his picnic blanket. Strapped her in like a baby. Eased the seat all the way back so her head wouldn’t stick up. He’d thought about taking another car, a 4-wheel drive. But the hallway floor tilted in and the first burned corpse he checked for keys groaned when he tried its pockets.
FUCKING GET DOWN GET DOWN GET DOWN a man was screaming. A boom went off loud enough that the fire alarm seemed like nothing. Fluorescent light bulb glass and shredded foam ceiling tile fluttered down on his face.
All right! All right! I’m not–
WHAT DO YOU WANT
He was out of adrenaline. The question was insulting. Guns, he said.
Hey man– is that you?
Another insulting question. Yeah I’m me, he thought. Behind the back counter by the deli number dispenser the top of a red head inched up. Dirty white drowned corpse face, cut up. Dusty had on a tactical hunting jacket with the tags still hanging off. He’d dragged the beef jerky display behind a cash register and half emptied it into a black duffel bag. Also with tags. There was a crunch somewhere and the walls shook and the alarm squealed and stopped. In the distance many others. But no sirens. Fancy meeting you here, said Dusty. His hands were bloody.
Dusty– are you going to kill me, he said.
No man. I thought you might be them.
I don’t fuckin know.
May I uh,
Yeah, help yourself man. But I’m takin the food. And I’m takin the floor model. He put down his black shotgun, straight out of Terminator 2. Reached up where the mass shooter Bushmaster AR-15 hung. Plucked it off its hook, peeled off the sign that said DUE TO HIGH DEMAND, OUT OF STOCK UNTIL FURTHER NOTICE. Not too much fuckin ammo for it though.
What do you think I should take.
What do you want to accomplish.
I don’t know. Shoot people.
Well get a bag and go nuts man, but your issue is gonna be ammo. This place was always understocked. Even before that fuckin AARP guy went ISIS.
He’d read the guy was government, but why argue. Either was plausible.
In the end Dusty helped him. Mostly. He got a nice nickelplated Smith and Wesson .357 revolver. A mean black rifle with a scope. A .45 with magazine as recommended. Dusty showed him how they worked. Bows, arrows made to slice wild boars’ arteries. A .22 because Dusty was jealous over the other ammo. Got to leave me some, he said. Nice enough smile but his hand back on the gun. 22 won’t do much, said Dusty, but he remembered Speed Racer killing a moose with one in a movie. Based on a true story. When his bag was almost too heavy he made to leave. Where you gonna go, said Dusty.
Anyone else in that building make it?
… just me.
Well good luck out there homie, said Dusty, and they hung quiet for a second like they should add each other on Facebook.
Marcy was still in the car, thank God. He had to smash the Flame Broiler Teriyaki Bowl’s glass sliding door with a jack handle. The gas main had ruptured and the customers and cashiers burned alive, still smoking along with the griddle top beef and broccoli. A little blue flame still whispering on the end of the metal hose by the stove. In the pantry past the restroom where EMPLOYEES MUST WASH HANDS were 5 gallon buckets of vegetable oil, as he’d hoped. He made one last trip for a jar of fortune cookies, the only nonrefrigerated food. The first aid kit under the manager’s desk. When he got back in the driver’s seat she was conscious.
Where are you taking me, she said.
Out of LA. He started the car.
What happened in there.
They’re dead. Can you trust me for a minute and keep your head down please, he said.
Just for a minute he said, and pulled out. OK you can sit up. Let me help you.
Up the street he stopped next to a fire hydrant; water oozing out around the bolts in the cracked concrete, already black. Around them trees on fire. Houses collapsed, smoking. The wind picked up; a burning LA X-Press hooker paper blew onto the windshield with a 2 page color spread of SUCCULENT CHRISTINA. She was fat, looked 50. He had to reach around out the window to peel her off. To the south and east, smoke columns churning dark and swarming with lightning. No cars on the road but half the phone poles were down, wires snaking onto the asphalt. How to get out. He reached across her waist and cranked the plastic dial forward to raise up her seat back.
I’m sorry to be weird but I don’t think we can let people see you, he said. Whatever men are left will want a car and a girl. He turned on the radio. For a full minute the Emergency Broadcast System tone played, indicating an emergency. No shit. He turned it off.
What happened, she said again. He said: nuclear holocaust.
I have to find my parents–
Where are they?
El Cerrito– they retired out here–
They’re probably dead. She gasped and he said, oh my God– I’m sorry. Now she was crying. He made a mental note to behave like a human being. She didn’t know. Nobody knew. He held her hand. She didn’t move. It’s a coordinated attack, he said. It’ll be all over. We’re lucky to be alive.
And where are you taking me, she said again.
We have to get to the country. Somewhere where there’s water–
Well if it’s everywhere what’s the point–
It will only be cities, he said.
How do you know?
Because I almost made it happen.