“Have you two been up all night?” Sky asked with a yawn. She stretched her arms into the air, exposing a small sliver of midriff. Kris tried not to look.
“What’s it to ya?” Arthur growled. He flicked a burnt butt away and coughed into his fist. “I need a drink.” He accepted Sky’s hand and stood.
“I need breakfast,” Sky said. They separated and started perusing the shelves for sustenance. Arthur found a warm six-pack of Pabst Blue Ribbon, and Sky returned with a box of Lucky Charms. “Pabst beer, Winston cigarettes… You sure like the shitty stuff, don’t you, Art?”
“It’s Arthur, Ms. Butts,” the old man corrected her as he cracked open a can, sending a hiss of carbon dioxide and spray of sticky beer into the air. “And I’ve survived thirty years on this ‘shit,’ so think about that.” He tossed her and Kris a can. Sky opened hers, took a cautious sip, and grimaced.
“Um, guys? Maybe we shouldn’t be drinking right now,” Kris said with a raised finger. “I mean, we, uh, gotta go out there.”
“I ain’t letting the living dead stop me from drinking,” Arthur said. “Might as well join ‘em otherwise.”
Sky took one more sip and tossed the can. It spun through the air, raining brown beer and foam over the discolored tiled floor. “He’s right. Let’s do this right.”
The three filled up on cereal and stale donuts, making sure to drink as much water as they could stomach. Arthur and Kris moved the shelf from in front of the stockroom door. Arthur opened it cautiously, his pistol at the ready. He motioned for Kris and Sky to follow when he knew it was safe.
“How do we get out?” Sky asked, looking up at the skylight.
“We climb,” Mr. Caldwell said. “You go first. Me and the big guy here will toss our gear up to you.”
“We’re taking out stuff?” Sky asked, perplexed. “Why?”
“Just a precaution. This place could be infested by the time we get back. Better to take our stuff and stash it somewhere safe than leave it where we could lose it.”
Kris and Sky spent ten minutes packing their bags with as much food as they could handle while Arthur arranged the stockroom shelves into a makeshift ladder of sorts. When they were finished, Sky scrambled topside. Arthur tossed his bags to her with ease, but Kris’s always fell short, leaving it to the veteran to throw all the gear to the roof. At least Arthur had the decency to not make fun of Kris for his terrible throwing arm.
“Up you go,” he told Kris when everything was safe up above. He carefully crawled onto a crate, then up a shelf until he stood just below the skylight hole. To make it through would require upper body strength Kris simply didn’t have.
“Uh, I don’t think I can jump up.”
“Course you can,” Arthur said from below. “You ain’t got a choice.”
Kris grabbed the edge of the shattered window and tried to leap and then pull himself up. His shoes only made it inches off the shelf before he dropped back down, the metal bending under his weight.
“Lemme help,” Sky suggested. She dropped through the hole next to Kris and laced her fingers together, resting her hands on her extended knee. “Gimme your foot.”
Kris tugged at his collar and looked away, knowing his face must be as red as his bitten hand. “Uh, on second thought, I-I think I can do this.” He tried again and came crashing down once more, backing into Sky and almost knocking her fifteen feet to the floor.
“We ain’t got all day, kids!” Arthur barked from below.
“Look, it’s okay,” Sky reassured him. “Really.”
Kris saw her smile at him out of the corner of his eye. He sighed, pulled his cap down as low as it would go, and put his foot into Sky’s hands.
She counted. “On three. Ready? One, two, three!” Kris jumped off Sky’s knee and pulled up with his arms, putting as much weight as he could on the edge of the skylight. He half-collapsed onto the roof, his feet dangling. He felt Sky still pushing his legs as he shimmied his way up. By the time he stood, his breath was labored.
Sky was topside moments later. “You okay?” she asked him.
Kris nodded, afraid that speaking would betray how winded he actually was.
Arthur popped up and dusted himself off. A senior handled that physical task better than Kris could have ever hoped to, and he did it with a pistol on his hip and a sniper on his back. Kris pulled his cap lower, his cheeks burning.
The group gathered their bags and walked to the eastern edge of the roof. The buildings cast long shadows under the rising sun. Looking at the street below, Kris could see how the infection was spreading. The bodies that had been lying dead in the gutter yesterday now roamed the alleyways and sidewalks as lifeless husks.
“We gotta get outta here,” Sky muttered, reading Kris’s thoughts.
“Agreed.” Arthur raised his rifle and peered through the scope. “I see it. Gander Mountain. Two blocks thataway.” He lowered the gun and looked along the rooftops. “Looks like we’ll be taking the same we did yesterday.”
“Gander Mountain?” Sky said. “What are going to some hillbilly store for?”
“Ammo. Flashlights. Batteries. Shit that’ll keep us alive. You got a problem with that?”
“Sir, no, sir!” Sky said in her gruffest military voice, giving a caricaturized salute. Arthur grumbled something to himself and dismissed her with a wave of his hand.
Kris turned, looking for his trusty ladder. He spotted it a few feet from the skylight. He made his way over, reached down, and stopped when Arthur’s boot came down on the rungs. The veteran picked the ladder up. “Not today, boy,” he said, tossing it down into the stockroom.
“Come on, Art. He needs that.”
“No, he doesn’t. He thinks he does. Big difference. Now let’s go.” Arthur started east, leaping the first gap between buildings with ease. “And for the last time, it’s Arthur.”
“Can you handle this?” Sky asked as they followed after Arthur.
“I-I think so.”
“Here. I’ll go first. Watch.” Sky stopped, readied herself, and sprinted toward the edge of the grocery store roof. With well-timed leap, she soared over the five-foot gap, landing safely on the other side with Arthur. “Throw me your bags!” she called.
Kris tossed both of them over. His hands were sweating, but they wouldn’t dry no matter how many times he wiped them on his khaki shorts. “I can do this,” he whispered to himself.
He turned and saw Sky standing there, a confident grin on her face. She was slightly hunched, her hands on her knees, ready to catch Kris if he stumbled. She may have been half his size, but her faith in Kris was all the motivation he needed.
Kris licked his lips, exhaled, and ran, his huge legs thundering, his big arms pumping. At the edge, he planted his right foot, closed his eyes, and leapt. He felt the wind on his face, the breeze whistling in his ears, and the jolt of pain as his body slapped into the opposite building’s brick wall.
He didn’t remember plummeting into the alley below.