Of Monsters and Ends
The Walmart must have been built right before the End of the World for it was still untouched, a time capsule to a life that no longer existed. Marley had found it by chance after being forced to move on from her current camp sooner than expected. She went where the food could be found and stayed only until the first large predators were spotted. No use risking her life over scraps when other places could still be safely scavenged.
Marley stood outside the automatic doors for a long while, staring into the store’s darkened interior. The glass was dirty but still intact. She almost hated to destroy this relic of Before, but the doors had been locked long ago and she needed what could be found inside. She scrounged up a large rock and smashed through one of the panes, the sound echoing down the long-forgotten aisles. The noise did not appear to attract the attention of other scavengers so Marley flipped the lock and stepped inside.
It was the smell that assaulted her first, a foul aroma of long rotted food. Of course, she had not come to the Walmart for fresh supplies. She tied a handkerchief over her nose and mouth and adjusted her headlamp before continuing deeper into the building, past the buzzing flies and maggots and mounds of food-mush.
The store had been decorated for a Halloween that never came, and old decorations still adorned the rafters and the ends of the aisles. Skeletons, witches, bats, ghosts. They all loomed out of the shadows and made Marley feel a little less alone in the echoing expanse of the Walmart.
She wondered how so much could be left untouched, shelves still fully stocked with everything from picture frames to toilet bowl brushes to bells for children’s bicycles. So many of these things seemed inconsequential in the After. Marley found a cart abandoned in the women’s shampoo aisle and started to fill it up with things that mattered. Can opener, knives, bandages, blankets. Flashlights and batteries that would be tested later in a secure camp. Bottled water and new boots and warm clothing.
Marley was zipping herself into a new hoodie - one that did not smell of a year’s worth of blood and sweat and survival - when she glanced up to see a row of Halloween costumes. Hoods, masks, capes, wings. Cute animal costumes for infants and cartoonish characters for kids. A lot of scantily clad options for ladies that made her roll her eyes.
But what gave her pause was the abundance of monsters. So many people had wanted to dress as something fearful, yet in the After Marley found herself in, werewolves and zombies and vampires all felt so decidedly fanciful. What would she have dressed as for that last Halloween if she could remember it? Something from a nightmare or a dream? She did not know.
There had been so much real terror in those months before the End of the World.
So many real monsters emerging from the shadows.
Marley ran her hand along the black plastic of a cat mask, whiskers etched in white. A fairy’s wings sparkled in the light of her headlamp.
It seemed so wrong that people had kept on pretending like nothing was happening, that the world was not falling apart at the seams. They had prayed and they had cried and then they kept going about their daily lives. Like October 31st was still going to come, like the sun would keep on rising.
Marley placed the mask gently on the teetering pile of supplies in her cart, and turned back toward the entrance and the After she lived in. The Walmart and the Halloween costumes belonged to the Before.
The world had ended while people put on their masks and buried their heads in the sand. Marley would not forget that.
But she would also remember that she was still around to live.
Inspired by the prompt: Write a story set in Walmart.