Jeremy just had to stop at the big box store after his graveyard shift was over.
It was cold in the Walmart. Jeremy didn't like coming in so early in the morning, but he worked the graveyard shift at the bottle plant and Walmart was one of the few places that was open at seven a.m. There was a convenience store that was open, but his ex-girlfriend Darla worked some of the morning shifts there, which was more than enough reason to avoid the place. Jeremy tended to pay at the pump if he needed gas and never went in, not since the fight. His break up had been full of fireworks and he had no desire to see the woman again. Maybe she would stop harassing him when she ran into him, if he stayed away long enough.
Of course, his dad told him the harassment should stop when Darla found a new boyfriend, and Jeremy was counting the days until that happened. He'd even gone so far as to include a few prayers in that direction, asking God to find her a new man quick. Feeling generous, he threw in prayers for her to find a man who would make her happy; it was easier to pray for that when his own happiness was on the line. So far, God had other things to do. Shrugging as he went through the automated doors, Jeremy steered clear of the homeless guy in the cart corral on his right.
The homeless were out in droves today, maybe there was a convention of them in town or something. He'd almost hit two of them on the way into the parking lot. Jeremy was going to mention it to the greeter but the man was nowhere to be found. Probably he was on a pee break; old people did a good job saying hi to people, but they had to pee a lot. Kyle picked up a small plastic basket to carry his intended purchases, and headed towards the food side of the super store. He walked oblivious passed the empty check-out lanes and equally empty bakery and meat departments.
As he passed the canned goods aisle, he saw a man in a smock cleaning up a jar of spaghetti sauce or ketchup on the floor. The doofus was just standing there and rocking back and forth. Maybe he was waiting for someone else to bring the mop and bucket. Turning into the soda pop and chip aisle, Jeremy made it halfway down and stopped by the store brand pop. He plucked a couple of two-liter bottles of orange drink off of the shelf and put them in his basket.
The clerk from the canned aisle shuffled into the pop aisle. His face and the front of his shirt were covered in blood. Jeremy was price-comparing different brands of chips and had just, reluctantly decided he would not be able to buy the pretzels he liked and the spinach dip, unless he put one of his two-liter bottles of soda back. It was Wednesday and payday was tomorrow.
Tomorrow, he vowed to himself for about the hundredth time, I am coming over here and getting twenty of these pops and a dozen jars of dip. That much will last me for two weeks.
Jeremy’s money never seemed to last two weeks, no matter how he tried to be careful with it. He was making more than he ever had in his life, but it flowed through his hands like water. The bottle plant had a union, and three months ago his trial status had been converted to full time. This gave him a hefty raise, even with the dues taken out of each check every two weeks. How did he ever get by on his trial pay before? He turned and started walking to the lunch meat, just to see what was on sale, when he saw Darla.
She appeared at the end of the chips aisle, between him and the lunch meat. The woman hadn’t ever really looked that good, but right now she was looking really, really bad. He had never noticed how plump she was, or maybe she had just put on a bunch of weight. Darla was wearing her Git n'Go uniform. She must have switched to the graveyard shift there too, if she was here now. It was just the kind of thing she would do too, so she could keep better tabs on 'her' man.
Darla’s uniform was filthy, like she had been cleaning the pizza ovens again. In his tired, overworked state, the fact that she was only wearing socks didn't seem to register as he whirled around quickly to go the other way. Jeremy turned so fast that he slammed right into the store clerk before he saw the guy, knocking both of them down.
“Sorry! I'm sorry!” he said as he tried to disentangle himself from the clerk. Standing up quickly he held his hand out to help the other man up. That’s when he noticed the blood. Thinking he had caused the injury his apologies grew more sincere, “Oh God! I must have broken your nose! Shit man, I am sorry! I didn't see you there!”
The man was slow moving and lethargic, but he grabbed Jeremy's hand when it was offered and pulled the both of them down again. His mouth ended up on Jeremy's arm and he bit down with a savage chomp, drawing a shriek from Jeremy. “What the fuck! Dude, don't, it was an accident! I didn't mean to knock you over!”
Jeremy rolled over and away from the clerk, but he couldn’t pull his arm free. The clerk was gnawing on it and holding it tightly with an iron grip. Jeremy lay on his back with the clerk worrying his arm like a dog with a bone and watched as Darla approached him with a slow, shuffling step.
She's, uh, there is something wrong with her, he thought seeing his ex-girlfriend plodding along.
Inexorably, Darla put one foot in front of the other, shrinking the distance between them. Jeremy gave his arm several quick jerks, timing them between bites as the man ate his arm. It took three yanks before he was able to wrench it free.
Jeremy was bleeding profusely and had just staggered to his feet when Darla grabbed him from behind. Blood loss was dimming his vision and making him stagger about like a drunk as he tried to get away from his ex-girlfriend. She caught him around the waist with her arms and pulled him sideways into the shelving. Jeremy clung to the shelves, eye level with the bags of pretzels, struggling not to be pulled down. Darla, on her knees, sunk her teeth through his heavy cotton work shirt and into his side, just below the ribs. The clerk crawled up to both of them where he grabbed Jeremy's legs and all three ended up in a tangle on the floor. The clerk started eating Jeremy's leg while Darla continued gnawing a hole into his guts with her teeth.
“It hurts! It hurts! Oh God, stop! Stop! Darla, stop!” Jeremy's voice rose in octaves as the woman forced her head ever deeper into his side. He pulled bags of chips off of the bottom shelf and flailed about with them. The bags spread an arc of crumbs throughout the aisle on either side of the pile of bodies. Finally Jeremy gave a high pitched shriek that transcended gender and age and then he was still. Darla’s head was so deep into his side that it had almost disappeared from view. Blood poured from Jeremy’s body around her face, spreading out in a pool to mix with the crumbs of snacks littering the floor.
The harsh white light over the pop section was the only witness to the final moments of Jeremy’s life. It wasn’t long before three zombies got up and started shambling around the store, hunting for other early morning shoppers who may have wandered in.