V: THE BURN
For a moment, there was nothing but darkness. Then, the entire world came back to Jake in an instant. Blurry and distorted as it may have been in his present state, it was, indeed, the world, and he was not dead…yet. He disregarded the crashes and shuffling of shadowed figures around him. He had barely come to and couldn’t make them out anyway. Jake was preoccupied with the red liquid that seemed to be oozing from the side of his head. With all the cloudiness that surrounded his vision and thoughts now, he could see red and he knew it wasn’t good. He remembered the last thing he heard—the booming growl of a gun, her gun. “This is it,” Jake thought to himself. It was a very matter-of-fact thought, which surprised him. He always thought if he ever knew he was going to die, that would be the most frightening moment of his life. But it was nothing. There wasn’t overwhelming emotion. He didn’t even feel any pain. He felt like a boat, slowly sinking in the quiet of a midnight ocean. Then, the red ran into his eye.
“Ahhhhhhhhh!” Jake screamed, coming back to life and flailing his arms. His eye was on fire! He sprang up gracelessly onto his feet and rubbed at his eye furiously. The hot jolt had brought some of his other senses back sharply and with his good eye he spotted a broken, toppled bottle of hot sauce that had been leaking onto his head while he had been unconscious on the ground.
Jake stumbled over to the cold case and grabbed a quart of milk and began to furiously flush his eye, hoping to quench the burning. After a couple of minutes, he felt better, and the burning had subsided enough that he could concentrate on something else. And that something else was the fact that he could now see the woman, the shopkeeper, unconscious, propped up against one of the free-standing support beams in the middle of the shop, with her hands tied behind the pole with a rope that had been fashioned out of plastic grocery bags. Creek’s handiwork, no doubt. Jake looked all over the store. No sign of Creek. He tried to remember what had happened but couldn’t. He was about to yell for him when Creek burst through the door to the back storeroom. The two were shocked, each by the other. Creek was shocked to see Jake on his feet and Jake was shocked to see Creek with a backpack in one hand and the shopkeeper’s gun in the other.
“Dare I ask?” questioned Jake, gesturing to the passed-out shopkeeper tied to the beam.
“She was about ready to clean out your ears with this thing,” said Creek, holding up the gun, “So, I grabbed a can of soup, chucked it, and hoped for the best.”
“What do you mean?”
“I mean I had to do something. So, I threw it in your general direction.”
“And it hit you in the head, which made your head snap back and it knocked the gun out of her hand. It discharged when it hit the floor. The bullet caught her in the arm. She’s fine. It’s just a .22, so it didn’t go too deep or do much damage. I got the bullet out with tweezers from the shop, cleaned with it with tequila from the liquor cabinet and patched her up already. She passed out from the sight of her own blood pretty much immediately. Tied her up to be safe and locked the front door so we wouldn’t have any more surprises. I guess you came around while I was in the back looking for supplies.”
Jake was trying to process the short story.
“Did you ever make sure I was alright!?” Jake said half-jokingly.
“I saw you breathing,” Creek replied with a slight smile.
“Were you aiming for my head with the can of soup?”
“No, I was aiming for hers!”
“Wow, you’re 0 for 2 today, man. I need at least a few hours’ reprieve from getting hit in the noggin.”
“Better to have a sore head than be dead,” Creek laughed.
Jake took a can of beer from the cold case and put it up to his forehead. With the recounting of the story, he began to realize his head hurt something awful. He watched Creek go around the store, strategically gathering food, medical items, rope, tools, flashlights, and batteries. Creek shoved them all into the pack he had found in the back room.
Jake walked to the back side of the front counter. He was looking for keys to the locked glass case that housed several pocket and fixed-blade knives in sheaths. He found the keys sticking out of the lock to the cash register. Jake opened the case and snagged a couple of knives. He tossed one to Creek. While looking down to slide his belt through the loop on the sheath, Jake noticed something barely peeking out from under the front counter. He felt underneath it and pulled out a shotgun, along with a box of shells.
“Looks like our friend over there is well-armed, to say the least,” Jake cracked.
“You may want to hold on to that,” said Creek.
“Oh, I’m planning on it.”
“I mean, I think we may need it.”
“Considering the day we’ve had, I think you’re right!”
“I’m talking about that,” said Creek, gesturing to the T.V. mounted in the upper corner above the store counter.
“What about it?” Jake asked, slightly puzzled.
“I was listening to it before Mrs. Vigilante Justice over there decided to take you hostage and while you were both down for the count.” Creek hesitated.
“And?” Jake asked
“I’ve been piecing it together. Something bad has happened,” said Creek, sounding deflated.
There was a moment of still quiet. Jake was afraid to inquire further. But the moment he worked up the courage to speak, all the lights in the building went dark.