Sally looked down at her watch realizing she only had 30 minutes to prepare dessert before her in-laws arrived. She wasn’t looking forward to Ralph and Edith’s week long visit. She knew Edith would snub her nose up at the tiramisu and explain what she had done wrong. Michael was no help, she thought, he never defended her to his family and walked off like a little puppy with its tail between his legs. The sooner the visit started, the sooner it would be over.
Jodie ran in and grabbed a cart ahead of Sally and headed off to the fruit and vegetable section, she had just left work and needed to get dinner started before Dave got home. He liked his meals prepared and waiting when he walked through the door.
Denzil Marks, an elderly gentlemen slowly entered the store, he tried to hurry but with his cane tapping along the cement he was afraid he managed to just get in other shopper’s way. Since Mabel died his wife of fifty years he didn’t eat much more than a sandwich anyway.
Bethany grabbed the hand of her third child who was about to run into traffic and yelled at the other two to stay put. She wished there was a way that she could go to the store alone but that never seemed to be an option. Steven usually wasn’t sober enough to keep their children.
As more and more customers pulled into the parking lot hurriedly trying to get into the grocery store. No one was paying any attention to the loud horn blaring outside. Mr. Roberts, the store’s owner was in the back listening to an AM station when it was interrupted.
The station sounded a loud alarm to get everyone’s attention and a newscaster came on live.
“This is Jacob Sterling from WKOI with a live teleconference with the Arkansas Governor, James Conley. The governor started talking to the listening audience and informing them that the nuclear plant five miles away had an explosion. He told the public that ionizing radiation has been released to the area.
When John Roberts heard the announcement he put his radio broadcast on the grocery store’s overhead speaker.
The governor told the public that the radiation that was being emitted surpassed the nuclear accident at Chernobyl, the atomic bomb at Hiroshima and Nagasaki combined. He urged the public to take a shelter in place and not to come outside until an all clear was given. He told them that the plant engineer informed him that it was emitting ionizing radiation at an amount of 20.6 roentgens per second equivalent to 80,000 roentgens per hour which is almost four times the amount of radiation released in Chernobyl. Going outside, he stated could kill you in a matter of seconds.
The governor expressed grave concern and told the public that no where was safe at this time and everyone needed to stay at the location they were at this moment. He urged everyone to use plastic barriers and duct tape to make sure no radiation entered around the foundation of the buildings and for everyone to stay away from the windows and the doors after they were thoroughly secured. He expressed that concrete and cinderblock was a safer alternative to a stick structure and if a basement or lower floor was available to use it for shelter. Then the governor solemnly said, “May God be with us.”
The grocery store lights started flickering and the customers were afraid that they were going to lose power. Everyone scrambled to try to find plastic and duct tape on the shelves of the store and found the amount of supplies limited. Rose, an older cashier tried to get everyone to remain calm while she lead them to the supplies the governor had suggested they use. She had been working for Mr. Roberts since he opened the store in 1976.
A few more people entered the store that had been on the parking lot when the explosion took place. Not all were lucky enough to survive. The only people who had a chance in the horrific explosion were the ones who made it through the front door or had not yet exited their vehicle.
Sally looked outside thinking of making a run for it to her car like she was caught in some kind of thunderstorm when a man’s hand stopped her cold. Bill Morris, a retired Marine told her she didn’t want to go out there, that she would not even make it to her car before she died. Sally looked at him with disbelief and said she had to get home she was expecting company. Bill shook his head and said, “Sweetheart, this grocery store is going to be your home now, for at least a few weeks, maybe even longer.”
Jodie, an X-RAY tech who had heard Bill talking to Sally ran up to join the conversation. She looked at Bill as if to understand and told him that in school she had learned about something called LD 50/30 and asked if this could be what was really happening. Bill shook his head in agreement and told Sally and Jodie that yes this would be a Lethal Dose and 50 percent of the population could have already perished with the other percentage dying within 30 days.
The conversation between the three was interrupted when and a middle aged man started coughing up blood. Bill realized the man was at the end stage of radiation sickness and he wasn’t going to survive. He looked around at the customers and some were experiencing nausea and vomiting, fever, headaches, dizziness as well as coughing up blood. He wondered how many had already been fatally exposed. He was thankful that he had been in the store for about a half hour before the explosion.
Bill, along with Denzil and Mr. Roberts starting taping up the doors, They couldn’t find any sheets of plastic so they started using plastic bags, and Saran Wrap to cover all the areas that were not a solid wall.
Rose went to the back room and gathered up boxes to give to all the customers so they wouldn’t have to sit or lay on the cold floor. The three children Bethany brought in looked afraid and sat as close to their mother as possible. Rose was especially good with children and asked them all their names and offered them a popsicle. She knew if the power continued to flicker that all the frozen food would have to be eaten anyway.
The hours passed slowly with the customers taking a box. There was some small talk but most of them had no idea what to say. Mr Roberts had brought the radio out of the front office and took extra batteries off the shelf to make sure they didn’t lose signal.
The Governor would render a statement every few hours to the state until the President interrupted his broadcast and let the population including the grocery store know the effect of the Nuclear Plant explosion. The effects of the radiation were felt worldwide and the President told the population that every Nuclear Plant in the World had a similar explosion. The President assured the people that they were working on a solution and that the computer program that sabotaged the infrastructure of the plants was being eradicated...
The grocery store got silent and everyone’s minds wandered back to 9/11 when the whole world changed. Not one person said a word while they were trying to comprehend if it was a terrorist act or a malfunction of the technology that the world had come to rely on.
With one last flicker, the power grid went down and all of the customers were left in the dark. Mr. Roberts passed out flashlights and batteries that the store had in stock and asked everyone to use them sparingly. He had also been listening to Bill Morris’s conversation.
After everyone got a chance to call their families before the batteries went dead on their cellphones, the customers at the Night Owl Grocery Store laid down to go to sleep.
Days went by and people kept dying, the survivors would carry their bodies to the back cooler where the last of the frozen food had been removed. It was the only area that could be closed tightly and the smell of rotting flesh didn’t escape. The patrons were down to eating the shelf food because all of the refrigeration had went down with the power grid. Mr. Roberts had on hand only one manual can opener which everyone was extremely thankful for.
Everyday around noon the Governor or President would make a speech about how this would be over soon. They told the public that the Geiger counter numbers were coming down but it was still unsafe to go outside.
The people at the grocery store remained well fed but it was not a surprise that the surrounding public did not fare as well. People from the community braved the radiation outside and drove to the store banging on the door demanding they open. Mr. Roberts went to the glass door and held up signs to the red eyed, bloody nosed, flesh peeling off their skin people that he couldn’t open the door and allow radiation to infect the customers inside.
With the amount of strength left in the radiation poisoned people with their hair falling out they started throwing planters from outside at the door trying to break the glass. Bethany could see her husband Steven in the mob and wondered if he had been quarantined long enough to finally be sober. Bill, Sally, Jodie, Rose and Denzil took off to the back room to get pallets that boxes were loaded on. They stacked them up against the doors and hammered the nails in with skillets they found in the kitchen aisle. With shelves being emptied out more everyday they placed them also against the doors. Mr. Roberts was glad he had opted to purchase the more expensive glass that had reinforcement bars in the panes.
The mob couldn’t fight long though, the customers of the little store watched as they collapsed from the radiation sickness. Instead of a canary dying in the coal mines when the air wasn’t safe they witnessed their family and friends succumb to the toxins.
After two long months and watching so many people die of the nuclear fall out, Sally, Jodie, Denzil, Rose, Bill, Mr. Roberts and Bethany and her three kids walked out of the grocery store.
Sally’s husband was thrilled to see her and told her that his mother was insufferable and he would never let her say a cross word to her again.
Dave, Jodie’s husband was in bed with radiation sickness and not expected to survive.
Denzil and Rose walked out hand in hand with him realizing that the apocalypse had opened his eyes and he now knew he wanted to live.
Bethany had watched her drunk husband collapse in a heap and she realized that she was so happy that she never trusted him with her most precious possessions, her three children.
Mr. Roberts decided he had lived in his store long enough and decided to retire and move to Florida. The dead bodies in the freezer, he thought, would be the new owners problem.