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General

I was almost used to the empty stores. When I took my chances and went grocery shopping, that is. I used to go shopping every day almost, or at least it seemed that way. The supermarket was only a couple of blocks from home. Going often meant fresher vegetables, no frozen food, no worries about not getting enough of something to last.

Since the COVID-19 pandemic, I was only going every other week. The supermarket was still just as close. But it wasn’t worth the risk to go more often than that. And it wasn’t worth the hassle.

The whole chore, going to the store, shopping, bringing groceries home, and putting them away used to take a little over half an hour. These days it took over an hour, almost an hour and a half. But a woman’s got to eat.

So here I was, shopping in an empty store. I didn’t see any other shoppers, at least. Maybe because of the weather. We were supposed to have a cold snap and snow this week. And it felt breezy and brisk on the walk here. I only saw one clerk at the registers when I came in, too.

Here we go; ice cream. I was picking up the frozen stuff last. Even in the cold weather, a girl’s got to have her ice cream; right? At least this girl did. I loved to curl up in front of the fireplace, with a good book and a pint of Ben & Jerry’s. Or Haagen-Daas. Or Magnum - oooh, Magnum. Yum.

I could see snow coming down outside. Lots and lots of snow. The storm hit sooner than expected, obviously. They were calling it a blizzard on the newscast before I left for the store. I better finish up and get home before it gets worse.

Suddenly I heard the wind howl. This loud, through the windows? No, probably not. Somebody probably left the store, and I heard that wind howling through the open door. Good idea, leaving the store. Although if I was going to be trapped inside anywhere but home, this would be the best place to be. I wouldn’t have to worry about running out of food.

I tossed a couple of extra pints of ice cream into my cart and started toward the front of the store. Then I thought about grabbing a handful more, just in case. While I was looking over the flavors, the lights went out. And the freezers turned off. The storm must have knocked out the electricity. I hoped they would still have a way to check me out and let me pay for my food.

The wind whistled outside, even through the window. It sounded like the wailing of a haunted spirit. At least the way I thought one would sound; I’d never heard a haunted spirit wailing before. Read about them? Yes. Heard one? No. I was starting to get a little creeped out.

Enough light reflected from the snow sheeting down outside to let me see what was in front of me, even though a lot of the store hid in shadows. Maybe that good book should be a romance novel, not a ghost story.

I got to the end of the aisle and saw no one. No shoppers, no clerks, no manager. There wasn’t even a person at the Starbucks inside. That never happened, at least never that I had seen.

“Oh, wait,” I told myself. My voice echoed in the empty aisles. I switched to a whisper. “Starbucks is at the back of the store, near the bakery. I’m at the wrong end of the aisle. No wonder I don’t see anyone.” Even my whispers echoed, and that sounded super scary. I turned around and started to push my cart toward the other end of the aisle. I got halfway down the aisle before it hit me.

“The bakery is at the front of the store, and so is Starbucks. That’s why I could see the snow.”

“See the snow, the snow, snow, no” reverberated in my ears. I turned around again and headed to the front of the store and the checkout lanes. Just as I reached the end of the aisle the lights flickered, but couldn’t quite manage to come back on. To show me an empty store. I was the only one here. This was even creepier than being in the dark.

I stood there, wondering what to do. Should I take the food with me, and leave cash here? Maybe leave a note instead, telling them who I was and what I bought? So I could come back and pay them after the storm? Or should I put the food back, and come again another day?

I looked back at the empty aisles. Filled with shadows and echoes. There was no way I was going to wander around the store, putting things back. Not even the frozen stuff. I wrapped my coat around me and buttoned up tight. Leaving the cart where it was, I headed for the door.

And I discovered I wasn’t the only one here. There on the floor laid a baby, wrapped in a blanket. I looked around, but the store was still just as dark and just as empty.

“Hello?” I called out, hoping to catch the attention of the child’s parents. “Hello, ello, llo, o,” came back. Nothing else. The baby cried. Apparently, I woke it up. Or the echo scared it. Or something.

It was already cold inside. It was always cold in the store anyway, to keep the food from spoiling. Now, with the electricity off, it was cold, frigid air, seeping through the windows and the door.

“Why would someone abandon their child here?” I wondered. It didn’t much matter why. If I left the child here, it would probably die. It? I looked at the chubby babyface, but that didn’t tell me if it was a he or a she. As soon as I looked at it, the crying stopped, and it grinned. And gurgled.

I couldn’t help myself. I needed to help this child, even if I couldn’t buy groceries today. Turning away, I took a quick look at the empty store again, thinking I should probably grab some diapers, and baby food, or something. 

Nope. Not going back in there, no matter what. I grabbed the baby up, tucked it inside my coat, and opened the door. Thank goodness the wind was blowing towards my apartment, and not in my face.

I stepped outside, bent into the wind, and started the long trudge home.

July 27, 2020 21:44

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6 comments

Abigail Slimzy
17:24 Aug 06, 2020

Nice 👏 The title of the story too is quite befitting.

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Ken Coomes
19:53 Aug 06, 2020

Thanks, Abigail. I will be looking for yours later today or tomorrow. I appreciate the feedback.

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Bookmark Here
13:38 Aug 06, 2020

It was very well written and good pacing. I would have liked to see less emotion about food and more emotion about the fact that she was not only alone in a store but found a child! She seemed too calm at times. I did really enjoy your story. I look forward to reading more. :)

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Ken Coomes
19:54 Aug 06, 2020

Thanks, Bookmark (?) I appreciate the feedback and will work to make the store better. And later today or tomorrow I'll be looking for yours.

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Deborah Angevin
12:58 Jul 31, 2020

A well-written story, Ken! On the side note: Ben& Jerry, Haagen Dazs, Magnum... yes, I would love all three! Would you mind checking my recent story out, "A Very, Very Dark Green"? Thank You!

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Ken Coomes
19:55 Aug 06, 2020

Thanks, Deborah! Alas, I love all three, too much! They just go to waist. I'll happily check your story out, later today or tomorrow (lots going on right now.)

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