They stand in the middle of a hollowed-out 7‑Eleven, searching for food or water or some artificially-sweetened salvation, but all of it is gone. Not even a pack of cinnamon Trident or a spicy Slim Jim to be found, and they’ve looked in every corner, under every crumpled ceiling tile and shard of shattered glass.
She stands beside a toppled counter and runs her hands over a row of thick-braided charging cords — hot pink, lavender, chartreuse — relics of a world undone.
Outside, the soldiers march in ragged formation, yelling out names of fallen comrades. The streets are empty, save the soldiers. Their cadence reverberates into the ransacked store, boomerangs back to the street.
March, march, march. Thomas. Jones. Martinez. March, march.
He kneels, chasing the sound of tiny footsteps too soft to threaten. What’s that? he whispers.
She takes the pink cord, wraps it around her neck, crouches down, too. They crawl across broken glass.
Under the soda fountain, their knees dampen. He grabs her wrist. There.
She nudges him and he sees the orange tabby, head bent to the floor, licking up a small puddle of murky drudge.
Shards of glass stab into their wrists, jab their kneecaps.
The cat looks up, his mouth lined lime green.
He clicks his tongue the way he used to for Sam, their sweet Siamese.
The cat continues drinking.
Is it safe? she whispers.
The cat draws back, hissing a sharp warning.
Does it matter? he says.
Outside, heavy footsteps approach.
The cat looks at them. Eyes widen, as if it has something deeply important to convey. But there’s no time. The cat bolts away, leaving the puddle and the two of them crouched beside, wondering.
He dabs his finger and lifts the moisture to his cracked lips. Gritty metallic sweetness.
The soldiers cry out a new list of names, and the two of them rock back and forth, taking turns dabbing and tasting the glinting moisture drying quickly on the floor.
Mary Lynn Reed’s fiction has appeared in Mississippi Review, Colorado Review, The MacGuffin, and many other places. She has an MFA in Creative Writing from the University of Maryland. She lives in upstate New York, and she is co-editor of MoonPark Review.