Sazh eased the four-wheel drive to a stop in front of the supermarket. Cities were out of the question, and even the big towns weren't safe, but an out of the way place like this might still be okay. He left the engine running and took a good look at the area around the vehicle. There were a few abandoned cars in the parking lot, along with a few more on the road, but other than that, there didn't seem to be anyone, or anything else around.
However, there were buildings all along the street, and even if nothing had come as he'd driven past, that didn't mean they were empty. The Infected didn't always come out right away, but it wasn't like he could stay in the car either. He and Dajh had been running pretty low on supplies for almost a week now, so even if it was a bit risky, they didn't have much choice. They could stop and try to scrounge up some supplies, or they could keep going and probably starve in a few days. If it was just himself, he probably would have kept on driving, but he wasn't about to let Dajh go hungry. The whole world might have gone to hell, but one way or another he'd put food on the table for his son.
Satisfied that the area was clear, at least for the time being, he shut off the engine and pocketed the keys. As he got out of the car, he patted himself down to make sure he had everything. There was the shotgun with a flashlight taped onto the barrel, a pistol for the holster at his hip, and a knife. Anything more would slow him down, but anything less might not be enough to keep him and Dajh safe. Taking another look at his surroundings, he nodded to himself and then went around the other side of the vehicle to open the door for Dajh.
Dajh hopped out of the car, a flashlight of his own clutched in his hands. He had a lighter in his jacket too, along with a few boxes of matches. "Are we going to go shopping, daddy?"
Sazh nodded, eyes never leaving the area around them. "That's right, son, but we need to be quick. I'm not sure this place is very safe."
Dajh looked around quickly, taking in all of their surroundings, just like Sazh had taught him. "Okay."
"Now, before we go in there, Dajh, I want you to tell me the rules, okay?" Sazh reached into the pockets of his jacket. Good, he had a spare pair of batteries in there in case the ones in his flashlight went flat.
Dajh checked his own pockets just to make sure that he had everything. Checking things was important, but the rules were the most important of all. The rules were the only reason that he and daddy were still alive. He'd seen other people not following the rules and the Infected had gotten all of them. That was why it was just the two of them now. They hadn't seen anyone else for almost a month now. "There are three rules," Dajh said, the words so familiar to him now that he barely even needed to think about them. "Rule #1 is to always stay close to you daddy. Rule #2 is to always keep my eyes and ears on everything around me. And Rule #3 is to always listen to what you say, daddy."
"Good." Sazh reached down with one hand to ruffle Dajh's hair. "That's right, son. You follow those rules and we should be just fine. Who knows, we might even find some chocolate in there." Sazh smiled at the grin on Dajh's face. It was nice to now that even with things so bad, the thought of candy could bring a smile to his son's face.
The two of them made their way over to the front of the supermarket. As usual, Sazh kept on an eye out for things in front of them, and Dajh kept an eye out for things behind them. To make sure they weren't separated, Dajh kept a firm hold on the edge of Sazh's jacket.
They stopped at the automatic doors that led into the supermarket. There wasn't any power, probably hadn't been for months, so the doors were stuck almost shut. Sazh took a quick look inside, hating the fact that the glass made it difficult to see past the doors, before he wedged his fingers into the small gap between the doors and pulled. The doors came open fairly easily, and he pulled until the gap was wide enough for both of them to fit through without any trouble.
Inside, the front of the supermarket was reasonably well lit. It was just going on midday, so there was plenty of sunshine coming in through the windows and the doors. Further back though, past the messy lines of trolleys and the checkout counters, the supermarket was dark, the lights on the ceiling dead after who knew how long without power. Sazh had learned the hard way that even if sticking to the light wasn't a guarantee for safety, heading into the darkness was just asking for trouble.
There was an empty can of tomatoes at his feet right next to a long streak of dried blood, and he reached down to pick it up. If there were any Infected in here, the best place to fight them would be right here at the front of the supermarket where he and Dajh could see them coming, and if necessary, run for it. Taking a deep breath, he drew his arm back and tossed the can of tomatoes at the ground.
The can hit the ground with a loud clang and then rolled noisily along the floor until it hit one of the checkout counters. Shotgun up and ready, he waited for a few moments as his eyes and ears strained to catch any sign of movement. Finally, when a minute or so had passed without a sight or sound of anything, he lowered his shotgun.
"Okay, Dajh, let's go get what we can," Sazh said as he went over to grab one of the trolleys scattered around. It was a bit dented, but it stilled rolled well enough to use. "Remember the rules, Dajh. Now, turn your flashlight on, you're going to need it."
They headed deeper into the supermarket, and as they went, Sazh was careful to keep track of what was in each aisle. The quicker they were, the better it would be. As they neared the frozen produce section, he winced. Without power, all the frozen meat had gone off, and the smell of it was almost unbearable.
As they made their way over to the canned goods section, he made sure to keep his shotgun moving from side to side so that the flashlight on it covered everything in front of them. There were bloodstains on the floor and the walls, and even on the shelves. The Infected must have come through here already, and with any luck they'd already moved on.
Finally, they got to the canned goods section, and Sazh breathed a sigh of relief. The shelves were far from full, but there was more than enough there for the two of them. "All right, Dajh, start filling the trolley."
As Dajh started putting cans into the trolley, Sazh thought back to when things had first gone wrong. Back then, both of them had worked to fill the trolley, but that had turned out to be a mistake. The cans made a lot of noise, which in turn made it hard to hear the Infected until they were right on top of them. That mistake had almost gotten both of them killed, and after that, Sazh had decided that since he was the only one who could use a gun, Dajh would have to fill the trolley on his own. It was slower, and he hated to see his son straining to lift some of the bigger cans, but it was the safest way to do things.
For his part, Dajh just grabbed whatever he could find and tossed it into the trolley. The boy had learned pretty quickly, that he couldn't afford to be picky anymore. If he were, then he might not eat. Besides, canned beef stew wasn't all that bad, especially if they could heat it up and have it with something like rice.
Suddenly, there was a noise from the end of the aisle as something knocked some cans to the ground. Sazh had the shotgun pointed there in a heartbeat and he felt his pulse race until he realised what he was looking at. It was just a cat, most likely trying to scavenge for food, just like them. The cat hissed for a moment as the light played over it, and then vanished. Still, the cat was a good sign. Animals didn't like the infected too much, so if the cat was around, there probably weren't too many Infected nearby. Of course, the cat could also have run because it sensed the Infected coming.
"You done, son?" Sazh asked quietly.
Dajh nodded. "Yes."
Sazh put one hand on the trolley to push it. "Good, then let's get going."
They went from aisle to aisle, moving as quickly as they could in the darkness with only their flashlights to show the way. Most of the aisles were bare. When the Infected had first started appearing, people had panicked and grabbed whatever they could find. Still, things must have happened pretty quickly here, because there were still a few bags of rice left, along with some camping supplies like matches, and fuel for the portable stove that Sazh had managed to scavenge from a wrecked motor home a few weeks back. However, they really hit the jackpot when they found several cases of bottled water. It would be heavy – and the trolley was already close to full – but with good, clean water so hard to come by, it would be worth the extra effort.
Their second last stop was in the candy section of the supermarket and for a moment, Sazh felt his heart sink. As he ran his flashlight over the shelves, there didn't seem to be anything left, which was a pity. Chocolate didn't just taste good. It had a lot of calories, and it stayed good for a long, long time.
"Sorry, son, it doesn't look like there's any left," Sazh said.
Dajh let out a disappointed sigh as he ran his flashlight over the shelves too. And then he smiled. There, almost hidden under all the empty boxes, were several bars of chocolate. "Look, daddy!" he cried.
"Well, look at that," Sazh said. "Let's go get it then."
After putting the chocolate bars into the trolley they headed back to the front of the supermarket. This was the only supermarket for miles, so Sazh was pretty sure that it would have sold firearms and ammunition. The only question was: would there be any left? The weapons counter was up near the front, and Sazh could only purse his lips at how little there was left. Other than maybe a dozen shotgun shells, the counter was empty. Still, every bit helped, and with the Infected wandering around, ammunition was worth its weight in gold. The counter was locked, so he used the stock of the shotgun to break the cabinet glass.
"Looks like we're done," Sazh said. "Let's get out of here."
They were almost to the front doors when Sazh heard it. It was the telltale scrape of feet moving across the linoleum supermarket floor, feet that didn't belong to him or Dajh. He spun, pushing Dajh behind him as he brought his shotgun up and levelled it at where he thought the noise was coming from.
The light from his flashlight played across the empty aisle as he moved it back and forth. He'd heard a sound, he was sure of it. Breathing beginning to speed up a little, he eased the trolley back toward the door, keeping himself between the rest of the supermarket and Dajh. A can rolled noisily across the ground and he pointed the gun in the direction it had come from. There, half-hidden in the shadows that draped much of the supermarket was one of the Infected.
The Infected was a woman, or at least, it had been once. The rags of a shirt were tangled around its upper body, and its pants were worn and ripped. On its feet, there was only one shoe, and the flesh that showed through all the mangled garments was a sickly, pasty white. It must have been hiding somewhere in the back of the store, maybe in one of the storerooms. That would explain why it had only just come out now after he'd broken the cabinet.
For a long moment, the Infected just sort of crouched there its eyes twin pools of black bitumen without any hint of reason in them, only hunger. Then it lurched to its feet and charged straight at them with a keening wail. Sazh fired and the Infected jerked backward, spinning as the shotgun blew one of its arms clean off, and ripped away a good portion of its chest. But that wasn't enough to kill it, and it rushed forward again, the fingers on its remaining hand formed into claws as it bared its teeth and howled. Sazh waited a second to steady his aim and then pulled the trigger again. The shotgun roared and the Infected toppled to the ground, its head gone.
"We need to get moving," Sazh said as he pushed the trolley out the doors. "If there's more of them around, they'll be coming here." Loud sounds had a way of drawing the Infected, and the shotgun for all its merits, was very loud indeed.
They got back to their four-wheel drive and rather than try and store the things they'd taken in an orderly fashion, Sazh simply got the boot open and started throwing them in. They could get them organised later, but right now they needed to get moving as soon as possible.
"Dajh," Sazh said as he handed the boy the keys. "Get it started."
Dajh nodded and hurried to the front of the four-wheel drive to get it started. He was too small to drive, but Sazh had taught him how to start the vehicle. And it was a good thing too. The trolley was still half full, but already several loud shrieks had split the air. A dozen Infected ran down the street, drawn by the sound of the gunshots, but now whipped into a frenzy by the sight and smell of fresh prey.
"They're coming, daddy!" Dajh screamed from inside the four-wheel drive. "Hurry!"
Sazh tossed the last of their supplies into the boot and then lifted his shotgun. He fired twice. The two closest Infected went down, not dead, but out of the way for the time being. Then he ran for the front of the car and threw himself into the driver's seat. The tyres squealed as he slammed his foot on the accelerator.
The Infected gave chase, one of them lunging at the back of the vehicle, only to miss as the four-wheel drive finally began to put on some speed and pulled away.
"Good work, son," Sazh murmured as he steered the four-wheel drive around the burnt out remains of an SUV. "Good work."
X X X
As always, I neither own Final Fantasy, nor am I making any money off this.
Well, what can I say? Everybody loves a good zombie apocalypse. That kind of scenario also gives me a chance to see how everyone's favourite characters cope under extreme circumstances. I've also been meaning to write something with a bit more Sazh and Dajh in it, so, here you go.
My apologies to those expecting an entirely new chapter (this chapter appeared as a teaser in the extended author's notes for Stetsons and Fal'Cie), but the teaser was only supposed to be the first couple of pages, but I ended up getting carried away. Still, I do need to post the first chapter to the get the story started. After all, you can't have a second chapter without a first chapter. However, I do intend to get the next chapter up in the next couple of days, so hopefully reposting this wasn't too much of a disappointment for those who've already read it.
As always, I appreciate feedback. Reviews and comments are welcome.