This is why eating healthy can kill you!
“This is too good to be true.” Jane squinted at the abandoned, weathered fruit stand.
“It’s a pretty remote area.” Hank handed her the binoculars.
Jane dragged herself forward, and parted the grass. She raised the binoculars to her eyes and held her breath.
Sure enough, the fruit stand seemed to be intact. No people that she could see. No cars that had stopped and then been abandoned. And the fruit still sat in baskets. A chill ran up her spine, as a grumble sounded from her stomach. She wanted to believe that it was safe, but they’d lost six members of their group to the contents of an overturned grocery truck the day before.
“Looks okay,” Hank said.
Jane sighed and handed the binoculars back. “Too risky.”
Even though the others were over a hundred yards away, huddled on the other side of a hill, Hank lowered his voice as if they could hear him. “We need food.”
Jane looked into his dark eyes. A week ago she would have called them cold. Now she knew what cold was. “We need to be alive.”
“Some of our group won’t last another day without something to eat.”
They’d had this argument no less than four times already today. Jane had made the group pass up the last three possible sources of food. If not for the grocery truck, they probably would have rioted. Jane had suggested they leave it alone, but she’d been overridden.
Now they had less mouths to feed.
Jane wished that was a comfort. Still, Hank was right. She sighed. “Fine. We leave the others where they are while you and I will go check it out. We’ll circle around so it looks like we’re coming from the other direction.”
Hank looked relived.
“If anything goes wrong, you tell them to run.” Jane pointed at the radio.
“Roger that.” Hank relayed the message.
Jane took the binoculars and glared at the fruit stand. The late fall weather had been perfect for preserving the fruit, which sat in the shade most of the day. She didn’t see any animals, but she could see insects buzzing around.
Or maybe it was her imagination.
Hank finished the message. “Ready?”
It took them an hour to circle around so they approached along the road from the other direction. In that time they neither heard or saw another human or animal. No cars on the highway. No planes overhead.
Hank adjusted the straps on his pack, and his fingers strayed to the butt of his shotgun. “I hate this silence.”
“I thought you lived in the middle of nowhere,” Jane said.
“I do, but even then you get birds and stuff. This is…eerie.”
Jane had to agree. The wind gently rippled the grass-covered hills, but other than that, there was no noise save for their feet clomping along the road.
“You’re a teacher, right? Do you like quiet?” Hank asked.
It was unlike him to make conversation. He must be nervous. Jane decided to distract him. If the stand had been infiltrated, then the two of them were probably dead anyway. Approaching silently wouldn’t help. “Too much quiet makes me nervous. There aren’t many things that will silence twenty five fifth graders.”
Hank chuckled. “Kids.”
They rounded the bend and the fruit stand came into sight. It sat in the side of the road next to a patch of dirt that could hold maybe four cars. The sign had been repainted “Fresh Fruit.”
Jane wanted to slow down. Heck, she wanted to turn and run. Her heart sped up and she licked her lips, but she hadn’t survived the past week by running away.
Hank drew his shotgun.
Jane pulled out her sword. Who knew that the VR version of Fruit Ninja, along with her obsession with katanas, would come into play during the apocalypse?
They stopped fifty feet away. Sunshine fell from above, but the sweat trickling down Jane’s back was cold. “Cover me.” Jane pulled a stethoscope from her pocket and put it around her neck.
“If I tell you to hit the dirt, do it,” Hank said.
Jane knew the drill, but nodded. She drew her sword and slowly walked forward.
The breeze seemed to stop, and all Jane could hear was the pounding of blood through her ears.
Left. Right. Left. Right.
Jane kept her eyes on the basket of apples, which sat on the ground closest to her position. If even one of them twitched, she would have Hank open fire.
Left. Right. Left. Right.
The only thing that moved was her shadow.
Jane licked her lips and blinked away a drop of sweat. Ten feet. Five. Three. She took one more step and nudged the basket with the sword.
The apples didn’t stir.
She kicked it.
Beyond the apples sat peaches, pears, cherries and a variety of vegetables. The intermingling smells made her wrinkle her nose. This produce wouldn’t be good for much longer.
Jane turned and nodded to Hank, who came closer. He positioned himself perpendicular to Jane.
Jane slid her sword into the scabbard, and reached toward an apple with a shaking hand.
“Be ready to toss it,” Hank said.
Her fingers stopped an inch from the red skin. She swallowed, and gently picked the apple up.
Every muscle in her body was ready to throw it, but it didn’t move. Didn’t writhe. Didn’t open a gaping mouth and bite her.
Hands still shaking, she put the stethoscope in one ear, then pressed the other end to the apple.
Jane closed her eyes and listened.
She was no doctor, but she knew a heartbeat when she heard it. Faint, but there. Still in the first stage. She pulled her sword, threw the apple in the air and cleanly chopped it in two.
Each half hit the ground and spun.
Jane scowled. “Torch it all.” They would keep moving.