Entry Ninety-one: Adam Mahoney, You Just Won!

[The next many entries are the current story I am working on. This is twenty-one of who knows how many will be posted. Enjoy it while it lasts...]

Adam steered the Volvo toward the hardware store, turning left at the end of his street, the opposite way he’d traveled earlier in the week to find groceries. Gus Phelps had owned the only hardware store in town until a few years ago, before Lowe’s had deemed his small Georgia town worthy of a Superstore. He wanted to explore the Phelps store first because it was closer and he was more familiar with the location of the stock. Whether out of loyalty to Gus or lack of need for much in the way of hardware, he had shopped very little at Lowe’s. Gus had an older gentleman that worked for him who was a master at mixing paint and that was all Adam ever needed besides a few nails or screws for hanging pictures; Phelps Hardware filled his needs just fine. He was thinking about how he was going to break into the store when he passed a small strip mall, relatively new, still with a few empty storefronts. What caught Adam’s eye was the store on the far end, the contents of which relegated all of his goodwill and plans for home repair to the trash pile. The local Blockbuster video store, lit up and almost glowing, suddenly reminded him he could use his television for more than just watching long gone broadcast shows; he could play rented movies on his DVD player. He engaged his turn signal and made a right into the strip mall parking lot, making a beeline for the video store. There were a couple of cars scattered throughout the parking lot—probably belonging to the employees, former employees—but overall it was desolate. He parked at the front door and walked right into the store, a benefit of visiting a store that had never closed. He began circulating through the aisles, trying not to succumb to what usually happened to him when he attempted to rent movies, which was forgetting what he had been wanting to see once inundated with all the choices in the store. To try and avoid that happening he had taken to writing the names of the movies down on a piece of paper he kept in his wallet but, after digging around and not finding it, he was on his own. He took a deep breath and decided to start with the section full of new releases. After five minutes of looking he had only found a couple of movies he wanted to see and was carrying them as he walked and scanned for more. Unsuccessful, he decided his two selections would suffice and he turned to leave. As he was about to walk through the door he realized how short-sighted he was being by only taking two movies. “Why limit myself? No minimum, no late fees and if I start watching a movie and it’s terrible, so what? I pop in another!” He leaned over the counter and found a box of plastic bags and grabbed several. He started walking the aisles, taking a movie off the shelf and bagging it if he was even remotely interested in watching it. He acted like a contestant in a game show with only 35 seconds to grab as many items as he could hold, barely looking at titles, his main motivation driven by the design and photograph on the front of the case more than the content. It didn’t take long for him to fill up 15 bags with movies and, although he could have taken everything in the store home that day, he decided he had enough to entertain him for several days. He could always come back and “rent” more.

The prospect of watching movies, being entertained, excited him so much he cancelled his trip to the hardware store and drove straight home. He dumped the contents of all the bags onto the living room floor, forming one large pile, and began to sort them by levels of importance. He cleared a space along one of the walls and began lining up the cases, titles facing out for easy reference. The ones he most wanted to see were first and then he lined up the rest in order of descending relevance. He laughed at some of the selections, weird choices that in normal circumstances he would not have even glanced at in the store. “But these are not normal circumstances, far from it, so it’s good to expand my taste a bit, at least when it comes to what I watch.” When he was finished organizing, he put some popcorn in the microwave, poured a glass of sweet tea and made sure he had a full supply of cigarettes stacked on the coffee table. “It’s liable to be a long night.” And he laughed.

All words and images ©2006/J. Colle


Entry Ninety: Adam Mahoney, You Just Won!

[The next many entries are the current story I am working on. This is twenty of who knows how many will be posted. Enjoy it while it lasts...]

Chapter Eight

After a shower and starting a load of laundry, Adam stood in his living room and felt like he had returned to step one. What was he going to do? The house was clean, the yard was mowed, edged and driveway swept. He needed another project.

He walked out the back door and stood on the patio, enjoying a late afternoon smoke. The yard looked good and he took a few moments to relish his sense of accomplishment. The shed he had put together a few years ago to hold the lawn mower was in the far back corner of the yard and it was in bad shape. It was not an expensive model but it had served its purpose for longer than he had planned. The problem was now it was ugly and it distracted from the near perfection of his trimmed and sculpted back yard. He walked toward the shed to inspect it closer, taking his shoes off and enjoying the clipped grass on his bare feet. He pushed the rickety shed door to the side, it barely sliding over the rusty rails, and poked his head inside. The smell of gasoline, oil and stale air mingled in his nostrils as he stepped past the mower. He had been so focused on the yard earlier that he hadn’t noticed what else was stored there. Along the back wall, starting at the floor and stopping at the ceiling were gallon cans of paint stacked eight rows high and ten across. He had faint recollections of where they came from but he was sure, if opened, each color and tint would serve as a liquid core sample of his life in the current house. The drips down the outside of several of the cans gave him some clues to what was inside and he instantly recognized a few of the harsh colors his ex-wife had made him apply to various rooms in the house. Some were so hideous that their existence may have been the sole reason she didn’t push to keep the house in their divorce settlement. He’d always heard “paint’s cheap” but in this case it may have cost him quite a bit. The stacked cans represented a lot of time, energy and arguments between the two of them and the fact that they could not accomplish the simplest of household projects together was a microcosm of other areas of their relationship; they just couldn’t get along.

He broke away from his memory stroll and backed out of the shed, ducking, careful not to scrape his head on the top edge of the opening. The shed needed to be replaced and now was the time while it wouldn’t cost him anything. He headed back to the house to find his car keys and as he stepped on the patio he glanced at the outside of the house and stopped, scanning and inspecting the exterior walls. “Maybe I should pick up some house paint as well. The outside is looking a little dingy… and I’ve always wanted a blue house.”

All words and images ©2006/J. Colle


Entry Eighty-nine: Adam Mahoney, You Just Won!

[The next many entries are the current story I am working on. This is nineteen of who knows how many will be posted. Enjoy it while it lasts...]

The sun streaked through the blinds in his bedroom and he shielded his eyes from nature’s alarm. He checked the clock on the nightstand and was disappointed it was so early. He lay still a few minutes, getting his bearings and then rolled over to start his day but was immediately stopped by stabs of soreness and stiffness throughout his body. He rolled back to his previous position and waited, hoping his body would be forgiving and give him another chance. After several failed attempts he finally made it to the edge of his bed and slowly unfolded his body to an upright position, not straight and tall but at least to a point of mobility. A long, hot shower drove away a lot of the aches and he was reasonably sure he would survive.

He made coffee and decided to enjoy his breakfast cigarette sitting on the front porch in one of his rocking chairs. It was already warm outside but the idea of fresh air allowed him to overlook the heat and humidity. As he rocked and smoked he surveyed the neighborhood, or at least what he could see from his roost, and the quiet once again alarmed him. All noise was generated by him—the squeak of the rocker, the slight whoosh of the exhale of cigarette smoke. He didn’t realize how he had taken for granted all of the sounds of his street—cars starting, screen doors slamming, pots clanking through open windows on cooler evenings, kids laughing as they played kickball or rode their bikes up and down the street. The thought of the kids instantly sucked a sliver of life out of him, the chasm inside him echoing and hollow already, every new realization making it worse. There would never be any more kids, ever. He had never had any of his own which, for a long time, he had been thankful for since they didn’t have to deal with the divorce. He had always assumed he would meet someone else, fall in love again, remarry and then have some children of his own. Just another thing he had taken for granted, before the note, that now seemed so impossible and long ago. He jumped as the lit end of the cigarette he held in his hand reached the filter and began to burn his fingers. “I can’t be sitting around thinking about all that could have been. That’s a waste of my time.” He spoke aloud again, something he was enjoying more and more. It was a way to break the monotony of the discussions in his head.

He stood up, still sad but needing to do something active to keep the sadness from taking over. Knowing his house was as clean as it had ever been he decided to cut his grass. The yard hadn’t been groomed in two weeks and the grass had grown high and shaggy, spilling over the edges of the driveway and crowding out the pavers leading to the mailbox. There was no sense in the outside of the house being unkempt while the inside was immaculate. He put on his work clothes and then pulled the push mower out of the shed in the back yard. There was plenty of fuel in the gas can so he filled the mower’s tank and rolled it to the front yard. It started after three pulls of the starter rope and he began the mindless task of walking back and forth across his yard, taking satisfaction in how neat the freshly mowed grass appeared under his feet. He had never viewed cutting the yard as anything more than a chore, a necessary task to keep the rest of the neighborhood off his back. Being the only single guy on the street added extra pressure to his life, especially when it came to house and yard maintenance. Now he was alone and cutting the yard for no real reason he could discern other than for something to do. Maybe it was his way of trying to recapture some of the activities and things he had taken for granted, pre-note. Or maybe it was filling a subconscious need he had for normalcy. Whatever the reasons, Adam decided not to entertain them. He took a deep breath, drew in the luscious smell of fresh cut grass and entertained a smile instead.

All words and images ©2006/J. Colle


Entry Eighty-eight: Adam Mahoney, You Just Won!

[The next many entries are the current story I am working on. This is eighteen of who knows how many will be posted. Enjoy it while it lasts...]

Chapter Seven

Adam Mahoney stood in front of the stove, scraping the scrambled eggs to the edge of the skillet as they cooked, sipping a cup of coffee and smoking a cigarette. Even though it was three in the afternoon, he had decided to cook breakfast food when he returned from the grocery store and had finished putting away the supplies. He had enjoyed a few minutes of pride for having survived his first trip out of the house but the mindlessness of stirring the eggs gradually turned his thoughts back to his situation, one that he was far from comprehending at any level, and the emptiness of the chasm returned.

What was he going to do? Yes, he had ventured out for gas and food, but what now? What was he going to do with himself? Everything that occupied his days before the note was moot. He now had no job to go to and any reason he had to earn a living was gone. His original motivation to work was to pay bills and possibly save a little money for retirement. Answering complaints on the phone all day long certainly didn’t fill any latent needs he suffered because of a rotten childhood or a bad relationship with his mom. His “career” had been necessary but far from fulfilling. The one positive with the current situation was he would never be fired.

As he stood over the sink and ate his eggs straight from the skillet, he worked up a mental list of things he could do with all the time he now had in front of him. One possibility was to catch up on his reading but he’d never been much of reader, at least of anything of substance like books or literature. His forays into reading had usually been saved for an occasional hot rod magazine or a graphic novel, both dominated with pictures and art. He was pretty sure he wasn’t going to turn over that new leaf. Television was out, not by choice but by necessity. He had rechecked it earlier and when he cruised through the channels nearly every one of them was now visual white noise, the computers feeding the shows to the stations long ago ceasing to work and they weren’t coming back. “So much for entertainment,” he thought. He rinsed and washed the dirty dishes from his meal and then scanned the living room as he dried his hands. The house was a wreck, something that had not bothered him a mere three hours before but now gave him a sense of purpose. “I can at least look civilized,” he said as he began to pick up dirty clothes and to straighten cushions and furniture.

He started cleaning with the idea he would merely tidy up, get everything in its proper place and make the house presentable. But as he began working, something came over him and he became obsessive, the desire to clean overwhelming him to levels he had never experienced before. Every new surface that was cleaned revealed another that was worse and he refused to stop until he was satisfied. He wiped baseboards, mopped floors, dusted the tops of every visible surface in the house and used an old toothbrush to scrub the tile in his bathroom. He got lost in the effort and by the time he stopped, unable to find another chore to begin, exhaustion engulfed him and he crawled in to his bed, pulled the freshly washed sheets up to his chin and slept.

All words and images ©2006/J. Colle


Entry Eighty-seven: Adam Mahoney, You Just Won!

[The next many entries are the current story I am working on. This is seventeen of who knows how many will be posted. Enjoy it while it lasts...]

Adam pushed the cart toward the front of the store, having to use one hand to keep some of the items from spilling onto the floor. He had been pleasantly surprised at how fresh he had found most of the food. The refrigeration system in the store had remained fully functional so most of the dairy and all of the frozen food was in excellent shape. As he made his way through the aisles he discovered most of the pungent air was emanating from the fruit and vegetable section of the store. Most of the food was still edible but there were a number of items that were well on their way to ruin. He decided to pick through the things he would eat and stock up on them while they were still in good shape. The supplies in the freezer would last a while longer.

He had maneuvered to the front of the store because he wanted to see if the automatic doors had been activated when he had turned on the lights. He ran his cart onto the black, rubber pad but the door remained lifeless. He scanned the walls, saw two switches and rolled the cart close enough to them that he wouldn’t have to let go of the loose items. He heard a click and a hum after he pushed both switches up and grinned as the doors slid open to release him to the outside world.

After he began the task of stacking all of the supplies into the trunk of the car he immediately regretted not separating everything into bags. He not only had to handle each individual item to place them in his car but he would have to do it all over again once he returned home. After he finished loading he returned the cart into the store, pleased when the door successfully gave way as he stepped on the pad. He stood inside for a few minutes, scanning, and realized he had left the lights on. He ran to the back of the store, shoes still squeaking, and turned off the lights. As he jogged back to the front of the store he glanced over at the Customer Service counter and the goodies lining the wall behind the cash register reminded him that he was not quite ready to leave. He jumped the counter and grabbed as many cartons of cigarettes as he could hold and shoved a handful of lighters into his front pants pocket. “There are supplies and then there are supplies,” he said to himself, grinning once again as he approached the glass doors that swung open on cue, just for him, giving Adam a minute sense of royalty and dignity that seemed fitting for the last man standing on the face of the earth.

All words and images ©2006/J. Colle


Entry Eighty-six: Adam Mahoney, You Just Won!

[The next many entries are the current story I am working on. This is sixteen of who knows how many will be posted. Enjoy it while it lasts...]

He walked up to the glass doors, fully expecting them to slide open with his first step on the black, ribbed pad situated on the ground right in front of the door. But nothing happened. He tried pulling the door handle, then pushing it, but it was obvious it was locked. Inside, the store was dark, in the same condition it had been in when the squatters did their work at 4 a.m. four days ago. He peered into the window, cupping his hands around either side of his face, shielding his eyes from the sun glaring off the glass. Everything looked normal in the store. Nothing seemed broken and there were no puddles of water from broken freezers or air conditioners. In fact the glass was cool to his touch, indicating the air conditioning was still cranking inside the store. Adam stepped away and tried to decide how he was going to get in.

He knew the easiest thing would be to grab a rock and break one of the windows, but he didn’t want to take that route unless absolutely necessary. Destruction seemed useless if there was a better alternative. He started walking along the front of the store and turned at the corner to see if there were any doors or openings anywhere else. The side of the building was nothing but brick, no vents or windows, so he kept walking toward the back. When he turned the corner he was facing the loading dock so he climbed up to the platform, pushed through the walls of hard, plastic flaps and found himself in a large room with several doors, giving him options to enter. All of them were locked but he noticed one was only held in place by a padlock. Although heavy duty, it looked like it had been in use for a while and was possibly the weak link he needed to gain entrance into the store. He looked around for something to break it open with but the loading dock was spotless. “Just my luck. I get to try to break into the cleanest grocery store in the southeast,” he thought as he ran to his car, hoping he had something in the trunk he could use. The only tool he found that was worth trying was a tire iron so he grabbed it and ran back to the loading dock to try see if it would work. The lock gave way easily and he was in the back of the store within four swings of the metal club. He had entered the area where the business offices were located and the silence was once again alarming. It was the middle of the day and a grocery store was not supposed to be that quiet. His shoes squeaked on the linoleum floors as he made his way through the halls, searching for the entrance to the store. When he walked through the correct door he was greeted with the smell of food. No food in particular, but a mingling of a variety of scents that created one strong but not-quite-overpowering bouquet. He made his way to the front of the store, winding his way past the fully stocked shelves. As he found the train of grocery carts by the front door he glanced outside and looked at his car. It was an odd site, the Volvo, alone in a vast parking lot and he, standing inside, also alone, getting ready to put food in a cart that no one would charge him for. It wasn’t exactly shopping, but was it stealing if no one could ever possibly find out? He pulled his list out of his back pocket and began steering the cart toward the first aisle, hoping the cheese was still fresh in its air-conditioned shelves.

All words and images ©2006/J. Colle


Entry Eighty-five: Adam Mahoney, You Just Won!

[The next many entries are the current story I am working on. This is fifteen of who knows how many will be posted. Enjoy it while it lasts...]

Chapter Six

After he topped off his tank, Adam pulled up to the entrance of the parking lot and, out of habit, checked both ways for traffic. As he began his final descent toward downtown he noticed a slight flare of confidence begin to stir in his gut. It was very small and wouldn’t have normally been noticed except it was in direct opposition to all of the fear, uncertainty and angst that had dominated him for the last few days. The incident at the gas pump served as a small glimpse into possibilities he had yet to entertain.

He absentmindedly stopped at the red traffic light one block from the downtown district of shops and assorted small businesses, checking the radio to find out if any stations were active. All he heard was static up and down the dial so he clicked it off and shrugged. When the light turned green he drove slowly, remaining cautious, scanning the streets for any movement or sign of life, just in case. He was immediately struck by the stillness of the streets. He was vaguely pleased that every building and store remained intact, all ready for business, all eerily empty and silent. His insides lurched as he passed store after store that, just one week ago, had been lively and practicing capitalism at various degrees of success. Would he ever get used to this scene? Would he one day take the emptiness for granted and drive through town with no sense of the past, no memory of last week? Or would he avoid coming back any more than was necessary, finding alternate routes to the grocery store, leaving the downtown alone, like a state park, a museum display preserved for future visitors to see how small town life used to be in the days before the note? He hoped not, but he wasn’t sure of anything anymore. He hoped he would always feel the loss if for no other reason than it would allow him to feel something other than confusion and fear. Those emotions were his constant companions of the moment and were probably the only visitors that would ever be interested in how the downtown used to be and even then the interest would be limited.

He debated whether to stop the car and walk around but decided to stay on task and find some food. He had seen and experienced enough and he needed some time to process his initial trip downtown. He had reserved just enough energy to deal with his sustenance needs and he didn’t want to burn that up before he completed the task. The local IGA grocery store was only one block south and two blocks east of downtown so he was driving into the parking lot minutes after he had cruised through the business district. Since the IGA wasn’t open 24-hours, there were no cars in the parking lot; apparently four a.m. was too early for any of the employees to have reported to work. His initial thought as he pulled in was “They must be closed” but he caught his mistake and then wondered how long it would take for him to change his reactions to every day impulses. Currently they offered a small sense of comfort, a reminder of the past, but he anticipated them becoming annoying real soon. He pulled up to the front door and parked in the first available slot next to the spaces reserved for persons with handicaps. As he put the car into park he glanced over to the empty spot and realized what he’d done. He put the car in reverse and pulled into the reserved space directly in front of the front door and said, “If there has ever been a person handicapped, it would have to be the last man standing on the face of the earth.”

All words and images ©2006/J. Colle


Entry Eighty-four: Adam Mahoney, You Just Won!

[The next many entries are the current story I am working on. This is fourteen of who knows how many will be posted. Enjoy it while it lasts...]

Chapter Five

Adam sat in his car, hand on the key, ready to twist it forward and start the ignition, but he hesitated. He knew this was a turning point and he was getting ready to face a huge unknown. Besides the dearth of people wiped out, had the rest of the environment been altered? He was in no hurry find out but he knew delaying was not in his best interest. He started his car and backed it out of the carport. He had been driving the Volvo for years. He bought it used, with low mileage, and had planned on keeping it as long as it would deliver him from point A to B without a lot of maintenance costs. His plan had worked well and the comfortable predictability of the car made him more at ease, like an old sweatshirt or a favorite hat. He drove slowly, not sure why, but cautious seemed to be a better idea than reckless at that point so he heeded the inner voice. He turned left at the end of his street and started toward the closest grocery store, not yet sure if he was ready for a tour of his hometown, post alien invasion. His internal debate was interrupted by a high-pitched “ding,” the distressful signal that he was low on gas. “Oh great. Now what do I do?” He remembered at that moment he had intended to fill up the tank on his way to work the morning he received the note, but such memories were useless and a waste of time. The present had never had less to do with the past and his run to the store had just gotten more complicated.

He spotted the Olsen’s food mart and gas station ahead on his right so he decided to stop there and see if it was possible to procure some gasoline. Pulling into the parking lot gave him a sick feeling, seeing three cars lined up in front of the store yet knowing the owners no longer existed. Neither did Karl and Olga Olsen, for that matter. He had been buying gas and cigarettes from them for years and they were a critical, albeit taken for granted, part of his day-to-day existence. How strange to be pulling up to their business like nothing was changed. Oh, how that simple act belied the facts.

Adam drove to one of the gas pumps and got out of his car, uncertain how to approach the situation. He pulled the nosseled hose out of the holder and looked over the choices listed on the pump. Everything seemed to be working, helped by the 24-hour status of the store in normal times. He had to make a selection to start the flow of gas but he was unsure of his best option. He had a few dollars in his wallet and initially thought spending the cash would be the fastest and surest way to get started, but then he spotted the button that stated, “credit/outside.” He hesitated, ran that through his mind and quickly realized if he used one of his credit cards to purchase the gasoline, assuming it worked, he could save his cash. Then, common sense crashed through his brain and he started following the credit option to its logical conclusion. Once the computer inside the fuel pump validated his credit card number, it would forward it to the computer used by the credit card company that would log it in a database and at the end of the month print out a bill that would be ready to mail to him for his payment. Except there was no one in that far away city to put the bill in an envelope and there was no one to drop it in a mailbox and there was no one at the Post Office to route his bill and there was certainly no one in his small town in Georgia to deliver the bill to his empty mailbox. At last, Adam Mahoney had discovered a perk of being the last man standing on the face of the earth. He slid his credit card in the slot and waited to see if it would be validated. When the words “Select type and begin fueling” flashed onto the small screen, he smiled and, for the first time in his life, filled his Volvo with high quality premium gasoline.

All words and images ©2006/J. Colle


Entry Eighty-three: Adam Mahoney, You Just Won!

[The next many entries are the current story I am working on. This is thirteen of who knows how many will be posted. Enjoy it while it lasts...]

Adam bathed although getting clean had been a much harder task than he had anticipated. He took the term “wash, rinse, repeat” to new levels but eventually felt he had reached a cleanliness that was adequate. After all, he only had himself to please. Food was another matter. His days in bed had wrecked havoc on the contents of his refrigerator that, even in normal times, was minimal and existing in, what he dubbed, the Post Expiration Date era. As he stood at the open refrigerator door, surveying the remains, it was clear he was in dire need of supplies. He paused, contemplating the ramifications of his need. The first thing, obviously, was he would have to leave the house and venture into town. His heart raced as the uncertainty of that task throbbed in his head. What would he find? Would the stores be intact? Just because his house and the homes on his street were left unharmed didn’t mean the rest of the world wasn’t some flattened wasteland, all dust and rocks. If that were the case, his chances of survival would be severely hampered.

Survival. Just thinking that word placed a metallic taste in the back of his throat. Last week survival meant getting paid, having enough beer, not running out of cigarettes and dodging phone calls from his ex-wife. Today he wasn’t sure what it meant, but it was obviously bigger than beer.

He rummaged around in the cabinets and found some stale cereal that he ate dry with a glass of water and a cigarette chaser. While he ate he made some notes to take with him to the grocery store, meticulously listing the supplies he felt he needed for the coming week. It was a habit he had developed, part of his anti-spontaneity program of the last few months. Somewhere in his subconscious he knew it was silly to write the list, but the normalcy of the task felt good. A last gesture of the past before he ventured out of his cocoon into the very weird, and very real, present.

With his list complete and his cereal bowl empty, he had no reasons left to procrastinate. He stood at the open front door, car keys in hand, waiting for something in his mind to convince him to stay inside, even for another hour, but he knew it was time. After one deep breath he stepped through the entryway, pulling the door closed behind him. He fumbled for his house key, slid it into the deadbolt and checked to make sure it was engaged before he made his way to the garage, never once thinking how useless that was. After all, he was the last man standing on the face of the earth.

All words and images ©2006/J. Colle