The little lock finally snapped off with a *ping* and my screwdriver snapped upwards so suddenly I lurched forward. With a triumphant “AHA!” I jimmied open the cigarette dispenser’s back and stuck my hand in.
Johnny looked up from behind the counter. “You smoke?” his tone remained unsurprised.
“Not as much as I liked. Expensive habit. Plus I didn’t want to disappoint my mum and all that,” I mumbled, feeling around blindly for the texture of cheap plastic and small cardboard boxes.
Johnny snorted a chuckle. “So what now? Mom-guilt lost its hold?”
“Never had that to begin with actually. Addiction makes for good barter though,” my mouth hung open, my concentration gone to snaking my hands among the coil mechanisms in the machine.
“Where is your mom by the way?” Johnny’s voice dipped, a careful approach to the subject matter.
“The one place I don’t have to worry about,” I paused in rummaging, a smile haunting my face. “Between me and the deep blue sea, no doubt God sent a pearl white key.” We giggled at the unintentional rhyme.
“I’m sorry,” his hands drifted together.
“Oh, don’t be. I’m glad she didn’t live to see… all this. Heart attack,” I drifted off. The sudden, presque-vu-like sensation descended on me, like wading on a sand bank, not knowing when the water will go above my knees. I remember the casket, the glint of her blue glass rosary, the crowd of people who loved her, her cremation. But none of the emotion at all. Did I grieve? Did I come to terms with it panic-ration style? I was fairly sure I cried, I mean, who wouldn’t at their own mother’s funeral? Right?
“Find anything?” Johnny cleared his throat uncomfortably.
I snapped back and was pleasantly surprised to find cool silky smooth sheet plastic at the tip of my fingers. “I might need to tip the machine?” I twisted my wrist this way and that, trying to pinch an edge of the box that I swear was teasing the heck out of me, edging ever so slightly out of my grasp.
“Hang on,” Johnny slid off the stool and pried his vision away from the store window.
“No no no. You stay there. I was alive before you too, yo know,” I pinched harder at the stupid box.
“I was quieter,” he scoffed, scratching his grin.
I ignored him and let the machine swallow my arm up to my elbow. Things were getting a little painful, what with the slim picking area and the many corners of the thick plastic dividers and the weirdly sharp pusher coils. AHA! My index fingernail dug into the tip of my thumb, the sweet plastic flap in between them. Slowly, I felt a box follow suit, and tried to ease the package out from the stock flap.
“Shh,” Johnny hissed.
“Almost there,” I gritted my teeth and tried to yank out my hand. The cigarette box scraped the insides of the dispenser shelf; so close yet so far!
“Sarah!” Johnny hissed at me through clenched jaws.
“WHAT?” I growled back.
He gestured to the outside sharply, holding a finger to his lips. I froze, my fingers trembling at the hard pinch. But as he kept staring out the window unmoving, I decided to get that damn box out of there.
My eyes fell to the satchel of canned food and basic medicine. If whatever out there was some Revived, that bag could wait to be grabbed. The rifles and knives on top of it was the first. But if it were other survivors, that bag needed to be kept out of sight. Fast.
My fingers curled around the edges of the box and I suppressed a whoop of triumph. Johnny unsheathed his knife silently and drew his elbows back, ready to pounce. He shot me a warning look, nudging me to get to the pack. Biting my lip, I tried to withdraw my hand.
To my horror I felt my arm get wedged in between the wall of the machine and one of its shelves, locking my wrist in place. The cigarette box crushed slightly in my panicked grip, and I began emitting a high-pitched whine, soft enough for Johnny to turn and glare at me and bare his teeth when he realised what predicament I was in.
I could get my arm out, but the jangling would definitely make some noise. As stealthy as a cat, Johnny dropped to the floor and slinked his way over to me, no doubt relying on his superhuman-animalistic ears and nose to keep track of whatever that was out there.
‘WHAT ARE YOU DOING?’ he mouthed, gripping my elbow and tugging it. ‘OW,’ I mouthed back, and pointed to the rough area where my wrist was trapped. We began furiously signing ways, whats and don’t knows to get my arm free.
A can being kicked outside silenced both of us and drew our attention to the store’s door. Footsteps crunching the gravel outside came nearer, and soon a silhouette too alert and upright to be a Revived materialised in the window.
Johnny stuck out a long leg and hooked the satchel’s handles with his foot. We both held our breath as he dragged the bag towards us, the rifles resting onto of it resisting the pull.
A sudden muscle jerk caused him to yank the bag too suddenly, and the guns clattered loudly to the floor. The figure snapped its head to peer into the shop, but we were just out of the reach of the sunlight.
Without sparing a glance at me, Johnny firmly signaled me to stay put, and slunk away to the alley of the grocery shelves.
The person in the window remained there, staring in for what seemed like an eerily long amount of time.
Fuck the cigarettes. With a pang in my gut I abandoned the box and tried to twist my wrist out.
As I struggled, the bell of the store door chimed out, and the footsteps began to click towards me across the tiled floor.