Chapter 2:

A Wild Encounter

Emiko Alone

The wind whistled softly in the parking lot. A place she once avoided due to it’s heavy traffic, she stood there quietly as she stared into the local supermarket.

There were no lights on inside. Of course there weren’t. There was no one to turn them on. That also meant that the doors were locked, and Emiko was running out of things to eat at home. She was able to cook since she had a gas stove, but she wasn’t a good cook at the best of times.

It had already been a day since everyone disappeared. She had spent a majority of her time trying to contact online friends and surf the web, but, as she had suspected, no one was online, internet forums were dead, and she chalked it up to a miracle that everything was still running. She knew it was only a matter of time, so, with no real experience, and no cookbooks to go from either, she needed supplies to last her.

She gulped, and stared at the baseball bat in her hands. Rolling the bat over, she thumbed the name engraved in its metal: Daiki. Taking a few deep breaths, she blinked her foggy vision away and held the bat out. You can do this! She told herself. With a determined frown, she closed her eyes and swung.

Emiko squeaked and her arms went a little numb as the glass shattered. The bat went flying into the store, and a caterwaul alarm rang through the air. Jumping at the noise, she slapped her sleeved hands over her ears and crouched, trying to block the noise out. It kept going and going, trying to alert forces that she knew were no longer there, but hoped would respond.

She didn’t know how long she stayed like that, curled into a little ball, but eventually the sirens went out, leaving a strange void in the air. Gently, Emiko removed her hands from her head and looked around. She had the faintest hope of hearing some sirens in the distance, but after a moment, she sighed. No one’s coming.

She made sure to tread carefully over the glass. Despite that, she could still feel the crunch of some pieces under her shoes, and she hoped that they wouldn’t get stuck in her soles. Moving to her brother’s bat lying near the next set of electronic doors, she picked it up and brushed it off. Holding the bat close, she she jolts up and holds it out at the sound of the doors sliding open. She sighed and dropped her stance.

Noticing shopping carts to her left, she grabbed one and went in. It was dark, and the only lights she could see within the store were the aisles with frozen goods. Steeling herself, she kept going. She grabbed what she needed in the brighter sections first. Frozen nuggets and noodles, some ice-cream. She deliberated on getting more, but she knew she wouldn’t be able to finish it all. She finished by getting some cheese and butter, before stepping out of the frozen foods and dairy, and stared at the inky blackness of the other aisles.

She groaned. Looking left and right, she widened her eyes as she remembered that there was a small section for outdoor equipment. That meant she might find a flashlight. But that also meant leaving the safety of knowing where she was going. She grimaced at the crossroads she had been given.

She looked at the entrance, still shining it’s light into the store, and behind her at the displays. Breathing in sharply, Emiko harrumphed and marched determinedly into the darkness. She quickly lost her composure, however, as she was sure she could hear the sounds of other things running around in the dark. She began to breathe faster, the darkness feeling like it was closing in. She was moving fast enough that she didn’t notice the case in front of her before it was too late, and she crashed.

She fell to the ground. The case loomed backward, and she gasped, slapping her ears shut before it crashed with a loud bang and glass flew. Emiko shrieked as she felt a few pieces plink against her, and waited until the ringing metal and glass had settled.

Her breathing was deep as she tried to calm herself down. Standing up, Emiko timidly stepped toward the case, wondering what was inside. Looking around and biting her lip, she crouched down. There were knives and paracord bracelets, and among them, she saw what looked like a flashlight. She gasped. Reaching for it, she quickly realized the danger and sighed when she saw the large shards of glass resting over it.

Standing up, Emiko tried to get her bearings. She saw sports and other outdoor games equipment, which had to mean there were gloves of some kind, too. Quickly stepping over to the shelves, she saw one pair hanging from a hook. She grabbed it and tore the packaging, slipping them on. With expert deftness, she crouched once more over the display case and carefully moved the sharp glass before taking her prize: a crank light. She hummed.

This will work even without batteries! She thought excitedly. Go me! She fumbled around the casing for a moment before she sighed again. She took her gloves off and finished prying the plastic apart. With a flourish, she held the crank light up and grinned. Now to charge it.

She spent a few moments bobbing her head to some unheard beat as she whirled the crank over and over. When she deemed that she had cranked it enough, she clicked it on. Alright, it works! Emiko maneuvered her cart away from the display case and bowed to the fallen merchandise. Thank you.

Now that she had a light, she was confident in her ability to weather the rest of the dark store. She blazed through the rest of the aisles, grabbing what she needed and ending up with a cart that was already nearly full with groceries.

Nodding satisfactorily, she pushed the cart to the entrance through one of the service aisles. She winced as the alarms beeped that she hadn’t bought any of her things, but she did her best to ignore them. Finally, stopping at the threshold to the outside, she took a deep breath and released it. Without any fanfare, she pushed, and kept on pushing, the sound of the cart’s wheels rattling being the only thing to echo in the empty parking lot. She made her way to the sidewalk and began her journey back home.

The whole time, she looked around herself, making sure there was no one but her around. It was comforting in a sense, knowing one didn’t have to worry about people, but it also brought an even stranger anxiety to Emiko’s table. It was a fear that something else might be out there with her, and she would have no way to call for help. Emiko wondered if, with no one around to make noise anymore, the animals who tended to stay away from cities would start to wander.

She considered the rattling wheels of her shopping cart and hummed. Would this be enough to scare any animals away? She wondered. That’s when she heard an odd clicking noise, and she cocked her head to the side.

“Hm…?” Emiko hummed, wondering what the noise could be, but it was growing closer. Frowning, she jumped in place as she heard a roar, and she twisted back to her cart. With an iron grip, she began running away from the sound, with some of her items coming dangerously close to jumping out of the cart. She shrieked and tripped as she heard an injured bleat, a loud smack, and glass shattering behind her.

Twisting around, she watched in horror as a black bear brought it’s maw down on the crying deer’s neck—

She buried her face into her arms and curled into a ball. It was her tried-and-true method of getting away, and she hoped it would be enough to yield her the bear’s ignorance. Do bears detect motion?  She thought in fear. Do they like to eat humans?

That last thought was enough to make her squeak in muffled terror, and she tried to drown out the sound of cracking bones, tearing flesh, and the grunts of a successful predator. After a time, and now shaking in fear as she felt the bear’s presence near her, she began to pray in her mind: Please don’t eat me, please don’t eat me, please don’t eat me!

Emiko screamed as she felt something brush up against her side and she scrambled away from the source. It was the bear, still covered in a few drops of deer blood. She stared at it wide-eyed in terror, and her breathing became erratic. She screamed again as it slowly moved toward her again. Still scooting back, she began to panic when her back hit something solid. The bear leaned forward. Emiko’s breath caught, and she died inside as the bear moved toward her and—! As the bear… pawed the ground and looked at her sideways?

She froze again as it moved forward and began to nudge her with its nose. It then licked her shoe, and that’s when Emiko realized (albeit cautiously because she was this close to losing it) that it was trying to get her to pet it. Up against a wall and a bloody bear, she had no other choice. Turning her head away and closing her eyes, she shakily extended her hand and waited for the inevitable agony of her arm being chewed on.

It never came.

Instead, she felt the coarse fur of the bear’s face rubbing against her hand. Emiko blinked her eyes open and widened her eyes in surprise as she was allowed to pet the bear. The bear itself seemed to lean into the touch contentedly, as if it were just a tame house animal. A moment later, the bear snorted and she flinched away. The image broke.

I just pet a bear, Emiko thought in equal amounts of terror and amazement. Meanwhile, the bear meandered back over to it’s meal. I just pet a bear!

The reality of the situation then came crashing down when the bear grabbed it’s half-finished meal in its mouth, gave one last look to Emiko, and wandered away, it’s slow lumbering steps eventually bringing it out of sight.

She hugged herself tightly and began to cry, all the tension leaving her. I just pet a bear?! She thought again, this time as something unbelievable. She got to her feet, her knees still wobbling, and pumped her fists with a smile. I’m, I’m still alive! I pet a bear and I’m still alive! This is crazy! I can’t wait until Daiki—

Emiko froze. The air was cold as it rushed by her silently, and her arms dropped to her sides while she continued to stare into the sky. Her body began to shake as she began to laugh, her tears still running down her face. 

“…You would have loved this…” Emiko whispered, uttering her first words in over twenty-four hours. She sniffled and continued to smile as she turned back to the shopping cart that had found itself resting against an aging sedan, and she continued pushing forward. Push, push, push.

That was all she could really do, after all.