Soon the two returned with a truckload of sledgehammers. Mark hopped off, grabbed one, and headed for the front doors. Swinging them aside, he swung the hammer aside himself in an arc such that it impacted the concrete. A fist sized chip fell off, as well as some dust and pea sized bits of rubble.
Everyone stood in stunned silence. Mark started laughing. “Don’t you see? This is our ticket out! It may take a long time, but what else is there to do?” So, after collective deliberation, work shifts were assigned. Sarah, Mark, Andrew, Fran and Jeffrey would take shifts throughout the day, hammering at the concrete for ten minutes apiece. Any more proved too strenuous.
Melissa was also enlisted at first. But after a few half-hearted attempts, she could not so much as lift the hammer. “I can’t”, she insisted. “Come on. We need every able bodied person to help.” She refused. “Literally, I can’t.”
Hugh, on the other hand, had to be argued out of contributing. “I’m still a strong man! Not young, but I’ve got muscle on me!” But with some prodding, he admitted to high blood pressure. That was that, nobody would let him.
“This hammer…is a clumsy tool. Not like Thousand Year Dragon.” Jeffrey clarified that he meant his little sword. “It is folded over a hundred times from the finest Hanzo steel. There is nothing in this world or the next which it cannot cut.” Mark invited him to demonstrate on the concrete. “The spirit which inhabits it demands it be drawn only against a worthy adversary, in honorable battle.”
Soon, large patches of sweat stained his flame print shirt. His pony tail glistening with grease as it flipped to and fro with each swing. But, to his credit, he continued for the full ten minutes, dislodging about a bucket worth of concrete rubble. There was no place to shower, and no apparent means of draining water should they build one.
The temporarily solution was to bathe with about a gallon of water each, and some towels. Then to wring said towels out into one of the toilets and flush it. But in the process of doing so, it was noticed that each bathroom had a drain in the floor. This opened up the possibility of building a proper shower there.
When Andrew returned from running a hose to the bathroom, Sarah was busy pouring soil from immense bags into a series of carefully aligned wooden pallets she’d upturned and removed some of the boards from. “There’s a gardening section! PriceCo really has everything I guess.” A hose passthrough with a digital scheduler intended to control a sprinkler was instead used to automate watering.
“We can probably do better than this” Andrew opined, studying the setup. “If there’s PVC piping anywhere, and if the pet section has aquarium gravel, I could set up some hydroponics.” Sarah laughed. “This is fine for now. Not everything has to be high tech you know.” Andrew looked almost offended. “Yes it does.” Mark watched the two from a distance, brow furrowed.
According to the clocks, were the sun visible, it would be low on the horizon. Melissa’s phone seemed to corroborate their accuracy. So, as promised, Andrew took first watch. Because several complained the light made it difficult to sleep the night before, with some trepidation, the lights in their section were for the first time turned off. Andrew fetched a hefty 12 volt flashlight so as to watch for intruders without waking anybody.
Hours passed. His eyelids heavy, Andrew might’ve drifted off…had it not been for the shadow. At first he assumed it was a trick of the light. But moving the makeshift spotlight around, the shadow just shifted with the light, trailing always from the same spot. It was the shadow of a man, but without a man to cast it.
Andrew whispered down to Jeffrey until he awoke. “Who dares rouse me from my thousand year slumber.” He peered up at Andrew, rubbing crust from his eyes. Andrew just pointed at the shadow, shifting the light subtly as he did so. It took Jeffrey a moment to realize what was wrong. When he did, he gasped. The figure seemed to notice. It turned abruptly and walked off towards the lit parts of the store.
“What the fuck was that? What was that?” Jeffrey wide eyed and sweating. Andrew still puzzling over what, to him, seemed an impossible contradiction of materialism. How could something transparent cast a shadow? He continued to agonize over the impossibility of it as Jeffrey roused the others. Most grumpy to have been woken up, not especially inclined to believe what sounded like a prank.
“I swear I saw it. The shadow of a man, as if he were standing right there” Andrew gestured to the appropriate spot. “Only, he wasn’t. There was a shadow, but nothing to cast it. Then it simply walked off.” Jeffrey vouched for the account. But Mark was skeptical. “We have the word of a retarded robot and a manchild. I guess that settles it, this place is haunted.” He seemed pleased with himself, but issued half-hearted apologies when Sarah scolded him.
“I believe you boys” Fran said. “World’s full of crazy stuff. Alien abductions, bat babies, sasquatches.” Hugh chimed in. “Bat boy is legit, I seen pictures.” None of this comforted Andrew. A shadow without a man posed an insurmountable problem for his understanding of reality. Jeffrey mostly seemed pleased to receive some attention that wasn’t entirely mockery.
“Whatever it was, by the sounds of it turning the lights on wouldn’t help. And I’m fuckin’ tired. So was Andrew for that matter, probably imagined it.” Andrew conceded that was certainly a possibility.
“Anyway I dunno about the rest of you” Mark continued, “But I’m going back to bed. Don’t wake me unless it’s the rapture or the cops.” With that, he returned to his unit. As did the rest after him, whispering to one another about what the shadow might’ve actually been.
Andrew did not sleep, even when relieved. The feeling of being watched will do that. Presumably by whatever had put them here. It changed the equation somewhat. Would it allow continued efforts to break through the concrete? Did it move the shelving tower, and if so, why? Experiments were in order.
The next week went by without incident. Sarah cultivated her garden. Jeffrey and Melissa stayed holed up in their rooms, playing on their gadgets. Every night, Andrew swept the area with the flashlight hoping to spot their unseen observer again, but without result. Fran finally got to make pizza for everyone, and it was every bit as wicked as she’d promised.
“Now, a pizza’s only as good as the freshness of the ingredients. If I’d done this while we still had fresh veggies it’d be much better.” Everyone assured her it was fantastic, although given the circumstances any such luxury was welcome. “You know what they say. Pizza is like sex. Even mediocre pizza is still pizza.” A few smiled, but then grew tense. Somehow that topic hadn’t come up yet.
“Hey, umm. I went looking for birth control the other day. I found the shelf it was supposed to be on, but it was empty.” Everyone but Mark assured Sarah that they hadn’t done anything to it. Mark’s silence caught her attention.
“Do you know something about that, Mark?” He looked uncomfortable. “What do you need that for anyway? We’ll be out of here in no time.” That all but confirmed it so far as Sarah was concerned. “What did you do!?” She pestered Mark over and over until he caved.
“I flushed it all on the first day. I don’t have to abide your sin.” This ignited a shouting match between the two as the rest looked on, unsure of whether to intervene. Jeffrey turned to Andrew and said “I never have that problem with mai waifu. 2D girls can’t get pregnant.”
He proudly opened his little clamshell game system to reveal a cartoon woman rendered in cel shaded polygons across the dual screens. “It is just one of the many ways in which they are superior to 3D pig disgusting sluts.” Andrew winced. “I don’t think Sarah is a slut. She’s kind to me. I enjoy working on the garden with her.”
Jeffrey narrowed his eyes. “She’ll only friend zone you man. I’m calling it now.” Andrew disputed the validity of that concept briefly before stepping in to break up the fight. “Mark, it was unreasonable of you to make that decision for everyone without any sort of vote. It is arguably also not our decision whether one or more of us should have access to birth control.”
Sarah beamed at Andrew with undisguised delight. “That’s right. Listen to him!” Mark flew into a rage. “Did anyone ask you, fuckboy? I’ll decide what goes. Because none of you can stop me. What are you gonna do, call the cops?”
Stay Tuned for Part 4!