I parked my truck, got out, and threw an appraising glance at the sky. Odd clouds, those. Sort of greenish-gray, like…well, like a color I’d never seen anywhere else. Not a good color. Not at all. I reckoned it was likely to rain before long, maybe even work up a decent storm. Best get my shopping done fast.
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Given the dreariness of the morning, it wasn’t surprising to see only a few cars in the supermarket lot. Most people wake up to a cold floor and clouds the color of soup I’d never buy, they put off their shopping if they can. Me, I had things to do, Sunday or no. I looked at the sky again. Yep, going to rain cats and dogs, alright.
I moved out of the way to let this old-fashioned station wagon park. You know, the sort that look like they ought to be carrying four or five arguing children at all times. Anyway, it parks, and this fellow gets out. Very snappy attire, given the hour: Dress pants, dress shirt, tie, suitcoat. The picture of neurotic fussiness.
He caught sight of me and changed course. Walking fast, arms swinging, suitcoat flapping in the freshening wind, he managed to fall in beside me as I headed for the market.
“Say, friend, some nasty looking clouds today. Think we might get some rain?”
“Yuh.” I’m not much of a conversationalist.
“Mind if I walk with you?”
“Hey, thanks. Say, friend, what do you do?”
“For a living, I mean. What do you do?”
“What do YOU do?”
“Well, uh, kind of…uh, nothing.”
“Is this a family business?”
“Heh-heh. I catch your meaning. But really, just today, the wife sends me out for food, ‘cause we’re almost out and the kids, you know, they gotta eat. Only thing I didn’t tell her is I don’t quite have enough money to cover all the food we need and-.”
“You’re looking for a handout.”
“Look, I don’t mean-…”
Behind me, something went –spack!-.
“Don’t mean what?” I asked, but he wasn’t paying attention anymore. He was staring over my shoulder with eyes like dinner plates. As I watched, his face went pale. I couldn’t help myself. I looked.
Sprawled out on the parking lot concrete was an obese woman in a flower-print dress. She lay face-down, about a foot away from her shopping cart. A puddle of something thick and dark was spreading from underneath her. It could have been plenty of things, in the weird green light, but it wasn’t. My instincts said so, and the bleary hole through the back of her dress seemed to concur. She had been shot, soundlessly –almost soundlessly- by an unknown assailant, from an unknown source. My mind sprang into high-gear.
Meanwhile, the family man was having a good old time panicking. His hands winnowed their way up to the lapels of my coat and grasped. His eyes looked wild.
“What was that? What was that? I saw that…she was fine one minute, and then, something…” Oddly, he looked up. “Something came down and hit her.”
I was about to reply when something went –SPACK!- again, this time much closer to me. I looked to my right and saw, maybe three feet away, a small, round hole in the concrete. Cracks spread out from this hole in all directions, and a faint tracery of smoke wafted up from within.
I took off running. I don’t remember exactly what my thoughts were at the time, but most of me was sure it would be a good idea to get inside the supermarket, and the rest of me seemed to trust this observation. I wrenched the family man’s hands away from my lapels and headed toward the market at a dead run.
I was about halfway there when it began to rain.
They came whizzing out of the sky like…I dunno, like something that would come violently whizzing out of the sky. How many things you know that do that? If you had put a gun to my head and asked, I’d have said they were bullets, or something really close to bullets. I know how it sounds, but that’s what I saw, and I doubt I’ll ever be able to un-see it. They punched through metal, concrete, flesh; all with that same quiet spack -or more of a –sping- if they happened to strike cars. Not as fast as bullets, I guess, but then what kind of bullets come out of the sky anyway?
I threw one panicky look over my shoulder in time to see the family man get it in the foot and go down screaming. I hope he was lying about having children.
Now that I think about it, just about everybody who was in the parking lot at the time took a bullet. Just before I made it under the awning, I felt something breeze past my left shoulder, and I later noticed that a small chunk of my hatbrim was missing, but I was never hit myself. I have to assume that whatever they were, bullets or otherwise, they couldn’t punch through too much solid concrete, or else the awning and the supermarket would’ve been Swiss cheese. They were not, and from there I was able to see what happened next.
It began to pour.
I’m not sure exactly what the end of the world should sound like, but I wouldn’t be at all surprised if it ended up as a whole lot of spacks, all at once. The roar of bullets hitting concrete was a physical being. It pushed it’s way into my ears and began to batter at my eardrums, all the while doing its damndest to smash my head open. I think I tried to scream.
And suddenly- nothing.
I though I’d gone deaf until I heard someone crying. It took a few more seconds before I realized it was me.
What does one do after seeing a parking lot utterly demolished by a hail of bullets from the sky? I don’t know about anyone else, but I just stood there, shaking and shivering and looking at nothing. I might be there still, if I hadn’t been jolted back to reality by a passing shopper.
This man, he was pushing a half-full cart, came out of the supermarket, stopped, looked directly at me and said: “Been raining again?”
I swear he looked exactly like Ernest Hemingway. Alright, maybe not exactly, but he would’ve had my vote in a look-a-like contest. He seemed more or less unsurprised at the carnage outside, and I wish now that I’d had time to ask him about that. But all I managed to say was: “Yuh.”
“That’s a real bastard,” he said, and strolled out into the parking lot, weaving his cart around the debris. At one point he plowed through a puddle of blood and left a red track for a while.
I still had no idea what I should be doing. I wanted to go home, to check if the same thing had happened out there and if everyone was all right, but my truck was a mess. The closest thing I can equate it to is a picture I saw once of a car that had had a particularly potent bomb go off inside. It didn’t even resemble a car anymore. So I went inside to find a phone.
I guess these things happen, sometimes.
"Quit this world, quit the next world, quit quitting!" -Sufi proverb.