Chapter 11: Regulators, mount up
Mandy and Maggie had blockaded the broken door and locked and blockaded the other entrance. They had to pull teeth to get Lucas to open the office door a crack and toss the store keys out to them. They had to stand as far away from the door as possible before he’d agree to it. He was paranoid and scared in his little space. Mad, yelling, blaming them, blaming the government. Mostly the government. He was still ranting in his throne room about the chemtrails of airplanes, and how it was the government testing on its own people.
They stepped behind the counter and admired their work for a moment. It wasn’t perfect, but it would have to do. At least until they came up with something else.
“What about all these windows?” Maggie asked. “They can still see right in.”
Mandy thought for a moment. “Tape and cardboard. We’ll cover them up. So long as they can’t see us, they don’t know we’re here.”
They walked around to the back of the store, Lucas yelling at them about the chemtrails and government conspiracies as they passed. Mandy slapped the office door and told him to cram it. They found Dudley in the back of the store, hiding behind the soda dispenser. He jumped when they turned the corner. There was a large steel door near him, he was blocking it. Mandy figured he had been considering running through it, setting off the security alarm and dooming them all.
“Are they gone?” Dudley asked.
“They’re dead,” Mandy said. “No thanks to you.”
“Sorry, it’s just…” Dudley trailed off; he couldn’t find the words.
“You’re a coward,” Mandy said. “We get it. Come on Maggie.” She grabbed a large stack of folded boxes and walked off.
Maggie stayed for a moment and watched as Dudley shivered in the corner. “We’re boarding up, so to speak, to keep them out. It’s safe to come out now.”
“No thanks,” Dudley said. “It’s safer here.”
Maggie just nodded and picked up the rest of the cardboard. She headed back up front, wondering if he’d ever come out and help them. She stopped for a moment at the walk-in freezer door. She figured in a worst-case scenario it would be the best place to go. They could all bundle inside and jam the door. Hope they could wait out whatever that scenario might become. She hoped it didn’t come down to it. She always had a bit of claustrophobia when it came to the walk-in freezer. She always had a fear of being shut inside, trapped, until she eventually froze out of existence.
She really hoped it wouldn’t come down to that.
She found Mandy tapping cardboard over the windows, and she sat her stack of cardboard in a booth under a window. They could cover more ground if they split up. Mandy tossed her a tape dispenser of her own and she got to work. She kept working as she spoke to Mandy.
“You shouldn’t be so hard on Dudley,” she told Mandy. “We’re all going through something traumatic. We’re all gonna have different responses.”
“Fight or flight?” Mandy asked.
“Yeah,” Maggie replied. “Like that.”
“I can’t believe you’re invoking Walter Bradford Cannon from Mrs. Stewart’s psyche class now,” Mandy said. She shook her head. “I don’t see anyone fleeing. I don’t see anyone running. I see you and me fighting; Lucas has locked himself in the office and Dudley is peeing himself in a corner. Flight I could respect.”
“Exactly,” Maggie said, “Different responses. We’re all dealing with it differently. It’s like grief, everyone copes different.”
“It’s not grief, Maggie, jeez,” Mandy said and held up a piece of cardboard. “This isn’t grief. This is freaking survival. Earlier tonight, Dudley was asking me to the dance, and then when the crap hit the fan he ran into a corner. He abandoned you, he abandoned me. And Lucas, well, we knew he only looked after numero uno.” She sighed and taped up that last piece of cardboard she had in her hand. “I’m sorry Maggie. I’m not mad at you. It’s just hell right now, and we don’t need to be making excuses for the Dudleys of the world. If he wants to come around, and see what’s going on around him, that’s his prerogative. But I’m not holding my breath and you shouldn’t either. He’s only gonna do what’s comfortable.” She gestured around at their handiwork they had made of fortifying the Taco House. “This ain’t comfortable. This ain’t normal.” She pointed outwards, “And what’s going on out there, what’s happening to those people. That ain’t normal. It’s irrational and primitive. It’s gotta stop. Somehow. I want to make it stop so hard. When I was up here alone, covering up these windows, all I could think about was how to put an end to it all. But what the hell, Maggie, how does one even start? It’s like telling a rabid opossum to walk it off or telling a bear to give up hibernation. On the one hand, it’s something they can’t control anymore and on the other it’s been going on so long it’s in their nature now.” She sat down in the booth where Maggie was finishing up covering up her window. “I might be overanalyzing it. Maybe it’s simpler. Maybe it’s over my head. Who the hell am I, Maggie? I’m a damn teenager.”
“Best damn teenager of the year,” Maggie said. She taped up the last of her cardboard. She turned around in the booth and sat next to Mandy. She hugged Mandy from behind and laid her head on her shoulder. “I don’t know the right answer, Mandy, and I don’t think you need to have it. But one thing is certain, we’re kicking some serious butt.”
“Idiot,” Mandy said, and they laughed for a bit. “I’d kill for a cigarette.” Lucas started to pound on the office door. It was louder with each iteration. Mandy shook her head. “Is he pissed no one will listen to his conspiracy theories now? Jeez.”
He continued to pound on the door.
“He’s gonna draw their attention,” Maggie said.
“Yeah,” Mandy said, “I think you’re right.” She took a deep sigh. “Perfect.”
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