L is for Lost Child

L is for Lost Child

A two-way crackled to life. “Avera, wake up. I know you’re sleeping on the car tires.”

Avera fumbled for the radio clipped to her belt. “Nuu…I’m not,” she replied in its general direction, her voice groggy. She wiped away a line of drool that had escaped and blew her hair out of her face.

“Yes, you are,” came the reply. “I can see you from here.”

The girl jumped up, knocking several tires over. “Yes, what is going on?” she radioed back.

“We have a 404 in progress and require your assistance.”

“I’m on it. Where is the Parent,” she shouted up to Kyle. He stood on top of a three story high stack of metal drums full of gelatin. She judged him silently and added, “you’re going to fall.”

“That was the intention!” Kyle leaned into a fall and landed next to Avera. He stood up unfazed and continued, “the Parent is next to Sheep and Razors.” He straightened out his name tag that read, ‘Hello, My Name is Kyle.’

“Then let’s get moving.” She walked towards Balls and Bedknobs, which lead to Kitchenwares and Dueling Pistols. It was a shortcut, but only if there were no duels occurring. Otherwise, going through Containers and Liquids would be the faster route. Kyle hurried to keep up behind Avera’s long strides.

With clear skies through Kitchenwares, they made it to Sheep and Razors in record time. A woman sat on the fence while two other employees waited next to her. “Avera, over here!” Vicky waved them over. “Mrs. Maher lost her son. She thinks he may be somewhere in Rails and Rockets, or Frozen Goods.”

“So why haven’t we tried the PA system yet? That would have been the easiest solution,” Avera said with a bored tone. “I didn’t need to be called all the way over here from Tanks and Mopeds.”

“Well…” Vicky hesitated, unsure how to tell her the news. “During the uprising yesterday over in Quills and Sofas, the PA system was rewired to spout rebel propaganda. It was taken offline, and it hasn’t been restored yet.”

“Quills and Sofas? And I wasn’t invited?” Avera fumed. It had been a while since she participated in quelling a rebellion.

“Actually, the Manager wanted to keep you out of the loop,” Vickie’s voice dropped to a whisper. “Something about collateral damage.”

Kyle stepped back a few feet from Avera, just in case.

“I see…”

“But since you’re our best tracker, we thought you would be able to find the kid before too long. Or, at least before the animals find him tonight.”

“Fine. Kyle, Vicky, come with me. New guy, stay with the mother…” Avera turned to give the penned sheep a hard glare. “On second thought, get her to Layaway. It should be safe there. Do you know the shortest way?”

The new guy nodded.

Avera approved, “All right. Closing time is not far off. Let’s hurry.”

She addressed the mother last. “Don’t worry, ma’am, we’re going to find your kid.” Avera offered her a smile. More fear spread across the woman’s face.

“Avera, stop that. In fact, get away.” Vicky yanked the girl back.

“Sorry about her,” Vicky reassured Mrs. Maher. “She means well, but failed Expressions 101.”

“Hey!”

“It’s true,” Kyle muttered.

The new guy turned, gesturing for the mother to follow him. They vanished around a wall of mill feed in the direction of Springs and Gears.

“That’s not the fast…well whatever,” Avera huffed. “Let’s go.”

###

“Well, the kid was definitely here.” Avera stared at the hard concrete floor. “His tracks lead this way.”

Kyle had barely opened his mouth when Vicky elbowed him in the ribs.

“Don’t even ask,” she whispered.

“He didn’t seem to be all that interested in the fuel supplies,” Avera noted. “Though it does look like he stopped here at the RS-68 display.” She followed the imaginary tracks in the freshly swept concrete. “But okay, here we go. He followed his mom to Frozen Goods.”

A collective groan came from Kyle and Vicky, but they trailed after Avera to the staging area anyway.

Frigid weather gear hung on hooks in a room next to a large metal blast door. It took them several minutes to suit up properly. Once ready, Vicky hit the large red button to open the airlock chamber. Klaxons sounded and swirling yellow lights descended from the ceiling. Several more guests suited up while the door swung open to reveal the second staging area. Everyone hurried inside as the door closed with a deliberate slowness. Once sealed, the temperature dropped with extreme speed. It was the last chance to escape Frozen Goods quickly without triggering a full shutdown procedure. The large LCD display bottomed out at -40 degrees.

“Let’s do this fast,” Avera had to shout over the noise of the chillers. Snow piled up around the paths as shoppers pushed carts through the aisles. “Everybody take a row and meet on the other side.”

They spread out and combed the glass door corridors. Large clocks could be seen from every direction, every minute sounded off by a loud chirp counting out to the maximum allowed time inside of Frozen Goods. They made their way between every aisle with no sign of the kid.

Vicky leaned against a glass door. Inside stood a frozen steer. It looked back at her. She jumped away. “Guys, we got a problem!”

“What now?” Kyle yelled over the commotion.

“Frozen zombie steer.”

Avera let loose a string of curses. Some idiot in meat processing hadn’t kept their workspace clean. If there was one zombie steercicle, there were likely more. It would be an epidemic. “Alright, back away slowly and get over here.” It began to move inside its box. “Nevermind, run!”

Avera hit the panic alarm, which was located at both ends of every aisle. Sirens blared as the chillers shut down, leaving the place in an eerie quiet. Illuminated floor stripes glowed through the buildup of snow and ice. The lights led everyone in Frozen Goods to the nearest emergency exit. Customers scrambled as the creature broke out of the glass and gored the first unfortunate person not running fast enough.

“Management is not going to like that at all,” Avera shouted as the steer was distracted by its first meal. Frozen Goods security teams moved in to quarantine the area. The three employees showed their ID and were checked swiftly for contamination. The remaining guests formed an orderly line and waited for their turn. The gored guest would receive a free clone and upgrade as compensation.

The group moved into Quills and Sofas just as the closing alarms sounded. It was an absolute disaster. “Wow,they really did a number, and I missed all of it!” Avera kicked a piece of support and it shifted under the weight of the partially collapsed ceiling.

Kyle looked around. “Um, what is today?”

“Velociraptor Tuesday,” Vicky sighed.

“I hate Velociraptor Tuesdays,” Kyle complained. “Why can’t it be Teddy Bear Tuesday again?”

“Because it’s a rotating schedule.” Avera pushed them towards the rubble. “We have to hide.” They scrambled under the burnt remains of a sofa just as three velociraptors strode into the department.

They stopped and sniffed the air.

A cry caught their attention; it was the child. Unfortunately, the raptors heard it too. They made a beeline directly for the sound. Their massive talons ripped into the rubble as the crying grew louder.

Avera crawled from behind the couch. “We need to get that kid before they do.”

“How? They already found him, and we’re next.” Kyle looked at his watch; it was 5 minutes past closing. “I didn’t want to have to use my clone already this month,” he whined.

“Shut up, and pick up that steel support strut.” Avera pointed to a twisted hulk of metal lying over the ruins of Quills and Sofas.

“It’s still on fire from the fires,” he replied.

Avera stared Kyle down. “Mild third degree burns, or explaining to an angry mom that her kid got eaten by raptors?”

“Third degree burns it is,” Kyle decided. With Herculean strength, he picked up the entire strut, plus everything still connected to it. It flew through the air with unnatural grace before steel and debris crushed the raptors under immense weight.

Avera ran over and pulled the sobbing kid out of the rubble.

Vicky pushed Avera out of the way to check the boy over for bruises, scrapes or broken bones. “Come on, let’s get you home.”

Avera took point, Vicky and the child in the center, while Kyle followed last. He brushed aside the last of the attacking velociraptors with ease as they chased the sunset back to Layaway.

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