1ST FRIDAY PHARMACY
The pills are a diluted peach color--like maybe they used to be a rich salmon color, but they faded. Maybe they were left out in the sunlight. Maybe they're the outlet version of the real thing. Outlet stores--where they have similar stuff as the regular stores, but the reds are never that red, the blues never that blue, like the colors just couldn't cut it for regular consumption so they were shipped off to the outlet mall, the one along the highway, the one far enough from the city to be an official road trip, the one where people who actually need reasonably priced clothes shop. These pills are that--the outlet mall pills. They're for outlet mall people, with outlet mall problems.
The pills are in rust-colored plastic containers, three inches high, with white caps. There are stickers lazily placed at various angles, like the person who stuck them on was too busy watching the game to care where they were set. These stickers say what's inside. They're drug names, they look like Latin words. They are humorless and forthright. If they were human, these names would shake your hand firmly, they'd tell you loudly in front of many people that you had food stuck in your front teeth. You wouldn't want to have a beer with them.
The pill bottles are on a shelf. They're lined up with rows and rows of other pill bottles, like an army. They are in marching formation. There are many shelves. The shelves stretch the length of the pharmacy, which seemingly goes on into infinity, though when you're inside, you'll see there are florescent lights at the very far end down there, so there has to be a wall somewhere. The shelves stretch high, reach low. They are separated by rows, but the only way you can access each row is through a narrow tunnel cut into each shelf. You are skinny, but still you'd have to shimmy through the tunnels to get to that next row. The shelves weren't made for the tunnels, that's just something the shadows made, perhaps last month, perhaps the month before. The Feds haven't decided they're a big enough threat to close them off.
The pharmacy is on Michigan Avenue. Adjacent to the river. You used to buy Cokes for $1.69 when this was a Walgreens, $0.99 Ruffles potato chips. You used to drink coffee at the Starbucks that used to be next door. You used to people watch.
Now you wait outside the pharm. It's Fall. It's 5:45pm. It's the first Friday of this month. It's getting dark. The buildings around you stand tall and proud, like landmark buildings should, but their windows are dark and the buildings look like faces with knocked out teeth. The people who don't need the faded pills in the rust-colored bottles marching in rows on endless shelves, they are in the buildings to the west, in the upper floors, where golden lights are on, lit up like warmth and money. Those buildings are smiling. But not for you.
It is 6:00pm. The pharmacy door opens. You hear the shuffling of disciplined boots and the click of methodical guns from dark pockets above you. The Feds are in position. They want to make sure you know they're there, though they're not supposed to do anything for 55 more minutes.
You hear other boots shuffle--but these are the lethargic and disorganized shuffles of need. Desperate shadows with red eyes and one goal. You need to get in there before them. They will take your pills. The next time you get a crack at getting more will be the first Friday of next month. You won't live that long without your pills.
The air smells like halitosis. You see shadows move zombie-like toward the pharm door. You move with them. You suspect you are a zombie-like shadow also, though you haven't looked in a reflective surface since the collapse.
You have a knife tied to your belt. You know how to use it. You have a gun in your waistband. You know how to use it. You think about that ad you once saw on the side of a bus, for Montana--open land, big sky, bison. You will never see Montana.
The pharm is lit so bright you can't see. The shadows are humming. You hear the frustrated toppling over of plastic pill bottles, the grunts of fear coming out of melting mouths, the scabbed hands scratching, searching, searching for the words that look like Latin that tell them this pill bottle is your pill bottle. In an instant, you can see the insides of the shadows--their tumors, their cancer, their blood clots, their hyper beating hearts, their slow moving blood, their chipped bones, crooked spines, drumless ears, detached retinas. They aren't going to make it another month either.
You were given a floor plan. You were told where the narrow tunnels are, how long the rows run, where your Latin pills are located. You find them. You grab them. You stuff them in your pockets like they're air and your pockets are suffocating. Then you lay the wire.
At 55 minutes, the disciplined boots and methodical guns outside will focus their cross hairs on the pharmacy. At 58 minutes they will crouch. At 60 minutes they will shoot. Their goal is to click off as many shadows as possible. The shadows know they only have an hour. It's their responsibility to get out in time. There are rules. The government can't keep stocking this pharmacy forever, you know.
You uncoil the wire along the row, to the side wall, down to where the row ends. There is the tunnel for you to shimmy through, letting out the wire with you like you're unspooling a ribbon. You move carefully around groaning shadows with furious hearts and damaged brains. You slip out the door.
Outside you slink around the exterior of what's left of the Wrigley Building. You stick close to this wall because you used to be in love with this building and its grand arches and its imperial presence among the other skyline buildings. You also keep close to the wall because the disciplined boots and methodical guns are known to take practice shots before 60 minutes and you can't expect them not to, can you? You are, after all, getting free healthcare. How much more do you want, you selfish parasite?
You work your way to the stairs and head down to the river, your wire following dutifully behind you. At the river, you look up at the sky. You remember how your knees used to melt whenever you looked at the skyline, how you loved the smell of french fries floating over the river in Summer, the smell of ominous frost rolling off the lake in Winter. You wish you had your city back.
There is only one match in the matchbook. Make it count. You strike it, set it tenderly to the tip of the wire. You hear the sizzle, remember the way your eyes burned when you pulled the wire out of the gasoline this morning. The flame catches, dances a jig for a millisecond, then rifles along the wire like a starving monster. The thin orange line whips along the sidewalk so quickly the disciplined boots and methodical guns don't have time to register it for what it is. When the thin orange line kisses the pharm exterior, it pauses, slips inside, and, like you knew it would because you followed the directions on your floor plan, the thin orange line blossoms into a burning red bouquet of flames and explosions.
Shadows scream. Tumors explode. Cancer melts. The screams linger in the air, and then it's quiet. A soft, thankful quiet. You squeeze your eyes shut. Above you, crackling radios, nervous clicking of methodical guns, disciplined boots turn indecisive. They don't know what to do. This wasn't part of their plan. This is how you want them.
Inside the pharm, there are hundreds of dead shadows. You knew most of them. You have had heartbreakingly tender conversations with them. You have bandaged their scabs, made them drink water when their lips cracked dry, wiped the sweat off their foreheads when they couldn't move.
You pop one of your Latin pills and focus on the dark pockets where you know the first clump of methodical guns and disciplined boots is hesitating. You pull out your gun and walk, quietly, breathing in the rancid air, buzzing electrically with anticipation and vengeance. Now you've got nothing to lose. Now you'll fight back.