The early summer morning was beaming. The sun peered bright through the thin wisps of clouds that dotted the blue sky, scorching the bare flesh of Michael's head and back whilst he trudged down the asphalt of route 40, the summer heat basking off the black tar of the highway and radiating in thermal waves that were cooking the man - he'd only set off at dawn and was already drenched in perspiration, not that the heavy pack biting into his shoulders helped the situation in the slightest.
At the thought of the pack, Michael doubled over as he walked, throwing the straps of his ruck higher on his back so it wasn't sagging as much. Standing straight once more, the man used his forearm to wipe the beads of sweat that had drawn on his brow and looked forward. He'd been heading north for a few hours now, and had finally reached the outskirts of the tiny town of Blackstone. It was barely a small hamlet of three thousand - hardly even worth a mention on the map - but Michael recognized the name as the town that neighbored Fort Pickett, the regional training center for the U.S. Army and Virginia National Guard.
The survivor had never actually been to Pickett - but from what he remembered from his time in the Marines, the base was the Army equivalent of the USMC's CAX, and so there was very little in the way of personnel actually stationed there, only units rotating through for training before deployment. Since those units would've been the most "combat-ready" of any unit in the United States, Michael figured they would've been the first called upon to deal with the collapse of civil order during the outbreak.
So, since Blackstone was so small, whatever unit had been at Pickett when the world fell apart had time to mostly evacuate the town completely before being pushed on to a major city somewhere in Virginia. At least, that's what Michael hoped. If he was right, both Blackstone and Pickett would be near empty of both the living and walkers - perfect for scavenging whatever he could. If he was wrong, however, he was walking in to about 60,000 undead on his lonesome.
Letting that disconcerting thought recede to the back of his mind, Seager began to drum a dull beat on the receiver of his HK416 whilst observing his surroundings. Up until now, he'd seen only the occasional house pushed a little ways into the treeline - but now that he had just stepped into Blackstone proper, the environment took quite a change. The very first thing he saw was a sign that said "South Main", and all the bluster of a supermarket minus the crowd. Apparently, the citizens of Blackstone saw fit to put their shopping center at the very edge of town - probably to draw in outsiders to their humble abode.
The vast parking lots were devoid of all but random cars, strewn about. There was a pair of gas stations, a Wendy's and Advanced Auto Parts, and a couple of small businesses. But what caught Michael's eye in particular was a Food Lion and a Wal-Mart, side-by-side. There wasn't a soul in sight, either - living or dead. Maybe he had been right in his prediction, but it was too early to assume.
Seager turned his direction to the markets, struggling to mantle a short hill on the side of the main road - at one point on his hands and knees - but he summited the particularly vicious embankment and successfully reached the parking lot of the Wal-Mart. The man paused, glancing between the supermarket and the Food Lion. Chances were both had been thoroughly looted, but anything in the Food Lion would've long since decomposed by now unless there was the off-chance some canned food hadn't been picked clean - the Wal-Mart might still have something useful, however, and it was closer.
Cautiously, Michael began his approach towards the front façade of the Wal-Mart. He tucked the stock of his rifle into his shoulder and kept the muzzle oriented toward the ground, squatting low as he moved to create the smallest profile he could. He didn't want to prematurely alert any walkers inside of his presence - and he certainly didn't want to get stitched by a burst of gunfire from the front door.
When the Marine reached the first abandoned car in the parking lot, he came to a stop. Keeping his eyes on the front door, watching for any sign of movement, he tried the passenger door handle - and was honestly surprised that it popped open. It wasn't often that he found an unlocked car on the first try - but hey, the south had always been notoriously unconcerned with locking doors. Not one to look a gift horse in the mouth, Michael swung the door open and looked inside.
Fortunately, there weren't any decomposing bodies in the totally empty Aveo. Michael unslung his rifle and set it against the car door, then undid the chest and waist buckle on his pack. He swung the heavy boulder from his shoulder and let it rest on the passenger seat. He sighed with relief as the immense pressure on his back evaporated. Taking a deep breath, he felt a couple pops travel up his spine as the discs reoriented themselves.
"I'm getting too old," Michael muttered to himself whilst grabbing his rifle and throwing the weapon's two-point Vickers sling over his neck. Standing, he gently shut the door of the car and refocused on the Wal-Mart's wide open doors. Now significantly more mobile, he elevated the bore of his HK416 so it was focused on the entrance. Aiming at the doors, he restarted his approach - keeping his body squared towards the building, so the ceramic plates in his flak would catch any rounds that might find his torso.
Thankfully, no trigger-happy survivor decided to smoke-check Michael before he had reached the supermarket. When he was within a few feet of the ajar doors, the Marine's walk slowed to a crawl as he did his best to peer through the gloom and into the store. It was about what you would expect - dark - but the skylights covered in dust and bird shit still allowed a little light in. The store was in disarray. Carts were overturned left and right; various knickknacks and less-than-useful goods were scattered about on the waxed concrete floor. Things like post cards and makeup - the things no one concerned them about during the panic when they were trying to get out of town.
Keeping his rifle raised, Michael side-stepped to the right, until his shoulder was nearly pressed against the brick wall of the storefront. He did his best to pie off the corner to his left, to make sure no undead or opportunists were hiding there and waiting to jump him. Then, like he was back in Iraq clearing rooms - he stormed the entrance. Looking down the illuminated sight of his RCO, he cleared his direct front then hooked right, stepping out of the 'fatal funnel' of the doorway as swiftly as possible whilst scanning the muzzle of his rifle over the right corner.
Confirming the right corner was clear too, Michael double-checked the left so he was satisfied he wasn't about to get shot in the back. Relaxing a little, he lowered the rifle a bit and moved past the check-out counters, doing his best to not accidentally kick or stomp on any of the trash that littered the floor. He swept his rifle left and right, keeping on the alert for any possible threats or surprises. Clearing a room alone was generally a no-go - an entire supermarket was crazy, and to thoroughly check every nook and cranny could take more than an hour, which was time he didn't have. The longer he stayed, the more likely someone was to drop in on him. No, just being attentive was the only option he had.
Seager decided he would check the sporting section first. There were all sorts of goodies there - ammunition, knives, guns. Even less apparent gadgets were available, like fishing wire. The Marine began to make his way to the rear of the store. His HK416 remained at the ready, and every other step he would glance behind him to make sure his rear wasn't compromised. He glanced upward, looking at the signs hanging from the ceiling that would direct him to the sporting goods - and that's when he heard them.
Voices. Distant, far too distant to be distinguishable - with the wide open room of the Wal-Mart, the echo threw the source, and he couldn't even tell if they were deeper into the store or near the entrance. Without hesitation, he side-stepped into the nearest aisle - which was lined with old rugs in the first stage of rotting. He took a few steps into the darkness.
Then, his booted foot - as graceful as a club - kicked a dented, silver tin can he had overlooked and sent it bouncing down the aisle. He froze immediately as the sound carried much farther than it would have if the building hadn't been empty. He squeezed his eyes shut in frustration, muttering a curse to himself under his breath at his mistake.