Dark Zombie One-Shot
It's dark, the light on my watch showing a little past three as I shift uncomfortably on the floor and slide back up so my back is firmly against the door. It's locked and there is no repeat of the noise, just my own ragged breathing in the darkness and the faster, heavier breath of my companion across the room.
I don't want to wake him, looking at him hurts enough in daylight and neither do I intend to go downstairs. Not until there are no shadows, not until I know that there are no other options. One way or another I'm well aware that I'm going to die in this room and that prospect has ceased to concern me. I would just prefer it to be in the manner of my own choosing, still not quite able to shift that fear of having the choice taken from me.
The shotgun is heavy on my lap, the metal warmed by the heat go my body even though its cold enough to see my breath and there is a blanket resting around my shoulder. I haven't eaten in three days now, the empty bottles of water stacked next to the two remaining full ones. I have been downstairs, checked the windows in the other upstairs rooms and even looked out the front door but I won't leave. He can't travel now, the disease is too far progressed and I can't go without him. Not even to save my own life. So far I've been left alone, I know this wont last long term and it's just another ticking clock until I have to take the shot.
My eyes flick toward him at that thought, trying to see if I can still fool myself that it's just the darkness making his skin grey, the light not good enough to show me that he's ok, that his hair isn't slicked against his face with sweat. The coughing has stopped, so has the pleading and the anger in his voice when he screams at me to leave, to fuck off and let him die alone. I promised him that I'd take the shot, same as I promised the others but I know I should have done it by now. I know that it's my own selfishness that stops me from ending the pain for him, that stops me even when he pleads with me not to let him become the thing that he fears will kill me. He was always the noble one.
Which is why this is unfair.
If there was a god, a supreme being that had decided to inflict this most insidious of punishments on his creation, then it would be me sitting over there. Handcuffed to a pipe and in the delirium of fever and fear. I would deserve that, never have been the best of people, certainly not like him. Even when the world was sane I used to question his love for me, giggle at the crooked smile that would cross his face and the answer that he would always give.
"Your lack of moral fibre is part of your charm."
I can't deny I took a perverse pride in that, he was a flawed man but a good man. Pretty rare in the cut throat world that had been the human race before nature had decided to intervene. Even now I don't think anyone knows how it started, there had been various diseases over the years that had been proclaimed by the media as the one that would lead to pandemic and mass death. It's ironic that the one that did just that slipped under the radar until the death toll was already in the thousands.
Strangely nobody panicked. Sure there was stockpiling of food and the government had plunged into research and denial but we had all thought that modern medicine and science would see us through. It was only when martial law was declared and the first sightings of what had been so successfully hidden had been confirmed that we had decided to leave the city, a small gang of friends against the world. A grown up version of a childhood game of hide and seek that had been a novelty at first, almost fun until we began to see the bodies, smell that now familiar reek of the dead and begin to go hungry. That was when the fear kicked in.
There had been eight of us, me and him plus his brother and boyfriend, two close friends and their partners. So damn clueless to begin with, following the crowds of vehicles and people until hunger forced us to leave the herd and strike out on our own. That one decision had saved our lives. We were hidden in a supermarket looking for booze and cigarettes when the first wave hit the back of the crowd. The cliche of a zombie attack is considerably less fun when the screaming starts, I hear that noise every time I sleep.
Frank had pulled us into a store room, bolting the door as we listened from the darkness. The small window gave each of us a few minutes view as confusing images played across the huge glass fronted building as if it was a tv screen. I could feel Gee's arms around my waist as I clung to the door and I remember that all I could liken it too was watching lions hunt in Africa. The crowds of people were like gazelles, the initial panicked few sprinting through the cars and people until the others look back and more and more of them start to run.
I didn't see the pack following them, it was Mikey's turn to look by then and he couldn't really describe what he was seeing, just murmured protests and then the sobbing as he fell back down against the door and Ray took his place. When he sat down, pale faced and motioning to all of us to keep quiet, nobody else wanted to see. The screams had been mixed with strange guttural grunting, the sounds of others in the store running, trying the handle of our safe haven was enough to keep us as still as statues. I can only say that it was instinct, the fight or flight reflex somehow stilled by the knowledge that the only thing that would save us was not being found.
For an hour we had sat there, all of us on the floor in that storeroom, huddled together like pack rats. There were tears but no panic, Gee just silent as I read the packaging on the boxes on the shelf and tried to keep my mind from the noises outside. Maddy had her head on her knees, Ray's hand silently stroking her back as Claire hid her face in Frank's shirt. James and Mikey were not touching, just a silent front with the door behind them, both staring at the wall.
When it did finally go quiet we had still sat there, almost knowing that if we went outside it would confirm that there was nothing left of the world as it had once been. Denial is a natural form of human comfort, there isn't one of us that hasn't indulged in that one and it's a powerful thing to break. When we did open that door it had been like walking into hell.
It's the smell that hits you first, there is no movie that can prepare you for the heavy copper smell of spilt blood and worse. I'm not going to make out that we didn't all throw up that first time, that we all staggered for fresh air without thinking of what could still be lurking around outside. We were pretty fucking stupid back then.
James probably had the most sense and the ability to use it despite the shock. It was him that got us to swallow our disgust and search the bodies, to take what weapons we could from the shop in the form of steak knives and heavy rolling pins. We survived on luck for those first days, if we had actually come upon a zombie it's likely that all of us would have died. None of what we found was actually useful in terms of defence but we had got rucksacks and enough food and water to fill them.
So we had started to walk, a state of shock allowing the basic functions of eating and sleeping without thinking too much about what had happened, without processing too much of the mangled bodies and rivers of blood that we walked through. We had met other survivors on the road, some of whom had been able to confirm that the dead had indeed risen, reanimated by the disease that had killed them which meant if you caught it then even death was not a release. Some said it was airborne, others that it was in the water. In the end it didn't matter.
I have to rub my eyes and try not to think at this point. He's awake now and he's watching me even though I'm being stubborn and refusing to meet his eyes. They are still his, despite the bloodshot yellow tinge that has been there the last few days, they are still a reminder that its Gee sitting across the room. The man that saved my life both before and after the apocalypse, a man who's arms I have slept and cried in, loved and laughed in and now I can't even wipe away his tears.
My grip on the shotgun tightens. There are two shells in it for him, I'm taking no chances that I won't do the job properly. The pistol in my belt has two bullets too but I'm only going to need one of those. I should do this, do it now before my nerve fails again, before he starts to scream and pull against the cuffs.
Of course I have to look at his face and the moment has again passed. Because it is him across the room and I can no more think of hurting him than I can put that pistol to my head. If I'm honest, neither of those things are going to happen until something makes them happen. Maybe that's why I listen so hard for sounds downstairs, if the zombies find me then there will be no choice in what I have to do.
He mumbles something that might have been my name and the first rays of dawn coming in the broken window show me that there is no hope for him. Dried blood from his nose is caked around his lips as he smiles, I want to look away from that corruption of what was once such a beautiful expression. I can't tell if he's dead already, zombies still repeat the motion of breathing even though they don't need to. Call it a trace memory or a reflex from a habit of a lifetime. His clothes are torn and dirty, I can see the bandage has come loose from his arm and the original bite wound beneath it is black and green.
A stray tear works it's way down my face. He's still handsome you see, that's still there along with his eyes and I can't put the shotgun in his face and pull the trigger. I don't have it in me. I have considered just walking over there, uncuffing his wrists and just letting him finish things but he made me swear I wouldn't do that. It was one of the first things he said when he showed me that the zombie we had been fighting had managed to latch on. He knows me pretty well.
The others wanted to do it for me. By then it was only James, Frank and us left and they had nearly beaten the shit out of me for my stubborn refusal to face facts. Gee had stopped James before I had anything worse than a broken nose but it didn't change the fact that he was doomed and therefore so was I. He had asked both of them to do it and I truly think they would have if they had been given the time. As it was, I reached the shotgun first and made it fucking clear that I was more than happy to kill both of them.
Don't get me wrong, I loved them both and didn't want to hurt them but this is something I have to do for him. I owe him that and even though Frank is quite right in that I want every second of his remaining time, that it's me I'm thinking off just as much as him, it doesn't change the fact that if either of them had done it I would have killed them. So they left us here, leaving enough supplies and ammo and a request that I follow them to the coast when it's done.
James knew it wouldn't happen, even accepting a rare hug goodbye, I think Frankie was still in denial. Same as he had been the night Claire had been killed by a stray bullet during a firefight with another gang of survivors. Human beings become all to keen to kill each other once food starts to run thin and there had been more than one time when we had come under fire or looted what we had found on the remains of other less fortunate travellers.
We had dragged him away, screaming his hate and anger at them and the world before the broken sobbing had taken over. Anything human had died in him that day, there were no more smiles or optimism just a reckless abandon that we all read as a death wish. He had been adamant that we check the lists of the wounded in every refugee camp we came across just in case somehow he could find her again. None of us had it in us to talk to him about that, some dreams are too fragile to break. His denial had become a shield, anything to keep him from dealing with his broken soul.
James had been different when we lost Mikey. Stunned almost and unable to move, willing to stand there and let the two zombies take him. We had been searching for supplies in an abandoned gas station and the things had been the rare type, sleepers that can mimic the dead so exactly that you don't know what they are until they grab your leg. By the time Frank and Ray had heard the screaming it was too late and all they could do was empty chamber after chamber into the two creatures until there was nothing left but hunks of rotting flesh. The only mercy, Gee had said, was that at least it had been quick and there was no chance of Mikey being turned. There had been a dignity in his heartbreak, both he and James never let the rest of us see it and we politely ignored the occasional disappearances and their red eyed returns.
Maybe the worst thing to admit is that as much as I loved them all, I never let their deaths touch me. Somehow it felt like if I blocked it out and just concentrated on keeping alive that somehow Gee would be spared. Stupid I know, thinking about it now when he's hissing and staring at me with clear intent in those dead features. All I had to do was keep keep him safe and I failed. Miserably.
The heart went out of all of us after that. We had never really had a plan, it was more a vague idea to keep moving toward the coast and stay alive. Ray had heard that there were places in the world that were still safe, one report was of a safe haven in New Zealand, another that the plague itself had not reached some of the colder areas such as Greenland and Iceland. Whether any of this was actually true or just the desire of survivors to have something to believe I don't know. Now I no longer care.
Ray and Maddie had believed however and had decided to follow the trail north with a group of army vets and some women and children. There had been an argument, the idea seemed so badly thought out as it would take them through two cities and their supplies had been minimal. Any former population centre was now a zombie hive and it was suicide but they were adamant that it was worth the risk. Harsh words had been spoken, I admit that I told them in no uncertain terms that I wasn't going to die for nothing and even James' common sense questions and Gee's quiet pleading had little effect. Maddy had hugged me and we had stood and watched them walk away. In my few remaining hopeful moments, I hope they made it out ok.
We should have gone too, I can see that now. It would have saved me from hearing his words from the corner as he whispers his love through cracked lips and insane giggles. I grip the shotgun a little tighter, a cold ache filling the pit of my stomach. The disease is crafty, it doesn't remove reason and cunning from the dead. Parts of their personality remain for a while, helping to pull their loved ones closer to the ravenous husks that were once lovers and friends. My Gee is gone, I lost him sometime in the night without even realising it and now there is only this thing left.
I'm on my feet now, back still pressed into the wood of the door as if somehow I can sink back through it and run down the stairs. I can't breathe and I can't look away, the pain is too much for that as I raise up the gun and aim it at his head. There is reproach in his expression now, this is your fault kid so look what you did to me. My arms feel like lead and it takes everything I have not to drop the gun and curl up in a heap on the floor.
It wasn't my fault, it was just bad luck and maybe a hint of complacency. We had walked on for four days after Ray and Maddie had left, the further into the country you got, the less of the dead you seemed to find. There had been some discussion of what we should do, there was still a lot of ground to cover and we were burned out. Exhausted from running and adrenaline to the point where sleep had become elusive so the idea to take shelter in the empty village we found had seemed a sound one.
It doesn't take long to find a routine to these things. Stick together, methodically search until you're sure that every corpse is accounted for and very dead. Ammo was drying up but it's easy to find things that would do the job to nearly the same effect and there had long since ceased to be any remorse about rifling among the possessions of those that had moved on. We had searched the southern end before Gee had opened the wrong door and the thing behind it had made its move.
I still thought we had been lucky and that is was just another close call until he had turned back, his face full of pain and awful terror. We had both stared at the ragged wound in his arm, the thing that had caused it was twitching on the floor from the double tap to the skull and yet still it had killed him. I remember babbling to him about cleaning it, that it would still be fine and there was nothing to fear even though we both knew that once the disease got into the bloodstream it was already too late.
The next plan I had was to hide it which he immediately refused, putting the barrel off is pistol to his head until I had pulled it out of his hand. I had taken that option from him and guilt now nagged at that but I couldn't let him die. Not then and not now. Except that now he is dead and what is in front of me is the corruption of his corpse. Still him, the decay not advanced at all yet. He's just pale and beautiful and I want nothing more than to be in his arms.
I blink and pull the shotgun back up to my shoulder. One hand is free now and he's reaching out to me, not speaking anymore. I can see that hitting him from this distance is still possible despite the shake in my hands and I breathe deeply through my tears and aim again. I will do this for him and then take care of myself, suicide will be the easy part. He would have wanted me to do it and leave, catch the others up and live but I can't imagine getting to the bottom of the stairs let alone going out into the sunshine.
His head cocks to one side as both of us hear one of the remaining windows downstairs smash. Someone is here in the house and I hold my breath. If I take the shot now it will alert this intruder to our presence and maybe interfere with the termination of my plan. I don't want to be interrupted now, the earlier thought of needing that push is gone. All I want is to hold him one final time before its over.
More footsteps, I can hear at least two of them as they move about. There is still no sound, no voices that would tell me that it is a living creature that I can reason with rather than one that is beyond reason. Gee is staring at me, the free hand now scraping against the floor as he strains his wrist against the other. It dawns on me that I'm trapped and there are only minutes left to make the choice and take the shot. They will know I'm here or he will get free and do the one thing that he would never have wanted to do.
The sound of the gunshot when it comes is horrifically loud. I pulled the trigger with my eyes shut but I hear him collapse onto the floor with a grunt and know that it's done and he's free. I drop the shotgun as the footsteps start to pound up the stairs and realise that I'm on my knees, legs no longer able to hold me up as I crawl across to the twitching remains of the one person I had loved. He's cold, confirming that he died before I pulled the trigger, that in the end it had been the right thing to do.
My hand finds the gun still tucked into my belt and I pull it free as fists start to hammer against the door. Someone is screaming through it and I struggle to think around the numbness in my head to work out if the voice is human or not. It doesn't matter, I have one hand linked in his and close my eyes as I press the cold metal barrel against my forehead. One squeeze of the trigger and this will all be over.
"Not gonna happen dumbass."
James pulls the gun easily from my grip as Frank grimly checks that Gee is dead and looks around the room. I can't move, not really surprised that they came back but surprised that they didn't let me finish the job. Frank squats down and regards me with a sad, resigned smile.
"Knew you wouldn't do it if we were watching. C'mon, it's time to go."
I let them lift me up and push me out of the room, one final look back and a chance to say goodbye. Still it feels wrong to leave him behind but the air in my lungs carries me down the stairs and out into the sunshine. There are still birds in the sky, heat in the sun and I let myself smile. Gee didn't die in that room, he's just moved on and maybe if I look hard enough I can forgive myself and find him again.