Thursday, August 13, 2009

Day 1, by P.M.

I found love the day after the world ended. It came as no more or less of a shock than the dead rising.

*********

“Hurry!” Dan frantically swung his shotgun left then right. His eyes never left the shattered plate glass window in the front of the store.

“I’m going as fast as I can,” I said, grabbing what I could. “There’s not much left.”

Dan bit his lip. “Sarah, I know they heard us … they must have heard us …”

“Relax, Dan, Owen’s watching. He’ll warn us if they come.”

Unless they’d already gotten him.

*********

It’d started out small enough—local children got a new kind of flu. No one was particularly worried because, at least in the city, no one died. It didn’t matter that thousands of miles away, across an ocean, people were. That was them this was us.

If only it stayed that way. The city’s death toll grew, then the state’s, then the entire country. One newspaper’s headline had read: God’s Punishment? No Cure for Worldwide Plague.

I’m not sure God had anything to do with it.

I thought the end had come then, but I’d been wrong. Yesterday was when it really had—the TV’s went black, the world went silent, and the dead started walking.

This morning I lost my neighbor to a corpse. She’d been torn apart by her daughter, Lizzy. I remember Lizzy eating the frosting off her sixth birthday cake. Now all I see when I close my eyes is her eating her mom’s intestines, all twisty red and glistening wet. All I remember are her mom’s screams.

*********

A hand snaked out of the dark, grabbing the bottled water out of my hand.

“Christ!” I fell back, sneakers squeaking on the linoleum.

But it was a man not one of them.

“Hey, it’s okay. I’m okay. You okay?” He said.

We laughed as he helped me up. It was brief, the touch of his hand, and soft and quiet—a whisper of flesh. I looked into his eyes and knew, against all odds, love.

“Sarah,” I said.

“Joshua.”

A shotgun blast and shattering glass ripped through the store. Dan fired another round. “They’re here!” He shouted. “They’ve found us! Oh God, oh God, oh God, oh God, oh GOD.”

“Dan—” Grabbing my baseball bat, I turned to help. Joshua held my arm. “Dan,” I repeated.

And then I heard it—a scrabbling, tearing, a slurping and chewing. I thought I was going to be sick.

“Run,” Joshua said.

Dan.

Joshua pushed me and then, pulling a gun, fired down the aisle. There were five of them including Owen. “Run!”

I flew to the back of the store, my heart pounding as loudly as my sneakers. It was hard to see but I found stairs leading into the basement.

“Here, down here,” I called as Joshua fired round after round and reloaded.

It was quiet for two hurried breaths before he joined me and we raced down the stairs, almost tripping. We found a storage room and slid exhausted to the floor.

I couldn’t see anything except a small pool of moonlight coming from a window set street level. The light flickered, strobe-like, as the dead shuffled past. I thought I saw Owen’s high-tops. The ones I’d given him for Christmas.

“He was my brother,” I said. “So was Dan.”

Joshua put his arm around me. “I’m sorry,” he whispered. It tickled my hair.

Eventually the dead left us, and the moon rose high. I walked over and looked up. What would tomorrow bring? Joshua came up behind me and held me close. His warmth chased the numbness away.

“Who did you lose?” I asked.

“Everyone.” He rested his chin on my shoulder. “But I found you.”

Was that the trade-off? Joshua kissed my neck, his breath sending goose bumps down my arms.

“I found you,” he repeated, grip tightening. “I found you.”

I don’t remember how many times he said it or how many times I said it back. We made love in moonlight; hard brick against my back, clothes torn open, kissing feverishly. Tender at the end, he cupped my face, stroking my cheek with his thumb. He had the softest brown eyes.

“Oh, God, Joshua,” I breathed.

“I know.” He smiled.

“Run.”

Behind Joshua was Owen. Swaying and slathering, bloody bits clinging to flesh and clothes, he stank of the newly dead.

Owen had always been fast and jumped, snarling at Joshua who pushed me away. They struggled, pinning me beneath their twisting bodies. Owen’s fingernails clawed furrows down Joshua’s arms.

“No! No, no, no!” I pulled myself away, kicking off Owen.

Someone screamed. I frantically looked around, spotted Joshua’s gun and grabbed it, swinging around.

Joshua crawled toward me leaving streaks of blood.

“Joshua?” I leveled the gun at his head, hand shaking.

I looked into his eyes.

“Oh, Joshua. Joshua, Joshua, Joshua,” I sobbed. I didn’t think I could pull the trigger.

Joshua lunged.

Love hesitates, hunger doesn’t.

8 comments:

Jude Hardin said...

First the demon baby, and now zombies. Why didn't someone tell me this was horror month?!?!?!

I liked this. There were a few problems with sentence structure/punctuation, but overall a very nice job. Great imagery. I could really see the girl eating her mom's intestines and so forth, LOL.

Erica Orloff said...

OMG! Fun horror. With a short-short, I think I might have cut one brother--didn't need another unseen character . . . Loved some imagery here (do I expect any less from a PM story? I do not.) Liked the flickering orbs, the icing. Have to say you are masterful at sounds. The sneakers/heartbeat was SO brilliant at basically avoiding the cliche of a heart pounding. Fabulous!

AND . . . man, oh man . . . LAST LINE is perfect horror ending. The sardonic line, and yet . . .

Great job!
E

LurkerMonkey said...

Niiice. Of course, given my primordial fears of zombies, I suffered through parts. Intestines? Bloody bits clinging to clothes? Ugh.

I love that you told a complete story--I always find that to be a challenge with a short story. I'm all in favor of powerful scenes, because they can be beautiful, like a painting, but I think it can be harder to tell a complete story in just 1,000 words.

And yeah, who knew that "Love Hesitates" would end up inspiring a hatchet-attacking, demon baby, zombie euthanasia month?

p.s. I also loved the "love hesitates, hunger doesn't."

Anonymous said...

Jude - What could be better than horror month? :) Very aware of my sentence structure/punctuation issues. I have a fantastic writer's group who normally help me through. Oh, and you can't have a zombie story without intestines.

Er - I thought about less background folk but in my mind some got eaten some rose, but I hear you. Thanks for the comments and undying support :)

Lurker M - I worried about trying to make a "complete" story, that the background would be an intrusion. When I saw your prompt I immediately got the last line and then the first. Thanks for inspiring.

Natasha Fondren said...

LOVE the last line, PM! Ohmigosh, that was awesome! I haven't gotten into the whole zombie thing, but this is the second piece of flash zombie fiction that I've loved.

I also loved this: "Swaying and slathering, bloody bits clinging to flesh and clothes,"

The whole thing was just so vivid!

Melanie Avila said...

EEEEEEEEK!

Just re-reading the line Natasha quoted gave me goosebumps AGAIN. Erica said it best -- you have a knack for sounds. Yeesh.

In case you haven't figured it out, I'm not much of a horror gal -- especially zombies -- but this is awesome. Great twist from the prompt.

E. Flanigan said...

Nice job, PM! Horror is a good genre for you .... lots of gross details, as everyone else has been saying.

I like the last line and the way you fit the prompt into the genre so seamlessly.

As far as love stories go, my favorites frequently end in murder — which all of the stories up to this point essentially have. (OK, Lurker's technically ended with a failed murder, but I like to think the dad went on to kill the mom, so it still counts!)

Anonymous said...

Natasha & Melanie, Thanks for the comments. If I wigged or grossed anyone out then my job here is done ;)

E.F. - I love writing horror. It's a release, something that let's me throw out the rules. Especially since, as you know, I've been doing the YA thing.

P.M.