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.
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.
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.
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.
Love hesitates, hunger doesn’t.