By Megan Finsel
When he broke through the morning mist I cocked my gun, ready and waiting. But the first rays of pre-dawn light split the gloom and fell upon his face, and I knew I couldn’t shoot him. Now I was as good as dead.
“We’re going to survive this, I promise.” he had said to me, and I had clung to his words like I did to his hand as we ran, trying not to make a sound. It was one of the first days after this nightmare began; we had been hiding in the trailer park. We had tried to keep in the shadows, but the bonfires they had started made it difficult. Everything had been deserted, the sky dark and the ground burning. They were coming; I could hear their screams in the silence.
When we were curled up inside one of the dark campers with his rifle across our legs, we listened to the wails and howls piercing the quiet.
“Can we afford to make promises?” I had asked him with my head nestled upon his shoulder.
His arms tightened around me, and he turned and put his lips close to my ear, his breath warm and comforting on my skin. “Yes, we need to.” he whispered, and it had been enough to satisfy me.
Days passed like this, the two of us becoming suburban scavengers, warriors in this horrific war. As humanity disintegrated around us, we hung on to one another. That is why we survived for so long.
But when we crept into grocery stores, stealing what we could from the nearly barren shelves, I anticipated the decaying faces that could stumble from around the corners. Fear of them always followed us and I was thankful for it, for it kept us alert and alive. However fear can kill as well as any plague.
We stayed on the move in the camper we’d stolen, never spending two nights in the same place. One evening, somewhere outside of Arizona, I had asked him, “Do you think we’re the only ones left now?” We hadn’t encountered another living human being in almost three weeks.
“I don’t know,” he had replied, and I stifled a sob. Taking me into his arms, he cradled me in his lap and held me against his chest. I listened to his heartbeat, the steady pounding of another living soul, the sign that he was still mine. I cherished that sound.
“If anything happens to either of us,” he said, “I want you to know that I will love you until the world ends.”
“But the world is ending,” I had begun to cry.
“No it hasn’t, not yet,” he said, “Because you are still here. You are my world.” and he had kissed me through my tears.
Crossing the country together, hiding from them and from the fear within us, wasn’t nearly as difficult as it had been at first. We were together, a small family, but a family nonetheless.
That was, until, our little family fell apart.
We had made promises to one another, all probably foolish, but meaningful at the time. He promised me the house on the lake I had always wanted and I promised him children with eyes and hair as dark as his. We also promised to shoot each other, if either of us became infected. But that was a promise I desperately hoped I wouldn’t have to keep.
Now I knew that I couldn’t, even if I had wanted to, I couldn’t keep that promise. Now that the time had come I could only lean against the tree and watch as he stumbled toward me, shrieking and crying, his eyes dead, his mouth hanging open.
There were large bald spots on his head where his beautiful hair had been ripped out, and what was still intact was clumped with mud and debris. His face was ashen and spattered with dark blotches, probably blood; it was most likely not his. His veins bulged, swollen beneath translucent skin, like blue spider webs crisscrossing his body. His arms, which always held me so close, swung limply at his sides. His fingers, which had always touched me so tenderly, twitched abnormally. His shirt hung on his body in tatters; could he remember me buying it for him last year?
Deep inside that decaying body, could he remember who he was? Who I was? I watched as he began to run to me and I tried to pretend that he recognized me and my heart gave a tiny jolt of hope, which quickly died. There was wildness in his eyes which I had never seen, desperation; hunger much different than how he used to look at me, before all of this happened. Before our world fell apart.
I watched him turn his head in an unnatural angle, his stride jerking sharply. This was not the man I had fallen in love with in high school; the man who I had given my heart to or the man I was destined to marry.
He was coming, closer and closer and in that moment I knew I wouldn’t kill him. I pressed myself against the tree and slowly let my shotgun slip through my fingers. It landed in the grass by my foot. He shrieked. My heart pounded. I felt his hands grab me by the shoulders, slamming me into the trunk; he had never been rough with me before. I looked into his bloodshot eyes and realized he would never recognize me again. His mouth opened; a stench of rotting flesh on his breath.
I wondered, in the last moments, if it was weak of me to not have been able to shoot him. No, this is not weakness, I thought, and took comfort in the fact that if I turned out as he had at least we would be together again. I only felt guilty for breaking my promise.
Pain blossomed in my neck, as the infection spread slowly through my veins. I sank against him, falling into the arms of the undead man I had chosen to love instead of kill.
These are the last things I remember from being human, from being alive. What came next I cannot recall. Perhaps he helped me up, took my hand, and together we stumbled off through the woods. Or, perhaps he ate me. I really don’t know.
Bio: Words have a great power to me. They can evoke emotions, thoughts, and ideas. They can start and end wars, and they can paint pictures. When I learned I could use words to express myself, I realized I had found my passion. Writing is my way to communicate the complex emotions and thoughts that we all tuck away in the recesses of our hearts. And if I can make at least one person smile through my writing, then I know I have done my job 🙂