Ethan could see the infection spreading–Stephanie’s body convulsing, her veins near bursting as sweat rolled off her skin. Her back arched violently as spittle foamed around her mouth. There was little he could do but watch as the woman he loved morphed into one of those goddamed shambling zombies.
She said she had a surprise for him, at the pharmacy in the nearby town of Haley. A real man would have gotten her there safely. He wiped his brow and slid down the wall deflated, weary, and defeated.
“We’ll spend every last second together.” He looked at Stephanie’s wavy brown hair glistening in the dying embers of the afternoon sun. “I promise you won’t be one of…those things.”
She looked over and cracked a smile.
It wasn’t fair. If anyone deserved to be bitten, it was Ethan. Ethan, who never had the guts to kill a single shambler. The same Ethan that ran when his nieces became the main course at the zombie buffet. He closed his eyes and relived the look of horror on his sister’s face as he fled, leaving her to die with her babies.
Outside the undead shuffled around the abandoned pharmacy. All of this for a pregnancy test. Stephanie had insisted. She had to be sure. That was the fault of many people–their inability to be patient, to wait for things to unfold in their due time.
Ethan stood and grabbed a can of baby formula. “Shut the fuck up!” He threw it as hard as he could and watched the skull of the nearest shambler shatter. It felt strangely satisfying watching it die for a second time.
His first kill.
Stephanie let out a bloodcurdling scream.
Turning back, Ethan saw two shamblers closing in.
Without thinking he pulled the sawed-off shotgun from Stephanie’s bag. He knew it was loaded. Stephanie was always prepared. That same preparedness was one of the reasons why he loved her.
The first shambler was a woman. A few stray strands of hair still clung to various places on her scalp. She was emaciated, nothing more than greying, diseased skin over bones. Her ear had been gnawed off and her pink dress was covered with blood, grime, and some kind of black slime.
She reached out and moaned.
Ethan ran at her screaming, infuriated that one of them would invade the sanctity of his last precious moments with his beloved wife.
He let it grab him. He was tired of all the running and scrounging, tempted to join the ranks of the undead. Ethan pulled the trigger and grimaced as her head exploded in a shower of bone and slime.
The second shambler was quicker. It slammed into Ethan from the side. The name tag pinned through her blue apron displayed the name Cassie. Her skin held onto some of its natural pink hue. She obviously had worked there and appeared to have been recently turned.
Which meant she still had plenty of strength.
They fell in a tangle of limbs and biting teeth. Cassie came out on top. She pressed her constantly clacking teeth closer to Ethan’s face. He grabbed her by the throat, trying to keep her away, all the while looking for the sawed-off shotgun.
It was too far away to reach.
Cassie inched forward, unintentionally pushing a knee into Ethan’s groin. Great, he thought, another ballbuster.
There was a crash from the direction of the front door. The shamblers, likely riled up from the fighting, were trying to get in.
Ethan balled up a fist and let it fly. Cassie’s jaw crunched. She lurched forward, Ethan turning his head away just in the nick of time.
Even with a busted jaw, Cassie was relentless. The grinding noise every time she tried to chomp Ethan’s fingers was sickening. She pushed closer, Ethan’s thin arms quivering under the weight.
A pounding noise came from the front door. The glass had been reinforced with various pieces of welded metal. It was just a matter of time before they got in.
Cassie pushed down with an unflinching need.
There was a creaking noise from the front of the store, followed by a crash as the door gave way.
If ever Ethan needed a miracle, it was now.
Cassie’s jagged teeth hovered an inch from his nose. Her breath smelled amazingly like oranges…and decay. She groaned as bloody saliva oozed onto Ethan’s face.
The struggle came to an end as the sawed-off shotgun thundered, pellets crashing into Cassie as she sprawled across the floor. Ethan looked over to see Stephanie, now sitting, concentrating on the task of reloading. He scrambled away from the twitching pharmacy worker. Once on his feet, he hurried over to his wife.
“I’m sorry,” were the only words to escape his mouth. He had every intention of staying, but his feet wouldn’t cooperate. He moved toward the rear of the store and the back door.
Stephanie gave him a hard stare after reloading her weapon. One pull of the trigger finished Cassie.
Ethan turned back to see his wife, now surrounded by shamblers, point the gun at her head and take her own life. He jumped at the sound even though he knew it was coming.
He knew he should have felt something after losing Stephanie, possibly their baby too. But he didn’t. The truth was he was too scared. All he knew was he needed to get the hell out of there. Not all the shamblers would be able to feast on the warm meal. Some would come looking for fresher meat.
Ethan rounded the corner and stopped dead in his tracks when the back door swung open. His jaw dropped but he couldn’t move, a whole new fear holding his feet to the floor.
“Surprise!” his sister said with mock cheer. “I bet you thought you’d never see me again, you son-of-a-bitch.”
“No, please.” Ethan looked from the shamblers to his sister, waiting.
The woman he believed dead raised her pink handled shotgun and fired.