by Michael Kingswood
Light flashed into Silva’s eyes, rousing her from what had been a deep and dreamless sleep. She squirmed and stretched, raising her arms above her head and letting out a long, low sigh that was almost a groan as she forced herself to full wakefulness.
Then she remembered where she was, and the pleasant feeling of stretching limbs and gathering of morning energy fled before that reality.
She sat bolt upright, eyes that were still adjusting to the new light levels darting to and fro, looking for danger and heedless of the sheets that had fallen from her naked torso. Didn’t matter if her boobs were showing if she was about to get eaten.
The room where she’d been sleeping was the same as she now remembered it had been when she and Zack had tucked in the night before.
Silva’s lips turned upward slightly at that thought. Why was she making euphemisms to herself? Tucked in, indeed. They had both expected to be dead before morning. So when they’d stumbled upon this abandoned house, with its still functioning solar array and the biggest, most luxurious bed Silva had ever seen, they had decided to go out with a bang.
And quite a bang it had been.
But now it turned out that hadn’t been their last night ever on this—or any other—world. And that meant things were about to get…awkward.
Silva brushed her black hair back from her eyes and turned to the left, where Zack was still asleep –
He wasn’t there.
“What the – ?”
Had he risen ahead of her, and gone to the little house’s kitchen to rustle up some coffee?
More mindful now of her state of undress, Silva slung her legs out from under the sheets and settled her feet onto the chilly grey-white tile of the bedroom floor. Pulling the sheet with her as she rose, heedless of the bed’s red comforter flopped onto the floor, she wrapped herself into the sheet and walked over to the door leading out to the living room and kitchen area.
“Zack?” she called, but his name drifted away into nothing when she fully emerged and saw the red leather couch and loveseat arranged around a black marble-looking coffee table, the red cabinets above black quartz countertops in the kitchen, the screen of the televid black against the far wall, and the front door, black and closed against the horror of the world outside.
But no Zack.
The air was cool and dry, and smelled slightly of disinfectant, as though the owner’s maid had been through here just before all hell had broken loose. But not of coffee. Or of the cologne Zack had been wearing last night.
She hadn’t really been concerned before, but now a shot of icy fear lanced through her. Where was Zack? What had happened to him?
And, more frightening still, how had it happened with her lying asleep beside him, without her knowing of it?
Had one of those…things…come in and got him? But why would it have not taken her as well? And how could she have slept right through it?
Or, almost more terrifying in its own way, had Zack waited until she was asleep and then left her? Had he been playing her the whole time, just to eke out one last bit of nookie before the end?
He’d succeeded in that, but she had wanted it too. And even if that had been all he was after, why would he bolt? There was really no place to go. Not anymore. And no one to brag to about his conquest. No one who wouldn’t eat his face off, anyway.
So…what the hell?
Silva scanned the room again, eyes lingering on the furnishings and decor longer this time, soaking in details. Nothing seemed out of whack…
She came to the front door, and froze.
It was ajar. The latching mechanism just resting against the jamb, like it had not been fully pulled to, more allowed to swing slowly shut on his own.
That shard of fear became a full-on lance, and Silva retreated back into the bedroom, moving as quickly as she could without creating a big rustle of moving sheet. Then she pushed the door slowly closed.
The click of the latch sliding home lessened her fear somewhat, even though she knew the things wouldn’t be stopped by something as paltry as a bedroom door. But she still felt better, regardless.
Moving more quickly now, Silva dropped the sheet and gathered up her clothing from where Zack had discarded it on the floor after removing it. She dressed quickly, only cursing over the fact that her underwear was three days old now twice, then patted the front pocket of her jeans.
The keys to her place were still there. Not that those would do much good. But it felt reassuring to have them. But where…
She cast about, looking for her wallet, but couldn’t see it anywhere.
Silva normally carried a small handbag, not quite a purse. But lucky her she’d decided to forgo that for just a wallet and keys when she’d left the house before it all started. So at least she didn’t have to be the cliched girl clinging to her purse during the end of the world.
And truth be told, it wasn’t like a wallet would do her much good now anyway. But she hated to lose it. Just in case. And because… Because it was a bit of normalcy, in all the sudden madness that had engulfed her life, and everyone else’s.
The bed was raised above the floor on four black wooden legs. Getting down on her knees, Silva peered beneath.
And there it was. Her wallet, a thin bit of brown leather doubled over itself. She reached out to get it, and when she did she saw something else as well, lying just past it.
A simple golden ring, lying on the tile beneath the bed.
Zack’s wedding ring.
Silva froze, just staring at it. The symbol of the life he’d built with Helen, the bond between them.
The bond Silva had broken when she’d taken Zack into her last night.
“Stupid cow,” she said under her breath. “Helen’s dead.”
That didn’t make the sudden guilt go away.
“They’re all dead,” she said, louder and more forcefully to herself. “And we were going to be, too.”
That didn’t change the fact that she’d fantasized about him ever since she’d first met him, when Helen brought him back to meet their parents. She’d never done anything about it, but she couldn’t make that desire go away.
And now, not two days after Helen died, Silva had done it: She had screwed her sister’s husband.
“Doesn’t matter because she’s fucking dead,” Silva growled in answer to herself. She pushed herself back from the bed and straightened, slipping the wallet into the pocket of her jeans. She took a moment to wipe tears that she hadn’t realized she was shedding from her eyes, then stood and turned toward the door.
But before she could open it back up, she found herself diving back beneath the bed and grabbing up Zack’s ring.
* * * * *
The front door swung open easily, and soundlessly on apparently well-oiled hinges, and Silva stepped out into the world. Or what was left of it.
Here, on the outskirts of town, the ravaging of the things was almost invisible. And especially in the little nook of woods around the house she and Zack had borrowed. The place was small, just the one bedroom, and isolated; blocked from sight on the street by high bushes and low-hanging tree limbs that surely had to have been planted just for that reason.
They had almost walk-ran right past it, except Zack had seen the path to the front door from the corner of his eye. And they had ducked in, feeling like they were barely a step ahead of the pack that had been dogging their steps for hours.
Now that it was daylight, she could see the house was stucco-sided, just yellow of white, and trimmed in red-brown like a well-stained piece of wood. And it still looked untouched, like no one had been here ever. So clearly they hadn’t been just one step ahead of the pack.
The path back to the street was made of flagstone, and it curved between the trunks of two willows before rounding the edge of the bushes. Silva walked slowly down it, carefully placing her feet so as to avoid making excess noise and peering about for any sign of Zack’s passage.
She saw none.
But just as she was rounding the bushes, she heard a sign.
Immediately relief and elation swept through her a heartbeat before she realized it was his voice all right. But it was raised, louder than it should have been, given what was going on these days. And it was full of fear. Nigh-on with panic.
Silva began to move more quickly, but froze a second later when Zack’s cry went from fear – to pain.
“No!” she cried, then surged forward.
Silva rounded the bend and emerged onto the sidewalk beyond. The street was two-lane, running north to south. It was lined with willows and maples and oaks, whose overhanging limbs lent the street a quaint, shady charm. A charm that was ruined by two wrecked cars within two hundred yards, and at least a couple corpses…or what Silva assumed were corpses. Though there was little enough left that it would have been impossible to be sure.
She took all that in, then set it aside as she turned right and saw Zack lying on his back on the blacktop, one of those things on top of him.
He was tall: 6’1″. And strong. The thing probably used to only be 5’9″. But it was overpowering him, throwing its entire weight down onto his arms, which he had thrown up above himself to ward the thing off.
They were thirty, forty feet away, but Silva could clearly see Zack’s arms trembling at the exertion to keep it off of him.
Without thinking about what she was doing, Silva rushed toward them. But she had maybe taken three steps when the thing raked its fingers across the meat of Zack’s forearms.
He cried out, pain and desperation both in his tone.
Then his arms gave out and the thing was on him.
Zack’s shriek as its teeth dug into his belly was high-pitched, almost like a boy’s, and despairing.
She was still moving toward them. Zack’s eyes caught hers as she approached, and he shook his head at her.
Then she was next to them, and she drove her foot into the thing’s side.
Caught unawares, the thing lost its grip on Zack and rolled off to the side.
It’s face, once human but now…something else…was red around the mouth and chin from Zack’s blood, from where it had bitten into him. And it was chewing.
Silva felt her stomach heave and tasted bile; she looked down at Zack’s belly and saw that it had torn straight through his shirt and into the flesh…and beyond. Blood flowed freely from the wound, and other fluid too.
Movement from the thing drew her eyes back to it. It had rolled onto all fours and was looking at her with grey-yellow eyes that shown with hunger, but beyond hunger to something more. Something that could never be quenched.
She took a step, her guts turning to water. Every part of her screamed to turn and run while she still could. But she couldn’t. She couldn’t do anything except watch as it crawled right overtop of Zack as he clutched futilely at the wound and groaned.
Watch it, and retreat.
Her foot struck something solid, and she glanced back to see that she had reached the curb. She stepped quickly up onto the sidewalk and looked back at the thing.
It was closer now, its pink-brown skin slick with what she assumed was sweat. But did they still sweat? Nude except for some last scraps of the shorts it had worn before turning, it surged forward toward her, arms outstretched and mouth agape, revealing teeth that had grown into mini-daggers.
Silva heard herself squeak out a shriek, but somehow in the midst of her fear she moved. A sidestep to the right, and the thing shot past her, just missing carrying her to the ground with it.
As it was, the thing stumbled face-first into the grass on the other side of the sidewalk from the street, and it let out a bark-cough that might have been an expression of chagrin.
Or of nothing at all; these things didn’t seem to have much in the way of intellect.
But this was not time to reflect on their anatomy. It would be coming for her again. Silva cast about for something to use as a weapon.
And saw a broken chunk of concrete lying in the street next to the curb. It must have been thrown there from an accident, or who knows from where.
No matter how it got there, Silva thanked God that it had, and picked it up.
It took both hands to heft it, and the thing was back on its feet when she turned back toward it, cudgel in hands.
The thing looked pissed. It charged, and Silva swung the hunk of concrete.
The stone struck the thing in the jaw, and it went reeling off to Silva’s left, falling back onto the street.
Silva didn’t wait this time, She threw herself down onto it, pinning it to the street with her knees. Then she brought he concrete chunk down onto its head.
A couple more hits, and its skull was a mush of red, its limbs trembling and spasming weakly.
Silva collapsed onto the street next to the thing and just breathed for a few seconds. Minutes? Her heart was pounding, and it was like she couldn’t get enough air. But finally, she managed to collect herself a bit, enough to remember Zack.
Rolling over, she pushed herself to her knees, then her feet, and she stumbled over to where he still lay, blood flowing freely from around the fingers he had clenched to his wound. He was trembling, and had gone pale. His eyes were sunken, and there were tears running down his cheeks.
She was no doctor, but she didn’t need to be to know he wasn’t long for this world.
Silva dropped down to her knees next to him, and immediately, he said, “I’m sorry.”
She blinked, confused.
Zack must have seen the question on her face, because he drew a breath, then said, “For last night I… I don’t know why I – ” He cut off and looked away from her, a sob escaping his lips. “Oh Helen, I’m sorry.”
“Shh.” Silva leaned over him and reached out, cupping his chin to turn his face back toward hers. “You’ve got nothing to be sorry for.”
He let his head turn, but he shook it after she spoke. “I shouldn’t have…” He trailed off amidst a series of strong coughs that left him gasping in pain as his abdomen contracted. “Ah!’ He drew a deep, quick breath. “I couldn’t sleep. Needed to get away. Take a walk. Didn’t mean to go so far…”
“It’s alright,” Silva said. Clearly he was blaming himself for this whole predicament, and not just for their sex last night. But Silva was pretty sure this was how they would have ended up no matter what he did: food for the things. Or worse. “It’s not your fault.”
He shook his head again, as though to deny her words. She opened her mouth to say that yes, she meant it. None of it was his fault; not last night, and not now.
But he grabbed her forcefully on the upper arm with his blood-soaked right hand.
“But about half mile that way,” he said, gesturing down the road to the north with that hand before letting it drop limply to the street. Apparently he didn’t even had the strength to try to staunch the flow anymore. He could talk, though. “Found a dead guy. Next to cop car.” He drew in a deep, quavering breath. “Had a map. Old base marked down there. Radio frequencies. Keys in the ignition, and the car started. Cop’s radio had the freqs…”
He coughed, and blood trickled down his cheek from his mouth. “People on the radio,” he said, weakly. “Base is safe. Open to survivors. Figured we’d go there…” He smiled faintly. “Just you now.”
“Zack – ” Silva stopped, unsure what to say and how to feel. There was a safe place, where people were gathering? There were still others alive? Hope surged within her, but then just as quickly it faded as she looked at the dying man beside her. Silently, she cursed the fates…or God…or whatever it was that caused life to suck so much.
It just wasn’t fair. First Helen, and then she had – And now Zack going as well. And Silva was just supposed to get up and go on, like nothing happened?
Why was she not the one bleeding out on the pavement?
“Do…me…favor.” Zack said, sounding very weak now.
“I’m dying. Or I’m…turn. Don’t wanna turn.” He looked at her earnestly, and she saw the fear there. Not of dying, but that was there. But of worse than dying. Of becoming one of them; of the things that had killed him, and everyone else.
Or almost everyone.
Silva nodded slowly, and looked back toward the corpse of the thing she had brained. The hunk of concrete she had used was lying on the street next to it. The edge she had used to cave in its skull was bright red in the morning sunlight.
Not trusting herself to speak, she stood and walked over to the thing’s corpse, and retrieved the concrete chunk. When she knelt back down beside Zack, he flashed a sad smile at her, and his hazel eyes were almost the lively orbs they had been when she first saw him.
He reached up to touch her face. His hand was covered in blood, but she didn’t recoil. He traced his finger down the side of her cheek, stopping when he reached her chin. His eyes left hers, moving down to his hand, and his expression broke.
“Threw my ring away,” he said. “Felt so guilty. Don’t wanna meet her without it…”
Silva blinked in surprise. Then she set the chunk of concrete down and fished into her pocket, where she had slipped his wedding ring. Pulling it out, she took his hand and gently slid the ring onto his ring finger.
His eyes widened when he saw it, then he smiled up at her and nodded. Their eyes met, and he looked away from her and up toward the sky. “Ready,” he said, and Silva almost couldn’t hear it.
She couldn’t look away from his face as her hands, trembling, took hold of the concrete chunk and raised it over her head.
His face was calm, his eyes glazed over. He looked at peace.
Silva forced her eyes closed and brought the chunk down with all her might.
* * * * *
The car was right where Zack had said it would be. And it started, as he said it would.
From the markings on the map, the base looked to be a hundred and fifty miles northeast of there. She checked the fuel gauge and figured she had enough to get there, or at least get close enough that she could walk the rest of the way if need be. So she shut the car door, put it in gear, and set off down the road.
When she turned on the radio and heard the voice from the base calling out to her, Silva realized she was weeping.
But whether tears of grief and loss or of relief, or of, for the first time in what felt like forever, hope, she didn’t know.
A collection of Michael Kingswood’s published stories are available here: