Alison and I met by absolute chance while cowering in the same destitute FedEx truck almost a year ago. She looked so colorful in among the white parcels and brown boxes that I had to find out everything I could about her. Every so often she or I would run across another Normal, and we'd invite them back, but they rarely came. The last Normal to cross our threshold hung outside the attic window as a warning to any new thieves.
But he'd brought a blessing in his belongings: a simple solitaire diamond ring, and after Ali'd clobbered him and before I'd finally unloaded twin barrels of buckshot into him, we found some of our rations and this exquisite little ring. Well, I did. I pocketed it before she glanced up, pretending to take extreme intrigue in the double-knitted wool socks.
I wiggle my toes in those socks now and swallow hard. Can it possibly be called love, this thing we share? Enough to take her by the hand, get on one bended knee and profess eternity?
“Michael.” She comes in, closing the door with a smart snap behind her.
“They're coming. They've figured out that the bodies out front are a decoy.”
I snatch my boots up from beside the little fire and stomp my feet into them. “Pack what you can into that big bag, and I'll go have a look—“
“No Michael,” she says, slapping a hand over my arm. Her eyes are intense and 120% serious. “They're too close. If you go outside, you'll just give them something new to sniff out.”
The barricade, as she called it, is a cattle gate-style assembly of plywood and scrap-metal fencing, cultivating a virtual maze around the Victorian-style three-bedroom house. I know whose house it was, but my old fifth-grade teacher wouldn't need it now. She's probably still out there somewhere, chewing on the principal's face. She hasn't been in the population we've already taken down.
After weeks of fighting them off, we retreated into this house, building the fence as we could inside. I took it outside by armed escort. At night, we huddled up in the basement, the door locked and bolted with a gasoline-soaked rag crammed in the crack under the door.
They wander around top-side relentlessly, growling and chewing and occasionally attacking each other over a particularly-tasty morsel. They lap like dogs at oil-slicked puddles and meander off in packs of a dozen or more, one always assuming the alpha position of each little pod.
Ali and I were the last of the group of nine, as no one could handle the pressure as well as we could. Some shot themselves, wasting precious bullets, others were caught out after sunset gathering supplies. The sun slowed them down considerably, and heat seemed to infuriate them further.
“I was about to ask you something,” I say, snapping myself from reverie. She frowns at me, that delicate cleft in her sweet little chin deepening as her bottom lip rolls out and her cerulean eyes question me.
I take her hand in mine, slipping the ring on just as smooth as I've rehearsed it in my head, over and over. She snatches her hand away.
“Be my wife,” I whisper, my hands hanging at my sides like counterweights in a grandfather clock's glass belly.
“Before you object, keep in mind that I'm all you've got now. Unless there are more out there, somewhere.” I pant, the asthma kicking in as it hasn't since I quit smoking over six months ago.
“Michael, of course I will, but right now? You really want to think about marriage right now?”
I hand her her shotgun, together we load our weapons in silence. I pull her close, and her hand goes to my hair. We gaze into one another's eyes.
The door blows inward in a starburst radius of splinters. We don't look. We can't look. It's too hard to see the faces of those you used to know, coming to eat your flesh from your bones and make you just like them.
Not taking my eyes from hers, I position my shotgun under her chin, and hers under mine. Our lips meet tenderly, hesitantly, then fully as the dozens of the Others file into the room. Hairless and some missing limbs, eyes, noses and parts of ears, they sniff the air and lick their teeth in anticipation of something not dead.
“Now,” I say, breaking the kiss to pull the trigger, hoping she does the sa—