In this haunting short story collection, anything is possible—a dying musician turns to tea for inspiration; a police sergeant struggles with a very unusual victim; a young wife is trapped in a house hiding unimaginable evil…
I dropped Eva on to the kitchen table, too tired to carry her up the stairs and into our bedroom. Her head thumped against the hardwood surface but she didn’t notice, lost in her fever dreams, cheeks flushed, eyelids fluttering weakly. I took her glasses, hid them in my pocket, then gently ran a finger down the side of her face. Lying there so prone and helpless, Eva looked good enough to eat, but coming from a zombie that didn’t mean much.
The others would be coming soon. They’d smell her, want a bite. I limped out of the kitchen and back down the hallway, gathering up the spit in my mouth to try cover up the traces. When I got to the front door, I spit so hard a tooth fell out—one I’d knocked loose earlier while escaping from the others. The lump of flesh and bone landed smack in the middle of the pale brown welcome mat we’d bought together in John Lewis. I shrugged. There’d be other welcome mats.
Front door locked and bolted, I made my way back towards the kitchen. Both sides of the hallway were decorated with holiday photos. One caught my attention: her in Brighton, two months before the plague reached England. There was a hesitant dimple in her sun-kissed cheeks as she peered slyly at the camera. She’d just made a joke about my sock-and-shoe combo. The memory helped stave off the hunger.
Eva was stirring weakly by the time I came back into the kitchen. Her eyelids fluttered, once, twice. Then she opened her eyes and looked right at me, squinting. “Robin?”
She wasn’t supposed to wake up. She was supposed to stay unconscious until it was over. I’d seen it happen before. I’d felt it happen. The gnawing pain stretching from your limbs to your stomach to your heart, like someone was pushing a pincushion through your veins. Eventually it reached your throat and you’d scream until your larynx tore.
“Robin?” she repeated. She tried to sit up but her arms were too shaky. Eva flopped back down on to the table. “It hurts,” she moaned, clutching at her side where I’d sunk my teeth into one of the love handles she so hated. The memory made my gums tingle. I took a step closer, could feel the growing hunger, the excitement, the urgency to eat and eat before her flesh went off. I could smell the sickness spreading; she was already half gone. Hurry, hurry, the little voice inside said. I took another step forward.
“Thank God you’re alive,” Eva said, looking at me out of the corner of her eye. The words brought me up short. It’d been hard enough to stop the first time. If I bit her again all my hard work would have gone to waste; more than one bite and you lost all traces of humanity. It was something I had discovered during my own conversion, and subsequent tests had confirmed the theory. And I wanted Eva by my side. What was it we had promised? For richer, for poorer, in sickness and in health…. I opened my mouth to tell her I loved her but all that came out was a moan.
“Oh, Rob.” She held a hand out to me and I shuffled forward to take it. Her flesh was moist against my dry, leathery skin. “Your laryngitis still hasn’t cleared up?”
I nodded and kept my mouth firmly closed so she wouldn’t see the missing tooth. Having been bitten only the once I looked more human than most zombies, but it was better to play it safe.
“My glasses,” she muttered, frowning, before a spasm of pain overtook her and she clutched her stomach with a cry. I squeezed her hand gently, aching to tell her that soon she wouldn’t need her glasses. She’d so hated wearing them; how her face would light up!
As the wave of pain subsided, Eva forced a smile. Brave girl. It’s why I’d married her. From the first moment she’d caught my eye, firing bullet after bullet at the shooting range in Earlsfield while my pistol slipped in my sweaty grasp. “Always shoot twice,” she’d told me. “Doubles your chances.” Then she’d pushed her glasses further up her nose and blasted a cardboard zombie into smithereens. Later, in the club bar, when the news reported the first few infections in Portugal, she’d looked right at me and invited me back to her room. Simple as that. We were married one month later.
But the time for shooting was long gone. Eva looked at me and said, “Remember when I lost my glasses?”
I smiled back. Go on, tell me.
“I ran all over the house looking for them. A whole hour looking.” She panted heavily between each word. “Kept squinting everywhere, peering at every tabletop. Even this one.” She patted the kitchen table. “That’s when you told me… You remember?”
I nodded. Continue.
“You said if I promised to love you forever, you’d tell me where they were. So I promised. And they were on my head that whole time! I was so mad.” She chuckled, shaking her head slowly. I wished the moment could last forever.
That’s when it happened. A knock on the front door. No—a thump. And another. The other zombies had arrived. Despite the stinking glob of spit, they’d tracked down the scent of living flesh. I wasn’t surprised. The others had been bitten far more times than I had: their senses were sharper, their muscles stronger, their bodies infinitely more decayed. There was a loud crash as the living room window broke under the dead weight of the Horde, and hungry moans filled the air.
Eva struggled weakly, tried to push me away. “Leave me here! You go, get away!” I shook my head. “Our guns, then,” she said, nodding towards the cupboards. I shook my head again—the guns were long gone.
“Oh.” That was all she said. Faced with death, all that came out was an unsurprised puff of air. Despite the pain Eva pressed her hand against mine. “I’ll always love you, Robin. I don’t regret that promise.”
I nodded. Me neither. Together forever. I’d made sure of it.
The moans were getting closer. I could hear the shuffle-shuffle of feet dragging against the floor, could smell the sulphuric stench of rotting corpses. But Eva—the sickness was nearly at her neck, it’d be over soon.
“My chest hurts,” she whispered. Tears rolled silently down her face. “It really hurts.” She smelled less appetising now but more familiar. Her nails dug into the back of my hand and they were sharper now than any human nail could be. “We’re going to die, aren’t we?”
“Honey,” I wanted to tell her, “We are the dead.” Instead I held her hand tight and watched her mouth open in a scream.
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