After she dumped him last year, Dave hoped he’d never see Sara again, hoped that she would become unrecognizable. No such luck. He spotted her filthy “Life is Good!” tee-shirt slouching among a small clique of zombies across the street. Of course she’d be wearing that shirt, he thought as his stomach twisted.
He and Jen watched the zombies from inside the window display. He hadn’t told her about Sara. Now didn’t seem like the time. Jen’s hand tightened on the stock of the shotgun that lay across her lap. The two of them sat in expensive camp chairs among the mannequins they’d stripped last night.
Outside, Sara walked straight toward them, her one milky eye trained on him. She used to turn him to putty with those eyes, the shaded green of some enchanted forest. Dave gripped the nylon armrests as Sara shuffled up to the window. Sara’s gaze swiveled across the row of Teva sandals still stacked on their boxes, head smearing wetly against the glass.
“Window shopping?” Jen said.
Her three buddies caught up, gently bumping around her like blind puppies. He tried to swallow but his mouth had gone dry.
“Old habits die hard?” He managed.
“I guess they don’t die at all.”
Jen spotted the unmolested inventory of high-end camping equipment in the store’s window last night. He thought she might skip it, keep looking for the ever-shifting cordon, but no. Three slugs spent to blow the deadbolt, and they had new everything including as much food and power gel as they could carry.
This morning, lingering in the window display over their energy-bar breakfast, he fantasized that they worked this shitty retail job, that the distant thump of helicopter blades was the traffic guy, that there was rush-hour traffic to bitch about, that customers still shopped for outdoor gear in order to “get back to nature.” He didn’t mention this to Jen. It would only irritate her.
She had short dark hair and the no nonsense attitude of a first responder. As the infrastructure crumbled, more and more of them searched the overrun zones, leading people to safety and notching their belts with rescues.
The last time he saw Sara the park was still open. He flourished a small blanket and got out the sandwiches he’d made. She lay down on the lawn and began pulling blades of grass out of the ground one by one.
“I’ve decided to take a new direction,” Sara said.
He’d tried to ignore it when he saw her interest in him wane. It galled him. She’d chosen him, crossing the bar and telling him to buy her a drink. He did, and knew she was the one.
“I’m going to become a zombie. I think it would be unfair to you for us to stay together.” She folded her arms and rested her chin on them.
She said it like it was a career choice.
“Jesus. I thought you wanted to be a massage therapist.”
“There’s more and more of them everyday. And I’m not going to wait around for it to, you know, happen.”She shaded her eyes and smiled up at him.
“Look, everyone’s scared, but the authorities are going to get a handle on things.”
“I’m not scared. There’s no sign the infection’s painful.” She paused. “This is the future, Dave, and I’m embracing it.”
“So, you just decide?” he asked.
“Yep.” She sat and faced him in that bright pink “Life is Good!” tee shirt. “You should, you know.”
“What, become a zombie?”
“I have decided,” he said,“I’m not going anywhere. Maybe I won’t even leave the park. I have a couple sandwiches and no zombies as far as I can see.”
She laughed then, that hiccupping titter, frank and childlike. God, he was going to miss that sound. He flopped back on the blanket. A tiny, silver jet scarred the blue sky with its double-edged contrail.
“Can’t you just say you don’t want to be with me any more?”
She gave him a peck on the cheek. “If I weren’t going to be a zombie, I would totally stay with you,” then got up and left.
He looked at the torn, gray skin of her bare arms as she jostled along with the others. Their interest turning urgent as they neared the broken door.
Jen got up and shouldered her pack. He followed her into the store. It still smelled of carpet and nylon and the clean leather of all the boots waiting in their dark boxes in the back. They moved through the store as the makeshift barricade at the front door fell away. Jen opened the back door and checked the alley.
He turned and looked past the glass counter gleaming in the morning light. Sara limped toward him, like she wanted him all over again. He imagined her ambling through the empty sunshine without fear or remorse. He took a step toward her.
Jen yanked him down by his pack, shouldered the gun, and fired blast after blast until they all went down, Sara’s body thrown back against the shattered counter, the other three splattered and soaking into the rug.
Jen yelled at him over the shotgun’s smoking barrel, but he couldn’t hear anything beyond the ringing in his ears. For a moment, he smelled only burnt gunpowder and hot plastic from the empty cartridges littering the floor. Then their rancid smell filled the store.
Jen reloaded and stalked out the back door. He’d have a couple minutes before she cooled down and came back for him. Sara was right, he should have decided a long time ago. He walked over to where she lay across the counter. She could still help him. Her bilious stench embraced him as he cradled her head, pressed his mouth against hers, and parted her lips in one last kiss.
©2013 Rebecca Schwarz
Rebecca Shwarz’s work has appeared at RevolutionSF and in Deimos eZine. Her story “Futile the Winds” received an Honorable Mention from Writers of the Future this year. She attended the ArmadilloCon Writer’s Workshop in 2011 with Paolo Bacigalupi and in 2012 with Cat Rambo. She is an active member of the Slugtribe Writer’s Group in Austin, Texas and the Online Writing Workshop.