Chad still hadn’t returned by morning. We all knew he’d been taken, just like Sandy.
That was the way it was, ever since the dead started walking again – the Zombie Uprising that had seemed like just a stupid joke until it actually happened. How? Who knew. Why? An even more impossible question. We just crouched in the darkness of the Payless Shoes storage room, keeping quiet. Dark, so maybe they wouldn’t see us. Quiet, so maybe they wouldn’t hear us.
There were two doors – one, leading into the shop itself, and the back door, used to bring in merchandise from the loading bay. The door into the sales floor was closed, locked tight. It never rattled; we supposed that they hadn’t broken into the store yet. The back door wouldn’t lock; they’d broken it when they’d come through looking for victims. Four of us had hidden behind the shelves of boxed shoes, not even breathing as they looked for us. But they seemed half blind, and finally stumbled out.
Since then three more survivors, including Bev, had joined us back there, making seven. I’d used to work with Bev in the same building, would smell her perfume in the elevator even after she had left it. But now all of us were just survivors, terrified of going outside, tied to the illusory safety of our hiding place despite the deep bite of hunger.
Seven, but then Eddie went out, and never came back. Just like in an old horror movie, going out alone like that, the idiot. Haley and Jess had gone out together, maybe looking for Eddie, maybe just trying to get something to eat. And they hadn’t come back, either.
You just go out for some food, and that’s it – they catch you and tear your head off. They’re insanely fast and absolutely merciless. I will have to be pretty damn hungry to risk a fate like that.
But, eventually, you do get that hungry. Or maybe just that tired of sitting in the dark, hoping not to be noticed, with God-knows-what going on outside the door. So Sandy had gone out one night, maybe hoping the darkness would conceal her. And then Chad, the next night, and now they were both gone.
It was just Bev and me now. A strip of sunlight came through the crack in the door and spilled onto the floor, and so there was just a little light to see by. I noticed Bev looking at me and gave a reassuring half-smile. In that dimness, it probably looked more like the grin of a corpse. She just snorted. Well, I’m sure I looked like hell, but then, she’d looked better, too.
We didn’t talk. It seemed we had nothing to say. Strange, how a disaster like this changes a person. It wasn’t that long ago that the thought of sitting in a dim room with Bev, just her and me, would have taken my breath away. Now, even nodding or telling a joke just seemed pointless.
So much for the old idea that the nearness of death stirred up romance, or, in those cheap novels, a mad, unthinking sexual desire.
We would have to go soon. Out the same way Eddie, Haley, Jess, Sandy, and Chad had gone. If we didn’t eat soon, it wouldn’t matter if they caught us. Either way, we’d end up the same.
So I gestured towards the door, and Bev gave a slight nod. I stumbled to my feet, grunting, upsetting a box of Nikes.
Some of them used shotguns. Others used chainsaws or axes or crowbars. But we no longer had a choice. We’d just have to take our chances out there. Because to survive, to feed ourselves, would take more than skulking around in the dark, in fear. More than sitting there hoping something nice would plop down in front of us.
It would take brains.
Tim McDaniel teaches English as a Second Language at Green River Community College, not far from Seattle. His stories, mostly comedy and mostly science fiction, fantasy, or horror, have appeared in a number of magazines, including Asimov's and Fantasy and Science Fiction. A collection of his stories, "They Laughed at me in Vienna and Other Stories," is available at www.AnthologyBuilders.com. Tim lives with his dog and an impressive collection of plastic dinosaurs.