“I think it’s time for you to check the hallway,” I say to Jacob, hands resting on my full belly.
“You go check,” Jacob says.
“No, you check.”
“No, you chec—”
“Will you please go check,” I nearly shout.
Jacob thumps his head against the wall and closes his eyes. I kiss the stubble on his cheek and ask for the last time, “Please?” I’ll have to owe him big time for this favor.
He reluctantly stands and holds the rifle tight against his chest. He slides his body across the wall, crouching below the window before slowly rising to take a look.
He fires his rifle through the window. The glass shatters. My ears ring.
“They’re everywhere!” he says.
They? But it was only the boy and a few others.
I stand up—my ears still singing—and take cover behind Jacob. Through the broken window I see dozens of remnants sprinting our way. We can take five, maybe six at a time, but not dozens. Where did they all come from? Did the boy lead them here?
No, they don’t work together. They don’t even know what work is. Do they?
Jacob fires again, knocking a remnant woman wearing a cocktail dress to the ground. The others trample her and reach out their discolored hands. Jacob tries firing again and the gun clicks.
“Get the ammo from your bag,” he says.
“But the door—”
Jacob rams his shoulder into the door. The remnants thrash their bodies into the other side, knocking Jacob back a bit before he grits his teeth and pushes his entire body against the door.
“I can hold it with you,” I say.
“No, the ammo …”
I dump everything from my backpack on the floor. Most of the ammo is for a shotgun. I find three rifle bullets, but they look too small for Jacob’s gun. Even if they were the right ones, it’s not enough to make a stand.
Hands whip through the broken window, trying to grab Jacob. For each one that Jacob swats away, two more appear in its place. I can’t waste any more time digging around on the floor. It’s getting us nowhere.
“I have an idea,” I say and hug a washing machine.
“What are you doing?” he says.
“Keep holding the door!”
“Easy for you to say!”
I shimmy the washer back and forth. It’s awkward but not too heavy. A gap opens up behind it and I climb on top and slide my body between the wall and the washer. Spiderwebs stick to my arms. I unplug the washer and place my hands on the back. As I’m about to push, a remnant man violently vomits blood through the broken window, all over Jacob’s face. The sound alone would cause anyone else to retreat in consternation. Jacob punches the remnant’s face, over and over, until there’s a loud crack and the head disappears behind the door.
“Get ready!” I yell.
I push on the top part of the washer. It briefly lifts off the ground, then crashes back down, almost smashing my feet. My strength isn’t what it used to be. My body’s so sweaty, it feels like I’ve jumped into a lake.
“Get out of the way when it tips,” I say. Jacob nods his head, understanding what I’m trying to do.
One more hard push and the washer tips over. Jacob moves away from the door and I shove the washer across the floor. He helps me pin it against the door. I tilt my head back and exhale.
Jacob looks over at me with his cannibalistic face and says, “That was awesome, Aurora!”
Awesome … I’ll need to think of a better word once I catch my breath. I have a hard time looking at Jacob’s bloody face. He has a hard time looking at the lint and spiderwebs stuck to my arms. Love is messy sometimes.
The remnants get into a frenzy. Bones crunch. Fingers snap. The door begins to splinter. How much time have I bought us?
“That was our only way out,” I say.
“Not quite,” Jacob says and points to the small window. “Get your bat and break it.”
“What if there are more outside?” I say.
“There’s plenty inside.”
“The opening’s too small.”
“We’re too small.”
He’s got a point—two points, but even my skinny self’s going to have a heck of a time squeezing through that gap.
“We have to try,” he says.
The window’s about eight feet off the ground, just within arms’ reach. I pick up my bat and start jabbing the end with the blade into the glass. Shards fly everywhere. I close my eyes and blindly keep at it.
“You’re doing awesome,” Jacob says, using that word again.
I open my eyes to check on my progress. There’s still a way to go. I need to get closer.
“Let me get on your shoulders,” I say.
Jacob lifts me and I sit on his shoulders like we’re playing chicken in Max’s pool back in tenth grade. We were undefeated the entire summer. Jacob never let me fall. Not once.
I break the rest of the glass and scrape the interior of the hole with my ax, trying to eradicate as many nasty shards as possible.
Jacob unexpectedly squats down and hands me a fistful of underwear, notably some polka-dot boxers. More cracks appear in the door as the remnants continue to break through.
“What’s this for?” I ask.
“Lay them around the opening so we won’t get cut when we crawl out.”
I place the underwear around the opening. After I finish, I throw my bat outside and grip the outer concrete wall.
“Ready?” Jacob asks.
“RAWLLEHH!” The remnants scream, appearing to answer him. Hands slide through the cracks in the door, pulling apart the wood.
I stick my head out the opening and wiggle my torso through a few inches at a time. Wow, it’s tight. I don’t think I would have been able to do this before the plague.
I force my butt through. Underwear falls past me and onto the grass. I hope there’s enough left for Jacob. I’m about to squeeze myself out when I realize I’ve made a horrible mistake: I should be doing this feet first, not head first. I panic and try to stop myself, but it’s too late. My body falls out the window and I land squarely on my left shoulder.
Something pops, oh, something pops loudly.
“Are you all right?” Jacob yells. “Rory!”
My vision blurs. I can feel my humerus bone grinding on my shoulder blade when I turn. I dizzily stand and look at the concrete wall of the apartment building.
(let it out let it out like you did in the store)
(go nuts go nuts go freaking nuts)
I run at the wall and throw my shoulder into the concrete. The bone pops back in with a loud crunch. The pain in my shoulder triples and I fall over, rolling around and screaming myself hoarse.
“Rory, I’m coming!”
My backpack plops down next to me. Empty. Bye-bye food and raunchy literature.
Jacob begins climbing out the window. Suddenly, he’s jerked backward. “They got through!” he yells. “Help!”
Remnants begin to pull him back into the laundry room. I reach up with my right arm (the left’s impossible to move) and grab his shirt collar.
“They’re biting me!” he shouts.
I yank his body out the window, onto me. He cries out as a glass shard from the frame stabs his side. The pain in my shoulder is throbbing, but I bite my lip and suck it up.
Jacob rolls off me. I tell him to hold still and remove the shard from his skin, quickly like pulling off a bandaid. He winces in pain.
“I heard you screaming,” he says, searching my body for injuries. “What happened?”
“I fell hard,” I say, only half-lying.
“No, you were really yelling—”
“We can reminisce about our bodily injuries later.”
I grab my backpack and bat, looking around for the rest of our things. “Your gun? The food?” I say.
Remnants appear from both sides of the building. I wonder if this is how animals on the African safari feel when they’re surrounded by lions. Do they realize they’re going to die? Do they accept it and give up?
Jacob takes my bat and we sprint across a grassy field. My empty backpack hits me in the back of my head as I run. My shoulder burns every time my arms swing.
“We can make it!” Jacob says.“We can make it!”
I know we can’t, but we have to try. We have to give it our best shot. Is this the end, Jacob? If it is, I have no regrets. I wouldn’t have wanted to spend it with anyone else. Live Now. Did we ever?
I turn around; there must be a hundred of them. A hundred, am I dreaming? A remnant teenage boy and girl hold hands as they charge. It almost looks like they’re a couple, the way they’re dirty fingers are interlocked. I must be losing my mind. I’m not seeing clearly. The ground seems to rumble beneath me like an earthquake. The yells from the remnants blur together into an uncivilized roar. It’s the last thing I’m going to hear before I die.
But then, I catch a tune of something else, a remarkable noise I haven’t heard in a long, long time.
A Bronco flies over a hill and brakes in front of us. The vehicle is covered with camouflage paint. A deer is tied to the roof-rack on top. A bearded man wearing a hat with a white Old English D sticks his head out the window.
“Get in!” he shouts with an aggressive yet friendly yell.
I have no idea who this man is or if we can trust him, but I know there are only two choices right now:
- Get in
- Get eaten
Jacob opens the side door of the Bronco and lets me get in first, chivalry to the end. He climbs in after me and slams the door shut. The Bronco kicks up grass and races away. I look out the back window and watch an army of remnants get smaller and smaller until they’re ants.