“It’s started. It’s changing me. It’s happening. Now.”
—You need to come home, babe. It’s starting.
—Give me a couple, I mean, how do you know? There are no symptoms, so–
—No, I can feel it. It’s started. It’s changing me. It’s happening. Now. So you need to come home. Now. We said. You said. So come home. Now. Come home now.
—I’ll be right there.
—What took you so long?
—Traffic is a nightmare.
—No, this is the nightmare. Look, it’s already begun peeling. I’m converting.
—But how so fast?
—I always was ahead of the curve.
—How can you joke in a time like this?
—It’s all that’s left, babe.
—Not too tight!
—What does it matter?
—Let’s at least be a little comfortable, don’t you think?
—That’s better. Was our couch always this lumpy?
—I never noticed. Is it?
—Why did I never sit over here with you?
—Maybe because the couch is lumpy?
—You’re sitting with me now.
—All we have is now.
—Let’s lie down.
—We didn’t think this through. I can’t even put my arm around you.
—It’s the end of the world and I can’t even hold you.
—Just tweaked my wrist. I’m okay.
—We’ll put our hands here, on my chest.
—God, I’m going to miss this bed.
—Best mattress ever.
—That’s not what I was talking about.
—You always chose the worst times to put the moves on.
—Your heart is beating really fast.
—Do you think it’s the infection?
—I don’t know.
—Close your eyes and hold me.
—I love you.
—I’m sorry for all the times I was mean.
—I wish we never fought so much.
—That’s life, babe. I’m not easy. You’re not easy. What are you gonna do?
—But still. It all seems so stupid now.
—Doesn’t it? So far away.
—Is that screaming?
—Just close your eyes.
—I don’t want to stop looking at you.
—It’s getting louder.
—Stay with me. Right here with me.
—I’m so frightened.
—Just look at me. It’ll all be over soon.
—I hope it doesn’t hurt.
—I don’t think it will matter.
—You are the best person who ever happened to me, babe.
—Right back at you, my love.
—It’s going to be okay.
—I love you.
The woman and her son drive toward the camp for the unconverted. Town after town, their car chased by stumbling converts attracted to the engine’s noise. The countryside passing them is a rotting hellscape littered with dead bodies, abandoned cars useless without petrol, and only a vague memory that there ever was such a thing as society or civilization. When the infection first spread, nobody imagined the downfall would happen so fast. Or so completely.
The woman stops the car so suddenly her son is pulled forward into his seat belt and snaps back into place.
She says nothing, staring out the window.
—Mom, what is going on?
He follows her gaze, not noticing the tears spilling out her eyes, leaving trails down her grime-caked face. In a hundred miles of driving they’ve both had plenty of time to see the difference between the creatures converted through bites and the bodies the virus simply overtook on its own. The bitten converts were feral, hungry, aggressive. The passively converted were docile and shambling, with a hint of human consciousness remaining.
In front of the mother’s car: two of the converted are zip-tied together, she by her left wrist, and he by his right. If it weren’t for their gait and the pallid color of their skin, it was almost as if they were going for an afternoon stroll. It was almost as if they were still alive.
—Why did they do that, Mom? Tie themselves together like that?
—Because that’s how much they loved each other, sweetheart. They didn’t want to die alone.
The woman wipes her face, watches the couple as they amble past, wondering if she’d ever have a love like that. Wondering if her son would. Would anybody? Ever again in this world converted by viral madness?
That couple couldn’t have had a perfect marriage. Nobody did. But not even death was going to do them part.
The mother unbuckles her seat belt, checks her ammo status, and gets out of the car.
—Don’t look, honey.