Once, as a child, I was completely captivated by a black-and-white photo of a German woman some time after World War 1. She looked so sad--all the hope and life drained from her eyes--yet she had forgotten not to smile. It's a strange thing to remember, after all these years, but more than the photo, it's the caption beneath it that I still think of: "Money was so worthless during this difficult time that many German housewives often used it to fuel their fires."
I hold the bottle with my own worthless money tightly to my chest. It'd be a cold day in hell before I tossed my money into any fire. That woman still had hope--hope that one day life would get better, that she'd be able to buy things for her children again, that she'd see them grow up. I, on the other hand, know otherwise. My children are already dead. No one thinks of earning money or spending it anymore. Those days are long past. Now we think only of surviving another day.
But when I hold my bottle in my hand, close to my heart, when I place it just so and close my eyes, I can almost believe I'm there again. My smiling parents welcome me back, tell me I shouldn't watch movies that give me nightmares, and everything I've lived is easily explained away. Yes, I can almost believe it's true--that I am young again and life is sweet. But when I swallow, the dream of what was is gone and only reality and a bitter taste remain.
"Grandma?" Kit comes tentatively towards me. Her voice is smooth and soft and reminds me that there is still good in this world. Her brother, Holt, inches along beside her. I try to hide my little spells, but they are both just so perceptive.
I force a smile. "Yes, my babes?"
"Is it story time yet?" Kit asks.
"It's always story time, dear," I say. It's true. When you don't have anything, you have stories of the times that you did. And I have many stories.
Kit and Holt smile at each other. It's so nice to see them getting along-it's a new development, them realizing they can be friends.
"When I was a little girl, growing up in the B.Z. years, technology was so grand we could write things to someone on the other side of the word and they could read them in an instant. I'll never forget how much I loved Twitter, I--"
"Not that one, Grandma," Kit says, "You told us that one last time."
I know which one they want--they know the ending, and it's not a happy one. It's not a story I want to tell again, but when you live to see a shaky line drawn between Before Zombies. and After Zombies, telling the story becomes one of many unavoidable necessities.
"They were always among us," I began, "there is no such thing as B.Z., it's just a kind of short hand, an impossible estimate of when our numbers and strength plummeted and theirs flourished. They were like animals, devouring our pets for snacks, and then humans for dinner. We didn't call them Zombies right away. No, when there were few, we called it an epidemic and tried to cure them. Failing that, we called them addicts and criminals, and tried to rehabilitate them."
"And then you called them monsters and tried to kill them," Kit adds.
Holt covers his ears. He doesn't like that word, "kill". Maybe because he's heard it so many times already.
"Yes," I say, chocking down tears that I cannot let fall, not in front of the children.
At that moment, as if of its own accord, Holt's finger points to the door. His already-dark eyes darken. I forget for a moment that he doesn't speak anymore and wait for him to say whatever thought looms forebodingly behind those eyes.
Kit turns to me in horror, and speaks the words her brother cannot. "They're coming..." she whispers.
And so they are. The door suddenly seems inconsequential as it flings open. I should have reinforced it more than I did, I shouldn't have divided all the boards between the doors and the windows . I should have realized that they'd just come in through the front. I should have...
I shout "Get behind me!" and grab my shotgun. Not counting our three bullets, I have nine shots. Nine shots and it's all over. A strange calm sets over me. I shoot the first one, and, gurgling, it falls. My next shot misses, but I reload quickly and shoot it down before the zombie managed more than two steps towards us.
Holt clings to my leg, shaking so vehemently that, just for a second, I glance down at him.
"Grandma!" Kit cries, "Look out!"
The remaining Zombie comes towards me with inzombie speed. I'd never seen anything like it, and I've seen my fair share. My arthritic fingers betraying me, I fumble desperately to load the gun, but it's too late. The Zombie lets out a triumphant moan as it reaches towards me with one hand, dead eyes locked onto mine.
"No!" I scream. In slow motion, I see the bullet in my hand fall to the ground.
I slam the butt of the gun into the Zombie's temple. It blinks at me, and I hit it again, and another time just to be sure. It falls unceremoniously to the ground, and I heave a sigh of relief. Quickly, I close the door, bolt it, and the children help me move the old bookcase in front of it.
I look at Kit and Holt, and they at me. Smiling, I think--survival is sweet, it is its own reward, and yes, I'd throw my money into a fire for just one more day.
http://groups.google.com/group/flashfictionfridays?hl=en: Read, Write, Join, Comment! New stories (1000 words or less) posted every Friday.