Dark and Quiet, Part 1

THE MIRROR

My name is Yivi Ableton, and I am the last girl on Earth.

Let me try to explain. Well. First, let me contextualize.

Growing up in the nineties, you get a certain idea about what the word ‘apocalypse’ means. With the years 2000 and 2012 both coming up, everyone had a take about what would make the world end and how it’d go. Lurid depictions of slavering zombies, giant meteors, and ceaseless war called to us from movie posters and book best-seller lists. By the time the Y2K experts were done making sure that our own failure to plan ahead wasn’t going to doom us all, I’d personally concluded that I must have seen every conceivable configuration of world-ending possibilities.

I was, as you have no doubt guessed by now, mistaken.

The real apocalypse was sudden, instant, and silent. It hit on April 10th, 2002, at 8:02 in the morning. The bathroom window let in plenty of morning light and I couldn’t hear the fan over the sound of running water, so I didn’t notice when the power went out, not realizing until I got out how quiet it suddenly was.

Since I’d been staying with my girlfriend for tech week, I expected to find her, at least, or her parents. Instead, I found a house that looked as though it’d been tidily ransacked, a sporadic collection of objects left behind but most of them gone. I’d been in the bathroom for less than an hour, but in that time most of her things had gone missing as if she’d packed them all up and moved away.

Among the objects missing, my clothes were the most vexing. I was able to piece together an outfit from Alex’s clothing, all of which was too big for me.

Clothed enough to handle the chill, I walked alone onto the deserted streets of Pomfret. I couldn’t see a soul, though one of the cars littering the street purred gently, left running by someone long gone. At the edge of the neighborhood, I peered into the misty treeline.

A stray dog looked back, its tail raised and still.

I spent the day looking for anyone else who’d stayed behind. I found only scattered possessions and wild turkeys, wreckage and signs of evacuation and a startled mama possum. What I didn’t find were people or corpses, though an ominous bloodstain did paint the side of a broken-down car.

With no other options available, I started scrounging. I stole a cart from the Star Market and started loading it up: first, all of the remaining food, which wasn’t much. Then, the amenities I imagined I’d need to survive alone: clothes, sewing supplies, small tools, cutlery… and books. Practical books. Books about making things, fixing things, living on your own.

Once I’d dragged the cart back to Alex’s house, it was already starting to get dark. I cracked a heavy-duty glowstick and hunkered down to make some clothing alterations. By the time the glowstick died, I’d already fallen asleep on Alex’s bed, hopeful that the next day would come as a revelation that none of this had happened.

But here I am, telling this story, so it shouldn’t surprise you that I woke up disappointed.

When I roused, that lump of dread—the knowledge that this was all somehow real—already squatted heavy on my chest. Reaching out to touch the spot on the bed where I know Alex wouldn’t be, my hand passed through the nothing I knew it would encounter and rested on the sheets.

I thought about crying, but the impulse wasn’t there. I simply didn’t have the tears, so I had breakfast instead. I walked outside, still holding the open can of peaches in one hand and a fork in the other, and looked up to see a trio of dogs staring at me.

Something in their eyes sent a chill up my spine. I’ve always loved dogs, but these hungry-looking creatures bore no more than a physical resemblance to the companion animals that had populated my neighborhood growing up. I took a threatening step forward, raising the fork in my hand, and they fled to the treeline, but turned around from there and watched me.

They were there all day, at the edge of my vision. By the afternoon, I counted four dogs. By evening, five. That night, I made sure the doors were all closed before starting my bedtime reading. Every howl I heard that night sent a shiver through my body.

When I woke up the next day, the dogs were still there, just at the edge of the woods, watching me. Assessing. Their numbers hadn’t grown and they were no more bold, so I resumed my scrounging efforts.

The next stop was the CVS. I’d already picked through the shelves’ sparse offerings, but today’s goal was a different one from my cursory looting. My morning was spent with a pair of needle-nose pliers, a wire cutter, several scraps of metal, and stolen bristles from a disabled street sweeper.

By lunchtime, I had what at least seemed like a passable lockpick set. I ventured to the pharmacy and dredged my memory for the lessons I’d gotten from my MIT friends.

It took a while, and a lot of that while was spent fishing out the broken end of my first hook pick that snapped inside the lock. But at long last, my efforts bore fruit as I felt the click and give of the lock’s tumblers falling into place, the cylinder turning to the torsion wrench’s pressure.

I opened the door, gasped, and laughed out loud in surprised joy.

Everything was there! Whoever had looted the town wasn’t able to get into the pharmacy’s storeroom, and it was chock full of valuable medication. After a few minutes of browsing, I loaded my backpack with medication. Antibiotics, vitamins, NSAIDs, soporifics, even opioids. And, of course, I cleaned out the storeroom’s supply of spironolactone, estradiol, and fluoxetine – the medications I’d already been taking before the world emptied out.

The pharmacy’s stores had been plentiful; I wouldn’t have to worry about running out of my meds for months, and by then maybe I’d have a better plan for the rest of my lonely life.

That thought deflated my good mood a little bit, and I finished scrounging before zipping my backpack shut and closing the unlocked storeroom door.

There was no time to rest; not yet. My worry about medicine was deferred, but now I had to think about food, water, and predators. There was a lot of prep to do. Luckily for me, several of the books I’d picked up contained some excellent tips on food preservation and survival.

By the end of the day, I crowed in triumph as the first drops from my homemade water still dripped into the gallon jug from its tube. I arrayed several more jugs outside equipped with funnels to catch rainwater, and an hour later I took my first sip of home-distilled water.

It was, of course, extremely bland. I sprinkled in a bit of salt and found that to be better. That night, I made mac n’ cheese with the last of the fresh milk, which I’d managed to keep from spoiling through insulation and leaving it outside. I also made myself some hot herbal tea. Sleepytime, like mom used to make when I had nightmares.

Hot tea and mac n’ cheese turned out to be the best meal I’d ever had. I slept well.

Day four started with my most daunting task yet: creating a deadly weapon to defend myself if I needed it.

Before I ended up alone, I designed theatre props for a living, and I was really good at making something from nothing. Creativity with crafting materials had always been my forte. The trouble was, I typically designed things to be light and safe, which was the opposite of what I wanted here.

Most of the knives in town were missing, and the little pocketknife I was carrying around wouldn’t work for a weapon. By the time I found an unforgivably dull chef’s knife in the back of a drawer, the disproportionate relief I felt was… well, it was very similar to how I’d felt about the previous night’s mac and cheese.

I spent a solid hour with a sharpener and a whetstone turning that knife into something like a weapon. Everything after that went smoothly: I removed the handle and used it as a guide to drill holes in a sturdy wooden dowel from Alex’s closet. The pegs from the knife held its tang in place while I glued the blade and pegs in place, then wrapped the haft in duct tape for good measure.

I now had a DIY glaive. Well. a “knife spear,” at least. I resolved to practice with it as soon as I had a few moments to slow down, but for now it made me feel a bit safer to have a weapon at all.

I walked outside, pointed my spear at the nearest stray dog, and yelled, “fuck you, dog!” The dog stared, but did not reply.

In my defense, we all cope with stress in different ways.

“Day eight,” I murmured, sitting up in bed and peering over at my latest partially-built project, an indoor charcoal furnace made of broken pavement, rocks, and bricks. A silver dryer tube snaked out the window, providing exhaust for my potentially house-destroying creation.

I staggered to the bathroom, nearly tripping over the washboard I’d built as I fumbled through my clean and dry wardrobe. I still had so many alterations to do before I had enough outfits to go around, but I refused to live life smelling bad when there was plenty of soap around.

Down the hatch went my meds and a pair of multivitamins. I picked up my glaive in one hand, my last can of peaches, and a worn fork, and I stepped outside to eat like I’d done for the seven days previous.

Unbeknownst to me, this morning was going to be different.

I barely caught the motion at the edge of my vision before I felt the searing pain against my ankle. A mangy dog gripped my sock in its teeth, gouging furrows in my skin as it bit down. I shouted in surprised shock, but managed to summon the presence of mind to drop the can and fork so I could grip my weapon in both hands.

A moment later, I was bowled over by the jumping tackle of another wild dog, and a third came in to assist immediately. I shoved the dog off me, thankful that the glaive’s haft had protected my face and neck from the dog’s snapping jaws.

I shoved hard with the dowel, pushing the other dog near my face away before stabbing downward with both hands. I felt the knife hit something and heard a yelp from the dog savaging my ankle, so I pulled the weapon up and struck again before trying to scramble to my feet.

I’d wounded the first dog heavily, but even as it limped away while favoring a bloody leg, more creatures surged forward with teeth bared. I threw a haphazard swing at them with my knife spear, giving myself a bit of room from the horde of hungry animals, and retreated. One dog stuck its head in the door as I closed it, teeth sinking into my forearm before I bashed it in the skull with the dowel haft.

Bleeding, shocked, heart going a mile a minute, I slammed the door and barred the door with a plank I kept next to it for this very purpose. I staggered to each of the windows and the back door and confirmed that they were all closed before limping to the shelf where I kept medical supplies.

Outside, the barking and snarling continued for several more minutes, but was soon replaced by an even more horrifying sound: whining, crying, and tearing noises. My jaw dropped as I realized that the pack was cannibalizing the dogs I’d wounded.

“I have to get the fuck out of here,” I murmured to myself, uncapping a bottle of isopropryl alcohol with shaking hands.

That night, I opened the door to the outside and carefully peeked out, my knife spear leading the way like a dangerous antenna. The dogs were nowhere to be seen, and two streaks of blood revealed the path where the dogs had dragged the carcasses of their former comrades away to be eaten.

I felt a stab of pity for the creatures, that they had become so hungry as to turn on their own when deprived of their intended prey. Then I remembered that said intended prey had been me, and the feeling abated quickly.

“I can’t stay,” I reminded myself.

I’d already tried every car in town. Most were completely nonfunctional, plagued by faulty engines or wrecked against other cars, or missing vital parts that I had no idea how to replace. A few cars had started up, but their tires had been either gone or damaged.

At the time, I wrote them off as a lost cause, afraid to spend too much time outside. Now the idea of getting a car working was no longer a dream; it was necessary and it needed to happen soon. The wild dogs might be placated for now, but they knew where I lived and they’d be back.

I could afford to give up on my projects, on Alex’s house. I wasn’t ready to give up my life.

I had a car in mind. It was pretty busted up, its tires were all flat, and it didn’t have much gas in it, but the keys were in it, the windows were intact, and the engine ran with no weird noises whatsoever. I’d found a scissor jack in another car, so all I had to do was take the tires from other cars and put them on this one, and maybe siphon over some gas too.

Of course, easier said than done, and I had no illusions that I’d be done before sunrise.

I set out on my task quickly, getting the first tire off and rolling it over to my target car. Even this simple task winded me; I’d never been very strong, and I left my shopping cart behind because it would have made too much noise on the asphalt.

The task continued with relatively few setbacks, merely a tire that I thought would fit but turned out to be the wrong size entirely. Once I had all four tires, I set about changing the first one, only to… hear something. The sound of brush being disturbed.

Expecting the dogs, I whirled in place, spearblade extended, but encountered no threats that I could see. My pulse still heightened, I sped up my work, loosening lug nuts with the ratchet wrench and spinning them the rest of the way off with shaking fingers.

A hot wind blew my hair into my face. I tucked it back behind my ear and almost resumed work, but just then it occurred to me that few winds in early spring trended toward ‘hot’.

I turned my head slowly and stared up into the flaring nostrils of an adult bull moose.

My scream of terror was cut short as a massive hoof slammed into my chest, bowling me over and knocking the wind out of me. The moose bellowed and lashed out with its front legs again, trampling me to the ground. I couldn’t see. I couldn’t hear. Pain was the whole of my existence in that moment, my breathless lungs unable to bring any air into my convulsing body.

But as loud as the blood rushing through my ears might have been, it didn’t drown out the loudest sound I’d heard since the beginning of the end of the world. It shredded the silence, tore a hole in the quiet violence of my impending death, dusted the clear night sky with fleeing flocks of startled birds.

The moose staggered and moaned, bleeding from a ragged hole in its shoulder, and a bulky figure slammed into it, sending both stumbling to the side. I blinked, trying to clear my vision just in time to see the human figure—human!—bury a fire axe into the joint of the moose’s injured shoulder.

Wailing, the moose limped away.

The figure turned toward me, and I saw eyes. Beautiful, dark brown eyes peering down at me between a firefighter’s helmet and a filter mask. I saw the mask move, heard a buzzing sound. They were talking to me.

I shook my head. “I … I can’t hear.” My voice cracked. I’d been talking to myself for a while, but it was a wholly different thing to be talking to someone else.

To another person.

 

THE WINDOW

Hey. The name’s Sparrow Lockheart, and as far as I can tell I might be the last girl on Earth.

Not counting the zombies or the mutants or the weird mushroom things or the giant bugs or killer plants. Christ, everything’s gone to hell.

When the end of the world started, I was in the middle of nowhere with my ex-girlfriend Trinna. Most of our relationship had revolved around my struggle with addiction, but once she left me and I got sober, she came back at me with the idea that we could go camping for a while. Get away and reconnect.

I’m pretty sure we were both hoping that we’d reconnect and get back together now that I was off drugs. We were wrong, but more in an awkward “well I guess this isn’t happening” way rather than a screaming match kind of way. The trip was all right, looking back, it was just the coming home that sucked.

Our hike had taken us out a ways, but we’d almost made it back to the base camp we’d set up with our motorbikes a reasonable drive from Trinna’s house in Charlemont when I spotted something weird. It looked like a fly, but big. Really big. Trinna blew it off at first, but then she spotted a frog the size of a pony and we both started to get real freaked out.

Once at the camp, Trinna went into her tent and refused to come out. I wanted to go into Charlemont and see what was going on, but she just told me to check in on her dog and zipped up the tent flap.

Cool.

Something had hit our bikes. The front tire of Trinna’s chopper was completely fucked up, and mine looked okay but the engine crapped out a mile from Charlemont and I had to walk the rest of the way.

That’s when I saw the kid.

He couldn’t have been more than ten, poor thing. Dressed in a striped turtleneck splattered with mud and a pair of worn-down jeans, he stumbled toward me. I asked if he was okay, and he didn’t respond. He just kept coming my way, making this fucked-up moan noise as he walked.

I asked again if he was okay. He didn’t say anything, and right about then I caught his eyes and my blood ran cold. They were filmy and white, like a blind dog’s. They didn’t look right at me, either, just vaguely in my direction. The kids skin was grey and splotchy, too, like a corpse.

He looked just like a zombie from the movies.

I warned the kid to back off, and he didn’t. I yelled at him to say something, and he didn’t. I lit a stick on fire and waved it at him, but he got close, knocked the stick away and grabbed for me with filthy fingernails. I pushed him away, then moved behind a bush and he just started clawing his way through it, so I…

I set the bush on fire with my burning stick.

The kid never stopped trying to get at me even as he burned to a crisp. I might be able to forget the sight of it, but the smell is gonna stick with me until the day I die.

The next zombies came fast. Either they saw the fire or heard the kid moaning, but either way I wasn’t gonna stick around. I broke into a sprint, heading toward town. Maybe I could break into a house and use the window as a bottleneck or something.

That’s when I spotted my salvation in the form of a fire truck.

I knew right away that I wasn’t about to drive that truck away; the tires were completely busted up. But when I threw open the rear door, I was instantly rewarded by the sight of a pristine spare set of firefighter gear.

A few minutes later, I kicked open the truck door, throwing the zombies clawing against it to the ground. I jumped down already swinging the fire axe I’d taken, caving in the head of the one that was starting to struggle to its feet.

The walking cadavers didn’t stand a chance against a butch lesbian in firefighter gear.

The next hour was probably the most exciting of my entire life, as well as being the scariest. I fought my way to Trinna’s house, then into it, then back out of it. I dunno what happened to her dog, but it wasn’t in the house and the windows had already been broken. I had to hope that he was still alive and out there somewhere, but in the meantime I had to see to my own survival. And Trinna’s.

I didn’t head straight back. That much I have to own up to. I didn’t think it’d be safe to go back while there were shambling corpses walking around, so I lured them to Trinna’s busted window by banging pots and pans together, then killed them when they tried to crawl through. By the time I was done, there was a pile just short of a dozen rotting bodies just outside of my ex’s kitchen.

Then I headed back. I needed to check on Trinna. She’d been alive when all this started going down, and if she stayed in the tent, maybe nothing noticed her while I was gone.

I was still a quarter mile from the campsite when I knew things had gone bad. Our tent was a wreck. That busted-up chopper was even more busted up, laying on its side. And… there was a bloody body laying next to the firepit alongside clear signs of a struggle.

I identified Trinna’s corpse by a birthmark on her hip, because there wasn’t enough of her face left to be recognizable. At first I assumed that the zombies had done her in, but a closer look at the bite marks convinced me otherwise. These were canine jaw shapes, probably wolves. But why? Why would a pack of wolves attack her unprovoked like that?

I spent the rest of the evening dragging Trinna’s body back to her home, figuring I could bury it the next morning.

I woke up to my ex-girlfriend’s faceless corpse trying to claw me to death.

Thank fuck the wolves mauled her so bad, is all I can say now, because if she had the same kinda strength as the zombies that came after me the day before, I probably wouldn’t have been able to push her off of me.

I did, though. I got up shouting, and immediately I heard this sound like the world’s worst orgy outside, because every goddamn zombie I killed yesterday just woke up craving my blood.

Nothing for me to do but grab the fire axe and run like hell. The lucky part of the corpses getting back up is that they could wake up again, but they weren’t in any better shape than before. That meant that every limb I’d severed, every hole I’d chopped in them was still there from yesterday, and that meant that they had a way harder time chasing me.

I cut my losses and left Charlemont behind, taking only my firefighter gear and the snacks I’d stuffed in my pockets. I could find a car in the next town over.

I didn’t find a car in the next town over. Just abandoned houses, abandoned stores, busted up car wrecks, and a fuckload of zombies. This time, though, I’d had several miles of walking to think about how I was gonna beat the zombies, and I stumbled on a perfect way to make that plan work.

I holed up in the church at the center of town. All of the windows were too high for the zeds to reach, and I piled a bunch of pews at the door so they’d have to crawl over them to get to me. Then I found the computer that controlled the church bells and told it to go nuts.

That got their attention. The rest was weirdly like a chore. Zombie crawls in, I take an axe to its head until it stops movin’. Next zombie shows up, I chop that one up too. Eventually there were so many downed zombies that they didn’t even make it over the mound of corpses in the front before I staved their skulls in.

That evening, when they finally stopped showing up, I doused the whole pile in gasoline and set the church on fire. It was probably more gratifying than it should have been.

I left town a few days later. I could have stayed, I guess, but the idea of staying in a hollowed-out shell of a small town, passing by the smoldering wreck of a church full of bodies that I set fire to… I dunno. Just didn’t seem like living, really.

No, I needed to find a garage and some mechanic’s tools. My pops was a mechanic, and while I wouldn’t go so far as to call myself one, I’d still vouch for my ability to get a car up and running with the proper tools.

That was the tricky bit, though, the tools. I’d need to keep moving until I found the right tools. So I traveled, dragging a shopping cart along with me to hold the food I scrounged from town to little town. As I went, I got stronger and tougher and better with that fire axe, and it also got easier to kill. It helped that the zombies didn’t talk, didn’t look at me, didn’t show any sign of understanding what was going on. They weren’t really people. Right?

I traveled along like that for a whole week. I ate fresh food where I found it, threw canned food and drinks (non-alcoholic, natch, I didn’t have time to fall off the wagon) in the cart and took them with me. Picked up anything that seemed like it might be useful, long as it wasn’t too bulky. Found a pump-action shotgun in someone’s house and slung it onto my back along with a big box of buckshot shells. But… still no shop tools. Not even a wrench.

The other stuff I found… well, let’s say that zombies weren’t the only thing I had to kill with an axe. I’d rather not go into it. Walking mushrooms. Giant ants. Fucking triffids. If the whole world hadn’t gone to hell yet, it probably would soon.

Things didn’t change much until I reached the outskirts of a town called Pomfret. I remembered it, if only barely. I think my college friend Alex was from there.

A pack of wild dogs watched me as I walked the road into town. Everything was real quiet, creepily so. I’d gotten used to the silence when I walked from town to town, but…

See, there’s this thing about zombies, and the noises that they make. I don’t think they have to breathe, since I saw some climb out of a swimming pool all bloated and gross like they’d been in there for days. But they still do breathe, and it’s awful. They make this raspy noise as they breathe in and out, and sometimes they just moan for no fuckin reason at all.

Pomfret was dead quiet. Dead. Quiet.

I found some zombie corpses near a house on the outskirts, and they were completely fucked up, covered in bite marks and torn limb from limb. That’s when it hit me: the dogs. Those wild dogs I’d seen at the border must have killed all of the zombies in town and tore ‘em up. They obviously knew that the walking dead were no good to eat, but didn’t appreciate having hostile shamblers in their territory.

Bless dogs.

I’d walked a few blocks into town when I heard a real familiar noise. It took me a moment to place, but only because I hadn’t heard anything like it in a long time: a ratchet wrench! Unless the zeds had learned how to work on cars, that meant I might have run into my very first other survivor!

I broke into a quick walk, trying to stay quiet in my heavy boots while still closing the distance as quick as possible. A million thoughts ran through my head all at once as I tried to think of what I was gonna say, what I was gonna do. Would they be friendly? Hostile? Maybe I should take off my mask before I say hello.

I rounded the corner and stopped short.

The stranger who clutched a ratchet wrench was a slight little thing, with wispy, wavy blonde hair and tight, fitted clothing. She was curled up on the ground, trying to protect herself from the hooves of the fully-grown, angry bull moose that towered over her.

Now before I tell you this next part, I want to be real clear about something: do not try to fight a moose. Even with a shotgun and a fire axe. Don’t do it. I probably shouldn’t have done it, but I am a hard-headed asshole who’d just seen her first (and possibly last) pretty girl in a while.

Do not yell at an angry moose. Don’t do it. Don’t shoot the moose with a shotgun. If you do shoot a moose with a shotgun, don’t body-check the damn thing and then hit it with a fire axe. Don’t do any of that shit, because you might not get as lucky as I did.

I watched the bloody thing limp off into the woods and turned to the girl on the ground before I had time to realize what a fuckass stunt I’d just pulled.

“Hey,” I yelled, “are you hurt bad?”

She looked up at me with these beautiful hazel eyes and my heart just about stopped as she stared at me, shook her head, and said, “I… I can’t hear.”

 

THE MIRROR

“I uh I said, are you badly hurt?” The stranger’s voice was a strong, clear alto.

“I… think my ribs are broken,” I said. “I… I have medical supplies in m-my house…”

“You have shelter?” She nodded to me and helped me to my feet with a gauntleted hand. “Good. Looks like wild dogs killed most of the zeds around here, so if we can get inside we should be all right for now.”

“Zeds?” I squinted.

“Zeds,” she confirmed. “Zombies? Walking corpses?”

I blinked.

“Never mind,” she huffed. “Let’s get inside. What’s your name?”

“I’m Yivi,” I replied.

“Weird name,” she replied, “but so’s mine. Sparrow. Nice t’meetcha.”

“Likewise. My, um, house is this way.”

We walked to Alex’s house in silence, save for my ragged breathing and the sound of Sparrow’s filter mask.

When I opened the door to the house, she recoiled. “Move!” she shouted.

I scarcely had time to ask, “what?” before she shoved me out of the way and swung her fire axe in a long arc over her shoulder. With a horrible, wet thunk, the head of the axe stopped in midair. A moment later, it fell to waist height, and Sparrow yanked it free.

She wheeled on me. “What is wrong with you? You said you were living here!”

“I was!” I cried.

“Bullshit! What’s that, then?” She pointed toward the ground.

“I don’t see anything! There’s nothing there!”

Sparrow gripped her fire axe and loomed over me. With the firefighter’s gear on, she looked easily twice my size. “Stop fucking with me.”

“I’m not, I swear! I don’t know what you just did!”

Something caught Sparrow’s attention, and she looked inside the house, then at me. “Fine,” she growled. “If this house is so full of nothing, why don’t you walk in there and spread your arms out and see what happens.”

“If it’ll make you stop yelling at me, I will.” I stepped inside, turned, and held both of my arms out straight. “There. Are you happy?”

“It’s… it’s ignoring you. What in the hell?”

“What are you talking about?” I asked, nerves jangling. I glanced around me, but saw nothing. “What’s ignoring me?”

“You can’t see the zombies, and they can’t see you,” she said, then extended the fire axe toward me. “Here. Take this. I wanna see something.”

“Uh, okay.” I hefted the axe, which was a lot heavier than she made it look.

“Swing it behind you real big. You don’t have to aim at nothing, just swing.”

I turned and did as she asked, only to yelp as I found my muscles locking up halfway through the swing. “I… I can’t!” I shouted. “I can’t move that way, and I don’t know why!”

“Okay,” Sparrow said, holding out one big glove. “Give it back and try the shotgun.”

“Wh-what?” I quailed. “I don’t want to fire a shotgun…”

She sighed. “C’mon, this could change everything. I saved you from that moose, you could at least give this a try. Also, move to your right so the zed doesn’t get around you and bite me.”

“Um.” I scooted to the right and fidgeted for a few moments. “Okay. I’ll try it.”

“Attagirl,” Sparrow said, and I felt a hot flush rise to my cheeks. “Here.”

We exchanged the axe and shotgun, and Sparrow spent a few moments coaching me to aim the barrel of the gun at the invisible monster.

BLAM!

“Yes!” Sparrow shouted so loud that I could hear it over the ringing in my ears.

“What…” My eyes went wide as I stared at the far wall. “The wall isn’t damaged…”

“That’s because you hit something else! Something you can’t see!” Sparrow pulled her mask down, giving me a sunny smile I didn’t know I’d needed to see so badly. “They can’t hurt you, but you can hurt them, as long as you’re not, like, doing it by hand!”

“We… we should talk through what we can and can’t see or touch,” I said, gingerly returning the shotgun to Sparrow.

“Yeah, let me just drag these corpses outside and pulp ‘em so they don’t get back up.” She must have seen me blanch, because she laughed. “We really do live in different worlds, don’t we?”

“And yet,” I replied quietly, “we don’t.”

“So the whole time I’ve been living here… collecting things, building things…” I shook my head in disbelief. “I’ve been sharing the house with the walking dead?”

“You blocked all the windows, so… yeah, unless you left the door open at some point.”

“I didn’t. And they’re really that aggressive toward you?”

She pulled up the sleeve of her turnout coat, exposing a bloody bandage. “Yeah. At least I know that their bites don’t turn me into a zed myself. This’s been healing fine since I washed it with everclear.”

“Oh.”

“Hurt like hell, obviously. Oh goddamn,” Sparrow crouched next to my homemade still, marveling at it. “Look at this… water distiller? You’re like, fuckin, high femme MacGuyver.”

I turned away so she wouldn’t see my blush. “I like to make things.”

“Your med stash is wicked huge, too,” she said. “How’d you get all this?”

“I picked the lock to the pharmacy,” I replied, a proud smile creeping its way onto my face, “and loaded up on anything I thought would be useful.

“And that car you were messing with. It works?”

“Yeah. I’m not great with cars, but I can change tires at least.”

“Lucky you. I am good with cars.” She grinned at me.

“W-well,” I stammered, “that’s good, because I don’t want to stay. I may be safe from monsters, but animals can still hurt me just fine, and I almost got mauled by dogs the other day.”

“I saw those dogs on my way in.” She nodded. “They did a great job with this town’s zombie problem, but yeah, they’re gonna close in on us. Plus I don’t wanna tangle with that moose again. We oughta keep moving.”

I felt my eyes widen. “You… want to travel with me?”

“Yivi. Babe.” She reached up and gripped my shoulders with both hands. “You are the only living human I’ve seen in a week.”

I swallowed. “Um. You’re the only human of any kind I’ve seen in over a week.”

“We are sticking together. Period. We can help each other. You got skills I don’t, and vice versa.”

“That…” I smiled wide. “That sounds really really good, Sparrow.”

“Fuckin’ A.” She clapped one of my shoulders and turned toward my stash of supplies. “Let’s pack up and hit the road.”

I laughed in spite of myself. “The Last Girls on Earth go on a road trip.”

She laughed too. “Helluva vaycay.”

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