The death tag wrapped around the woman's toe is curling at the sides, yellowing with age, growing brittle. Tags like this are written in pencil now, because we reuse 'em. We have to. This little town only had a few to begin with, and the dead pile up fast around here. I suppose we could've gotten more shipped to us if the shipping routes were still running. They're not.
The little girl in the corner hasn't said a word since we brought her in, but her eyes are like leaking faucets, producing tiny rivers of horror and fear and despair that run down her face as she stares out at nothing. The body under the sheet? The one with the old, used toe tag? That's her mother. When we found 'em, Mom had already become a mid-morning snack. The zombie had put out her eyes with his thumbs, jerked his arms, split her head open like a coconut. Then his buddy went to work on her legs, gnawing at 'em the way a dog will work a bone.
Turns out one of the things had once been her husband. They call it residual memory. No one's quite sure exactly how it works, but it's been seen too many times to be denied. He went missing a few days ago. Neighbor called us this morning on the jerry-rigged phone system we got here in town and said that Dad had shown up again, with a friend, moaning and crying and banging at the front door.
Fool woman should've known better than to open it. I'm not saying she deserved what happened, no...but these things have been all over the place for months. Whole country's been warned. Whole country's seen what they can do. Christ, everyone in town saw what was left of Brenda Glickman, and it was her own kid done that. You'd have to be blind, deaf, and stone stupid not to know better.
Wasn't much could be done except put an explosive round in Dad's head. Little girl was right there watching. Watching and screaming, and I felt bad about doing it, but if you don't catch 'em before the change, destroying the brain is the only way to put 'em down. I'm not talking a little bullet to the head here, either. I'm talking about atomizing the old grey matter. Making brain pudding. That's when the kid went silent, all at once, like someone had knocked her clean out. Except she was still watching, all glassy-eyed, while we hauled away the bodies.
Dad's burnt now, and here's Mom lying on the table, brain removed before it can start to change, and the cause of death on the tag reads like a bad joke. "Killed by zombies," in shaky pencil scrawl, and then, scribbled up and diagonal to save space, an afterthought: "Eaten."
Andy's been my deputy for about six months. He volunteered for the position after I was elected sheriff. I think he wanted to avenge Lisa. I got my position because I shot the last sheriff in the head before he could turn the local high-school basketball star into Sunday dinner.
Andy spends a lot of time cradling his shotgun like a baby and looking through the big windows out front. There's bars on those windows now. Necessary measures. It's bad and getting worse out there. You'd think we could just wipe the zombies out, but it hasn't worked like that. For example, you'd be surprised how few people have the heart to shoot a loved oneâ€”even a dead loved oneâ€”in the face. Most of 'em just lie there, crying like babies, and let themselves be killed. For every zombie Andy and I put down, two more seem to take its place.
Anna looks up at me with her big blue eyes and asks me where we're going. Got to laugh at that a bit, because it's not as if I really know. I can tell her where we're not going. We're not going to the school; I can't look at the sick, blind, stupid hope in those people's eyes again.
I let the yellow lines on the road flash below the cruiser for a few hours. Anna sleeps curled up against the door, wrapped up in a police blanket and murmuring through her dreams. The human race has been dying for ten thousand years. I don't know how much longer it can hold on, but I'll be damned if I'll go quietly.
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