“I repeat,” the announcer’s voice crackled from the tiny transistor radio. “This is direct from the Acting President, the last zombie mass has been destroyed. The United States is now officially free of the zombie menace.”
“Did you hear that honey?” Francine turned in her chair to look at her husband on the far side of the room.
“Yeah, well that and five bucks will buy you a cup of coffee.”
Roger’s voice oozed sarcasm as he cranked down the shutters for the evening.
“Oh God, coffee,” Francine almost moaned the word. “You had to say that; I would kill for a coffee. I don’t even remember the last time I had one.”
“Four years for me; so probably the same for you dear.”
“Do you think we could go out and see if we could find some?”
“It’ll be dark in a couple hours honey. It’s not safe.”
“Roger Ansom Wilson, didn’t you hear anything the broadcast said? The zombies are officially gone; it’s over.”
“I’ll believe that when I see it. Remember last spring when they declared Wisconsin free? There was a massive attack by a horde that had gone unnoticed in an underground garage the very next week.”
“When?” Francine stood and put her fists on her hips. “When is the last time we saw any zombies around here? Six weeks? Two months? Hmm.”
“Alright, I’ll give you that the armored column that came through here did a bang up job and our hunting parties haven’t seen anything in weeks but—”
“But nothing mister; I want coffee and I want it now. We’re going to go out and scavenge in the old business sector or you can just sleep with your girlfriend Rosy Palm tonight. You can blame yourself for bringing it up.”
Roger had been married to Francine for twelve years; the nine years since the dead rose and three normal years before that. He knew that once she got that look in her eyes nothing short of the hand of God could change her mind.
“OK,” he said. “But you’re going to meet me half way. We go out but we head home before full dark. Deal?”
Francine’s lips curled upward in a gentle smile that kept widening until she was beaming a full on movie star smile, all teeth and glistening eyes.
“Deal; I’ll get the guns.”
When Roger and Francine moved to the city it had been a bustling metropolis with millions of people. Their warehouse style apartment was in a part of town that the realtor had promised was headed for gentrification. The dead rose before that happened which, in a way, was lucky for them. Their neighborhood was relatively unpopulated when the virus swept through the nation and their apartment was easily converted into a tiny fortress which held up to innumerable zombie attacks. Roger locked the door and closed the gate made from half inch thick rebar. He offered his arm, just like an old fashioned date. Francine placed her hand in the crook of his arm with a sweet smile and the pair strolled down Seventh Street toward the business district.
The city was once as beautiful as concrete and steel could be. Roger remembered towers of glass twinkling with the reflected light from the retro street lights that had been installed as part of the city-wide revitalization effort. These days the city resembled a graveyard whose monuments had been toppled by a massive earthquake before being burned by an inferno.
As they walked, Roger and Francine scanned every shadowed doorway and placed hands on weapons at even the slightest perceived movement but no threat – living or dead – erupted from the shadows.
Few of the living remained in the city and bodegas, bakeries and other shops remained relatively unmolested by looters. However, until recently, the threat of the dead was so great that they had not spent long exploring. It was only in the last six months that the pair had begun to penetrate into the business district where posh shops and eateries abounded including dozens of coffee shops.
“I want some Zim Brothers coffee,” Francine said.
“We can start there but don’t get your hopes up; we don’t even know if their building survived.”
They weaved through the rubble strewn streets. They clambered past rusted hulks of cars and busses, pointedly ignoring the desiccated corpses within. In the early years of what people came to call The Troubles the stench of death had been so thick that Roger had worn multiple damp cloths over his face to survive the smell; at least now that it appeared The Troubles were finally over the smell had departed with the undead.
Zim Brothers coffee shop was a pile of broken concrete and glass when they arrived. Francine picked through the rubble with maniacal intensity in a fruitless search for the prized coffee.
“Come on honey,” Roger cajoled. “We’re burning daylight. We can try Genaro’s over on South.”
Francine pouted but bowed to the inevitable and climbed from the rubble. Three blocks later the faded sign of Papa Genaro’s Coffee and Cakes came into view.
“It’s there,” Francine actually squealed in delight and raced toward the intact façade.
Roger shook his head and chuckled as he followed at a more sedate pace. Francine threw open the door and raced into the building. Roger’s eyes went wide and he drew his pistol and then raced toward the door.
“Damn it Franny,” Roger shouted as he ran. “Wait for me.”
Roger burst through the door and swept the room with his pistol. Everything was quiet. A scream made him spin and then he wrenched his weapon to point at the ceiling as Francine popped up from behind a counter clutching two large bags of dark roast. She was grinning like a lunatic and bouncing up and down with excitement.
“Are you crazy?” Roger yelled as he holstered his weapon.
“But it’s the custom blend; bags and bags of it are under here.”
Roger rolled his eyes but removed his backpack and held it open for Francine to fill. He then helped her with her own pack and soon each was weighed down with twenty pounds of ground coffee.
“Can we head back now; it’s getting dark.”
Francine gave Roger a bone crushing hug and then the pair exited the shop arm in arm.
The ruins drew closer as darkness pressed in on the couple. They walked with their arms around each other just as they did before The Troubles. The silence of the night began to convince them that maybe the radio was right; the zombies were all finally gone.
The couple turned onto Seventh Street when Francine’s nose wrinkled at an acrid scent.
“Do you smell that?”
A shadow detached itself from the deeper darkness of a burned out school bus and moved next to Roger. The smell of rotting meat and old blood covered them like a cloud. Francine coughed from the stench as a face appeared over Roger’s shoulder. It was the face of a fat man who had been Korean in life but now possessed the gray-green skin of one of the undead. His one remaining eye was black as pitch and the gaping hole where his left eye had been oozed yellow pus down his lacerated, peeling cheek.
Francine screamed as the creature grabbed Roger and latched onto his neck with jagged teeth. Roger’s scream joined Francine’s but quickly dropped to a gurgle. Francine backpedaled and drew her pistol. Her screams continued as she raised the pistol and fired half a dozen rounds into the zombie’s head.
The zombie and Roger collapsed to the ground together. Francine approached her husband, whimpering but keeping her weapon at the ready.
Roger twitched and convulsed. Dark lines, like roots questing for fertile soil, grew from the wound in his neck. The skin where the lines passed took on a sickly shade.
“Kill me,” Roger said. His eyes pleaded with Francine; he knew he was doomed.
She shook her head, begging him to take the burden from her. Sounds reached her ears, movement from the bus – there were more zombies.
“Please,” Roger groaned.
Shapes exited the bus and shambled forward. Francine’s eyes filled with tears but she raised the pistol and centered it on Roger’s head.
“I love you,” she said, barely audible through her sobs.
Francine fired another round at the nearest zombie and then turn and ran the remaining four blocks to their warehouse apartment. Once safely inside she collapsed to the floor and wept. The weight of the backpack, forgotten during her terrified flight, tugged her backward. She removed the pack and opened it. She stared at the bags of coffee, the coffee which had seemed so precious mere hours ago. She had dreamed of sharing it with her lover, now its bitter taste was all she would ever have.