Tyler was making a list of the things that sucked ass about the end of the world. It was an extremely long list.
Numero Uno on The List of Suck was how the end of the world had turned him philosophical. He’d never wanted to be that guy who sat around drinking organic kombucha, and contemplating his place in the universe while stroking his ironic blacksmith beard. All he’d wanted out of life was to get famous, and make a shit-ton of money, get laid a lot, and retire at thirty. Was that so much to ask from the universe?
Everything had been going so great. It had all been going exactly according to plan. And then — this bullshit.
“How you holding up?” Marco asked from behind him.
“Okay, man,” Tyler murmured without turning around. “Doing okay.”
He stood at the crest of a hill where the grass was up to his knees, golden in the late summer sunlight and topped with furry heads like fishing lures that bent and trembled in the wind. It was a good place to stop. The hill looked west across the freeway toward the walled safe zone. A fifteen minute walk, max.
Tyler watched the zoms trudging along the freeway, each one following the zom in front of it. As soon as a zom wandered too far out in front of the others, it tottered around in a circle and went back the way it had come. Eventually, it realized the other zoms were moving in a different direction. Then it made another circle and staggered back to the zom herd.
He’d been watching the zoms for half an hour or so. It was relaxing. Like watching an aquarium. The breeze blew in his face, carrying their garbage-can stink. The zoms were a metaphor for life. Nobody knew why they were on this planet. You tried finding some meaning by breaking away from the crowd, looking for something to make you feel not so empty. But nobody knew what anything meant, so you turned around, and went back to shuffling after the guy shuffling in front of you.
Those thoughts weren’t unique or profound, and he knew that. He hadn’t used the word “profound” since high school. For fuck’s sake, he sang in a boy band. He had sung in a boy band. Intergalactic Uprising. They were going to be big; they were going to be fucking massive. Until this end of the world bullshit.
Tyler glanced over his shoulder. Billy and Seth had fanned out across the wide slope behind him to check the tree line for stray zoms. Even an apocalypse hadn’t been enough to break up Intergalactic Uprising. The four of them had gotten so used to being around each other all the time, nobody even considered that they wouldn’t all stick together after all the reasons to stick together were gone. Kinda like the zoms.
Tyler rubbed his forearm; it throbbed dully. The skin under the gauze bandage Marco had carefully wrapped and tied felt cold and horribly slippery. Last night, tendrils of black had started creeping up Tyler’s wrist toward his elbow. Now his entire arm was spider-webbed with black. Probably his shoulder and his chest as well. He hadn’t looked. He didn’t want to look.
Instead, Tyler looked at Marco. “Okay. Well. I’m going now.”
“Tyler…” Marco began.
Tyler shrugged uncomfortably, like he was shrugging off an itchy, hot sweater. “Shit happens, right?”
It was all right there in Marco’s face, in his big dark eyes. Reaching out with his good hand, Tyler cupped Marco’s cheek, and leaned forward to kiss him. Marco cringed. Just a little bit. Like some instinctive part of Marco knew Tyler was already dead.
Marco didn’t say anything. Of course, Marco wouldn’t say anything. Marco was the most polite person Tyler had ever met. Marco would probably just stand there politely and let Tyler eat his face, rather than risk being rude.
So, Tyler let him go. Cripes. He wasn’t even going to get one last, dramatic kiss on a windswept hillside before he bravely walked away to meet his fate. One more item to add to his List of Suck.
He headed down the steep slope, his sneakers sliding in the long grass and loose, dry dirt.
“Tyler,” Marco said again.
Tyler looked back, and Marco lifted a hand to him. Waving goodbye.
“See you soon, asshole,” Tyler said.
Marco’s mouth bent in a smile that looked more like a wince. Tyler continued down the slope. He could feel the sickness crawling through his blood. Maybe he was just imagining the chill spreading inside of him. Maybe it was food poisoning. God only knew how long those canned chicken tamales had been sitting on the shelf at that Vons.
A zom in a rotting business suit spotted him, opened its mouth and moaned. Tyler pulled the pistol from the waistband of his jeans and fired, clipping the zom in the shoulder. The shot cracked the quiet of the afternoon. Birds took wing from the trees with a flutter and whir. The zom staggered back, its red necktie fluttering in the breeze.
Alerted by the shot, the rest of the zoms came flopping and shambling toward Tyler. All they were missing was their phones, so they could snap his picture and upload it to Instagram. OMG, I saw Tyler Haldrich in West Covina, and he looked like a Hot Undead Mess. #IntergalacticUprising #justrolledoutofthegrave
Tyler shot a lady-zom in the face. She dropped, twitching. The zoms swarmed him. He wasn’t afraid. Fear like it belonged to somebody else. To the Tyler at the top of the hill, perhaps.
The zoms didn’t want him. They pawed and they tugged and they growled and drooled, but he was spoiled meat, and they knew it. Tyler kept shooting until he ran out of ammo, and most of the zoms lay on the asphalt. Only three remained standing.
Tyler shoved a little kid in ragged overalls out of his way. The kid grabbed Tyler’s wounded arm in both his little fists and squeezed. It should have hurt like a motherfucker. It didn’t.
He watched the kid’s fingers sink into his arm, saw the black ooze spread across the bandage, and there was no pain. He lifted his foot, planted it in the kid’s stomach and shoved. The kid toppled onto his back and lay there like a cockroach, arms and legs paddling the air.
There was something he needed to do. But he couldn’t remember.
He was so hungry.
The pistol dropped out of his hand and clattered to the asphalt.
Fresh hot meat. The one thing he wanted. The only thing he wanted. There was nothing else in the world. He was nothing but want and need and hunger. He swung around, lunging toward the smell of meat, toward the quick-moving shapes coming down the hill. His arms stretched, fingers flexing, mouth opening wide to bite and tear and feed.
Marco smiled that crooked smile again, and raised his pistol.
“See you soon,” he said.
And pulled the trigger.