If you would have told Arthur Caldwell in 1960 where he’d end up as a seventy-five-year-old man after sniping fifteen Vietcong over two tours in the Marines, he would have laughed in your face.
Now, as he walked along the desolate tracks of an empty subway tunnel, he wondered where he’d gone wrong in life.
As it turned out, Jamar wasn’t willing to leave without knowledge about what happened to his wife. Sky, of course, couldn’t leave Jamar behind, so now the four of them were tracking a missing woman in the zombie apocalypse halfway across Chicago. Just thinking about it filled Art with remorse.
He, Sky, Kris, and Jamar each carried as much gear as they could: maps, flashlights, food, blankets, knives and hatchets, ammunition, and, of course, guns. Each of the men carried a Remmington 12-gauge pump-action shotgun, a weapon more than powerful enough to stop an infected in its tracks. Sky, too scared and small to wield such a big firearm, was happy holding onto Jamar’s nine millimeter pistol. Arthur refused to give his up, and his sniper was never far from him; it hung from his left shoulder now.
They’d been traveling through the tunnel for what felt like days, though according Arthur’s watch, it had only been a few hours. He never should’ve left Gander Mountain; he could have held out alone in that store for weeks—more than enough time for the military to roll through and rescue him. Instead, he was stumbling over rocks and metal spikes in absolute darkness.
It turned out that Jamar hadn’t explored every place he thought his missing wife was at. He’d tried her favorite coffee shop and the library, but the reason he was so far west when his home lay to south is because he was trying to reach his in-laws’ place. It was his last resort. Arthur wondered what he’d do when they got there and she was nowhere to be found. More than that, he wondered what Jamar and Sky would do.
“How much further, do you think?” Sky asked. The light built into her backpack strap was the only evidence of her existence in the chilly darkness, the white orb bouncing with every step she took.
“I think we’re close,” Jamar said. “But I’m not sure. I’ve only been there, like, twice.”
“Only twice?” Sky asked. “How long you been married?”
“And you’ve only been there twice?” Sky said again. “Is it really that hard traveling across Chicago?”
“Naw, it’s not that,” Jamar said. “I don’t think her parents are too keen on her marrying a black guy.”
“Oh,” Sky said.
Arthur could hear the awkwardness in her voice. He couldn’t help smiling to himself. He took a drag of his Winston—the last one—its end glowing a bright orange.
“What is she? Chinese? Korean?”
“Oh, no way!” Sky said, suddenly excited. “Does she watch anime?”
Jamar laughed. “She can’t get enough of that shit. I don’t get it. Why? You watch too?”
“Oh, my God. Only all the time. Kris watches too, right?”
“Uh, kind of,” he answered from his position to Arthur’s left.
“Probably more into reading manga than watching anime, right?” Sky turned her attention back to Jamar. “Did you know he worked at a comic shop?”
“You don’t say,” Jamar said.
“Yeah. Comixy or something, in Rosemont. Cool little shop. I really wish I hadn’t left my comics behind.”
“That’s a bummer.”
They walked for another half an hour before reaching a platform. It felt eerie to see the metro stations so dark and abandoned. They climbed onto the platform—it took all three of them to help Kris up—and cautiously made their way topside.
By some miracle, the streets were abandoned. Wind howled through the empty alleyways of the desolate suburban neighborhood. Jamar led them south, past a gas station with broken windows and toward a group of cookie-cutter houses.
Jamar turned to them as they walked down the middle of the street. “Hey, I just wanted to thank you guys for helping me. For a while, I thought I was the only one left, ya know? Nice to see there are still some good people around.”
“Don’t mention it,” Sky said with a grin. “Once we find your wife, we’ll be set to head south.”
Arthur muttered to himself.
They walked for five minutes without seeing a soul. The rusty chains of backyard swing sets creaked as they swayed gently in the wind. Window shutters slammed, and curtains billowed.
“I don’t like this,” Art announced, raising his gun.
“It’s okay,” Jamar assured him. “I’m sure the zombies went towards the city, towards the food.”
“Didn’t you say your house is in a neighborhood like this one?” Arthur asked. “How come it’s infested, then, when this one’s a ghost town?”
Jamar shrugged. “Beats me.” He squinted and pointed ahead. “There it is! I’d recognize that tackiness anywhere.”
A few hundred yards before them sat a turquoise house with plastic flamingos in the front yard. Even Arthur could see what a dump it was. He covered the rear of the group as they made their way into the yard.
“Y’all know what she looks like, right?” Jamar asked as he grabbed the handle of the porch’s screen door. Sky, Kris, and Arthur nodded. “Okay. We’ll split up. Me and Sky will take the second floor, you two handle the basement. We’ll meet on the first floor and search that together. Cool?”
“Cool,” Sky answered for them.
Jamar opened the screen door and found the front entrance unlocked. He pushed open the door and raised his shotgun to eye level. Sky followed in next with her pistol raised. Kris went after, clutching his weapon across his chest, and Arthur tailed in last, closing the door behind them.
Sky and Jamar disappeared downstairs. Arthur turned to Kris. “Well, you heard the man. Upstairs we go.”
Together they ascended the stairs, each step creaking underfoot. At the top, they split: Kris went left, and Art went right.
Arthur found a guestroom at the end of the hallway. It smelled like mothballs and cat pee. He opened the closet and looked under the bed. Nothing.
“Uh, Mr. Caldwell?” Kris called from the other end of the house.
Arthur found him in the bathroom. He recoiled at the sight.
In the tub, filled with blood, was the dead body of a young woman. Beside her lay the pistol she’d used to shoot herself in the temple. Her large, lifeless eyes stared at the ceiling.
“Is it her?” Arthur asked, sounding defeated.
Kris had seen the picture. He nodded.
“Least she knew to destroy the brain,” Arthur muttered. He sighed and looked at Kris, who sat quivering in the corner. “C’mon. Let’s go break the news to our new friend.”
Kris looked at the body, his eyes filled with remorse. “Shouldn’t we, uh, do something with the body?”
“There’ll be time for that once we tell Jamar. Let’s go.”
Together they headed downstairs. They found Sky and Jamar in the basement perusing the dusty laundry room.
Arthur flicked his cigarette butt onto the concrete floor before speaking. There was no easy way to break the news, so he said it bluntly. “We, uh, found a body.”
Jamar snapped his head around. “What? Is it Kurisu?” His eyes drilled into Art’s.
“Ask pudge here,” Arthur responded, jerking his thumb at Kris.
Unable to bring himself to look at Jamar, Kris stared at his tattered sneakers and nodded. “S-suicide.”
“Fuck!” Jamar grit his teeth and slammed the butt of his shotgun into a rickety shelf. It snapped in half, spilling soap and detergent and tools onto the cold, hard ground. Sky put a hand on his back and tried to console him.
Arthur sighed and went upstairs.