Kris looked at himself in the mirror. Kurisu had given him some of her father’s leftover clothes—he and Kris were roughly the same size—and Kris wasn’t about to pass on fresh socks, underwear, shirt and pants.
Still, his appearance was cringe-inducing. He wore a bright red Hawaiian button-up, cargo pants with what felt like dozens of pockets, and hiking boots. He sighed, pulled the bill of his cap lower, and turned to leave the bathroom. He looked at the bone-dry tub and realized he’d give anything for a hot shower.
The day was humid and buggy. The whine of cicadas pierced the morning air. The smell of eggs and bacon wafted down the hall into his nostrils. Kris’s eyes popped open. Was he still dreaming?
He rushed into the kitchen and found Sky and Arthur cooking breakfast shoulder to shoulder, each trying to shove the other away.
“You’re gonna burn them!” Sky was saying.
“Sweetheart, I had to cook my own rations every day in ‘Nam, and you think I don’t know how to cook some God damn eggs?”
“You can barely tie your own shoelaces!” Sky shot back, giving Arthur a powerful push with her hip.
Mr. Caldwell threw up his hands and backed off. “I give up,” he said, and he slumped into a chair at the kitchen table.
“Um, good morning,” Kris said to the both of them.
“Hi, Kris!” Sky said, spinning around. Arthur only waved and lit up a cigarette. “Gas stove. Can you believe it? You like scrambled eggs, right?”
“Who doesn’t?” Kris replied, and he grinned. He couldn’t remember the last time he’d genuinely smiled.
“Nazis, probably. Mind setting the table? Art didn’t. He was too busy backseat cooking to be any real help.” She glared at him, and Arthur flipped her off. Sky rolled her eyes.
Kris opened the cupboards and drawers until he found silverware, plates, and cups. It took him multiple trips to set enough dishes and cutlery for everyone. As he set down the last fork, Kurisu walked in wearing a white sundress, much like the one Ryuuko had been buried in. She was short—shorter than Sky, even. Kris pegged her at just a few inches over five feet. In spite of her small stature, she was bright and beautiful. In fact, her height only added to her charm.
“Something smells good in here,” she said.
“I hope you don’t mind!” Sky called, pouring the now cooked scrambled eggs onto a plate. Kris saw the edges were crispy where they’d been burned.
“Not at all,” Kurisu said, waving her hand in dismissal. “It’s not like those eggs were going to be put to any other use, right?”
“That’s right.” Sky put the plate of eggs in the middle of the kitchen table and went back to the stove to work on the bacon. “Dig in, guys. There’s room temperature orange juice in the fridge.”
Arthur stabbed at the eggs with his fork. “They burned,” he observed.
“Shut up, Art.”
Kurisu fetched the orange juice and sat down next to Kris. She poured five glasses, emptying the carton, before taking some eggs for herself.
“Um, where’s Jamar?” Kris asked.
“Still sleeping. He didn’t get much last night,” Kurisu said with a wink.
“Oh.” Kris felt the blood rush to his face and bowed his head.
“So, you guys related or what?”
Arthur let out a single laugh as if to say, “Yeah, right.”
“Kris and I met during the outbreak in Rosemont,” Sky explained. “I dragged his sorry ass to Chicago, and we haven’t got out since. We met Arthur on my apartment rooftop taking potshots at the zombies with his sniper, and he decided to stick with us. As for how we met Jamar, you’d better ask him that.”
“I already have,” Kurisu said with a giggle. “He was asking for it.”
“He’s a good guy,” Sky said. “You’re lucky to have him.”
Jamar strolled in mid-yawn, rubbing his eye with the heel of his hand. “G’mornin’,” he said. “Shit, we get real food today?”
“That’s right!” Sky sang.
They spent the better part of an hour eating and talking, learning more about each other. Arthur told a couple war stories. Sky shared how much she feared her future before the world crumbled into an apocalypse—now she was terrified. She also spoke about anime with Kurisu, dragging Kris into the conversation whenever possible. Turned out that Kurisu shared the same name as a female protagonist in an sci-fi anime called Steins;Gate. Her parents didn’t name their daughter after the character, but Kurisu liked to pretend.
Jamar talked about how he was a fitness trainer. He liked to parkour, which he explained as “running in style.” Apparently it meant he climbed buildings and did flips and stuff. Kris found it intriguing, and as Jamar spoke, a grim part of Kris knew he would be the last one in their group to die.
Kurisu spoke about her graphic design. Kris hung onto her every word. She drew a couple doodles to demonstrate her skills. Anything Sky called out she could create with nothing more than a ballpoint pen, and in several styles, too. Kris felt jealous, but more awed than anything.
“Kris draws too, ya know,” Sky said as Kurisu finished off a sketch of a helicopter.
“Oh yeah?” Kurisu said. “Let’s see.”
“Oh, um, I can’t. I-I don’t do well under pressure.”
“Well, show her what you already drew, then,” Sky said. “I know you’ve got your notebook in your bag.”
Kris ducked his head to hide his blushing. His drawings looked like chicken scratch compared to Kurisu’s art. “I’d rather not.”
“Oh, come on!” Sky said. She reached for Kris’s backpack resting underneath his seat. Kris jumped up and beat her to it, knocking over his chair in the process. The group stared at him as he clutched it to his chest. The lightheartedness in the room evaporated.
“I-I’m sorry,” Kris stuttered, and he turned and ran into the front yard.
He caught his breath by a lonely oak in the lawn. He cringed at what had just occurred. Why couldn’t he be normal? Would it really have been that bad to let Kurisu see his drawings? He sighed and pulled the straps of his backpack tighter.
“What the hell was that?” came a voice from behind. He spun around to see Sky strutting onto the yard, her arms crossed. “Are you okay?”
“Yeah, I’m fine,” Kris said.
Sky stopped in front him and put her hands on her hips. “It’s Armageddon, ya know. I don’t think anyone cares if your drawings aren’t as good as Kurisu’s—which they are, by the way.”
“I do,” Kris muttered. He’d gone to school to be a graphic designer, an artist, and failed. That’s why he was halfway through his twenties and working in a secluded comic shop.
“Well, you shouldn’t.” Sky laid her hand on Kris’s shoulder. He recoiled at her touch and pulled away. “It’s okay, man. No one’s mad at you. Come finish your breakfast.”
“I think I’ll stay out here,” Kris said. He scratched at the dark stubble around his neck. The morning was clear enough, and he could use the fresh air.
“I’ll bring it out to you,” Sky suggested. She turned to head back inside. Kris lifted his head to watch her go, and he felt his blood run cold.
Zombies. Dozens of them. They were shuffling their way down the street, heading straight for the house. Kris ran forward, grabbed Sky by the arm, and pulled her inside. He slammed the door behind them.
“What is it?” Sky asked, panic in her voice. She ran to the window and peeked around the curtain. “Oh, God.”
Kris headed for the kitchen.
“What’s all this racket?” he could hear Arthur calling from the table.
“Zombies!” Sky answered as she ran past Kris to meet the group. “Holy shit, there are tons of them heading this way!”
Jamar looked at Kurisu. “Grab your things: clothes, food, weapons, whatever. Go!”
Kurisu ran upstairs, her short legs pumping, while Jamar went to the living room to gather supplies. Mr. Caldwell took a calm bite of burnt eggs and raised his eyebrows. “What’s everybody freakin’ out for?”
Sky palmed the table and leaned forward to look at Arthur in the eye. “Um, hello? There are fucking zombies on our front lawn! We gotta move!”
Arthur leaned back, crossed his fingers over his stomach, and chewed thoughtfully. “Ya know, up until yesterday, we were lost in a sea of zombies, and we made it out just fine. I don’t see how panicking is going to help.”
“Perhaps you forgot the part where Kris got bit. Or when he fell off a roof. Or that time we fought our way into Gander Mountain, almost dying the process. These things aren’t something to fuck with, Art!”
With an annoyed, exaggerated sigh, Arthur pushed his chair away from the table and stood. “Fine. I’ll get my things.”
In two minutes, everyone was packed and armed. With at least one backpack per person (Kris carried two), everyone met in the living room. Arthur gave a shotgun to Jamar and Kris and kept one for himself. Sky still had Jamar’s pistol in her belt. She pulled it out.
“Uh, what about Kurisu?” Jamar asked.
“What about her?” Arthur said.
Jamar gave the old veteran a dumbfounded look. “She’s unarmed! Give her your sniper.”
“Over my dead body,” Arthur growled.
“The shotgun, then!”
“They’re too big,” Kurisu objected. She was right; even Sky was wary of handling a 12-gauge shotgun.
“Here.” Arthur pulled his pistol and two full magazines from behind his back and tossed them to Kurisu. “Happy?” he said to Jamar.
“No,” Jamar replied.
“Good. Let’s roll.” Arthur made for the back door, kicked the door down, and ran outside.
The others followed. Kris could hear their groans coming from the alleyways, the backyards, the homes. For a day the neighborhood had been a ghost town, and now this. The group burst into the alleyway beyond the home’s back lawn, and Arthur booked it to the left. Kris was at the rear of the group with Jamar, and Sky and Kurisu kept to the middle.
“Where’d they all come from?” Jamar called over his shoulder as he ran backwards. He spun around when he saw their tail end was clear.
“Hell if I know!” Mr. Caldwell growled.
Sky screamed. A zombie leapt out from behind a nearby dumpster, its nails missing Arthur’s arm by inches. The veteran swung around mid-stride and blasted the zombie’s head clean off with his shotgun, splattering blood, bone, and brains across all five survivors.
“Don’t get any in your mouth!” Arthur called.
“How ‘bout next time you don’t rain globs of zombie meat on us, then?” Sky suggested.
They ran for what felt like half an hour, but Kris knew it was only a fraction of that. Arthur led the charge the whole way, occasionally pausing to shoot one of the undead creatures that posed a threat. Slowly they made their way back toward the metro entrance.
“We’re gonna make it!” Sky called. She smiled back at Kris and Jamar. Kris wanted to smile back, but he was too busy resisting the urge to barf between heavy breaths. The weight of his shotgun and two backpacks—and his person—was taking its toll.
“Runners!” Arthur cried. Kris swung his head around in the direction Arthur was looking. He was right: A horde of freshly turned zombies was sprinting in their direction. “Pick up the pace!”
Kris squeezed his eyes shut and pumped his legs as fast as they could go. He only heard the sound of his heavy footsteps, the blood pumping in his ears, and the guttural moan of the undead hot on his tail. A second later he opened his eyes and saw he was alone. For a moment, he forgot to breathe, until he saw Sky at the top of the subway stairs waving him on. Arthur and Jamar appeared behind her and took shots at the runners chasing Kris. He heard them collapse, but he didn’t turn to make sure they were dead.
Arthur and Jamar let Kris run past them. Sky and Kurisu led the way down into the murky hallways of the abandoned metro. Sky flipped on the flashlight built into her backpack strap. She kept a light jog.
“You alright?” she asked Kris.
He could only nod with his lungs burning, screaming for air.
“Keep movin’!” Arthur’s voice echoed from behind. “They’re not slowing down!”
Kris groaned and forced himself to increase his pace. “If I fall, leave me,” he managed to pant. “Okay?”
Sky furrowed her brow at him. “Hell no!” she said. “You’ve got all our clean water, remember?” She smiled, and Kris let out a weak laugh.
“Cross the tracks to the other side!” Jamar commanded. The group leapt from the platform onto the cool metal bars of the metro tracks and kept running. Kris tripped as his landed, but he felt Jamar’s strong hand grab his bicep and yank him up. They reached the opposite platform, climbed up (Kris got ample assistance once again), and waited.
“We take ‘em here!” Arthur said. He went to one knee and held his shotgun up. Jamar followed suit. Sky and Kurisu positioned themselves behind the men, their pistols out and ready. “Kris! We need you, too!”
Kris’s hands quivered as he stood beside Jamar, his weapon pointing at the ground.
“Here they come,” Kurisu said. The echoes of the horde grew louder and louder in the darkness. Like a wave, the mass of zombies burst from the opposing platform’s tunnel. The undead minions jumped screaming onto the tracks, ready for fresh meat, but the survivors had none to spare.
The gunshots nearly deafened Kris. The women took their time aiming, but Arthur and Jamar had the luxury of shooting without hardly looking at their targets. The wide spread of their shots took out multiple zombies with a single pull of the trigger.
Kris raised the gun, ready to fire, but something stopped him. He held his breath, tried to squeeze the trigger, and discovered his finger had frozen. He couldn’t do it. He pointed the gun back down, and Jamar ripped it from his hands when his own shotgun ran out of ammo.
“They’re climbing up!” Arthur cried over the explosive gunshots. “Take care of it!”
Sky stopped firing, grabbed the hunting knife at her hip, and stabbed each zombie who tried to climb aboard the platform in the eyes.
It was all over in seconds. The shots ceased, the smoke cleared, and the survivors looked out upon a sea of dead—permanently, this time—bodies.
“You’re gonna cost us a life one day, tubby,” Arthur said to break the silence.
“Quiet.” Arthur stood and shoved his shotgun into Kris’s hands before pulling him over to the nearest body. He grabbed the shotgun’s barrel and pointed it at the zombie’s head. “Now pull the trigger.”
“I-I can’t. I don’t—”
Kris closed his eyes and fired. The shotgun’s butt kicked into his shoulder and he knew he’d be feeling that for days. When he opened his lids, the zombie’s once-intact head was nothing but a mess of glistening, red meat.
“Was that so hard, boy?” Arthur asked, eyeing him with disdain. “The only difference between what you just did and shooting one that’s walking is that the moving ones can kill ya. They’re all dead, Kris, and you can’t change that!”
“I know, I know!” Kris shouted. He dropped the shotgun and held his head in his hands. He could still see Jared in his mind. The image haunted him, as it had since the night Kris stabbed him.
Kris turned and looked at Kurisu.
“What is it, baby?” Jamar asked.
“I got blood in my mouth.”
Art pointed his shotgun at her face.