They wait for the world to end.
(Supermarkets overflow with crowds filling up their trolleys, emptying the shelves. Doors are locked, chained, bolted. Every channel is showing the news and all the news is the mounting disaster).
But it doesn’t.
(The shops re-stock and the shelves are full. Doors tentatively open, and there are people stepping softly into the outside. The television is still running, the news tucked back into its regular slots).
The time between becoming infected and becoming symptomatic is short and the time between becoming symptomatic and turning full-zombie is long, and this helps to prevent the catastrophe becoming apocalyptic.
This is aided by the quick creation of quarantine zones. The situation is contained.
And life outside the zones goes back to normal.
Even inside the quarantine zones, many of the cities are okay; with security forces shooting down zombies around the clock. And the occasional straggler is easy enough to walk away from; zombies aren’t the fastest of creatures after all. There are also metal skirts, adorned with spikes ready to impale any zombie that does get too close, and axe-mounted Roombas ever-ready to assist those less able to walk away.
Ania is not in one of those cities. She lives in a ramshackle town in the middle of nowhere. And she has a three year old, which makes walking quietly for a long period of time much harder.
At the beginning the eyes of the world are drawn to their town’s plight and charities and volunteers and helpful packages are in abundance.
But time moves on, and so does peoples’ attention, and the little zombie towns are forgotten.
Ania watches a grainy video of the latest reality star talking about the zombie problem as a thing that happened long ago.
And she wants to scream it, but instead says quietly into the dark, “We are still here.”
Her son’s cries from hunger are too loud. And she knows it’s not safe to leave this place, but also that it’s deadly to stay.
Ania carries her son in her arms (his pushchair wheels are too loud against the cobble-stone). And she thinks about how her parents came to this place with nothing but the clothes on their backs and now she must leave it much the same way.
Oh, the hopes they had. Oh, the hopes she had. This was supposed to be the safe place. This was supposed to be salvation.
“Where are you going?” The towns-folk whisper. Their voices are too loud. Everything is too loud.
She keeps walking, holding her head high and not answering, lest her resolve crumble. She imagines she’s already outside of this place and the thin ephemeral glimmer of safety it contains.
She walks until the cobble-stone turns to dirt-track and then until the dirt-track turns to sand.
And she’s come a long way, but there are still people here, fewer, and stranger, but some semblance of civilisation.
She knows there won’t be for much longer though, if she’s going to turn back she should do it now; before she puts them both through Hell for a chance at safety.
She keeps walking.
Inexplicably, there are no zombies out here. But the sands are endless and the sun is burning hot. And she half-dreams that it’s turning her into a zombie, the blisters on her skin seeping poison to her insides. She’s walking slow enough to be one.
Her son has stopped crying, and she never thought that would be so terrifying. It’s a dead weight pulling at her soul. She puts a water bottle against his lips, he drinks, but they stay too cracked.
Ania thinks it’s a mirage, when she first sees the tall metal-link of the fence, she’s lost track- didn’t think they had come this far. She cries tearless.
She presses a kiss to her son’s forehead, “Only a little longer now.”
They are going to make it. They will be put into one of the quarantine cells and will wait. And when no symptoms are shown, they will be let through.
(It’s not that simple, she knows).
She ambles towards the structure, barely moving.
The man at the gate looks heart-broken: not the sharpness of a fresh heart-break, but an old one that’s lasted too long, and cut too deep, and sunken into his bones, reshaping his face. And she knows his answer before she asks.
“I’m sorry. We’re full.”
There’s a time where Ania would’ve fought and yelled, but she has no energy left, and her voice has been too quiet for too long. Besides, there’s only time for the most important thing. She lets her heart break quietly as she lifts her son in her arms.
“You! You take him.”
The man takes her child and goes inside.
She sinks down, into the sand, and screams.