Running again. When I’m not running I’m shambling. I hear gunshots, feel chunks flying out of my back. At least they miss my head.
The head. My mind’s the only thing that feels like it’s still a part of me. Everything else always feels numb.
I miss my heartbeat.
Stupid to go so far, I know, but food is scarce. Our bodies still process meat, somehow, still use it to repair the normal wear and tear. Human meat works best, but we’ll eat animals if we find ‘em already dead. Or if they don’t mind us putting our hands on ‘em.
A deer runs by. Deer. So good, so hard to catch. And strong; one of those things can take five of us, no problem. We have tools, weapons. A lot of us even remember how guns work. I don’t think the living know about that. They’d probably double their efforts if they did.
Pretty sure I lost them. I found a river and let myself fall in. Hit a bunch of rocks when I reached the rapids, stayed under for a while. The water was cold. Really cold. Perfect. I don’t think it got over fifty all day. Too damn hot.
The water kept me safe. After about an hour I bobbed to the surface. Clouds were covering the sky. They told me it was safe to climb ashore. Their rain and thunder would drive the living back.
I feel the raindrops pooling in the pockets where my skin has worn away. It drowns the awful bugs that try to lay their eggs in my flesh.
I make my way to camp.
I see camp, far away. No fire; never fire. Just the others, shambling around, most of them probably unaware they’re moving. That happens sometimes. I’ll sit down, stare into space. Next thing I know, I’m walking, no idea how I got on my feet. I guess we sleepwalk. Maybe we daydream.
Our camp is small. Didn’t use to be. A lot of us once, enough to keep everyone away. Then the living burst through, stealing guns from a store we don’t use, bombing us to cover their escape even though we’d all fed that day. The little girl with the torn teddy burned real fast. The teddy turned to ashes before her groans died away. The staples I’d used to keep her bear together had melted from the heat. I still don’t know what they used when they firebombed us in our sleep.
I keep the staples, stuffed in a chamber my heart doesn’t use anymore. I take them out when the moon is full enough to make them glint. She had very bright eyes. I miss her.
The fat one grunts at me. He’s sitting down, like he usually is. Sitting bowlegged. Shotgun blast took out an ankle, now it’s too much trouble for him to wander around. He spends a lot of time throwing cards in a pile, then shoveling them back in his hands to throw them again. Pictures on the cards show his wife and daughter. They’re still alive. His wife’s the one who shot the ankle.
The new one still doesn’t like us. She hasn’t gotten used to what happened. We bit her…can’t remember who did exactly. It’s not a disease that makes us walk, like a lot of the living think. TV said something about radiation before there wasn’t TV anymore. But we’re dead; there’s a lot of nasty things swimming inside us. One of us bit her. She got real sick. I think the living pushed her away. She came to us, kept waving her arms around our mouths. A dead bear had kept us pretty well fed, and we weren’t interested. She cried a lot, until she got real cold and still. Now she just sits by herself. I don’t like her very much.
I like Rosa. Rosa’s mine. She likes me too. I’m hers. We like to stand around and put our hands on each other’s waists. We both remember music. We growl, but we can’t remember the tunes Rosa used to dance too. She wears a tight red dress that her body has stained. She wears underwear, too, I think. I know she still has dollar bills stuck in a frilly band around her leg. They weren’t always there, but one day we found the money fluttering along the ground. Rosa picked them up and stuck them in her garter. She made a sound like she couldn’t quite remember how to laugh. I like Rosa. Rosa likes me. We dance, even if we’re not actually moving much.
I stand next to Rosa. I took a chunk out of the big one in the blue uniform, the one always giving the other living people orders. He shot me. Always shooting me. Sometimes I wonder if he hates me. Doesn’t even know me. I let Rosa take the meat out of my mouth. She doesn’t have cheeks, so she eats it all in one bite. Rosa’s lucky. She doesn’t have a face that gets in her way when she’s eating.
Rosa keeps biting at me, and wails a little when she remembers she needs lips to kiss. I bite back. It’s okay, Rosa. It’s okay.
That seems to calm her down. The rain comes down harder. Rosa tilts her head back, looks at the clouds like she’s surprised. The rain pours off her face, and she closes what’s left of her eyelids to enjoy it. The rain washes Rosa. She smells like ginger. And me.
The big blue one shoots at us. He’s got the arm that he swung at me wrapped up real tight. He’s yelling, angry. I’m pretty sure he hates me. He doesn’t see me, though.
Billy and Mary just stand there. They never really got that the living don’t like us. They forget we’re not like them. Billy actually waves. He’s hugging Mary close, still hugging her when the blue man makes her head explode with his shotgun.
Billy just stands there a minute, ignoring the slug that goes through his chest. He kind of just ends up on his knees, holding Mary. But she’s not moving. She’s gone, gone forever now. Billy doesn’t have Mary anymore.
It takes a while for him to get it. He has to see Pops go down, his tie fluttering on the ground, before he understands. Mary’s gone. He doesn’t have Mary anymore. Billy doesn’t understand why the big man did that to him. He closes his eyes and rasps, trying to cry. He makes one sad sound that maybe could have been a wail, and then the back of Billy’s head shatters. The mud is flecked in light gray. Bits of skull are still stuck to Billy’s skin. Billy has Mary again now. They’re both on the ground. They’re both not moving.
The big man shoots at us a little more, then runs away. We’re sad Billy’s gone. He used to run. Still remembered how to run. He’d run, and those of us who could remember would laugh. Or try to.
Some of us can survive without our brains. I don’t know how, or why, but some of us can. Not many. Probably not me. My brain is the only part of me I have.
I think about that while some birds are eating Billy and Mary. Some of them let Rosa pet them. She likes birds. One time we went back into the city to find Rosa’s bird. It was on the bottom of the cage, not moving. Rosa picked it up in both hands, bounced it up and down. She looked sad. It didn’t move. She tried to remember its name and grunted a little. Then she got so mad she tore pieces of her face off. Now she can’t kiss so well, but I bet Rosa’s happier without the skin getting in her way. She gets to see real Rosa when she looks into the water.
Sometimes I think about peeling off the rest of my face. It’s mostly burnt up. It feels tight when I try to eat. I tried it once but Rosa stopped me. She likes me like I am. I like Rosa.
One bird seems sick. It walks slower than the others, has to take a rest. It walks over to Rosa, pecks at her leg. Rosa picks it up, looks it in the eye for a while. It doesn’t move, just rests and breathes. Then she hands it to me. I eat its head in one bite. It kicks for a while. The meat stays warm while I eat, all that kicking pumping the blood. I like it. I rasp while I eat. I see little cords in Rosa’s face twitch as she smiles. Rosa likes me.
The blue man doesn’t look well, but he shoots at us anyway. He holds his arm close like it hurts. He shoots Rosa, hits her knee. I bet Rosa can still dance though, just not very well. Probably.
He shoots the fat man. The fat man’s cards scatter everywhere. His daughter’s face blows away in the breeze. He smooshes his wife into the mud when he falls over. His brains are all torn up. They bounce in his blown up head when he falls over.
The big blue man almost falls down. Almost. Then he stands up again and shoots one more time. Shoots me.
Shoots me in the head.
I fall down. I don’t get back up.
Rosa’s fingers in my heart. I like Rosa. Like her in my heart.
She takes out the staples. Rosa liked the little girl too. She left pictures of the little girl hanging by the birdcage. Rosa with her face still on, standing next to the little girl. The little girl standing on a ball, holding a big shiny cup. Before they were both what we are now.
The staples glitter in the moonlight. Almost as bright as Rosa’s eyes.
I only see things, little things, but they’re going away. Going away. I’m going away. My brains are leaking out. All of me is going away.
Funny. Light on the staples. Rosa’s eyes. Living people don’t have any light in their eyes. Always blink it away.
All of me.
I like Rosa. Rosa likes me.
One day I get up. Rosa walks up to me, sits down and looks at me. I just sit there for a second before I start to crawl. Rosa crawls behind me.
After a little while I reach a puddle. Most of my head’s gone above my eyes. Big chunks of brain hang on my skull.
My brain. Big pieces of me. Don’t feel like mine anymore.
I shake my head, hard. Clear it out. I sling bits of brain on Rosa. She rasps, because she can’t remember how to laugh anymore.
Clear my head. Feel like me.
I get up, but it takes a while. I have to stop and think about it.
Think. Don’t know how to do that right now, but I guess I’ll learn.
I get up. I start walking into the woods.
The big blue guy is on his hands and knees. He’s looking into the river. Won’t see anything but foam. It’s the rapids we’re at now. I walk up to him. Rosa follows, though her heels get stuck in the mud.
The blue guy gets up, turns around. His mouth is open and he’s tilting his head. He’s gray. Veins around his eyes aren’t throbbing anymore, like they always did before.
He looks sad. He makes a little moan, reaches out to me. I push him in the water.
He just looks confused, but I don’t care. I don’t like him. I don’t want him in our camp. I don’t want him near Rosa.
He just keeps looking at me, even when the rocks break his ribs and flip him in the water. He just looks at me, and gets washed away. Maybe he’ll fall off a waterfall.
I turn around. Rosa gets her heels out of the mud, and walks with me until she’s ahead.
I follow Rosa. I’ll always follow Rosa. We have time now. We don’t have to run right now, like we always have to.
I like Rosa. Rosa likes me.
We shamble on. It’s gonna be dark, but not yet. The living won’t come right now. We have time to walk in the cool air, in our cool skin. We have time.
I touch the staples in my heart. I’m lucky. The living don’t have any in theirs.