The first thing to do is to fall in love. Pick anyone— man woman young old—you just need to lock eyes with a person, any person, the second you feel that bite.
No one comes back from it, but we know now that the only thing will let you fight that hunger is some other, more powerful emotion.
There’s a walk-in fridge in what used to be the diner. We keep it running with a generator and we keep it clean; when the cold kills them after a couple of weeks, we burn the bodies in a ditch out back. It happens so rarely now that we decided we can afford ourselves the luxury of a humane solution.
What you do when a siege comes is you grab another one turned like yourself, and the two of you think about hearts and sunsets or whatever, and you stagger off into the walk-in where you can go quietly in the cold without taking anyone else down with you.
If there’s an upside to this whole thing, it’s that no one dies alone, not anymore. There are few enough of us left now that when someone gets old or sick or injured, all the living come and rally around. The dead, well. We’ve learned how to give the dead to each other.
The things I miss about the before are simple. Greasy takeout noodles from Lang’s, Netflix marathons, hot baths with Epsom salts—Calgon, take me away! I consider myself lucky, I do. No husband, no kids to mourn. Most of the cats made it through alright and I feel more useful now than ever before. The library is a bunker of refuge and solace instead of a gathering place for the town’s public masturbators. I have a cozy little pallet behind the front desk. I keep everyone calm with Picoult and Austen. I trade the smutty bodice rippers for milk from Ernest Zimm’s goats.
When it first started happening I was basically counting down my minutes, but I’m still here. Still breathing. I have a roof and neighbors all around me and in some ways things are better now. I’ve taken to daydreaming what it would be like if I got bit. Who would be there with me? Who would meet their glassy eyes with mine and replace the horrors of this world with a single loving look? My body shivers just to think of it, though the nights are warm and growing warmer all the time.
We had a siege this morning, the first in almost a week. It was a small herd, more bone than flesh on the bodies. We took all of them out, easy, but one of the nurses, Kara Perkins, got bitten in the chaos. I was there when she turned. I saw her green eyes roll around like marbles. She clenched her jaw shut, just like we’d all trained ourselves to do. No one noticed at first, just me. We know you lose logic when you turn, but I swear I spotted a flicker of longing in her face, like, Oh, Abby Cormack, if only she’d turned, too. And then Kara did the strangest thing: she made off for the walk-in alone. A few of the men noticed, but if they were surprised, they didn’t show it. I watched Ernest herd Kara with the butt of his gun and say, good girl, that’s a girl. The other men followed him and closed her in there with the others from the last siege, the ones who were just days away from the ditch.
That night in the library, everyone was keyed up. We drank Shirley’s bathtub wine and gathered together in the main reading room, holding each other and singing and crying a little over Kara and the general state of things.
I slipped out and headed towards the diner. It was a starry night, and still, like all the noises of the town and the woods beyond had been sucked into the murmurs of life coming from the library.
The door to the walk-in fridge opened with a soft click. There was one bare bulb hanging from the ceiling. There were seven of them in there, Kara, and all the rest.
It wasn’t my first time going inside. It was safe enough to sit on the floor in my parka and watch the dead couples clinging to each other, barely animated, like undersea creatures drifting in the deep. It gave me a glowy feeling that I couldn’t find anywhere else. Hope mixed with sadness shot through with bolts of pure joy. It was like watching one of my favorite movies, but close up. It made me remember watching Leo and Kate on the big screen, whispering kiss out loud in the dark.
But with Kara in there it was different. Kara curled in a ball in the corner, her jaws gnawing the air, her just-turned body shivering, alone.
The way it was supposed to work was like how it does in the movies, like Noah’s Ark. Two by two.
In the before, I never worried much about being alone. I had my work, the cats. I had movies and baths and I ordered really good tea online and bought vintage pajamas on eBay and I just figured it would happen one day. One day when I wasn’t expecting it. Some business guy traveling through town who needed to glance at a newspaper at the circ desk. Some someone out there who would turn to me and say: you.
I scooted forward on the cold concrete floor and whispered Kara’s name.
She lurched towards me, nostrils flaring wide around my smell. The cold had slowed her down, but I could see the hunger there, barely contained.
I told her I was there for her. I told her this was all part of the plan.
I leaned in, my mouth just moments away from hers.
We trained for this, I told her.
We know exactly what to do.
currently lives in Portland, ME after spending seven glorious years in New Orleans. She earned her MFA from Rutgers – Newark in 2014 and her fiction has appeared or is forthcoming in Word Riot,SmokeLong Quarterly, Flash: The International Short-Short Story Magazine, NANO Fiction, The Los Angeles Review,
the Tin House
“Flash Fridays” feature, and elsewhere. Reach her and read more at www.caitlincorrigan.com