The Allen boys from down the way had been by that afternoon with one of their mum’s chicken pies and news of zombies.
“Pastor says all the fresh graves have been harvested,” the older Allen boy relayed in a slightly detached manner, as if he were discussing a storm front moving in. “Everybody in the last six month.”
“Our cow got et,” said the little boy, looking up with eyes wide in his dirt-smudged face. “Her brains got all smashed in and et. We’re smoking her today.”
Now, in the dark past twilight, the Widow Branson sat completely still in the rocking chair on the front porch of her sturdy little house, a shotgun lying on the apron across her knees. A revolver rested in a holster on a belt about her waist.
There was a rustle by the barn. She stood, raised the shotgun to her shoulder, and fired. Something fell over, probably startled by the noise.
“I know you’re there, Avery,” she called. “Don’t bother faking.”
A familiar laugh rang out as a male figure pulled itself up by the doors of the barn. “You were never much good with a shotgun, Lillian,” Avery said, approaching the house.
“I see your feet found their way home,” Lillian said, pursing her lips and training the shotgun on Avery as he approached.
“Even without a brain, my body knows where to go,” he replied. He came up the porch and lit the lantern. “You know where your home is. Where your wife is.”
He didn’t look terrible for having been dead five months. His clothes were mostly covering everything and his beard was longer. It was the fingernails that reminded Lillian to raise the gun to her dead husband’s heart and say, “Don’t you come any closer. I’ll blow you straight to Hell.”
“Oh Lillian – my Lilly of the Valley,” he said, smiling, “You’ll do no such thing.”
“I will – if you come one step closer,” she said calmly. “Set yourself down in that chair,” –gesturing at the rocking chair that, while he lived, had been his – “And we’ll have a chat.”
He sat. She remained standing, shotgun trained on his heart.
“You know why I’m here,” he said quietly. “We talked about this before.”
Before. Before he died of the fever that raged through their small community five, six months ago. Before, when being separated by death seemed, perhaps, surmountable. Before, when the zombie phenomenon was heralded by the clergy as a closing of both heaven and hell – a statement that this place was all there was to be.
“I know,” she said quietly. Their secret dream then, spoken only between them in bed away from listening ears, to be together not only until parted by death – but after!
“But we thought we’d both die of that fever,” she said. “I’m not dead. You are. You’re the one who’s bashing in cows' skulls to get brains. I’m still living, breathing. I’m only twenty-eight, Avery. I could marry, have children, have a full life.”
“You’re already married,” he snapped, leaning forward in the chair and gripping the armrests tightly. She raised the gun. He grabbed the barrel and threw the shotgun to the ground, grabbing her hard by the shoulders.
“I would have just taken the cow, Lilly,” he hissed, his breath cold against her neck. “I would have given you time to get used to the idea, and then to drink yourself into a stupor if you wanted, but now – ” he paused, noticed she was shaking and smiled. “Now, my wife, I’ll just eat your brains. It’s time to join your husband, my love.”
She looked straight into his eyes and could not see him in them. Then she pressed the revolver into his chest and shot him through the heart.
The pastor found her sitting on the wooden floor of the porch the next morning, Avery’s body sprawled out before her where he fell.
“Oh my child,” the pastor said in quiet horror. “Oh my poor child.”
“He found his way home,” Lillian whispered, staring blankly at her husband’s corpse. “He found his way home, and I killed him.” She turned and looked up at the pastor with tear-filled eyes. “I was so afraid!”
The pastor placed a comforting hand on her shoulder and sat down on the steps, beside her. “We don’t truly know why the zombie plague has come upon us,” he said gravely. “We are still learning how they propagate and how they behave. Some are truly mindless. Others focus on someone or someplace from their living days.”
“But what if heaven and hell truly are closed?” she asked quietly. “What if I destroyed his afterlife?”
“Those of us still on this earth cannot know what there may be beyond,” the pastor said. “We can hope and we can pray.”
They were quiet for a time.
“You did the right thing,” the pastor said.
“I hope so.”