My dreams are getting worse. In times of stress or uncertainty, my subconscious seems to go into some sort of Freudian overdrive.
Last night, it was all about…zombies.
Every night, the same heavy, dragging sound approached the barricaded front door.
Then it stopped, followed by an ominous, waiting silence.
Every night since the end of the world, two weeks ago.
Katie would check the house, once, twice, thrice. She would check the boarded up windows, with curtains and sheets hammered into every conceivable crack and cranny. She would check all the doors, all boarded over and blocked with heavy furniture, save one.
Softly, ever so softly she would turn the handle of the lone door leading to the mad world outside, her hand slippery with sweat and fear that the silvery knob might actually turn, sliding clockwise and letting in the nightmares that shambled through the streets.
Thus far, the door remained locked, and every way in or out remained sealed.
Yet every night, there he was, standing in the darkest corner of her bedroom like the boogeyman, silver eyes shining in the candle glow.
Quietly she slipped between the sheets, and Stephen would ponderously tuck her into bed like a child. This had been a well-practiced routine between them, in the time Before. He used to be the night owl, staying up through the dark watches, and she was the early bird, getting up for a morning run just as he was climbing into bed.
But all of that was Before.
Before the apocalyptic winter.
Before the outbreak.
Now there were no morning runs, no late nights lounging in front of Netflix, no take out pizza nor drive through coffee kiosks.
During the last two weeks which had seen the end of the Internet, electricity, martial law, and basic human decency, she had remained huddled inside their sturdy brick brownstone.
Waiting for him.
And he had come, on the third day.
The bed squeaked as Stephen sat, then stiffly lay down. Fighting the qualms and the nausea, Katie rested her head on his stone collarbone, squeezing her eyes shut to forget what he was for just a moment despite herself.
The vacant stillness reminded her, as it always did–no drumbeat of life, no breath.
“Say the words,” she asked meekly, trembling. Stephen used to tell her “good night” every evening, stretching the word ‘good’ like taffy, turning it into a Frank Sinatra signature special until she laughed and laughed.
All of that seemed a long, long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away. Now she was trapped in the endless here and now, in this house, and it seemed she was here to stay. But…until when?
Katie did not have an answer.
Once she had dared to ask him, “Why aren’t you like the others?”
Interminable minutes crawled by while his eyes had simply shone, flat and silver-grey, before he rumbled, “Brains I have. It’s a heart I need.”
After that, he hadn’t spoken again, not more than the two words to complete their ironic bedtime ritual.
Katie had never been a heavy sleeper, and now was no different, lying next to what used to be a man, the only man she had ever wanted. But eventually she did sleep, and she dreamed of warm days, of summer and bare skin and blue sky.
In the morning, Stephen was gone.
She had known he would be, like always.
And, like always, she would check the house, every window and every door.
Afterwards, she crawled up into the attic, peeking out the tiny dormer window at the desolate street below. Craning to one side, she could just barely see into the living room of her next door neighbor, Kay the Crazy Cat Lady.
Today Kay’s bay windows were open. The boards were pulled down; Kay was sitting on an overstuffed floral chair, smeared with questionable brown stains and dragged close to the sill. With her grey hair falling loose around her face, the older lady was busily buffing and oiling something in her small hands, so puffy with arthritis that it was visible even from far away. Yet those industrious hands kept going, faster and faster, turning over whatever it was in her hands again and again.
Curiosity kept Katie watching. After all, there were no other appointments to keep, no work to get ready for, no friends to lunch with or fitness classes to attend.
After a short time Kay the Crazy Cat Lady stood up, slightly hunched over, and withdrew to the shadowy interior.
Katie held her breath. Where had she gone?
In a moment Kay reappeared, wrenching back the front door and throwing it wide open as she stepped onto her porch.
Miraculously, there was no one about, alive or undead.
The tiny old lady hobbled down the three wide steps, grasping desperately at the banister rail.
She reached the cracked sidewalk and then the driveway, lengthening her bow-legged stride with each wobbly step. Then Kay the Crazy Cat Lady, with a wide smile and a crowing, cackling laugh, pushed off on her left leg and proceeded to roller skate down the deserted neighborhood street.
Within seconds she was gone, beyond Katie’s limited view from the attic.
Katie sighed, feeling lonely and useless. She went back downstairs, listless but unable to make a plan, her mind shying away from any kind of decisions for the future, even one as suicidal as her lunatic neighbor.
She missed Stephen. He always knew what to do.
But he would be back, with the darkness and the shadows…as he was every night, without end.
Sweet dreams, readers!