Rosie ran into Darryl on Z-Day plus 84, when she finally had to venture out of her house in order to scavenge for supplies.
Seeing him lie among strewn and rotted vegetables in the neighborhood grocery store, clearly in the final stage of infection, she felt a glimmer of pity – but only a glimmer, and tempered with a certain feeling that she fought to avoid naming. It had been just after the outbreak of the virus, after all, and just a few weeks before the world went to hell, that he had mocked her for turning her house into a fortress when she had hosted him for dinner.
“Guns, Rosie, guns I can understand, I guess,” he had said. “And you’ve always been a safety nut. Bullet-proof windows, yadda yadda. But now you’re germ-proofing the place. Come on! The scientists say you can only get this virus from someone else’s blood.”
“Viruses mutate, Darryl,” she had replied, her spoon idly stirring her bowl of chickn noodle soup. “What if tomorrow, it can be spread by touch? Or what if, God forbid, it goes airborne? Where will you be then?”
He’d laughed. “Probably dead with the rest of the world.”
I guess he was right, Rosie thought to herself – right, or very nearly so. The amazing thing is that he lasted this long. Most people became zombies right away…and they’ve long since died out. Starved to death, the poor creatures.
He squinted up at her, trying to make out a face through the visor on her hazmat suit. “Help me…”
But there was nothing she could do. She knew that. No one had time to develop a cure once the outbreak went global. The most merciful thing she could do for him was to make him a little more comfortable. So she pulled him out of the vegetable heap and moved him to a shadier, cooler location in the back of the store.
As she turned to go, he grabbed at her arm. She could feel the band of the gaudy emerald ring he always wore on his middle finger. Instinctively, she pulled away. She knew that the hazmat suit would keep her safe, but still, the idea of him touching her was—
“Rosie,” he croaked.
She looked down at him, expressionless.
“Rosie, help me…”
No time to explain, no time to reason. She had to get home quickly, just in case. “I’m sorry, Darryl. I’ve done all I can do.”
She turned to go, but he grabbed her again and pulled her back down. Her head swung to meet his eyes.
“But I haven’t done all I can do,” Darryl whispered. “You’re leaving me to die. Don’t think I’ll forget that. I’m coming to get you, Rosie…”
Whatever pity she had for Darryl died at that point. She pulled away from his grip, and headed toward the canned food aisle. Once the cans were irradiated, the food inside would still be good. She wondered if there was any chicken noodle soup left.
There were several cans.
Rosie was sipping instant coffee and gazing out through her windows at the street when she suddenly realized that Darryl had been as good as his word. He’d come to get her. Standing outside in the yard, now fully a zombie, he was surveying her house with what Rosie was startled to realize looked almost like a purposeful eye.
Over the next couple of weeks, even as he wasted away, he tried everything he could think of to break in and reach her. Rocks wouldn’t crack the windows, of course, and there was no other opening through which he could hope to reach her. But she was surprised at his ingenuity to try and drive a truck straight at her walls. He couldn’t get past the makeshift concrete barrier she had set up, of course, but it was still clever.
Finally, he hit on the idea of a Molotov cocktail. Rosie walked outside with her gun while he was still fumbling with clumsy fingers to work the lighter, and shot him twice in the shoulder as a warning. He growled at her, bloodshot eyes narrowing, and slowly walked away. She didn’t see him again. Alive, or dead.
A month later, Rosie’s food ran out, and she had to make another trip to the grocery store. She had half-hoped to see Darryl again, but his body wasn’t there. She had to remind herself that he must have starved to death days ago, at a minimum.
Quickly she moved to the canned foods aisle, scavenging the good cans and pitching the bad into a pile at the end of the aisle. The soups were her last stop. Beef and veggies, of course. Tomato. Quite a few cans of chicken and dumplings…not her favorite, but she would have to start making do.
And one can of chicken noodle soup, tucked in the back of the shelf, something glinting next to it. Rosie reached out for it, then pulled her hand back and screamed sharply.
Someone had rigged a mousetrap next to the can, with a razor affixed to the bar. It had cut through her hazmat suit. That realization caused her to moan. On examination, the blade seemed to be stained with blood, and not just hers. Days-old dried blood, coating the razor, whatever had been in it now mingling with hers.
She reached into the shelf and pulled out the glinting object. It was a emerald, set into a large ring, which was still wrapped around a severed middle finger – a finger that looked as if it had been ripped out by force, perhaps to smear blood on a razor.
“Oh, no,” Rosie whispered. “Oh, Darryl, you bastard.”
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