It was the fall of 2009 and New York City was a tough place to be: a pandemic that was slowly seizing the whole world had started in Brooklyn, and people were afraid to go outside.
"Ted, why are you in your pajamas? Shouldn't you be going to work?" Robin asked as she shut the apartment door behind her and pulled off her jacket.
Ted changed the channel, not even bothering to look at her. "Took a sick day. What with the zombies and all."
Robin scoffed. "They're not zombies, Ted, it's like SARS or something. Just wash your hands and you won't catch it."
Ted found CNN and turned up the volume, giving her a pointed look as the newscaster delivered breaking news, his tone growing more desperate with every word.
"Scientists have captured specimens of the infected and are performing tests. Preliminary findings suggest that the outbreak is not an aggressive strain of the influenza virus as previously thought, but in fact the disease turns humans into animated corpses which hunger for human flesh.
"Health officials say that the virus is not airborne but can be spread in the manner of bloodborne pathogens, through infected blood or other bodily fluids. The WHO cautions anyone with open wounds to cover them carefully and avoid physical contact with anyone believed to be infected."
"Zombies," he said, pointing at the TV as it cut to a commercial for toilet paper.
Robin opened her mouth to respond, but just then the door burst open to reveal Barney.
"Did you see the news?" he demanded, dropping himself into the armchair. "A zombie apocalypse, Ted! It's really happening!"
Ted smiled far too cheerfully at Robin, who had shut her mouth and settled for frowning. "I know, right? I didn't think zombies were even scientifically possible."
"Well, Ted, I supervised a project once.... Never mind, that's classified." He frowned suddenly, turning and gazing vaguely out the windows. "What was the timeline on testing for that, anyway?" he muttered, growing quiet as he counted off on a few fingers. Finally he shrugged. "Whatever. Zombies, Ted! Think of the possibilities!"
"The end of the world is a desperate time! All those women walking around out there, thinking about all the things they didn't have time to do before they die tragically! Like having a lot of wild, kinky, uninhibited sex." He stood up. "Sorry guys, I'd love to spend the apocalypse hanging out and stuff but I have a full schedule of bucket lists to help with. Hey, do you have a baseball bat? I need to go raid a Walgreen's."
"The apocalypse?" Robin said when Barney had left, Ted's old Louisville Slugger in hand. "Isn't that a bit premature?"
Ted leaned back into the couch and crossed his arms. "Exactly what the grasshopper said to the ant. Well, minus the apocalypse part."
Robin shrugged and got up, disappearing into her room.
It turned out that Barney had the right idea, because a few days later things were looking grim for humanity.
The apartment door banged open and Marshall and Lily fell inside, scrambling to shut and lock it behind them. They both looked bedraggled and Marshall's jacket was torn at the shoulder.
"Ted! It's getting insane!" Marshall cried. "We just got assaulted by some old lady on the street!"
"We think she was a zombie," Lily hissed.
Ted was on the couch, in his robe and pajamas. "Yeah?"
"She was all groaning and stumbling and stuff. Hey, come to the window and look outside."
The TV was useless by then (no more cable and no one left to work at the stations), so they wound up dragging the couch over to the windows, to sit and watch the carnage below.
"Oh God, that zombie lady just attacked that other lady!" Ted gasped, peering through his fingers.
Lily craned her neck to see where he was looking. "No," she said slowly, "that's not a zombie."
"What? Yes it is! Look at the savagery!"
She shook her head authoritatively. "No, look, she's got her on the ground now and she's stealing her boots. Those are nice boots; I approve," she mused. "Come on! Take the bag, too!"
Ted and Marshall exchanged a nervous look.
"Hey, if you're going to loot, go all the way," Robin said, coming up behind them to lean on the back of the couch.
"Thank you, Robin," Lily said. "They've clearly never seen a really good end-of-season sale before."
"Oh hey," Ted said, changing the subject quickly, "I think that's Barney."
Robin climbed over to sit on the couch and they all watched as he zigzagged from mailbox to newsstand to garbage can, darting across the road until he vanished under the window to enter the building. He burst in the door shortly after that.
"Hey guys, what's up?" he said, leaning Ted's red-stained bat against the wall and sauntering over to the displaced couch. He peered out the window. "It's a crazy world out there."
"Why are you wearing a camouflage suit?" Ted asked.
Barney grinned, adjusting his tie. "Urban camouflage," he said. "I have more reasons to move stealthily now when I leave a girl's apartment, so I decided to be prepared." The whole thing was a ridiculous, pixellated mix of greys and browns and yet somehow he pulled it off. No one wanted to know where he'd had it made.
"Guys," Marshall said suddenly, still staring out the window, "you know what I just realized? We can never leave this apartment again. We're stuck here. Through the apocalypse."
Lily looked horrified. "But Ted's nearly out of beer!"
"Well, what else can we do, Lily?" he said, clutching at her hand. "We have no weapons! How are we supposed to fight those things?"
Robin sighed. "Has it come to this? I guess it has." She stood up. "Everyone, follow me." She stepped over the back of the couch and disappeared into her bedroom.
The others looked at each other for a moment, and then followed.
"Here we are," she said, opening her closet door all the way. Her clothes, neatly hung, only filled half the space; the rest was taken up by a black-painted gun cabinet and several boxes.
Ted gasped. "You said you didn't have any guns in the apartment!" he accused.
"Yeah, whatever, Ted, why don't you save your moral outrage for after we all survive the apocalypse," Barney said, pushing him aside. "What've you got in there?"
Robin pulled a key on a chain out of her shirt and unlocked the cabinet, revealing several rifles, a shotgun and some handguns, neatly arranged and gleaming. Boxes of ammunition were stacked beside them. "I've also got some bladed weapons, camouflage gear and a couple of tac vests in the boxes, along with some other stuff," she said casually.
Ted sputtered. Everyone else pressed forward.
"Robin, this is a whole apocalypse survival kit!" Marshall said excitedly.
"Uh huh. Old habits die hard. It just feels safer keeping it around, you know?"
Everyone looked at her, wondering who was going to ask the question.
"What?" she asked, and then laughed. "Oh, wait. This is another one of those little cultural differences, isn't it? You guys!"
"Is... this normal, in Canada?" Lily asked in a tiny voice.
"Oh God, yes, ever since that thing with the bears and the DEW Line, during Mulroney. We all joke about it now, but everyone still has their survival kit. Being able to field-dress a moose in the snow is only one of many skills, you know."
"So!" Barney said loudly into the awkward silence that followed, changing the subject. He pointed at a rifle. "Can I have that one?"
I wasn't crazy about it, but every day saw fewer people on the streets and more hordes of stumbling undead, so the only smart move was to arm ourselves. Robin took everyone up to the roof for a crash course in shooting. Some of us were more successful than others.
"And you guys thought I was crazy for playing all that laser tag," Barney chuckled as he sighted down his rifle. "Who's crazy now?" He fired off a shot that pinged a tin can on the opposite ledge.
"Still you, Barney," Ted said from his lawn chair, eyeing the pile of weapons and ammunition stacked beside him. The sounds of gunfire had attracted some zombies below and their groans and wails wafted up faintly from the street level, almost melodic.
"Just exhale as you pull the trigger. Keep your eye on the target," Robin said, crouched behind Marshall as he squinted at an ancient can of soup that everyone had been scared to eat for over a year but hadn't bothered to throw out yet.
He breathed out through his mouth and squeezed the trigger; the can exploded with a dull pop, spraying tomato soup everywhere. "Headshot!" he whooped immediately, thrusting his gun up in the air with both hands before standing up and doing an endzone dance.
Robin blinked at him for a moment, and then reached out to pat him awkwardly on the shoulder. "Good--good job, Marshall," she managed.
Lily had been hesitant to try at first but had quickly moved from handguns up to rifles and was now gleefully blasting away at some empty beer bottles with the shotgun.
"Take that, you motherfuckers!" she screamed, obliterating two bottles at once with a one-handed shot. She wheeled on Robin as she approached. "This is so much fun! Let's go kill something!"
Robin gently pried the gun from her grip. "Maybe later, Lil. Let's just have a little rest for now, okay?"
Lily pouted for a minute, but then went to watch Marshall and give him tips.
"Come on, Ted," Robin said. "You haven't tried it yet."
Ted crossed his arms. "I'm a pacifist."
Marshall snorted. "No, you're not. And anyway, they aren't people. Your argument has no bearing on the facts of the situation. Lawyered!" he said, pointing fiercely. Lily patted him on the arm and he went back to his target practice.
"Ted," Robin said, "no one wants to see you be zombie snacks. You need to defend yourself."
Ted and Robin stared each other down, but when the other three joined in, he caved.
"Fine." He hauled himself out of his chair. "Got anything with a full metal jacket?" he said with a sly wink.
"No, Ted." Robin handed him a revolver that fit in his palm. "We'll start you with the training wheels."
We lasted another week in the apartment before we ran out of fresh food--and worse, beer. After a lot of discussion, we decided as a group to go out and look for supplies. It didn't go well.
"This is the worst trip to D'Agostino ever!" Ted screamed, beating at a zombie with his baseball bat.
"Aim for the head, Ted!" Marshall called. A zombie cashier took a swipe at him and he blew a hole in it with the shotgun.
Things were dire. While the store had looked safe enough when they'd gotten there, they'd only had ten minutes to loot before a pack of zombies showed up and boxed them in. There were fifteen, twenty of the things now, and they found themselves backing into a tight circle, weapons aimed outwards and options dwindling.
"Cover me!" Robin shouted, dropping to the floor and rummaging through their supplies. Barney and Lily moved to her defence, and after a moment she was back on her feet. In one hand she held a lighter, and in the other one a vodka bottle with the mouth crammed full of matches.
"I really hope this works," she said. "All right; when I throw this, everybody run like hell." And with that, she ignited the matches and threw her makeshift Molotov cocktail into the thickest part of the zombie crowd, between them and the door.
There was a whoosh of air that blew hotly on their faces as the bottle exploded, and then four undead disappeared in a fireball. The mob of zombies scattered as the flames spread, catching on their dry, filthy flesh, and it was easy enough to penetrate the weak point, shooting and swinging bats and blades and screaming as they broke for the door.
"Where do we go?" Lily screamed as they crashed outside into the sunshine.
"Home! Follow me!" Ted yelled, taking initiative for once and leading the charge, his bat held down at his side as he raced through the empty streets.
He skidded to a stop at the foot of the stairs to their building, patting at his pockets. "Robin, do you have your keys?"
She handed Lily her rifle and dug into her pockets. "I did," she said. "Where did they.... I dropped them!" She turned helplessly back toward D'Ag, flailing a little.
"Well... what do we do? Break in?" Lily asked.
Barney shook his head. "That'll weaken our defences." He looked to his left. "MacLaren's!" he said, pointing. "It's underground, easy to defend...."
"And there's alcohol in there!" Lily exclaimed, charging down the stairs with her gun out in front of her. She kicked in the door and disappeared for a moment.
"All clear!" she called out finally, and the others followed her in, dragging what loot they'd managed to grab in the run from the grocery store. After shutting and barricading the door behind them, they made straight for their booth with a collective sigh.
"Is everyone okay?" Robin said, sagging against the back of the booth and burying her fingers in her hair.
"That was a close one," Barney said as he dragged a chair over and dropped into it.
"Um," Marshall said. Everyone looked at him.
"I have a bit of a scratch." He held up his arm. It was oozing blood.
"Jesus, Marshall, is that a zombie bite?" Ted rose half out of his seat in alarm.
"I didn't really notice it at the time, with all the adrenaline and screaming. It only started to hurt when we got outside," he said, staring at his wound thoughtfully.
Lily clutched at his arm. "Well, how much time do you think we have?"
"Should we chop off his arm?" Ted said.
Everyone glared at him.
"What? It might stop the infection! Would you rather be a zombie, or alive with one arm?"
Barney shook his head thoughtfully. "No, the infection spreads much faster than that once it hits the bloodstream. It's probably too late already to stop it that way." He paused. "I think. It's not like I've... seen research on this. Who wants a drink?" he said quickly, standing up.
Lily's lip began to quiver. "But... Marshmallow!"
Marshall hugged her with his good arm. "It's okay, Lil, no one's gonna chop me up. We'll be fine."
Everyone else shared a look.
"You're damn right no one will," she growled from where her face was buried in his chest. "If anyone lays a hand on you, I will end them."
Everyone else shared another look, a much more nervous one. Lily did have a gun.
"Who's out there?" a voice cut in suddenly, interrupting the conversation. There was a noise from the bathroom door and Robin was pointing a revolver at it as it opened.
The voice belonged to a blonde woman with a knife. She was dirty and bruised. "You're people?" she asked, squinting.
Robin twitched a little but put the gun down, slowly. "Are you alone?" she asked.
The woman nodded, still frozen in the doorway. Ted smiled at her hesitantly, holding up his hands.
"We have some food. You hungry?" he asked.
"We have guns, too!" Lily added.
The woman studied them all for a moment, the four in the booth and Barney, who was halfway back from the bar with a bottle of scotch and five glasses in his hand, and then she slowly edged out of the bathroom. Her knuckles were white around the handle of her machete.
Barney dragged over a chair, settling it between him and Ted (away from Marshall, everyone avoided thinking). "What's your name?" He wasn't even leering at her, just looking friendlier and more non-threatening than anyone might have thought he was capable of.
"Laura," she said, managing a weak smile.
And that, kids, is how I met your mother. Now, go grab your tasers; it's time to feed Uncle Marshall and Aunt Lily isn't as fast as she used to be. When that's done, we're going to forage for some dinner.