He meets her in a back street; he meets her again in the burnt-out, looted remains of a Tesco; finally he finds her sitting in the third-floor flat he calls home, and he nearly shoots her in the head on reflex.
“I thought it was time we properly met,” she says.
“You get that half of the room,” he says, and then goes and punches the wall until his heartbeat has stopped thudding in his ears, until his knuckles are bloody all over again.
“Astounding,” she says.
“What?” he snaps.
“How you’ve survived so long with so little impulse control,” she says, and her gaze drops to the red smears where he’s wiped his hand on his trousers, and there’s something strange in her eyes.
“Don’t see how you’ve done it,” he says, “when you decide to drop in unannounced all the time,” and she smiles, smiles, smiles.
“So when did you end up here,” she asks.
This part of London is fire-burnt, soot-black; the window is broken, but there are no drainpipes, no climbing vines, no threat.
“How did you get in my window?” he asks.
“There’s more than one way to climb a wall,” she says, waving her hands at them. There’s a faint scratch across her knuckles, and she sees him looking at it and sighs, goes to the cabinet, pulls out the first-aid kit.
“My wife died,” he says, because she’s bandaging her knuckles, and that’s more care than she’s taken of herself in a while. She eats as if she’s starving, is awake when he goes to sleep and when he wakes. “At least I think she did. Her house was - burnt down, collapsed. There were bodies in the rubble.”
“But you don’t know that they were her,” she says, taping off the bandage.
“Well, no,” he says. “But I called her, and she didn’t answer, and she didn’t call me, so.”
“But you don’t know,” Alice says, pressing, and he snaps back, “Well, no, shall I go dig up the bones for you?”
“Touching,” she says, “but I’ll pass.”
He does tell her the story, eventually, of course.
The world ends on a Thursday; it stands to reason. Thursday always felt like the doldrums after the middle of the week, an interminable wait until the weekend.
On Thursday, the morgue doors begin to buckle from the inside out; the autopsy technician screams, a high, desperate sound, and it bubbles away to a rasp, to nothing. On Thursday, Rose Teller raids the evidence lockers for assault weapons, and hands them out to the stenographer who’s visiting and the officers and the desk workers, and they wait until the scratching goes quiet and then Ripley slides up to the morgue doors, slow and quiet, and jams his hand down on the handle and twists.
It’s not as if there are shadows; the morgue is brightly lit, and that hasn’t changed. The lockers on the opposite wall clatter and clang, and something - shroud-wrapped, ungainly, like a baby taking its first steps - leans heavily on the counter and steps towards them, uncertain.
It’s very dead, of course, and they see that when it steps on the shroud and tumbles forward; it was a woman, killed in a domestic, the jagged edges in her throat still gaping, still bloodless.
The gunfire is deafening; a window blows out; the corpse jerks and jerks in a parody of puppetry. A fine mist rises from its remains.
“As of now,” Rose Teller says, “you can all consider yourself on leave, and if you take the guns I’m not bloody stopping you. Canned food might be a good idea,” she adds, and she stands there, makes sure every single one of them gets out safely, and it’s only then that she allows herself to sag against the wall, rubbing at her eyes.
“You should go home,” John says. “I know you’ve got other people to warn.”
“And you haven’t?” she asks. “What about Zoe?”
“I’ll call her,” he says. “Not leaving you here, though.”
“Fair enough,” she says, and disappears into the evidence room again, re-emerges with a jerrycan and a blowtorch.
John raises an eyebrow, and she shrugs a little defensively. “It’s what you’re meant to do, isn’t it?” she says. “I don’t care if I’m the first one to say it, but that looks pretty damn undead to me, and my job is to make sure it doesn’t get right back up.”
John smiles. That’s Rose Teller, right there, looking death in the face and flipping it the bird.
Once they’re outside, he hugs her. Who knows? It might be the last time, and god knows he owes her enough.
The flames are still visible, flickering in the window, smoke beginning to squeeze through the cracks, when he looks back from halfway down the street.
“An eye for an eye,” she says, when he finishes.
Her world ends on a Monday, after the Thursday.
She comes home and her door is torn off its hinges; there is blood in the hallway and blood on the stairs and her dog snarls at her with a mad light in his eyes, blood matted in his fur.
Her parents are, of course, long dead; she never finds out if it was her dog, or a wayward visitor, whose eyes glazed over before the kettle boiled.
When the police come, she is standing, shaking, red, terrible, red.
He asks about the bandages on her arm once.
“Did you -” and he stops, unsure what to say. On weekends, he used to play Russian roulette against himself; that was before the world became one long spin of the chamber, one long game of odds.
“No,” she says, and that’s it, until one day something else figures out how she got in, and.
He’s asleep, and she’s awake, and it comes through the window, gangly, skin and bone.
He wakes up when she grabs it by the back of the neck and smashes its head into the floor again and again and again; she is red, red, red.
There is red on her eyelids and red on her lips and he knows, he knows what happens next, he’s seen it too many times to not know.
She looks up at him just as he levels the gun at her forehead, safety off, finger on the trigger. Aim to kill, shoot to kill again. She will die twice.
Alice holds up hands spattered red to the wrist.
“There’s something I would like to show you,” she says, “if you wouldn’t mind waiting a minute.”
“Only a minute,” John says.
Her face is white and terrible in the gloom, her eyes black, her lips speckled with blood. Her hands are almost luminous, and she reaches for the bandages around her knuckles, her forearm, unravels them, twists them apart.
The crescent of the bite is black, mottled, bruised; old, old, old.
“You once told me that you didn’t know how I’d survived,” she said, “I suppose lying by omission is still a lie, isn’t it?”
The gun is cold; he feels it leach the warmth from his hands; he looks at her in the darkness and closes his eyes, clicks the safety back on.
“Suppose I would really have killed you, then,” he says, “that first day, when you were sitting there.”
“You can climb down a wall as well,” she says. “That’s the bigger secret, isn’t it, now we’re all dead men walking?”
“Show me,” he says, and she does.
“Your heart beats,” she says, “show me,” and he does, presses her hand to his chest.
“We’ll make it,” he says, “show me,” and they do.