Gary kills Olympia, and he kills Cheryl, and he kills Tom.
Underneath the blanket, Malorie’s world narrows down to the babies. Their pink crumpled faces, their wailing cries. Tiny and perfect and fragile.
She hears an explosion rip through the room. Silence. Then the unmistakeable thunk of a shotgun hitting the floor.
“I said we shouldn’t have let him in.”
She gasps, her breaths ragged.
“Your knight in shining armour.”
For some reason, that makes her laugh – a dry, hollow thing she doesn’t recognise. Douglas reaches the bed, covers them all with a blanket. He looks at the children.
“Are they alright?”
“Yeah. Yeah, I got them. I got them.”
“Oh, good,” he says, with quiet sarcasm, “I’m sure they’ll be a big help.”
Malorie looks up at him, her eyelashes studded with tears. His face softens.
“Go downstairs. I need to board these windows up.”
She nods weakly, bundles the babies up in her arms.
Padding downstairs, she passes Tom, lying on his back, scissors sticking out of his chest. And Gary… Gary is slumped against the wall, skull blown open, crimson blood dripping into his eyes like spilt paint. Those eyes. Those eyes are so wide and so, so empty.
Malorie sits, for a long, long time. It’s just her now. Her, and two babies, and Douglas. Douglas, who thinks everything is a huge mistake, who’s never wrong, who’s making the end of the world great again.
She wishes it were anyone else.
Tom would have defended her, protected her, kept her and the babies safe. Cheryl would have led the way, her will of steel swathed in motherly advice and affection. And Olympia… she and Olympia would have been two new mothers against the world. They would have kept each other strong.
“I suppose you’re wishing you were left with the handsome, heroic one,” Douglas says.
Malorie looks at him. He looks two-am tired to the bones, and a hell of a lot better than being on her own. She smiles wryly.
Malorie wakes up to sunlight straining through the blinds, and she can’t find Douglas. He left, she thinks wildly. The bastard has left her, on her own, with two babies. She paces up and down, her heart thudding in her chest.
She hears a car outside, and the blood freezes in her veins. She thinks about Gary. She thinks about his eyes. She thinks there are more like him out there.
“Shit,” she whispers, “Shit, shit, shit.”
She runs back to the bedroom. The babies are stirring, and she shushes them, holds them both to her chest.
“It’s okay, it’s okay,” she says, running down the stairs.
She hears the garage door open, and a car pull in. She freezes.
“Son of a bitch,” she mutters under her breath.
It’s Douglas. He steps out of a car with papered-over windows – stolen, she guesses – and she wants to scream and hit him, yell never do that to me again.
“I thought you were gone,” she says, her voice shaky.
“I didn’t want to wake you.”
She’s crying. She crying, and it’s because she’s angry, and that just makes her angrier.
“Is this hormones,” Douglas says, “Or…?”
“I was scared.”
Douglas pops the boot. It’s crammed full of nappies, formula milk, and baby clothes.
“I think I was the first to raid Mothercare.”
She opens her mouth, closes it.
“I… Thank you.”
Later, Malorie picks through the post-apocalyptic baby shower. Douglas is on the sofa nursing a whiskey, the babies asleep next to him.
“What’s this?” she says, holding up a couple of complicated-looking pieces of fabric.
They’re baby wraps, she realises.
“In case we need to leave here one day.”
She moves over, kisses him on the cheek.
“Not that I don’t always deserve to be kissed, but what was that particular one for?”
“For… all of this.”
“Well, we appear to be running a daycare at the end of the world.”
He looks at the babies.
“I never asked. Which one is yours?”
She looks at them, wrapped up in a blanket like they belong together, like they’ve shared the same womb.
“They both are.”
“This is beneath me,” Douglas says, the first time he changes a nappy.
“Really?” says Malorie, “The three hundred times I did it were a privilege.”
“I didn’t get myself pregnant.”
“Stranger things have happened, don’t speak too soon.”
Douglas plonks the boy into Malorie’s arms.
Malorie inspects the nappy, expertly pinned in place.
“It’s not the first time you’ve done this.”
“I didn’t think I’d be doing it again.”
“Well, that’s what happens when you shack up with a much younger woman.”
“Much younger? Really?”
That makes her smile, despite herself.
It’s a couple of weeks before they’re woken up in the middle of the night by someone banging on the front door.
“Is anyone there? Please, please help me!”
It’s a woman. She sounds young, and desperate, and Malorie remembers Olympia. She gets up and goes downstairs.
Douglas grabs her by the wrist.
“What are you doing?”
“Get off of me!” Malorie cries, wrenching her hand away, “She needs our help.”
“So did Gary.”
“So did Olympia.”
“Both of whom are dead.”
He cages her against the wall, arms either side of her head, and she suddenly realises how tall he is.
“Malorie, we cannot answer that door. We can never answer that door.”
The banging gets more insistent.
“Please help me, I think they’re coming!” the girl screams.
“Listen to her, she’s terrified,” Malorie says.
“What if she’s one of them?”
“Think you can’t handle a girl?”
“Can you? Can the children?”
He leans closer.
“Call me a coward. But I will not risk losing you. I know you can do this without me, Malorie, but I cannot do it without you.”
She covers her face with her hands.
“Okay,” she says, “Okay.”
She presses her face into his chest, feels small and scared.
The girl isn’t the only one who comes. They never let them in, of course. Malorie can still hear their screams when she closes her eyes.
Somehow, life finds a rhythm. The babies need so much and she can never stop giving. It’s tough, and it’s mind numbing, and she thinks she’d have gone mad without it. They change and grow, every day something new. Their first smiles, laughs, steps, ordinary but miraculous, a reason to keep fighting, to live, to win. Malorie loves them more than she can say, and it feels as if her heart is breaking.
Douglas reads to them at bedtime. She always watches. After everything that’s happened, it seems like something mythical. Something that people used to do, long-forgotten.
“Careful,” she says, “I’ll start thinking you have a heart.”
“I wasn’t a good father, the first time,” he says, “Or the second.”
You’re doing a pretty good job now, she thinks, but doesn’t say.
They sure up the house. They stockpile medicines, they put up wind chimes, they cover the beds with sheets, hooked to the ceiling like mosquito nets. The babies sleep with Malorie, because she can’t imagine leaving them alone, can’t imagine ever letting them out of arm’s reach.
Douglas does the supply runs. It terrifies her each time he leaves. She waits at home, trying the radio, listening out for a signal from someone else left alive. She turns it off when she hears the car. She doesn’t need anyone else.
Douglas finds Gary’s drawings. He pins them to the wall of his office, says they could give them clues about the creatures – what they are, how they work. How to beat them. He trawls through web forums, makes notes, makes a map of attacks, tries to piece it all together.
“They came from somewhere,” he says, late one night with an empty bottle in his hand, “There’s an explanation for all of this.”
“You need to sleep,” Malorie says.
He nods weakly, his eyes red, lets her take his hand and lead him to bed. There’s a photograph of Lydia on his bedside table, as well as her wedding ring, rescued from her blackened fingers.
“Stay,” he says.
Malorie pretends not to hear it.
Quietly, a year passes. They’re in the kitchen when the clock turns to midnight.
“We officially did it,” Malorie says, “One year.”
“And you haven’t killed me yet. That is something to celebrate.”
Douglas goes to the cupboard where he keeps the whiskey.
“Well,” Malorie says, “Just wait ‘til the honeymoon phase is over.”
He pours two glasses, neat.
“Is that when the sex stops, and the resentment kicks in?”
“I think that’s already happened.”
He slides her glass over.
“Remember the first time we did this?”
“You were such an asshole.”
“You know,” she says, “I still hope there is more.”
He holds his glass aloft.
“Here’s to hoping there is more.”