Alicia and Chris wait far longer to leave the parking garage than they should. They almost wait too long.
After 25 minutes, Alicia opens the door and listens. She can hear shouting and banging and underneath all that noise, the low level hum of the horde they released from the stadium. She opens the door further, and Chris pushes it back closed.
“What are you doing?”
“We have to go,” Alicia says.
“I’m not leaving my mom or dad.” Chris is almost in tears. The bruise on his face is turning purple. “What about your mom? Your brother? Don’t tell me you can just leave them.”
Alicia feels exactly like she felt when she was seven years old and watching orderlies wheel her dad into the operating room, the same way she felt the first time Nick came home high, the way she felt when she left Matt in his bed to die alone.
“We have to go,” she repeats. “Now.”
Chris shakes his head. “I’m not leaving them.”
“Yes, you are. We both are.” She blinks hard and swallows down the lump in her throat. “If they could make it back to us, they would be here already. If we don’t leave now, we’re dying here. Come on.” Alicia flings open the door, and Chris follows her.
Getting out of that compound alive is a miracle Alicia will later wonder if she deserves. They find the SUV just outside the parking garage—the door flung open, the keys dangling from the ignition, and the soldiers who took it from them nowhere to be seen. People are everywhere in the distance. Alicia can’t tell who’s dead and who’s alive, so she stops worrying about running into people and just plows through the crowd. Overhead, a chopper circles twice before flying away.
Alicia doesn’t tell Chris, not then, but she sees Nick on the way out, his arm ripped off, his neck twisted at an unnatural angle. He’s gnawing on a black man’s stomach alongside a blonde head that might turn out to be her mom’s if Alicia looks too long, so she stops looking and drives.
They hole up in a two-story house a few blocks from the ocean. The yard is fenced in, and the windows are barred. Alicia doesn’t feel safe there, exactly, more like less about to immediately die, but she doubts she’ll ever feel safe again anyway.
At least the people who used to live here had the decency to die in the backyard instead of in the house. Alicia’s noticed that the dead people are drawn to noise, so they can’t just let Mr. and Mrs. Johnson keep staggering around the bird fountain and moaning for long, but first things first. They spend that first day taking inventory of food and supplies. Water’s going to be a problem eventually, but the pantry is stacked with flats of bottled water that should last them a good long time if they’re careful. They’ve got slightly moldy bread and canned goods and some other stuff they can cook on the camp stove Chris finds on a shelf in the garage. Alicia even discovers a bag of oranges and apples in the fridge that are still edible, but everything else is a bust. Mrs. Johnson is thankfully pre-menopausal and has stocked both bathrooms with enough tampons and pads to last Alicia until Christmas. The medicine cabinet is pretty well-equipped, too. As long as nothing major happens, they should be okay here for weeks, maybe even months.
“Do you think we should empty the fridge?” Chris says.
“No,” Alicia says. “I think we should just never open it ever again.”
Chris breaks down some cardboard boxes from the recycling bin and tapes them over the ground floor windows so that the light from the candles they find in the hall closet can’t be seen from the street while Alicia hunts for the can opener.
“Why does nobody ever say the z-word?” Chris says through a mouthful of the chicken and stars he’s eating straight from the can. “Whole world full of the walking dead, and nobody ever calls them zombies. They’re always the infected.”
“What does it matter what we call them?” Alicia says. “Either way, they’re freaking dead.”
“Because words matter,” Chris says. “Infected people have a disease that can be cured or at least identified. Zombies are just . . . out of this world. Supernatural. Nothing we can ever fix or stop. Just something we have to figure out how to live with. If that’s even possible.”
Alicia says, “Live with zombies? Good luck with that.”
Chris snorts, and scarfs down some more soup. In the silence that follows, Alicia suddenly realizes that Chris is the closest thing she’s got to family at this point. She forces herself to eat another bite of vegetable beef. She’s made it this far with dry eyes; she’s not going to start crying now.
She must not be hiding her feelings very well because Chris looks up at her and says, “They’re not dead. They’re not. We’ll give it some time, let things die down a little, and then we’ll go back for them.”
Alicia takes a shuddery breath and tries very, very hard not to scream. “I know Nick is dead. I saw him. He was one of them. Maybe Mom, too. I don’t know. I couldn’t tell for sure.” She scrapes the last bite of soup out of the can. “We’re not going back there, Chris.”
“My mom and dad might still be alive.”
“They might be,” Alicia says. “I don’t think they are, but they might be. We still can’t go back.”
“What is wrong with you? How can you say that?”
“Because we barely made it out of there. We have no weapons. We don’t know how to use them even if we did, and we can’t just drive through three thousand zombies to check and see if your parents are still alive. The universe gave us a one-time-only deal, and you know it.” Alicia realizes she’s started crying without meaning to, tears running down her cheeks and splashing into the empty soup can she’s still holding.
“No,” Chris says. “No, you’re wrong.” He’s crying, too, now—ugly sobs that echo off the linoleum. He picks up the empty vase on the table and raises it high over his head.
Alicia says, “I wouldn’t. Not unless you feel like sweeping.”
Chris looks at her the way he used to look at her mom, and then he sets the vase down carefully in the middle of the table and storms up the stairs. Alicia puts their cans in the trash, wipes the dirty spoons on a dishtowel, and cries herself to sleep on the living room sofa.
When Alicia wakes up, Chris is sitting on the end of the sofa. He looks like shit. “You’re right. We can’t go back,” he says.
Alicia waits until after breakfast to bring up Mr. and Mrs. Johnson. “What do you expect us to do?” Chris says. “We don’t have guns.”
“Probably a bad idea to use one even if we did. Gunshots can be heard for miles. We want to stay under the radar. We weren’t only running away from zombies yesterday.”
“Okay, so guns are a bad idea. How in the hell do you expect us to kill two zombies with no weapons?” Chris laughs, this hollow scared sound that makes Alicia reach out and grab his hand. “I don’t know about you, but I spent a lot of time trying to convince my mom and dad that I’m not a kid anymore, that I know what I’m doing and I don’t need them anymore. I was really, really wrong.”
In the end, they wait until the sun goes down and stand outside the chain link fence, calling softly until the Johnsons notice them. Alicia stabs Mrs. Johnson in the eye with an ice pick, and Chris bashes Mr. Johnson over the head with a golf club until he stops moving. Alicia stabs him in the head, too, just to be sure. They drag the bodies outside the fence, and this time they fall asleep in the same room, Chris’s fingers loosely curled around the golf club, Alicia’s ice pick in easy reach.
Day three after the world truly ended, Chris props Mr. Johnson’s ladder against the side of the house and climbs up on the roof. He spends several hours up there with a pair of binoculars, looking back the way they came. Alicia leaves him be.
Instead, she spends the day coming up with an emergency plan Dr. Sheldon Cooper would be proud of. She packs two duffel bags with food, clothes and other supplies so they can leave in a hurry if they need to. She stashes some more supplies in the SUV and empties both of the gas cans in the garage into the gas tank. She goes through every inch of that house and puts anything that might be useful into carefully organized piles on the ground floor. She wants to be ready for whatever might happen.
After that initial flurry of activity, time seems to slow down. Chris spends most of his days on the roof; Alicia spends most of hers making lists of supplies they should start searching for in the surrounding houses. One morning, Chris comes into the house, and he’s smiling. The expression looks weird on his face.
“I have something to show you,” Chris says. Alicia follows him up the ladder and scuttles across the shingles to the middle of the roof. “Look over there,” Chris says. He passes her the binoculars and points. Through the binoculars, Alicia sees a boat anchored in the deep water off the coast—a big boat, clearly some rich asshole’s yacht. Nothing’s on fire. No zombies are milling around the deck.
Chris says, “Think we could make it out there?”
For the first time in what feels like forever, Alicia starts to feel something like hope.