The couple burst out of the woods, panting. After a moment to recover, the man reached up and took a leaf from the woman’s hair and brushed her thin face. She smiled wanly and pulled her coat, beaten up and now far too large, around her.
“Emily? You ok?”
“For now. They’ll be back on our trail soon.”
“Except for Bill,” he said grimly.
“Hold me, will you?”
The wind rustled in the late Autumn trees and ruffled the moonglade on the lake. Emily trembled in the chill night air, despite Luke’s arms around her. The two of them jumped at every blown leaf, every sound in the underbrush.
Luke stepped back from her and took the gun from his pocket. He snapped out the cylinder and looked at the single bullet.
“Emily, you know what we talked about…”
“Yes. We don’t have any other choice, do we?” She wiped a weary hand across her face.
“Not if we want a clean death, no.” One by one, the companions they’d escaped from the city with had been prey, and after a brief time, predator. A Walker had bitten each of the changed ones and the little group did their best to free their friends, one by one, until at last only Emily and Luke were left.
“No food,” Luke snapped the cylinder shut, “one bullet and no one to run with. No safe place to be.” He turned her around and held her closer. “We’ve seen too many people go over – and I don’t want to spend the rest of however long chasing down – others – and eating them.” He paused. “And I don’t want to leave you alone. Or be left alone, come to that.”
“Me either. Zombies used to be a funny idea for commercials. Too bad the ad guys didn’t realize what the real thing was going to be like.”
“I imagine they know now.” Luke’s laugh was completely humorless. He stepped back and gave her a worried look. “I wish you’d reconsider.”
“No. Guns – I couldn’t do it and I won’t let you do it to me. Drowning doesn’t seem so bad; I can even stay afloat if I have to. As cold as the water is… well, after a little while, I won’t care so much.”
“I should never have let you watch Titanic.” He held the gun aloft with one hand and sank the other into her hair, pulling her toward him for a deep kiss. “I love you.”
Emily stepped back and traced his features, brushed her fingertips over his lips. “And I, you.”
They both started in terror at a sudden sound behind them. A raccoon scuttled into view and they chuckled nervously.
“Thank goodness the animals didn’t become Walkers after they were eaten. We’d have never made it this far.”
Abruptly, Luke walked away from her and toward a spot on the shore of the lake where a strong current rippled the surface. “Don’t watch, Emily.”
Emily turned her back. She heard splashing as he walked deep into the water. After a long pause, the gun roared. The full moon reflected off the tears that poured down her face as she imagined the damage to his beloved face. Stiffly, she turned and saw his body being carried out on the current, out to the middle of the lake.
I can do this, I can do this… But somehow her feet refused to move.
Behind her, there were noises too loud to be made by an animal. Over her shoulder, she saw moonlight reflected from waving arms and torn bodies. The Walkers had arrived.
Stumbling away, she made for the shore and stepped gingerly into the icy water. A clean death, a clean death. I can’t let them catch me. She dove for deeper water, heedless of the horrible cold and of the blood that lapped against her. Shaking, she forced herself to swim out to the center and treaded water clumsily. On the shore, figures lurched back and forth, but didn’t come into the water. In the moonlight, she saw Walkers on other shores. Well, I’m committed now. Nowhere to run to, baby, nowhere to hide.
Moments passed and she realized that dying was going to be harder than she thought. How do you make yourself drown? Every instinct told her to stay afloat; whenever she started to sink, she struggled back up.
A few feet away, a shadow rose from the water. Emily flailed to get away and came to the horrified realization that it was Luke’s body.
“Oh, love… “ She touched his shoulder, his hair – His hair? She pressed down and realized that his skull was intact. Rolling him over, she could see his face hadn’t been damaged. The moon came out from behind a cloud and showed her the bullet wound in his chest.
“Luke – Oh, my g—why didn’t you shoot yourself through the head?”
Briefly, she tried to hope. He hadn’t been bitten, after all. Then, the body shuddered. It doesn’t matter… Emily was paralyzed with cold and with terror as Luke’s eyes opened, glazed white and filled with a kind of manic glee. She exhaled and fought to sink, tried to breathe in water, tried to die by her own choice.
Luke – or what had been Luke – dropped past her, to her bewilderment. She struggled past where he’d been and forced herself down, down, gagging on the lake water, her survival instinct keeping her holding her breath.
Suddenly, her scalp protested. Luke had sunk his pallid fingers into her hair in a macabre perversion of his final caress on shore, and was pulling her back to the surface. Her lungs screamed for air as they breached the surface.
No, Luke – a clean death was her final thought, as he brought up his hand, clenched around the gun he’d retrieved. He smashed her skull and began to feast.