The End Came With a Kiss

By: John Michael Hileman

1

I walk slowly through the parking garage. Quick movements excite them. And that’s the last thing I want to do. The quarantine wars are over, but the danger is still present. It lingers in the air like a suffocating cloud mingled with the smell of burning rubber and rotting flesh. I no longer have to remind myself that they are dangerous, I saw firsthand what they are capable of. Images flash from my subconscious, keeping me in a defensive posture as I walk.

A woman in a tan business suit is stuffing boxes into the trunk of her Lexus ahead of me on the left. It’s rare to see the dead use cars now because most of the roads are blocked. This one must be using the road I cleared.

As I approach, she stops and turns toward me. The motion puts me even further on edge, but I continue forward. She doesn't appear threatened, her body is only responding to my presence. That's what they do—the dead—everything is sort of an involuntary playback of a motor memory.

The woman is beautiful, like the rest, but her clothing isn't torn or dirty. It’s clean and unwrinkled. She must get home regularly. This is becoming less common. Most of the loopers in my office building stay at work now because either they have no gas, have no car, or their route home is blocked by wreckage. Though their instinct is to resist change with intense violence, they are adapting.

She smiles at me as I pass and, for a brief moment, seems almost alive. But I know there is nothing behind the flawless mask but bioelectric pulleys and gears responding to stored data somewhere in that rotted brain of hers. She must have been outgoing and friendly when she was alive. For that, I return her smile. Though, like her, there is no emotion behind it.

I look at my watch. It’s just after 5:00. I'm running late. I can't bear to see what will happen to my precious Katherine if I'm late again. It only takes twenty minutes to get home now that the roads are mostly empty of traffic, but travel is still tricky.

As I pass the ramp that goes down into the guts of the parking garage, shrill screams snake their way up as from the concrete belly of a giant beast. An ear-splitting screech erupts from somewhere on the floor below. Dread stabs at my heart. The hard floor begins to bob and vibrate as I increase my pace. More screams join the others in a nightmarish wail of agony, growing louder and louder. I'm in a jog now. It no longer matters if I move slow. All hell is about to break loose.

I jog to the corner of the garage, where most of the wall is missing, and look down at the street below. Terror grips my throat as my hand snaps out to steady myself on a broken shard of the concrete wall. They’re coming! Hundreds of them, funneling into the bottom of the parking garage like water from a broken dam. But why?!

I'm trapped! They're coming up the center of the garage. I spin around. Besides the woman I just passed, there are four others on this level, but only one stands between me and my car. He is tall and jet black, wearing a sharp pinstriped suit. Even from several car lengths away, I can see the whites of his eyes growing. The noise is causing his fight-or-flight instinct to kick in. He staggers and a snarl ripples across his handsome features. There is no way I'll get past him, even if I press against the line of cars. He's already in attack mode—and he looks like he can move. If he thinks I'm the threat, I'll be dead in seconds.

He sees me. He’s walking toward me. My heart constricts as I struggle to take in a breath. Out of reflex I start twisting, as if I am searching for the same sound. They are easily fooled but still unpredictable. I mimic the agitated dance I've seen them do. If he thinks I’m one of them he will not attack, but that won't keep me from being trampled by the approaching herd. I guess being trampled is better than being bitten, or being eaten. When this all began I was confident I would be eaten; I had seen a lot of zombie movies. But to my great relief, they don't eat people. They eat regular food—well—not the way we do. They don't care what it is; they’re only going through the motions. I saw one drink rotten milk once, without blinking an eye, after the fridge in the break room lost power for two days. I avoid the break room now.

Before I can get myself into a proper frenzy I notice another distinct sound reverberating off the hard walls. It’s a motorcycle and it's getting louder. Is it coming up the ramp? Is that what the herd is following? I've never seen them chase after a car or motorcycle.