The End Came With a Kiss(12)

By: John Michael Hileman

"What, and miss all the fun?" she says with a wry smile.

"You know what?" I say flatly. "I’ve come to a conclusion."

She looks at me as if to say, ‘Oh really?’

"You’re not right in the head." I pull on my door latch and climb out.

She gets out and comes around the side of the car. "Why am I not right in the head? Because I don’t cower in a closet somewhere?" Her youthful spirit is a pleasant distraction. I need this. It’s helping to take the edge off.

"Do you know how to use a shotgun?" I say, opening the trunk.

"I was the best skeet shooter on my daddy’s ranch."

I snatch up a shotgun, check to make sure it’s loaded, and hand it to her. "Only shoot if you absolutely have to."

She nods.

I grab my own shotgun, check it, and throw an ammo bag over my shoulder. "Unlike zombies in the movies, these guys can’t be killed, and shooting them only makes ‘em mad. So if we’re cornered, and you have to fire on one, shoot it somewhere vital to slow it down." I close the trunk and start walking.

"Have you shot many?" she says, trying to keep up with my long strides.

"Only when I’ve had to."

"Anyone you know?"

"A few."

"Why do you park so far away from the door? It’s not like you have to compete for parking."

"Why do you ask so many questions?"

"Why are you dodging my question?"

Fair point. "I used to park right at the entrance, but that made it too easy for things to sneak up behind me. This way I can see everything around the side walls before I get there."

"There. Was that so hard?"

"Harder than it had to be," I say, digging a pen light out of my pocket. "Here. You’ll need this. It will be dark on the stairwell."

We take the stairs up to the 27th floor without incident. Breathing heavily, I flag Ashlyn to stop.

"You hear something?" she says, pressing her back to the wall and pulling her gun up.

"No. This is our floor." I peek through the tiny square window in the door and flash my pen light into the office space beyond. This is not the first time I've been to my office building at night. During the quarantine wars things in the office got stirred up quite a few times where Lau thought for sure he wouldn't make it through the night.

It was not quiet like this. It was wall-to-wall pandemonium. Loopers wailing and screaming, furniture flying, glass breaking. Those who had survived the gestation and were still working in the office were ripped limb from limb. It was a gruesome bloody sight. The memory comes to haunt me as the pen light shakes in my quaking fingertips. I don't trust this silence.

Ashlyn's voice snaps me back. "D’you see anything in there?"

I flash all the way to the left and all the way to the right. The cubicle walls are only waist high. I can see a man standing on the far side of the room. I'm not sure what he’s doing, but he isn't moving erratically like they do when they're angry. That's a good sign. Not conclusive, but good.

To his right is a woman in the coffee alcove. She doesn't appear to be agitated either. Looks like business as usual. Apparently they’re not even aware that it’s night time. Their loops are broken and they have chosen to stay here in the familiarity of their daily work routine. I can't imagine working day and night—the same boring cycle—for the rest of eternity. If there is a hell, that would be it.

I pull the flashlight away from the window. "It’s a lot quieter than I expected."

"You think the danger has passed?"

"There's one way to find out." I creak the door open a crack and shine the light in. The room sounds like it does in the day time. Clicking of keyboards. The soft hiss of people pretending to be on the phone. There is even some strange fraternization that goes on. No banging, crashing or screaming. At least, not yet.

I look back at Ashlyn. She looks much calmer than I feel. I envy her. It would be nice to be young again and feel invincible. I flash the light up and down the corridor. It's clear. "Come on. I think it's safe," I say, holding the door for her. She slips by, hunched over, weapon ready in her right hand, light wiggling in the other.