I’m not stupid. When Teddy never came back from his supply run, I knew — I knew it! And four years later there he stood, staring directly at me from across the lot, his face half-eaten and gray and dead.
The pharmacy stood quiet and tempting. Tall shadows wandered in the tinted windows. Unlike the thing that used to be my brother, they hadn’t caught my scent yet. That was the only thing keeping me from bolting for the pharmacy — that it hadn’t moved at all since I fell in range.
You’d think the shell of my idiot brother would have the brain capacity to know when it’s supposed to attack, right? Guess there wasn’t much left after the Walker virus took over.
I reached over my shoulder and unslung my spiked bat. I didn’t usually engage Walkers unless they were in my way, but what the Hell. My meds weren’t going anywhere.
I should bury my brother before he wanders off again.
It didn’t move at all as I approached. It still had Teddy’s M-16. A bruised grey finger rested on the trigger. Not that I was worried or anything. Walkers that can fire assault rifles? God doesn’t quite hate me enough for that.
I raised the bat, and the Teddy-Walker whipped the muzzle of the gun directly at my face.
Nopety nope nope nope.
I turned around, ready to run. A gunshot exploded in my ears.
And I saw a walker twitching on the asphalt eight feet away, moaning and foaming at the mouth as it clawed the air. Its limbs curled and stiffened, shuddering.
“Youuuuu,” snarled the Teddy-Walker at the dying thing, lowering the steaming muzzle of his M-16, “g-g-go… to Hell.”
He turned. He tilted his head. The corner of his mouth twitched upward. He raised two fingers — V for Victory.
I couldn’t breathe.
In the terse seconds where I waited for my heart to beat, I was Infected.
“Hey,” I croaked, and swallowed, and wet my lips. “Can you… wait here for a sec?”
I ran. I burst into the infested pharmacy, my bat exploding across every Walker I saw, attacking or not. Every dead face I saw was Teddy’s— half-torn, exposed teeth grinning, skin gray as bruises. I heard him call my name — Holly — that jerk — how long had it been since I last heard my name?
I might have stayed in the pharmacy longer than I should’ve. It was waiting for me outside. But fear of being cornered at night overrode fear of facing my undead big brother, and eventually I crept out.
“How?” I demanded, pointing my spiked bat at its chest. “How are you still…?”
The Walker shrugged. It bared its teeth in a ghastly second cousin of my brother’s tilted grin. This is the smile that melts hearts, I heard him say, and clenched my jaw tight.
He raised his arm, and I flinched. Raw, angry bite-and-scratch marks crawled all over it. That was the arm he’d used to fend them off, wasn’t it? Idiot. You’re supposed to layer duct tape on your forearm and bicep. To the very end, he never listened to me.
Teddy rubbed the back of his neck. “Youuuuuu…” he ventured, then paused. His eyes sank to the asphalt, and his shoulders slumped. “ ... Ssssso b-b-big. N-Now.”
“Haha.” Oh God. An awkward Walker. An Awkwalker. Something’s wrong with me. “Hahahahaha.”
Teddy waited, staring at me with sunken eyes dark as sin. My nervous laughter turned into coughs, and he squirmed uncomfortably, fiddling with his fingers.
“We,” I said, wiping my mouth with the back of my hand, “have a lot to talk about.”
I had to find a place to set up camp first. Teddy followed me dutifully and quietly, as he’d never done in life. When I snuck glances at him, I couldn’t see him — not all of him. Yeah, he still walked with his thumbs hooked in his pockets, like a wannabe cover model. And when he caught me looking, he raised his eyebrows, and the corner of his ruined mouth twitched the way it did.
But his eyes had weight to them. They didn’t settle on things. They gutted. They gored.
My brother had butchery for eyes.
Sometimes it was hard to see. Like when he tried helping me set up the tent and got himself hopelessly stuck on the zipper. He gave me sad, ugly kitten eyes as I jerked on his caught sleeve, that dummy.
But as I settled down for a nice meal of canned beans, he took a flying leap into the shrubbery. When he turned around, his jaws were closed on the neck of a limp rabbit.
“Ssssooooo…” he growled, squatting in front of me. His teeth tore a chunk of flesh and fur from the rabbit’s flank and started to chew. “T-t-talk?”
I started with what happened after he left. How the flu, bronchitis, and eventually the Walker virus snuck its way into the survivor’s base. How even after the first two waves of disease passed, I still hadn’t recovered. The inevitable Walker attack. The chaotic scramble for vehicles — though the smart ones just up and booked it, leaving more cars for people who liked getting swarmed. How I got separated from our parents. My scavenging for food and medicine.
When I was done, we stared at each other for a long moment until he seemed to realize that I was waiting for him to speak. He stared at the rabbit bones in his lap, scratching the edge of the hole in his cheek.
“ … T-t-too mmmmuch.” He twined his fingers together. “Sssso… mmmuch bites. G-g-gun bring mmmore. Sssso mmmuch.” He looked up at me, then back at the bones. “I… f-f-find. Family.”
I’m not sure when we decided he was coming with me to find our parents. Maybe it was a given — we’re family, after all, living or Walking notwithstanding. I hadn’t had someone to protect in a long time. Maybe I just wanted my brother back.
Hey, it’s the literal apocalypse. I’ll take what I can get.
Teddy made a way better traveling companion Walking than in life. Never complained, never asked questions. It helped that he was the deadest shot on the planet. His focused shark eyes and unnatural stillness felled countless.
I did tell him he should get rid of the gun, that afternoon when he had been running a rag lovingly over the parts of his M-16. The noise was the reason he got Infected in the first place. And what was he gonna do when the bullets ran out? He shot me an injured look, caressing his gun parts with a growl.
“Right,” I sighed, coughing into my fist. “Why’d I even ask?”
Unfortunately, I went through pills faster than Teddy went through bullets. I started spreading out the times I would take them. I started breaking them in half, to make them last.
It wasn’t enough.
Every pharmacy or drug store that fell in our path, we raided. We were the Vikings of the ColdCare section. But the farther we traveled, the emptier the shelves got.
Once, in frustration, I pounced on a wandering Walker that hadn’t even noticed me, and I beat him until you couldn’t tell whether he was attacked or run over with a steamroller.
Teddy’s dead, gray face twisted into an ugly grimace. “Sssso vvvvviolent.”
I prowled away, leaning my bat on my shoulder. “Shut up, Walker.”
“Sssso rrrrrude. Hurtsss… f-f-feelings.”
I opened my mouth to call him an idiot, and coughed instead. Once it started, I couldn’t stop. I clapped my hand over my mouth, hacking. Something warm thrust itself against my palm. I pulled my hand away bloody.
Teddy tilted his head. “Holly?”
I closed my hand into a fist and thrust it in my pocket. “Let’s go. The base is only about a day away.” I raised a brow at him. “Mom and Dad are going to freak when they see you. You’re so grounded right now it’s not even funny.”
That night, we celebrated the near end of our journey with a feast of raccoon and beans. He had the raccoon, I had the beans.
When morning came, I couldn’t move except for coughing.
“Holly? Holly Holly Holly?” Teddy fretted, pacing restlessly around the camp. He prodded my lips with a plastic spoon full of beans. I ate, and coughed, and threw up what I ate. So. Many. Times.
“I c-c-carry. T-T-To base. They help.”
I had to laugh at that, even though it made me cough. “They’ll shoot you as soon as they see you. Idiot.”
He made me a nest out of pine needles and clothing scraps and bundled me up in his utility vest. I still shivered.
When the beans ran out, he brought me whatever he could find. He boiled them all to make broth, twice setting himself on fire — once on purpose, because he’d heard me laugh the first time. I still couldn’t keep food down.
When I woke up with my ears bleeding, he knew — he’d always known — he had lost.
“P-P-Please!” he burst out, clutching me to his chest. His cold, clammy fingers brushed back my hair. “L-L-Let me. Please.”
It took me a moment to realize what he was planning. “No.”
Teddy growled and groaned, tearing at his scalp. “I c-c-c-can save you.”
“You l-l-leave. Me?”
“Idiot.” My fist beat weakly against his chest. “Don’t you dare. I don’t want to— to— !”
I hacked. Blood spurted on Teddy’s face.
The Walker held her until she was still, until the blood had dried, until the sun died.
“Then… w-what…” Teddy’s ruined lip trembled. His grip on her slackened. “ … what do I do now?”