A Matter of Time – Short Story
I fumbled with the door knob as it slipped out of my shaking hands. Elizabeth’s arms wrapped around me from behind, cinching tight like a vice and squeezing out what little air I had left in my lungs. She dug her fingernails into my chest and buried her head into my back. I could feel her warm tears stain my shirt with fear.
The moans were drawing near, carried forward on the rolling autumn winds. We had only minutes before the hoard was on top of us. I tried the knob again, but the door was locked.
I peeled Elizabeth off of me and clutched her shoulders. “We’ll be OK.” Her eyes refused to meet mine so I placed my finger under her chin and gently lifted her head. I flashed a reassuring smile and softly kissed her cheek. “We’ll make it”.
Elizabeth nodded her response while she twisted the wedding ring around her finger. “Where are they?”
“They’re coming. We just need a little more time.” My response was sure, even though I wasn’t.
I pulled in a deep breath and lowered my shoulder into the door. Dust fell from the molding like dirty rain. Pain blazed up my arm and into my back as I rammed it again. The old wood slowly relented as the frame splintered around the latch. I kept striking the door until wooden shards showered the porch and the door swung open with a rusted groan.
Behind Elizabeth I heard the sudden chatter of hungry teeth. I drew my pistol and fired two shots into the zombie’s head, stopping it just before it reached her. It fell to the ground with a grunt, its legs still twitched and its fingers clawed at the dirt as if it refused to give up.
I snatched Elizabeth’s arm and yanked her toward me as two more appeared from the snarl of untrimmed bushes near the side of the cabin. A gust of wind blew from the east, swirling a blanket of multi-colored leaves that scratched at the ground and concealed the awkward shuffles of another handful of undead. We were surrounded.
Before I could react Elizabeth bolted inside the cabin. “Wait!” I shouted, but it was too late. I chased after her to be greeted by a wave of zombies that flooded a side hallway. Their muddy flesh was sloughing off their bones and their decomposed lips revealed permanent, toothy grins. The cracks of my pistol rang in my ears as I squeezed the trigger as quickly as my index finger would allow.
“In here!” Elizabeth shouted as she tugged at my sleeve and led me into a small pantry off of the kitchen. I slammed the door behind us then searched for a lock. There wasn’t any. I braced by back against the door and frantically scanned the empty closet. We were trapped.
I inched my way down the door as the undead thumped against it. After their last push I spun myself around, placed my back against the closet wall and jammed my feet against the bottom of the door.
Elizabeth curled into a ball and rested her head on my chest. “Jim, Gary…the others…they promised they would meet us here,” she said through sobs. “They promised they would help us.”
My mouth was so dry I wasn’t sure I would able to speak. “They’ll be here soon. We’ll be safe in here.” My knees buckled against the relentless weight of the undead hoard. I strained against it, pretending I could hold them back. Elizabeth knew better.
“Promise you won’t let me become one of them.”
“I promise. I won’t let that happen.”
The door surged inward. Gnarled fingers poked through the opening and wiggled like filthy worms against the white frame. I pushed back with everything I had until the muscles in my legs felt as if they would tear off the bone. My back scraped against the wood paneling and slivers tore their way through my shirt and buried deep into my flesh.
Elizabeth nestled her head into my chest and cried. “You have to do something.”
I pulled Elizabeth into my embrace and held her tight. Behind her head I ejected the clip from the gun. Empty. I drew back the slide just enough to see the dull gleam of brass from a single round in the chamber.
Elizabeth looked up at me. Her eyes were red with sorrow, her face painted with terror. “They aren’t coming.” Her eyes shifted between me and the pistol. “Please…”
I shook my head in horror. Her look, what she was asking me to do, twisted my insides. My legs burned and my back screamed out in pain as the door opened further, allowing space for rotted hands to claw their way into the closet.
Elizabeth bit into her bottom lip and whispered, “Please! Do it for me.” She placed her hand on mine and raised the gun to her temple. “Please…”
I paused to look at the only woman I’ve ever loved; the woman I swore to protect. My legs were weakening, and the zombies would break through at any moment. I didn’t have a choice. I had to do it…for her. Tears streamed from my eyes and blurred my vision. “I love you…,” I said, choking on the words as I pulled the trigger.
My heart stopped with the bang of the gun as her body fell into my lap. The flash from the barrel burned an image into my mind more gruesome than anything I’ve ever seen. The gun spun out of my hand as a wave of shock washed over me. I wrapped my arms around my wife and held her lifeless body against mine. The door opened further to a tangled mess of appendages. I didn’t care. Nothing mattered any more. I closed my eyes and slid my feet off of the bottom of the door.
Gun shots echoed from outside the closet as the zombies fell to the floor with meaty thuds; their moans relented to an ear-splitting silence.
“Eric?!” A familiar voice called out to me. “We got ‘em, Eric! We got ‘em all!”