Babes in Zombieland

by Rachel Balla


My husband’s fingers rubbing my scalp woke me from my uneasy sleep fraught with dreams of lurching bodies and grabbing hands. My head lifted and fell gently against his chest with each strong beat of his heart.

“Your fever’s broken,” his voice came out of the darkness. I lifted my head, but the light from some distance was barely enough to outline his dark-skinned face, so I couldn’t make out any of his features. “We saw some of the Infected near our camp, so we had to move out, find new shelter.”

I perceived quickly that the chosen shelter was a cave, from the lack of starlight and the dank stink of bat droppings. “Is it safe here? If they find us, there’ll be no way out.”

“This was all we could find before dark,” he replied. “I’ve got a rabbit in the trap outside. Needs to be skinned so we can eat. Sundown is getting close. Here, sit up.”

“Do you think it’s wise to be out there with blood on your hands?” I asked as I felt strong hands help me into a sitting position. My body ached with soreness lingering on from the fever, and a thin sheen of sweat helped my clothes cling to my skin. My blonde hair, bluntly cut short because it was so infrequent that I could wash it, stuck to my face with sweat like glue.

“Better that than another night with an empty stomach.” My husband had been lying directly on the rocky ground, so his movements as he sat up were jerking and stiff. In the darkness, it was impossible for my gut to make a distinction between my knowledge that he was healthy and how strongly his movements reminded me of the Infected. I closed my eyes so as not to watch, but I forced my voice to sound pleasant as I responded.

“I… yeah, the hunger is the worst part.”

As we made our way to the mouth of the cave and outside into the chilly evening, we passed three of our band, coming inside for refuge as the darkness fell. Thirteen-year-old Angelica’s hair was wet, and her brother Jeremy’s shirt clung to his skin, so I supposed they had found a water hole to bathe in. A few feet behind them came the Doc, a tall, thin man with a gray beard, carrying our bucket full of water. His wrinkled gray eyes lifted cheerfully when he saw me. “Mama bear’s awake,” he said. “We weren’t sure you was goin’ to pull through. Fever was a nasty ‘ne, and remember we used up the last of our medicine when Angelica took that tumble and broke ‘er arm.”

“I feel sore, quite sweaty, and I stink like crazy,” I replied, shrugging. The days of my illness were foggy in my memory; all I really remembered was my husband’s musical voice talking to me through the fever.

“They should make your sweat into a perfume,” he said, wrapping an arm around my shoulder to pull me close. “You know, when they start making perfume again.”

“We survived in that ranger’s station dern near a month without seeing a one of ‘em monsters—even the ones we saw was skinny, and we outran ‘em,” Doc pointed out. “They prob’ly be running out of food. Maybe they’re startin’ to eatin’ each other.”

I felt a shiver run down my back, the cold suddenly feeling more acute. “Disgusting.”

“If we survive them, we might have a chance at a real life someday,” Doc said with a shrug. He smiled once more. “Well, leave you lovebirds to skin the dinner. I’m gonna get this boiling for ye.” He lifted the bucket of water up. “Rabbit stew. Not much, but it’ll get us through. I might have a can of beans in my pack…” He sauntered into the cave, and I heard him shout at the kids to go look for firewood.

“Not too far; it’s getting dark,” I said to the pair as they passed us. Angelica stopped right there and started looking for twigs, but Jeremy went a bit farther off, toward the trees.

I heard my husband draw his knife, a short Swiss Army knife he always kept handy. We sat down across from each other just outside the mouth of the cave. My husband’s warm chocolate skin glowed in the setting sunlight. His almond eyes narrowed in focus as he pried open our metal trap and jerked the rabbit carcass free. I tucked my palms under my behind as I sat, a reflex I couldn’t help because of my aversion to the blood. I made a small, shivering sigh, as though I sat on my hands because of the cold—he didn’t like that he had to kill for me to eat, but it was better than hunger, as he had said earlier. I had once been a vegetarian, but tofu wouldn’t hop into our traps and feed our small band. The fear of the outside faded for that moment, the groans and shrieks that had become more a part of our reality than laughter these days, replaced only by the quiet ripping and tearing of rabbit meat under my husband’s knife.

In the quiet, I tried again. We had had this same discussion many times since our wedding six years ago, before the Infection and the downfall of society. Doc’s assessment of the Infected had disgusted me, but it had also left a feeling of empowerment, of hope. My dear husband had always been receptive, but hesitant, and I knew it would be the same this time around. “When are you going to be ready for a baby?”

Those eyes snapped up from the meat, and he chuckled cheerfully, as though I had done him a favor by bringing laughter back into our world. When I didn’t join, his smirk dissipated. “You’re serious.”

“The Infection started almost five years ago, and you heard Doc: maybe the worst is past,” I said. I had tried this before, but I pressed on into his territory of logic for my argument. He shook his head and stabbed the rabbit brutally enough to break bones, butchering it down for boiling. “Everyone is dead, for all we know, except us few. We’ll need to repopulate some time, or the human race is gone.”

“Look where we are,” he responded, glancing at the cave’s mouth and the emptiness about us. A bat flew into the cave just as we looked up. “This is no place for a baby.”

“This is temporary.” I scooted closer to him, the bloody mess far from my attention, to better meet his eyes with my own defiant blue ones. “We’ll find a safe place we can call home.”

“And we’ll talk more about the baby when we have that home, I promise,” he replied.

“We’ll talk more about the baby when we have a home,” I repeated, then went on, louder. “We’ll talk more about the baby when we’re married. We’ll talk more when we have our Bachelors, Masters, PhDs. We’ll talk more when we have health insurance. We’ll talk more when the zombie invasion has passed!” I shook my head, and I saw I finally had his honest attention on the matter. “All excuses. There’s always going to be a reason to wait. But, I’m ready now. You and I will make the most beautiful baby.”

He shook his head and kept shaking it. I was firm, but I was not unsympathetic. He would carry me any distance when I couldn’t walk, he would fight the Infected bare handed to keep me safe, and kill anything to fill my stomach, and all of that took a physical and emotional toll on him. I could understand how, when husbanding was so hard, fatherhood seemed daunting. But those efforts he made for me were exactly what gave me the faith that he could do the job.

I got up on my knees so I could hug him, cradle his head, and brush his forehead softly with my lips. “If we can survive all the horror this world has become, but not leave behind any children to keep living on, what will any of it matter?”

He had stopped shaking his head, but I felt his tear fall down my neck. “I feel like I can barely hang on to you, and I need you.”

His voice was strained with emotion, and I lowered mine in response. “I won’t leave you.”

Smoke from the fire Doc had promised wafted outside and filled our noses with the implication of warmth. The wind on our skin just brushed along, like unassuming fingers. The smoke was the tipping point for our tears.