You were sitting on the roof when the newcomers showed up. It was your turn to take watch, so your shotgun was sitting across your lap, legs dangling over the edge. You looked out over the cracked parking lot surrounding the building. Nothing ever happened while you were up there, but you enjoyed it. Occasionally, you’d take a shot at a corpse wandering by. It was the only time you had to get away from the rest of your group. The kids—two six year-old girls—despite your best efforts decided you were their favorite person, and tended to follow you around. Their parents saw you as their personal babysitter. Not that they really had so much to do that they couldn’t look after their own kids. Most of what they did was sit in the nail salon and demand what the government was going to do about the ongoing crisis known to you as life. As if there was much of a government left to do anything, it’s been so long. Your band of survivors consisted of two others: a man you thought had been a businessman before and who gave the impression of being a pervert, and your father. That man was not really your father, but he had taken you in when your real parents were killed by a horde of corpses. That was years ago, at the beginning. By now you could handle yourself, but you owed the man, as he frequently reminded you.
It was a small group who showed up at your door. They arrived in an old pick-up smeared with something brown. There were two people in the cab, but you couldn’t tell what they looked like from that distance. In the bed there were three others. Two of them looked about your age, the other was just a little kid. The older two had rifles laid across their laps, the kid asleep at one of the older one’s feet. You guessed from the short brown mop of hair he was a boy. He looked up at you on the roof and waved.
You sounded the alarm as they slowly drove through the entrance gate. You weren’t any less curious than the others, but you hung back from the rest as they gathered to greet the travelers. The older male of the group assured you they wouldn’t stay long. They’d just restock their supplies and rest up. They’d stay no longer than a week.
A week became weeks, and weeks became months. Your group didn’t mind. They drained little of your own family’s resources, and their supply of ammo and weapons expanded the armory you kept in the shoe store. Even the kid helped out around the place. You especially liked the boy. Along with his honey-haired girlfriend who went wherever he went, he was the only other person your age around. She took a particular liking to you.
The three of you became allies against your family’s malice as their stay went on. They made your time on the roof more enjoyable. You and the boy would make games of shooting the corpses, and his girlfriend would giggle, a high-pitched mm hmm hmm, at every joke the boy made. They also helped with the two little girls. The blonde had a way with them, and the little ones began to prefer her company over yours. Normally, when you weren’t taking watch or baby-sitting, you were forced to either endure the attentions of the businessman or do chores for your father, while he stood over you and reminded you how much you owed him. While the blonde was with the little ones, the boy took you up to the roof to avoid the older men’s attentions. He said it was for target practice, but you knew he did it to save you.
Once, the blonde managed to get you alone. She never got to hang out with just you, she said, and now was as good a time as any. She took you to the nail salon. For once, the parents were watching their own little ones, so it was just the two of you. Still, you felt uncomfortable. The chemical smells made your nose burn, and even without the gossipy parents, you felt out of place. The boy’s girlfriend glued fake nails to your real ones and painted them pink. When you tried to pull them off, they started bleeding and you had to stop.
A few months after the family arrived, your father found you and told you that the generator keeping the lights on in the building was running out of gas. The three of you jumped at the opportunity to get away for awhile. You volunteered to go out and collect the fuel and a list of other groceries. Your father, the leader of your group, had made it a rule that no one was to leave the building alone, and the boy and his girlfriend were the obvious choices to go with you. Your father said he’d noticed how well you and the other two got along, and he didn’t anticipate any problems.
The last time you were out, you remembered seeing a few cars parked near a grocery store, with a gas station in front of it. You were the most familiar with the area, so your father put you in charge of the mission. You picked the truck closest to empty; since you were getting gas, you might as well fill up one of the vehicles as well. The boy and his girlfriend piled into the cab while you grabbed the appropriate key hanging from the nail in the wall. When you rejoined them, they were chatting excitedly. It was the first time they got to go driving in a while, and they were eager to get going.
You pulled off the curb and onto the pavement. The store you were going to was just around the building and across the street. It was not a long drive, you told them. They didn’t seem to care.
There was a corpse standing under the long-dead traffic light. You gunned the accelerator and ran it down, you and the boy laughing the whole time. The blonde frowned. That was mean, she said, but you shrugged. It was already dead, the boy reminded her. No big deal.
You parked the truck directly in front of the door. The three of you poured out of the cab, you and the boy grabbing the gas cans out of the bed and the blonde taking the grocery list into the store. She left her gun in her seat. The boy didn’t notice, and you didn’t mention it.
The boy took his time wandering all the way to the end of the parking lot. He sauntered, as if putting on a show. You watched him for a few moments, then started siphoning gas from the abandoned cars. It was slow work. When your two cans were finally full, you lugged them to your truck. As you were filling the tank, you looked around to check on the boy and his girlfriend. He was still at the pump, filling his third can. He carried four, while you could only handle your two. You didn’t see any sign of the blonde. You looked through the window and saw that she hadn’t come back for her gun. You thought about going in to check on her, but instead you hopped up on the hood of the truck and stretched out.
The boy was starting back when his girlfriend burst from the store. There was blood spatter all over her face, and she was carrying a heavy metal pipe. It was covered in blood. She waited by the edge of the door, and when the corpse came through she swung the pipe, catching the corpse in the torso. It was recently dead; its skin pale was and clammy, and the blood oozing from its wounds still with a hint of red instead of completely black. You wondered if it was someone you once knew.
Her hit did not do much to slow the corpse down. Your gun was sitting next to you, waiting to be fired. It had never left your side since you left the truck. In a swift motion you grabbed your gun and shot the corpse. You did not take your time, and the kick knocked you on your back. You fake nail got caught on the trigger and broke off. Upside down, you saw the boy drop his gas cans and start running. You rolled over off the hood, landing on your feet with your gun in hand.
The blonde landed on her ass, blood spurting from her shoulder. The corpse loomed, then fell on her, its mouth going straight to her wound. She shrieked even louder, kicking and punching at the corpse with her good arm.
Your second shot did not miss. The corpse shrieked, the sound like the screeching of a braking train, and slumped over the blonde. Gooey gray matter oozed from the back of the corpse’s head. It made no more noise.
Underneath the corpse, the blonde was crying. She didn’t have the strength to shove the corpse off her. Help me, she mouthed at you. Please.
You lowered your head and pulled another couple rounds from your pocket. As you loaded them into the gun her sobs became audible. “Please, no.” Her voice was barely a whisper. You could hear the boy shouting at you. You aimed your gun, the boy shouted again, and the boy’s girlfriend mouthed. You fired.
Understandably, the boy didn’t want to get in the truck with you. You had to wrestle him in, abandoning his gas cans in the parking lot. You told him that, with all the noise, any corpse within a mile would come running. You had to return to the safety of the mall. Even so, he fought you. You were stronger.
The corpses started up their shrieking as you pulled back into your building. You ran inside, pulling the boy and the remaining gas can with you. The businessman asked where the boy’s girlfriend was as you barred the doors, but you shook your head. Your father balled his hand into a fist, cracking his knuckles and glaring. You ignored him, shouldering your gun and following the direction the boy took.
You were not surprised to find him on the roof, fighting his tears. You sat down beside him, petting his hair. There was nothing you could’ve done, you whispered. The corpse had already gotten to her.
At that, the boy pushed you away. “You’re a liar!” he shouted. “A liar and a murderer!” He gave you another shove. You almost fell off the edge, but you caught yourself. When you regained your balance, he was gone.