Chapter One - Every Smile Is A Sad Memory The sunlight is harsh and glaring. It comes pouring in through the home's shattered second story window like water from a broken dam as the second week of my sentence in hell on earth starts. It reflects off the metal barrel of my high-powered rifle poking through one of the missing panes. The sunlight bathes my finger drifting serenely into the gun's trigger guard. There are too many of them out there now to risk firing, of course. They've been getting too riled up these past few hours without me chipping in. The Army jet have been roaring past overhead since yesterday afternoon. The only good thing about that racket is that it means we are still fighting back. Humanity is still giving a good account of itself as the world ends. A day or two shouldn't be our final record. I can feel them looking at me. I don't think they recognize me as anything other than something akin to that expensive cake in the store that you want to buy.. but you can't afford it. You can look but you can't munch. There are maybe twenty of them out there altogether by now. They're mostly indistinguishable from one another but a few stand out in the crowd -- in the sea of grey faces. I recognize one as my brother's ex-girlfriend. Her face is almost torn to shreds but I would know that nose mangled or not. She never was a looker. The mob by the door interests me the most. There's maybe a dozen standing around there, most of them aimlessly staring into the distance after the last jet that flew over. There's one in there that actually keeps smashing its fists into the boarded-up windows by the front door. They can't break through it easily but if, say, all twenty of them out there begin noticing the windows... I will become concerned. If they break through one of those windows... Well I am a big fan of the 1990 remake of the George Romero classic zombie movie Night of the Living Dead and I remember Harry Cooper surviving in that version of the movie in the attic. The dumb fuck got bit of course so he didn't survive. I barricaded the stairs in case of a breach which is unfortunate because the good shitter is downstairs. I shake my head with a derisive smile and look back down the sights of the rifle. That's when I see her. The gaunt young woman looks dead; that must be why I missed her in the crowd. Her face is streaked with dirt and there is a dead look in her eyes. Her pale, pale skin is caked with dried blood. Her clothes are filthy and torn. She looks exactly like one of those walking corpses -- but she isn't one of them. She just keeps sobbing silently. They are wordless, broken sobs -- the origins of which I can only guess at. Grief? Insanity? Both? The dead aren't bothering her though. They seem to accept her as one of their own. Maybe I'm wrong. Maybe she is one of them. She is dead. She has to be. I haven't seen any other signs of life besides the jets in the past three days. I need to forget my hunch that she isn't dead. On the other hand.. the dead don't cry as if their puppy just died. They moan.. if they still have a throat. She's not exactly the girl of my dreams but she's a living breathing human being. I can use the company. I make my decision and trail the sights of the rifle up her body again and back to her face. I try to see through the grime, to see her as she might have been with a few less missed meals in the World Before. She would have been a beautiful young woman in her early twenties with long red hair and large, sultry green eyes. Her torn clothes might not have been hanging off her thin frame like stained and unrecognizable rags. The dead must not be able to smell her; her skin is completely caked with dried gore in several spots. I take a deep breath and make my decision. The dead aren't going to ignore her forever and I am not going to watch her die. She's as good as dead in that condition if I don't nut up and take a chance. I lean out the window and whistle to get her attention. A few of them look up at me but half-heartedly as if they know they can't fly. They continue to ignore the girl as she looks up as well and spots me. "Those things will eat you alive unless you get inside out of the fucking street," I call to her in as soft and sane a tone as I can imagine at the moment, "so you might want to think about, you know, getting inside out of the fucking street." The young woman stares at me blankly but doesn't look away like the dead ones. Something in those blank eyes flickers and the corner of her lips twitch in what could have been the ghost of a smile. "Go around the back," I tell her, "Come on, hurry up, goddamnit!" I sling the rifle on my shoulder and hurry as quietly as possible across a dim hallway into the guest room. This window would look out on a perfectly normal and empty back yard on any marginally sane day. Today it looks out on a perfectly normal and empty back yard.. oh, and a still-smoldering crater where another house had been further down the hill. The Army isn't fucking around. When they saw that house getting swarmed by forty or fifty of those things, they put enough ordnance into it to light up the entire street like the Fourth of July on shrooms. Fortunately for me and the girl outside, that also means there aren't any of those rotting bastards out there at the moment. "I hope she hurries up," I mutter to myself lighting a cigarette with fumbling fingers, "because it's almost lunchtime and she's on the open menu." I lean through the open window and ash the cigarette in a single deft movement. I turn my head to look first right and then left to see if she was coming around the side of the house yet. I almost give up on her and I'm even half turning away when she appears. She walks slowly over and stands under the window and her eyes never leave mine. I can see that little ghost-smile on her chapped lips again. I return the smile and give her the once-over again. Seeing her up close, I think that she looks even more like one of them. Her skin is about as white as a glass of milk and there are bags underneath her eyes. One of her hands twitches every few seconds like a nervous tic. "You're not a psycho or something, right?" she asks, "because they seem like nice enough people and you don't seem so bad." I smile at her again and kneel down out of view for a second to grab the rope ladder I had made for just such an occasion. I toss it down to her carefully to be sure she can catch it so that it doesn't bang against the side of the house. "I haven't decided yet," I reply to her as I secure my end of the ladder to the windowsill. She gives me this shaky little smile and looks away as if not sure what to think. She puts one bare foot on the first rung of the ladder in the manner of someone testing a pool's water temperature. I can tell she's wondering whether I'm joking. "You must be joking," she says. She put her hands on the ladder and lifts herself up to the next rung. She looks up at me with those bottomless green eyes swimming in a face wet with tears and I realize something. That was how I had recognized her among the mass of zombies below. Their eyes were glazed over and completely unfocused. I wonder -- not for the last time -- what the fuck she is doing here. She should be dead. She took a stroll down the street with a bunch of dead guys. I mention this to her as she lifts herself up another few rungs, obviously weak from malnutrition. "I was trying to be quiet," she says softly, "because then they can't find you." She looks on the verge of tears again as she reaches the window. I grip her hand and help her climb inside. I pull the rope ladder back up as she watches me. "Thank you," she whispers. I nod and lead her across the hall to my room. I point out the cot by the closet and tell her that she can sleep there for now. I lean my rifle carefully against the wall by the window and take her on a tour of the rest of the house's second floor. "We have the bathroom," I say, pointing at a door further down the hall. "The plumbing doesn't work but there's privacy at least and we can take it in turns . . . dumping it out . . . the . . " I've been smiling at her but it fades from my lips when I notice she isn't looking at me. She is looking back into my room. The moans of the dead are drifting through the window like the haunting score of a horror movie. "End of the tour," I say softly.