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The Meal

A short story that takes place in a post-apocalyptic world, where zombies roams the face of the earth, forcing the survivors to barricade themselves into their homes, living out their lives with no or little contact with each other. In one house an old man heads down the basement, carrying a food-tray in his old hands. You can also get this story in other formats, free @ Smashwords.

The quivering hands caused the pistol to drum against the tray. In silence, he stood in front the doorway, looking down at the dim light pouring up from the basement. With a sigh, he began to stagger down the stairs. A smell of decay and flaking walls greeted him as he stepped out onto the old plastic carpet in the worn-down basement.

The thought of remodeling the basement had been with him for years. He thought about turning it into somewhere he could escape and be alone with his thoughts and a whiskey, for a while. He used to fantasize about building a small workshop or maybe a Victorian-style library, complete with a fake fireplace and bookshelves filled to the tipping point with interesting books.

But, that didn’t happen. Life got in the way. Their first summer in the house, Chris come along and the summer after that, Jennifer completed their family.

Between a young family, work and friends, there wasn’t much time for anything else. For a couple of years, it felt as if he was running in a gauntlet. Babies growing up to be kids, which then turned into teenagers, then transforming into adults and finally, becoming parents of their own.

By then he was glad that he made it through, with his sanity somewhat intact, and all he wanted was to be able to relax and enjoy his newfound freedom. The years then rolled on and before he knew it 45 of them had passed by, taking the whole world with it. Now, in the end, he was glad he had never come around to do it, what had been the point, he thought as he walked towards the yellow door at the far end of the basement.

From the bed in the middle of the room, two bloodshot eyes followed him as he entered. The light came from two small dusty windows, placed high up on the wall under the ceiling, giving the room a yellowish tone, much like an old photograph. He placed the tray on a small wooden stand, leaned over the bed, and kissed the grey, clammy forehead.

“Hello, Mary,” he said and sank down onto the edge of the bed.

Mary, tossed her head from side to side, twitched, and arched her back, trying to break free from the straps that restrained her body to the bed, which creaked under her attempts. After a while she calmed down and he traced his gaunt fingers on the rim of the leather muzzle that was covering half of her swollen, ulcerated face.

The lines of her elegance and beauty were still present, just as they had been the first time he had laid eyes on her, down at the beach. It was such a long time ago that it was hard for him to even grasp.

When the warmest day in living memory played up before his tired eyes, a nostalgic smile spread upon his unshaven cheeks. The asphalt had bled that day, creating small streams of tar, refrigerators had given up with mumbled puffs, and the ice cream surrendered to the heat within moments of unwrapping.

Everyone, who could, had abandoned the town in favor of the beach, where their warm bodies could be caressed by the cool breeze and from the water of the Atlantic. As he squinted over the beach and the shoreline, she rose from the water, like a sea goddess.

His eyes grew large as he observed how the glistering water rinsed off her tanned body, finding its way into her bulbous and enthralling bosom. That was all it had taken to hook him – for life.

To his great surprise and joy, she responded well to his awkward courtship and they had their first date that evening, at the beach of course. They had laid on the sand, talking and watching the stars against the black sky, until they faded away in the morning. After that, they had been almost inseparable and by now, it felt like they were one organism.

“Where did it all go, Mary?” his hoarse voice almost drowned in her grunts, “All the time we thought we had? How could it slip away so fast, right under our noses?”

He paused and inhaled deep.

“Remember that day at the beach? In that precise moment, who would have known that the two of us would end up here, in an old basement, while the world is turning into hell?”

He flung up his arms and looked around the almost empty room. The grunts got wilder as Mary twirled on the bed, trying to free her wrists and ankles from the bedposts.

Mary was hungry.

His fingers struggled with the small belt buckles that kept the muzzle in place and when the straps came off he sighed with relief and removed it from her face. Mary’s head shot up against, him like a striking cobra, and she let off a fierce growl. With a gentle nod, he reached for the bowl, fished up the gray pulp of meat and dangled it above her mouth.

“This is the last one, courtesy of Harold, our favorite English teacher, Mary.” Then he dropped the piece into her mouth, and she devoured it like a ravaging wood chipper.

“You see, Harold didn’t answer our signal last night.” He placed the bowl back on the nightstand and continued, “Well, first I thought that he just had gotten to sleep while reading one of those thick fantasy books he loved so much. That has been known to have happen once or twice before you know!” He chuckled and shook his head.

“So, this morning, I got up early, maybe you heard me shuffling around up there? I figured that I would at least see him moving around inside his kitchen. Then I would know that he was OK.”

He shook his head a little and looked down at his hands shaking in his lap.

“Of course, I didn’t. Hence, I spent the better part of the day looking for Chris old football gear. And can you imagine some of that stuff still fitted, not bad or what?”

Mary’s clenched her yellowish teeth and turned her head up, against the small windows. Faint shadows were shuffling about outside on the driveway, leading up to the front door.

He noticed them to, stared at them for a moment and then he continued.

“Then I walked around the house, to build up some courage. I looked out from every window at least twice before I dared to go outside and do you know what I noticed?” He asked.

“It was so quiet, so unnatural silent. You couldn’t hear anything. No dogs’ barking in the distant, no cars, no chirping, not at thing was heard. It felt strange, Mary, so strange. The air was good though. You wouldn’t believe how fresh it was. Anyway, I hunched down and ran over to Holder’s house.”

He looked at Mary.

“Yeah, I knew you’re laughing, someplace deep inside your… your prison. You’re laughing right now! I know it. And I can hand it to you – I was also wondering what the heck I was doing.” He shook his head and smiled.

“I reached the front door and it was unlocked, you see.” He swallowed.

“I pushed the door open, plodded inside, and whispered. No response. I found him in the living room, with an old, photograph of him and Barbara. His head had tilted back over the rim of the couch. At first, I thought that he was sleeping, taking a nap. Then I saw the empty jar around his slippers.”

He swallowed hard and wiped the hot overflow of tears away while glancing at the shadows moving about outside the window.

“Do you know if he was from England or not?” he turned to Mary, “Funny that we never got to learn much about him over the years.”

He heard sounds coming from the front porch.

“Anyway, I just stood there watching him for a while, not knowing what to do. After a while, I covered him up with a blanket, I guess it was the right thing to do. Anyway, I found the note in the pantry, above the meat; I guess he knew me pretty well in the end after all!”

He reached down inside his pocket and fumbled out a wrinkled note, harrumphed and read it with a weak voice.

“Sorry old chap, hope to see you soon, followed by a happy face,” he paused, “He was something, Harold, wasn’t he?”

Soundless, he placed the note on the cupboard. Sounds of furniture being moved and bumped to the floor came from upstairs.

“You see Mary, when I came home from Harold, I left the door open. Not much, just a tad. Mary, I’m so tired now, too tired.”

The noises and grunts were heading down the stairs now and Mary got fiercer, tossing her head from side to side, trying to sit up.

“Oh, that’s right, I left the door to the basement open as well.”

The gun felt heavy as he turned it around in his hands, then he looked at Mary, blood mixed mucus oozing out from the corner of her cracked lips.

“Bah, no need to worry,” he said after sitting quietly for a while, “that’s not the way I’ll check out!” and then he put the gun back onto the cupboard.

“I just thought it would be nice to have an option.”

The sound of stiff bodies tumbling down the stairs made him twitch and his heart raced.

“Oh, that was quick, just as the time we got together, wouldn’t you say so, Mary?”

He untied her wrists and Mary’s eyes got wider. He smiled at her deep grunts as he freed her ankles.

She eased her stiff upper body up, with him locked on her wide eyes. Her mouth growled, with turbid saliva drooling down her cheek and onto her chest.

“You take care now, Mary, you hear. Chris and I will be waiting and Jennifer of course. And I suppose we’ll meet Harold and Barbara there as well.”

Tears welled over as he wrapped his shaking arms around Mary and pressed himself against her gaunt stiff body.

She bites like a horse, he thought, before the pain shattered his senses.

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· Copyright © 2017 by Ken Bergman All Rights Reserved ·

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