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To be honest, I hadn’t remembered that the camera was there. I’d been too focused on not cracking my skull open. Still, I nodded agreeably, taking a long drink of Coke before saying, “No problem. How many of the cameras kept feeding through the chase?”

“Three of the four. Shaun’s helmet didn’t come on until you were almost here.”

“Shaun didn’t have time to put on his helmet, or he would have ceased to have a head,” Shaun protested.

“Shaun needs to stop talking about himself in the third person,” Buffy said, and hit a button on her keyboard. The image was replaced by a close-up shot of the flickering lights on our blood tests. “I want to screenshot this for the main site. What do you think?”

“Whatever you say,” I said. The screen broadcasting our main external security camera was showing an abandoned, undisturbed landscape. Nothing moved in Watsonville. “You know I don’t care about the graphics.”

“And that’s why your ratings aren’t higher, George,” said Shaun. “I like the lights. Use them as a slow fade in tonight’s teaser, too—tack on something about, I don’t know, how close is too close, that whole old saw.”

“‘Close Encounters on the Edge of the Grave,’ ” I murmured, moving toward the screen. It was a little too unmoving out there. Maybe I was being paranoid, but I’ve learned to pay attention to my instincts. God knows Shaun and Buffy weren’t paying attention to anything but tomorrow’s headlines.

Shaun grinned. “I like it. Grayscale the image except for the lights and use that.”

“On it.” Buffy typed a quick note before shutting down the screen. “Have we got any more big plans for the afternoon, folks?”

“Getting out of here,” I said, turning back to the others. “I’m on the bike. I’ll take point, but we need to get back to civilization.”

Buffy blinked at me, looking baffled. She’s a Fictional; her style of blogging is totally self-contained, and she only sees the field when Shaun and I haul her out to work our equipment. Even then, she pretty much never leaves the van. It’s not her job to pay attention to anything that doesn’t live on a computer screen.

Shaun, on the other hand, sobered immediately. “Why?”

“There’s nothing moving out there.” I opened the back door, scanning the land more closely. It had taken me a few minutes—maybe too long—to realize what was wrong, but now that I’d seen it, it was obvious.

There should always be something moving in a town the size of Watsonville. Feral cats, rabbits, even herds of wild deer looking for the overgrown remains of what used to be gardens. We’ve seen everything from goats to somebody’s abandoned Shetland pony wandering through the remains of the old towns, living off the land. So where were they? There wasn’t as much as a squirrel in sight.

Shaun grimaced. “Crap.”

“Crap,” I agreed. “Buffy, grab your gear.”

“I’ll drive,” Shaun said, and started for the front of the van.

Buffy was looking between us with wide-eyed bafflement. “Okay, does somebody want to tell me what’s causing the evacuation?” she demanded.

“There aren’t any animals,” Shaun said, dropping into the driver’s seat.

I paused while yanking my gloves back on, taking pity, and replied, “Nothing clears the wildlife like the infected. We need to get out of here before we have—”

As if on cue, a low, distant moan came through the van’s back door, carried by the prevailing winds. I grimaced.

“—company,” Shaun and I finished, in unison.

“Race you home,” I called, and ducked out the door. Buffy slammed it behind me, and I heard all three bolts click home. Even if I screamed, they’d never let me back inside. That’s the protocol when you’re in the field. No matter how loudly you yell, they never let you in.

Not if they want to live, anyway.

There were no zombies in sight, but the moaning from the north and east was getting louder. I tightened the straps on my gloves, grabbed my helmet, and slung my leg over the bike’s still-warm seat. Inside the van, I knew Buffy would be checking her cameras, fastening her seatbelt, and trying to figure out why we were reacting so badly to zombies that probably weren’t even in range. If there’s really a God, she’s never going to know the answer to that one.

The van pulled out, bumping and shaking as it made its way onto the freeway. I gunned the bike’s engine and followed, pulling up alongside the van before moving out about ten feet ahead, where Shaun could see me and we could both watch the road for obstructions. It’s a simple safety formation, but it’s saved a lot of asses in the last twenty years. We rode like that, separated by a thin ribbon of broken road, all the way out of the valley, through the South Bay, and into the cool, welcoming air of Berkeley, California.

Home sweet zombie-free home.

as he pressed his hand to her cheek, Marie could feel his flesh burning up from within, changing as the virus that slept in all of us awoke in her lover. She blinked back tears, licking suddenly dry lips before she managed to whisper, “I’m so sorry, Vincent. I never thought that it would end this way.”

“It doesn’t have to end this way for you,” he replied, and smiled, sorrow written in his still-bright eyes. “Get the hell out of here, Marie. There’s nothing in this wasteland but the dead. Go home. Live, and be happy.”

“It’s too late for that. It’s too late for me.” She held up the blood testing kit and watched his eyes widen as he took in the meaning of the single red light burning at the top. “It’s been too late since the attack.” Her own smile was as weak as his. “You called me the hyacinth girl. I guess I belong in the wasteland.”

“At least we’re damned together,” he said, and kissed her.

—From Love as a Metaphor,

originally published in By the Sounding Sea,

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