He didn’t turn, his eyes intent on the light of the elevator call button.
I looked toward Minnie. She was growling too, deeper and lower than Beverly—so deep and low that I had mistaken the sound for the rumble of the approaching elevator. She and Beverly were facing the same way, down the hall, toward the other apartments.
“Nathan,” I said again, a little more loudly—but not much, no, not much. I was starting to think that making noise was the last thing that either of us wanted to do. “I think we’re about to have company.”
“What?” He followed my gaze to the end of the hall, and then looked down at the wild-eyed, growling dogs, who had taken on that stiff-legged posture characteristic of canines defending humans since the dawn of time. He paled. “Oh. Fuck.”
“I think we may have to take the stairs.”
“I don’t know if we can get there,” he said slowly. “One of those doors is between us and them.”
“Oh.” Things had seemed almost hopeful only a few seconds before, even if “hope” had been redefined on the local level to mean “slightly less bleak.” Now, with an unknown number of sleepwalkers approaching, it was difficult to muster anything but resigned despair. “I don’t know what to do, Nathan. None of my remedial education classes covered how to escape in the middle of a zombie apocalypse.”
Nathan laughed once, a single short, sharp bark that actually distracted Minnie from her growling long enough to give him a quizzical look. “Surviving the zombie apocalypse was an incredibly popular topic of discussion with the folks I went to college with. Too bad no one ever came up with a simple solution for ‘zombie apocalypse, genetically engineered parasite variant.’ I’d be the savior of the human race if they had.”
I was opening my mouth to answer him when the first moan drifted around the corner at the end of the hall, followed by another, and another, until it sounded like an entire mob was shambling our way. At least none of them was saying my name—not yet, anyway. Whatever half-decayed connection allowed the sleepwalkers to recognize me as a chimera was present, but no one had given them a word to hang on what I was. Not that awareness of our relationship would keep them from attacking me. As the man in the stairwell had proven, they could recognize me and still want to rip my throat out with their teeth.
We both backed up until we were pressed against the closed elevator doors, holding to the dogs’ leashes for dear life. I could deal with the fact that I was probably about to die. The fact that I was still weak from blood loss meant that I would almost certainly die first, saving me from needing to see what my tapeworm cousins would do to Nathan. But I couldn’t bear the thought of seeing the dogs ripped to pieces by the sleepwalkers. The dogs could do a lot of damage before they were killed. The sleepwalkers barely acknowledged pain. They would win.
“You know, in all my wildest dreams, this was never how I imagined I would die,” said Nathan. He sounded almost wistful. “I mean, I assumed you would be there, but that it would either be one of those ‘dying in bed at the ripe old age of a hundred and twenty, my beloved wife by my side’ situations, or a freak surfing accident while we were on our honeymoon.”
“You surf?” I paused. “Wait, honeymoon?”
“I surf,” he confirmed. “And yes, honeymoon. I mean, assuming you said yes when I finally got up the nerve to propose.”
“If we get out of here alive, you should try it,” I said.
Nathan smiled sadly, and said nothing.
The first of the sleepwalkers shambled into view, moving toward us with slow, implacable purpose. The dogs were still growling, but louder now, like they still thought that they could somehow dissuade these unwanted intruders on their space through volume alone. My insistence on grabbing the knives suddenly seemed like a child’s demand for a security blanket. We were two people with kitchen cutlery and no training, and I was already injured. All we could do with those knives was slit our own wrists and hope that we bled out fully before the sleepwalkers ripped us apart.
“I’m really glad I got to know you,” I said.
“Me, too,” said Nathan. “Marry me?”
The elevator doors opened.
We were pressed flat against them, and when the support suddenly left our backs, we toppled over, taking suitcases, terrarium, and dogs with us as we tumbled into the elevator. Luck was with us for the first time since we’d left the lab: there was no one already inside, waiting to take a bite out of our tender flesh. I squeaked shrilly, surprised and disoriented. Nathan scrambled to his feet, slamming the heel of his hand down on the door-close button. I managed to sit up just in time to see the blank, emotionless faces of the sleepwalkers blocked out by the closing elevator doors.
Beverly and Minnie stopped growling, their belligerence transforming instantly into confusion. Minnie sat down, beginning to scratch her ear with her hind leg. I picked myself up from the floor, pausing to right the luggage and make sure I hadn’t dropped anything. My heart was hammering in my chest so hard that it hurt, and for once it didn’t sound like drums at all—it sounded like the heartbeat of a mammal, panicked beyond reason and confronting its own mortality.
Nathan was standing squarely in the middle of the elevator by the time I finished getting to my feet. His carving knife was in his hand, and his shoulders were shaking, betraying the depth of his distress. It was weird to realize that of the two of us, I was probably the one handling things better. Then again, I was also the one who was accustomed to the world being turned on its head. Nathan liked his routines. He was used to things being just so, and even dating me hadn’t changed that. My chaos hadn’t intruded on his daily life—not until recently, anyway.