I didn’t cry when I tried on my wedding dress. Really, that should’ve been a hint that my upcoming nuptials were doomed. You see it all the time on those wedding dress TV shows. The bride puts on her dress and sobs. You sob watching the show.
Yeah… that’s so not what happened.
I walked out of a fitting room that smelled like moth balls.
“How much is that one?” My soon-to-be-mother-in-law snapped to the associate.
She spouted off a number, which made me cringe. I had underwear that cost more, but since my fiancé was buying my dress I couldn’t complain. In retrospect, I should have.
“Go take the dress off so we can leave. I’m not going to spend the entire day here.”
I’d only tried on two other dresses. But, I did as she commanded. Mostly because she scared the shit out of me. As I changed, I let my mind wander. I had high hopes that Steve and I would move far, far, far away from her after the wedding.
Yeah. Didn’t happen.
Blinking, I take in my current surroundings. The street is empty, lined with abandoned cars. I know this because if they were drivable they would be gone. Tall buildings loom on each side of the street casting shadows, but there’s not a soul in sight. My boots crunch on broken glass. I’m not worried about being quiet. There haven’t been biters in this area, well, not since we cleared them out.
Ahead, five very muscular men walk with their weapons in hand. I glare at the back of the leader’s head. He must sense it, because he glances over his shoulder and smiles at me. In another life that smile would’ve made my knees weak. Now it only reminds me that no matter what I do, I can’t get away from this man.
Believe me. I’ve fucking tried. He just ends up chasing me, bringing me back to the group. Says he has to keep me safe. I hate that I kind of like it when he catches me.
Doomsday Dave says, “Everyone hold up. Nikki is dragging.”
The again is unspoken and lingers in the air.
I grit my teeth. “I’m not dragging. I’m only a few steps behind Jeff.”
Jeff frowns and I feel bad for calling him out. He’s moving slower than normal after our last run-in with a horde. He got tripped up in barbed wire and it messed his leg up pretty bad. There are still cuts on his tan skin from where we tugged him free. It could have been way worse.
I shake my head. “Keep going.”
Dave replies, “No can do. Everyone, ten-minute break.”
The guys do the same thing they’ve done for the last few years when a break is called. They get away from me as fast as they possibly can. I was insulted at first. Now, it’s welcomed.
I find a curb that’s not too dirty and sit. Before the outbreak, I would’ve got on my phone to check social media or texted Steve. I legit had withdrawals from social media for a while. It sucked going from checking my phone all the time to not having any form of communication. Let that sink in. No way to communicate. With anyone. Ever.
Well, Doomsday Dave has a handheld radio, Army issued, I’m sure, but I’ll never get my hands on it. It stays in his backpack. So, yeah… basically nothing.
Now all I can do is watch the men as they scope their surroundings and talk to each other. All of them except for Doomsday Dave, of course. He makes his way to me. I wonder if it’s his personal mission to make my life a living hell. If so, he’s doing a good job.
“If you need to stop, just say so. You’ll only slow us down more if you get too tired.”
I raise an eyebrow. “What makes you think I’m tired?”
“You were dragging back there.”
“No. I wasn’t.”
He smirks. “You were.”
“Whatever. Can you just leave? Go give someone else a pep talk.”
He grins like he thinks what I’ve said is funny or something.
He squats so we’re eye to eye. I hate that I notice how his camouflage pants are tight over his muscular thighs. And how his shirt is equally as tight over his chest and arms. And how the green shirt brings out little flecks of the same color in his mostly brown eyes.
“Is this attitude because it’s our anniversary?”
“Our what?” My voice echoes and some of the guys give me a look before resuming their conversations.
He grins. “Our anniversary. You know, from when I stopped that biter from eating you.”
My stomach drops. He’s – oh god. He’s right! How could I have forgotten? That must be why I was thinking about my stupid wedding gown.
His dark eyes soften a bit and I hate him even more for showing me sympathy. I need him to be an asshole. It’s the only way this is bearable.
“I just assumed that’s why-”
I cut him off. “Seriously, just go.”
His expression changes and I’ve finally pissed him off.
He nods. “About time to head out.”
I want to scream, head out to where?, but I don’t. I’m not sure he’ll answer and it’ll only make the others glare at me even more. Sighing, I grab my pack and slip my shoulders through the straps.
In the beginning, I’d take the pack off each day and have massive blisters on my shoulder blades. I am fairly fit, but there’s a difference between being toned and being apocalypse-fit. That was probably the worst part. That and watching my fiancé turn into a biter at our wedding.
I fall in line with the guys, trying not to let my thoughts wander. That’s how people die these days. Because memories can be killer. But I can’t stop the onslaught that’s happening.
I still remember it like it was yesterday.
I finally got my hideous wedding dress zipped up. I didn’t remember it being so tight. I wouldn’t put it past Steve’s mom to order a smaller size just because she could. My best friend simply shook her head as she looked at me.
“Don’t say it.”
Skeeter shrugged. “I’m not going to. Because you already know. It’s fucking horrible.”
We stared at my reflection. My brown hair was piled up on my head with curly tendrils framing my face. The dress made me look so washed out, but I was afraid to add more make-up. I didn’t even have anything borrowed or blue. Skeeter’s dress was at least decent. Since Steve’s mom wouldn’t pay for it, Skeeter got to wear her own dress that was a beautiful shade of blue. My dress, on the other hand, still looked awful.
Skeeter poked one of the slightly yellow fluffy sleeves. “You must really love Steve.”
We both giggled and I felt better.
She gave me a serious look and my stomach dropped. I knew she’d been wanting to talk to me, but I’d been avoiding her for this very reason.
“I know I gave you shit for staying with him after he cheated on you, but I want you to know I hope the two of you are happy.”
I nodded my head once. What else could I say? After the incident, as I liked to call it, things were tense between Steve and me. I wasn’t sure I would marry him, but he begged until I gave in.
I finally replied, “Thanks.”
There was a knock on the door and Steve’s mom said, “It’s almost time. The new preacher finally showed up.”
“I’m ready,” I called out.
When she was gone, Skeeter asked, “New preacher?”
“The other one got sick.”
She nodded. “Probably has the bug going around.”
I replied, “That’s what I said, too. Steve was bummed when we found out last night. I guess the preacher was the same one who baptized him.”
I didn’t care who married us. I just wanted this wedding to be over so my life could go back to normal. Of course I didn’t voice my thoughts to Steve. He would just freak out, as he always did. Wonder what his preacher would think if he knew Steve cheated on me?
The door opened and we were ushered from the room by a woman who worked at the church. Since I didn’t have family, both sides were filled with Steve’s family and friends. Skeeter walked down the aisle first. I gritted my teeth together when I saw that the runner on the floor was a burnt orange, the color of Steve’s mom’s favorite football team. She stood at the head of the church, next to Steve, and gave me a sweet smile.
Bitch! She knew I wanted the colors to be pastels. My teeth ached from gritting and I wasn’t even halfway down the aisle yet. Finally, I reached Steve’s side. He took my hand into his very clammy one. In my heels I was a good foot taller than him. He’d have something to say about my height later, but I’d have words of my own.
The preacher stepped up to the podium. Dude was like a hundred years old! Not even kidding. He reminded me of the priest in The Princess Bride, which was my favorite movie. Skeeter snorted next to me and I knew she was thinking the same thing.
The ceremony began. Steve’s hand shook and more sweat dripped off him and onto me. I gazed at him out of the corner of my eye. His skin was ashy and he was sweating bullets.
“You okay?” I murmured.
His mom leaned forward, cutting her eyes at me. Steve met my gaze and I gasped. His eyes were bloodshot, red vessels everywhere.
He whispered, “I don’t feel so hot.”
I was about to say he should sit down when the doors to the church burst open. A woman wearing a white dress set her sight on Steve and came toward us. I knew right away who it was.
“You mother fucker!” she screamed. “What did you give me?”
There were audible gasps throughout the room. I didn’t say anything. Instead, I dropped Steve’s hand.
“Honey,” he whined. “What are you doing here?”
She reached us. Shit. She looked as bad as he did. There was a second where I feared whatever they had was contagious.
“You fucked me, got me sick, and now you’re actually going to marry this bitch?”
More gasps. That time Skeeter stepped forward, ready to protect me, whether it be with fists or words.
The preacher asked, “Would you like to take a moment to discuss this privately?”
He looked at Steve’s mom, who shook her head. Apparently, even he took orders from her.
Steve said to the woman, “I didn’t give you anything. I told you it’s that bug that’s going around.”
“Like I’m going to believe that. We shot up together, fucked, and now I’m sick.”
He darted his eyes to his mom and then to me. I must admit I was surprised at the drug bit. I never saw any indication of that, but I was starting to think I didn’t know the man standing next to me.
Steve took a step toward the woman. “You should leave. We can talk about this later.”
“We can talk about this now, you son of a-”
The woman’s face paled and then she collapsed. I stared at her. I wasn’t much of a believer in God, but this had me wondering if someone was trying to tell me this wedding was a bad idea.
Steve’s mom shrieked, “Steve, take care of this problem. Right now.”
As I’m sure Steve had done his entire life when his mom barked out an order, he bent, ready to help his mistress. The thought made me cringe. Mistresses sounded so classy when you read about them. Kept Women. Women of leisure. All that. What you didn’t picture was someone that looked like they were on meth, wearing a wedding dress that probably cost more than the piece of shit you had on, starring in the clip that would surely go viral after Steve’s 15-year-old cousin uploaded the video being shot from her phone in the third-row pew.
Steve bent to check on the woman. At the same time, the church was filled with the buzzing and the chirping of cell phones.
Skeeter’s bra dinged and she lifted her phone. “Shit. There’s a warning about the virus. They’re saying we need to stay inside.”
More phones chirped, some with the emergency broadcasting tone.
Someone from the back of the church yelled out, “The Civil Authority has issued a contagious disease warning for the entire state! Travel is restricted. They say to avoid contact with people with fevers, sweating, confusion, and erratic behavior.”
I glanced down at Steve and his mistress. Uh. Yeah. That basically described the two of them.
Skeeter said to me, “Nikki, we should get out of here. It sounds like things are pretty bad out there.”
Steve glanced up. “You can’t seriously be thinking of leaving. We’re at our wedding for Christ’s sake!”
“And you can’t seriously think I’m going to marry you after your mistress, the woman you cheated on me with, just showed up to our wedding.”
His mouth gaped, reminding me of a fish. He was about to say something when the woman groaned. It was the freakiest thing I’d ever heard in my life. It was like the life was leaving her body in one loud exhale of breath.
Steve’s mom bent to get a better look. “Is she oka-”
Her words turned into screams as the woman sat up and latched onto Steve’s mom’s neck, ripping the flesh away. Blood sprayed into the air and covered my dress. Thankfully, it didn’t get on my face.
Skeeter pulled me away just as the woman sat up.
Steve gasped. “Honey! I thought you were dead!”
I stared at him as people screamed and left the church. This bitch just ripped his mom’s neck out and he was glad she was okay? What. The. Fuck.
The woman stood on shaky legs. Her eyes were milky white and she snapped her teeth like she was ready to sink them into more flesh. Skeeter tugged my arm again.
“Nikki, let’s get out of here.”
I was about to agree when the woman lunged for us. I managed to jump out of the way, but she grabbed hold of one of my ruffled sleeves, ripping it. I struggled to get away, but this bitch was scary strong. Skeeter pushed the woman, who fell against Steve. They landed on the ground and he cried out once.
Someone screamed. “God save us! There’s another one.”
Steve’s mom was now rising to her feet. Blood oozed from her neck, down her dress. She sniffed the air and then attacked the poor preacher. He went down as the rest of the guests fled. I thought I heard ambulances outside, but it might have been wishful thinking.
Skeeter cried out, “Nikki!”
I turned as Steve lunged at me. He, too, had become one of the monsters. I tried shoving him away, but he was too strong. I pushed his chest, looking frantically for something to hit him with. Skeeter screamed as the mistress attacked her. There was nothing I could do to help her because Steve was coming at me again.
He stared at me and I knew the man I once knew wasn’t there anymore. My arms ached as I held him back. If they gave in, I was dead.
“Close your eyes,” a deep voice yelled from the back of the church.
I didn’t want to do it. What if Steve got a burst of energy and I didn’t see it?
“Fucking listen to me!”
Something in his tone snapped me into action. I closed my eyes as a gun fired. Wet and sticky liquid sprayed my face. A sob worked its way up my throat, but I refused to open my mouth. There were three more shots and then nothing.
Something cool touched my face and I cringed.
“I’ve got you. Hold on.” He wiped my face. “There.”
I didn’t realize I was crying until his thumb brushed a tear away. Slowly, I opened my eyes and tried not to gasp. The man before me was fucking stunning. Tall, muscles for days, dark hair, and dimples that appeared as he smiled down at me.
And then he had to ruin it by fucking talking.
“If you’re done being dramatic, there are others I need to help. Come on.”
He took me by the hand, pulling me from the altar. I glanced over my shoulder and saw Steve’s lifeless body. And then I saw Skeeter.
“Wait! My friend – she’s hurt.”
He shook his head. “She’s as good as dead. We don’t have time.”
I dug my heels into the carpet. “I’m not leavi-”
With a heavy sigh, he lifted his gun and pointed it at Skeeter. She was gone a moment later. I didn’t even hear the gun go off. I thought I’d gone into shock. This man, no, monster, tossed me over his shoulder and we left the church.
Outside, it was like stepping into a nightmare. People were running everywhere. Gun shots rang out in the air. And then there was those things, just like Steve had become. One got close to us, reaching out. I let out a half-moan half-scream. The man holding me turned, and killed it with a knife.
“Can you walk?”
I nodded, but realized he couldn’t see me. “Yes.”
My voice didn’t crack, for which I was glad. I got the feeling this guy hated emotional people. He put me on my feet and aimed his gun at one of the monsters.
“Why are your shooting them?”
He glanced at me like I was crazy. “Because they’re fucking zombies!”
You heard the word in movies all the time, or even on the news when people started doing bath salts. But to hear it in real life was just… almost too much to handle. Zombies? Like really? How could he have been sure?
I must have voiced that last thought because he said, “Because they are zombies. Look at them!” He shoved me back as one came close. “Haven’t you watched the news recently?”
I didn’t like his tone. I didn’t tell him that no, I hadn’t watched the news because I’d been too busy planning my wedding. Instead, I watched him take down an older man with milky white eyes. The only thing out of place with him was the black ooze coming from the corner of his mouth. Oh, and he smelled. Like super bad.
There was a dead mouse in the vent of my car one time. There wasn’t anything the mechanic could do to get it out, so I had to wait for it to decompose. Every time I got into my car and turned the AC on I would be blasted with the scent of death. That was what this old guy smelled like, only way worse. So, maybe this gun-toting man knew something I didn’t.
He grabbed my wrist and pulled me behind him as we ran. More people were on the streets. Some were in cars and I could see this getting out of hand very fast.
“Where are we going?”
He glanced at me. “Somewhere safe.”
I should have told him to let me go. I should have gone back to the church to see if anyone was still there. I should have done anything but let him drag me along. But I didn’t. And now I’m stuck with him.
That’s when I made the first rule to survive the apocalypse.
Rule 1: Listen to your gut.