“Oh, sweet baby Jesus,” Sarah said over and over to herself, rocking back and forth in her husband’s old Silverado. She wanted to close her eyes but she couldn’t. If she closed them, she might miss one of those creatures sneaking up on the car. Travis said he’d be back by sunrise. By sunrise, everything would be better again.
Her husband took the rifle but they had a pistol in the glove compartment that he had taught her how to use. “Oh, sweet baby Jesus. Travis. Please be okay out there.”
Nights are the worst. Sarah sees creatures in the shadows, ones that may or may not be there. She never knows until she can see them get enough to the truck or hear their hooves crunch through the snow. One time, a squirrel jumped onto the windshield and tried to gnaw through it to get to them. Sarah thought she would have screamed hysterically, but she just sat there, gun pointed, heart hammering against her ribs. Travis never woke up and she never told him about it, either. There’s enough terror in the daytime without Travis hearing about the sound the owls make when they’re dead. When undead birds sing, there’s no music in it. There’s just a low, long whistle. Sarah thinks that the owls sound deeper and sadder than anything she’s ever known. Nights are the worst, but watch the nights than fall asleep knowing she might not wake up.
“Where are you, Travis?” the warm air leaves her mouth like a ghost. She grabs the extra blanket from the back and jerks back pointing her gun at the windshield. If her back was turned for a moment, something might sneak up on her. She has to be aware. Always aware. But she’s tired and it’s cold.
* * *
It’s still night, but Sarah is following a star, almost as bright as the sun. It looks pale and lonely in spite of its light. She finds a barn where she can take refuge. There are people and animals inside. They’re all standing still, looking at something. Sarah has their pistol out; they’re quiet but they all look alive.
“What are you all looking at?” Sarah asks. No answer. She leans forward to see Joseph and Mary sitting over their child. “He’s our Lord and savior,” says one of the wise men, though she can’t tell which one. They’re all standing still and staring like in a painting. Sarah leans forward to look at the child in the manger. Its jaw hangs loose. Its eyes are gray and dead. It reaches out to touch Sarah and she backs off. Mary’s neck is broken. Joseph’s jaw is missing. His tongue hangs loose onto his robes. One of the wise men lunges at her and she backs into a llama with filmy eyes and crooked teeth. It hisses at her.
* * *
“Sarah! Open up!”
She pulls out the pistol and points it at his head.
“Christ! Sarah!” he ducks. “I’m not a zombie yet! Put the gun down!”
She lowers the weapon and opens up the door. “Get in!” She looks around. The sunlight is barely grazing over the trees. “It’s sunrise. What took you?”
“It was a little farther than I remembered. But look!” He held up the gas can. “It’s a Christmas miracle!”
“There was still gas there?”
“A little. I think we have as much as three gallons, but the stations just tapped out now. We’re lucky that there was anything at all. People probably just haven’t used this one because of how far away from civilization it is.”
“That’s a relief. But I don’t want you to go on any more of these stupid suicide missions, y’hear?”
Travis runs his hand through her hair and puts his lips to her head. “Check me for bite marks,” he whispers.
“Travis! We’ve been over this. I don’t care if you’re one foot in the grave. I’m not leaving your side and you’ve got no say when you’re dead anyway.”
“Sarah. This is important. I want you to be able to go through with it if I’m lurking around trying to eat you.”
Sarah shakes her head. “Just don’t get bit an’ we won’t have to worry about it. Got it?”
“All right. I just…”
They sit for a minute, looking out at the growing light outside. It’s a silent morning.
“I’m sorry,” Sarah says.
“For what?” Travis asks. Sarah has never apologized after these arguments, but then she wasn’t apologizing about the fight anyway. She made up her mind that she would stick with him when they got married, before she even knew that the dead could get up and walk again.
“I was asleep when you got back.”
“Oh,” Travis says, clutching his gas can. “I don’t think we can do this anymore. We need to make good use of this last gasoline that we were given. We may be able to get close to the coast on just a few gallons. There’s probably people there. We couldn’t stay away from them forever and all this going out on the lam and taking watches in the truck… it’s not healthy for you. We’ve lived through another Christmas but it’s just borrowed time at this point…” he pauses. “What do you think?”
“Travis, I’ll follow you to the ends of the Earth.”
He smiles. “That’s what I’m worried about.” Before she can respond to that, he plants a big, wet kiss on her lips. “Merry Christmas, honey.”
“Merry Christmas,” she replies.
“Let’s get this thing gassed up and get the Hell out of here. Take the pistol and cover me.”
She gives a mock salute. “Yes, sir!”