Shirley scooped up Squish and held his wee body to her bosom. The sight of the rabbit begging for food tore a hole in her heart. Unable to care for herself and a creature no bigger than a loaf of sourdough bread, she’d become a useless bag of brittle senior citizen bones.
Every edible morsel was long gone along with any hope her niece Amy would arrive with supplies. Squish had been a bad bunny, chewing through Shirley’s computer cords and cutting off her only method of communication with the outside world. She didn’t mind until Amy missed several scheduled deliveries.
Even before the whole world went wonky, any type of social contact made Shirley’s hands shake, her palms sweat, and her heartbeat gallop. A self-help book recommended labeling one’s fears, so she’d named the nightmare ‘the peopling.’
Weeks ago, ghoulish faces began leering through the windows and horrible hands pounded the panes. She’d heard of folks getting inflicted with flesh-eating bacteria, but she’d never seen anything like the decomposing horrors who wandered the neighborhood. Finally, she’d covered all the windows with newspaper.
The thought of dying alone scared Shirley far less than facing an uninfected human, let alone one of the roaming frights, but she couldn’t allow Squish to starve to death.
The outside world provided plenty of plants for him to eat from the neat rows of basil, parsley, and oregano in her neighbor’s garden to the dandelions that dotted Shirley’s yard with spots of yellow.
All she needed to do was place Squish gently on the porch and dart back inside. She clutched the old three-iron golf club she used to pound the porch whenever squirrels poached from her bird feeder, ready to whack any abomination who dared approach.
“You’ll be okay, Squish. Those monsters won’t pay attention to a sweet, little puffball like you.” She kissed the bunny’s furry head, unlocked the deadbolts, and flung open the door.
Spying an intruder, Shirley gasped.
Amy sat on the porch swing, hugging her knees. Her long, tangled blonde hair hid her face. A plastic grocery bag rested by her hip.
Shirley’s face grew hot. Squish let out a squeak, and she eased her hold on the quivering creature. To think she’d almost released Squish into the big, bad world, while her good-for-nothing niece took a siesta.
Shirley spied a human-shaped being shambling in their general direction. “Get a move on.” Blood buzzing, she waved the golf club wildly.
Amy’s movements were stiff, as if during her nap, her muscles had turned piano-wire-tight.
Without another glance at the horrific being who’d crouched behind a hydrangea shrub, Shirley scooped up the shopping bag, pushed Amy inside, slammed the door, and secured the locks.
Shirley set Squish down and he zipped away in a bunny blur. She dropped the golf club and dug into the plastic sack, removing pet litter and toilet paper. Her heart sank. Squish’s box stunk to high heaven of acidic urine and putrid poop, but potty products wouldn’t stop the rumble in their bellies.
Shirley couldn’t stay mad at the person who had brightened her life with the bunny. Amy’s father, Shirley’s too-busy-to-bother-with-her brother, tired of the animal’s compulsion to chew cords, threated to squish the pet if it were not rehomed.
“Be a dear and go back to the store for me,” Shirley said. “I’ll make you a list.”
Amy let out a moan and staggered into the wall. Her hand left a red smudge on the beige paint. A milky cast diluted the sky blue-color of her eyes. The smell of rotten meat overpowered the astringent litter box stink.
Shirley placed a hand on the girl’s arm and quickly let go. Despite the heat of the summer day, the skin was cold and clammy.
Amy growled and bared her teeth. Clearly in the process of some unholy transition, the girl’s face had taken on the gaunt ghoulishness of the abominations outside. Shirley didn’t know how to stop the process, assuming it could even be reversed.
“When you return, could you leave the groceries on the porch?” Her voice quavered as she tried to steer Amy toward the door. ”I’m afraid I’ve reached my limit for peopling today, dear.”
The girl lurched toward the coffee table where Squish sat statue-still.
Shirley doubted she could save Amy, but Squish was another matter entirely. She grabbed the three-iron and swung with all her might—again and again and again.
Divots formed in Amy’s skull with each meaty thunk. The girl fell to the floor with a thud, her arms and legs twitching. Shirley kept swinging, and by and by, her arms ached, sweat pooled at her temples, and her breath became ragged. Finally, Amy’s body stilled.
Shirley tried to reconcile the image of the corpse on the carpet with her usually chatty niece, but all she saw was a monster who could have murdered her and her pet.
Squish hopped over, his pink tongue exposed as though he had a hankering for a taste of dead girl.
As Shirley shooed the rabbit away, her stomach gurgled. Maybe Squish had the right idea. Amy had brought food—herself. Shirley briefly considered adopting the Donnor party’s long pork diet.
Assuming she could stomach eating human flesh, the solution would be a temporary one at best, as Amy, a petite, scrawny girl, had little meat on her bones. Making her niece into a meal would likely turn Shirley into a monster one way or another. Afterward, she might even begin to view Squish as a tasty morsel.
For a woman on the unfortunate side of sixty, she’d done all right for herself. If she could battle a monster and survive, she could handle a few personal demons.
With her trusty three-iron in hand, a trip to the grocery store with a chance of peopling likely wouldn’t kill her. She tucked Squish into his pet carrier, grabbed her golf club, and stepped outside into the sunshine.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Serena Jayne received her MFA in Writing Popular Fiction from Seton Hill University. She’s worked as a research scientist, a fish stick slinger, a chat wrangler, and a race horse narc. When she isn’t trolling art museums for works that move her, she enjoys writing in multiple fiction genres. Her short fiction has appeared in Switchblade Magazine, Space and Time Magazine, Pulp Modern, and other publications. serenajayne.com