Tori didn’t do reapings out of the goodness of her heart. Goodness was weakness and she was anything but. Killing the living was how she maintained her lifestyle in an apocalypse plagued with the dead rising and the living becoming a bigger threat by the day. She glanced one last time at the address that her runner, Jimmy, had given her this morning and shoved the paper into her coat pocket.
It was quiet this morning, and bitterly cold. Her breath came out in white puffs of air. There had been fewer attacks, and it seemed the cold lulled the majority of the zombies into hibernation, but caused the virus to spread like wildfire. She found the house she was looking for, 1506 Columbus Circle. The curtains were open, and no light reflected out the dirty windows. She took the porch steps with ease, not a creak gave her away. She learned early on that silence paid tenfold in safety.
The father wanted a quick and easy death from the ravages of the fever as it ate away his humanity. He already sat in his own filth, while his son had choked on his own vomit. It wouldn’t be long before the son turned. On the couch, in pink princess jammies was a waif of a girl. Her cheeks were hollowed out from malnutrition. Her blonde hair was brittle, helping age her decades more than her seven years. Then, there was the woman lying slick with sweat on floor next to the son. She appeared to be an older blonder version of the daughter. The only sign she was still alive was a faint moaning, that Tori took to be crying.
The air was thick with the sourness of illness, she took a deep breath and forced it out in a huff. She leaned against her shovel, her weapon of choice. It was solid, easy to swing, and easy to clean. Most people preferred bullets, but bullets were loud and hard to come by.
“The boy pa-pa-promised it would be quick.” His eyes were trained on the shovel.
“One swing and you won’t feel a thing. I’m a female Babe Ruth.” Tori caught faint movement out of the corner of her eye.
The woman hadn’t moved, the boy’s hand had. His slender fingers twitched out a Morse code for his second coming. Tori closed the distance and struck hard and fast bringing the blade down between the boy’s eyes. The head cracked in half around the blade, two perfect hemispheres flopped to the floor.
A guttural cry erupted from the man. “You killed our boy.”
Tori blew an errant dark strand of hair from her face. “You can’t kill what is already dead.”
She glanced down and saw a single tear rolling from the mother’s brown eyes. She stepped back from the boy and went back to the father’s eye line. He was too weak to hold his head up.
“It’s time.” Tori learned after her first few reapings that last words were nightmares that clung to her all hours of the day. It was better, faster, and cleaner this way.
She killed them all, and didn’t shed a single tear. Tori removed her gardening spade, from the mother’s skull. It gave way with a squelch. Bits of grey matter clung to the shovel like fat grubs. She sighed and wiped them off on the dead woman’s jeans.
Death always came with a price tag, and Tori preferred to be on the paying end. The family now owed her. She left them behind without another thought and went into the kitchen. It was spacious; a regular Martha Stewart dream kitchen. The cabinets were all mahogany, and the countertops were spotless. The stainless steel refrigerator was the only item out of place. For the doors were littered with school accomplishments and kiddy drawings. Tori took a step closer and read the offending documents.
Second Grade Spelling Bee Champ
Oaks Junior High
The certificates went on and on, and it made her blood turn to ice. This quintessential American family; never set well with her, every family had their secrets, especially this one. What she wanted was in the bedroom. She turned out of the kitchen, knowing the pantry and cabinets had already been well picked over. The taupe carpeting was pristine all the way to the stairs where a pile of vomit laid hardening. Tori sidestepped it as if it were dog poop on the street and went up the stairs.
She passed the children’s rooms without batting an eye. The bedroom she wanted was at the end of the hall. The door was shut, and stupidly she raised her hand to knock. She was taught as a child one didn’t enter her dad’s bedroom when the door was closed. She shook the memory loose and opened the door. The room was unremarkable. The king bed was in disarray, and the closet doors were thrown open. Tori spun in a slow circle taking it all in. There were several framed photographs of the family of four, but one person was noticeably absent from all the photographs on the walls and dresser, her.
She’d have to owe Jimmy for this reaping because what she took would have no value to him. Tori walked over to the bedroom nightstand, and opened the drawer. She hoped that her father’s old habits didn’t die long before the virus took hold. The drawer was full of nighttime necessities: eyeglasses, tissues, a book, and candy. Tori picked up the book and flipped through the pages at speed looking for the bookmark, the pages halted at 129. She slid the bookmark out. It was photograph of a toddler girl with dark pigtails on a woman’s slim shoulders. Tori ran her thumb over the woman’s laughing face. The photo was worn on the edges from years of handling. It was taken in an age before she knew what death even was, and he had kept this photograph close to him when he wouldn’t even allow her to speak of the woman by name, mom.
Tori wiped her eyes and tucked the photo in her coat pocket. She went back down the stairs in a slight daze and out the door. She was halfway down the street before she realized she’d forgotten her shovel. She turned back and went into the house. Her shovel leaned against the living room wall, almost staring at her accusingly.
Tori sighed and picked it up. “You really can’t go home again.”