This is the concluding piece of my three part ‘Zombie Romance’ short story, Saying Goodbye. If you haven’t read parts one and two yet, you can find them here and here. Everything will make much more sense if you read those first.
It feels somewhat fitting, posting a zombie story on the day of the apocalypse. Except that I think the apocalypse was meant to have happened by now and I missed it…
Saying Goodbye – Part III
363 Days Later…
Tessa twirled in front of the full-length mirror, stopping to face Mitchell with a smile. “What do you think?”
Mitchell blinked distractedly. “It’s nice.”
Her smile faltered. “Nice?”
“I, er, I like how blue it is. And the shiny things are pretty too. The sequins. Yes, the sequins, I like those.”
Tessa forced her smile back into place and twirled again, trying to ignore the slightly confused expression on her husband’s face. She was losing him, slowly but surely. It wouldn’t surprise her if she had to explain why they were going out again in a few minutes time – he had already asked three times.
This was their last night together on their own and Tessa was determined to enjoy it. The virus was maybe going to win the war but, God-damn it, they were going to win this fight. Mitchell wasn’t done yet.
“Come on, let’s go. We can have a couple of drinks before the meal then,” Tessa picked up her coat. “Maybe try out those new cocktails on the menu. You said you liked the look of that Stargaze one.”
“Only because it said it sparkled. I want to see if they put glitter in it or something.” Mitchell shrugged on his jacket and passed Tessa her handbag, all signs of his earlier confusion gone. “Though it’ll have nothing on you even if it is glittery. You look amazing!”
Tessa’s smile was real as Mitchell kissed her cheek and offered her his arm as they locked their room behind them. The virus wasn’t quite strong enough to steal him away just yet and there were times when it was like there was nothing wrong with him at all. They still had time.
At the bar they drank cocktails and giggled like teenagers until a waiter appeared to take them to their table. Tessa stumbled as she climbed off her bar stool and found herself wrapped in Mitchell’s arms as her caught her, kissed her hair and stood her back upright. His eyes met hers as she was about to turn and follow the waiter and he mouthed the words ‘I love you’ at her with a wink.
Beaming, Tessa followed the waiter out of the bar area and into the restaurant where their table was waiting, beautifully laid out with candles, a basket of miniature bread rolls and napkins folded into roses. She gasped slightly when the waiter shook out her napkin to reveal neat embroidery of her and Mitchell’s names in the centre. It was a delicate personal touch and Tessa loved it. She briefly wondered why they had never eaten here before until she remembered, this was a very special restaurant with very special clientèle. The Last Supper catered exclusively for those with five days or less left on their tags, they were extravagant and indulgent and nobody had ever dined there more than four evenings in a row. Ever.
Swallowing that thought with a mouthful of wine, Tessa grinned over at Mitchell who was studying a fork with all the concentration of a toddler.
“What’s this called?” Mitchell tapped a fingernail against the metal and listened closely to the sound. “Why is it so spiky?”
Tessa felt her heart sink. The times where Mitchell was lucid and completely himself were getting shorter and shorter, it was only an hour or so since he had looked at her in her dress and forgotten the word for sequins and already he was studying a fork like he had never seen one before.
Before she had a chance to answer, the waiter returned with the menus. He placed them down in front of them and smiled, clearly recognising the glazed look in Mitchell’s eyes as he did so.
“Your menus. They contain lists of the meals you can choose from for your dinner tonight. First you have a Starter, they are on the first two pages.” He opened Mitchell’s menu and pointed at the page numbers before continuing. “Then you choose a Main from page three or four, a Desert from page five or six and finally a coffee or liqueur on page seven.”
The waiter took Mitchell’s fork from him and polished it on a cloth tucked into his belt. “You use this to eat your food, you stab with the tines on the top. It’s called a fork, from the Latin ‘furca’ which means ‘pitchfork’. They’ve been around since the Ancient Egyptian times in various guises and are a very clever and useful invention. Try it – you won’t burn your fingers when you eat if you use it.”
Mitchell grinned broadly as the waiter placed his fork back on the table. “Wow, thank you!”
Tessa flashed a grateful smile at the waiter before hiding behind her menu, the last thing she needed Mitchell to notice next was the tears in her eyes.
“I’ll be back in five minutes for your order.” The waiter’s hand on her shoulder was warm and reassuring, he saw this every night. He understood.
With a bit of guidance from Tessa, Mitchell picked out his food and they gave their order to the waiter who never stopped smiling once. Tessa liked him, he didn’t make her feel like she was fighting a lost cause, he made her feel like she was in an expensive restaurant with her husband for a special occasion. She needed that confidence to keep herself together whilst Mitchell looked vaguely at the world like a lost child.
“You look nice.” Mitchell met her gaze. “It it a special day?”
“Yes. We’re celebrating our lives together and how much we love each other.” Tessa took another mouthful of wine. “You’re wearing your favourite tie.”
Mitchell looked down at his tie and wrinkled his nose. “Really? This thing? But it’s such a horrible shade of purple.”
“You wore it on our wedding day. It matched the bridesmaids and… and the napkins.” Tessa closed her eyes and drained her glass. “It was the same colour as the sash on my wedding dress, too.”
“But why? What on earth possessed you to have bridesmaid dresses that colour? It’s so tacky looking.”
Tessa’s voice was barely a whisper. “You chose it.”
“Oh.” Mitchell fell silent and was soon playing with his fork again.
Tessa signalled to the waiter for more wine and turned her attention to the other diners in the restaurant. There were four other occupied tables: one other couple much like themselves, tucked in a corner with candles and a bread basket, two small groups that looked like families where Tessa couldn’t work out who was infected with the virus and who wasn’t as they all sat in sullen silence avoiding each other’s eyes and one large group in the corner who seemed to be having a party. She stared at the big group for a while, they had clearly drunk a lot and were laughing and joking with each other, they were all sporting paper crowns and there were balloons instead of candles spaced along their table. It must be someone’s birthday, she decided. A good excuse for a final party at any rate.
Half way through their starter, Mitchell shook his head as if he had been daydreaming and started back up their conversation from the bar. Tessa wondered if he was even aware of how the virus was eating away at his senses bit by bit, he never showed any sign of noticing the change. She wasn’t sure whether or not to tell him.
Two and a half hours later the candles had burned low, Tessa was savouring the last mouthfuls of her Bailey’s when Mitchell paused halfway through a sentence and fainted.
Before she had chance to speak, Mitchell was surrounded by staff. They checked the time remaining on his tag and shone a light into each of his eyes, talking constantly at a level Tessa couldn’t quite hear.
Eventually Mitchell groaned and came to and everyone stepped back.
“What happened?” He pressed a hand to his forehead and squinted as if the room was too bright. “My head hurts.”
“You had what we call a ‘Turning Spell’. It’s quite common in persons with only a day or two left on their Resurrection Counter. Sometimes it can cause early Turning but you seem fine so it must just be the virus making a particularly violent attack on a section of your brain. Nothing to worry about now, it’s rare for someone to have more than one Spell in a twenty four hour period.” The man speaking smiled reassuringly. Tessa had thought he was another waiter but suddenly suspected that all of the staff in The Last Supper were more than they appeared.
“Please may we go home now?” Tessa didn’t mean for her voice to come out whiny but she was tired and afraid and Mitchell’s ‘Turning Spell’ had just reminded her how little time they had left.
“Of course.” The doctor-waiter waved to the man that had been serving them all night. “We’ll just get your leaving gift prepared and fetch your coats from the cloak room.”
“What about the bill?” Mitchell still looked dazed as he watched their waiter return with their jackets and two beautiful gift bags.
“On the house. We are terribly sorry your night was interrupted in such a frightening manner.”
“But it wasn’t your fault,” Mitchell frowned. “You can’t control the virus.”
“It is our policy that anyone who does not have the perfect visit does not have to pay. Please, accept our apologies.”
Mitchell nodded, took his gift bag and hung his coat over his arm as the man gently propelled him towards the door, Tessa followed slowly, clutching her own bag and trying to avoid the eyes of the other diners as they stared.
This was not the evening she had planned.
Back in their Turn Camp apartment, Tessa left Mitchell hanging up their coats and fled straight to the bathroom to compose herself.
It was almost eleven o’clock. Mitchell was due to move to his quarantine apartment at midday tomorrow. That left thirteen hours.
Thirteen more hours before they had to say goodbye.
Tessa didn’t know where to begin, so instead she peeled off her dress and washed off her make up before heading back out into the bedroom to find Mitchell.
“Who the hell are you? What are you doing in my house? Get out!”
Tessa ducked the phone Mitchell flung in her direction.
“Mitchell! Mitch, it’s me. Tessa. I’m your wife.” Tessa shouted through the door she had closed when Mitchell had reached for more ammo. “Can I come back in?”
“Wife?” His voice sounded quiet and lost. Tessa didn’t need to open the door to know that he was staring at the wedding ring on his finger and trying to work out why it was there when he couldn’t ever remember being married.
She waited a moment and then slowly opened the door and slipped back in, pulling her dressing gown off the hook on the back of the door and putting it on. Now was not the time to be parading in her underwear, even if it was her favourite set.
He was sat as she had pictured him, twisting the ring round and round as he stared at it.
“It’s engraved on the inside.” Tessa stayed by the door, not wanting to crowd him. “It might help you remember.”
He pulled the ring off and tilted it toward the light, turning it slowly as he read the words:
M & T. THE REST OF FOREVER STARTS NOW. 12.10.28.
“What’s your name?”
Tessa closed her eyes as tired tears escaped and burned down her cheeks.
“Tessa. Tessa Evangeline.” Her voice broke and she swallowed hard. “Mitchell, I…”
She never got to finish her sentence. Mitchell’s eyes rolled into the back of his head in the perfect echo to the fit he had suffered when he died the first time and he began to shake.
This was different from when he fainted earlier, it was as if he was in pain – his body thrashing and twitching, small moans escaping his throat and a thin line of liquid ran down his cheek from his left nostril.
This wasn’t right.
Suddenly he relaxed. It was over.
Tessa exhaled a breath she hadn’t known she was holding and began to cross the room.
Mitchell’s eyes opened and Tessa screamed.
They were black. Where his irises should have been there was nothing but black and the whites were the yellow of damp paper.
They should have had thirteen hours together. He should have had another day.
Thirteen more hours.
Tessa backed slowly to the door without turning away from Mitchell, feeling behind her for the small compartment on the wall. The Panic button.
Mitchell lurched to his feet and swayed, uncoordinated and unbalanced.
Tessa fumbled open the plastic case and leaned on the button.
She should run. Mitchell was gone, it wasn’t him any more.
The guards might not make it to the apartment before Mitchell found his balance enough to cross the room.
She should have shot him when she had the chance.
Option One would have saved them both.
She hadn’t pulled the trigger and now Mitchell was moving.
The guards still weren’t here.