“It won’t hurt,” the boy said to the girl.
“I don’t know, Bernie,” the girl replied. She had pink skin and blue eyes and red lips and, although she was exhausted from all the running, she was still very much alive. “All of this seems so...well, it just seems like it doesn’t make any sense.”
“I’ll bite you here,” he said, touching the tip of his grey finger to the flesh of her forearm, next to her elbow. “When you’re infected, I’ll take most of your brain. It’ll be painless, I promise. And I’ll leave more than enough for you to still get around. See how much I have?”
He shifted on the park bench to show her the concave opening at the back of his skull. Aside from a golf-ball-sized tuft of greenish tissue at the base of his brain stem, the space was empty. She could look straight through his empty eye socket, the missing orb providing a window on a Portland skyline that burned like a series of great funeral pyres.
“Don’t you want to be with me?” he implored. There was sincerity and longing in his tone. He took her hand in his.
She sighed. “Of course I do, Bernie. It’s just...”
“Just what, hon?”
“I don’t know. Are you sure it doesn’t hurt?”
“I promise. It’ll be fast. And with this new investment plan, we’ll be secure. We won’t have to stumble around in the streets.” He smiled at her, his broken teeth a reflection of the ruined skyline.
“Well... explain it one more time, please,” she said.
“Ok—you’ll be my eighth harvest, Ruth. Think about that. I’ll already be a level-II eater! I take your gift to the nearest division center—there’s one up on Broadway, I think. 75% goes to the company and I keep 25% for myself. When you make the change, you need to only harvest four vessels before you’re a level-I eater. The company then ensures us each a daily ration of the sweet stuff. It’s guaranteed sustenance!”
“What if I can’t find four people to...to harvest?” the girl said, making a face at the thought of it all—there was simply no dignity in it.
“Oh, you will. I’m sure of it. We were meant to be together, Ruthie. Please. Do this for me, hon.”
She stared at him, the only man she’d ever loved. He was missing an eye and his teeth were but yellowing shards of bone. His right ear hung by a flap of gray skin. Still, for a zombie, she thought he was pretty handsome.
“Are you sure this plan will work, Bernie?”
“Positive,” he replied, his tongue snaking out of his mouth and over his cracked lips at the sight of her unblemished flesh. “You’ll just have to trust me.”
“Ok. I’ll trust you, Bernie,” the girl replied.
She extended her arm before her and closed her eyes, the set of her jaw like a taught cable in anticipation of her lover’s bite. Soon, the deal was consummated, and all around them a life that had once felt as sure as a morning’s sunrise fell into ruin and decay.