Epilogue

The drama’s done. So what else could I possibly have to say? Just that I evaded a few of the zombies trying to reach me where I cowered on the roof of the Humvee by climbing into the cab through the turret. I started it up and plowed my way through the dead pounding the armor and breaking their skulls against the glass, escaping their wails and shrieks until all I could hear was the roar of the engine second only to the thudding of my heart. I hoped to make it to the highway, but ran out of fuel as I crested the ridge on the dirt road overlooking the valley and the smoking wreckage of DeComp. The sun was just then setting over that awful tableau, the sky passing from a faint eggshell blue to an orange deep and pure as embers glowing in a bed of coals; hundreds of bird silhouettes were still getting in their last bit of soaring before nightfall and the last light was shimmering on the surface of the tailing ponds and the river winding below those feeble embankments threatening to leach our toxic hubris into the crystal waters below. I poured water from my canteen into my hands and tried to wash the crust of blood from my face and neck and arms in an impromptu baptismal to wash away the sins of my people and of myself, but ran out before I finished the job, just as I’d run out of fuel, just as I’d run out of friends, and so fell to my knees, staring out over those vast expanses, wondering whose blood I had on my face and my hands and cried for the first time in as long as I could remember and, when I was done, I looked up, and saw three women standing at the treeline.

Two were looking down on the wreckage through binoculars and the third, a lean woman with a wise, almost ancient glimmer in her eyes, was staring my way, rifle slung casually over her shoulder as if she feared nothing from the likes of me.

“It’s over,” I heard my own voice say, cracking.

“Don’t be stupid,” she said. “This is the beginning.”

I thought these women might kill me, but they only stood watching in silence for a time, then simply turned and vanished between the branches into the forest toward what future I will probably never know.

I thought to follow, wanted to follow, but knew I could not.

So I sat there until it was well after dark, until the waxing crescent moon had risen high above, and then, in this wash of low silvery light, I heard feet shuffling through the dirt up the roadway below, along with various grunts and moans, and the rhythmic whistling of air passing through one of their exploded abdominal cavities, one step forcing air into the scraps of flesh, one step sucking it back through, as if the unseen thing’s body were nothing but an elaborate organic machine meant for nothing but transporting a few base elements from one place to another, which is to say I knew they were coming, not necessarily for me, but for whoever still resisted their entropic draw, to drag whoever’s heart still throbbed with desire for life back into the horde of numbness and fatigue staggering around the industrial wasteland below, and I decided, again, for perhaps the thousandth time, that I did still hope for something more, so I stood and started walking—in which direction it did not matter.

 

I walked all night until the sun rose and all that next day as well until my feet were raw and still I kept on walking until one gray and drizzly winter day I came upon this suburban library boarded up and grown over with ferns and moss and vines. This library is where I still reside today, my beloved bibliobunker, but it was still new to me then, and locked-up tight, so I climbed a tree to one side and pried some boards off a window set high in one of the gables, climbed through, and lowered myself down onto the mezzanine below.

 

Down among the musty stacks, a silhouette drew near, nearer, and lunged at last. She was a librarian—or had once been a librarian—no more than five feet tall, a hundred pounds in her best of days, but reduced here to little more than a husk of her former self. There were no visible wounds on her. I suspect she had starved to death or taken ill and just didn’t have it in her to destroy her own brain, not after all it had done for her, even though she must have known that, one day, it would come to this. She wore a pair of overly loose khaki pants and a white shirt with little swirls, little spiral galaxies of aquamarine; above all, I found it very charming, how she still wore an official lanyard with her nametag: Rachel.

 

So, her name had been Rachel. She must have been standing lonely vigil for years, waiting patiently for another patron to return and once again fill this hallowed hall with life, and here she met him, one final reader, already clutching the book—a thick, heavy, merciful book—that finally relieved her of her duties.