Monsters are real. Heroes are real. And the line that separates them has never been fainter.

“Healer?” I murmur, because he’s just standing there in a midden heap of arms, legs, heads, and oozing torsos. The sun is slipping behind the trees, and a last orange beam spotlights his face, burnishing his red hair neon and causing him to blink and look around.

He stumbles to his knees, sword dropping like it’s the checkmate in Wizard’s Chess, reinforcing the complicated nature of “winning” and “losing” in the After. 

“We should go,” I urge. “Unless you think you’re up to a repeat performance of whatever the fuck that just was.”

I get my answer from the way he shakes as he pushes to his feet. Jumping up, I stride over and lift his sword, wiping the blade on the grass. But everything is covered in grime, and the cleanup will have to wait. As I’m rising, I hear a gurgling sound and jump back, but it’s only a lifeless throat, clearing fluid. I recognize the face of the flesh-eater who fled the tower.

Bet you had no idea there was anything scarier than you.

I slip under Levi’s shoulder and press against his side, and his arm drapes heavily over my shoulders. Dude is totally wasted.

“Come on, Hulk,” I grunt, dragging his sword by the hilt as we lurch forward. After a few feet we stop so I can lift and shoulder his pack. I sure hope his car is close.

Before we get going again he glances back at the field of battle. “We did that?” he asks, wonder strengthening his broken voice.

We? You don’t remember?”

He shakes his head, and we lurch forward again.

“Jesus. You did that. All of it. Have you never done it before?”

“I —” He stumbles and we almost topple, but with a groan I shove him back up, and we start again. “No. Never.”

“What do you remember?”

“Arguing. You tried to send me away. They were coming.”

I swallow hard. “What else?”

Again he shakes his head. “Just you calling to me. After. And the sun in my face.”

In light of this new information, and the need for some semblance of haste, “What the hell were you thinking of kissing me like that?” is not the next thing that comes out of my mouth.

“Where’s your car?”

“Down on fifteenth.”

Just a few blocks. But the sun has set. “If they catch us, we’re meat.”

“I know that.”

“Think you can move any faster?”

“I’ll try. Stop asking me questions and let me breathe.”

We turn down a street where most of the houses have burned, dimly hoping the lack of shelter and unlikelihood of food stashes that keep it deserted also make it uninteresting to the flesh-eaters. In the cons column, as the only signs of life among the charred ruins, we are readily visible. The light is fading, but flesh-eaters don’t need it.

Levi’s ragged breathing mingles with the riotous chatter of birds as we creep through an alley overgrown with ivy, bindweed, and blackberries (the triumvirate of terror for native-species enthusiasts). Seattle would truly be a ghost town without its feathered population, who’ve flourished due to the absence of predators like my parents’ tabby cat, a flesh-eater in her own right. I owe the fact that I still manage to eat on most days to their overdeveloped sense of security.

RED: Love in the Time of Flesh-eatersRead this story for FREE!