“I’ve got to get out of these clothes—fast.” Ana slammed the bridal-shop door, bolted the lock, and slid over the counter action-hero style. The rust-colored stain on the sleeve of her leather jacket sizzled and smoldered. “Not only is zombie blood corrosive to skin, it also majorly stains.” She wiped the edge of the machete on the hem of her poufy pink gown and propped it up next to the cash register. Ana turned and took half the Save-Mart bags from the pizza-delivery guy she'd just rescued. “Chase, this is Rosa. Rosa, Chase.”
Rosa popped out from underneath a rack of wedding dresses. She waved to Chase using her Barbie’s hand and mouthed words to Ana. He’s cute.
“Mind the front, hermosita.” Ana hugged Rosa, careful not to get the any z-blood on her little sister.
“How’d you find this place, anyway?” Chase lumbered forward, keeping up with Ana as she marched toward the back.
“Our parents owned it, and the gun-and-tackle shop next door.” She looked sad for a moment, letting her tough façade crack and crumble for a second. But only for a second. “That means I can shoot you dead and tailor your funeral suit, so don’t try anything funny.”
“I won’t. You saved my life out there.” Chase started to itch at the dried z-blood on his neck.
“Hurry, this way. We don’t have much time.” Ana gestured to the hallway lined with fitting-room stalls. “First two are bows and blades, guns and ammo. Next three are food and medical supplies. You can set those bags down here.” She dropped her plastic sacks next to the door. “We are better off here than next door. There’s nothing like a big neon gun sign that yells, LOOT ME.”
Chase laughed and dropped his bags to the floor. “And what’s in the last stall?”
Ana pushed the door open, revealing a makeshift shrine. She removed a blood-spotted letter, an officer’s badge, and a HELLO, MY NAME IS SHEILA name tag from her jacket pocket and tacked them to the wall with all the other objects.
“What’s all this stuff?”
“Postman, policeman, waitress—it’s like Thriller meets The Village People out there. If I hadn't come along, your Quickie Pizza cap might have been up here next week or so.” She carved #57, #58, and #59 into the wall next to the new additions, tagging her kill tokens. “To honor the dead.”
They passed through a door and the end of the hall, entering a small kitchenette break room at the back of the store.
Ana tore off her leather jacket and threw it into the sink. She reached down, unlaced her combat boots, and kicked them into the corner.
“The shower’s back here. Hurry, we don’t have long before the blood corrodes through our skin and infects us.” Ana pulled the gown off over her head and tossed it on top of the heap of bloody dresses by the emergency back door. “Modesty died with 98% of the population—strip, big boy.” She stepped into the shower in her underwear and turned on the water.”
Following orders, Chase peeled off his T-shirt and jeans.
“Watch your mouth and eyes.” Ana hollered over the running water as she rubbed the brownish spatter from her skin. “I swear I’ll kill you if you turn.”
Chase stepped into the shower in his boxers. The water was freezing, so he leaned into Ana for warmth.
She pushed him away. “It’s not that type of shower, hon.”
Chase’s fingers rubbed the dried blood from the tangle of necklaces around Ana’s throat. “These real?”
“Yeah, they’re real. And I earned every one of them when the manager of Diamonds Are Forever, across the way, tried to eat me. Kill #33.” Ana stepped out, toweled off, and selected a fresh gown from the rack outside the bathroom door. She glanced over at the pile of tainted frocks. “Damn, that pink one was my favorite.”
She slipped into the slinky green dress, wet underwear and all. The emerald hue accentuated Ana’s eyes. “High slit, low back—Momma would say this dress is for skanks, but that doesn’t matter anymore since she was Kill #9.” Ana went to the sink and spot-cleaned the blood from her leather jacket before putting it on again.
Chase stepped out of the bathroom wearing just a towel.
Damn, Ana thought as she scanned the tattooed script letters wrapping around the side of his torso. No bite marks. “Oh, sorry.” She only half apologized when he caught her staring.
He smiled. His dimples were even more infectious than the z-blood.
Focus Ana. She rummaged through the racks in the backroom until she found a garment bag labeled BRYCE and threw it to him. “This should fit. He was about your size.”
“Brother or boyfriend?” Chase unzipped the bag and started to pull out the tux.
“Prom date and Kill #17.” She slipped back into her boots, laced them up, and left the room, leaving Chase to get dressed.
He emerged from the back in the tuxedo shirt and black pants, hopping as he tried to stuff his feet into his black-and-white checkered Vans.
Ana and Rosa sat together on the front counter, watching the sun set through the steel cage covering the display window.
“We’re safe in here,” Ana placed her arm around Rosa, comforting her. Outside, palm trees swayed in the median between the asphalt sections of strip-mall parking lot. “We might get a storm. Finally, a chance to wash away some of that z-blood from the window and sidewalk out front. What do you think Chase?”
He lunged at her. His eyes rolled back into his skull and his mouth gaped open, ready to sink his teeth into her flesh. They fell back into a rack of bridesmaid dresses. Chase clawed and bit at her through the thick layers of chiffon and taffeta. Warm liquid oozed over a thousand iridescent sequins and the sour chemical smell of z-blood filled the air.
Silk shredded, satin ripped, and beads exploded, bouncing across the cement floor as Ana struggled out from underneath the fabric mound.
Chase’s headless body slumped over next to her.
Rosa wielded Ana’s machete high above her head, ready to strike the corpse again. She looked down at Ana without a glimmer of fear in her eyes. “You’ve got to get out of those clothes—fast.”
Shawn Thomas Anderson is a copywriter, branding specialist, and writer of Middle Grade and Young Adult fantasy and science fiction—plus a little horror from time to time. He lives in a far-flung corner of Vermont known as the Northeast Kingdom, a magical place where moose, bear, and deer wander through your backyard and everyone rocks flannel. You can follow him on Twitter here, and look for his writing blog coming soon.