Pond water laps Rachel’s knees as a trio of hydrophobic zombies grunts at her from shore. It’s the last day of the shoot, mid-April and already hot. Rachel sweats inside her roommate’s orange fur jacket. She’d been anticipating getting her brains chomped early on, but then Frank, a film student whose last name really is Speelburg, changed his mind. It’s you, kiddo, he told her. The last human survivor of the zombie apocalypse. It makes her kind of giddy.
Although they only travel in threes, the zombies can rip her apart with horde-like efficiency. They’re land bound; for now, she’s safe. But she can’t stay in the pond forever. So unless she’s not really the last human survivor, unless someone else comes bumbling along in all their flesh, blood, and mortality, she’s screwed.
Not leather, Frank said.
But why not, exactly? said the prop girl, who also does makeup. Rachel watched her try not to roll her eyes. The three of them clustered on the quad, the day before the shoot began.
Frank’s face tilted toward the sky. He stared so long both Rachel and the prop girl followed his gaze upward. There was nothing there. Not a bird. Not a plane. Not even a cloud. Frank lowered his head back to earth. We’re all meat, he said.
Google the words advance notice, said the prop girl. Memorize them. I’ve got no time now to rummage through thrift stores.
I have a fur jacket, Rachel said. Meaning, she has access. This was back when she was slated to die. She was sure that Marcy would let her borrow it for an afternoon. Marcy never wears it, leery of paint and attitude, though sometimes, Rachel knows, she sleeps in it.
Problem solved, said Frank. He winked at Rachel. Her whole body glowed, suddenly, fiercely. She could feel it.
No way, Marcy said. She clutched the jacket to her chest, rocking slightly. It was an eighteenth birthday gift from her dad. He’d died four months ago, an aneurysm shattering an otherwise ordinary Friday night as Marcy’s parents dipped and pretzel-stepped across the smooth sprung floors of the Crystal Ballroom.
But I already told Frank, said Rachel. Her own father went out for a pack of smokes one night in Rachel’s infancy and never returned. You don’t think that really happens, but it does.
Marcy shook her head.
I’ll make it a star, Rachel said, with jazz hands and a Gloria Swanson-Sunset Boulevard grimace.
No, Marcy said.
Later, after Marcy left for class, Rachel took the jacket from Marcy’s closet, balled it up and stuffed it in her back pack.
The pond smells sour, like someone left it out too long. Sweat rolls down Rachel’s face and chest, pools beneath her breasts. The jacket strains across her shoulders. Her forearms poke out of the sleeves. The flowery stink of Marcy’s perfume hovers like a cloud of midges. When Rachel strokes the fur along its nap it’s the softest thing she’s ever felt. But when she moves her palm against it, each strand spikes with electricity.
The lining is silk or satin, she can’t tell which. It reminds her of Marcy’s dad’s coffin, from his laying out. She’d never seen a dead body before, but if someone said can you pick it out? Of all the people in the room, if everyone was lying down? She could’ve, no question. There was just a goneness to him. Death was absolutely not pretending.
Today’s the end, the last four shots. On shore, Frank directs the zombies. Watching, Rachel feels how the camera is safe, contained in his large, square hands. You’re frustrated, he tells the zombies. She’s so close but you can’t get at her.
Then he walks into the water, a trail of splashes. You know you’re trapped, he tells Rachel. But you can’t accept it. Then you do.
Mud squishes between her toes. She can see tiny fish darting around her ankles, though the water is murky. Anything could be down there.
It’s all in your body, Frank says. In your eyes.
One: the zombies on the stony shore, moaning their zombie threats, arms straining toward Rachel. They dip their feet into the water and pull them back and howl.
Two: Rachel’s panic. She spins, her eyes huge, desperate. Frank moves with her. The water smacks little peaks against their thighs and the hem of the jacket.
Three: the edge of Rachel’s furry right shoulder giving way to a second zombie trio lumbering pondward, then a third. The anti-cavalry, says Frank.
Four: Rachel’s close up, the acknowledgment of her defeat. She gives Frank everything she has.
Beautiful, he says. But then he swings the lens over her shoulder toward shore. The hell, he says.
Rachel turns, sees Marcy stumbling behind the zombies, waving her arms, shouting noises Rachel could decipher if she wanted to. The zombies stop. They look at one another, at Marcy, at Frank. Rachel watches Marcy overtake the trio closest to the pond’s edge and push it aside. What are you doing? Marcy shrieks. Her words fly at Rachel. They echo, amplify.
Rachel shrugs the jacket off and slides into the water. It’s cool against her bare arms, her prickly scalp. Above her, the jacket floats, heavy against the skin of the pond. Then it sinks into the mud, an empty pelt. You can’t accept it, Rachel thinks. Then you do. She shuts her eyes.
Perfect, says Frank. Cut.
Adina Davis lives near Boston. Her stories have been published or are forthcoming in Streetwrite.com, Night Train Magazine, and elsewhere.