Amber Riley’s husband had promised that he would come home to her no matter what, so after they reported him dead she began to keep the shotgun next to the front door. The day he returned, ambling, shambling, reeking of decay, the dog barked once in warning and went to hide under the back porch. Amber dried her hands on a dish towel and went to look at her husband through the screen.
“Amber,” he said. (Not “brains.”)
She ran a finger down the barrel of the shotgun, propped beside her. “Thank you for coming.”
“I promised.” He smiled under the bullet hole they’d put through his forehead. Dried blood flaked off of his eyelid when he blinked. “You know I’ve never played you false.”
“I’m not coming with you,” she told him. “Death has done us part. You keep on walking out of here.”
He moaned. “Some hero’s welcome.” But he must have remembered her too well to test her resolve. He shuffled himself around and went on his way.
The next day there was another fellow on her front walk, swaying side-to-side. “I’m lost,” he said. (Not “brains.”)
“Where are you trying to get to?” She held the gun across her front, in plain view.
The dead man groaned and lifted his shoulders. “I had a girl. She said she loved me.”
“Well, she’s not here. And if you want my opinion, I don’t imagine she wants you like this.” When he only lifted his shoulders again, she said, “You move along now. Rot elsewhere.” Muttering to himself, he went.
The next day there were two, and she spoke before they could. “It seems my man’s started something of a mass migration.”
“You’ll forgive my friend,” said one of them. “The language centers in his brain got blown clear away.”
His compatriot, whose head accommodated a sizable crater, leaned stiffly over to try to pet the dog — who growled, flattened his ears, and ran to hide under the back porch.
“What do you want, then?”
“Money,” he said. “Fulfillment. Immortality. Love.”
“We don’t have any of those things at this house anymore,” she told him. “My husband headed north, I believe. You’re free to follow him.”
On the following morning, she went and sat on her front lawn with her shotgun across her lap. The dog lay beside her, and they watched the ranks of the dead go past.
A young woman dragging a mutilated right leg dropped a pamphlet on the grass. It said, “CONGRESS OR BUST” in large, awkwardly-done letters.
“My,” said Amber Riley. “I didn’t know you folks were so organized.”
Behind the young woman, someone laughed. “They’re calling you the Cause of the March,” the young dead woman said.
“That’s touching. But I didn’t make him stubborn.”
“I just thought you should know.”
When the delegation came, back south against the tide, the dog picked up his head and looked away without comment, as if refusing to be drawn. Two of the dead walked right up onto the front step, one of them carrying a small box wrapped in a tattered, blackened flag.
“Mrs. Riley,” he said. “We’d like to come in.”
“No,” she said. “Thanks all the same, I can hear you from here.” She stood back far enough so she could swing the shotgun up to shoot if she had to.
The zombie coughed politely. “Your husband self-immolated on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial. They’re calling it cremation, but you should know that it was protest.” He put the flag-wrapped box down on her welcome mat, and straightened with difficulty. “I’ll leave that there for you.”
When they staggered away, she put the shotgun to her shoulder. “He started a whole damn movement, huh?”
They stopped, turned, took the sight of her weapon without emotion. “When he stood up, somebody else realized he could. And somebody else, and somebody else.”
“He gave you hope?”
The second zombie, who had not spoken, laughed harshly.
The first said, “We thought we were finished, and right or wrong no one could ask more of us. But we saw that the world went on, without judgment or rest. He took our hope away.”
She stood a long time after they had gone, looking at the evening down the long cool barrel.