Esperanza’s Last Stand
Stacy bought the handgun after serving Max the divorce papers and the restraining order. She’d never had to use it against a living target – he stopped showing up at the house after seeing her at the range a few times. But she kept it around anyway. Just in case.
Before they started to roam the city, she’d always kept it locked away in a safe. She knew 5-year-olds had a way of getting into everything. She didn’t want to wind up in handcuffs on the local news, a tiny body bag in the background.
But then she started to see bloody footprints on the sidewalk in the morning. Suddenly there were more terrifying things in her quiet suburban neighborhood than a vengeful ex-husband or a late-night burglar. So Stacy bought a holster and she started wearing it on her hip as she walked Hunter to preschool in the mornings, as she cut the crusts off his peanut butter sandwiches, and as she dozed in the chair beside his bed at night.
For the first few weeks, people thought she was overreacting. Then they started to see them roaming the streets, stumbling in their tracks, moaning with the effort of moving one diseased foot in front of the other. The windowless vans and the men in hazmat suits followed close behind.
Then nobody thought Stacy was crazy anymore. The other moms at Hunter’s preschool started asking for tips on how to handle a gun. Some of her neighbors simply abandoned their homes. There was no point in putting them on the market – maybe someday they could come back to their forgotten homes and start again. But Stacy didn’t really see the point in leaving the suburbs. The news said they were cropping up everywhere, and she believed there was strength in numbers.
That was before they got Esperanza. It was a Tuesday night. The street was dark, quiet, and empty. She heard a crash outside, like breaking glass, but when Stacy peered out the window, all she saw was darkness. It wasn’t five minutes later that the pounding on the door began.
Stacy put her eye to the peephole. It was Esperanza from next door. Hunter’s babysitter. The old woman was sobbing, tears streaming down her wrinkled cheeks. Her hands were covered in thick red blood.
Stacy cracked the door, hand already on the gun’s grip. “Abuelita? What happened?”
“I run into them outside,” Esperanza whispered. “I was gonna bring in the tomatoes from the cold.” She held her a shaking hand up into the porch light, two deep black gashes slashed across her palm. “I got away, but they… I can feel it, cariña. Going deep.” Her rich brown skin was turning ashy. Her fingers were completely gray.
Stacy began to open the door, but Esperanza slammed her cane on the creaking porch with her good hand. “You loco? I don’t come here so they can get you too. I come here because I know you got a gun. Mija, I need you to shoot me. I don’t wanna be one of them.”
She wanted to argue. To protest. To beg the old woman to let her help. But when Stacy saw Esperanza’s rosary resting limp around her wrist, fingers twitching ever so slightly as if they were trying to move, she knew the old woman was right.
“Not here,” Stacy said. “It might wake Hunter.”
They slipped silently into Esperanza’s garden, shielded by the hedges she paid the neighborhood boys to clip into tight, clean squares. The old woman gently sank to her knees and then lowered her shivering body down among the last peppers and tomatoes of the season. She whispered, “Please. Make it quick.”
Stacy bent down, fighting urge to embrace the old woman one final time. Blinking back tears, she took aim and shot a bullet straight into Esperanza’s heart. A strange calm fell upon the garden.
Then Stacy shot the zombie again. In the head. Just in case.