Excerpt: “Day 290” (from “Honeymoon”)

Although they had both passed under the signs pointing “To Ground Transportation” before, they had never been received by so many cameras. Neither had they received a police escort through Terminal 3 of O’Hare Airport. To two people who had just survived 278 days on an island bereft of healthy human life, there was only one word to describe it.

Lonely.

“We can do this,” Thom’s hand reassured as it squeezed hers.

“I don’t know,” Anna’s hand squeezed back.

“You killed that many zombies, and you’re scared of a few reporters?” his hip laughed as it bumped into hers.

“Hardly the same threat,” her eyes flashed in a side-glance.

The bottom step of the escalator came quicker than either of them wanted, and they were immediately surrounded. The two officers who stood in front of them were pushing the cameras back as the two behind them moved to their sides and shepherded them past the crowd as more flashes and questions blinded them.

“Did you know each other before?”

“How many did you kill?”

“Who are you going to visit first now that you’re home?”

“What did you eat on the island?”

“Will you ever go on an island vacation again?”

“What’s it like being home?”

“How many did you kill?”

“What thought kept you fighting?”

“How many did you kill?”

“How many did you kill?”

They had been instructed not to answer any questions and to keep their faces down. No looking at each other because it would connote a relationship that would land on People Magazine’s cover. No displays of affection, not even a look at each other, because it would become US Weekly’s money shot. But hold hands because it shows solidarity and fortitude. A handholding picture would be on Time or Vanity Fair with a tasteful cutline.

So they had exited the plane, walked through the terminal, descended the escalator and now were standing next to a coffee kiosk besieged by photographers climbing on the counters to get a better angle — all while hand-in-hand with their heads bowed.

The crowd pressed against the four soldiers and five airport personnel who had come to the rescue. Overhead, announcements and security reminders barely cut through the camera clicks and questions being hurled.

“Has this affected your stance on vaccination rights?”

“How many did you kill?”

Anna and Thom surveyed the crowd, looking for the thinnest layer. Just like old times — meaning just 12 days before — Anna squeezed Thom’s hand when she saw a spot in the surrounding melee that was only two bodies deep. He squeezed back to signal he had seen it, too, then again to say he was ready. She squeezed back one more time before Thom raised his other arm over his face, leaning in to cut through the middle of four reporters and cameramen huddled together.

Outside was a black SUV usually reserved for high-ranking politicians and visiting celebrities. The driver, a Secret Service veteran, was supposed to take Anna and Thom straight to her old condo, where another team of agents would stave off the press.

Instead, they ran past it and into the taxi column, where they jumped into the nearest white-and-teal cab.

“119 West Randolph Street,” barked Thom, sliding a stack of bills onto the driver’s armrest before ducking down to join Anna, who had already crouched onto the floor.

“That was remarkably easy,” she said. “Almost too easy.”

“You’re confusing ‘easy’ with ‘bloodless,’” Thom said.

She kissed him with smiling lips as the cab pulled into crawling traffic. Only when they felt the car get up to speed on the expressway did they sit back into the seats. Anna played with the diamond on her left hand, letting the light catch it and flash at her like the cameras had in the airport terminal. Somewhere in the haze of normal life, she had dreamed of being so important that reporters and cameras met her at the airport when she returned from some major economic summit or peace talks between the Israelis and Palestinians. Instead, she was one of two surviving warriors returning home from a nine-month zombie uprising that no one even knew about until three weeks before.

Meanwhile, Thom watched the light glint off the diamond and thought about the day he had gotten it for her. The cut on his hand had scabbed over, but it still itched. It was all worth it, he thought as his eyes traveled from the ring to Anna’s downturned face.

Forty minutes later, the cab slowed.

“119 West Randolph,” the driver said. Thom worried about how quiet he had been during the drive, but didn’t dwell on it — they had gotten where they wanted to go, and no police, news crews or military seemed to be waiting for them at their destination.

He handed over another $20 before joining Anna on the sidewalk. They looked through the handful of usual protesters to the marble interior shielded by bulletproof glass walls. Anna took his hand again and gave it another squeeze. He returned it. They walked in together.

“Hi,” Anna said to the clerk at the front desk. “Can you point us toward the marriage and civil union court?”

This is the first chapter of a larger project, Honeymoon, that I started over National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) 2015.

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