My son had no teeth when he died. Leo was just a baby, barely able to stand on his own two feet, wobbling like an old wooden table, when a mindless madman broke into our living room and snatched him up. I came around the corner and saw the horror. I acted as fast as I could, brandishing a lamp as a weapon, smashing it against the intruder’s skull repeatedly until I left gooey mush all over the carpet. I looked at Leo lying across the room, lifeless. I tried to resuscitate him, but he was gone. I wept as the last breaths of my soul exhaled out into the dead air.
Anguish clouded my perception of time, but it seemed like hours passed. Then it happened. Leo moved. Only a bit at first, twitching a toe, a finger, then lifting a hand, pulling on the couch to raise himself up, like a prizefighter desperately trying to rise off the mat. He turned and our eyes met. My son staggered toward me. Wrapping his arms around my ankle, he clenched his mouth onto my flesh. He bit down but, luckily, my son had no teeth.
Weeks bled into months. Seasons shuffled past like patrons at a deli. Outside of our ancient white farmhouse lay a scene of despair and death, unlike anything I had ever seen in even the most nihilistic horror films. Bodies piled up along the roads like bags of trash that were never picked up, baking in the hot summer sun, maggots and flies swarming, the foulest stench ruining the smell of morning dew. Yet we had managed to hold it together, here in our own little sanctuary.
There was a small river behind our house that supplied us with water. I would strap Leo onto my back and make a weekly trip to fill a couple of old gallon milk jugs. The barricades I built to fortify the house proved more than enough to keep us safe. I think Leo might have even preferred this lifestyle. He had never been a fan of traveling. He would tug on the seat belt of his car seat and cry incessantly. Now, he just lazied around the house like an unemployed teenager—sleeping, eating, shitting. What a life.
I, however, was starting to grow concerned. My sense of time had slipped away from me completely. I was a senile man reliving the same day eternally. The only thing that tracked time passing was the amount of food, or lack thereof, which remained in the house. Luckily, my wife had been a packrat who never threw anything away. Our cabinets and refrigerators were overrun with food to the point that I couldn’t fit a single bottle of beer in the fridge or can of soup in the cupboard. That turned out to be a blessing in disguise, as it sustained me for countless months, but now there were only a few cans of mixed veggies, a half-eaten bag of stale Doritos, and a white chocolate Easter bunny that I had been saving for a special occasion. Thank God that Leo could survive on … other things. But once I ran out of food, Leo would starve without me there to hunt for him. The nearest markets were well out of walking distance, too dangerous to carry Leo that far. Besides, I figured, the stores had most likely been ravaged to the bone by now.
I would sit by the dining room window with my feet up and watch. At first, there was always some excitement, the bodies chasing someone down the road or gnawing intestines on my front lawn where I used to succumb to the drudgery of midsummer mowing. As time passed, those incidents became scarce. At this point, most days were quiet except for a body or two staggering past at some point. Winter fell, and a light layer of snow sprawled across the landscape. The world had become dusty in its state of stillness. I figured any normal people out there were probably holed up in their shelters for the winter. I was out of food for Leo and down to two cans of mixed veggies for myself. The weight of impending doom churned my insides. I teetered on the brink of utter despair. That was when I saw a man, a living man, wandering down the desolate street outside.
Jamal was a tall, imposing, dark-skinned man who spoke with a bit of an African accent. Usually, I would not have let him into our home, I would have just handled business, but frankly, I was bored. He sealed the deal by offering a bottle of Seagram’s gin he had found at Krock’s Pub a few towns over. I deserved to enjoy a night of adult company—and drinks—then I would feed Leo.
Jamal and I sat at my wooden kitchen table, sipping gin and eating the white chocolate bunny rabbit. I liked him; he was a soft-spoken, well-traveled man with a lot to say. It had been a long time since I had a conversation with anyone, and it felt as if, for a moment, the world was sane again. Jamal asked about Leo, but I shied away from any details that might unnerve him. I told him about the night things went to shit. I told him about my wife, Jessica. How we had endured a night of arguing over a text message I found in her phone, an argument that I regretted purposely escalating, which culminated in her grabbing her car keys and leaving for her mother’s house. Our fights never lasted long. A half-hour later, my phone rang, and Jessica told me she hadn’t gone to her mother’s house; instead, she was driving aimlessly, clearing her head. We exchanged apologies, and I told her I loved her and to come back home. She began to speak, but I heard a scream and a thunderous collision of metal and plastic and her phone went dead—I feared that she had, too. That was the last time I heard from my wife. That was moments before coming around the corner of my living room and seeing Leo in the arms of a bloodied madman.
Jamal cringed at my story and offered me more gin. He told me his own horrific account of the events that led him to my doorstep. How he and his brother had moved here from an impoverished area of Ghana, I forgot the particulars—I think the gin had caught up to me at that point. Together they opened a small auto detailing business on the west side of Allentown. His eyes swelled with tears as he described the day he lost his brother to one of the bodies. I began to feel a surge of anxiety, guilt, and dread as my sympathies for Jamal grew. This was the exact reason I never made friends with any people I met. It would only complicate things. My mistake.
We polished off the bottle of gin, discussed NFL football, and I slit his throat with a stainless steel chef knife. Blood violently erupted out of his wound, like soda bursting from a vigorously shaken can. I apologized to him as he died.
Using my hacksaw, I removed the top of Jamal’s head and spooned his brains out into Leo’s blue baby bowl. I had done this so many times that it was a mindless process for me, a routine. Over time, I had realized Leo’s favorite meal was brains, and it seemed to satiate him much longer than flesh or intestines, which he usually sniffed at and turned away.
I dragged Jamal’s body out into the backyard and laid it alongside the rotting remnants of Leo’s previous meals. Back inside, I pulled Leo from his crib as he snapped at my hand, feverishly hungry. I took out his SpongeBob baby spoon and scooped the brains into his mouth, but he was too impatient for that. Reaching out and grabbing the bowl, Leo proceeded to shovel his dinner into his mouth by tiny baby handfuls. This made me chuckle, and I found myself longing for my lost iPhone, so I could take a picture to remember the moment. I had taken pictures all the time after Leo was born. I had almost every day documented with at least one snapshot until the night the world went batshit. Since then, our days have been undocumented memories. Perhaps that was for the best.
I hoped to save some of Jamal’s brains for later feedings, but Leo wouldn’t allow it. He gobbled it all. Blood dribbled off his smiling lips as he giggled with glee, then sunk back into the shadows of his crib, like an old man after Thanksgiving dinner, and slept. One meal of brains seemed to placate him for about a month. I ransacked Jamal’s bag and found enough food to last me roughly a month as well. I walked over and sat by the window. I daydreamed and told stories out loud as if someone was listening, but no one was. I looked out across the yard and blood-stained road into the open field, the sun glistening over the frozen, lifeless grass. I wished I hadn’t been fighting with Jessica that night, then I could have been in the room with Leo and protected him.
The temperature rose just enough to begin melting the snow. The icicles dripped into small puddles. Desperate, I wondered how long it would be until another person stumbled through our little corner of the apocalypse.
Days staggered on, and I noticed my ribs poking through my skin like those images of starving Ethiopian kids on late-night commercials. It had been days since I finished the last of my food. There was absolutely nothing left to eat. Leo also looked weary. His eyes rarely opened, and when they did, he hissed a nauseating mix of growling and crying, unlike anything I had ever heard. It tore my heart to know my son was in pain, dying, again, this time from hunger. I feared I was dying, too.
That eerily calm evening, as the sun came down, dripping ominous streaks of pink and crimson across the horizon, I contemplated if I would ever look upon sunlight again. I stumbled to Leo’s crib. I hit rock bottom, sick to my starving stomach, knowing I was helpless to save my son. Desperation set in, and one final idea arose in my mind. I drew the same stainless steel knife I had used on Jamal and stood over Leo’s crib. I hesitated for a moment, then took the blade and ran it across my hand. My knees weakened and buckled as I held my gaping wound to Leo’s dry, chapped lips. At first, he didn’t acknowledge it, but then a drop of blood slipped onto his tongue. His lips opened and attached to my stinging, bleeding flesh. His jaw tensed as he sucked the blood out of my hand, like a newborn on a mother’s breast. It was an amazing feeling, the type of bond a father never knows with his child. I loved him more than ever. At that point, I realized that I would do anything and everything I could to keep him alive. If it came down to it, I would eat, well, whatever I must. As borderline insane thoughts lingered in my brain, I became dizzy, and my eyesight began to fade.
The next thing I remember, I woke up lying face down on the floor next to Leo’s crib. My hand hurt like hell, and there was a pool of blood swirling next to me. Mustering all my strength, I stood up and peeked in the crib, where Leo was sleeping contentedly, dried blood smeared across his chin. As I bandaged my hand with an old dishrag, I heard a sound in the back of the house. I visualized a group of bodies at the back door, Black Friday shoppers at a fresh human sale, clawing and scratching to get in and consume me. I armed myself with the knife, stained with Jamal’s and my blood.
I stepped slowly toward the hallway leading to the back of the house. I heard the door creak open. However, it didn’t sound like the usual mindless shuffling and stumbling of the bodies. Was it a human? I thought to myself. I decided upon my course of action if it was. Tonight, I would dine with Leo. This time I would not let him down, would not let him die. I wondered what human flesh might taste like. My hand was still. I was focused and prepared, accepting the fate I had been given. I pressed up against the hallway wall, holding my breath tightly to not make a sound. I realized there was no going back from what I was about to do, the line I was about to cross. My humanity was a vague memory. Bursting around the corner with murderous intentions, I found a woman, alive, standing before me, quivering with fear. It was my wife, Jessica.