Nigel is efficient in selecting new weapons, in much the same way he was efficient in dispatching the shamblers and evading the swarms of death beetles that patrol dusk till dawn. He doesn’t browse, he doesn’t nitpick. He knows exactly which firearm does what and plucks the ones he thinks we will need. He motions me over and hands me a shotgun that I’m rather sure will probably knock me over if I fire it. I simply drop the tire iron he handed me before to take the weapon and the sharp clang as it strikes the floor instantly makes me regret my indiscretion. The sound was almost deafening in the silence and the wince Nigel makes assures me that it was a poor choice on my part. I mouth an apology to him but he doesn’t respond. He only quickens his pace, knowing I made a mistake that may cost us our lives. He throws boxes of shotgun shells to me and I stuff them in the sagging pockets of my sweater, cursing inwardly that I left my purse behind in the library when this all began. It was rather large and would’ve been handy in our impromptu looting.
No sooner do I catch the last box of shotgun shells than I see the chrome of Nigel’s gun flash in the afternoon sun as it comes to bear on me. My heart stops as I see the muzzle flash, thinking that my life is now forfeit for dropping that stupid tire iron. But when I feel the warm spray of blood on my back, rather than down my face, or somewhere in front of me, I realize exactly what happened. One of the shamblers had been right behind me. After a frightened yelp, I spin around and back up with the as-of-yet unloaded shotgun.
There are three more that have wandered in and here I am with this huge shotgun and only the vaguest idea on how to load it. My fingers tremble with a mixture of fear and frustration as I attempt to load a shell into the weapon, going only by what I’ve seen in movies. One shot in, I hastily raise the weapon and prepare to fire at the one to the left, while Nigel finishes the one on the right. I raise the weapon with no real idea how to aim and I squeeze the trigger. The shotgun is much louder than Nigel’s chrome-plated pistol and the recoil throws it into my shoulder with a pained cry from my lips. I nearly drop it. I can’t drop it. It is the only thing keeping me alive right now. Through the tears streaming down my face for the pain in my shoulder, I see the blurred remains of the one I was shooting at. In this one regard, I am glad for my tears now, because I doubt my gentle mind could fully comprehend the sight of a head blown partially off a person’s shoulders. I am not Nigel. I do not relish killing.
My companion walks up to the remaining corpse and gives that thin smile of his as he places the barrel of his gun in the thing’s mouth. We both see the death beetles inside moving around as he shoots the round inside with no visible remorse. This time I turn away under the pretense that I need to reload the shotgun. I hear the report, the thud of the corpse hitting the ground, and the unsettling silence that follows it. I know it’s over for now.
Before I can express my thanks, I feel Nigel’s hand in my hair as he yanks me to my feet. I never noticed it before, but his eyes are dark blue, like the waters of the Baltic Sea and equally as cold. He tells me if I do something like that again, he will leave me to be turned by them. I can say nothing because I am ashamed of my own foolishness, though I scramble to my feet to take the tension off the hair he’s now holding me by. He releases me after one final baleful glare. At least we’re alive.
He wants to go further into the gun shop, despite the racket we just made. He reasoned there could be other supplies, including more fitting clothing for me. I have to admit that a skirt and a sweater are not exactly the best clothing to be running around in, but the sun is sinking toward the horizon and it’ll be dusk soon. I point to the sky outside and he looks but doesn’t say anything. Nigel rarely does and right now I’m glad.
Deeper into the shop, we find exactly what he’s looking for; hunting fatigues complete with pants, coat, and boots. Nigel investigates the back office and motions me over so I can change. I hesitate, because frankly, I can’t stand the idea of being alone in the dark anymore. The beetles hide in the dark. Their ability to blend with shadows is uncanny. It’s nearly as though they are a part of the darkness somehow. He frowns at me and hands me an electric lantern and points to the door. I don’t sigh, though I want to. I enter the back office and begin changing.
I have to be honest, it feels good to be rid of the dirty clothing I’ve worn and sweated in for two days. The odor, however faint, is offensive to my ladylike sensibilities and I even discard my undergarments for the same reason. Maybe when Nigel is less prone to shoot me, I’ll ask him if we can loot a boutique for female particulars. I slide into my boots, thread the ridiculous length of laces and begin tying them. I feel more confident wearing this clothing. I don’t feel so vulnerable, like I’ll break an ankle should I try to run or climb something to escape.
Ironic that I should be thinking about such things, when I hear the familiar report of Nigel’s gun. I count seven shots and know he has to reload. But he doesn’t. I hear nothing. I don’t even hear the sound of his body hitting the floor. Under the glow of the fluorescent light of the camping lantern I huddle reflexively, as if making myself smaller will somehow save me from whatever might be lurking on the other side of the door. My shotgun is right there. It’s loaded. It has five shots, which is less than Nigel’s gun, but with the sort of horrific damage it does, I’m not sure it matters.
My hands slowly grasp the big weapon and I can feel myself begin to shake with the trepidation that I might now be alone, or worse I’ll open that door and find Nigel’s been turned into one of them. With the recoil, I know that I have to make my first shot count, because I probably won’t be able to bring the shotgun to bear in time for a second, if there’s more than one or I miss. I’m wearing hunter’s clothes now. It helps me play the part of the killer that I’m not. I steady myself and prepare to open the door, with the shotgun settled against my shoulder so I can let the barrel fall into my other hand once I swing it open. I slow my breathing and touch the door handle, steeling myself for whatever lays beyond.
I nearly jump out of my skin and almost drop the shotgun at the sound of something rustling behind me. I whirl around to bring the barrel of the weapon to bear on a short, balding man who’s now cowering at me. He hides behind his raised arms. I feel powerful, though I know I shouldn’t. I suddenly understand why Nigel enjoys playing God with the shamblers. I keep the weapon raised, as if I am perfectly capable of using it. For the most part, I am.
He tells me to take it easy and that he was hiding back in the stock room when he heard shots fired. When he came out, he saw me changing. I stopped him right there with a snarl that would have made Nigel proud. I edged the weapon closer to the man, heedless to what might happen if it accidentally went off. I let him get a good look at the business end of the barrel, call him a pervert for watching and not announcing himself sooner. I might now be a fatigue-wearing Shotgun Betty, but I still have my modesty. I feel more filthy than I did with my dirty clothing on, with just the thought of this balding, pudgy freak looking at my naked form. It’s the Apocalypse and I still can’t find any privacy!
All pretenses of being quiet are now thrown out the window with this little exchange, but I put my finger to my lips and shh him in the fashion that could only be done by a proper librarian. I turn my back to him and resume with the opening of the door with a careful nudge of the barrel of the shotgun. The daylight was immediately blinding, despite the setting of the sun, the bright orange and pink rays pouring through the window of the shop. I immediately smelled the smoke of recent gunfire mingled with the coppery tang of blood. It’s a smell I’ve grown accustomed to, since the world was upended by tiny insects mankind somehow overlooked all these thousands of years. I see Nigel’s tall silhouette in the halo of the dying sun and I’m filled with a sense of relief.
But something’s wrong. He’s not moving and he’s not barking orders at me. As my eyes adjust to the light, I am greeted by bloodied sockets where those dark blue eyes used to be. I see him raising the chrome-plated gun that I’ve grown so accustomed to seeing him handle with expertise. But he’s slower than he normally would be. If Nigel was still Nigel, I would have been dead already. That pistol in his hand is a surgical instrument. I regret now, as I squeeze the trigger of the shotgun, that I never asked him what he did before this broken new world. I will only ever know him as Nigel, the Man Who Taught Me How to Kill.
The shotgun does its job and leaves my former companion and mentor in an unrecognizable condition. I still can’t stand the sight of the gore, but as the body drops and the balding man behind me trembles in fear, I pick up Nigel’s pistol and hand it to him. He’ll be needing it. I tell him it holds seven shots and to never forget. He nods. It’s his hide if he does. He tells me it’s a Colt 1911. He tells me this is a special gun. I agree, though not for the reasons he’s thinking.
I tell him my name is Aubrey. I don’t ask him his name, but he tells me anyway. It’s Everett. It’s the perfect name for a balding pervert in a gun store. I look around at all the bodies as briefly as I can, without focusing on the gruesome details. As near as I can tell, some of the beetles must have escaped one of the corpses they were driving around and got Nigel. Nothing survived the point-blank with the shotgun, so in that I find some reprieve. I replace the spent shells in the gun and gather the supplies Nigel had been rounding up, then look back at Everett and tell him we’re leaving.
It’ll be getting dark soon and Everett doesn’t know how to kill yet…but he’ll learn.