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The warm air carries strands of hair past my nose, and the smell of berries pervade my senses; I close my eyes and try to imagine what they would taste like. I can almost feel them bursting on the edges of my teeth, the sugary juices trickling down my throat. I pray for fresh fruit in this shipment, a luxury, but worth every penny.
Glancing towards the lowering sun, I realize that I’m going to be late. I step hastily into the river, accidentally slipping on the rocks. My fingers graze the reflective water, but as I fall, an arm grips my waist. I jump and try to get away, but the familiar rough, warm, hands that I love stop me.
Laughing, Billy pulls me toward him, and this time I don’t pull away. The mildly cool water travels lazily past our shins as we make our way to the other side of the river. It’s not wide, and we are out within seconds.
I turn around and watch the passing water before following Billy. His shaggy brown hair reaches past his chin and grazes the stubble along his jaw. Suddenly his shoulders lift and he spins around, smiling brightly.
My heart skips a beat, but I try to be offhand and unaffected but his presence. He smiles, and tries to make me laugh. It isn’t hard, but a loud snorting noise erupts from me, turning my ears, and cheeks dark crimson. Embarrassed, I look away but he tries to catch my attention.
“I heard that this shipment will be the largest we’ve ever had.” He states coolly.
“We need it,” I reply. “Henry was telling me last week that large parts of the fence have begun to rust. Don’t even mention the need for food, when winter comes, we won’t have enough reserves to last. We have too many people, and not enough land.” Sighing I shake my head, and kick a stray pebble. Billy grabs my shoulders. I stop and look up to him, his eyes are troubled and he seems uncertain but I wait for him to say something.
“I don’t really want to talk about the shipment; I have something to tell you… Tessa, I’ve been in love with you since the moment I laid eyes on you. I need to know if you feel the same.” He hunches down so that we are the same height, and shakes his hair from his brown eyes.
My heart stops and before I know it, I’ve jumped into his arms. They are safe, and warm, but more than that, they welcome me, they have been waiting for me, and I have waited for them. Billy pulls away and cups my cheeks with his hands.
“Don’t worry, just wait, we’ll be together again after the drawing.” He murmurs to the top of my head. As the setting sun casts a shadow on the square we find our spots. The rest of the town slowly walks in and stands before the stage; waiting for the lottery to begin.
Mr. Summers awkwardly hobbles through the crowd holding a large, beat-up, black box. He doesn’t speak as he makes his way to the top of the stage. Mr. Graves a slightly smaller man; follows behind him carrying a three-legged stool.
The last of the townsfolk trickle in as the clock tower drones the ten o’clock bell. The men on the stage remove their hats, and the townspeople follow suit. Mr. Summers begins the annual speech.
“Hello and thank you all for coming. The time has come again to draw for the lottery, as you all know, I’ll draw ten names from three sections of the box, these sections represent the three different neighborhoods within our great town. Then, we ask that those few that are called to walk calmly upon the stage for the second drawing. The three people that receive the lucky black dots are our winners.” Mr. Graves coughs, and speaks up.
“The honor of winning will bestow respect upon your family’s name. Let’s begin.” They start with the neighborhoods next to mine and I almost can’t hear the names they call. My palms begin to sweat but I clench them tighter. Finally, they begin to call my neighborhood.
“Adam Wright…Clyde Dunbar…Mary Delacroix…Tessa Hutchinson…” My heart stops, and my stomach plummets. Billy looks down quickly, and grabs onto my hand. I pull from his grasp before he can say goodbye. Slowly I stumble my way toward the front of the stage, and stand with the other thirty contestants. I try to convince myself that my chances of winning are low, but my hands won’t stop shaking. We take turns stepping forward and reaching into the fourth compartment for a single slip of folded white paper. After each of us grabs a ticket, Mr. Summers faces the crowd.
“You may open them now.” Closing my eyes, I pray. The white slip of paper unfolds in my hand and I slowly look down. My heart sinks, and my breath catches. Cheering erupts from the crowd as their loved one’s return. A single tear slips down my cheek before I step forward with two other people.
“Your contributions to this community will never be forgotten.” Mr. Summers whispers to the three of us. The words don’t comfort me, if anything they make me a mad, because we all know that it’s a lie. They look at us one last time before turning back to the crowd.
“I’ll now announce the winners. Allen Warner, Olivia Andrews, and Tessa Hutchinson are this year’s lucky contestants.” I don’t know the other two people because they aren’t from my neighborhood. Taking a deep breath, I return my attention to the crowd. Mr. Summers seems to be rallying some excitement for the rest of the evening. Instead of listening, I watch the wind play with the tiny scraps of paper.
My attention reverts to the stage as three men approach, each one bearing firearms. They stand in front of us as our national anthem plays. I close my eyes tightly, refusing to watch the progression. The anthem stops and the command signals.
Shots fire and I watch as Billy tackles my gunman to the ground. The bullet misses my heart but penetrates my shoulder; I cry out and try to stay still. Blood oozes from my wound and the world becomes dark, but I refuse to lose consciousness. I reach out to Billy, but he’s too far away.
Billy is dragged away shouting my name and sobbing. My heart contracts one last time before my forehead hits the ground. I don’t cry or sob, I can’t let him see me that way, and instead I clutch at my wounded shoulder, and hope that it’ll end soon.
Someone picks me up and carts me along the boundary. The fence bounces and shakes as the richly green colored zombies reach for our flesh. The horde follows us dead eyed and energetic away from the front gate of the city. Away from the travelers that bring our shipment.
A gun points at my head, and I watch as the slips of paper glide beyond our boundary, into the horde of undead.