THE VOTE • by Erin M. Kinch

“We should draw straws.” The loading bay door shuddered, punctuating Jill’s statement. She pictured animate, rotting corpses throwing themselves against it, salivating after the humans inside.

“Fuck straws.” Frank stood stiffly, cradling his gun. “Random chance ain’t gonna get us what we need. Let’s vote.”

Jill wondered if Frank had been a soldier in a former life. She perched on a crate, shivering in her wrinkled linen blouse. If she’d known she was dressing for the end of the world, she would have chosen a warmer outfit.

“Vote?” A manic gleam lit Glenda’s eyes. “Like on Survivor?” She sat on the single chair, her dress and makeup pristine despite three days in a warehouse.

Milo crouched on the floor, polishing his glasses. Jill couldn’t tell if he was even paying attention. Failure of the 3G network yesterday had hit him hard.

“Yeah.” Frank nodded. “But first everybody says their piece. I’m going ’cause it’s my damn semi and my gun.” Jill pretended to believe he wouldn’t shoot anyone who got in his way, vote or no vote.

The metal doors buckled under the next wave of the undead assault. Jill doubted it would hold much longer. The brain-dead creeps had nothing better to do than throw themselves against it, day in and day out.

Glenda leaned forward to display her cleavage. “You fellas want me on this trip. Otherwise, things’ll be mighty boring when we get to safety.”

Jill rolled her eyes. She’d known Glenda was a slut from the first day she was hired, but this was beyond belief.

“I can pick locks,” Milo said, “hotwire anything that runs, and hack a computerized security system.”

“And what have you got to offer, Jill?” Glenda arched a well-plucked eyebrow.

“I’m a good shot.” Jill said. “And my uncle taught me how to live off the land. If we get out of the city, we won’t starve.”

After a moment of silence, Glenda asked, “Milo? What was that thing you read yesterday about hair?”

“Some guys on the undead forum said the corpses go crazy for blondes.” Milo’s voice trailed off as everyone stared at Jill

“That’s just a crackpot theory!” Jill’s platinum hair felt like a scorching crown of death. “There’s no proof.”

“I vote for Jill.” Frank’s gaze was cold.

Glenda twirled a lock of fake auburn hair. “Me, too.”

“I vote for Glenda!” Jill exclaimed. “She’d be useless in a fight.”

Milo stood. “I’m not doing this — it’s barbaric.”

“No!” Jill pinned him with her gaze. If Milo was going to condemn her to death, she would force him to actually say it.

“I…” Milo stared at the floor. “Jill.”

“This is dumb.” Tears welled in Jill’s eyes. “We can wedge the gas pedal on the forklift and all leave in the semi. It will be distraction enough on its own. It doesn’t need a driver.”

Frank shook his head. “They gotta smell fresh meat.”

“Besides, hon, you’ve got blonde hair.” Glenda sounded pious, but triumph lurked in her eyes. “We have to do what’s best for the majority.”

Milo said nothing at all.

After that, Jill felt like a corpse herself, her only purpose drawing the undead away from the loading bay long enough for the semi time to get free of the horde. Numbly, she wondered how long you remembered who you were after you got the bite.

A sudden burst of anger burned in Jill’s gut. She’d never asked for this—she barely knew these people. If she did what they wanted, it would be on her terms. Why wait around for them to finish armoring the semi?

The forklift roared to life under her hand. Frank yelled and fired a shot, but the bullet whizzed past her head. How he thought she would be good bait dead was beyond her. The forklift bashed through barricaded doors, and for the first time in days, she was free — no asshole, no bitch, and no pathetic little boy.

The forklift squelched into a sea of corpses. In the distance, the highway appeared corpse free.

The semi crashed out of the loading bay, dragging homemade spikes behind it. The tide of corpses surged toward the semi. Several creatures dropped, bullets in their heads, but more rose to take their place.

A man with a rotted face lunged toward Jill. She kicked him off. Another grabbed her arm, dirty fingernails slicing her skin. His nose crunched under her elbow, and he fell. Corpses that didn’t move quickly enough were squashed under the forklift’s treads. She stepped on the gas, and the forklift surged forward.

Down the block, the semi wobbled as corpses threw themselves on top and against the sides. There was a resounding crash as the onslaught pushed the semi over. More creatures lurched toward the fresh meat in the downed semi, and Jill caught a glimpse of clear road.

A woman screamed, and Jill hoped Glenda gave the creature that ate her heartburn.

A handful of hardcore corpses lunged at the front of the forklift. Jill hit a button and the forklift arms jerked up, smashing them away. One corpse’s head flew off.

Hands grabbed her ponytail from behind. Jill let go of the wheel and yanked her hair free, losing several strands. A female of about Jill’s stature clacked her teeth together. Rancid saliva dripped from her mouth.

“Get off!” Jill shoved the creature with all her strength just as the forklift veered to the side. The creature fell under the heavy treads.

Breathing heavily, Jill braced herself for the next attack, but none came. As she pulled onto the open highway heading out of town, she dared to glance back. A writhing mountain of corpses covered the semi. The distance between Jill and the horde widened with each second. She faced forward and grinned. She didn’t know where she was going, but at least now she could decide for herself.

Erin M. Kinch lives and writes in Fort Worth, Texas, where she shares her home with a supportive husband, a beautiful baby girl, and a long-suffering golden retriever. Her work has appeared in a variety of print and online publications, including A Thousand Faces, 10Flash, Hypersonic Tales, and Sporty Spec: Games of the Fantastic.

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