We met on an art website—you, me, and the Sprout.
Thing is, the Sprout and I didn't really care about art. Only you did. But when I looked online for a school art project and found you two bickering about something pointless in the comments of a picture that had nothing to do with any of us, I signed up for the site solely for the purpose of telling you two to shut up and take it to someone who cares.
So you sent me your Skype contact.
I expected you to start the conversation with arguments or even flirtation, but instead you just asked me how my day had been, as if we'd always been friends and you were just greeting me on a lonely Tuesday night. When the Sprout joined us a few minutes later, haven taken a bit more time to accept contact with the guy who he had been arguing with earlier, his first words consisted of telling you that you typed slower than his three-year-old niece and brought the conversation to the comfortable squabbling that had taken up most of our relationship.
We saw each other for the first time at that point, bathed in the bluish glow of our screens as we filled our quiet houses with the click-clack of keys and our own muffled laughter. Sometimes you don't need cameras to see someone. Sometimes you just need bold black writing on a glowing white screen.
When the zombie apocalypse erupted and all the world went to Hell, we had seen each other quite a few times since then, showing ourselves through words and old pictures. We, like everyone else, had previously discussed our plans for various occasions of apocalyptic degrees, and though we could never quite decide on a satisfactory plan, you told us the only thing that pacified our fantasies: "It's simple: we stick together. We'll die, but at least we'll be together."
We agreed to that, plain and simple.
Which is exactly why, when I fled to the attic while my decaying parents clawed at the kitchen door, I opened my laptop, connected to whatever flimsy Internet connection I could find, and sent both of you messages. Out of all the zombie stories I had consumed, none of them seemed to factor in the idea that perhaps, in the midst of chaos, the Internet could still survive. And it did, powered by a few desperate workers who wanted to provide the broken population with some semblance of power. Like a rabid animal fighting for survival, the Internet lived.
It was a bit like us in that way.
Because it is rather hard to die together while on separate sides of the continent, I waited in that attic until I saw two green symbols pop into life on my Skype window. We put our heads together, opened Google maps, and pointed to the spot on the map exactly between all three of us.
When we left, we didn't leave much behind. My parents were dead, your parents didn't care, and who even knows what happened to the Sprout's parents, anyway?
I grabbed my sister's bike (she'd never use it) and headed to South Dakota.
We kept in touch along the way, when we could. It seemed like the right thing to do. We were the last people on Earth, after all, or at least that's what it felt like when we sat huddled in our own private hideouts scattered across the continent, basking in the glow of our lonely screens as the world died around us. We all felt the same, then, even though your old laptop lost some of its keys and the Sprout's Smartphone kept turning "E"s into "K"s.
We lost each other a few times. Usually it was just one of us traveling through a spot void of connection, we ironically called them "dead zones", but sometimes it was worse. I remember once when the Sprout warned us that he was entering dangerous territory, and then lost contact for two weeks. You and I spent those tense weeks with sweaty hands and shaking breaths—more than usual, anyway, if you can say such a thing during the apocalypse. Our conversations were filled with longer pauses. We avoided talking about him, then, even though he was on the tips of our tongues. I finally realized during that time how fragile our connection was, because at least if we were near each other we could know about our friend's death, but when all we had was a flimsy connection through glowing screens, we were trapped in a horrible Purgatory that promised neither life nor death, only a thin hope of survival. If either of you died, I wouldn't know. If I died, all that would be left of me was black letters and hope.
But then he revived and told us that he had spent the last two weeks huddled in a dead zone with a dog bite on his arm and armed looters patrolling the surrounding town. We were a bit more careful after that.
"It occurred to me," you said one day, "that we've spent months traveling in the zombie apocalypse and I still haven't told you that I love you."
I said that you were an idiot, but I pressed my lips to my screen anyway in the hopes that you might receive it.
I was the first one to make it to the meeting place. It was a little shack at the feet of some lake, which had long overgrown its boundaries, and was, by some amazing circumstance, safe. No zombies for miles. Or at least that's what I thought until a few days after I had arrived, when a herd of rotting corpses lumbered their way out of the trees and hemmed me in by the edge of the lake. I managed my own for a while, hacking and smashing at brittle skulls with a pipe I had found somewhere in Wyoming, until a fat old woman fell on my weapon and I was contemplating running into the lake in the hopes that, due to my inability to swim, I could drown before the zombies got to me.
And then the Sprout rode in on a horse, guns drawn, and I blessed every art website in existence.
We picked you up a few miles south of what we so creatively dubbed "Horse Lake," mostly because I wanted to see your expression when we emerged from the woods atop a brown and white stallion, but all you did was raise your thumb and ask us if we were heading north.
We saw each other—truly saw each other—for the second time that night, bathing in the reddish glow of a fire as we filled the lake with whispered voices and quiet laughter, and for the first time since I met you I didn't feel lonely.
I felt a bit naked without a screen acting as a barrier between us all, my words slowed by a tongue I hadn't used in months, but together we remembered what it was like to act as humans the way humans had existed for millennia. I never told you, because I knew you would laugh, but sometimes in the dead of night the Sprout and I would sit at opposite sides of the lake and type across to each other, pretending that the lake was a continent and that we were again apart. It was a strange kind of comfort.
We lived together for a while, you, me, and the Sprout, huddled in that little shack by the lake, living in our own little world as Hell continued to rain upon the world around us. We searched the Internet for whatever news could be broadcast, and we watched as the dead continued to consume the world.
Though we were hungry and cold, we had each other. We knew that even if we died, we would die together, and that was enough to keep us alive.
At least, we thought it was. Then looters found our Heaven, and they shot the Sprout through the chest, and I saw you lunge for the looter with the bat, and I saw you go down with blood in your hair, and I saw myself grabbing the horse while shots rained down around me, and I saw the zombies as they followed me for miles as I led them back to Horse Lake.
Sometimes your greatest enemy is your greatest friend. As I watched two hated factions tear each other apart, I dragged you away, as far as I could, and we waited until they were all dead or gone.
For some reason, they didn't touch the Sprout. I closed his eyes for him, because he no longer could do it himself.
And I know you'll wake up. I know I'll see you in the reddish glow of the fire, because I can't stand having nothing of you but old black words and hope.