Lazarus Rising
by Allison C. Billedeaux

     The twin that was not dead sat on the steps outside the house. He was leaning back, one elbow propped up behind him, one leg stretched out in front.

     The blood was almost dried.

     There was a gun at his side, but it was empty now. He’d used up all the bullets. It had been the first time he’d fired a gun and the first round had nearly knocked him off his feet. Lucky the wall had been at his back. His shoulder was bruised where he’d slammed backwards into it.

     Or maybe it was from when they’d slammed his head into drywall. Something still seemed shiny behind his eyes from that, anyway.

     Dawn was coming. The sky was still raining ash, as it had been for days, as it had when they’d come for his father. It hadn’t been his fault, the ash, but it was easy to blame the man that had hurt them before. There was no one to blame for what had happened after.

     He’d been a poor man in life, but they had been poorer. And that had been a personal offense. So when the world ended, they’d come.

     The twin blinked. His eyelids were heavy.

     His sister always said he had the better eyes. Hers were green-grey like a storm and in the light, they looked like tiny moons. His were smoke, a grey that nearly buried the burning red behind.

     It was the only color they didn’t share.

     Her blood had been darker than he’d thought blood should be. It had soaked into his clothes in a nasty way, spreading tiny webbed fingers through the strands. The same tentacles had laced her face and the crooks of her elbows later, when her lips turned the grey of her eyes.

     The others, the ones who’d killed his father, they died differently.

     That may have been because he’d bashed their heads in with the firebox from the office closet.

     After he’d shot them. The tall one four times; the short one two. It would’ve been more, but he’d run out of bullets.

     He still had the gun though. It was sturdy under his fingers. Not slick like his sister.

     Not weak like his father.

     He pulled it up into his lap. The twin that was not dead could hear them coming. Finally. They’d waited four days.

     So had he. He’d waited for help, at first. He’d waited for protection. Then just for other people.   Life.

     But they never came. They just gathered. They just waited.

     And now they whispered. The sound was like chimes.

     He tipped his head back. The ashes that landed on his cheeks and eyelashes tickled. It tasted like a salt stick. He and his sister had spent summers daring each other to eat them. She would always squirm after, giggling, and he’d give her a sugar cube to chase it.

     He’d never needed the chaser.

     His skin started to itch. He had to put the gun down to scratch it. The blood came off in chunks, like it did when he picked at a scab. It was almost brown colored now.

     His palms ached. There were bruises on his wrists and forearms, claw marks on his chin and neck. The short one had still been alive when he’d crawled over him with the heavy, square firebox.

     Even with all his weight behind it, he’d had to smash the box a couple times before the short one had died.

     His sister had always made fun of him, for being the same size as her.

     “Boys are supposed to be big,” she’d said.

     All the big boys were dead now.

     The twin leaned back and opened his mouth. His tongue tingled. It was almost like snow, the ash in the sky, except that it didn’t melt. He swallowed.

     They came, first the man that used to work Tuesdays at the supermarket and then his wife’s friend, whose name the twin couldn’t remember. There were others too. He didn’t recognize them.

     “Easy now.”

     The twin fidgeted on the steps. He was suddenly anxious. The people wouldn’t stay still in his vision. His teeth itched. He ground them. It drowned out of the chime of the whispers.

     They came at dawn.

     As the sun spilled over the roof across the street and pooled at his feet, the twin stood.

     The grocery man raised his rifle and fired.

     Inside, the dead twin opened her eyes.

A.C. Billedeaux lives in the heart of the Midwest, born and bred in small town America. Still—whether it's the Apocalypse, the fantastical, or the horribly true—she has always been fascinated by the darker things in life.