She loaded the shotgun with shaking hands, keeping the box of shells close, and sticking a few in her pocket just in case. She looked down at the bed, where her young daughter slept, then at the ring on her left hand. It was 10 years today, and she took a moment to reflect on the previous decade.
She thought of those early days in their old apartment, learning to live together, struggling to pay the bills and make their rent. They'd been so young then, barely out of college, but they'd just been so in love.
She remembered her husband's first "real" job, the one that allowed them to save for the down payment on their house, and all they went through before finally finding the right one.
She reflected on the bad year, when their marriage had almost come apart, and of the year that followed, when they worked so hard to put it back together.
She smiled down at her sleeping daughter, who would turn 5 in a couple of weeks, and thought of the joy she had brought to their marriage, and the sense of completion she gave them as a family.
Images floated through her mind; memories of family vacations, barbecues, parties, holidays... all the wonderful times spent with the love of her life.
A sound brought her out of her reverie with a start. It was a loud banging from outside, and it sounded like the front door.
She swore, gripping the gun tighter. They'd been so careful not to show any signs that the house was occupied. No lights, little movement, hardly any sound... She'd hoped they could last the night, and that none of those poor souls would notice they were there.
But then her husband had left the house. He was determined to get them to safety, no matter what. Tears filled her eyes and rolled down her cheeks. If only he'd stayed, instead of trying to get to the car. He didn't think he'd be noticed going around to the garage, as most of them had moved away toward the center of town, where the mayor had foolishly gathered everyone. It should have only taken a few moments, then they all could have piled in and driven away, presumably to safety. But he'd been gone 20 minutes now, and she knew he wouldn't be coming back with the car. She desperately prayed he wouldn't come back at all.
She grit her teeth. He should have stayed. They would have been safe if he had stayed. But no, he just had to play the hero. And now...
There was a crash, and she knew the front door had been broken in. Her daughter woke up then and clutched at her mother as heavy shuffling footsteps made their way up the stairs. She raised the gun to her shoulder, sighting down the barrel as the knob on the bedroom door turned.
The door flung open, and her husband lurched into the room, a guttural moan escaping his swollen blue lips as he lurched toward his family, seeking nourishment.
The gun kicked against her shoulder, bruising it, as her husband's head exploded in a shower of putrefied flesh and bone. Her daughter screamed and began to cry, but she kept her head, reloading the gun and stuffing the box of shells into her backpack. She grabbed her bag and the one they'd packed for their daughter. They'd have to run, but if they were lucky, they might make it to the car before the others heard the shot and came around. She knew there was at least one other out there, perhaps already in the house, so she cocked the gun and kept it ready, her daughter clutching at her skirts as they walked toward the door. It occurred to her then that if her husband had taken the gun, his plan might have worked, but he'd insisted she keep it. Just in case.
She spared a final teary-eyed glance for the headless, twitching corpse of the man who'd shared the last 10 years of her life, trying to keep her daughter from seeing too much of him, speaking her last farewell as they left the room.
"Happy Anniversary, sweetheart."