the pearl

Six Things That Never Happened To Ana And Michael, Because Life Just Doesn't Work Out That Way

Co-written with Gale.

1: "There will be a golden ladder reaching down"

Luis got his promotion at the factory, and even though they're both tired from their separate all-night shifts, they decide that, to celebrate, they're going to buy a new TV.

Nothing too big, because then it'd have to go into the living room and they never really go in there, but something to fit on the dresser in their bedroom. Something nice for Luis to watch while he's waiting for Ana to get home, or for her to watch while waiting for him to get home, or just to watch in the few hours they have together. And, besides, after all the work they put in, what with him being a supervisor and her being a nurse, they deserve something nice. Right?

All of their justifications work, so they head to Best Buy and start looking at TVs. Luis gets snagged by a salesman, one of those pimply-faced things barely out of high school, so Ana wanders about, looking at the various TVs on offer. Luis'll probably want to buy something twice as big and with a million features they won't use, so she tries to keep an eye on him as she walks around.

She stops to look at the picture on one, not really paying attention to anything.

"Can I help you?" someone asks from beside her.

She turns, and looks at the man. She feels a bit guilty, because he's practically old enough to be the dad of that kid trying to sell Luis a $1,000 TV, and he looks like he could use the commission. "No, sorry..." she says, shrugging. "Just looking..."

He nods, smiling. "Of course. Just let me know if you need anything — the name's Michael." He points at the badge on his chest, half-embarrassedly.

She smiles, nods, and looks over at Luis, who is looking avidly at a high-definition thing the size of their bed, and something flips inside her, a tiny little piece of spite that she didn't even know she had. "Michael?" she suddenly says, not even thinking as she says it.

He turns around, his eyebrows raised. "Yes?"

She pauses, and smiles sheepishly, suddenly embarrassed. "'re looking for a TV."

Michael looks around and smiles slightly. "Well, you're in the right place," he says, dryly.

She laughs, and that seems to relax things. Slightly. "Luis — my husband — he's looking over there..." She points at Luis even as she's wondering why she's doing it. "But, I don't know, I was thinking of something smaller." She looks around. "I think like that big..." She points at a row of plain TVs, lacking in fancy stickers or fancy effects, just a big silver box waiting to be turned on.

He nods. "Good choice." He gestures towards the row for her to walk before him, and she walks to them, weirdly charmed by his manners.

"So," he says, when they reach the row. "Is there anything in particular you're looking for?"

She shrugs, smiling. "Just a TV, I think."

He smiles and nods. "Right." He pauses, looking at the TVs. "Well, I think Stewart over there is probably talking your husband into the full home theatre system, so I'd suggest something with a fair amount of gadgets, so that...Luis, was it?" At her nod, he smiles again. "He'll have a lot of things to play with, but it'll also fit into your current entertainment system."

She returns his smile. "We don't have much of an 'entertainment system'. It's just going on the dresser," she says. "All it really needs is a plug and a remote."

"Well, since that's pretty much every TV we have here..." he says. "We need to narrow it down a bit further. Do you have cable? A DVD player? Do you like it loud or quiet? Subtitles?"

She laughs, shaking her head. "I..." She smiles. "I honestly don't know," she says sheepishly. "We've been using this one I've had since college, and anything'd be better."

He nods. "Of course." He gestures towards a single TV in the middle of a row. "This would probably be your best bet, then. Simple styling, full remote, cable ready, and with a two-year warranty, just in case I've accidentally sold you a dud. Here..." He hands her a remote.

She flips it on, changes a few channels, and sticks it on the news.

"...there was a shooting near Fort Meyer today, resulting in the death of one man. Apparently, the man took five bullets in the chest before finally going down from a bullet to the head. Reports are mixed, with some people saying that the man had been dead before being shot. Thankfully, there were no other injuries."

Ana tilts her head slightly and frowns, watching it.

"This place just gets worse and worse, doesn't it?" Michael says next to her, offhandedly, forgetting the hard sell.

Ana smiles again and hands him back the remote. "Let me go get Luis," she says. "And we'll take this one."


2: "Whoever is righteous, let him be righteous still"

It took longer than Ana had figured for the mainland to disappear from sight, but then, it wasn't like she'd spent a lot of time around boats. But they were out of the mall, and they had food and water and a destination in mind. Things could be worse.

"Hey," Michael says, startling her. "You okay? You haven't slept yet."

"I'm fine," Ana says, leaning her weight a little more firmly against the railing. "I'm just not really tired yet." She smiles at him. "How's everyone else holding up?"

"About as well as can be expected. Terry and Nicole are asleep, and Ken's got the wheel. I was just on my way to relieve him. You want to come with?"

"In a minute," Ana says, and Michael nods. He bumps his arm against hers when he passes. From anyone else, it would have been a kiss.

This is better.

Ana watches him go, smiling a little, then turns back to look at the water.

They'd come so close that morning. Nicole had screamed when she'd seen Michael's arm, and it took Terry and Ken both holding her back to keep her from shoving Michael overboard. But Ana had checked and rechecked the wound - and checked it again, just so Nicole would stop glaring at her every time she looked over - and finally figured out that no, it was just a nasty gash on the arm from pulling her into the shuttle. She'd already stitched it and dressed it, and there were no signs of infection, no discoloration or septic smells. It was your normal, average, stupid wound. Not a bite.

Not a bite, oh thank you God.

Even so, Michael had taken her aside and asked her that if it was, if it came down to it — and Ana had nodded and reflexively let her fingers brush the extra bullets in her pocket, and that had been that.

"Wait a minute," Ken says, loud enough to yank her attention back to the present. A few feet away, under the blanket, Terry lifts his head, blinking muzzily. "Isn't - that's land over there, right?"

Terry scrambles out from under the blanket and heads for the front of the boat, half-dangling over the edge in order to get a better look. "I think so," he calls back. "Dead ahead, maybe one or two miles. We should be there before sunset."


3: "Whoever is filthy, let him be filthy still"


"Holy shit!" Steve yells. "Got it in one!" He lowers the binoculars and gives a thumbs-up to Andy from across the rooftops. "He's fucking amazing!"

"Yeah, yeah," Michael says, scanning the crowd of undead. "Pick a new one."

"Yeah..." Steve raises up the binoculars and starts to scan. "Leno? No, too obvious... Oooh, there's a Burt Reynolds. No, again with the obvious. Wait — there!" He gestures towards a particular zombie. "Scarlett Johansson! Tell him to get Scarlett Johansson!"

"Oh, yeah," Michael says, nodding. "Definitely Scarlett Johansson."

"Who's she?" Ken asks as he writes the name on the whiteboard.

"Skinny little blonde thing, art movies, I'd fuck her." Steve points at her again. "Let's see if you can get this one..."



4: "Will you partake of that last offered cup or disappear into the potter's ground"

"You know," she says, almost nonchalantly, as if she was speaking about the weather or something she read in a magazine. "I didn't think I'd ever end up like this."

He laughs, slightly, bitterly, trying to keep the mood as light as she is. "No," he says. "I don't suppose any of us did."

The bite — barely big enough to even be called a bite — stings as she lifts up her arm to stroke his cheek. "Well," she says, still keeping her voice light. "At least we get to see another sunrise..."

His arm suddenly tightens around her waist. "Ana, I..." His voice trails off and he sighs. "I tried, y'know?"

She nods, resting her cheek against his chest, the scent of smoke and blood thick, but the faint familiar scent of him still there. "I know," she says, muffled against his t-shirt. "I tried too."

They stand there for a few seconds, a few angry tears leaking out of Ana's eyes and dampening Michael's shirt. She pulls away just far enough to reach for her pistol, refusing to look at him, focusing entirely on making sure her pistol is ready to fire. At the last second, she looks up. "Count of three?" she whispers, barely audible above the crackling of the still burning van and the growling of the creatures around them.

He nods and, together, they hold their guns underneath their chins.


5: "Some are born and some are dying"

"Terry, hold this," Ana tells him, and gives him the flashlight. She makes her way over to Luda's body — slowly, carefully, just in case — and goes to the baby, pulls the blanket back.

The body is — Jesus Christ, the baby is. It's like something out of a nightmare, except it's real and it's flailing with unnatural strength. "Shit," she mutters, taking a step back. "Terry, give me the light. CJ, do you have a spare — "

It happens so fast no one can react. One minute, Ana's stepping back; the next, there's a dead flesh-eating baby latched onto her forearm. She yells and tries to shove it away, but the fucking thing's latched on like a snapping turtle. Ken and CJ both have guns out, but the little voice in the back of Ana's head knows there's no clear shot.

"Hold still!" someone yells — Michael, thank God, loud but not panicked — and lifts a gun to its head. Ana closes her eyes and blocks her ear with her free hand. Even with that, the shot is incredibly loud.

The rest of the infant falls away, leaving Ana with blood streaming down her arm. She winces and looks at her arm, but there's nothing left in it, no teeth or anything.

"Shit," Monica says, sounding very young. "Ana, that's — "

"I know," Ana says quietly.

"You're gonna end up like Nicole's dad," Monica says. "All veiny and — "

"I know," Ana snaps, and looks at her arm.

The wound's so tiny, barely more than a paper cut or a scratch from doing yard work. She doesn't feel weird or sick or weak, just pissed off someone bit her. Perfectly normal. Nope, nothing wrong here.

And then she remembers Luis, and how she saw him go, and how he came back. What he was like. And the other security guard, and Luda, and the fucking baby

"Get out," she says quietly. And then: "Terry, give me your gun."

Terry jumps. "What? No."

"Terry — "

"Here," Ken says, handing one over. He meets her eyes.

"Thank you," she says, and he nods once. "Now get out."

They file out slowly. Nicole's already crying, and Terry's too busy comforting her to look over. Ken glances at her once, then doesn't look back. No one else looks back. No one says anything.

And then it's just her and Michael, and her gun.

"I told you," she starts, and Michael looks at her.

"In case you can't," he says quietly. "Or if you want to wait a while. You might — "

"We should just do this," she says, closing her eyes for a second. This isn't how it's supposed to end, but it's how it's going to, at least for her. And she won't be alone. The thought makes her want to cry.

She doesn't, though. She's seen plenty of worse things than her own death.

"If you're," Michael starts, and clears his throat. She wonders what the hell he's thinking right now. He's dry-eyed, but his eyes are so dark. "Not the temple. You might miss and just wound yourself."

"I know," she says. She's seen enough attempted suicide victims in the ER to know how to do this. She looks at the gun in her hand and takes a deep breath.

Michael takes her other hand. Ana looks at him and smiles a little.

"You won't-" She pauses. "You won't let them see me, right? If - if you take us out of here — "

"They won't see your face," Michael agrees, and she nods and hefts the gun.

Then figures what the hell, if she doesn't do it now she'll just stand here 'til it kills her, and puts it in her mouth.


6: "It's alpha and omega's kingdom come"

For some reason, perhaps because Nicole looked so sad and Frank looked so concerned and everyone felt desperately guilty, they actually listened to something CJ said, and, even more surprisingly, it worked. Frank didn't turn into a zombie, they managed to save Luda and the baby, and, although they both had to learn how to do things one-handed, they were alive, and that was what mattered.

They survived. Most of them, anyway — there were a few casualties. Bart got taken down when he went down to the parking garage to start up the generators one evening. Andy from the gunworks, after several weeks of not eating, went downstairs and never returned. Glen fell asleep one night and never woke up.

But, overall, they survived. They lived, and kept living, and when Luda's baby was born, they all celebrated, and when Monica started raiding the pregnancy tests, they were all pleased, and it was a slow and inevitable decline into domesticity — of a sorts. Keeping the guns high enough so that toddlers wouldn't touch them. Making sure that there was powdered milk, formula, and diapers close by. Reading up on home birth, raiding Rite-Aid for all possible medication, and setting up Carousel as the nursery.

It was a bit weird, and it was a bit stressful, but it worked — and it worked well until the creatures outside finally withered to scraps of bone and dust, leaving the parking lot empty, leaving them free to leave after over a year.

And Ana, and Michael, and their baby, a scruffy scrap of a boy that Ana named Luis, without telling anyone why, walked outside of the mall and towards the places they once lived, there were tears in Ana's eyes. They survived. Despite all the death and destruction and everything, they were going to live.

Until the president crawled out of his bunker and decided to nuke the entire US anyway — just to make sure.

This Dawn Of The Dead story was written by Kate Bolin. If you liked it, there's plenty more at And you can feedback her at