I knew he was sick when he called me delicious. It makes you go after the ones you love the most, they said. You get it, you consume, you die.
I was stirring alfredo sauce into the pasta when he came in behind me, hugging me from behind, burying his face in my neck. His paper mask sounded like static against my hair, and his breath was muffled behind the paper.
“You look so good,” he said, his hands wrapped around my waist. My head snapped up.
“What did you say?”
“Delicious. Good enough to eat.”
A beat passed between us as he held me closer, breathing deeply through the mask. I slowly turned in his arms to face him.
His eyes were lightly bloodshot and glassy, and I could see he was having trouble focusing on my face.
“Are you OK?” I asked, knowing the answer. He wasn’t. It was too late.
“Of course, babe,” he said, but his eyes roamed my face. “I’m starving.”
We’d been so careful. Stayed away from shopping centers. Stopped traveling on planes. Washed our hands until our skin grew scaly.
In the early days, we assumed it was just another scare. H1N1 at best. Ebola at worst. But it spread so fast. It made people so ugly.
We didn’t have any family besides each other. We had no siblings and our parents were dead. We had it easy.
It took us so long to figure it all out. We wondered how long the government knew.
We moved to a remote town. The kind with a Main Street with a traffic stop, and dusty roads that lead to scattered houses. Most towns had been abandoned. Where were they all going? There was nowhere to run.
We got a house with two rooms; a bedroom and a sitting room with kitchen and it was all the space we needed. We had land around us and we sat below the trees, breathing in the pine tree sap. It seemed so calm. Untouched. Unreal.
I told my husband to get in bed and that I’d bring him dinner. He grumbled but went, and once he was in the bedroom I pulled out my computer. I knew it all already, but I had to double check. Timelines, cures, ways to slow it.
My heart was knocking inside my ribs, telling me there was nothing I could do. He was gone. All I could do was run.
But how could I run? He was the man who’d held me when my mother died, took up the space in my chest she left behind. He’d taken care of me since the day we’d met.
He was all I had. How could I run?
We’d decided to move when we first heard of the illness spreading. Us against the world, we always said.
My boss had come into my office, first asking about the report I’d been working on. Then he lingered, staring blankly at my desk.
“What’s up?” I asked him.
“My wife is sick,” he said. “Like a cold, but worse.”
“She’s been,” he hesitated. “Talking funny. Dangerous. I just wanted you to know I’ll be out for a bit. I’m going to stay home with her.”
“Of course,” I said. I wondered what he meant by talking funny.
“I’ll see you once she’s well,” he said, and he left my office for the last time.
We moved two weeks later, after the spread had picked up, removing our acquaintances one by one.
Talking funny, my boss had said. Dangerous. We didn’t know what that meant then. Now we know she’d been planning, plotting, telling him how tasty he looked. She’d started salivating over him.
She succeeded a week after he left my office. Both of their bodies were found by the police, a huddled mass of blood on the bedroom floor.
And now, my husband was like her.
I could hear him in the bedroom while I searched online blogs. He was moaning, getting itchy.
“I gave him bacon for a while, that seemed to hold him off,” one woman in Atlanta wrote. A man in Seattle said, “I cut my finger and let my wife lick the blood. It’s the only thing that keeps her off me for a while.”
“Where are you, baby?” My husband said, groaning from the bedroom. “I’m so hungry.”
I was happy we only loved each other.
We learned that the bug was meant to separate us. To hurt us, not just physically, but where it could harm us the most. It forced us to kill the ones we love. If you loved ten people, you’d finish them all. Afterwards, you’re left with an insatiable hunger. Most couldn’t take that hollow hunger; they killed themselves shortly after finishing their feast.
We didn’t want that. We just wanted each other. We tried to outlive a cure. But here we were. My palms sweating and my husband pacing, licking his lips to the thought of devouring me.
If I ran, he’d die. He’d be left with a gnawing cruelty in his gut and he’d be driven to death. But I could catch it somewhere else, and I’d be consumed by the same hunger. If I stayed, we would both die now.
We’d die together.
I entered the bedroom and watched his eyes track me. Animalistic, but not cruel.
There was love in his mouth when he bit my neck, taking a piece of me with him as he pulled away. There were tears as he swallowed my body, bit by bit, consuming as much as he could.
I let him do it. It hurt more than I thought. Each bite was a betrayal; he knew I was in pain. But we were together.
Isn’t that love, in all? I knew he’d be empty without me, so empty he’d rather leave this world than live without me. And that would be my revenge for this betrayal.
Madeline Anthes is a Clevelander living on the east coast with her husband and two dachshunds. She’s been published in various literary journals and is the acquisitions editor for Hypertrophic Literary. You can see her work on madelineanthes.com, or find her on Twitter @maddieanthes