Gregory turned on the kitchen tap and hopefully placed a glass beneath the spout. A slight hiss of air squelched out. He sighed and slumped down onto the floor, rumpling up the rami kitchen rug.
"I hate swallowing pills without water," he said, looking at the two Tylenol in his hand. "I hate Tylenol."
"Quit whining," said Lisa. She towered over her husband, and wore battered jeans, a t-shirt with a faded logo from a long-cancelled, short-running science fiction TV show. On her feet were dirty, fuzzy slippers, and a housecoat hung limply from her shoulders. "You have nothing to whine about. Do you realize how bad you smell after two weeks without a shower? After all that digging?"
Lisa slumped down next to her husband and put an arm around his shoulder. Gregory scratched at his patchy beard.
"Yeah," he muttered. "We gotta do something soon."
"Maybe it'll rain again tonight."
"We can't keep living like this."
"We're still living though," said Lisa.
Gregory turned to look at her, then picked up her hand and squeezed it. He stood up shakily, leaning on the kitchen counter. His head throbbed.
"You need to eat," said Lisa, standing up. "I'll get some tomatoes."
Earlier in the week, when the neighbors had emerged from their incubation period, and started roaming the neighborhood, Gregory and Lisa dug up all the plants in the garden (along with a massive amount of soil), and rebuilt the garden in the living room. They still somehow had electricity, and set up all their lamps for the plants since they couldn't risk opening the window blinds lest any roving eyes peered in.
Lisa clipped off several tomatoes and cradled them in the bottom of her t-shirt. She picked out a cucumber and cut some green leaf lettuce. She went back into the kitchen and put the vegetables on the counter. Gregory started cutting up the cucumber.
"We need meat," he said.
"We have some peanut butter left," said Lisa.
"We only have food for days," said Gregory. "We need to talk about making a run for it."
"Where?" asked Lisa.
"I don't know," said Gregory after a pause.
"Even if we can drive out of the subdivision, we don't have enough gas to get out of the city. They're probably everywhere by now."
"I think we have to try."
"Greg, we've been through all this," said Lisa, licking tomato juice from her finger.
"There's got to be a way. There's always a way," he said. He handed Lisa a slice of cucumber. She took it in her mouth. Every dish in the house was dirty so they took to eating without them.
"I dunno," said Lisa, shrugging and chewing. "Maybe we should just give in."
"Don't say that."
"Can it be so bad? You saw them. They seem to be sort of happy."
"It's unnatural. It's not right, you know?"
"Maybe it's better than starving. It's not like they're zombies or anything."
"Yeah, but still. I don't want to be part of a collective," said Greg.
There was a knock at the door. Lisa and Greg froze, their ears perked. Another knock.
"Shhh," said Greg unnecessarily.
There was another knock. Greg and Lisa looked at each other. They slowly crept out of the kitchen and onto the dirt in the living room. They carefully maneuvered behind the lights so they wouldn't cast shadows on the drapes. There was another knock and they paused briefly. Greg squeezed Lisa's arm and they started moving again. There was another knock before Lisa peered out the peephole.
Beyond the door were several hundred people. At the front was the mail lady. Her eyes were dull half slits. Her uniform was freshly laundered. Like everyone else, she was entirely bald, with strips of large scabs over her scalp where the boils had healed over. Lisa instinctively put her hand to her mouth. The mail lady knocked again. Lisa moved back to let Gregory look.
"Jesus," mouthed Gregory, looking Lisa. They crept back to the kitchen and sat on the floor. The knocking continued, once every thirty seconds.
"I think they know we're here," whispered Lisa.
"There's no way we're driving out of here," said Gregory. "Not now."
"Maybe we should open the door. Maybe they can't infect us any longer."
"I guess that's possible," said Gregory. "I dunno though."
"We're going to have to take a risk one way or the other. They're not going to go away I think."
Gregory sighed heavily, then suddenly embraced Lisa. She was taken aback initially, then hugged back.
"Whatever happens, know that I love you," said Gregory.
"Yeah, ditto," said Lisa. Gregory pulled away and looked at her with scrutinous eyes. "It's just that, I'm surprised you're committing to this."
"Your the one that's been--"
"I know, I know," said Lisa, sighing. "It's one thing to be the voice of reason, but another to actually be heeded."
"So...you're not ready to do this?"
"Give me a minute," said Lisa. She stood up and leaned over the kitchen sink, breathing in and out heavily. Gregory got up and rubbed her back. "You're sure?"
"Yeah," said Gregory. "I'd like to get this over with."
"God, all the things we never got to do," said Lisa. Tears dripped into the sink. "I feel panicky."
"It's all right," said Gregory. "It'll be all right. We still might be able to do all those things. Or some of them. We don't know."
"Ugh," Lisa grunted. She stood up straight and leaned her forehead into Gregory's shoulder. He kissed the greasy mat of hair on the top of her head.
"The moments we've shared together...those are--"
"Yup," said Lisa, hugging him like a vise-grip.
They stood embraced in the kitchen for a full minute. The knocking continued. They walked into the living room, hand in hand. Gregory unlatched the chain lock, then undid the deadbolt. He turned the doorknob and pulled open the door, stepping backward. The mail lady was about to knock again when she realized that the door was open. Her jaw fell slackly. Drool spilled out from the corner of her mouth.
"Oooh," said the mail lady.
"Ooooh," said the massive crowd behind her.
"Hi," said Gregory. "Uh, what can we do for you?"
"Aaaah," said the mail lady.
"Aaaaah," said the crowd.
The mail lady fell to her knees, and bowed down, prostrating herself. The rest of the crowd shuffled slowly and did the same.
"I...did not expect that," said Lisa.
"Uh, why are you here?" said Gregory in a loud, public speaking staccato.
The mail lady lifted her head, and looked at them dully.
"Gods," said the mail lady.
"What?" asked Lisa.
"Gods," repeated the mail lady, trembling. She quickly bowed her head again.
"Really?" asked Gregory.
"Oh my," said Lisa. Gregory started to grin.
"Rise!" shouted Gregory in his most authoritative voice. Lisa jabbed Gregory in the ribs. The crowd slowly rose.
"We are greatly pleased!" shouted Gregory.
"Ooooh," murmured the crowd.
"Please part, and allow us to pass!" said Gregory. The crowd parted down the middle.
"Greg we can't--" said Lisa.
"Hush woman," said Gregory. Lisa's eyes grew big with shock and consternation. Gregory stepped out onto the stoop then descended down the steps, carrying himself regally. Lisa followed closely, looking warily at the vacant faces and scabby pates.
"Why is there no water service?" bellowed Greg. The crowed murmured, but no one directly answered. "It will please us if you bring us water!"
Part of the crowd shuffled off down the road in a clot. The rest bowed their heads.
"We also require an offering of food. Bring us a share of your food every day!" shouted Gregory, raising his hands in the air. The crowd prostrated again. Then several individuals got up and made their way to the front. They brought out food from their pockets, packages of potato chips and other non-perishable snacks that survived the chaos of the incubation period.
"I don't believe this," whispered Lisa. "Thank you!" she shouted.
"Your gods are pleased!" shouted Gregory. He collected the snacks. The individuals who gave them touched the couple's clothing. "That is all for now! We will retire and appear again tomorrow!"
Gregory stepped back to the stoop and back inside, pulling a stunned Lisa along with him. They closed the door to a loud chorus of "Aaaaahs".
"What do we do now?" asked Lisa.
"Now? Now we live like kings!" Gregory giggled with glee.
"What? We can't, that's not right."
"Sure it is," said Gregory. "I mean, they're not exactly smart anymore. We're going to have to make sure we keep things running for them. That's the responsible thing to do. And if they're willing to worship us, that's probably a fair trade."
"But what else? Tell them we're not gods? What will they do to us then?"
"Geez," said Lisa. "This is probably how all religions started." They both burst into laughter.