May 19

1536 — Anne Boleyn beheaded by order of King Henry VIII

 

Shelly had been walking for a long while.  Her hometown was empty:  of people, of food and water, of hope.  The only chance was to find a town unaffected by the recent violence.

No cars had traveled past her during her journey, which seemed a bad omen.  But maybe people in the upcoming town had heard the terrible news, before all communication stopped, and they’d decided to stay put.

As she approached the town limits, the welcome sign listed the local population as 4,317.  Shelly wondered why the number was so specific:  wouldn’t it have been less work to round up, and change the sign only when the population hit a new milestone?

If things here went the same way they did back home — so quick, so violent — the currently posted number was dramatically optimistic.

A combination gas station and convenience store waited ahead, about a hundred yards from the welcome sign.  There were no cars at the pumps out front.  Shelley worried the store would be empty:  of people, of food and water.

Shelly’s mouth felt dry.  She had trouble lifting her feet as she walked, but her weak tread was still strong enough to stir up dust from the road, swirl it in the air until she breathed it in, felt it at the back of her throat.

She made her way closer to the station.  The front window was as large as the display window in a city department store.  As if to capitalize on the similarity, the owners had set up a mannequin display of two smartly dressed couples seated around a dinner table.  They raised glasses,  painted to look full of wine; they lifted forks that balanced wax simulations of cake or steak bites.

If only the scene were true.  If only the world of elegant dinner parties still existed.

Hell, she’d settle for a vending machine sandwich or a bag of crisps.

She moved closer, and noticed something odd about the mannequins.  None of them had any heads.

A strange design choice, but some department stores followed that practice — as if faces and wigs and identifying human features would detract from the featured clothing items.

Shelley walked closer.  The clothes on the mannequins weren’t covered with blood, fortunately, but the neck stumps had a grisly realism to them.  A painted effect perhaps.

Or perhaps she was too weary from walking.  Dehydrated, and thus hallucinating.

Her throat was still dry, but her feet no longer seemed to kick up dust.

The asphalt beneath her shoes shined as if it had been recently washed clean.  But it felt sticky, too, as each time she made a step.

A strange flutter sounded behind her, like the rapid patter of stealthy feet.  She heard a hiss like the whisper of a blade through air.