She shrugged. I shrugged too.
She had brought along her camera and a few sets of batteries inside a black, leather messenger bag. If something particularly morbid snagged her attention, she would ask if we could stop so she could snap a shot of it.
At first, the photos were okay. They weren’t awful. I thought there was something journalistic in the endeavor. Here was a need to document the terrors for future generations or whoever would be around to commemorate these losses. The photos would end up in a textbook somewhere, or on some documentary scored by groaning piano music. I liked that thought. Approved of it.
Because it was important for people to know what happened.
But, that wasn’t why she was doing it. She had no reason I could figure out.
We didn’t have a computer to upload the pictures to. But, she still took pictures as often as she could. Smiling as she snapped pictures of these bodies mutilated by the undead.
Here—a little girl crumbled by a swing set, her father having shot her in the head to save her the pain of being devoured alive.
Here—a teenage couple peeled apart in their car.
It was her new favorite hobby. Finding shredded corpses in the gutters, crouching down, and capturing tragedy as it rotted.
It was awful to think this is what we had become—morbid tourists.
I just think it’s interesting, she would say. I don’t know why, but I like them. Not “like” them, in that sense. Maybe appreciate is a better word?
I didn’t think it was a better word.
Maybe you just are curious about them? I offered.
She thought about it, and shrugged again.
When she shrugged, I took it to mean that I was right. She didn’t want to admit it and a shrug was a way for her to divert power. She wasn’t relenting and she wasn’t accepting the fault. She was just saying, I don’t care. I don’t care about it anymore. I don’t want to play if I’m not winning.
That was one of those things I hated about her. That, and her Nikon camera—her big polished eye. The shutter cracking. The lens zooming in and out. The sound echoed in my bones.
We found a group of six guys collapsed around a girl in the parking lot of a Best Buy. The story told itself:
The boys—some junior highers, some in their forties— had been raping this girl when an undead horde had found them. The girl had a pocket knife, or had found one, and stabbed herself in the throat instead of letting them eat her alive.
The undead had eaten her, but she’d been dead for that, I hoped. No brain activity as they ate her rapists. No nerves electrified with heat as they ate her. All there was, was their story.
Their final moment.
She crouched down to take a picture of the six boys with their pants around their ankles and their cocks chewed off and started laughing. Not giggling, or chuckling. But busting a seam.
She laughed until tears streamed down her face and she had to shove her fist in her mouth to try and stop herself. Snapping her teeth against her knuckles.
What’s wrong? I asked. Hey, what’s funny?
She shook her head and wiped her cheeks. She glanced down at the tears glazing her fingers and sucked them off.
Nothing, she said. Nothing. I just think it’s kinda funny. They were raping her and then they get their dicks chewed off. And then she just—she just stabs herself in the neck. That’s kinda funny, isn’t it? Right?
I don’t think so, I said. I don’t get it.
She tried to stop the laughter boiling insider her, but it bubbled out and she buried her head in her hands to stop the noise. It made my skin itch. It made me want to grab the knife jammed into the dead’s girls throat and cut out her tongue.
Don’t lose your sense of humor, she said. You can’t see why it’s funny?
I don’t think it’s funny. I don’t think rape is funny. I don’t think people killing themselves is funny.
It’s not that. She rolled her eyes. It’s just that they did it. They were raping her and then they got eaten.
She kept laughing, but it was just a sound now. Her face didn’t register that it was a joyous sound. Her eyes were blank and staring. Her mouth flapped open and closed as the laughter continued to possess her.
I watched her figure it out. I watched her figure out why she was laughing, what was so funny, and found nothing. There wasn’t anything funny. But still, she laughed and laughed and laughed.
That night, we made camp underneath a bridge by a river. Before we went to bed, she flipped through all the pictures. Pausing on the particularly morbid ones. Sometimes, she would smile, a dreg of laughter still haunting her. When she caught me watching, she forced it down. Swallowed it out of sight.
Do you think I’m awful? she asked. Do you think it’s bad that I’m laughing at them?
I don’t know if you’re laughing at them. I don’t really know why you’re laughing at all.
I stared at her from across the fire and it was then that I saw it in her eyes.
It was then that I knew she would kill herself.
I didn’t think about that night and that look in her eyes until after she had done it, after she had slit her wrists a few nights later, but it was then that some part of me quietly acknowledged that she was on her way out.
But for that moment, she just smiled and held up the camera.
Smile, she said. I’m sure you’ve got a really great smile.
I found it. Found what she had found and smiled.
She snapped the photo.