The lines on Elsa Hamlin's face showed fatigue with a spark of happiness as she wiped her brow with a clean dish cloth. She poked the fresh chicken that was boiling in its own broth on the stove with a long fork.
"Beth!" the matriarch yelled, "Come help me de-bone this chicken!"
It definitely was a soup day. The skies were overcast, the crisp temperatures meant Midwestern fall was settling in, and the mood of everyone in the house was sour. It was expected in their situation, of course, but that didn't make it pretty.
Her daughter ambled in and pulled her messy blonde hair into a bun. She began picking through the chicken, tossing the bones into one bowl and the meat into another while Elsa started rolling out floury dumplings.
"How many are left?" Beth asked.
"Four. Should be saving them for the eggs, but this one wouldn't have made it through winter."
"Oh." The teenager sighed. "Guess we'd better enjoy this, then."
"I thought everybody could use a pick-me-up, especially with what happened to Del," Elsa said.
"I don't want to-"
A high-pitched scream pierced through the windows, followed by running footsteps and the blur of a person shooting through the kitchen and into the living room. Elsa couldn't even tell who it was, but she heard scrambling in the other room.
"Mom!" Beth yelled, chicken juice flying as she pointed toward the open door. "CHANCE!"
Elsa heard the rasp of coarse breath and scuffle of broken feet before she saw it. Cold, bloody fingers pushed open the kitchen door, and a lifeless, snarling face poked its head through and moaned.
Elsa had always heard that there were certain times in your life, certain moments where time seemed to stand still and speed up at the same time. She saw the walker inch forward, and Beth's hand come out to grab her arm; heard the person, whoever they were, in the next room curse as they dropped a shell while loading the gun they'd finally found; smelled the broth in the pot reach perfection. She looked down at her hands – wrinkles filled with baking debris – and then at her immediate surroundings. She looked up at the walker, now through the door and straining out an arm.
"Oh no, you don't," she said, her done deadly calm as she clutched the meat fork. Somewhere in the back part of her brain she registered voices yelling, but she charged anyway.
"Not my daughter!" she cried. The fork went through front of the walker's head with all her weight behind it. The corpse flailed, grabbing at her as they fell to the ground.
"Not. My. Dumplings." The sickening squick of the fork in the rotting flesh brought her back to real time. She didn't know how many times she'd stabbed the thing, but it was a mess. Her kitchen floor would never be the same.
The armed person from the living room sank against the door frame, ashamed. Elsa would sort whoever it was out later. They had to move quickly, as the screams would bring more walkers.
"Beth, as quickly and as quietly as you can, turn off anything that makes light, makes noise, or moves. You in the door, get everyone else around and guard all the entryways. Get somebody upstairs with the scope rifle on watch. If anybody gives either of you trouble, you send them to me. We have to –
"Mom! Where's B-"
Chance Hamlin burst through the door, but stopped abruptly at the mutilated walker corpse. His eyes scanned the room, found his sister safe, went back down to his mother's good meat fork stuck in the walker's forehead, and blinked.
"We don't need you anymore, Chance," Beth said. "Mom's kind of a badass now."