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Economic Principles of the Zombie Apocalypse

Wendy Nikel is a speculative fiction author with a degree in elementary education, a fondness for road trips, and a terrible habit of forgetting where she's left her cup of tea. Her short fiction has been published by Analog, Beneath Ceaseless Skies, Nature, and elsewhere. Her time travel novella series, beginning with The Continuum, is available from World Weaver Press. For more info, visit wendynikel.com.

People Face Trade-offs
I face the PizzaPlace manager, Bennigan, who's pointing his instrument at my head. He pulls the trigger. It beeps.
"98.6." Normal, non-zomb range.
We make the trade: one timecard for one pizza. One hour when I should be studying for my Econ exam in exchange for the pittance called minimum wage.
Bennigan peers out the blinds, scowls. "Better hurry. There's two of 'em across the street, and you're the last delivery boy I've got."
The Cost of Something Is What You Give up to Get it
There's a post-it from my mom on the dashboard: Stay safe! :)
Mom's a homebody, like most of our customers--folks willing to pay extra for delivery rather than risk venturing outdoors themselves. At least she did, until the sushi guy got mauled on our porch by our zombified mailman. Now she just has me pick up food on my way home from school.
The teachers there wear riot gear, in case a zomb gets past the temp-check, and most kids stay home to watch PBS and Discovery Channel anyway. But Mr. Richardson, the Econ teacher, thinks I've got a shot at getting into college now that there's not so much competition.
So, I trade my safety for tuition money.
Rational People Think at the Margin
At the address, I grab the pizza and my baseball bat. We're not allowed to carry weapons, and Bennigan says that includes bats too, but I'd like to see him out here with nothing but a PizzaPlace uniform to deter the zombs. They probably like a little marinara on their brain-salad.
I check and double-check before running to knock on the door, and I curse when I see the delivery note: Personal hand-off only.
Yeah, sure would hate for a zomb to steal your pizza.
The door cracks opens, and I'm staring down a shotgun barrel held by a grizzled old mountain-man.
"You remember the mushroom?" His gun's aimed at my head. "Last time you forgot the mushroom."
"Just as you ordered." Something behind me groans.
"Show it to me." The bushes rustle.
"Sure. Just let me step inside."
His eyes narrow in thought. His nostrils widen. I shift, anxious, and try to waft the pizza-scent towards him.
Something grabs me from behind.
People Respond to Incentives
I'm on the ground, baseball bat fallen, the pizza box the only thing between me and one hungry zomb. Lurching above me, it works its half-rotted jaw, and I wish now I'd taken weightlifting for P.E.
The old man stands on his porch, shotgun leveled at the zomb.
"Shoot it!"
"What's in it for me?"
"Are you kidding?" I scream. "Fine, the pizza's on me!"
The gun blasts. Zomb-guts splatter. The old man grabs his pizza. The door slams.
Groaning, I grab my bat and limp back to my car. Mom's post-it smiles up from the dash. Recalling another economic principle, I dial my phone:
"Bennigan? It's your last delivery boy. I need a raise."
The End
This story was first published on Wednesday, March 31st, 2021
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