I know I'm truly exhausted when Kim beats me home.
Beth lays into me as soon as I get back to the apartment. I shouldn’t have pushed Kim. I shouldn’t have taken her shooting. I shouldn’t have done this. I shouldn’t have done that. But I’m in no fucking mood for a lecture, so I wave her away and head straight for bed. I hear two pairs of footsteps and then the door slams. Good. Everyone should just leave me the fuck alone.
I lie on my back and stare at the ceiling, willing sleep to come. I’m midway through my week and, by rights, I should be collapsing into bed and sleeping for hours, but I can’t seem to switch off. Call it guilt, regret, call it whatever you want. My brain isn’t letting me drift off without a fight.
I shouldn’t have forced that on a ten year old. I know that. I’m not a complete fucking idiot. But Jesus Christ, after what that kid had been through, the only thing left about her that was ten years old was the body that battered soul was stuck in. She was way older long before I pushed that knife into her hands, before she put a bullet in her mom’s head, even. And probably even before some fucker sank its filthy teeth into her mom’s leg. I don’t know the kid’s story. I don’t care to. It probably sucks as much as anyone else’s.
We used to share stories. Used to talk about the old days. Not so much anymore. Like I said, the old days drag you down and we gotta try and keep our heads up. Survival depends on the here and now. But, I remind myself, I’m not going to survive this. So a little reminiscing might do me good. Or, at least, it can’t hurt any more than... all this.
I wrap the bed sheets around me and try to remember what it was like before. It’s harder than I thought. I blocked everything. Anything for a quieter, easier life. There is so little before the safe zone, it’s all locked away somewhere I can’t get at it. Maybe this is why so many find themselves seated at Tom’s bar. Alcohol loosens you up. God, what stories I might have told that night.
The story I told Kim, I remember that one because it’s useful. When new people come, and they do inevitably come, it helps push them in the right direction. Can’t always trust that that one headshot will finish an infected off. Telling people that story, as much as it hurts to do so, gets us all on the same page. And I don’t know, maybe that’s why I don’t recall so much, because the rest of it, well it isn’t so useful. Just painful.
I do remember that when the shit hit the fan, I was at college, states away from my mom and dad. My brother was away too. I still don’t know what happened to him. I used to hope I’d find him, maybe one day he’d show up here or we’d just stumble across him, alive and well somewhere. I stopped thinking like that a while back. It's just too damn unlikely. Me and a few friends took a car and started driving. Stole a lot of gas from a lot of abandoned gas stations. Lot of snacks for the road too. That’s the last time I remember not being hungry. Last time till now, only now it doesn’t feel so good. We dropped people off, picked new people up. Picked up a whole new set of skills too and the kids that arrived back home weren’t exactly the same kids that left. Good thing too, because the town wasn’t how we’d left it either.
Didn’t take down many in those days. Still a little green, I guess. Took down enough, though. And shooting your own mom and dad with the gun they bought to protect themselves, is probably way more than enough. Nowadays well... no such thing as enough. Didn’t exactly get easier, but it sure as hell got a lot more necessary.
I turn on my side and pull the covers around me. It’s comforting for a moment but the fever is rocketing and as much as I want to just haul the fucking thing over my head and drown myself in the expensive sheets I stole from the probably, hopefully, because it’s better than this, dead homeowner, I feel the sweat dripping off me almost immediately and have to throw them aside. I let out a grunt of exasperation and end up kicking them off the bed in a burst of energy that I wasn’t expecting and that I immediately regret.
It’s pretty incredible how fast it spread. Not just through my body, but as an epidemic. For something that takes a week to kill you, it sure did the rounds. I suppose that, at first, we didn’t understand it. I remember hearing about the CDC trying to find a cure and they brought in doctors from all over the world but all that happened was the infecteds they were working on turned and bit them too. I know a few people who tried to hide it, got bit and didn’t tell anyone until it was too late. A real dick move. And that’s probably part of the reason why it was able to get around so fast. Now they outnumber us. No, wait. Now we outnumber them.
I sit up so fast my head spins. “Fuck it,” I say out loud. “Fuck it,”
And I mean it. Fuck waiting for the end. Fat of a lot of good that did me. Knowing the inevitable is coming doesn’t make it hurt any less when it does. Fuck sitting around and feeling sorry for myself like every other fucker did. A week’s not long enough to drink yourself to death, the fever works faster than that, so why even bother? I can still shoot. I can still scavenge. And I’m not a target for the infected anymore. The others need me. They can use me. They might as well. There’s no point going down fighting. Hell, I’ve already done that. There’s a head in a fridge back in town that would vouch for me if it could talk. No, I don’t need to go down fighting. But I can go down making sure the others get a chance to fight.
Tom had me pegged. I do like to be needed.
One hundred and four hours. I check my watch as I pull my jeans back on. And eighteen minutes. Every single one counts.