The Graveyard Tales
Chapter Six: Carry Me Home
"No," was all Sara would say as she watched her children eat for the first time in days. "I don't believe it."
Matt Erickson said nothing as he loaded a pistol. "Marie doesn't make mistakes. If she says the kids are infected, then they're infected. End of story."
"I could be wrong," said Marie, her voice unsteady. "Maybe I should check them again, just to be sure."
A look from Matt, even a look hidden behind a mask, silenced any further objections. "I'm sorry, I truly am. It's not fair after all this death and suffering, all the friends you've lost, to have to bury your own children," he said as he loaded the last round and fit the clip into the gun. "But it's better this way. Better it come from your hands then to lose them to the plague."
He handed the gun to Sara, who backed away, terrified. "No. I won't do it. We'll find a way to cure them. I won't kill them."
Jake laid his hands on his wife's shoulders. "None of us will. And that goes for you, Matt."
Though his face was hidden, Jake knew there was no fear in his former friend's eyes. "You know what will happen if we don't," said Matt, his tone one of compassion, as one who has done this before. "They'll turn. They'll kill. They'll feast. I won't let that happen."
Tears rolled down Sara's face, thought she made no sound. As much as she wished it were not so, she knew Matt spoke the truth. But why did it have to be her children? Why now, just when she got them back, did she have to lose them again?
"We shouldn't have come here," she whispered.
Matt handed her the gun, and this time she did not hesitate to take it.
"At least you got to see them one more time."
"Tina, honey, can I see your leg?" asked Sara, acting as if all were well.
The older daughter looked up from the can of ravioli she was devouring. "My leg?"
Sara nodded, fighting to keep the tears from falling. "Marie said you were hurt. I just want to check it."
Tina edged away from her mother. "It's nothing. Just a little cut."
"Sweetheart, I just want to see how bad it is. You don't want it to get worse."
Tina wouldn't meet her mother's gaze. "I said it's fine. I already put a bandage on it. You don't need to see it."
"Tina, I just.."
"It's fine!" she shouted, jumping to her feet, a small pistol the family kept in the house for protection in her hands. "I'm not infected! I'm not!"
Sara held up her hands, trying to calm her daughter down. Her youngest, Kristin, watched the affair with a detached sense of wonder that only a child has. "Honey, no one's saying you're infected. I just want to see how badly you're hurt."
"No! I heard you talking. I'm not infected and I'm not going to let you kill me."
"Tina, no one's going to kill you. We just want to help," said Jake.
"No, I heard you. He wants to kill me, that man," she said, pointing to Matt. "It's not that bad, it happened a few days ago. I'm not infected."
A sudden coughing fit caused the girl to double over in agony. When she stopped, a look of terror was on her face. Sweat covered her forehead, and if one looked carefully, could see veins beginning to show through her skin.
Matt stepped forward, hoping to end the standoff before the hysterical child shot someone. "Tina, I'm sorry, but if you've been bitten it means you're infected," he said, ignoring the angry stares of the her parents. "But we can help. You just need to trust us."
"Stay the fuck back!" she shrieked, firing the gun without hesitation. The bullet struck Matt's armor, knocking him back a step, but otherwise causing no harm.
Tina looked at the gun and dropped it as if it were a poisonous snake. She ran over to her parents, burying herself in their arms.
"It'll be okay," said Sara as she cradled her daughter. "Mommy and daddy will make it all better."
They parked the bus near Jake and Sara's home. There were few undead around, and snipers in the form of John and Michael were on the roof to take care of any foolish enough to try and interrupt the ceremony.
Despite their absence, a chorus of moans let everyone know they were in enemy territory, which at this point constituted everywhere except the Rockies. They were carried on the warm evening breeze like the scent of wildflowers. They were everywhere, filling their ears, their souls, strangling any hope of joy or peace in this world or the next.
Inside the bus, a dozen candles cast a soft, muted glow, enough light to allow the survivors to see what they were doing, but not enough to be noticed by the dead.
The children had been given mild sedatives, not enough to knock them out, but enough that they would not feel what was about to happen. Matt and the others stood back, saying nothing. Marie and Kaitlin were crying, their hearts breaking at the sight before them. Matt held Marie's hand, doing his best to comfort her.
Ron and the others passed around a bottle of Jack Daniels. None wanted to see what was happening, and if they could drink themselves into forgetting, all the better.
The children lay on small beds at the back of the bus. In their travels, Matt and the rest of his armor-clad comrades had made several alterations to the vehicle, including installing the roof hatch and adding a place for them to sleep. The children were smiling, although whether it was from the sedatives of the knowledge they would soon see their grandparents was unknown.
Sara looked at the gun she held. It was a Glock-9, worn and scarred from an abundance of use and a lack of care. She had loaded each bullet into the clip herself, making sure there would be no mistakes. As she chambered a round, she felt a piece of her soul wither and die.
Jake stroked his daughters' hair, tears running down his face. He too was armed, the gun in a holster at his side. More than once, he had considered putting the barrel in his mouth. This act, it was too despicable for words, and it would be years before he could look at a picture of his children without feeling like a monster. If the government was ever restored, he fully planned to turn himself in for this crime.
Kristin looked up at her father and saw his tears. "Daddy, why are you crying? Are you sad?"
Jake forced himself to smile, an act which took every ounce of strength he had. "No princess, I'm okay. Just got something in my eyes."
Kristin nodded. To most it seemed she had no comprehension of what was about to happen. But in that moment, Jake could see that the eight-year-old knew exactly what was going on.
"It's okay, daddy. I'm not mad."
Sara walked over, putting a hand on her husband's shoulder. "Are you ready?" she asked.
"I really hope that's a rhetorical question," said Jake as he took his place before Kristin, while Sara stood in front of Tina. It was decided they should be with the child they named. It seemed fitting, in a macabre way.
Tina held out her hands to her parents, and they clutched them as if she were falling down a dark pit. "We don't blame you," she said. "This wasn't your fault. It was bound to happen sooner or later. I'm just glad we got to see you one more time."
If there was any moment that could break them, this was it. Jake reached for his gun, ready to throw it out the window, but Sara put a restraining hand on him. It had to be done. This was the only way they could save their children from a fate worse than death.
Sara turned back to the girls. "You can close your eyes if you want. I promise it won't hurt."
Tina and Kristin shook their heads. "We want the last thing we see to be you," said the oldest. "We're not scared."
Sara nodded, swallowing a lump in her throat. Together, she and her husband drew their guns, pointing them directly at their daughters' foreheads. "The day you came into this world was the happiest moment in our lives," Sara said. "You two are everything to us. The sun, the stars. Heaven and Earth. If we could take your places, we would do it in a heartbeat."
"Our only purpose was to make your lives ones of joy," said Jake, through choked sobs. "I only hope you can forgive us for failing so miserably."
Tina shook her head. "No. You didn't fail at all. If this is the way it ends, I'm glad you're the ones to do it."
"We'll always love you," said Kristin.
Sara and Jake smiled, the first moment of joy they had felt since making this decision, and likely the last they would ever feel again. Together, they clicked the safeties off.
"Will we see you again?" asked Kristin.
"Of course, sweetness," said Sara. "Of course. You know where to go. Grandma and Grandpa are waiting for you. Second to the right..."
The triggers were pulled, and two innocent souls left this world, headed for whatever lay beyond the veil.
"And straight on till morning."