As I Fall
A/N: Almost there loves. We catch up with our companions as they settle down for their final night out in the world. Its been a long journey for everyone, pushing each and every member of the group to their absolute limits.
I had arranged something to do once we had all settled down for the night. I’d be performing some mental wellness checks on everyone. Mine would be the very last; only getting the chance to do it when we reached the ranch and I’d hopefully have some peace. I was in a pretty good mood at the moment anyway, so I could afford to look after everyone else.
First up was Oscar. He was the oldest member of the group. And possibly the quietest. Earlier in the day, I proposed this idea so everyone could organize their thoughts ahead of time. Sitting across from me was a thoughtful looking Oscar.
“So, tell me. How are you feeling with all of this and what’s on your mind?” I questioned, hugging myself against the cold.
“Being completely honest. I’ve been better. But we’re almost at a place of rest. So I’m looking forward to that.” He began, stroking his bearded chin.
“What do you feel about having to confront the infected?” I asked, about to bring our conversation to a close as it had already worn on for quite some time.
“How do you feel about the infected ones?” He returned.
Being open was what I wanted to do with each and every one of them. They had the right to ask me questions as well. Though this one caused a lot of internal conflicts.
“Initially it was hard dealing with them. I’d falter all the time when it came to killing them. But once Alisha established for me that they weren’t who they once were it was easier.” I explained.
“I’d say it was the very same for me.” Oscar smiled as he got up.
He was probably tired. He did a lot of heavy lifting and took down quite a few infected today. So he deserved the rest.
“Alright, rest well. Send someone else out too.” I said, as he said his goodbyes.
I sat in front of the fire, waiting for the next person to come out and speak to me. It made everyone uneasy save for Alisha. I wasn’t really surprised to see her emerge from Jonas’ truck next.
“Hey there Izzy.” She huffed, sitting down across from me.
“Is this what it’s like to see a therapist?” She asked quizzically.
“No. It’s a conflict of interest and me addressing you all in this way is frowned upon. Even more so with Jonas.” I chuckled.
“Then why do it?” She asked, not to take a jab at me. Simply curiosity.
“I want to make sure you’re all okay. I’ll be taking mental notes of everyone. It helps me address certain behaviors in the correct way.” I explained vaguely.
“Cut and dry.” Alisha sighed, rolling her eyes at me.
“So, how are you feeling?” I asked, diving right in.
“If I were to rate how I’m doing emotionally. I’d say a solid 8.5 out of 10.” She began thoughtfully.
“Physically?” I asked.
“I’m always tired. But I think I might be doing better than everyone psychologically though.” She added.
I believed her. From my assessments of everyone, I’d rate her the highest. She had exposure to some twisted experiences when it came to killing infected. She honestly held up much better than I thought she would initially. She had confidence, expressed emotion healthily, and most of all held onto her compassion. Even as bubbly as Daniel was, I saw the anger and aggression in his actions from time to time. I hoped to speak to him soon.
“I envy your strength, Ali. It took me a while to come to terms with things.” I huffed.
“You’re willing to do things other people won’t. You’re willing to risk your life if it means putting us further ahead. I don’t think I’d have the courage to do the things you do.” She started.
“I wonder how you draw up the strength to do it. Half of the time I’m terrified when we run into those things.” She finished.
“But you can kill them with little thought.” I added.
“I spent quite a bit of time in the lab learning about them. They’re essentially vegetables when it comes to brain activity, only a few lobes of the brain active for basic functions and aggression.” She explained.
“What I’m saying is I’ve known what they were and weren’t for much longer than you have.” She smiled.
“And you’re a softy at heart too. But I think that’s a good thing.” She tacked on teasingly.
I assumed she hadn’t seen just how unhinged and distorted my sense of self was becoming. It was so aggressive that even I had started noticing it myself. Distractions and reasons for my actions were becoming harder and harder to come by. If I were to rate us all mentally, I’d say I might be the most damaged. But I think I could continue.
“So how are you holding up?” She asked quietly.
Me and my sister shared everything with one another; save for a few things. I wouldn’t leave her hanging like I did in my teenage years. I went all that time suffering alone, leaving her in the dark. And then one day she finds out that I almost took my own life; though she didn’t know or ask about the exact details.
“Not great honestly. I’m trying though. When we get to the ranch I feel like I can mentally unpack everything.” I said, trying to sound hopeful.
“Well if not great is terribly depressed you need to tell me.” She said sternly.
“So long as you don’t tell Jonas.” I sighed, risking a glance back at the truck, relieved that our conversation had been private.
“As long as you tell me if it gets worse.” She quipped, a veiled threat.
Jonas meant well. But he could be aggressive when it came to dealing with me feeling depressed. He used to blame himself for it and he’d lash out verbally; sometimes physically. It wasn’t until more recent years where he kept his cool a bit more.
“You’re taking first watch right?” She asked, yawning.
Everyone was exhausted, myself included. But someone had to take the first watch. I felt as if everyone was more useful than I was. So they needed the rest more than I did.
“Yeah. All done. My only worry is mom and dad. But I think they’re okay if they made it out of that room. That campus is huge enough for them to hole up somewhere while mom recovers.” Alisha reasoned.
It could have been something she thought about to comfort herself. Though she could be right. Instead of keeping that thought at the back of my mind, I suppose it was healthy to think of it that way. That they got out and are waiting it out.
“Thank you for your time. Send out someone when you get settled.” I joked as she turned to leave.
“Okay doctor.” She shot back playfully.
I waited, staring up at the night sky. One thing I noticed since the world was essentially dark was how clear the night sky was. Alisha said it was something to do with light pollution. It made everything look so vast and breathtaking. Though I knew moments of peace could be ruined in an instant. So I bought my attention back to my surroundings. I wasn’t kept waiting long as I heard footsteps approaching. My perception of small sounds had gotten better as when it came to searching buildings and stores you’d hear an infected coming before you saw it usually. The steps were steady, and walking pace. I turned, seeing it was Jonas who ran a hand through his messy curls of black hair.
“Welp, let’s get this over with.” Jonas huffed as he settled in front of me.
He didn’t like being submissive at all. He took charge of our relationship in many ways, sexually, mentally, even dates. It used to bother me as I wasn’t totally submissive. But I learned after a while how to get him belly up. Though in a situation like this, he’d flip just about every question I asked just so he could feel as if he was looking out for me. Men were silly creatures; myself included sometimes.
“Like peeling off a band-aid.” I mused, eyeing him intently.
“So how are ya’ Bambi?” He asked, taking the lead before I could start.
He’d know just by looking at me if I was lying. Part of me was always honest when addressing him out of apprehension. Was it the healthiest relationship? Not at all. But somehow we couldn’t let one another go for long.
“I’ve been better. Once we make it to the ranch tomorrow I’ll feel much better. Just taking it a moment at a time.” I answered, preparing to flip the question.
“How are you, Jo-Jo.” I replied, opting to use his nickname as he had used mine. I hated how cheesy it sounded, so I rarely used it. But it got him thinking about me in a friendly way.
“I’m okay so long as you’re okay.” He shrugged, not answering me well enough.
“You and I both know that was a half-assed answer.” I said sternly, crossing my arms.
“I meant that. If you and Alisha are okay, I’m okay. That’s all I want right now.” He asserted.
“How have you been coping with all of the death?” I asked, questioning him before he could start again.
“They’re not people anymore. You should know that. If they threatenin’ what’s mine they’re getting ended. You know my policy Bambi.” He answered smoothly.
My relationship with Jonas was rocky and uncertain. At times it seemed like he didn’t care. He’d tell me all the time that he’d kill for me and Alisha. I hoped the day would never come where he’d do that. But all of this happened and he’s had to do it to more than one person just for me.
“How are you handlin’ it?” He asked in return, looking curious.
“I used to falter as you know. But they’re just shells at this point. Holding onto no aspects of their previous personality or so I think. It’s something sinister.” I elaborated truthfully.
“You’re gettin’ good at putting em’ down.” He remarked with a grin.
“A military family upbringing and hanging around you in all honesty.” I shrugged.
“Believe it or not you’ve been tough as nails for a while. That’s why I took you those places with me. I knew you could handle yourself.” He commented.
“Not the ideal way of spending time together.” I sighed, rolling my eyes at his odd optimism.
“So I have one more question for ya’ Bambi.” He asked, turning serious.
“Go for it.” I said, handing him over his dominance again.
“What are we?” He asked suddenly, catching me off guard.
“What do you mean?” I asked, not knowing how exactly to answer something so murky.
“Are we together again? I wanna know.” He responded.
Sometimes it felt good. But did we both need that kind of distraction? He’s changed dramatically since all of this started He’s become more sensitive towards me; a bit more attentive to my emotions. We hadn’t really had an argument or altercation either. Perhaps it was worth giving it yet another go? I still wasn’t sure. I preached to other people to leave relationships like this. But I could never do it for a long enough time myself. It was a shortcoming of mine that I detested. But like I said before, we could never let one another go but for so long.
“I don’t know Jonas. Do we both need something like that in a time like this?” I reasoned, as if I were explaining to a child why owning an elephant was a bad idea.
“I don’t wanna waste our time trying for nothin’. I just want you to know why I’ve never went after anyone else once I met you.” He returned, piquing my curiosity.
“And why is that Jo-Jo.” I asked.
“Little 15 year old me loved how adorable and awkward 17 year-old you were. And your personality is so quirky and caring. I liked that shit. You’re just so different. Like a damn drug to me.” He chuckled, realizing just how cheesy he sounded.
It coaxed a laugh out of me as well. So I suppose it worked.
“I tell you what. Show me and I’m all yours.” I smirked.
“I’d do it right here right now but we might have an audience.” He grinned, gold-plated canines glinting back at me.
“You’re such a typical man.” I huffed, humored nonetheless.
“No shame in that.” He shot back.
“Okay, hurry up and get the next person out here. It’s getting late and I want you all to get some rest.” I urged before I ended up seeing stars and my brain turning to mush; an effect he had on me.
“Aye, aye.” He said with a salute.
Collecting my thoughts again, I sat watching the fire, waiting for the next set of footsteps to come and join me by the warmth. We’d need more tinder soon. I’d go out for some nearby while I talked to whoever was last. I waited for a while, growing more and more restless, wondering who was going to emerge next. But finally, after some time, that moment came where I heard approaching footsteps.
Sitting across from me was a nervous-looking Daniel. He looked like a terrified rabbit and I was the predator.
“Cat got your tongue?” I asked, hoping to provoke him into action.
“I don’t know where to start. To be honest, any time I remember what you were goin’ to college for you scare me.” He rambled, scratching the back of his head.
“Oh? Why’s that?” I questioned innocently.
“I never liked talking to therapists over the years. They creep me out.” He admitted, not realizing he was giving me more and more to ask him.
“And why do they creep you out?” I pressed, seeing him squirm a bit.
He seemed apprehensive for a moment, seeming to catch on. But he’d already been spotted for who he was weeks ago.
“They dig up what I don’t wanna think about.” He answered, his smile faltering as he looked tired; something I had never seen from him.
“You can fool some. But not everyone. I know that firsthand.” I began thoughtfully.
“I see you for who you are. You’re someone who has had a bad childhood. Someone broken yet still hopeful. You treat everyone with boundless amounts of kindness but neglect yourself.” I tacked on, potentially coming across as harsh as shock flashed across his face.
“But that isn’t the way to live. You’ll end up dead. And not by the teeth of a tweaker or lurker.” I piled on, intent on pushing him to a certain point.
“So, I can help you resolve some of it tonight. As you won’t seek help unless there’s an external force nudging you it seems.” I finished, waiting for his response.
I dug deep. Something risky to him psychologically. And something that would be yet again frowned upon in a professional setting. I sank my claws into his brain, intent on getting the toxicity in him out.
“I know that I’m broken Issac. I hate to say it out loud. But for you, I’ll talk about those times.” He huffed.
“I will admit as well. I’m a hypocrite.” I smiled, getting a questioning look from him.
“I can help others all day. But when it comes to addressing my own mental issues I have a terribly hard time.” I laughed softly.
“But this is about you right now. I’ll figure out my largest flaw some other time.” I urged as he looked like he wanted to go back on his word.
“My mom and dad. My biological parents were drug addicts.” He started.
“Growing up it was me and my younger brother until I was 7.” He sighed shakily, more and more of his happy-go-lucky attitude being replaced by something colder and more uncertain.
“It was something bad and good all at the same time. But one day my parents were out driving us somewhere. They got into a fight and ended up crashing into a ditch going about 60 miles per hour.” He shuddered, his voice growing shaky, his eyes glistening with tears threatening to fall.
“My parents died on impact since they didn’t have their seat belts on. While my baby brother died in my arms while we were stuck out in the snow.” He huffed, his voice sounding angry.
“It took help forever to arrive for us. And by that time my brother had died right there in front of me. And I couldn’t do a damn thing about it.” He growled, his eyes streaming tears as they pierced my own.
My heart ached for him. And I regretted tugging at something so sensitive.
“My aunt and her husband took me in. It was rough getting past that trauma. So I try to be as kind as possible. Since I learned that other people suffer too.” He sighed, rubbing his face.
“You aren’t totally passed it. But I think that’s okay. Your kindness has done wonders for me in all this.” I admitted.
“So you. What about you?” He asked, sniffling.
A barbed question that would poke open a thin veil. It was fair I reminded myself. We were sharing our lives. It was a good thing as we’d be sharing a living space for quite a while.
“I’ve dealt with depression as well over the years. Though now that I’ve heard about your life it doesn’t compare.” I sighed, offering a weak smile.
“It was always odd. Sometimes I’d be happy and productive for a time. And then all of a sudden I’d be so depressed I wanted to and tried to take my own life.” I began.
“What caused it for you?” He asked curiously, cutting me off.
“It was a range of things. Some small, some large. A few personal relationships and the stress of that.” I explained shakily, feeling my emotions fluctuate as talking about this aspect of my life could drive me back into a depressive episode.
“I then experimented with cutting. I started out with small slashes. The pain grounded me, and made me feel as if I had control of my emotions when I did it.” I pressed on, seeing his face fall even more as his jaw dropped open in shock.
“Then one day, my mind wasn’t clear enough and I slashed too deep without wanting to quite die. One moment I was dizzy and passed out. The next I woke up in a hospital room of crying family members.” I finished, my breath hitching in my chest.
“So that’s why Jonas was so mad when you were out back in Dallas?” He asked.
I nodded, allowing myself to be vulnerable.
“I would have never known man.” He remarked.
“I’m so sorry.” He blurted.
“Why?” I asked, recovering.
“That you have no control over that darkness.” He explained.
“I don’t have much. I can feel the episodes coming on since I saw a therapist for years after that incident. If I can feel them coming I try to distract myself in healthy ways until my mood improves or balances out.” I sighed, smiling for reassurance.
“So in other news. How are you doing?” I asked, changing the subject as he seemed to be begging me to do so.
“Not amazing. But we’ll be at the ranch soon. It’s gotta be pretty safe there.” He smiled, forever the optimist.
“I hope so.” I admitted honestly.
“Its got electricity still ’cause of solar panels. It siphons from a massive water table and a river nearby so there’s showers too.” He explained excitedly, his face lighting up.
“There’s crops and animals for food. We’ll be all good.” He assured me, getting up and tapping me on the shoulder.
“All done?” I asked.
“Yeah. I think so. And Jonas wants me to drive tomorrow so I need some sleep.” He chuckled.
“Okay, rest well. And send out Ellis.” I called after him.
And once again I was left with my thoughts tonight. Oscar was an interesting case. He was trying to survive and remain positive. Alisha was doing well as she had a deep understanding as to what we were up against. Jonas said he was okay so long as me and Alisha were okay; as we were his only family as he too was an orphan. Daniel was holding out hope for the ranch as I was. All who remained was Ellis. I was wondering if he was trying to avoid this conversation. I busied myself while I waited by collecting dry shrubbery and wood scattered about to feed the fire. I didn’t go out far as I still needed to keep watch.
When I returned, there sat Ellis, sharpening a decorative knife he’d had. He looked up, with a nod as I approached, feeding the fire, and setting the rest aside. He was an interesting case. He is kind; really kind. And also militant and protective to a degree.
“So, what’s going on?” I asked.
“I’m not really phased by this to be completely honest. I trust that my family is okay because I know what they’re capable of.” He began bluntly.
“Are you sure?” I asked, trying to pry softly, but realizing he was mentally fortified considerably.
“I come from a military family. My dad served in the Airforce. My older brother is a submarine soldier. And my younger brother was enrolled in a military academy prior to this. My mother is likely at a safezone alongside my father and younger brother.” He explained, his confidence a little intoxicating.
“And my older brother is safe on a nuclear sub somewhere in the ocean. They can just surface for supply runs on land and return to it for a while.” He shrugged.
“So you’re only concerned about yourself?” I asked, pleased that he actually gave me more than he might have intended.
“I have faith in my family. I know they’re safe. So that’s it.” He finished.
“So you’re okay?” I pressed.
“Yeah. My priority right now being a member of the U.S military is to protect you all until I can get to my family one day.” He reasoned, that puppy-dog demeanor gone.
Suddenly I heard a snap, and something cold pressed to the back of my head. It was a familiar sensation, one that sent a shiver down my spine. How could something or someone get this close to us without our realizing?
“Move an inch and I’ll blow yer’ brains out boy.” An icy voice threatened.
Then in another instant, Ellis shot forward as I was knocked backward. And in addition to that two gunshots were fired, followed by pained screams. When I came to, I saw three more men ringing our camp. Bleeding out into the sand was Ellis and the man who was attempting to shoot me. And then I snapped, gripping my sword as that was all I had handy. The first man must have been shaken at my rapid personality shift as he stuttered something I didn’t care to hear. I drove the blade into the unarmed man’s chest, twisting it harshly as I gripped his throat.
“I think the fuck not!” I hissed, shoving him back and off my blade.
It was as if everything slowed down. Every sense I possessed becoming alert unlike before. The other two men spun around to flee. But I was fueled by a rush of adrenaline. Catching up to the first one I slashed low, severing the tendons at his knees from behind. Once he was crippled I drove the blade of my katana into his skull, ending him instantly. The last one had put some distance between us so I risked something. Gripping my sword tightly, I spun, launching the silvery steel at him as it pierced him from behind sloppily. It was enough to stop him as all I was seeing was red. Stalking over, I tore it from his chest, knocking him over to face me.
“You could have lived had you not come.” I whispered.
He whimpered as his breath hitched. I was scared, terrified at what I had done once realization has sunk in. But I pressed on.
“I’m sorry.” I mused as I lowered the blade more and more, intent on driving it into his skull.
Right as the tip of the blade dug into his skin between his eyebrows. He didn’t have to say a word. His shaking and whimpering told me all I needed to know.
“It’s okay. I am too.” I whispered, driving it into his skull, his eyes fading into emptiness.
I wasn’t done. By this point, everyone was streaming out of the truck, with looks of bewilderment on their faces. I bent down and took Ellis’ pistol from his hands as he writhed around in pain on the ground. The man who had attempted to take my life was still clinging to life. Lining up the shot I did it without thought, his eyes fading into emptiness too. Just as the sound of the gunshot rang out in the air I came crashing back down. I felt disgusted, tossing the handgun aside. Throwing my blood-soaked sword aside as I felt so much. I felt horrible, sick to my stomach, like a monster. I did this to them. And why? I couldn’t settle any of my racing thoughts. It was too much as the world was spinning around me.
I needed to be alone. I couldn’t be around people. I was a monster. Not deserving of being around kindness if all I did was take life. Without another thought of consideration. I tore off into the desert, stumbling as I heard everyone calling after me. I pressed on though. I needed to keep myself away from them. They didn’t need me. I ran until I could barely breathe and my body gave out. My heart was racing so painfully that I wasn’t sure what was happening. I couldn’t get breaths in. I caught sight of my hands that were drenched in blood as I laid down on the cold sand. My head felt so light I thought I’d die. I wanted to die. Surely there was no way to repent for what I had just done? I didn’t make it quick for all of them. I made them suffer. I drove fear into their hearts before I did it. That was the line of thoughts rushing through my head as I hugged myself, trying to calm down.
A/N: The ending was abrupt and sudden. But I felt it fits the theme. Life is full of odd variables that can spontaneously pop up for no reason at all. So here we are with Issac, alone in the desert, losing his marbles. I felt bad for going this far. But then I remembered. That is what you’re all here for! Look out for the next chapter.