Murmurs and the bone chilling cold through my back woke me a few hours later. The cave, this sanctuary, was going to be more dangerous than the zombies, starvation or each other. Everyone was awake and moving around, packing up getting ready to go; everyone except for Tony and me. Marla had laid her blanket over me during the night, not disturbing me at all and now I saw her and Heidi with Hunter and the other boy. The aching from last night was nothing compared to the shredding agony I felt now. The injuries from the accident intensified with the cold dampness seeping into everything. Marla and Heidi said nothing was broken but right now, it felt like my whole body had been shattered with a thousand tiny hammers. I slowly pulled the blanket off and painfully stretched out my limbs, trying to keep my groans of pain quiet, not wanting to worry or alert the others that I may not be capable of helping in our planned escape.
Heidi saw me struggling and rushed over, telling me take some aspirin to dull the pain before trying to get up. She handed me a bottle of water and pills, apologizing that it wasn’t stronger and waited while I swallowed, keeping her body in front of me, shielding something. It didn’t take much to figure out what had happened with the way that Heidi was acting and I could hear the rambling of Cal, not his words but a panicked high pitchiness to his voice. I gently moved Heidi aside and saw Tony no longer shrouded. His scrubs were a disgusting mix of mint green and dried brownish red blood. His shoes and jacket were gone along with the blankets, leaving him exposed. His ashen face said that he had died while I slept.
“What did you do?” My voice came out choked and I forced it be louder, yelling my question and cringing as it bounced off the walls.
Everyone looked at me and all I could do was look at Tony’s mangled body lying in the corner and discarded in death. It was dim in the cave with the dying fire and no light coming from the cave opening. I felt the type of anxiety that is produced when something terrible, something shameful has happened, a necessary evil laced with a palpable tension. Looking at his body, I was able to strain my eyes and see a trail of darkness running down Tony’s temple that could only be blood. I wanted to believe that it was from the accident but the rest of his face was surprisingly clean of any traces of injury; just a single ghastly line that still looked to be dripping. Lying near the fire was a serrated edged hunting knife with a gleam of wetness lighted in the meagre glow of dying flames. The others had gone back to packing up, trying their best to ignore me and leave Heidi to take care of explaining Tony’s demise. Even Marla wouldn’t look at me, keeping her focus on Hunter and keeping him away from where Tony lie.
“He wasn’t going to wake up, at least not alive. We didn’t know if it would be like in the movies and he would turn regardless of how he died.”
I wanted to be angry with her but the pain of his death was too raw in her voice and face.
“I don’t know how it works. He probably would have come back as one of those things given all that I have seen. Who did it?”
“Marla.” When Heidi said it, it didn’t surprise me. “I couldn’t, even though it should have been me to put him out of his misery. He wasn’t going to wake up.”
Heidi lost it, dropping her head into her hands and crying like the world was ending, which it was. I could have left her there shattered and ruined in sorrow, it was what the dead part of me wanted to do. Say fuck it and leave them all behind; let them kill each other off or fall to the zombies. But I didn’t. I wouldn’t give into my dying humanity and I didn’t want to lose my soul in this dark, damp cave; I wasn’t ready to give up on them or myself. She jumped a bit as I wrapped my arms around her, ignoring the ache of my battered body to comfort Heidi in her own pain and let her cry for Tony’s death, for Kelly’s too and for the end of a world we lived in and had known all of our lives.
It felt like hours as I held her, letting her grieve but it was only a few minutes until she pulled away and looked at me, really looked at me. I thought the moment would be tender, that I would soften but I didn’t and she must have seen the deadness that I felt and couldn’t keep from my eyes. She ran a shaky hand over her face, wiping away her tears and smiled with no joy before squeezing my hand and saying we should pack up. Dawn was passing and it was only a matter of time before the zombies heard us and started trying to get in. Heidi started to get up but I stopped her, grabbing her arm and asking her to wait, just one more minute. She stiffened even though my grip was weak but stayed with me.
“I’m sorry for what happened to Tony. I know it doesn’t seem like it but I do care about what’s happening and who is dying and in danger. I just can’t show it.” I dropped her arm and started to slowly move to my knees to get ready to leave.
It worked. Heidi relaxed and took my hands, holding them tightly and said she understood. These were hard times and we each had to cope as best we knew how. She kissed my cheek and left me to myself while she continued packing up. I almost took my words as truth; I just didn’t fully feel their depth. I had slept while they decided to end a man’s life. It may have been justified (would I have actually stopped them?) just not under the guise they were claiming. Would Tony had turned into a zombie? Maybe. The bigger threat however, was the burden that he would have been as he was likely paralyzed and probably comatose. Dragging his dead weight through the woods could have meant more of us dying. I knew it and even if I didn’t say it, I would have agreed with the decision and done the deed myself.
Looking around I decided that the pain in my body had to be pushed away as much as possible. These people had saved me when I was in and out of consciousness; the last thing I wanted was for them to see me as a burden too. I was dying inside, losing my humanity, but they had emotions, feelings and attachments to one another. That was far more dangerous than turning off my humanity. Being a little bruised and achy wouldn’t normally be a threat to one’s safety but in this new world and in their eyes, it surly would be.
I took a deep breath and forced myself to stand and tried not grimace as fresh pain flared that was not touched by the aspirin. I made sure that I had the blanket and my pack in my hand before standing to avoid having to bend over again. The world spun followed by a moment of nausea. Taking a deeper breath and closing my eyes, I was able to push the sick down and regain my balance. I looked around and tried to ignore the eyes that quickly darted from my direction and went back to being busy. I pushed the blanket into my pack and grabbed my gun, strapping the harness on and covering it with the damp jacket that I had liberated from Holly in a different world. I was ready to face whatever waited for us.
© 2015, Denise Pasutti