Mouse spat leaves out of his mouth. When Christi and Max had told him they were going to put him down he had an idea of a soft landing. Then his human crutches had gotten distracted, they let him fall the few feet from his knees to his face. Mouse thought that as long as he was on the ground it would be a good time to sleep, so he did. While his blood deprived body slowed into a state of rest, Christi and Max crawled toward the front of the house. Max was in front and he approached a bush that had no foliage. He would be able to see through it but hoped that it would be enough cover that he could stay hidden. Max went prone and pulled his body behind his hiding place, he took tally as fast as possible before yanking himself back. Woman, boy, James, pull back. James?
Max returned for a second look, they were humans. And a man, Max added a tall, ropy guy to his tally of people, and James was definitely with them. Retreating from the bush Max turned back to Christi and shrugged his shoulders. She frowned and shook her hands, Max thought it was supposed to mean something in Italian hand gestures but he wasn’t sure.
Max called out, “James?”
There was a pause, “Max?”
“Yeah, it’s me man, where’s Leo?”
“Dead.” Another pause “Is everyone else there with you?”
“Only Christi and Mouse, the others are dead.”
“Jesus, what happened?”
“Later, do you need help?”
“What do you mean?”
“With those people who are holding you?”
A small laugh, “No they’re cool.”
Max stood up and poked his head around the corner to search for any sign of danger. No weapons were drawn so he walked into the open. James walked forward and held his arms out, prepared for an embrace, Max sent a fist into the traitor’s chest. James stayed on his feet but lost his breath and took a step back.
“You’re lucky we believe anything you say after what you did.”
James’s shoulders were slouched, his earlier vitality had left him, “What happened?”
Christi walked out from the side of the house, “You left us.”
James stared from one to the other while Michael, Abal, and Tyler grouped together. Max went back to tend to Mouse while Christi explained to James what had happened because he had not been there to warn them.
Max shook the shoulder of his injured friend, “Time to get up Mouse.” The heap of pale flesh didn’t respond. Max slapped Mouse’s face, “Mouse, Mouse!”
Max yelled around the house for Christi. She was destroying the comfortable wall of ignorance that James had been hiding behind. At the call they both ran to Mouse and Max, Christi to see if she could help, James to see if he would be responsible for another death. The three from the other group followed at a walk and stayed just within sight.
“He’s not getting up,” Max explained the obvious, “Do you think he’s dead?”
Max was willing to defer to Christi but he didn’t have to, “I’m not dead… ugh… Not feeling too good either.” Despite Mouse’s comment being less than fully positive his two crutches were relieved, while James took in the sight of the damage he had caused.
“We have to stop his bleeding,” Max said to Christi and indicated towards Mouse as if the state of the man sealed his argument.
“It’s not going to do any good if we leave the bullets in him,” Christi responded
“I’m not as book smart as you, but sticking our hands into his open back wasn’t the best goddamn idea.”
“Max calm down, we can’t get angry.”
“All we did was make the holes bigger!”
“I’m not saying that we reach in with our hands in again but those bullets are as dirty as anything.”
The conversation was loud enough that the three standing by the front of the house could hear all the options and problems that the rival group had. At the mention of cleanliness and the removal of bullets Tyler nodded toward his brother. Michael pretended not to notice. Since Michael was tilting his head away from Tyler he did not notice when his younger brother turned around and walked back out front to where they had left their bags. Before Michael realized what was going on Tyler was walking past him with the first aid supplies.
“What do you guys need, we have plenty,” Tyler was saying as he walked toward his new patient, “I think forceps will be first to get the bullets out.” The blank and amazed stares of the three might have only lasted a few seconds but before the first moment passed without action Tyler spoke again, “If time is a factor, stop sitting around letting him die, lets do this.”
Again before the three could respond. Michael spun Tyler around, “What are you doing?”
“I’m helping these people because they need something that we have and are not using.”
“What if we need it later?”
“We’ll find some more later but they need it right now.”
Michael reached for the first aid but Tyler turned away, “They need this, I’m not letting you get in the way of what is right.” With that Tyler turned around and opened up the first aid supplies.
“There is only one thing that this man needs,” Michael said. Tyler kept focused on finding the container of antibacterial liquid he hoped that his brother would not open his mouth again and whatever Mouse ‘needed’ would stay in Michael’s head. Tyler tried to keep focused and wait for his brother to give up, but when he heard the click of a hammer being pulled back into the firing position he froze. “This man will die, and killing him is the right thing to do.”
Tyler didn’t turn around, “Go away Michael.”
“But Tyler this is what you always want me to do, ease suffering.”
“He still has hope, go away, you don’t have to help.”
The last line struck something in Michael, “You need my help! And that is exactly what I’m going to do.”
Tyler turned around to see Michael raising his pistol toward the bleeding but conscious man on the ground, “I’m not feeling that bad,” Mouse said, his voice was forced and pained. Before the barrel reached the height of the intended victim’s head a barrier appeared in the sights. The gun paused but it did not lower.
“Tyler what the hell are you doing?”
The young boy stood in between Michael and Mouse. The other survivors were frozen, none of them had any experience with what they were seeing.
“I’m stopping you from taking your power trip too far.”
“No. You are once again throwing your life around like you don’t care about it.”
“I’m doing what is right.”
“You disregard yourself everyday so I have to take care of you, but you never stopped to see all that I do to keep you alive.”
Tyler was starting to see what his brother was trying to do, “I’m responsible for myself and you for yourself.”
“You have never taken responsibility for keeping yourself alive, without me you’d be dead.”
“That may be true,” Tyler said, “But you need me just as much.”
“You have no idea what I do for you! You only see the pleasant surface that covers the reality of the hell that I have caused to keep you safe.”
Tyler’s fists were clenched at his sides. Furious tears rolled down his cheeks before he could wipe them away. Tyler did not have any intense emotion without tears and now was not a exception. Tyler knew exactly what Michael was talking about, “You killed him, didn’t you? He was never bitten.”
“It was for you,” Michael said.
“Don’t you ever say you killed someone in my name. I’m not helpless and his death was not my fault, it was all yours. I can’t be your excuse forever.” Tyler had to work past a lumped muscle in his throat, “You would not be alive without me because you would not be able to live with yourself without me. You use me to excuse anything you feel bad about and then hold it against me. You need me, I’m your balance, and right now I’m telling you that you have to put down the gun and help this man, because you’re not blaming this on me.” Tyler and Michael each held their ground for a moment, the pistol still pointed toward Tyler’s sternum.
“If you’re going to say that then I don’t feel responsible for you anymore. If you are going to disregard your life, so am I.” Tyler was caught off guard by the statement and even more so when an open hand collided with his temple.
Michael stood above Tyler, the martyr had finally gotten what he had wanted all along. The strike had technically only been a slap, but with when your opponent is a third of your size it doesn’t matter how you hit them, they will go down. Michael nudged Tyler with his foot, no response, he was out cold. Michael did not notice his hand lowering and taking Mouse out of the line of fire.
“Roll over,” Michael said as if it was to himself. No one moved. The dominant brother used his pistol as a pointer finger and indicated toward Mouse, “Turn over, on your stomach, now.”
Mouse opened his mouth although he didn’t mean to, “Why?”
Michael put his gun back into his pants, “Roll over, now.”
With the weapon away Mouse revealed his back to the man he was not yet acquainted with. It was a struggle for the injured survivor but no one helped him. All eyes were focused on Michael as he took a pair of forceps from the first aid bag and placed them into a container of liquid.
“This is going to hurt, a lot,” Michael said to his patient, “It’s going to hurt more than you will be able to take without moving. You will be held down so don’t move.” It took all of Mouse’s strength to nod, rubbing his cheek against the ground. “Raise your arms above your head, I’m going to take your shirt off.” Mouse obliged and Michael slowly rolled the bloody article of clothing up to the shoulders and slid it off the arms. The entire back was covered with blood but the two enlarged entry wounds were clear to Michael.
Michael said, “Alright, James and other guy come hold his wrist with your hand and put your shoulder on his shoulder, like this.” When the men were in position Michael continued, “Abal and girl come here and get into a leg bar on each of this guy’s legs. It is important not to go too hard or you could break his knee.” It took the females longer to set up but once they were ready Michael thought that there was no way struggling was going to mess up his ramshackle procedure. “You should never try to remove a bullet without proper equipment, they are clean, but now everything is contaminated,” Michael took his forceps from the antibacterial wash and steadied them above the left shoulder. Michael closed the forceps and advanced them in the path that the bullet had carved in the muscle and bone. He found a hard block in his way soon after entry, the projectile had been stopped by the layers of bone it had encountered. The round was lodged sideways, most likely due to manipulation after the shot had been fired. Michael opened his tool until he could slide it forward over the bullet. With a tight grip Michael pulled and lost his grip as Mouse’s muscles contracted in pain.
“This tool isn’t very strong, I’m going to have to go deeper, it’s going to hurt more,” Michael said as he moved the forceps further into flesh. Mouse tried to twist and torque but his restraints were tight and heavy. Michael got a solid grip and pulled the lead slug out of the struggling body.
“One down,” Michael did not want to say anything else about the state of the operation. His patient had been lucky with the first shot, but the second one was lower in the left side. The entry had been between some lower ribs and from where the last one had been Michael thought it had been on an upward path, toward vital organs. Michael started the procedure for the second bullet in the same way, but this time he had to push deeper, much deeper, and still he felt nothing. The liver had been shredded by the piece of shaped metal. One of Mouse’s lungs had either had a close call, or it had been hit. When the impromptu surgeon found the bullet it was stuck behind the front of the ribcage. Michael was sure it would become infected, but he could not risk dropping Mouse’s lung.
“Calm down, calm down, it’s over, I can’t do anymore.” Mouse nodded again but he was shaking all over with pain. Mouse vomited on James who let go of the body he had been holding. Michael did not have time to retract the forceps and when Mouse jerked with his free shoulder the open wound swallowed up medical tool. Mouse released more of his stomach as James tried to return to his post. With all his weight Michael pressed down where James had been holding and reached into the bullet hole, ignoring the continued retching, and pulled out his tool.
“Get off him, I can’t do anything,” Michael said. The three improvising nurses released Mouse who shook several more times before trying to curl up into a fetal position, but curling up stretched out his back so Mouse remained sprawled out on the ground and cried into his arms.
Mouse tried to vomit once more before saying, “Kill me,” and continuing to cry in his arms, “Please, just kill me.”
Michael reached for his pistol but hesitated, all eyes were on him and the only sound came from the man who was bleeding out between them. Max nodded, Christi shook her head and grabbed Max’s collar so she could speak into his ear. Christi walked toward Michael as if he was death itself and he had brought the unavoidable, it wasn’t his fault, just his job.
She said, “Give me a minute.”
Michael nodded, The man had lost too much blood, even if he wanted to live Michael doubted if he could. Michael’s hands were covered in blood, failure, and the pain of an unnecessary procedure.
Christi bent close to Mouse, “I’m sorry.”
Mouse kept his eyes closed, “You’re safe?”
“Yes, yes I’m safe.”
“Yes, very safe.”
Christi wiped tears from her eyes, “No, no why? don’t be, there is nothing to be sorry for.”
Every word from Mouse was a struggle, “No. Father. Hard.”
“It’s not your fault, but our child will grow up and he will live in a world without viral. He will not be afraid of them, because he won’t know them.”
“I love you too,” Christi bent closer and kissed Mouse before drawing away and turning her head. The sound of the pistol firing was quieter than Christi expected but as soon as the noise caught her ears she crumbled, whimpering, to the ground. Mouse lay still. Max crouched down, then moved to his knees, he put a hand on Christi’s shoulder who fell onto his shoulder and wet his shirt with the amount of liquid from her eyes and nose.
She spoke through her tears, “Max, will you do the same for me.”
Max choked on his spit after her request, “No, no you’re depressed, this will pass.”
“It has to be done Max.”
“Christi you’re stronger than this, things will get better, you have to take care of your child.” Max had not know she was pregnant until a few moments ago, but he thought it was his only option.
Christi sobbed harder, “No no no no.” She thumped on Max’s chest with her fist to try and calm herself down.
“It’s okay, you’re go…”
“Shut up, just shut up,” Christi pushed Max away and her tears began to dry, “I don’t even know whose baby it is.” Max was quiet, Christi broke down into Max’s arms again, “But it doesn’t matter.”
“That’s right because you’re both going to be okay.”
Christi pounded Max so hard in the chest he lost some of his breath, “Shut up.” Her eyes were furious and fearful, “We’re both going to die.”
Max opened his mouth but remembered his reprimand and stopped trying to reassure the girl who was determined to die.
“I want to be shot because if I’m not you might die later. When we were pulling the boat into the water yesterday and the viral jumped on us it got me. I wanted to wait and see if Mouse would live before I told anyone. I’m going to change so soon, so it doesn’t matter who the baby’s dad is, it has to die. I have to die.”
Before he could respond a shot rang out in the air, Christi’s head jolted to one side then back again. The body of the pregnant woman collapsed forward. Max looked up to see Michael walking toward him. The angel of death put away his scythe then extended a human hand toward Max.
“Get up, we don’t have much time here and I need help with my brother,” Max did not know if the voice was referencing him or not but his body responded. Arms on his body helped to sling the limp body of a boy over the merciful murderer. Max’s legs walked beneath his body but his mind was not controlling them. The five people Max was watching from a distant planet moved onto the road and set off at a strong pace, but the man in front was a little slow because he was holding a pair of tiny arms around his neck. The world Max watched was a terrifying and incomprehensible one, a single day had passed and five were dead, and one of the two that survived was the man that had caused the slaughter. Another one had survived, but he was not long for the world that he was trapped on, Max watched him and wondered when he would pass like the others, and why he had been the one to survive, not someone stronger.