DL: Chapter 19

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.”

“And.”

“Yes, very safe.”

“I’m sorry.”

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.”

“Love. You.”

“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.

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DL: Chapter 18

Abal awoke feeling no better than when she had fallen asleep just a few hours earlier.  Her dream was still fresh and she remembered all the details of her night in Paris with Michael.  Looking back, the Paris she had created was nothing like the pictures she had seen.  Somehow she had known that it was Paris despite the fact that they had only walked down a road and sat in a cafe.  Now Abal looked up at the man with whom she had strolled through streets of France only moments ago, and he had no idea.  When Michael saw that the second guard was awake he stopped tapping her.  Abal pulled the sheets off her body and felt the cold air against her skin, she was dressed in her new clothes but knew that she would need a sweater soon.  Michael took her hand and led Abal out of the room being careful not to wake his brother.  Michael’s eyes had adjusted to the darkness so he walked in front as Abal groped the wall, her hand brushing over pictures and quilted passages from the Bible.  When Abal felt her guide stop she held his hand tighter.

Michael turned around and whispered in her ear, “Be careful.”

They were at the staircase.  The first floor was no brighter than the second, the moon was obscured by clouds and provided almost no light.  Michael sat Abal in a chair that was set against a wall and faced the stairs.  Michael turned back towards the staircase but the second guard did not let go.  

Abal spoke with a soft curiosity, “That was a very unusual thing you did for James.”

Michael paused for a moment looking at her, she couldn’t see him, “Why is it unusual?”

“I mean unusual for you,” Abal said, Michael didn’t respond, “I’m glad you did that, just like what you did for me.”

The two remained silent for a moment.  Abal could see the outline of Michael, his back was still turned to her, “Why did you do it?”

Michael said, “Because it was the right thing to do.”

“Or was it because Tyler wanted us to join.  You are very protective of that boy, and you give him whatever he wants.”

“I don’t give him whatever he wants,” Michael hesitated a moment, “But he’s very smart.  He can talk to people very well and can explain things in a way that makes people want what he wants.”

“He’s very wise for his age.”

“No, no, not that.  He is still young and idealistic.”

Abal waited for more, she was expecting an explanation of why ideals and wisdom can’t coexist. “So in order to be wise people have to be pessimistic?  Like you.”

“Tyler doesn’t know that there are purely bad things in the world, he would try and rehabilitate viral if I let him.”

“I don’t think you give him enough credit.”

“No,” Michael’s voice got louder, “He doesn’t know when to quit.  Tyler wanted to sacrifice himself for every piece of trash dying in the city gutters.  You and James are alright but before you he tried to help all the infected, dying bastards who called out from the side of the road.  If they couldn’t walk he wanted me to stitch and bandage them.  Recently he started asking me to kill those who were too far gone, that was a step up.  I agreed the first time, but he kept asking me and we can’t spare the bullets.  He wastes and he wastes, he has no idea what I do to keep him safe.”  Michael backed away from Abal.

“You do a lot for that boy.”

“He doesn’t know or care,” Michael paused, his breathing returning to normal, “I’ll see you tomorrow.”

“Michael,” Abal called after him but he continued up the stairs without acknowledging her.  Abal lay her head backwards, she needed to think.

 

Abal awoke and jerked sideways, as if she had been hit by a taser, nearly falling out of the chair she had fallen asleep in.  Her heart sped up when she found how light it was, the sun from a window had woken her up.  Abal raced upstairs, she imagined blood and bodies scattered about the rooms where her companions had been sleeping.  It had been her job and she let them die.  Or escape.  Abal looked into the first room and saw that is was empty, no people, no packs.  The room James had slept in was the same.  Abal raced back to the first floor and rounded a corner into the kitchen.  The boys were sitting around the table, Abal smiled and wiped the sweat that had formed on her brow.  But her joy faded when she had a moment to take in the condition of her companions.  James looked like he had passed out on the table, there was some drool on the table under his open mouth.  Tyler held his hands together and sat very still, watching his feet.  Michael’s arms were in his lap, and his eyes were like battering rams focused on Abal’s skull.  

He was the first to speak, “Sleep well?”

“I’m sorry.”

Abal fidgeted in her chair as Michael continued, “We were going to have you search for food, but thought that might be too hard for you.  So we’re going to leave you here, think you can stay awake until we get back?”  Abal didn’t respond.

Tyler’s voice was a weak, pleasant contrast to his brother’s, “That’s enough Michael.”

Michael responded without his gaze leaving Abal, “Shut up, we could have died last night.”

“It will never happen again,” Abal looked into Michael’s eyes, but turned away after a moment.  She could not face his rage, but she was even less prepared when she saw tears in his eyes.  His eyes stayed on her for a moment more before he pushed himself away from the table, knocking down his chair.  He left the room and Abal heard the backdoor creak open and slam closed.  Tyler caught eyes with Abal, a shared fear and depression passed between them, then he turned away and followed his brother.  Abal lay on the table next to her starving companion, tears welled in her eyes.  

 

Tyler imagined himself running up behind his brother and squeezing him with all the strength he could muster.  Michael would turn around and be angry at first, but he would see tears in his little brother’s eyes and ask “What’s wrong.”  Tyler would continue to cry for a moment, unable to get words out because he was so distraught.  Michael would wait patiently while the tears subsided and the young Mackay could speak his mind.  Tyler would explain that it was not Abal’s fault, she did not mean to fall asleep while being on guard, it was one time, she would be okay.  Tyler would plead with his brother not to make her go away, that she was great, fantastic even.  There would not even be any punishment because both brothers would be filled with understanding for each other.  Michael might resist at first, like he always did, but the tears would win him over, the complete pity for Tyler would take over and there would be no more fighting, only apologies.  In that world the pair would find food and matches along with a host of cooking implements after their embrace.  Tyler licked his lips at the thought of meat with some seared edges, food so hot that it almost burned the roof of the mouth.  In a perfect world there would never have been any viral.  

Tyler didn’t cry, he hated crying.  Even before the speech he had gotten from Michael he hated crying, but back then he had loved the effects his tears had on others.  After crying, whatever Tyler wanted arrived before his eyes.  After crying, arguments between his mother and father resolved themselves in an instant.  After crying, the world became brighter to compensate for the gloom that had taken away his hope.  Then one night when mom left and said she would never come back, Tyler began to cry, but the world stayed down with him.  Everyday for a week the pain in Tyler’s chest made him cry for his mother, but she never came.  At the end of that very same week Michael had sat Tyler down for the nicest speech that the older brother had ever given.  Michael explained to Tyler how crying works.  After the talk Tyler stopped crying for his mother.  

“Weeping can make a problem disappear before your eyes,” Michael had told Tyler, “But the problem is still there.  When you cry the people who love you will hide all the problems of the world from sight.  You will see nothing but the brightest corner of the sky.  The only problem is that clouds surround your patch of brightness, clouds you will never know about.  Tears can get you whatever you want, but they solve nothing.  Emotions will be hidden and problems kept behind closed doors.  Once you are seen as weak, people will not burden you with knowledge.  Bits and pieces of the world will crumble for reasons you are unaware of because despite what you see, the invisible problem is raging right below the surface.”

Tyler thought it had also been one of the most poetic rants he had heard from Michael, he wished he could remember it all perfectly.  Tyler continued to force back his tears.  He wanted to cry, he wanted all his emotions to be on the table for his brother to see and sort through and eventually fix.  But Tyler had to grow up, he had to handle his problems like everyone else.

“Michael?”  Tyler spoke even softer than he had intended.

No response.  “Michael?” Perhaps his brother hadn’t heard Tyler.

No response.  That had been loud enough Tyler decided, Michael didn’t want to talk.  

“I think we should stay with Abal and I think that your treatment of her this morning makes more punishment a waste.  We have both made that mistake and although it is a terrible one, she understands it.  With four people we will all be getting enough sleep soon and there won’t be any problems with anybody falling asleep during their time anymore.”  Tyler thought he could have worded it slightly better, but overall not bad.  

Preparing for a long silence Tyler focused on the road ahead of him when Michael turned around on his heel.  The tall man extended his body to its full height and glared at his small brother, “What we do with her is up to me, not you.  She could have gotten us killed, you don’t understand the consequences while I have to.  I’m the one who has to worry about both of our lives, I’m going to make sure we survive.”  

Tyler stared up at his brother and nodded once, Michael turned back around and continued down the street.  Now more than before Tyler’s brain and his tear ducts were in conflict.  The surprise and fear of what had just happened made Tyler want it to all disappear in a rush of salty water from his eyes.  But Michael was in a mood that Tyler had never seen him in before, and now more than ever he thought that this was the wrong person to cry in front of.  Tyler snapped back into reality when Michael gave a sharp command to follow, Tyler felt his feet move.  He didn’t know what was happening, but he did know that he really really wanted to be a kid.  

Michael pressed the butt of his pistol against the window.  His muscles began to strain as he put more and more force on the glass until it split with a dull crack.  Michael then worked on the crack, tapping out small pieces of the pane with his gun until he could fit his hand through the hole.  Michael then reached inside and unlocked the door.  

The front room was open, no hall just wide doors from one room to the next.  A sink was easily in an adjoining room, Tyler guessed it was a kitchen.  Michael made his way straight for kitchen and Tyler followed.  In the kitchen Michael began pulling open cabinets and Tyler followed suit.  

“Check the fridge,” Michael said.

Tyler stopped working and looked up at his brother.

Michael stopped raiding the cabinets and looked down, “Did I say later?  Get over there.”  Tyler turned toward the refrigerator.  “Hurry up.”  Without a second thought he stood in front of the silver box, his hand wavered in front of the handle before he pulled it open revealing dry, empty shelves.  “We check them from now on?”  Tyler nodded.  “Now look for a pantry.”

With a single step Tyler was in front of a door next to the empty silver box.  

“I found it,” Tyler said, behind the door was a room like a closet, but since it was in the kitchen Tyler assumed it was what his brother had meant when he said ‘pantry.’  

“Well search it, James can’t wait forever.”

Tyler obliged, he walked in the pantry and closed the door behind him.  He then let his back slide down the door until he was on the ground.  The only light that entered Tyler’s haven of depression was a thin slit coming from under the door.  A quiet dark place to sit with thoughts and emotions and let go of restraint without fear of reprimand, so Tyler cried.  There was no one to hold onto and make the pain disappear so Tyler hugged his knees.  For what seemed like far too long the child sat in the dark and let his fear fall in light salty drops onto his hands. 

The whole room was a light brown color with the amount of dust that covered the floor and shelves.  Several brown cylinders sat on top of brown shelves, a brown container was in the back of the brown closet.  Tyler pulled down one of the cylinders, leaving a circle of white on the brown shelf, with his sleeve Tyler wiped dust away from his find, it was peanut butter.  Under the cap the seal was still unbroken, there had to be thousands of unspoiled calories in Tyler’s hand.  Tyler continued searching the cylinders.  Pickles, they would be rough of the stomach at the moment but Tyler enjoyed the taste, he set the jar next to the peanut butter.  Two jars of tomato paste, they would need to find a can opener because the metal cans were solid.  

By the time one cylinder was left Tyler had several jars of pickles and two containers of peanut butter.Tyler reached for the last container, it was larger than the others and he needed both hands to hold it safely.  “Bacon wraps.”  The seal was broken and the cylinder was only about half full but the little red-brown rolls seemed uncontaminated.  Tyler reached his hand in and pulled out one “wrap” and held it up to his nose.  He didn’t know what dog treats were supposed to smell like and still had no idea what he was holding but it was salty.  Michael was sitting on the counter and he watched his brother emerge.  

“Anything?”  Michael asked.

“Plenty,” Tyler narrowed his eyes, “but I’ll need your help to carry it.  Unless you have another plan where I can take care of everything.”  

After a moment Michael responded, “We better get back to James.”

The boys stood in the coset and Michael inspected Tyler’s find.  

“Should we take it all or just a spoonful of peanut butter to remind James of how hungry he is when he wakes up,” Tyler’s fists shook at his sides while he spoke.

Again Michael hesitated, “What did you say?”

“I asked if you were going to be smart or continue to be an unsympathetic jerk,” Tyler bit his lip, it was too late to go back now but he wished he had chosen a better insult than ‘unsympathetic jerk.’  

 

Michael shoved the tomato sauce into Tyler’s chest where the little brother grabbed it with both hands.  Of course the boy would want to bring food back only for the waste of flesh he had met two days before.  Michael put a peanut butter jar in the dog treat container and shoved it towards the grimacing boy who held the tomato sauce.  Michael had taken care of his brother when he was young because he was helpless, now the older Mackay had to make sure Tyler didn’t feed himself to the viral.  Of course the martyr had no idea how much work it was to keep him alive.  Michael grabbed the other can of tomato paste, the jars of pickles, turned and left the pantry without answering his brother’s question.  Michael felt dark humor in the new meaning he had ascribed to the word work.  Constant running, sleepless nights, weeks without food, disrespectful clientele, one wanted for position to fill a lifetime, must be willing to kill.  Michael waited for his brother at the door, very disrespectful clientele.  Michael could still picture the man who had wanted to kill Tyler.  Michael remembered the satisfaction he had in ending that man’s life.

 

The brothers walked toward the kitchen where they had left the starving man and hungry guard.  James was in the same position that he had been left, but Michael noticed that Abal was not at the table and with a furious burst he rushed into the kitchen.  No sooner had he entered than he noticed he had a shotgun trained on him.  Michael froze, his anger could not be expressed through action at the moment.

“Alert enough for you?” Abal said with a faint smile as she lowered the gun she had pointed at Tyler when they first met.  Michael walked past her and sat at the table next to James.  With two fingers and his thumb Michael grabbed the muscle between the neck and shoulder of James, who rolled away from the pain before waking up.  Michael grabbed a half empty energy drink from his backpack and wrapped James’s fingers around it.  

When Tyler entered Michael said, “Peanut butter first.”  Tyler rolled the dog treats across the table to his brother.

“So the triumphant return with many gifts,” Abal said, getting a smile from Tyler and a grunt from Michael.  Abal rubbed her forehead, the brotherly expedition turned out like she had hoped in terms of food, but the problem she had hoped would blow over was burning.  Tyler’s smile lasted only a second before he returned to staring hate at his sibling.  Abal sat back as Michael forced globs of brown into James’s mouth, Abal would give it the day and maybe the brothers would work things out on their own and be stronger for it.  

“Someone find something to open the cans,” said Michael as he watched James slowly recovering.

“You guys found tomatoes, that’s great,” Abal said. 

Neither of the brothers responded.  Michael appeared to reading reading nutrient labels on the food, Tyler just looked down, rubbing his hands together.

“Whoever robbed this place might have left a can opener somewhere, I’ll start looking,” Abal said before backing away from the table.

 

The pickles were gone along with half the peanut butter.  Everyone had tasted a dog treat, but no one could eat more than a few, Abal thought they would get used to them though, so she packed them up.  The tomato paste was packed with a can opener into Michael’s bag.  James was smiling and flexing his legs, after eating all that his weakened stomach could handle.  The group moved out, Michael did not want James’s former group to loot the entire lakeside community.  James thought the lack of words was comfortable, his face was not as pale.  The silence continued until the group prepared to enter a tan cottage.  Tyler gripped Abal’s wrist and tilted his head toward Michael.  Neither knew how he was going to try and access the interior of the house, but as he walked, his feet snapping twigs, the pair was distracted by another noise.

Abal gave a hoarse whisper, “Michael,” when he turned around she pointed toward the side of the tan house.  All motion stopped and a deeper silence fell, it bound the air around the survivors.

DL: Chapter 17

The lake was not massive, but it provided a large amount of waterfront property with a thin river winding into, and out of, the lake.   Before the group reached any residences they came across a blockade.  Two SUVs and two jeeps  were turned perpendicular to the road, bumper to bumper.  Five bodies were partially decomposed on the side of the barricade that the survivors could see, three of the bodies were right next to the wall of cars.  There was a message spray-painted across the vehicles, it read, “ TURN AROUND! STAY OUT!”  

After Michael determined that the cars were free of viral the survivors crawled over the hood of one of the jeeps.  On the other side of the barricade there were more bodies.  There were two shotguns and a pistol laying on the ground, but none of them had any ammo, the survivors continued past the cars with nothing more than a few sighs of disappointment.

Tyler continued walking without comment and returned to staring at his shoes.  He had not said anything since throwing up.  Abal had remained silent as well.  She did not know what to say, she felt that she knew the brothers after a few days, but both had surprised her over the past half hour.  Abal turned her gaze to the younger Mackay.  Abal had vomited since she escaped the viral, once when she was sick and laid out in a basement for two days, and three or four times when her fear had gotten the best of her.  When Abal came out of her thoughts, she was walking next to Tyler.  She raised her hand next to his shoulder but lowered it when the young man glanced in her direction with a small smile.  Abal smiled back and faced forward, she opened her mouth, but even though her head was jumping with ideas her voice box would not respond.  After a debate in her mind, Abal squeezed the shoulder of the poor brother, when he met her gaze she gave him a smile.

“Don’t worry,” she said.

Tyler smiled and let out a small laugh, “The most impossible demand invented by man.”  Abal responded with a blank stare, Tyler’s smile faded and looked away from Abal, “I have had a lot of time to think this over, and telling someone not to worry is something that almost no one can obey.  If a person could follow that they probably wouldn’t feel bad to begin with.”

“What should I say?”

“I prefer the straight lie, ‘Everything’s going to be okay.”

Abal was unprepared for the dark humor, “Well, it might not be true that everything is going to get better, but we are going to be okay.”

“How do you know?”

“We are clearly not the last humans, we found James,” Abal indicated toward the man who was now following them by his own accord.  “All of us have survived on our own perfectly and now that we’re together we are stronger.”

Abal looked at Michael for help; he stared into her eyes, and shook his head.  It was not aggressive or annoyed, Abal thought he looked more sorry than anything.  Another silence fell over the group as they merged onto the road around the lake.  The road split three ways, two paved routes around the lake and a pebble driveway.  The brothers had a silent exchange of indications and shoulder shrugs at the end of which it was clear that nothing had been solved.  Abal began walking towards the house closest to the group, she was soon followed by James and the brothers.  The place looked relatively new, and aside from the chipping red paint, it was in good condition.  The front door was open and Abal untied the maul from her back pack before pushing into the house.  

James stood with one foot inside and one outside.  He changed his view from the brothers to Abal and back again.  James’s breathing was heavy, he would not have minded starving, but he did not want to see anyone else eaten by viral.  Abal walked out of James’s sight, it took him a moment of holding his breath before he made a decesion.  James leapt into the house and ran to where Abal had disappeared.  Abal met him at the entrance to a kitchen, axe trained on his head.  James covered his face and let out a small yelp; Abal scoffed.  

“Nothing to worry about,”  Abal said,  “Except stupidity,” she lowered the weapon.

“I’ll keep an eye out for it,” James gasped.  

Abal scoffed again and walked to the cabinets.  James followed and they began searching through rotten products for something that may have retained worth without human help.  The fridge was not worth checking.  When the Virus first entered the United States fridges and freezers had yielded some benefits.  The insulation kept the appliances cold for a few weeks and whatever was stored inside was usable.  But after the first month with no electricity almost all the food was spoiled and survivors learned to avoid the fridge.  Abal stood back to back with James, her maul raised, while he checked the cabinets.  

James heard footsteps enter the kitchen but did not turn because Abal stayed still, it was the brothers.  Besides dust and mouse droppings the cabinets were empty so James moved to the drawers starting from the bottom.  As he moved up he heard someone rechecking the cabinets.  James was not paying much attention when he got to the top shelf and did not feel  how loose it was, when he pulled the drawer came off the rollers and fell onto the floor.  Metal clattered and wood splintered as the force of the fall broke the shelf and scattered its contents.  James crouched and grabbed a steak knife off the ground.  

At the crash from the kitchen Michael took his brother by the back of the neck and ran with him to Abal and James.  A moment later he turned to face the front door and took the maul from Abal.  Michael held the handgun in front of Tyler until the boy took it.  The house was silent except for heavy breathing and fingernails scraping fabric as Abal worked to untie her shotgun.  The group waited in a ball of protection for a full minute before Michael turned around and forced the maul’s head against James’s chest breaking the circle of defense.

James bent backward over the counter as Michael advanced the blade toward his sternum.  When the ax stopped moving James looked up into a pair of angry, fearful eyes.  “That type of noise is as dangerous as running into a viral at random,” the mouth below the eyes said.

James did not have time to respond.  Until that moment Tyler had been focused on the nearest window, holding the gun in shaking hands aimed at the potential entrance.  But when he heard Michael, Tyler turned around and pushed the head of the maul away.

“What do you think your doing?” Tyler said.

Michael did not break eyes with James, “let’s search the rest of the house.”

“Fine, I’m with you,” Tyler said, “We have to talk.”

 

The brothers reached the top of the staircase to the second floor.  There were scratches on the wall, but no blood.  

“Do you want to tell me what that was?”  Tyler asked.

Michael kept quiet.

“It’s not going to be like that, we are going to start talking.  We have been meeting people and we have to decide what to do.  We can’t contradict each other all the time.”

“That’s a big word,” Michael said.

“What?”

“Contradict, I’m impressed, normally kids in your situation don’t have a chance to study.”

“Shut up, so what are we going to do?”

“I could give you weekly quizzes to test your vocabulary.”

“Come on, this is important.”  The brothers entered what appeared to once be a bedroom, but there was no mattress.  Clothes were scattered along with their hangers and a dresser was tipped on its side.  There was a window frame, but the glass was shattered, some of it was on the floor, but most of it was visible on the roof.

“What that idiot did down there could have gotten us killed,” Michael said as he kicked a chair over.

“That wasn’t his fault.” 

“Does it matter.”

Tyler righted the chair and looked under the empty bed frame, “Of course, everybody makes mistakes.”

“Never like that.”

Tyler sighed, “Yes, like that.  We can’t just kill someone every time that happens.”

“We won’t kill him, just leave him.”

“No, that is a bad idea.”

Michael stopped searching the overturned dresser, “Why is that a bad idea?”

“Because he is safer with us, and we are safer with him.”

“Why?”

Tyler didn’t respond.  The brothers entered the bathroom next, its condition was similar to the bedroom.

“He made one mistake, but he made it this far.  That means he has to be good in general, so having him around could only help.  And we help him because without us he would kill himself.”

“Why should we care about him, he’s not one of us.”

Tyler walked back into the hallway, there was nothing in the bathroom.  One more bedroom upstairs, then the brothers would return to meet the pair searching the basement.

“He is human, and right now that is all that matters.”

 

Getting into the basement had proven difficult.  James had led and he seemed convinced that something was waiting under the stairs to grab his feet.  The first minutes were spent in silence, both people searching through the tools on the floor.  Abal stole a glance toward James while they were on their hands and knees.  He moved slowly every thirty seconds he closed his eyes and took some deep breaths before continuing.

Abal said, “You were stupid up there.”

James stopped working, “Sorry, I wasn’t paying attention.”

“You want something to drink,” Abal sat down and took off her pack, “You are tired.”

“You don’t have much left.”

“We have plenty,” Abal removed a bottle of water and rolled it to James, “And it’s our water, not my water.”

“I don’t know about that.”

“You’re worried about Michael.”

“I mean upstairs, what the hell was that.”

“He’s not as crazy as you would think.”

“Sure,” James opened the bottle of water and put it to his dried lips.  He gasped when the liquid hit his lips and tipped the bottle higher, letting it pour down the sides of his mouth.  Abal waited for him.  

“He didn’t do it because of the kitchen thing.”

James tore the bottle from his mouth, “Oh really, because when he was trying to push that thing into my heart it sure seemed like that was the reason.  And when he said ‘If you do that again I’ll kill you.’”

“That’s not what he said,” The two looked away from each other, but their gazes wandered back up.

“Same thing, anyway, don’t think I’m staying.  I would rather die than sleep with that guy watching over me.”  James put the bottle to his mouth again, his earlier restraint forgotten.

“He did it because he doesn’t trust you around his brother.”

James coughed and pulled the water from his mouth, “The kid?”

“Michael would sacrifice himself for that little guy.”

“They’re brothers?”

“Yeah, Tyler would never want Michael to sacrifice himself though.”

“A get out of jail free card, who wants to lose that.”

Abal stared at James for a few moments, “You’re right, maybe you should just go off on your own, keep the water.”  Abal stood and moved towards a work bench.

“I’m sorry,” James said, “That was insensitive.”

“Now some politically correct bullshit.”

James stood up and approached Abal, “That was stupid of me, is there anything I can do to make it up.”  The two stood a foot apart, Abal turned around and crossed her arms.  James got trapped in her eyes, he closed his own and leaned towards her.  A sudden force in his chest that caught him off guard, he stumbled backwards and fell on his backside.  

Abal laughed, “Let me tell you a few things, first off, don’t be such a little bitch.”

 

Tyler bounced on his toes a few feet from the basement door.  Christ, were they searching or getting busy together, the two survivors were taking way too long.  Tyler began pacing, he was not going to let them speak, the argument with his brother had worked out and a stupid death wish was not going to mess up Tyler’s plan.  Wood creaked to let Tyler know the pair were finally coming up the stairs.  James appeared in the entrance and Tyler was waiting, with a quick semi-loud exclamation, he jumped toward his acquaintance.  James raised his arms and stepped backwards into the door.  Tyler giggled as James stumbled trying to get his balance.

Abal walked up the stairs with a smirk, “You’re looking better.”

“Feeling better, thanks,” Tyler said, then to James, “How are you?”

“Frightened,” Tyler waited for more, but James kept his mouth shut.

“Anyway, we have to talk,” Tyler indicated toward a table, “Why don’t we sit.”

With the three positioned around the table Tyler prepared to speak but James cut him off, “Where’s your brother?”

Tyler pouted for a moment, his rhythm was broken before he even started, “He’s keeping watch outside,” Tyler said, then took a deep breath, preparing for his speech once again.

“Why isn’t he in here?” James said.

Because he doesn’t like talking,” Tyler sighed, “Can we….”

James did not let Tyler finish his thought, “So he knew we were going to be talking.”

Tyler threw his arms up in exasperation, “Yes, of course, that is what we planned and decided that I would do it while he waited outside.” 

James crossed his arms and smiled at Abal through the corner of his mouth, she sat with a smirk on her face.  James annoyed Tyler almost as much as Michael did, and Abal thought that was a talent only a few had.

“So he didn’t…”

Tyler cut off James this time, “We can continue this later, right now I have something that I want to say.”  Tyler did not wait for his fellow debater to agree, “Michael and I have decided that it would be best for you to travel with us, James.  You have to have some skills to have survived so long.  And although you have been by yourself it is nearly impossible to survive for very long that way.  My brother says he’s sorry for threatening you earlier.”  Tyler continued, “So if you would like to live for a while longer it would be best if you came with us.”

James kept his arms crossed, “If your brother wants to apologize he can do it himself.”

Tyler nodded, “Yeah, I don’t think that’s going to happen.”

Abal decided it was time to make herself heard, “And what if I don’t agree to this.”

Tyler’s mouth dropped slightly and he turned to Abal like she was a ghost, “What? You, you don’t agree?”

“So what if I don’t?”

Abal winked at James, then she said, “I’m a part of this group too and I think that three is the perfect number.”

Tyler took a moment to understand what was going on before responding, “Oh very funny.”

Abal and James shared a soft laugh and then he said, “You know I would still like an ‘I’m sorry’ from your brother right?”

Tyler sighed, “Don’t be such a little bitch.”

James stopped laughing and shrugged his shoulders at Abal who began laughing harder.  “Doesn’t your brother want you to have a clean mouth,” James said.

“He hasn’t cared about that for years.”

The three sat in silence for a minute.  

“So how long have you been on your own?”  Tyler asked when he was tired of the quiet.

“Not long enough for you to have faith in my skills as a survivor,” James responded, his eyes still focused in the distance, after a moment he continued, “Go get Michael, I only want to explain this once and it is important now that we’re traveling together.”  Tyler nodded and walked out of the living room where they had been talking.  Abal tried to send a reassuring smile to James but he was looking down at his hands.  A moment later the brothers entered.  Michael stood at the table and glared at James until the new companion looked up and they locked eyes.  Michael gave a curt nod followed by the same from James.  Michael turned and dragged a foot stool to the table, when he sat on it he was the same height as Tyler.  

James looked at each person in turn, “I have only been alone for two days.”  James began his story from when the three had found him and worked backwards.  He told them about his old group; manpower, weapons, location, as much information as he had.  The only part James left out was Leo.  His old friend’s body was in the woods, only barely visible from the road.  Leo’s body had bruises around the neck, and a sharp rock in his temple.  James concluded his story without mentioning his late friend, although Leo’s blood was spattered across James’s shirt.

“So what your saying is that we have a problem,” Abal and Tyler turned to Michael.

James stood up, “What?”

“The people you left are still out there as far as you know, and they’re probably mad at you.”

“I guess so.”

“So what are we going to do when we find them.  Do you think they would be angry enough to kill you?”

“Kill me?” James asked, Michael nodded, “Well I don’t think so, there might be one guy we have to deal with but he’s not important.”

“He might be very important, but that can be later, so they won’t kill you.  What would you people usually do if you ran into other survivors.”

“Everyone usually joined us, if they were suspicious looking or gave someone the feel of the Virus we sent them away.  If someone was clearly infected we killed them.”

“So we aren’t dealing with pirates, that’s good to hear, how long until we run into them?”

James sat back in his chair and rubbed his hands together, “I’m not sure, the guy I mentioned we might have to worry about had been acting really weird.  They might have turned around and we won’t see them ever or they could have double timed it around the lake and we’ll see them tomorrow.  But my bet is that they are staying in a house across the lake, this guy, Bones, all the traveling was making him crazy, I think he wanted to settle into a house.”

“We should prepare for all three,” Tyler said.

“Yes,” Michael said and turned to James, “You’re tired, you need some sleep.”

“Actually what I could really use is some food.”

“Well we don’t have any, I’m sorry” James was struck by the change in tone in Michael’s voice.  “I’ll keep first watch, Abal you have the second and Tyler will have third,” Michael’s voice softened as he clenched and unclenched his fingers, “You need a full sleep Jeff, so that is what you’re going to get.”

James rapped his fingers on the table, “It’s James.”

“Sorry, James, is that okay with you?”

James nodded, “I’ll go find a bed.”

“You all should, we might have a lot to deal with tomorrow from what James tells us,” Michael said.

The three filed through the doorway out of the room.  Tyler looked back at his brother who was rubbing his temples.  The young Mackay wanted to stay awake and talk with his brother, but Tyler was exhausted, and he could tell that Michael was in no mood to talk.  

DL: Chapter 16

Michael shook Tyler by the shoulders.  

The boy blinked his eyes a few time, “Time to get up?” Tyler yawned and pushed himself up on his elbows, his eyes trying to adjust to the darkness, “Wait, what time is it?”

Michael smirked, “My watch is dead, I don’t know.”

“You know what I meant, why are we up so early, is the sun even out?” As Tyler waited for a response he lay back and shut his eyes, only to be shaken again a moment later.  Michael looked his brother in the eyes and rubbed his stomach.  Tyler’s hunger was growing in his stomach every day.  The longer they waited to trek to the city the harder it would be.  Tyler nodded and swung his legs off the side of the bed and sat up.  Content, Michael moved on to his next victim.  When Abal was more awake than asleep Michael set off around the house, double checking for anything he may have missed.  

By the time he returned to the bedroom the other two were standing and looked alive enough to travel, relatively.  “Let’s head off,” Michael said, Tyler got behind him with a slow five steps, but Abal stayed where she was.

“What’s the rush,” She responded, “I think we should wake up some more, and let the sun rise so we can see what we’re doing.”  Michael glanced at his brother, unsure of what was an appropriate response.  “Well whatever you decide to do I’m not leaving without some food first, you can join me if you’d like.”  

“Are you offering us something to eat?” Tyler engaged in conversation while Michael continued to stare.

“Yeah, so you’d better take it because you’re starving.”  At this Michael began to laugh.  “What’s so funny?”

“You,” he said, now Abal stared at him, “It’s not important, anyway what you got to eat?”

 

Tyler had protested at first claiming that they would never have done the same for Abal, she pointed out they already had.  While each person ate their own can of beans Tyler caught Michael’s eye, and with his brother’s focus, Tyler nodded toward Abal.  Michael sighed at first but Tyler was persistent.

“Abal,” Michael said, “My brother and I were wondering if you want to travel with us?”

“I am traveling with you,” she stated.

“And after we get off this road?”

Abal continued to eat her beans, her heart was beating faster, but she kept her breathing even.  “I thought we were going to stay together anyway.” 

“My brother was right,” Tyler was smiling wide, “You are funny.  So we will stay together after we get out of this place, sounds great.”

“So, so we are staying together,” Michael hesitated, “It’s decided.”

“Guess you’re stuck with me.”

“Yeah.” A silence followed while the group finished their beans and sat in a circle.  Tyler enjoyed the food and sat wondering if they would ever cook something they caught.  Abal wrapped her head around the idea that she had dodged a bullet she had not even known was coming, but calmed herself knowing that the previously unknown problem was solved. 

“Abal,” Michael said, his voice was a little too loud, “Are you ready for the city?”

“What are you talking about?” Abal prepared her mind for some test Michael was going to give her.

“I think you need something before we head out.”

 

New and broken in all at the same time, Abal was glad to leave her old blood soaked shirt behind along with the rest of her tattered outfit.  The dried blood around the shoulder had made her former shirt stiff and coarse, the bottom had been torn and it had felt like an insect was crawling up her stomach when the frayed fabric rubbed her stomach.  Now a concealing snug tank top adorned her torso.  Her pants had been tight, black, and semi-casual.  Now that the formalities could be dispensed with having lived with the boys for two days, loose jeans and a belt took over, Abal could not remember why she had stuck with her restrictive slacks for so long.  She changed out of sweaty socks but the sneakers remained.  The only pairs of shoes in the house in Abal’s size had been pumps, slippers, and other models not made for running.  Her recent lack in food had negated Abal’s need for a bra, but for comforts sake she wore one, luckily the women who had lived in the house had been starving herself or had had the metabolism of a hummingbird and almost everything fit Abal.  She thanked Michael after leaving the house, it had been a simple but perfect idea.

The boys continued on with the same clothes they had worn for weeks.  Nothing in the house fit either of them.  At one point Tyler had wanted to go with a long sleeved shirt that was too big for him, cut off the extra bits and it would be good protection.  It turned out to be a stroke of luck for Tyler that he had told Abal, and not his brother, about the plan for the new shirt, because Abal informed him that it was, in fact, a blouse.  Tyler decided that he really didn’t want any different clothes.  There were only a few miles left between the survivors and their next city, Tyler would be able to find new apparel soon enough.  

 

The group was in a tight formation on the road and covered in shadows.  The sun was rising, but below the tree line, enough light to see destinations and threats, but not enough to make the survivors feel exposed.  From a logical standpoint, Tyler knew that he was no safer during sunrise than he was at high noon, if they walked by the wrong point at the wrong time they were in trouble, it didn’t matter the time of day.  But the darkness did have a draw that Tyler accepted.

The beans from an hour ago already felt like they were past his stomach, his body had been grateful for the food, but it was ready for more. His organs bubbled and burned preparing for a grand feast.  It happened every time Tyler ate.  He knew that the food was all gone but his brain never told his stupid body to forget about it.  Tyler wished he would only have pain when he needed it, not when he already knew what was going on.    

They were still a mile or more from the city when Michael stopped.  

“Get back,” Michael said.

Abal followed Michael’s eyes up the road.  She could not find what made him stop, “There’s nothing there.”

“By the tree line on the left side,” Michael began to move forward as the other two adjusted their view.

“I don’t see anything,” Tyler whispered.

Michael remained focused forward but he smiled, “Grow a little.”

“A body?” Abal said.

“It’s still moving.”

“Where? What are you talking about? Should we stop?”

“Shut up, and give me the ax,” Michael said.  Tyler obliged, clenching his teeth to hold back his rebuttal.  The group advanced and the younger brother kept his arms crossed until a man with dirty blond hair came into his view; he was face down and his limbs were sprawled in the wet grass.  When Tyler saw the body there was a clear rise and fall of its back, it was breathing.  Michael jumped over the ditch and walked toward the body spinning the axe in his hands.

“Check if it’s human,” Tyler said.

His brother didn’t respond, “Michael, Michael, come on he could still be alive.”  Michael stepped over a kayak paddle a few feet from the body.  He had never seen a resting viral, but he had seen plenty of people pass out or fall asleep human and wake up spitting infected blood at other survivors.  

Michael put the axe an inch from the head and readjusted his grip.  With his back swing Michael prepared to concentrate his force into the blow, but Tyler made a split second decision and dashed forward.   The younger brother lowered his shoulder and rammed his brother.  Michael swung, but the axe missed the target and instead dug into the ground.   

“What if it’s human,” Tyler said, not meeting his brother’s eyes.

“No human would sleep out here, it’s suicide,” Michael responded, “Now get out of the way.”

Tyler took a step so he was standing over the body, “No.”

Michael looked down; his idiot brother had his feet an inch from the face of the probable viral.  Michael grabbed his sibling by the back of the neck, dragged him a few feet from the body, and said, “What do you want me to do?”  

Tyler stood up straight and said, “Get ready,” He hit Michael in the stomach and pulled away, Tyler then went to the body and kicked it in the ribs before retreating.  Michael reached for his brother but Tyler moved out of the way.  With a clear line of sight Michael prepared to split the skull of the now writhing body, but he hesitated.  The possible viral was rolling away from Michael, it would see him before it could even stand up.  Ax at the ready, Michael waited for the body to recover.  The body rolled on the ground, clenching its side, but it paused for a moment when it saw the large Mackay brother.  It crawled backwards on its butt and held one hand in front of its face.

“Do you have it?” Michael relaxed his grip on the maul, but it still remained in a potential striking position.

The man stopped backing up and lowered his hand, realizing that trying to stop folded steel with malnourished hands was not going to work.  He turned his gaze from the weapon to the man holding it, “No.”

Michael took a moment to lower his weapon but finally did and said, “Which way you headed.”  The man pointed in the direction that the three had come from, Michael looked back and nodded slowly, “Well then,” he said with a faint smile, “Have a nice life.”  With that Michael was back toward the road, handing the axe back to Tyler on the way.

The man was rubbing his forehead and his side while Tyler turned to his brother, “We can’t do that,” he said.

Michael stopped but stayed facing the road, “Why not?”

“It’s not right.”

Michael turned and started toward his brother, “He got off with his life, I’d say he’s pretty damn lucky, I’d say that we did more than we needed to.”

“I say we have to be better than that,” Tyler said, he let the head of the axe slide to the ground and folded his hands over the bottom of the handle.

She broke the silence, “So what’s the deal, this guy joining us.”

 Michael took a deep breath, “We’ll make it to the city soon, I suppose there isn’t too much he could steal for now.”  Tyler smiled and turned around.

Tyler crouched down so he was on the guy’s level, “So where did you say you were going again?”

The man took a second to decide if he was being asked a trick question before indicating with his head.  

“No, that won’t do.”

“Why don’t you tell me where I’m going.”

“You’re going to come with us.”

“Or else you’ll kill me.”

Tyler held his stomach and laughed like the man had just told a very smart joke, “No, that would be such a waste.  You’re coming with us because if you don’t you will die.”

“I don’t see a difference.”

“Well your idea was a threat, where mine is a fact.”  The man had time to respond but did not, so Tyler took his turn, “You have no food, there is no food until you reach the next town which is crawling with viral.  You will die if you don’t come with us.  We won’t kill you, but you will die.”

“Well, I’m still going this way,” The man pointed toward the death path.

“Why do you want to die?”  Tyler was ready for his last question to shock some sense into the desperate sap, but he was caught off guard when the man leaned back and looked off into the brightening sky.  “You want to die,” Tyler repeated.

“Look kid, you wouldn’t understand.  Life is different when you grow up.”

Tyler looked the man up and down, his clothes were stained with blood and his hair was around his ears.  He was barefoot.  “What’s your name?” Tyler asked.

“James.”

Before James could ask the same question Tyler continued, “James, you know what I think,” James smiled, ready for a view of life through the rainbow lenses of a child, “I think that you should not try and say I don’t know what life is like because I’m young.  I have seen the same shit you have.  Come on, you’re acting like a teenager who just had a break up.  There is no one else to replace the ones you’ve lost, really.  Why don’t we count?  And now you’re prepared to give up life.  That which your friends and family no doubt fought to hold on to is what you have, and you’re just going to give it up.  The human race doesn’t need any more suicides, we need survivors.”

James nodded, “Alright, see ya,” with effort he pushed himself up and walked to the road.  Tyler sighed, still squatting in the grass. 

The younger brother walked up to his companions and indicated toward the man ready to accept his death.  Michael tapped Abal on the shoulder and whispered into her ear.  Tyler smiled.

“Where do you think you’re going?” Michael was walking up behind James.

“Christ, how many times are you people going to ask me that?”

“If you go that way, you will die.”

James looked into Michael’s face with the eyes of a man about to reveal his darkest secret, “I know.”

Michael nodded in what appeared to be wise comprehension.  Tyler knew the truth; Michael was not considering what would drive a man to destroy himself, all he saw was a wrong decision that was selfish and foolish.

“That’s stupid,” Michael said.  It was not the reaction James had expected; he had no idea what was going to follow it.  Michael reached behind the man’s neck and locked his fingers into the pressure points.  James stood in shock for a moment craning his head backwards to try and relieve the pain.  James tried to grab the hand gripping his spine, but Michael took James’s wrist and forced it up his back, locking the joints in James’s arm.  After some additional twisting James was finally worn out.

“What the fuck man!” James said.

“As long as you stop struggling I won’t make it any tighter.” Michael said.

“This is your response to suicide.”

“You’re going to come with us to the city.”

“You can’t just make choices for people.”

“After we reach the city I don’t care what you do.”

“Answer me!”

“What’s your question?”

James hesitated, he didn’t have a specific question, “This is serious shit man, you can’t just man handle me and stop it.”

“You’re right, it is serious, so I will wait until you are feeling more mature to make a choice about it.”

“Are you kidding me?  You’re just…,”  James grunted with pain as Michael clenched his fingers tighter around the spine in his hand.

James bent and wrenched his body as Michael directed him down the road.  After a couple hundred yards James was breathing heavily and stumbling over every third or fourth step.  Michael considered questioning his captive but decided if James provided any information it would be useless and probably upset him.  No matter what information the group found out, they were going to the city, and they would approach with caution under all circumstances.  James gave another jerk, and Michael worked to keep him in place.  The older Mackay brother was burning through calories he did not have, but the man he restrained had less.  James looked like he was dying under his skin, and he did not have food when the three found him, he might have been trying to starve to death, how stupid.  Michael hated when people received beautiful gifts that they could not appreciate with their slow mental capacity.  

 

The walking was silent except for the occasional scuffle of feet or crunch of leafs.  Much of the foliage was moist, but some patches on the road had dried and crackled underfoot.  The first time a leaf splintered under Abal’s foot all four stopped and waited, but after it happened again the group ignored the noise and decided stopping would not help if something heard them.  The road had almost the same amount of fallen leafs that the forest did, a carpet of dead bio-matter.  Tyler moved away from his brother as James torqued himself and Michael had to readjust his position.  Tyler studied James’s unsteady gait.  No enjoyment, no friends, no hope, no life, Tyler’s stomach began to clench and his head swam.  There was no home to return to and there would never be another home.  Friends were all gone, and Michael was not who he had once been.  Tyler bent over, held his stomach, and continued walking.  The Virus was going to wipe out humanity.  Even if not everyone became infected it would not take much to become like the poor man that Michael now held in his hands.  Tyler began to cry, he knew what was about to happen and it only deepened his fear.  The boy in the back, the last of the four put his hands on the ground and knelt in the wet leafs.  Tyler wretched once and his crying became audible to the rest of the group.  Michael turned around and released the arm of his charge.  Tyler wretched again, he did not wipe the tears off his face, instead his arms remained under him and they shook with the effort of holding up his body.  Michael pushed James aside, and knelt next to his brother.  The partially digested food was slow coming up, and Tyler felt it burning every inch of his throat.  Michael had his hand on his brother’s shoulder and watched the skinny, shaking frame rid itself of the only calories it had.  The crying was only punctuated by vomit for the next several minutes.

When Tyler was finished and spitting up saliva he said, “I’m sorry.”

Michael’s voice was quiet, “It’s okay.”  

Tyler spat up clear liquid again, “I’m so sorry.”

“It’s not your fault, we’ll find plenty of food in the city.”

Tyler calmed down and the tears slowed down.  He collapsed into his brother’s lap and held on with all his strength.  Michael patted Tyler on the back and moved his fingers through his brother’s hair.  

“What chance do we have if someone like that wants to kill himself.”

“It will be difficult, but it is not chance, it is all about us, and we are different.”

“I’m sorry.”

“I know, but we’ll be okay soon.”

 

James had only moved a few steps since he had been released.  He did not think he was supposed to hear the conversation the brothers were having.  Their voices were hushed, but he heard them anyway.  A child he barely knew was getting sick over the idea that an almost total stranger was going to die.  Michael stood up and pulled Tyler to his feet, they walked past Abal and James towards the city.  Abal followed a moment later.  James stood in silence, they would leave him.  But they probably would not mind if he tagged along.

DL: Chapter 14+15

Chapter 14

The kayakers slapped their paddles into the water and pushed, dragging them off the shore.  The strokes were frantic, filled with power and noise; the craft sped from the shore while the sound of the paddles bounced around the silent lake.  The front kayaker’s  paddle was going deeper on one side and skimming the surface on the other.  With one stroke he missed the water and his oar swung, unimpeded, into the side of the boat.  The drum like sound of metal on hollow plastic froze the men in place.

Leo scolded himself and swore in his head, now they were given away.  He waited for viral to start swarming every inch of shore line and construct a decomposing bridge to them.  He waited for gunfire at the back of the boat when Bones figured out that they had deserted.  He waited for the lake monster, angry that its sleep was disturbed, to emerge from the depths and grind them to pieces.  Leo waited for a response to his action his eyes closing, maybe he would get shot in the head, then he could go back to sleep.  Leo floated across the water, his body gliding effortlessly over the calm.  Leo turned around to see James powering the flight of the passenger in the front.  First the noise, then not helping paddle to escape, Leo let himself wallow in self hatred for a moment before realizing he still was not helping to power the boat.  

The men sat near the middle of the lake.  The next decision was where to go.  Leo had hoped to make the choice while still on dry land but they were past that point now, the night sky gave little hint as to the shape of the landscape.  The boat was covered in darkness for the time being, but once the sun came up there was no telling who or what would be watching from shore.  Right across from the original location was thick forest, Leo remembered that much, otherwise it had all looked the same.  

“Perhaps the best place is the house furthest away from where everyone else is,” said Leo.

“I agree.  Do you have any idea where said house might be, my night vision is a little hazy,” said James.

“I remember where the forest was, and I have a pretty good idea of where the houses started.”

Leo indicated with his hand.  The two pressed their fatigued muscles to paddle.

 

The first time Leo indicated toward a point on the shore James remembered it and tried to keep the plastic vessel on a straight course, but it always drifted right.  Trying to compensate made the boat swing the other direction and the whole time Leo would stop paddling and make motions about where they were really supposed to be going.  The front passenger continued to make gestures James knew were unnecessary, so the man in the back reminded the front paddler of his competence by smacking Leo in the back of the head with his paddle.  Leo turned around and held the back of his head.  Without any trees overhead the moon provided enough light for Leo to see James mouth ‘shut up’.  The man in the front stuck out his tongue.  James waited until Leo was done then indicated towards the shore they were headed for.  

The short argument break had helped James’s muscles recover and the boat was now sliding over the surface.  The goal was a couple hundred yards away.  James thought a fast approach would be best.  If they landed on a beach or other gradual surface Leo could get right onto land and pull the boat up until his partner could get out.  They would not have to splash around in the water.  If the shore was steep, or rocky, the boat would bounces off with a bang, but then they would have to deal with the water anyway so the noise made by the crash would be unimportant.  James began to paddle faster.

The two were a half dozen kayak lengths from shore when they began to speed up.  Neither knew how little effort it took to get a kayak up to speed, after a second they had a good speed.  Leo rested his paddle in front of him as he steadied himself, preparing to jump out.  James was pushing his whole body into every stroke, faster, faster, land.  The boat hit a solid object, but they still had six feet until shore.  The kayakers were not prepared for a submerged rock.  The boat tipped onto its side, dumping James into the shallows.  The kayak righted itself and drifted sideways towards the bank, Leo holding on for dear life.  The dry escapee grabbed his paddle and turned to help his friend, but by the time the boat was around James was only in water up to his chest, he was coughing, but safe.  

When James fell he splashed water all over his relatively dry partner.  The satchel that had been sitting behind James was still dry, and Leo rubbed his temple not wanting to think what would happen if their food and weapons had fallen into the water with James.  Leo chuckled to himself as he watched James raise his arms out of the cold water and make his way towards shore.  James responded with a firm middle finger but raised his face to meet Leo’s with a smile.  The men locked eyes smiling and laughing under their breath for a single second.  Before the moment had passed the sound of leaves being crushed reached Leo’s ears and he turned as he saw James lose his smile and point towards the shore where they had just landed.  

A body flew at a full sprint out of the woods and fell off the shore mid stride, the boat flipped over, Leo, the satchel, and a viral all tumbled into the water, the two creatures wrestled under the surface while the bag sunk to the dark rocks below.

Chapter 15

Too early.  The sun was just coming into Max’s room and already someone was demanding he be awake.  Leo had already gotten out of bed and he had let Max sleep, the person on the other side of the door was in for a verbal beat down.  Max pulled himself to his feet and rubbed the sleep to the corners of his eyes. 

“It’s too early for this,” Max stopped, apparently someone in the next room was having the same thoughts he was.  The knocking was not on Max’s room, he was just hearing someone try to wake up Bones.  Getting up was the right choice, trying to get back to sleep never worked so Max stretched his arms and walked to the hallway.  He slipped his SW1911, a .45 caliber pistol into the back of his pants.  Max then opened his door, and when he did the pounding stopped.  In the hall was a woman in a torn blouse and jeans, she had cuts on bruises on her arms and stomach, and her face had the telltale red spots of broken blood vessels.  Max stepped back into his room and slammed the door as the woman ran towards him and thrust her body towards the entrance.  There were more footsteps outside.  

“Don’t come out of your rooms,” He yelled, “Viral,” the pounding on Max’s door nearly tripled in power and frequency after the announcement.  

“How many are out there?” Mouse’s question was almost drowned out by the pounding.

“Two or three, I don’t know, but they’re all on my door and its cracking.”

A loud slam from the hallway moved all the viral away from where Max was trying to hold out.  “If we keep changing them between doors we can buy ourselves some extra time,” Mouse shouted.

“Well what’s your plan then?”  Max held his spear that he had crafted and waited by the door.  The violent pounding continued from across the hall as Max waited for the idea Mouse had yet to think of.  

“Where is Leo?” Max’s words hung in the air, “Where is James?”

“He was the second guard, why the hell didn’t he wake us up or something?” Bones added.

“Bones you have to slam your door, mines getting busted down,” Mouse said.

“He should have just called out or something to get our attention.”

Max said, “Bones he’s dead, we have to figure what we’re going to do now.”

“I really need a distraction now,” As soon as Mouse finished Max heard a loud wooden crack followed by a string of curses from Mouse.  “They’re half way through someone please…” Mouse was cut off by Max opening and closing his door, more cursing came from Mouse.  Nothing happened to the newly slammed door.  The blast of gunpowder made Max jump back just before a bullet came through the base of his door and hit the ground several feet behind him.  Max jumped behind his bed before the second, third, and fourth shots were fired.  Two of the three passed through the closed door where Max had been standing a moment before.

“What was that shit?”  Mouse’s voice was closer now, in the hallway.

Max opened his own door, “I don’t know that…that doesn’t make any sense.”

“No, I’m talking about that,” Mouse said his finger pointing towards Bones and Edgar as they walked out of their room.  Edgar held his hands out in front of himself and shook his head, he pointed one finger towards Bones.  The now double accused did not acknowledge the two men prosecuting him with hand gestures; he examined the three bodies draped around Mouse’s door.  The men stood their ground for a moment more before Christi drew all the attention onto herself, emerging from her room gun drawn, fatigue in her face.

“What happened?” Christi lowered her gun.

Max started walking towards the stairs, “We have to go.”

“We would have to leave our weapons and food here,” Bones said

“Will someone tell me what happened?”

“We could take some stuff with us,” said Edgar, “We don’t know what happened, but Leo and James are gone, they might be…” Edgar drifted off, “Everyone get downstairs, they might be turning now.”

 

The group followed Edgar’s order and scanned the lower level for their dead or infected friends.  One window in the main room was already smashed and Leo and James were gone or otherwise well hidden.  The sound of glass cracking underfoot grabbed the attention of the silent search.  The four survivors stayed still, the glass crunching continued.  Bones snapped to get the attention of the group, then he led them back up the stairs.

Mouse stepped over the three viral into his room.  His bag was meant to be some sort of travel luggage, it was small and could be worn over one shoulder.  Mouse grabbed the bag and jumped back into the hall.  No one remained in the hall, Mouse opened each door in turn.  Behind the last door on the right, where Christi had been sleeping, Mouse saw her sitting on the bed talking to Bones.  Edgar and Max were looking in all the hidden spots the room had to offer.

“…think that it seems like the…”  

Mouse cut Christi off, “I’ve got plenty of food in this,” Mouse brandished his luggage, “Now let’s get out of here.”

“Bones wants to stay here,” Christi’s eyes were wide.

“But we can’t, that’s…”

“I know, he just…”

“Shut up,” Bones had his arms crossed, “We have to stay here.  After we deal with these viral we can board up the house and make it safe.”

“Bones, we can’t do that, there will be to many of them,” Mouse tried to keep his voice down.

“Where are James and Leo?” Mouse was not prepared for Bones’s question, “We are also missing two guns and some food.  Those two left us and they brought the viral here.  When we leave and take the monsters with us James and Leo will return and claim everything we left behind.  We can’t give in.”  Footsteps were making their way up the stairs, “We can reclaim human territory, we don’t have to be on the run.”  The creature was now in the hallway, more muffled sounds came from the first floor.  “We have to make a stronghold sometime,” Bones walked into the hall, pistol drawn, “Why not now?”  The viral had a limp, one foot was twisted and the run was slow, Bones raised his 9mm and shot once.  The two men in the room had stopped searching and were now drawing their own weapons, but no one moved out of the room.  Mouse looked around the room for answers, he felt too queasy to stand.  The rummaging downstairs had turned into a focused effort as feet pounded up the only staircase.

 

The first cartridge Bones fired at the new viral hit one in the upper chest, but the attacker slowed down enough that the second shot caught him below the left eye.  The next two viral were close behind.  Bones took aim at the second and with a, *click*…   not the sound Bones wanted to hear, “Defend me,” his voice echoed into the room containing four other armed survivors.  Bones made a long chop with his arm using the butt of his gun to smash the first viral on the top of the head.  The viral fell, but wrapped its arms around his legs.  Max blew open the other viral’s head and the other survivors followed him into the hall as more viral poured up the stairs.  Edgar took a few steps forward and grabbed the viral’s hair that was still holding tight to Bones’s legs.  Pistols and a rifle fired above the heads of the two humans on the ground.  Edgar retrieved his weapon and put the barrel against the head embedded on the knee of its victim, and fired.  

“I’m out,” Christi shouted. 

Now that Bones was safe Edgar could focus on the fight.  He pointed his gun at the staircase as four viral emerged in rapid succession.  Edgar stood up, into the lane of fire.  A shot from Max’s gun caught Edgar at the top of the shoulder.  The wounded survivor stumbled forward and was tackled by a pair of viral.  Bones and Christi had reloaded and their gunfire killed the two viral coming off the stairs.  Max rushed forward to destroy the two still clinging to Edgar.

“Oh shit,” Max searched up and down Edgar’s wounded body, his eyes watered, “I’m sorry, oh god, I’m sorry.”

“Get the hell off me,” Edgar pushed Max and stood to his feet, “None of this is too bad, stings like a bitch though.”  His body had scratches from fingernails, but the only wounds not already clotted were two shallow bite marks on his arms and the bullet hole in his back.  “Get yourselves ready,” Edgar disappeared into his room for a moment before reemerging with a long thin knife, holding both in the air he said, “I can handle them for a while.”  

When Edgar was down the stairs Mouse spoke, “We have to get out of here.”

“Don’t you dare,” Bones was still on the ground but his voice was strong.

“You’re not thinking straight, this place is done for,” Mouse noticed that the viral had taken a large chunk of flesh from above Bones’s knee, it was bleeding freely.  Mouse grabbed Christi’s arm and said, “Let’s go, grab a bag.”  Christi obeyed and went back into her room.

“And you would take everything from me,” Bones was still facing the stairs, not looking at the man who was pulling apart his imagined future.

“I’m sorry,” Mouse said, looking down at the former leader.

Max and Mouse walked passed Bones, Christi bent down to him, “I’m sorry Rob.”

Bones smiled, “And now Mouse is too.”

Bones extended his arm and squeezed the trigger, a shot rang out.  Christi jumped back at the unexpected sound.  Bones fired again.  Max whipped around, his gun drawn as the second shot was fired, he put one bullet below Bones’s nose.  The lead destroyed his brain stem, Bones was dead as the bullet left his skull.  

Both of Bones’s shots had landed in Mouse, one in the back of his left arm, and the other into his ribcage on the left side.  More gunfire boomed through the house from downstairs.  Mouse fell forward and landed hard on his right arm.  Christi covered her mouth while staring at the dead body, and began to cry.  Max got under one of Mouse’s shoulders, with a push off the ground the dazed man was back on his feet.  

“We have to keep going,” Max said, Christi stayed on the ground, “Come on girl, he’s gonna faint, come on.”  Christi looked through her tears at Mouse before pushing herself up underneath his arm.  The humans on either side of Mouse supported most of his weight down the stairs.  Two viral were laying motionless on the ground on the bottom floor, Edgar stood in the middle of the room, a fresh bite mark on his lower arm.

When the remaining three came downstairs he said, “What happened?”

“Bones shot Mouse,” Max said as he dragged the unresponsive survivor toward the back door.

“You’ll need more help than I can give,” Edgar’s body shook and he clasped his arms over his stomach, “But I’ll stay with you until I turn.”

Edgar regained his composure with a grimace on his face and Max grabbed his shoulder, “Thank you.”

“Let’s get out of here.”

 

Behind the house the group was beginning to shamble through the forest as best they could when Christi saw something on the water.

“Guys, guys wait,” Christi stopped their momentum, “Go towards the water.”  

“Mouse is in no condition to swim,” Max said.

“What’s that?” Christi pointed to a long floating piece of yellow one hundred yards from shore.

“I don’t know, why did we stop?”

“It’s a boat,” She said, “I think we should find one of our own.”

DL: Chapter 13

Chapter 13

Abal removed her backpack, careful to lift the strap over her bandage.  The sutures were bound underneath a clean new gauze wrap.  Despite her best efforts Abal’s legs wobbled underneath her as she tried to fight off the haze that fell over her eyes.  The world was spinning in front of Abal’s eyes, and her ears pounded with blood so that she could not hear the boys.  After setting the knapsack on the ground Abal stretched herself out on the road and looked up at the purple sky streaked with orange clouds.  Tyler sat next to her.  A conversation of some sort was going on between the brothers, the beginning was drowned out by the noise in Abal’s head but her hearing was coming back the longer she lay down.

“…She helped us out and we helped her out,” said the voice closer to Abal.

“That shouldn’t determine what we do next,” another voice said.

“We can’t just think about ourselves anymore, things have changed.”

“Nothing has changed.”

“How long are we going to last looting from those who came before us, what we need…” the voices diminished again.  Abal lost sense of her surroundings, and her ears began pounding again.  Abal closed her eyes.  To Abal it seemed like only seconds had pased before her body convulsed and roused her from her dreams,  the brothers sat on either side of her

“Bad dream,” Tyler said.

“Ahhhuhhhhhh,” Abal stretched her arms over her head.  The sky was almost black and the moon was visible over the tree line.  The brothers stood up and Michael offered a hand to Abal which she took and was hoisted onto her feet.  

Tyler said, “I hope that sleep was enough for now, because we have to move.”  Abal nodded as she prepared her pack.  

 

The moonlight illuminated the road.  Michael advanced slowly, the woods were still covered in shadows.  Michael stole a look back at Abal, she was focused on the road just in front of her feet.  Michael felt like a mother who’s kid found a stray dog and wanted to keep it.  The child promises to clean up after the dog and take care of it until it returns to health, the dog would make a great addition to the family.  But Michael knew that he would be the one to care of the stray, and maybe one day it would not be such a pest, but it probably couldn’t even reload its weapon.  Her hair was short, but if there was still enough for a hand to hold on tight and drag her around.  Viral were not above fighting like cheerleaders.  Her thin frame revealed her lower ribs, but that was no different from the brothers.  Despite her outer appearance she had to be doing something right to stay alive.  

The trees on the right side of the road gave way to a lawn.  An overgrown lawn that covered with weeds, but a lawn none the less.  Abal was in no condition to check the house, Michael was going to have to do it himself.  It was stupid of her to stay up all night, but Michael could not believe that he had trusted her, she could have made off with everything.  And now she stood before Michael, a quivering sleep deprived mess.  Michael moved his right hand in front of her face and snapped.  Abal pulled her head back from the noise Michael then thrust his open palm towards her face.  Abal crumpled to the ground.  Tyler and Michael stood still, the open left palm still floated in the air, an inch from where Abal’s face had been.  Michael had not touched her. 

Michael bent down so that the collapsed girl could hear him, “Abal, don’t move, I’m going to clear out the house, you can get some sleep soon.”

Michael left his pack next to Abal and approached the door with the ax in one hand.  He was a foot from the door but figure in Michael’s peripheral vision made him stop.  Tyler stood five feet from his brother.  Tyler’s hands were wrapped around a shovel’s wooden handle.  Michael pointed back towards Abal.  Tyler responded by holding his weapon in front of him and shaking it.  Michael kept his hand pointed towards Abal.  The brothers could not see each other’s faces in the pale light but the smaller one made vigorous movements with the shovel.  Michael stepped off the stoop and pushed Tyler’s head toward Abal, the little brother complied.  Michael turned back to the door and knocked, he knocked the way one would if they were at a new friend’s house for the first time and couldn’t find the doorbell.  Michael backed up a step and prepared to meet his new friends. No response from inside.  A different greeting then, Michael tried the knob.  Locked.  After a moment of hesitation Michael rattled the door.    

 

If there was something inside and it caught Michael off guard he would need backup.  If there was more than one viral inside, even if Michael was prepared, he would be in trouble.  There were infinite possibilities that Tyler could conjure in his head where Michael would need him.  Abal still lay on the ground, she looked like she was getting comfortable. Tyler knelt next to her and shook an available shoulder to keep her from falling asleep.  Tyler glared at the door, it was still closed, but Michael had disappeared.  Tyler looked around the yard and back at the house.  Tyler knew his big brother was doing something stupid, he always was.  For now Tyler was left in charge of Abal, he stood back up, shovel in hand.  

Tyler was a sentry that brought death to all that threatened his ward.  Tyler sliced several imaginary viral to pieces with deft cuts from his hungry blade.  Adrenaline urged his muscles to move faster and cut harder, but the swordsman remained calm, he let the hormone take his pain and repel his fatigue, but if he let the adrenaline control him he would make a sloppy mistake.  Tyler was a warrior of the night, a ninja assassin, he would not make mistakes, in fact his adrenaline only made him more focused.  A challenge from the house, Tyler whipped his body around as the front door clicked open from the inside.  But the trustworthy-viral-slaying-sword was too top heavy and Tyler had a grip near the base, the weapon slid from his hands, embedding a splinter in his palm as it did.  The weapon landed without a sound, it was just an ordinary shovel.  Tyler’s imaginary vanquished viral vanished as did his fearlessness.  Tyler picked up the shovel and faced the unknown threat as a malnourished child.  

 

Michael walked out of the house and patted Tyler on the head.  The older Mackay tied the ax back onto Abal’s backpack.  Michael helped Abal stagger inside.  No viral, but what comforted Michael was the lack of suicide notes.  He had found too many since the Virus.  Throwing them away was an option, but that seemed cold.  On occasion the notes provided useful information, not on the side of facts and locations, but rather on an emotional level.  Reasons for giving up life helped Michael avoid them, one in particular had shaped how the brothers survived.  The waiting waiting waiting.  It is all consuming.  I have decided that waiting for death in life is the same as death itself, except for without worry or fear.  Death is life waiting forever.  Waiting waiting waiting.  I am leaving life plagued by waiting for death heartily filled by the same but so different, waiting…  The note continued in its poetic, philosophical form, but Michael failed to appreciate any art in the event.  Wrists slit to the elbows, multiple times, lines mostly jagged, the corpse had soaked the bed with blood.  Michael had left it.  The note spoke to Michael on some level, so he decided distractions were in order, every month, every week, every day, books were close to the brothers.  They were the purest and most loyal companions, even while Michael showed Abal where she could sleep he was thinking about a drug addict who was trying to stay clean.  Michael had left the poor man on page 102, he would look for the book, Michael had enjoyed it, but in the meantime other literature waited.  

“You looked pretty scary,” Michael said.

“You know what, I could have done some damage,” Tyler responded now in defense of his pride.

“Never drop your weapon.”

“I know, I know.”    

Manuals or technical books were useful on occasion, but for Michael nothing freed his mind like a story of human will power and strength. 

“Still have that book?”

“No.”  Tyler preferred books of outer space, the future, laser rifles, and cyber-enhanced warriors.  Ones where humanity had even more amazing ways of killing itself, but somehow lived to make it into the space age.  

“You’ll find it again.”

“How do you know?” 

Michael ignored Tyler’s comment.  He got up and began searching around other rooms.

“Are you tired?” Michael found the bathroom.

“No.”

“You want first watch.” Michael picked up a toothbrush and toothpaste, someone else had used them, but it was better than nothing.

“Yeah.” 

There were bigger problems in Michael’s life, but that was no reason to disregard minor dangers, the brush wiped away bacteria from between Michael’s teeth.  When he finished brushing, he handed the brush and paste to his brother.

“We’ll let our friend get a full night sleep tonight,” Michael patted his brother on the arm, “Wake me up when you get tired.”  Tyler’s smile was forced, but Michael smiled back.  There was a second bed in Abal’s room which would sleep the brothers while they alternated as lookout.  This was a not-so-bad house; it might have some not-so-bad clothes.  Michael thought he might find a new outfit for tomorrow, it was going to be a big day, he was going into the city, and it helped to dress protectively.