It was a dumb question. Hetch knew the answer, and it started with an N and ended with an O.
Dean lay on the bed, his eyes half open—he had barely been awake for the last few hours, and now, as Hetch was about to go, he had woken, if only briefly. The wound in his side was bandaged as good as Hetch could get it, the patch being a sheet torn length-wise and wrapped around Dean’s midsection. Still, a dark splotch of red had bled through.
“I’m good,” Dean said weakly and gave a feeble shooing motion with his hands. “You get on out of here.”
Hetch nodded, and then looked down at the floor. He sniffled a little.
“Don’t you do no crying,” Dean said and lifted his head off the pillow. “Don’t you dare do no crying.”
Hetch wiped his nose. “I ain’t crying. Just got the sniffles.”
“Sure you do.”
The color had long since gone out of Dean’s face, maybe from blood loss, maybe from shock. Probably a bit of both.
“You sure you’re good?” Hetch hemmed. He hated leaving Dean like that, but what choice did he have?
Dean frowned, and then inhaled sharply. He looked down at the wound on his side, at the way the blood had seeped through the bandage. A nod came and he looked up. “Get on out of here, you know, before…”
It hurt like nothing he had ever felt. The bite was one thing, but the infection, it was something else all together. It was like a bad spider bite, stinging, stinging and spreading out from the wound, infecting the tissue around it. It had reached his ribs by the time Dean had gotten inside that house. It was down in his hips and thighs by the time the wound was cleaned and bandaged.
Dean had screamed into the pillow when Hetch poured alcohol on it.
And it looked nothing like a wound should. At first the blood flowed as if he had been shot, and from the looks of it, he may as well have been. But then it changed, the skin around it turning gray, the pink muscle becoming darker and darker until it looked like meat in a package that had sat outside in the sun for a day or so. The blood was no longer red, but brown and it no longer flowed like blood should. It clotted, and in better times, that wouldn’t have been such a bad thing, but now…now in a world of the dead, blood congealing as fast as his did was nothing short of terrible. No, it didn’t look good at all, and Dean knew what it meant. Death was coming and it would be here sooner rather than later.
He stared up at the white ceiling. There were patches of brown—the roof had several leaks—that looked like ugly sores on pale skin. Breathing was still fairly easy, but he was tired—so tired—and he really wanted to take a nap.
Dean closed his eyes and prayed if he fell asleep, he would go ahead and die.
“Yeah, before,” Hetch said. He rubbed a hand through his thinning hair and looked back at his life long friend. They had met in middle school, two punks who really didn’t like each other all that much, but somehow ended up as pals. Now…now Hetch was leaving and Dean was as good as dead.
He pulled a pistol from his waistband and walked over to Dean, holding it out to him. “Here.”
Dean eyed the gun, shook his head. “No. You’re going to need that more than I will.”
“I just thought…”
“That I might want to put a bullet in my head?”
Hetch shrugged. “Yeah.”
“I don’t think I can do that, Hetch.”
Another nod, and Hetch tucked the pistol back into his waistband.
“You sure you don’t want me to stick around a while longer?”
The zombie had managed to get her chompers on him as he fought off several others. With no bullets in his gun and no time to reload, he had to resort to bashing heads with the butt of the pistol. They were too close—too close!—and that girl had gotten him.
Now there was nothing he could do, but lay there and die. The wound throbbed. If he didn’t know better, he would swear it had a pulse of its own.
The fever had set in by the time he had woken. A headache had long since formed. He vaguely remembered Hetch coming in and out of the room, and there was all sorts of noises somewhere…somewhere out there, but Dean couldn’t tell from where. His head swam and things were out of focus at times. Cramps seized his stomach. He grimaced, clutched at his midsection and let out a long moan.
Footsteps. He could hear them. They echoed in his head, bounced around his skull, and he wished he would just go ahead and die and get it over with.
“Dean. Dean. You okay, man?”
The voice was hollow, metallic. The figure standing over him was blurry. Dean blinked, clearing his vision.
“Yeah man, it’s me. What do you need, Brother?”
A moment of clarity seized his mind. Pain subsided briefly. He reached for his friend—the only one he knew of that was still alive. Hetch took the extended hand, held it tight and sat down on the bed beside him. “Hetch. You gotta go, man. You gotta get on out of here. I don’t want to come back and try and kill you, man.”
“I ain’t leaving you.”
“You always were hard headed.”
“I’m going to find you some help.”
“Help? Help?” Dean began to cough and lifted slightly off the bed. A spray of blood went into his cupped hand. He fell back onto the pillow. He wiped his mouth and looked at the red spattered on his hand. “You can’t get help for this. The only thing you can do is die, and then…”
They were silent, each with their own thoughts. It was Dean who spoke up first.
“You do it, Hetch.” His brows were tents above his eyes, his forehead crinkled in that pleading way he had.
Hetch said nothing…
Dean was asleep again.
Hetch stood in the doorway, staring in at his buddy. His skin had a gray tint to it. He was almost sure if Dean woke again it would be to vomiting and then the end. He wasn’t so sure he wanted to be there for that, for his friend’s death, and certainly not for his ‘awakening.’
I’ll say goodbye one last time, maybe leave him a note.
He left the room and turned back only for a second to look at the doorframe. Dean would never leave that room—at least not through the door. Hetch was going to make sure of that. His work was almost done, and when it was, he would be gone.
There was blood in his mouth, sticky and hot, melted against his tongue and to his teeth. His throat was coated with it. His insides were boiling and his stomach rumbled. Dean couldn’t get to a sitting position before he threw up across the front of his shirt and onto the sheets. Sweat beaded along his forehead and spilled from beneath his armpits. He coughed, and then vomited again. There was a crack and a pop in the right side of his ribs and a fresh pain that seemed to push right into one lung. Breathing suddenly became difficult.
The room spun. The ceiling looked more yellow than white, the brown splotches had turned black. He lifted a hand. It was stiff and trembled against the effort.
“Hetch?” he said. The word was loud in his ears, but barely came out as a whisper.
Tears streamed from his eyes.
Again, there were noises. Was that hammering? Or maybe it was the thumps of the many zombies trying to get into the house, trying to get at Dean for a bite to eat. He wasn’t sure, and he didn’t think he cared.
Dean threw up again, most of it staying in his mouth and sliding back down his throat. He coughed and his throat cleared, the blood misting in the air and falling back onto his face.
His eyes were blurry, but wiping them was out of the question. He couldn’t raise his arms, not without using all the strength he could muster.
In the door stood a figure. The best Dean could tell he was white and wore some sort of clothing. Or he may have been naked. He didn’t know. The small part of his brain that was functioning told him he was in danger, that the figure in the doorway was one of the biters, and if he didn’t get up, he was going to be dead a lot sooner than he thought.
“Go away.” Weak. Feeble. “I’ll kill you…if you…get…any closer.”
Who was he kidding? Kill someone? Kill a biter? He was out of breath from speaking, how could he even fight off an attacker? Even a dead one?
Dean dropped his arm, his muscles relaxed.
Hetch barely heard Dean. Somewhere in there the word ‘kill’ was spoken. He stood in the doorway, his friend a bloodied, vomit spewed mess. Dean’s skin was now too far grayish blue that there would never be any chance to help him, not that there was much hope to start with.
Dean’s chest heaved one last time and then he stilled.
“I’ll be seeing you around, old friend.”
Not likely, he thought and left the room. Hetch closed the door part of the way, then attached a chord to the doorknob. He tugged on it gently, checking to make sure the rig would work. Satisfied, he grabbed his gear—a gun, a backpack, a hunting knife. It wasn’t much, but it would get him out the house and down the road. Besides he didn’t want to be there when Dean’s body decided to get up.
At the front door, he glanced back. The house was silent for the first time since he found it after Dean had been bitten. He opened the door and peeked out. Off in the distance, a woman shambled across the dirt road. She stumbled and fell into a ditch. Hetch turned the lock and closed the door as he stepped onto the porch. He tried to open the door, but it didn’t budge.
He nodded to himself, just something to let him know things were the way he wanted them to be. If Dean made it out of the bedroom, he wouldn’t be able to open the door—he would be trapped.
Hetch went down the steps, then jogged across the yard, leaving his childhood friend behind for the last time.
The world was a haze. Gray around the edges. His head was clouded, as if he had been sick for months, maybe even in a coma. His vision was blurred; eyes dry, as was his mouth.
Something was wrong.
He stared up at the ceiling, not comprehending, not feeling, not…aware of where he was. He had a vague memory of life, but it was fading like a distant dream. There had been noises, lots of noises. But now all was silent. Or was it? Things felt off, as if his ears had been plugged, as if his eyes had been covered with plastic wrap, as if his body had never moved, the muscles long since atrophied and the bones in danger of breaking if he moved.
But he needed to move. His body ached somehow, though not that typical ‘been in the bed too long’ feeling. It was something else, something worse. He was stiff, and he couldn’t move, and for some reason that was wrong. Somewhere in the blackness of his mind something told him to get up, to move, that there was something he needed, something he had to have.
Fingers moved, his head twitched. His eyes rolled in their sockets. His foot inched closer to the edge of the bed he lay in. The heel found air and the leg dropped down, the knee bending, creaking as it did so. There was something beneath that foot, something hard. One hand moved along the mattress until it found air. The fingers bent and grabbed at the bed and then his body was being pulled along.
He didn’t understand the movement, what he was doing, how he was doing it.
The foot was firmly on the floor. The other one followed and then he was standing, though completely unbalanced. His arms hung down at his side, and he wavered back and forth. The room seemed to breathe, in and out, in and out.
A sound. He had no clue where it came from, but his head turned toward where his ears thought it had. One foot moved forward, dragging only a few inches across the floor. His other foot followed. Three steps, four steps and he had momentum, though shaky. His feet whisked across the floor, one hand went up as he went across the room. He saw it, but it didn’t look right. The skin was gray, and rough looking. There was blood on his arm and the front of his shirt.
He reached the door. It was partially open. At first he couldn’t figure out what to do, why there was only a small opening, and just how was he going to get through it. That hand touched wood, but it didn’t feel right. His mind told him everything was wrong—wrong for crying out loud! Thoughts came and went, nothing staying in place too long to make any sense.
The hand gripped the edge of the door and pulled it open. There was some resistance at first, then the door gave way. His eyes caught sight of what was coming at him and then…
The door inched open. The chord held it at first, then released. Hetch had hooked it with a tack. The tack budged as the door opened, then popped out of the wall and shot across the room, landing with a soft clatter near the wall. The door opened further, the rope pulling taut. A stick fell to the floor. It was nothing more than a broken piece of a branch from a dead tree, but it served its purpose. The axe fell, its handle attached to a bar hammered into the doorjamb. It was quick, and it hit home.
The blade sunk into Dean Evermeyer’s skull, splitting it with ease. Dean’s head only went backwards a little before his legs gave out. He hung on the blade for a moment before his head loosened from it and he fell to the floor.
The sun peeked through the window, shining a ray on the body of Dean Evermeyer. A blackish-red blood soaked into the hardwood floor around his head. Soon night would come, bringing darkness with it, a darkness that would last forever for the dead…