GUYS. THIS IS THE LAST PART.
“All right, boys, brush teeth, and then you need to go to bed, Aaron,” I said upon reaching our room. “Boys, you go to the boys’ bathroom and brush your teeth and help Aaron brush his, please.”
“Okay,” Will said, grabbing the toothbrushes and a tube of toothpaste.
Jake grabbed Aaron’s hand and Will’s and his pajamas. “Come on, Aaron. Let’s go brush our teeth.”
They went down the hall and swung open the door to the bathroom. I heard male voices that were cut off as the door swung back shut.
I grabbed a pair of shorts and a more comfortable shirt and my toothbrush and slipped down the hall to the women’s room. I waited in the line for the sink, brushed my teeth, and changed into my more comfortable clothes. I started back towards our room, my socks making no noise on the tiled floor.
The men’s room door swung open and shut behind me. Someone’s longer stride caught up to mine. I glanced at the person out of the corner of my eye.
“Hey, Evette,” He said.
I glanced down at my sleeping shorts self consciously. “Getting ready to settle the boys for the night and go to sleep myself. It’s … been a long day.”
He nodded. “First day?”
He paused before asking the next question. “Parents?”
I didn’t answer for a moment. I swallowed. “Yes,” I croaked.
I glanced over at him. His face contorted into a mask of grief and hurt, but vanished in a second, to be replaced with a smile. He was looking past me.
It was my room. Aaron was running around, in his Spiderman pajamas, and the boys were trying to get their pencil back from him.
I smiled, too. “I better go take care of them. Goodnight.”
I went inside and gave the boys back their pencil. “Bedtime, Aaron.” I shut the window’s blinds, tucked him in, put Curly Bear in the crook of his arm, we said a prayer, and sang a song, and then the lights were turned out.
The two older boys climbed into their beds as well.
I shrugged on my jacket, grabbed my journal, and slipped out of the room. I padded down the hall, two flights of stairs, and turned into a quiet, carpeted room that I suspected had once been a library, or something like it.
I sat in a chair, tucked my cold feet underneath me, and began writing.
I woke up early the next morning and hung my head over the edge of my bunk. William and Jake were still sleeping. Aaron—
“Aaron?” I whispered urgently. He wasn’t in his bunk. There was no answer. Curly Bear and his blanket were gone, too.
I scanned the room. He wasn’t there.
I jumped off of the bed and scrawled a quick note telling the boys to stay put if they woke up, and I left the room.
I went to the mess hall first, because I decided that that would be the room Aaron would remember best from the day before.
I raced down to the mess hall, slipping on the tiles in my socks. “Aaron?” I called.
He wasn’t in the mess hall.
I hurried back up the stairs, down the hall where our room was. I poked my head in door after door, muttering apologies to stirring people.
“Aaron?” I called again, as quietly as I could.
A voice answered me—but it wasn’t Aaron’s. “I believe you’re looking for him?” I turned around. Matthias was holding Aaron’s hand, who had his blanket around his shoulders and Curly in his hand.
I sighed in relief. “Thank you so much.” I picked up Aaron and propped him on my hip. He was almost too big for me to do this any more.
“No problem. Care to join me for breakfast? I was just heading down.”
“Sure. Let me just grab the boys first.”
Matthias nodded and shoved his hands into his jeans pockets. I walked a few paces down the hall and stuck my head in the door.
“Breakfast, boys. Come on.” I set Aaron down, and he put Curly and his blanket back on his bed. Will and Jake rolled out of bed and slipped out of the room. I looked sternly at Aaron.
“You do not leave this room on your own,” I ordered. “Do you understand me?”
“All right. Want to go get some breakfast?” I asked, pulling on my jacket.
“Yeah!” Aaron bounded over to me. “Is Matthias gonna eat with us?”
I smiled down at him. “Yeah, he invited us to go down with him.”
I took him out to the hall, where Matthias scooped him up and gave him a shoulder ride to an elevator, where we all rode down the the mess hall. Matthias ran down the hallway to the mess hall, Aaron screaming with laughter the entire time. I smiled.
Will and Jake raced after, eager to get some food in their stomachs.
We all scooped scrambled eggs and bacon onto our plates, and scooped up cups of water and sat at our table from the night before. The three little boys dug into their breakfasts with voracious appetite.
“So,” I said quietly to Matthias. “Thanks again for bringing Aaron back.”
“My pleasure,” He smiled. “He was wandering the halls looking for–”
He stopped abruptly, smile slipping off of his face. I realized what he had been about to say.
“Looking for our parents’ room,” I whispered, picking at my eggs.
Matthias nodded almost imperceptibly. “Mine were taken and quarantined three days ago. I’ve been here since.”
I swiped at my eyes. I wouldn’t cry. “I’m sorry.”
“We’re in the same boat.”
I looked up. He was eating his food with purpose now. I got the distinct feeling that this conversation had run its course.
After breakfast, Lieutenant-Colonel Jones came and informed me that he needed a couple people for KP. I said of course, and Matthias volunteered to help. I had the boys go up to the creche with Aaron.
Matthias washed and I dried, putting dishes on a tray to be loaded up again by the cooks. This cycle went on until about eleven thirty, an hour after people stopped coming in for breakfast.
I wiped my arm across my forehead after I finished drying the last fork. “Done,” I sighed. Doing something had actually been nice; it had helped me to take my mind off of everything that had happened.
“I had better go check on the boys.”
Matthias nodded. “Go for it.”
I rode the elevator up to the creche. The boys were playing a board game and Aaron was playing with a little girl. I left them alone. No point ending their fun until I had to.
I went back to our room and tidied up. I made the boys’ and my bunks, wiped dust off of all the surfaces with a stray rag, and pinned up the picture Aaron had drawn for me on my birthday. That morning seemed impossibly long ago now. Had it really only been a week?
I decided to go up to the roof. I needed air, and we weren’t supposed to leave the building. The elevator took its time carrying me up to the top. I began to feel claustrophobic. I needed out of here.
The doors opened, and I walked out, the brisk air like a smack in the face. I breathed in the cold air, welcoming the resulting pain in my lungs. I sat down and leaned my back up against a chimneystack.
I let myself go for the first time. I began to cry. I buried my head in my knees, heaving sob after painful sob, thinking about my parents. It had happened so suddenly; it wasn’t fair. I shouldn’t have to lose them. The boys shouldn’t have to lose them. They shouldn’t have to leave.
I exhausted my sobs and sat there, taking shaky breaths. I became aware of a noise behind me. My head snapped up and I wiped my red eyes. I stood and turned around.
Matthias came from the other side of the roof. Of course it would be him. Why did I keep running into him?
“Are you okay?”
Why did he have to be so considerate? I was trying to be upset that he kept catching me in unfortunate situations.
“No, I’m not,” I said frankly. “My parents are going to die, after losing all of who they are, and I don’t know what to do, and I need to take care of the boys and … ” I inhaled deeply before the fresh tears could fall.
There was a pregnant silence, my brown eyes never wavering from Matthias’s blue ones.
“I ought to go back inside now, I think,” I brushed past him to the elevator. He caught my arm.
“If I can help … ” He let the sentence hang.
I nodded. He let go and I hit the down button on the elevator.
The rest of the week passed in a numb blur. I helped out where I could and managed to keep ending up around Matthias, who ended up becoming a good friend to have.
We eventually settled into a routine. It seemed like we might be able to stay here comfortably for a while. At least, as comfortable as we could get.
I awoke to a frantic pounding on my door. I glanced at my glowing watch. One thirty in the morning. Why was someone pounding on my door?
I swung myself out of bed and opened the door. I saw Matthias, his hair messed on one side from where he was sleeping, and his eyes wild.
“It’s in the safe house,” He said urgently. “We need to go.” He pressed a sleek, cool object into my hand. It was a gun. I looked at him in askance. “The weapons storage,” he explained, pressing two extra mags into my other hand.
I sprang into action. I shoved the gun into the waistband of my pants and put the mags in my back pocket. I pulled my boots on, and the boys were rousing from their slumber.
“Shoes and jackets, now,” I said. “We need to leave. Will, get Aaron ready to go. And everyone be quiet.”
Matthias was looking up and down the hall. He came inside and helped the boys get ready to go. In less than a minute, Aaron was on Will’s back, everyone was in a pair of shoes and jacket, and we were stealing down the hall.
“What’s happening, Evie?” Aaron asked.
“Hush, baby,” I whispered. “There are sick people in the building, and they can hurt us. We need to leave, but you have to be quiet.”
Aaron nodded, squeezing his eyes shut and clutching Will’s shoulders. Jake walked close behind them, terror in his eyes. I grabbed his shoulder.
“It’s going to be okay,” I said, squeezing gently.
He nodded. “I trust you.”
I walked backwards behind them, gun out, and Matthias did the same in front, so we were covered on both sides. I tried to keep my hand from shaking. I’d only shot a gun twice, on the shooting range with my dad a couple years ago.
And I’d certainly never shot a person, diseased and deranged or not.
We walked down the stairs cautiously. We heard screams and crashes occasionally, but we hurried past them with no incident.
We made in all the way to the first floor without meeting any diseased. We were almost to the door when a diseased man popped up out of nowhere.
Matthias fired his gun point-blank, a shot in the head, and the diseased man dropped dead. The three boys screamed and I jumped. Matthias’s face was white.
We dashed out of the door. The line of guards that had been lining the perimeter was scattered. Some were gone, and some lay dead.We paused for a moment before dashing past them.
We piled into a truck, which Matthias started with keys he produced from what seemed to be thin air.
We drove a minute or two before we came upon a large crowd of the diseased. Matthias slammed on the brakes. He turned to me.
“Keep driving. Get as far away as you can. Take the kids to safety. Good luck, Evette.”
He swung open the door, jumped out of the truck, and started shooting through the crowd.
“Matthias!” I yelled. It was too late. He was deep in the crowd. He was gone. I uttered an involuntary cry.
There was nothing for it. I slid over to the driver’s side and gripped the wheel. I pressed the accelerator and started mowing down the crowd of diseased. The began to move out of the way as they saw me coming.
We drove all through the night, until I couldn’t drive anymore. I couldn’t stop thinking about my parents and Matthias. All three were inevitably going to die, if they weren’t already dead.
I pulled to the side of the road, locked the doors, and followed the boys’ example and went to sleep.
After a few hours I woke up and started driving again. We went hours without incident. In Salt Lake city is when we hit another crowd. It was too thick; we couldn’t drive through it. I swallowed dryly and took out my gun.
I looked back at the wide-eyed boys. “Stay down.”
I rolled down the window and hung out of it, shooting into the crow, flinching every time a bullet hit someone.
They’re going to hurt me and the boys if I don’t, I kept reminding myself. You have to do this, or the boys will die.
I shot three more bullets, and slid a new mag into the gun.
And that was when I saw my parents. They were toward the front of the crowd. I froze. They didn’t. They kept running towards me, their clouded eyes alight with bloodlust.
How did they get here? Was all I could think. This was where they had been quarantined?
They were upon me now. I raised my gun, shaking, tears welling in my eyes.
I have to do it. They would want me to protect the boys. I couldn’t. I just couldn’t. I have to. I have to.
I stared into the clouded eyes of my parents. The gun I held out in front of me trembled.
It’s not them, I reminded myself.
Tears spilled out of my eyes as I fired one bullet, then another. My mom and dad lay dead before me. And I had put them there.
We eventually found a group of healthy people, barricaded inside a former prison. We stayed with them. William and Jacob adjusted, but occasionally you could see the horror in their eyes. Aaron, being so young, soon got used to this new life. I feared he was forgetting our parents altogether, and that broke my heart.
I was never the same. I was numb, hardened by what I had gone through. But I took care of the boys. It was my purpose. It was why I hadn’t died when so many others did.
The diseased had to die eventually; the virus was eating their brains away.
All that was left to do was wait.
The end! 🙂 I hope you enjoyed the story. I certainly enjoyed writing it. As per usual, leave a comment letting me know what you think, follow the blog for more writing, and like the post if you, you know, liked it. As always, thank you for reading!