By T.A. Saunders
“We’re all dead.”
“We tried to save you all.”
“There’s no one left. Just you and me.”
“You can’t be too sure of that. You never leave the area around your house.”
“Anything that lived isn’t human anymore. They’re…well, they’re not human.”
“If you brought one here, we might be able to study them.”
“I won’t. No good you can do anyway.”
These were the kinds of conversations I had every day with my only companion. I’m not real sure how it started. He called it a ‘pandemic.’ Not sure if that means it started with panda bears in China, but I know it ended with a whole lot of dead folks and nobody held accountable. Except for my companion. I hold him accountable every day, for all the good that it does. He tells me he almost has the cure worked out, but he needs some infected people that have gone and changed. Never had much use for racism or bigotry, but I sure do have a problem with folk trying to tear my arm out of my socket to beat me with it. Fine with my arms where they are and my companion is fine not meddling with Nature more than Mankind already has. Dang fool.
“You have to trust me. You might be saving the whole human race if you help me.”
“Who says the human race is worth saving? Haven’t seen much worth saving here.”
“That’s a very jaded outlook.”
“Consider myself realistic. Most people aren’t worth the dirt they walk on.”
“But what about the people that are?”
That got me thinking more than I normally do about doing what he asked of me. For every self-entitled, smart phone-addicted dimwit out there, there’s probably one decent sort that doesn’t much deserve this fate. I’m fine here on my farm. Food’s still good and my water comes from my well and that’s still clean. Even have my own gas pump with a few hundred gallons still left in it. I don’t have much need to go out looking for them diseased folk. But my companion has a point. So I give it further consideration.
“I don’t trust you, but tell me what you want me to do. I’ll think about it.”
“Capture somebody with the infection and bring them here, to this tree.”
“Right. Not sure how I’m going to manage that even if I agree.”
“The soldier hanging from this tree has an air taser. Take it and his sidearm.”
“Better shot with my .30-60 but fine. Suppose having a pistol won’t hurt.”
Didn’t much like handling folks that have been exposed. That’s why the soldier that was hanging from my old oak tree was still there. Some of those diseased folk caught him on the way to the city with a truck full of other soldiers. Stayed in my house and locked all my doors and windows, then drew the blinds rather than risk going out and helping him. He was a soldier. He knew the price he could pay. So they hung him and beat his corpse a while with bats and axes, howling something fierce through the night. No idea what they did with his friends, but they left him hanging from this here oak tree.
“You haven’t much time.”
“Begging your pardon, I have all the time I want these days.”
“How long do you think you’ll last out there, on your own?”
“As long as I need to. Told you before I’m on a farm.”
“If they were there once, they’ll come back.”
“Haven’t done so in a few weeks. They’re probably killing each other in the city.”
“You can’t be sure.”
I stare down at the walkie-talkie I’ve been talking to my companion through. It’s hitched to the soldier’s belt and I can’t get the confounded thing undone. When those diseased crazies were swinging away at this poor boy’s body, they must have smashed the buckle. I don’t exactly agree with my companion, but he makes a strong argument. I can’t be too sure they won’t come back. I decide it’s wiser to go board up my house, rather than standing out here in the open waiting for something to happen. I gather the gun the dead soldier has but I leave the taser. Would probably electrocute myself with it anyway.
“Are you still there?”
“Are you going to help me?”
“Why don’t you send more soldiers?”
“There aren’t any more left to send. They’re elsewhere, or dead most of them.”
“Sounds like it would be wiser for me to not help you. I like living.”
“And if they come back? You won’t be able to stop all of them yourself.”
He probably hears it. The heavy breathing of the one that crept up on me while I was standing here talking and bit me in the neck like a wolf would. He’s staring at the walkie-talkie on the soldier’s belt, while I bleed out. As wild as this disease makes a person, he probably thinks its the tree talking. Ugly cuss looks like he’s taken to cutting on his own face or survived somebody doing it to him. Still not sure if I would’ve made any difference if I had chose to help. But I’ll make a difference now in the seconds I have. I’ll make the difference a single bullet can make.
“Hello? Are you still there? Please respond?”
I last long enough to see the muzzle flash from the pistol. Heck, hope I didn’t miss.