No one volunteered, so the soldiers slowly began their inspections. To everyone’s relief, no one else was infected.
Moving on to the next truck, it was the same story. People were allowed to volunteer information then were searched. No one protested. Everyone gave in with sad smiles and hollow eyes. They were all tired and hungry and terrified. To everyone’s relief, no one was infected.
Several trucks and buses were empty of infected and Kevin began to hope.
They had already lost so many people he just didn’t feel he could deal with too much more death. He was so tired and weary he just wanted to sleep for a very long time. Well, after a hot shower and a good meal that was.
Behind him, he could hear the infected woman still crying. One of his men walked over to stand behind her. It was a hard sight to look at, so he avoided it.
The people from a bus were given the all clear and piled back in. Many looked at him with desperate eyes, looking for some sort of reassurance.
He forced a smile he did not feel and several looked relieved.
Moving on to the next truck, he saw Travis drop to the ground then reach up to help his wife down out of the cab. Bette and two other soldiers quickly examined them and the driver and gave the clear sign to Kevin.
They moved to the back of the truck to unload the passengers. Kevin strode up to the couple and sighed.
“Good to see you’re safe and sound,” Kevin said in a low voice.
Travis looked over at the crying infected woman, then back at Kevin. “I wish everyone was.”
“Yeah. But she probably won’t be the only one,” Kevin answered with a sad sigh.
Travis agreed silently with a grim look on his face.
“We have to do this. We can’t risk the fort.”
“Doesn’t make it any easier, does it?” Travis reached out and patted Kevin’s shoulder. “I’m sorry about your friends back in the mall. They were brave.”
“So was your friend,” Kevin said with a slight smile. “One helluva a feisty one, wasn’t she?”
“You have no idea,” Travis answered with a bittersweet laugh. “No idea.”
Katie was holding onto Travis tightly and she even smiled at this comment. She looked exhausted. On impulse, Kevin reached out and tucked her hair back from her face.
“You did the right thing,” he said, slightly embarrassed.
Kevin looked up to see Bruce Kiel heading toward them. His wrist was heavily bandaged. Kevin felt his heart sink.
“Dad! No! Dad!” Katie was instantly on the edge of hysterics and rushed toward her father.
“Katie!” Travis dove after her, catching her about the waist. “Katie, no!”
“It’s okay, baby,” Bruce called out to her, his expression agonized. “It’s okay. Please don’t cry.”
“Oh, shit,” Kevin groaned. He rubbed his brow and looked back at the woman who was now silent. Either she was accepting her inevitable death or¯ The woman lurched to her feet and whirled around on the guard. He was ready and shot her point blank in the head.
The people in the parked vehicles cried out in horror as Kevin closed his eyes.
Fuck. Could this get any worse?
“I’m not sure it’s a bite,” Bruce said, his voice shaking. “I punched a few of them while escaping, but I also had to climb through a broken window to get out of a store.”
Bruce began to unwind what looked like bandages made of a shirtsleeve.
Slowly, the bloody cloth fell away to reveal a bad wound. Bette took his hand and leaned down to look at the gash.
Katie was sobbing, clinging to Travis, her body shaking. Travis looked pale as he tried to calm her.
Bette sighed then wrapped up the wound. “There is glass in the wound, but there are clear teeth indentations.”
With shivering breath, Bruce closed his eyes and tersely nodded. “I understand.”
“This can’t be happening!” Katie’s legs buckled, but Travis managed to hold her up.
Kevin lowered his head, feeling sick of it all.
A soldier stepped up beside Bruce and pushed him gently toward the side of the road.
Opening his eyes, he looked at his daughter and gave her a smile. “It’s okay, Katie-girl. It is. I promise. I got to see you again,” he said, walking past her.
Katie reached out toward him, but her father shook his head.
“I’m not. I got to see you and my daughter. I got to feel my grandchild moving in my daughter’s belly. I got to say goodbye.” Bruce had tears in his eyes. “I love you Katie-girl. I love you and I’m proud of you. I’m damn happy you’re going to be a mother and you’re going to have a good life.”
“Dad, I love you. I love you so much,” Katie said passionately. Her nose was running and her eyes were nearly swollen shut.
Bruce blew his daughter a kiss, then stood on the side of the road with his head down. Katie held onto her husband, weeping, unable to go to her father.
“This day can’t get much worse,” Kevin whispered to Bette.
But it did. By the time every truck and bus was searched, seven people stood next to the side of the road. Four men from ages sixteen to maybe sixty stood in the cold wind, shivering from either the cold or the infection spreading through their bodies. Three were women. One was around eighteen the other two in their forties. The eighteen-year-old was having spasms by the time the search was done. Kevin was sure she was on the verge of turning.
“I’m sorry,” he said as he walked down the line of infected. “You’re infected. You have two choices. We leave you here and you turn. Or, we can put you out of your misery and save you from the fate of the rest of the world. I know it doesn’t seem fair and it’s not, but in the end none of us have any choice.”
“I’ll do it myself,” the girl said through chattering teeth.
Kevin looked at her, then at the soldier standing behind the her. The soldier nodded. Sadly, Kevin handed the girl his revolver.
People in the buses and trucks behind him were watching. The soldiers had tried to make the people look away, but he knew there was something innately human in not being able tear their eyes away from the drama.
The girl’s breathing was getting shallow, her eyes milky. Kevin could tell it would be any minute now. He took a step back and looked at the soldier behind the girl. Slowly, he saw the rifle being raised as the soldier stepped to one side to avoid the coming gunshot.
The girl looked at Kevin and whispered in a voice that was barely human, “Take my Mom to the fort.” Then she shoved the gun in her mouth and, without hesitation, pulled the trigger.
The spray of blood splattered the others. One infected man screamed and ran into the pasture.
“I can’t do it myself,” one of the women said, her eyes flicking to the dead girl at her feet. “I can’t.”
Kevin hesitated, not willing to ask anything more of his men. It was one thing to shoot a zombie, another a person even if they were infected.
Bette came up behind the woman and shot her. It was so quick the shot made Kevin jump.
Kevin looked into Bette’s green eyes and saw a tear. He moved to stop her, but she had already fired.
“I can’t,” the last woman whispered. She also turned and ran.
Bruce reached down for the gun at the dead girl’s side. He was very slow in his movements. When he took the gun, he shivered. “I don’t want to ask you to do what I can do myself,” he said in a trembling voice.
Kevin rubbed his brow and nodded, pressing his lips tightly together.
“You did a good job, son. Just some of us were a little slow. And a little foolish,” Bruce said with a sigh.
Kevin looked back at Katie and Travis quickly. Travis had Katie’s face tucked into his neck as her body shook with emotion.
“Katie, I love you. Travis, take care of her. I got to say goodbye and that makes this all worth it.”
“I love you, too. Take care, y’all.” Bruce lifted the gun and pressed it to his temple.
The gunshot made Kevin jump even though he knew it was coming.
“Let’s go,” Bette said softly, her hand resting on his arm.
“One of them is coming back,” a younger soldier named Kabuto said.
“And the other one is eating that first runner.”
Kevin looked up to see one of the infected running back. She wasn’t human anymore.
A shot rang out, then another. Then silence ruled the world again.