A thick sense of unease spread through the three-room apartment, filling every nook and cranny with uncomfortable silence and a palpable depression. From the corner furthest away from the apartment’s front door, a small lamp lit the open rooms in a disgusting, yellow glow. The last of the windows had been boarded up and blocked off with an empty bookcase that the apartment’s previous owner had hurriedly left behind.
Rebecca Waller, sole survivor to Lisa Waller, was curled around herself on the floor, silently weeping in a shadow cast by the remains of a demolished recliner. Her auburn hair was ragged and oily from days absent of clean water, and draped itself haphazardly over the carpet beneath her face. A large woman sat uncomfortably beside her, pressing her leathered hand to the young girl’s back as lovingly as one would a sick pet.
“I’m sorry,” Helen Pena whispered, letting her voice drift off. “I’m so sorry.”
Across the room, Ronald Dunigan leaned against the empty wall with his hat tipped down and his muscular arms crossed. Leaning against the wall beside him was a Remington hunting rifle that had served him dutifully for years on the ranch, yet had suffered more use and abuse in the past three weeks than it ever had in its long life before. He glared angrily at the two women weeping on the other side of the room, unable to understand why the young girl was still with them at all.
The fourth, and last, of the coterie was named Scott Harmon. Scott had proved to be consistently quiet even in the face of death, but was still probably the least troubled out of the group. As he tinkered with a second lamp in the kitchen, he kept an eye on the cowboy in the living room, knowing better than to leave alone someone so emotional and hot-headed. Even as the second lamp finally flashed on and gave a little more much-needed light to the rest of the apartment, Scott remained silent.
“Oh, the light,” Helen praised. “That’s so much better, it doesn’t look quite nearly so dreary in here!”
Rather than returning to the crossfire in the living room, Scott remained at the lamp, pretending to tinker once again, perhaps to do away with the disgusting yellow glow that was partially from terrible light bulbs and partially from the decreased electrical current that flowed from the walls these days. He felt bad for the girl, Rebecca, but he knew there was nothing more that could be done for her. There was nothing he could say that Helen couldn’t, so he left the soothing to her. As a mother herself, he was sure she was much more capable anyway.
Ronald coughed, clearing his throat. Bending at the knees to pick up his trusty rifle, he asked, “How much longer are we going to let her stay?”
“You disgust me,” Helen spat, shaking her head. “The poor girl seen something that would scar anyone for life less’an three hours ago, and you want to throw her out to them? Already?”
“It’s sure better than waitin’ and watching her kill us all too, ain’t it?”
“No, it ain’t,” Helen said angrily, turning around. “Any one of us could’ve been in that room with Lisa back there. You could have. I could have. Hell, Scott could have too if he weren’t always hiding and pretending to fix things so he didn’t have to face the facts and talk every once in a while.”
Scott opened his mouth, but quickly thought better than to interrupt. He did, however, step out from behind the kitchen pillar, where he had been quietly listening — and hiding. A month ago, when he had taken refuge with these people, he had known they wouldn’t be the best group of people to rely on in a crisis; but they were who he holed with, and there was no going back now. They would have to make do, whether they all hated each other or not. Whether any of them wanted to admit it, they needed each other to survive.
“The difference here,” the cowboy said with a sneer, “is that if I were the one taking care of that old broad, she would still be here today.” He patted the rifle in his hands, and continued: “Unlike the rest of y’all, I know my way around a gun, and I know how to survive. If you see one o’ them, you do what you got to do and you blast their face off. No questions. Shoot first, ask questions later. See where being nice got Lisa, eh.”
Rebecca, sobbing louder than before, curled up as tight as she could as — once again — the flashbacks grabbed hold of her thoughts.
Again, silent tension situated itself in the room. Everyone knew that Rebecca was Infested; they had seen her covered in the poisonous gunk after her mother’s explosion. And yet in their hearts, nobody truly had the courage to put such a pitiful girl out on the streets, where they would be safe from her when she turned.
As he watched the girl writhe on the floor, Scott’s mind twisted and churned for a compromise. They couldn’t just put her outside; she might not be for long, but she was living now — and she would be torn to pieces by the very things she was becoming. But she couldn’t stay inside either, and risk infecting the rest of them in a putrid explosion.
Helen tried to hold the girl steady while she looked up at Scott with sad eyes. Inside, they knew what had to be done, but neither would ever admit it. They could try to keep her in a cupboard or somewhere safe, but that would only keep them safe from the infectious blast. It wouldn’t keep them safe afterwards from the hideous creature they knew would only vaguely resemble Rebecca.
Ronald, rifle in hand, kicked off from the wall and slowly walked over to the poor girl. Kneeling on one knee and placing a hand on her back, he whispered so that only she could hear, “Rebecca. We both know what’s happening and, believe me, I’d be the first man to fight it. But your mother was strong, and you can be too. You’ll see her soon, but we here still have a long while before we see our friends and family again. Please, Rebecca, there are more lives here than just yours. It saddens me to have to ask you this, but we all need you to leave. For us, and for our families that we hope to see someday.”
As he stood, he added, “Please.”
Rebecca stopped her sobs long enough to look up at the man. Her face was florid and what little makeup she had tried to put on before was caked awkwardly across her face and arms. Her eyes were swollen and small patches of red and brown had begun to cover the exposed skin on her arms, neck and chest area.
“Ron,” Helen started. “She — ”
“No,” Rebecca spat.
All eyes turned to the girl as she spoke for the first time since the incident. Her teeth were gritted together, revealed by Rebecca’s threatening snarl.
Ronald asked: “No?”
“No! Why should I listen to a redneck like you, just looking out for yourself when I’m clearly the one in need here? You can’t run me out; I won’t go out like this!” She began sobbing again, but continued to yell between howls of pain. “Me and my mom looked out for us all since the very beginning, and this is how you repay us?”
Scott quietly retreated back behind the kitchen column.
“You left her alone even when you knew she was sick, and now you’re trying to throw me out for trying to help her? You’re as bad as — ”
She hiccuped, violently, accompanied with a neck spasm that threw her body into the ground. Her eyes grew wide and she tried to call out, but the sound that escaped her throat was more of a painful gargle.
Helen’s arms shot out and held the girl steady, preventing her from hurting either of them. She withdrew her arms abruptly and cried, “Oh! Her arm! It’s… bubbling!”
“Quick, get her up,” Ronald barked, “over here. Scott, clear the door! Now!”
Scott sprinted out from behind the pillar and began moving the debris away from the front door.
Rebecca’s face began to boil, threatening to burst. A change in color originally apparent in her face quickly began to spread throughout the rest of her body. A scream pierced the air as she regained control of her voice.
With her arms resting on each of their shoulders, Ronald Dunigan and Helen Pena stumbled to the front door under Rebecca’s weight. As Scott cracked the door open and feebly looked out, they simultaneously shouted, “Open it!”
“But,” Scott started, but caught his words when he saw the girl’s bubbling skin. He threw open the door, revealing two people — no, two monsters — just mere feet away. They jerked their heads towards the noise and stared blankly at the body of a girl being thrown at them.
The door slammed, and Ronald held his weight against it as Scott and Helen began to reinforce it with what had been there previously. Under the sounds of wood being tossed and furniture being moved, they could hear the hissing and disgusting throat-noises that had been haunting their dreams since they entered hiding.
It wasn’t long after the two corruptions started scratching at the door when a deafening boom echoed against every wall, accompanied by the sound of a heavy splash against the door. The scratching stopped, but it went unnoticed as everyone inside the apartment dropped to their knees and clamped their hands over their still-ringing ears.
Scott scooted on his knees over to Helen and placed an arm around her. They each watched Ronald, who was awkwardly trying to stand. He turned and surveyed the door’s barricade; it wasn’t much, but it had served its purpose.
Without turning around to face the others, he said, “I’m sorry.”
Helen stood and placed her hand in Ronald’s. “Thank you, Ronald. I knew you were right, but — ”
“It’s what we had to do,” Scott added.
“You’re right, we’re safe,” Ronald assured, both to himself and to his companions. “For now.”