“Why are you crying over this piece of shit?” I said sneering down in his direction, momentum building in my voice. Cassidy drew up by my side, Zoe at Nat’s, linking their arms, tucking into her like Ellie had to her sister. Their eyes were fixed, something like grief covering their features. The muscles in my chest tightened, breath coming hard fought. “I thought it was you lying there. I thought one of you was screaming because the other was in such pain, or dead. Not this murderer,” I said and had turned, taking a deep breath, pulling back the urge to spit on the pained body.
I felt Cassidy’s hand on my arm and I pivoted towards her, seeing her doughy eyes staring back, fingers squeezing. I could feel her silent urge for me to relax, but I couldn’t stand here, couldn’t weep for this man. This killer. I span, aiming my venom in Nat’s direction.
“Do you realise who this is? What he tried to do? What he did to our friend out on the road?” I shouted, my hands waving toward my intent.
“Andrew?” Zoe said with a sharp intake of breath. I let a pause hang in the air, but guilt brought my voice.
“No, he’s back there,” I said, volume lower, taking a step forward, my hands raising, thumb and forefinger nearly pinched together. “This close. He was this fucking close to death,” I said pushing my hand out. “This close to another fucking funeral when this is all over.” I took another step, my feet within swinging distance of an olive leg bent at the wrong right angle. “Why are you crying over this?” I repeated. Zoe stepped in front of me, stopping me from doing what she read as my intent. Her hands rested on the chest of my jacket, her eyes wide, calming. Trying to be.
“He’s human,” came Nat’s weak voice through a sniff. “Acting on orders.”
I couldn’t help but step to the side, step around Zoe, moving to stand over the rocking body.
“Orders to kill us,” I said, giving each word the slow, careful consideration they deserved. “We’re the innocent. We’ve done nothing wrong. We’re no harm to anyone,” I replied.
I thought of the old man again. That was an accident and if anyone dare say otherwise.
“Orders to kill the infected,” Nat said in a weak voice. “Or those carrying maybe? They were trying to save the rest of the people. Our people.”
“Are you saying what Andrew did was wrong? Was he wrong to save your life? Our lives?”
“No,” she said and turned away and I watched her walk up the side of the small valley. I turned to Zoe, wanted to see what she would do. Wanted to see if she would stay or go. Her stare was fixed on the sway of the body, the gentle moan that had grown quiet. Zoe looked up, considered my face for what seemed like a long time.
Something went weak, melted inside me. I gave her the out.
“Someone needs to get Andrew,” I said. Zoe turned and nodded, then walked after Nat, catching up to wrap her arm around her shoulder as they disappeared over the crest. “Cassidy,” I said, sweeping around to catch her eye, hers too were on the man lain on the ground.
“It’s Cassie,” she said, her voice stern, her gaze not coming off the man. “Call me Cassie, please.” I nodded and she turned, then paused, flicking her head toward me then back towards her sister. “Someone needs to take care of him,” she said, walking away.
“Guess that’s me then,” I said, although by that time there was no-one to listen.
My chest had relaxed since I’d last taken note. My breath was coming easy, long, deep and rhythmic and took my first proper look at the man. The straight unflattering line of the charred flight suit. Utility pouches around his stomach open. A first aid kit spilling out as he rocked. A holster tight around his left thigh. A pistol peering out. I was amazed how much the mind can play tricks. To have thought it was Zoe lain there seemed impossible now.
I turned and saw no-one in the valley, they were gone from sight. They’d left me to decide, to take the hard choice. Put him out of his misery, or take my revenge and leave him to slowly die. Leave him defenceless, meat for the real enemy. It was my choice and I wouldn’t let them hold it over me. This was a new world. The old laws no longer made sense. We were in the new frontier, governed only by the law of the jungle. Survival of the fittest. Did mercy still have a place?
Although I’d been watching the rhythmic rise and fall of his chest all this time, it was only now I realised the movement had stopped. The decision had been taken away. With gratitude rising I dropped to my knees, undid the velcro of each pouch, took the first aid kit, a survival tin, two clips for the gun. The body twitched and I flinched back, watching on as the chest deflated, gas belching from his mouth and the other end. I paused, a thought sudden in my head. What if you didn’t need to be bitten to catch whatever it was? Was death enough? The thoughts were plenty to get my pulse raised and my fingers set about working the velcro of the holster when I caught that smell again.
“Give me a fucking break,” I said almost shouting.
I looked up not knowing what I’d see, but had not expected another olive green flight suit standing over the edge of the valley, his face red with blood, swaying as if dizzy. In his hand was a pistol matching the one I was moments from gripping, the gun waving from side to side, but still pointed in my direction.
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