When I woke the following morning, I listened for sounds coming from the house – any sounds. There was nothing. Then, I listened for Timmy’s breathing – but again – there was nothing.
I kept my eyes closed as long as possible. I wasn’t in a hurry to see my baby brother’s blood-streaked face pressed against my chest. I lowered his him from my lap to the floor, then dared to open my eyes at last. Staring directly at the shed door, I grabbed the shotgun still at my side and used it to prop myself up. Then I went to the door and left the shed. I couldn’t look at Timmy – not yet. I wasn’t even close to ready for that.
I approached the house slow, shotgun at the ready – just how Pa showed me to. My parents, I knew, were most likely barricaded in their bedroom, wrapped in each other’s arms – probably sitting in a pool of their own blood. Oddly enough, the thought of them dying that way (in each other’s arms, I mean) lifted my heart a little. They genuinely loved each other. Then I thought of poor Timmy, pressed to my chest in the dark, bleeding from every orifice. Honestly, I hadn’t thought about my little brother in a few minutes. When I did, sorrow came rushing back, threatening to cripple me where I stood. My gut retched at the thought of him. I tilted forward, vomited at my feet. Then my legs betrayed me, buckling under my weight. My head felt as if it was full of bock-shot. I fell to my knees, retched even more. I just wanted to lay down right there. Just lay down and die with them. But then I heard Pa’s voice in my head. “Tend to your chores, boy. Then you can play.”
“I’m trying, Pa.” I said out loud. “I promise – I’m trying so very hard.”
Even though my body rebelled against me, I managed to regain my footing. The shotgun made for a handy crutch. Then I just stood still for a moment, regaining my balance. When my head cleared, I began my chores.
When I reached the door, I was surprised that it was not only unlocked, but slightly open. I went to grab the handle, but the door creaked open at my touch. The squeaking of the hinges sent ice up my spine. I stepped into the house, hoping for the first time my parents were already dead. I stopped in the middle of the family room, listened. No sound came from the house – at least none but the wind blowing under the back door. I continued forward, through the dining room, then to my parents’ bedroom door. I took a deep breath, held it – then gave the door three hard knocks. When nobody responded after at least a full minute, I grasped the doorknob. That’s when I heard the rattling growls – low, guttural sounds of a vicious beast about to attack. I let go of the handle – deciding to go with a different plan.
There were four lamps in the dining room. They were all around half full of oil. I pulled out the wicks, sprinkled the oil around the house, distributing it as evenly as I could. Pa said the whole house would have to be destroyed for the infection to be killed. He also said if one of us was still a person, we (I) had to burn the rest. When I was finished sprinkling the oil, I grabbed a burlap bag from the pantry, then added an armful of Ma’s preserves to it. Then I grabbed the knife she was going to cut the pie with off the table and the box of wood matches from the top of the mantle on my way back to the front door. I stood, just under the threshold. I looked around at the house, at the moldings – the hand-carved mantle above the fireplace. It was hard to imagine that my father, a banker (at least before the Bloody Plague began to turn people into creatures) and my mother, a schoolteacher built all of it. Most unbelievable, they brought me and my brother into this diseased world.
I pulled one of the matches out of the small wood box, struck the tip against the red brick of the window ledge.
“I love you, Ma and Pa,” I said, holding the match out in front of me. Just then, my parents’ bedroom door burst open. I’m positive the twisted, drooling, rattling creature that jumped out through the doorway was once my Pa, but it sure didn’t look like him anymore. It launched itself from the kitchen floor, landed on the dining-room table. Then it hunched its back and issued a horrifying rattling roar at me. I threw the match, hearing another roar come from the bedroom as the flames caught. The Pa-creature scattered back to towards the kitchen and I slammed the door.
The creatures were screaming as the rest of the small house went up in flames. Pa built the house, making sure that there could be no escape if the worst came to pass. I knew they were finished. All I had to worry about was Timmy.
What I should’ve done was carry Timmy to the porch and lay him on it, then watch to make sure the fire got him. I even planned to do just that. But, when I opened the shed door and saw his small face, staring skyward, a slash of sunlight across his face – I couldn’t do it. I slammed the shed door shut, bolted it from the outside, and walked away. I thought that chances were good Timmy wouldn’t turn. Of course, I knew I was lying to myself. Everyone turns.
I walked the fifty or so yards to the Wood-line, turned around. The house was nearly embers and ash then. No more screams or rattling roars could be heard. I did my best, Pa, I thought. I looked to the shed. I’m sorry if I disappointed you. Then, I threw the burlap sack across my back, checked the direction of the morning sun, and started my journey to Lincoln.