This week’s Emotional Outbreak zombie goodness is brought to you by yours truly. The emotion I chose is guilt.
By Brandon Hale
I wiped the damp cloth across my wife’s forehead. She lay on the bed, eyes closed. Every breath seemed to cause her pain.
It won’t be long, I thought. I’m losing her.
The house was safe. The windows were boarded. The doors were locked and reinforced. We had enough canned food and bottled water to last a month, at least.
I was sure a month would be enough. The outbreak was bad, yes, but I lived in the United States of America. Our military was the finest in the world. Humanity would make it through this.
My wife, however, wouldn’t.
I knew it. My wife knew it. My kids knew it.
“How’s she doing?”
I turned around to see Tim, my thirteen year old son, standing in the door. “The same,” I said quietly as I turned back to my wife.
“She’s gonna die,” Tim said. He wasn’t asking a question.
“Yeah,” I said. I didn’t have the energy to soften my words. “She’s gonna die, son.”
“Will she become one of… them?” Tim asked.
“I don’t think so,” I said. “She wasn’t bitten.”
You see, that was the real irony in it all. My wife wasn’t dying because those things got to her.
She was dying because she fell on a board.
A goddamn board.
It happened when we were boarding up the house. She had a stack of boards leaning against the coffee table while she worked on the living room windows.
It happened when one of those bastards attacked the window she was working on. It was just one creature and it was mostly rotted. Didn’t even have the strength to break the window.
But it was enough to startle the shit out of my wife. She screamed and jumped back. Her foot hit the corner of the couch and she fell.
One of the boards leaning against the coffee table impaled her. It was small board. A 1X2. I don’t even know why she had it there. It was a damn furring strip.
In the old world, we might have been able to save her. I’ve seen shit like that on those medical shows. I saw one show where a guy was impaled by a piece of rebar but it somehow missed every organ. The surgeons got the rebar out and the guy was fine. Totally fine.
But that was another time. Another world.
In this world… where the dead are more active than the living… my wife was dying. As soon as it happened, we pulled the board out and used a sheet to bandage the wounds. I know, I know. You’re not supposed to pull something like that out, but we panicked. Didn’t matter, really. I mean, our house was surrounded by living dead people. It’s not like we could’ve gotten her to a hospital.
She was dead and we all knew it.
So I stayed by her side, keeping her cool with wet rags while my son watched from the bedroom door.
“Gina won’t accept it,” Tim said. “She thinks Mom will be okay.” Gina was Tim’s younger sister.
“I’m having trouble accepting it myself,” I said.
Tim stood in silence for a few seconds, then said, “What are we gonna do, Dad?”
“We’re gonna survive,” I said. “It’s what your mom wants. It’s what I promised her before she lost consciousness. We’re gonna survive.”
“Ben’s a doctor,” Tim said.
“Ben’s a general practitioner, not a surgeon,” I said. “Besides, I don’t think anybody can save her at this point.”
“Still,” Tim said, “he might be able to help.”
“Ben’s probably dead,” I said.
“Maybe not,” Tim said.
I turned around and looked at my son. “Ben lives across the street. He might as well be a thousand miles away.”
“We could open the window and yell for him,” Tim said. “Maybe he’ll hear us.”
“We can’t save your mom,” I said.
Tim’s shoulders slumped. He took a few deep breaths and pulled back the sobbing that was fighting to get out. “I know.”
“Tim,” I said, “I want her to live every bit as much as you do, but the board went through her—”
The scream came from somewhere downstairs. We both recognized the eight-year-old voice immediately.
Gina. My daughter.
I sprang to my feet and darted past Tim. From the top of the stairs, I looked down on the horrors that had entered our living room.
The front door was open. The dead had entered my house. Most of them had gathered around the gun cabinet in the living room. I quickly understood why.
Gina had climbed inside and pulled the glass door shut. The creatures were pawing at the glass, but luckily they were too damn stupid to just grab the handle and pull the door open.
“What the hell happened?” I screamed.
“I barely opened it!” Gina screamed from behind the glass. “I wanted to see if Ben was at his house!”
Tim ran up beside me. “I’m going to get her!”
I grabbed his arm. “No!”
“Dad,” He screamed, “they’ll break that glass! They’ll kill her!”
I quickly scanned the area, looking for anything that might help. There was nothing. Four of them were trying to get to my daughter. Three more were trying to work their way up the stairs.
I cursed myself for not having a damn gun. They were all in the gun cabinet. I had thought the house was secure, so it just didn’t occur to me to bring a gun upstairs. That was the moment I learned the most important lesson of the apocalypse…
Nothing is more dangerous than thinking you’re safe.
Two more creatures staggered in through the front door.
“Go get your bat,” I said to my son.
I knew it was pointless. I knew going down those stairs – even with a bat – was suicide. I might be able to take out one or two, but eventually, they’d swarm me. Eventually, they’d get to my boy and my little girl.
But I wasn’t going to just sit there and watch them drag my daughter from the gun cabinet. I had to do something.
From the bedroom, I heard my wife cough.
I spun around and ran into the room. I didn’t allow myself time to think because I knew a moment’s thought would cause me to back out. I picked up my wife and carried her to the top of the stairs.
“Dad!” Tim yelled as he stepped from his bedroom. “What are you doing?”
I looked at my wife and whispered, “I love you.”
Then I threw her down the stairs.
She hit the three undead bastards on the stairs, causing them to tumble back to the living room floor. As soon as they hit the floor, the other monsters turned and started shambling toward my wife. Within a few seconds, they were on her. All of them.
I ran down a few steps then leapt over the side of the stairs. I looked at the gun cabinet and screamed, “Gina, get to the door!”
I looked up at my son. “Come on, Tim! Go over the side so they don’t get to you. We don’t have much time!”
Tim just stood there, frozen, as the creatures ate his mother at the bottom of the stairs.
“Tim!” I screamed. “Don’t look at it. Come on! Tim, she died for you!”
He jumped over the side of the stairs. “You killed her,” he whispered.
“She was dead already,” I said.
“Come on!” Gina yelled from the front door. “More are coming!”
I ran to the gun cabinet and grabbed a rifle. I turned to Gina and said, “Close the door.”
Gina was clearly horrified by the idea of staying. “We’re not leaving?”
I tossed a gun to my son then grabbed another for myself. “This is our home.”
That was two years ago. The military never came, but we survived. Before long, we discovered Ben and his family survived as well. It hasn’t been easy, but we’re building a new life here.
I don’t wanna say it’s a good life, but it’s a life. I guess that’s the best you can hope for these days.
It might be wishful thinking on my part, but I think Gina blocked out the events of… that day. She never talks about it. Maybe it’s because she was so young when it happened.
God, I hope she doesn’t remember.
Tim, on the other hand, refuses to forget. He doesn’t talk to me anymore. He follows orders, sure, but he never says anything that isn’t directly related to survival. He spends most of his time with Ben, which is fine. Ben’s a good man. Still, it breaks my heart. I’m pretty sure I’ve lost my son.
I guess I should count myself lucky that he hasn’t tried to kill me. I think, deep down, he knows I did what I had to do. She was dying anyway. I just used her death to save her children. Zombies prefer to eat the living. It was the only way to make sure we could slip by them.
It’s what she would have wanted. Hell, maybe that’s why she coughed. Maybe she was trying to tell me to do it.
Every night I look for her in my dreams. I want her to come to me and say I did the right thing. I want her to tell me that cough was a sign. I want her to say I can stop asking for forgiveness because there’s nothing to forgive.
When I go to bed at night, my last thought is always that I’ll dream about her and she’ll say those things.
So far, she hasn’t come.