The explosion muted the world. Dropped the curtain on the show just as he’s scene was to begin. He remember telling the others to run. To not look back. That no one would be left behind. He needed to make sure they lived. Made sure that she’d live. He wouldn’t let harm befall her. He slipped the ring off his finger and pressed it into her hand. I’ll be back for it, he remembered telling her. Now go. Run.
And he watched them go. He wasn’t a leader. He couldn’t be the person they needed in this time. But he can damn well be sure they make it out of this mess. This mess that had altered him somehow. He hadn’t expected to do it with such ease, and that worried him. There were times in the pass, times before all this, that the thought had crossed his mind. And nothing chilled him more than what he felt. Or rather, didn’t.
He turned back, ran toward the sound of the dead and death. He had one shot to do this right. He needed to buy them time. Just enough time for them to get to that train. The train that would set them free from this nightmare. Though, he couldn’t fool himself. He knew what waited for them at the other side of that line.
Out of the frying pan and into the fire.
As he ran toward the van, he could hear the shouts of the others. Those he might have called friends if the world hadn’t gone to shit. The people he’d seen every day. They each made their choices, but he needed to keep his people safe.
He pulled the door open, and peered inside. Goners. The both of them. But the med pack was still inside with the extra pistol they managed to take from the library. He threw the strap over his shoulder and holstered the gun in his jeans. A small laugh passed from his mouth. About a week ago, he would protest against armed weapons being so easily accessible. Now he’d learn to wield it as best as he could.
And image of the two men he killed ran across his mind. He needed to shrug that shit off. Needed to focus. Needed to get back to his people and make sure they each made it to the train. He turned and ran back.
They weren’t too far off. He could see them. Could hear them. They needed to remain quiet. They knew this. He waved to them. He’d made it pass the gas station when the first shot rung out. The bullet zipped by. The others scattered.
The bullet slammed into a parked car, setting off the alarm. A dinner bell to attract the dead. The horde wasn’t far behind, but they could out run what was blocks away. What worried him the most were the ones they didn’t see. The ones still hiding within the shadows and chaos that erupted from all corners of the city.
Go! he shouted. Just go!
And that’s when the bullet hit his leg, burying itself in his calf. He saw his friends react. Saw them begin to double back. And he knew.
Whatever poor schmuck thought to top off before hell spilled onto the earth did him a favor. The gas still pumped through. The puddle still set. It just needed one spark.
He thought of all the selfish things he’d done in the years prior. Thought about all the things he could have done differently. They needed to get to the train. And he needed them to get there without having him as a burden to carry.
Just go! he shouted.
He often thought of the way he’d die. Always figured he’d drown. Often he thought that the ocean would call him back. We came from the ocean. And the ocean calls for me.
He lifted himself up and took three shots into the dark. Then turned to look back at his friends and smiled.
He needed them to live. He needed her to live. And with that he took aim at the gas station. And fired the shot into the gas. The spark that started the flame. That consumed the night. And silenced the world.
“Can’t say I’m surprised by your stupidity,” the voice, hoarse and thick, said. “You thought you’d play hero one last time. And where did that get you? It got you stuck with me.”
He smiled. “Did you lose them?”
“I did,” the voice said. “But not you. No, I know exactly where you are.”
And he laughed again. The raw ache in his lungs burned beneath his chest. “No,” he said. “I’m not stuck with you. You’re stuck with me.”