Jed and Rob returned just as Chris and Joe were hauling a couple of the bodies out of the lobby. Cancer was busy checking and rechecking that every corpse was truly dead and was then giving the other two the go ahead to move them. Mr and Mrs Hartness spent their time fixing up the barricades on the main entrance and glancing nervously over at their teenage son. Joe was determined to make himself helpful though, more helpful than falling on his ass. His mother, of course, had protested when he offered to help Chris but his father had gently reminded his wife that Joe needed to learn and grow strong for himself.
The days of overbearing protectiveness had to be put behind them now.
They were taking the bodies out towards the back of the hotel into one of the various unused rooms. It wasn’t a permanent solution; the hygiene and smell would soon take its toll, but at the minute they just needed to get their bearings and rest up. Upon heading back into the lobby, Joe noticed that Cancer was just slipping out whilst the others were busy. He had his gun in one hand, knife in the other and his bag slung across his shoulders. He caught Joe’s eye on the way out and nodded a silent goodbye.
Not in the least bit surprised but a little disappointed, Joe followed after him.
Only a few paces ahead and Joe managed to catch up with Cancer’s fast pace.
‘Why are you following me?’ he grunted, rather abrasively.
‘To make sure that you get out okay,’ Joe replied lamely. He knew Cancer was more than capable of handling himself, but he still felt indebted to him after having his life saved. Cancer shrugged, half smiling, and let it go. They got to the second floor, near Cancer’s room, and Joe led the way to the end of the hall way. The windows here hadn’t been barricaded; they served as one of the many escape routes due to the fire exit that snaked up the side of the hotel and finished directly outside the window. Joe wasn’t holding out much hope that this area would be clear, particularly due the recent bout of gunfire that had been unleashed. His instinct didn’t betray him as he looked out grimly. There weren’t as many as he thought, but there was still a fair few.
Cancer shrugged, like it was no big deal and began checking all his weapons were with him.
‘You’re actually going out there?’ Joe frowned.
‘Gotta find Rayn,’ he replied, like it was the simplest thing in the world. Joe didn’t bother asking who Rayn was; there wasn’t much point.
‘Good luck,’ Joe said, rather sickly. He wasn’t sure if he’d see Cancer again.
‘Thanks, you too.’ Cancer opened the window with ease and slid out. He gripped his knives, hesitated only for a split second and then began the descent. Joe watched him run agilely through the lingering creatures, shoving them aside as easily as if they were mere pests. Whenever one got too close, he would bury his knife deep in its skull and continue onwards. Nothing was stopping him.
Joe made sure that Cancer made it to the end of the alleyway unscathed and when he disappeared, Joe shut the window again.
He didn’t dwell on the fact that they were one person short or what the others might say. He had better start getting used to saying goodbye to people because he doubted it would be the last time he’d have to do that.
He wandered back downstairs, feeling a little despondent.
The first thing he noticed was Carol, crying quietly to herself whilst helping the others to clean up. Feeling a little sympathetic and guilty that he hadn’t managed to help her, Joe asked her if she was okay. She jumped at his voice, dropping the arms of the corpse she was dragging. Tears streaked her cheeks red and she was breathing heavily. Joe noticed a patch of blood seeping through the sleeve of her blouse. She nodded at him, not realizing that Joe was beginning to piece things together.
‘That yours?’ he inclined his head towards her wound, already feeling his stomach start to stir uneasily.
She stiffened and shook her head. She denied it too quickly though and the shifty manner in which her eyes flitted between Joe and the others clued him in immediately. He felt sicker than ever and the guilt flooded throughout his entire body. He had brought this on; he hadn’t managed to save her and now she was going to die.
He plastered on a reassuring smile though. ‘It’s okay Carol. You can tell me.’ He needed her to say it for herself, maybe then she’d believe what was happening.
She clutched his arm tightly suddenly intent, fear clouding her eyes. ‘I don’t want to die. I don’t want to end up being one of them.’ Her voice came out no louder than a whisper but Joe felt like she had just screamed at him. He felt like she was screaming at him that he had killed her. He had failed to save her hadn’t he?
He pried her desperate fingers away from him and held her hand. ‘Carol we have to tell the others.’
‘I can’t,’ she was full on crying now. A couple of the others began to notice.
Joe shook his head. ‘I’m not keeping it a secret, I’m sorry Carol. Maybe they can help you?’ He knew even as he was speaking the words that they were futile. The only thing that could help her now was a bullet in the brain. He tried to gently lead her towards the others but she ripped her grasp away from him and backed away, back into the corner of the lobby where she sank to the floor and put her head in her hands.
Jed appeared beside Joe in an instant. ‘Is she okay?’
Joe looked at him sadly, shaking his head. Jed let out a long sigh. Chris and Joe’s parents came over at that point.
‘What is it?’ Chris demanded.
‘We have a problem,’ Joe muttered, looking back over at Carol.
‘Oh fuck,’ Chris hissed and grabbed his gun. Before any of them could react to this, Jed grabbed the end of Chris’ gun and forced it down, glaring sternly at him.
‘We are not killing her,’ Jed stated with authority that Joe had never witnessed in him before. He always thought the man was a bit soft and had the potential for others to walk over him, but right now nobody was messing with him. Chris relaxed slightly, though Joe could tell he was itching to protest. Rob went to go and comfort Carol, who ended up sobbing harder into his arms.
Mrs Hartness pulled her teenage son closer while the others discussed options. Isolation was a certain possibility and it was only Chris who kept bringing up the bullet-in-her-brain idea.
‘She’s already dead, what do you want to do? Wait until she turns and kills the rest of us?’
‘You’re talking about murder,’ Mr Hartness pointed out. ‘Carol is still living and breathing like the rest of us. Isn’t there a cure?’
Chris scoffed. ‘If there is a cure do you really think that the world would be in this state? Don’t you think scientists might have made it known?’
‘Who says there are any scientists left? What’s to say the dead didn’t eat them all?’ Mr Hartness retorted.
‘Andrew,’ his wife whispered softly. They all looked towards Rob and Carol, who were now making their way over. Joe stifled a gasp at how much of a bad turn Carol had taken. In just the few short minutes it had taken for them to discuss Carol’s fate, her skin had already taken on a chalky pallor, made all the more prominent by the purple circles lining her eyes. She was shuffling, clutching her arm. Joe noticed the skin beneath her fingertips had turned a sickening shade of green and the wound was flaring angrily.
She doesn’t have much time, Rob mouthed. Carol looked at them all; the fear had been replaced by pain and fatigue.
‘I heard you talking,’ she spoke, her voice cracked and barely audible.
Jed looked at her apologetically. Chris had taken a firmer grip on his gun. Mr and Mrs Hartness formed protective stances in front of their son who was peering out cautiously. Rob was the only one who could stand to be within a two feet radius with her, his arm still draped around her shoulders.
‘I know I’m dead.’
‘We don’t know that,’ Joe’s mum spoke softly, inching forwards. Carol looked at her, a small smile playing at her lips and had been about to say something when her features twisted in pain and she let out a strangled cry before dropping to her knees. Her whole body shook violently, like she was fitting.
‘Fuck this,’ Chris grimaced, pain and regret tainting his words. He took a prominent step forwards and pointed the gun between the woman’s eyes. Nobody could stop him in time, Jed had been about to. The words NO were formed on his lips, but he could not act quickly enough. A deafening noise filled the air around them and Carol’s body slumped to the floor, now still forever with Chris’ gun pointing in the space that Carol had been moments before.