The personal nature of the narrative drew Tim from his fog. He focussed on the words. Equating his personal pain with Jason’s. To Tim, it wasn’t the same. Not the same at all. His family was dead. All of them, in the time it took to breathe, were gone. Now, he was digging their graves in the backyard and ruining the grass his father used to labor over with sweat on his brow and a disappointed shake of his head. A few days ago, or maybe even a week or more, the passage of time now blurred, Tim’s biggest worry had been his hairstyle or trying to be the cool guy so girls would notice him. Now, he found himself struggling with life itself. How could he go forward alone? How many Lyle’s were out there in the landscape of corpses with bugs gorging themselves on rotting meat? His brain spun, out of control. It drained him to listen to Jason. His head felt full of cotton and there was a buzz in his ears that reminded him of the hordes crawling over houses to get at the cringing people inside. Jason had a bad father. Tim had a great one who was now dead. The oblivion of death promised an end to this pain, a constant throb like a toothache no dentist could fix.
Jason said, “The defeat in her eyes, the realization my mom would rather be dead than to continue on stopped me. Who would protect her from him? We were two prisoners under a cruel guard. I resolved to get my mom to leave him. She never did. I failed her. I’m not going to tell you that killing yourself is wrong. It is a very personal choice. But death is permanent. The most permanent thing you could do. I think your family wouldn’t want you to quit. I’m pretty sure they would want you to live just like you wanted them to live. They loved you. To kill yourself because they are gone, I don’t know, it seems like you’d be breaking their hearts.”
The worm writhed into a hole. Tim said, “I need to go lie down.”
He walked into the house. It reeked of smoke. Down the hallway, bodies wrapped in curtains lay on the floor. His brother’s red Converse stuck out of the bottom. He settled on the couch and closed his eyes. His head hurt. A live wire seemed to thrum just behind his right eye. He slept.
His eyes popped open and Tim was disoriented at first. Where was he? What happened? The table lamp beside his head stung his eyes and burned a halo onto his retinas. The familiar surroundings soothed him. The living room. Movement in the kitchen and the scent of chicken jolted him into a sitting position. Dizziness. He got up too fast. After the room normalized, he stood and scuffed his way to the kitchen. He left muddy footprints on the carpet. He remembered digging holes. He remembered the one he dug from himself. Embarrassment burned in his face. Whatever had afflicted him at the graveside, unfinished grief, self pity, lifted from him with the veil of sleep. His stomach spoke to him. The food smelled delicious.
A plate of chicken, rice and carrots waited for him on the table. Jason jumped and almost dropped a dish when Tim appeared in the doorway.
“Jesus kid! Give an old man a heads up would ya?”
“Sorry. That for me?”
“Yeah. I had to eat without you. I was hungry and you were zonked.”
Tim said, “No problem. Thanks for dinner.”
He glanced over his shoulder. His family was no longer in the hallway.
“Bury them? Yeah, I did.”
Tim’s face crumpled and he fought to regain control of his features. He exhaled, a shaky breath that whistled through his lips.
He said, “Thanks. For everything.”
Jason waved it off. “Don’t worry about it. Eat. If you want, tomorrow, you can say something over them. It’s dark out now.”
“You’ll still be here?”
“Yeah. For a bit. I’m gonna make sure you’re set up before I go.”
“Okay. I’d like that. To say something, I mean, I probably should you know?”
Tim ate while Jason sipped on a beer. Ravenous, he emptied the plate in no time.
They took stock of their food. Tim’s mother bought groceries for a family of five so the fridge contained plenty of food. With just Tim in the home, he wouldn’t have to venture outside for a long time. With Jason’s help, Tim barricaded the windows on the first floor. Jason suggested they put light bulbs under the windows of the second floor. If people crept in, they would step on them and it should produce enough noise to alert Tim. The power worked and so did the wifi and phones. Tim called his aunt and uncles. No one answered. With his iPod, he texted friends from school. No one returned his texts. Were they all dead? Everyone?
Most of the TV stations were off the air. He couldn’t get any news of the outside world.
Tim said, “Nobody else is out there. Everyone is gone.”
Jason said, “No. People are scared is all. Circling the wagons, taking stock. At some point, people will reach out again. Remember Lyle?”
Tim snorted, “How could I forget?”
“There are good people out there. Like us. I just know it.”
Daylight snaked in through the barricaded windows. A line of golden light fell on Tim’s hand.
“I hope so.”
“Count on it. You just have to find them.”
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