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MCMLXXIV

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Touch the water with your own two hands

Let the freedom bell bring calm to a troubled land

But all I feel are my two feet in chains

I know the system, but I can't figure out the game

 

—Avenged Sevenfold

 

MCMLXXIV

Blood caked onto that tattoo on her wrist. It might be her birth year but that was the last thing Sharon should worry about. Inspecting the wounds of Robert, she bit the inside of her cheek to keep her face stony.

He was not going to make it.

The bites were too deep. Even if he was immune to the virus, he already lost too much blood on their way here, a desolate warehouse they stumbled upon days ago. The place here was discovered with blind luck. Then when they combed the area for supplies, they clashed with a horde of Nightwalkers—a name too good for those fuckos. Now their magazines of ammunition were half empty, no thanks to their rotten luck.

The angry gashes slit across Robert’s chest were the handiwork of a mob, encountered days ago when they were still in Region 19. Now the wounds were swollen with shades of red and purple, a dangerous sign of blood poisoning—medically speaking, septic shock.

“It is that bad, huh?”

“Shush. You’re in a fever. Rest.”

He looked pale, ghoulish and hollow with the insufficient light flickering between white and yellow. Sharon repressed her urge of tearing up. Robert was her best friend, the only one that shared the memories of being in The Hospital. His tattoo read MCMLXXV, translated after the roman numerals, 1975. They had guessed he was one year younger than Sharon. He used to tease her with that whenever they were not busy escaping from swarms of the undead, or caught in crossfires with greedy gangs. Sharon had gradually found the hilarity of the joke.

She had long forgiven him for his crime of passion. They were really lonely on the road, but even if (and that was a big “if”) Sharon had a tad bit of attraction towards the younger man, he shouldn’t have forced himself on her. Not even when he was high and delirious on medical morphine.

But all was left were fond memories now. Sharon could only afford to think that way: brother and sister till death do them apart.

Sharon’s grimy clothes were tattered and torn. She was spent, and she had not even started to count the numbers of the newly-deceased. They started as a fifteen-member pack, then every week somebody died. After three months Rob and she were all that was left, now that he was leaving her, too.

Even if her new ally had proven herself trustworthy and was pretty good in combats, it wouldn’t lessen the pain accumulating with every beat of Sharon’s heart.

“I got some bandages.” Speaking of the devil, Tarja appeared out of nowhere, a box of supplies in hand, voice grim with her thick accent, “Got it from that store we passed by today.”

“Impressive.”

Robert tried a low whistle but ended up coughing blood. Their new ally regarded him with a cool gaze, undisturbed, and knelt down to help. Sharon flinched instinctively. She was still not used to the eccentric presence of Tarja. The raven-haired warrior joined their force about a month ago with a nervous Hispanic. Marcelo was his name. Sharon had guessed her companion to be her partner (friend? Husband?), but when Marcelo died, Tarja didn’t shed a single tear.

“After tonight, you take care of yourself.”

Rob coughed again, sick drops of sweat forming on his oily forehead. Tarja went on with the biding, movements precise without mercy. Sharon clenched her fists together hard enough to draw blood.

“Nonsense. You are going to live.”

“Nope, he probably won’t.”

Tarja interrupted. The sly grin extending on Robert’s face vanquished Sharon’s desire to snap at the other woman.

“Tarja, you remember what I said to you the other night?” He winced as she finished the wrap with an extra tug. She gave him a terse nod and stared calmly into the dying man’s eyes, “You take good care of Sharon.” Then after a brief pause to ease out his breathing, “And yourself, of course.”

“I will.”

“I don’t need her protection.” Sharon announced, a blatant lie. Robert’s expression evened out, melancholy blanketing his handsome features. “When did you have that conversation I don’t know about?”

“It doesn’t matter.” Tarja commented and stood up in a whoosh. Sharon could smell that specific scent of female perspiration, whiffs of leather, and the metallic tang that belonged to their new ally. “The most important thing now is survival. And to find out the fuck does your tattoo mean.”

“It’s my birthday and it’s not gonna save the end of the fucking world.” Sharon shot back, “Now give me some time so I could talk to my friend, all right?”

“Take all the time to say goodbye.”

Tone flat, Tarja walked away. But Sharon caught a brief glimpse of hurt on the other woman’s face.

“Well, well. Muchas gracias for the catfight. At least I get to enjoy a show before I die.”

“Shut up you little piece of shit.”

Sharon said softly, and started to wipe away the dirt and blood on Robert’s face.

The grayish rag in her hand soon turned filthy-red.

 

***

 

To call it cremation was a nice way of putting it, or how else would you call burning dead bodies in the day (so you wouldn’t catch attention from the undead-fuckers that gang up at night)? The ceremony started as soon as the sun came out. It became a ritual of theirs, a belief they clang on to differentiate—

Themselves and the monster? But you can never sever the monster living inside

—humans and zombies.

“Long live humanity. May the undead cross over to the other side.”

Sharon whispered under her breath. Beside her stood her last companion, void of emotions, and Sharon hated her for that. It would be easier even if Tarja showed disdain towards her prayers. She disliked the shorter woman for venturing to the convenience store yesterday with Ruud and Stefan, then came back alone.

Not alone exactly (in Tarja’s defense) but with boxes of gauzes and bandages, cans of food, fresh clothes, duct tapes, alcohol and sanitizer, bottles of water, all that filling her backpack to the hilt.

But Sharon still didn’t like her. She wondered what was on Tarja’s mind now…Does it even hurt when you got cut or bruised? Do you feel lonely each night when you had to tend to your wounds all by yourself? How does it feel when you have no feelings at all?

As if she was reading Sharon’s mind, the shorter woman rolled her head to meet Sharon’s gaze. Sharon froze before the mint-greens, shrewd and even more transparent in the dawn’s light, but still revealed absolutely nothing.

“We should talk about our next move.”

Sharon let out a breath she had no intention to hold at that simple statement.

“Yeah, we should.”

The response sounded weary in the early morning. For an hour they stood in mourning, all silent except for the fire producing irregular cracks and snaps as it consumed the bodies, eager with ready licks of flame.

Sharon wished she wasn’t the next.