Nothing is worse than the feeling of waking up from a nightmare and finding yourself in an unfamiliar place. Okay, that’s a lie. Being bitten by an infected, escaping, and knowing you only have a few days left to live is probably worse. Poor sap.
“I wasn’t bitten! I swear, I wasn’t!”
After James died, we ended up at a small … town? Garrison? I’m not quite sure what to call it. Jen says it’s a village, but Loo calls it a homeless dump. As if that’s supposed to be some kind of insult; nearly everyone’s homeless. I imagine there are a few rich people who escaped onto private islands in the middle of the ocean, but that’s probably just a fantasy. Most private islands can’t support life without supplies from mainland. And with the infected owning the mainland, there’s no supplies for them.
“I hate to break it to you, but you’re infected. Unfortunate, really.”
“No. That’s not true. I’m not infected. I’m not!”
After arriving at the garrison, we were held in isolation for a week to make sure none of us were infected. Then, we were given jobs as wardens and hunters. Apparently, the garrison’s quite short-staffed and need all the help they can get. Our job—our meaning Jen and I—is to watch over the quarantined newcomers, making sure they don’t show any signs of infection.
“What’s that wound? You said it was just a scratch.”
“It is just a scratch!”
And on the occasions that they do show signs of infection, offer them a choice. “Do you want to die a human, or die as an infected?”
“You can’t do this to me! You can’t! Not after I escaped from that freak!”
It’s unsettling to see tears running down a grown man’s face. He’s the first infected person Jen and I have come across, and we’ve only started working today. But I don’t think he’ll be the last. As long as nothing happens, of course, and we stay here for the foreseeable future. The garrison is fortified with traps spread throughout the surroundings. The chain-link fence encircling it is regularly smeared with rotten fluids to deter infected. It’s the safest place I’ve been to since the outbreak.
“Would you like a piece of paper?” Jen asked.
The crying man stared at her. “A piece of paper? For what?”
“To write on. Last words, a message to loved ones, you know, while you’re still sane.”
Do we even have paper? “We don’t have paper.”
“Oh,” Jen said. “Never mind.”
“You can go inform the rest about his condition. I’ll watch over him.” Keeping Jen here will probably add more to this man’s suffering. It’ll be better if she leaves.
Jen furrowed her brow before shrugging. “Alright.” She turned around and walked past the rows of cages, leaving the longhouse. That’s what the people in the garrison call the quarantine building, the longhouse. But I think prison is a more apt name. The atmosphere certainly feels like one, not that I’ve ever been to jail before. The cages are also chain-link fences, easy enough for an adult to break through; that’s why, the newcomers’ arms are tied. It was extremely uncomfortable, and my wrists are still chafed. As for using the bathroom…, let’s just say the smell is one of the main reasons why no one wants to work here. The instant our quarantine was over, the warden offered us his position.
“Hey. Can’t you do anything? Please? I don’t want to die like this.”
I don’t know what this man wants me to do. If I could cure the infection, I wouldn’t be hanging around a place like this. “I can’t. Once you’re infected, that’s it. You turn into a mindless eating machine.”
“That’s not true. It can’t be true. I’ve seen proof with my own two eyes!”
“You’re crazy man! Shut the hell up, so we can get some sleep!”
Being made of mostly air, chain-link fences do nothing to suppress sound. And this man isn’t the only newcomer. There’ve been a steady influx of them, coming from all around. Like us, they saw the smoke in the sky. The garrison keeps a bonfire going during the day and sometimes throughout the night when it’s cold. According to the people who established this place, infected are only attracted by sound and smell; a visual cue like smoke won’t draw their attention.
“You believe me, right?” the crying man asked. “Even if you’re infected, you can retain your sanity. I’ll still be me. I won’t eat anyone!”
Quite frankly, I don’t believe him. But I’ll entertain him. It wouldn’t sit right with me to ignore a dying man during his final moments—though I did give the command to abandon James, but that was different. “You said you had proof?”
“That’s right,” the man said. “There are infected who’re fully capable of thinking. We were forced to run away because of one. If it wasn’t for that bastard, I wouldn’t have been scratched! I struggled for a whole fucking week to make it here, and because of that bastard…!”
“You were infected a week ago?”
“I’m not infected!”
A week is a long time for an infection to fester. No wonder why he looks unnaturally green. His eyes are bloodshot too. Why did the people at the front let him in instead of turning him away? Taking in someone as sick as this is just asking for trouble. “Sure, you’re not infected. Go on. What about the bastard?”
“It happened at night. The fence we built shouldn’t have fallen, but they did! A swarm of hundreds of infected got into the camp. Luckily, I was in a cabin, so they couldn’t reach me. The people living in the tents outside, they were eaten first. Some ran and escaped, but I couldn’t do that. If I tried to sneak out of the cabin, the infected would notice, so I waited.
“Our camp had five cabins. Crappy cabins made of plywood and some logs, but still cabins. The infected shouldn’t have been able to break in. We should’ve been fine. But there was one infected, the bastard, that wasn’t like all the rest! It was holding two metal rods, banging them together to guide the herd.”
“The infected tried attacking a cabin, but we built those cabins in a way to defend ourselves from them. We could still stab at them through some holes while they couldn’t do anything to get in. It was going fine, but the bastard noticed. It realized we were going to wipe out the herd. Do you know what it did? It set the cabin on fire! It wasn’t a brainless act! It was thinking! My friend ran out to attack it, and it dodged! It dodged! It dodged! It dodged, it dodged, it dodged!”
Foam and flecks of white splattered out of the man’s mouth. His bloodshot eyes were turning even redder, and his body wriggled on the ground like a worm. He jerked towards the fence separating him from his neighbor, not minding the piss and crap on the ground, and bit the metal, hissing and growling.
“Holy shit! Put him down!”
I figured I’d have to deal with something like this sooner or later while on the job, but I didn’t think it’d be on the very first day. I grabbed a metal bat leaning against the wall and adjusted my shin guards. The previous warden was nice enough to give us some guidance before quitting. I tapped on the fence, drawing the infected’s attention. Then I undid the latch, letting the infected out, sticking my leg out towards it. It bit down on my shin guard, and I raised my bat. Whether he wanted to die as a human or die as an infected, he should’ve answered earlier. It’s too late now.