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The cure wasn’t difficult to make. According to the chief, it was most effective while it was hot. I had to wait a bit for the water to boil before pouring it through the coffee grounds. Luckily, the chief keeps a fire going in the basement; boiling the water wasn’t difficult at all. I used a higher ratio of antifungal medication to coffee since Jen was just bitten. “How are you feeling?”

“The same,” Jen said. “It can take up to a week for the infection to start, remember? I’m not going to suddenly feel better when I haven’t even felt any worse.”

“That’s good. It’s—”

“More importantly, how’s your arm?” Jen cut me off before I could finish what I wanted to say. My arm felt fine. Okay, that might’ve been a lie. Now that I’m thinking about it, it hurts a lot like someone poured hot water on my arm and left it there. I’m lucky the knife didn’t cut an artery, or I might be dead right now.

“It hurts.” Jen helped me bandage it, and I drank the cure as well just in case the knife happened to be infected. I also stuffed some coffee beans and antifungal medication into a bag. It’d be terrible if the garrison ran out and we couldn’t complete our treatment. I was just taking a little bit, enough to guarantee my and Jen’s full recovery. If that scenario really did happen and someone else didn’t have enough medication for the cure; well, better them than us. “My motion’s a bit limited, but I think I’ll be fine. We were doing pretty well against the infected. Honestly, all of them should be dead by now. And since the smart one didn’t follow me down here, it’s probably dead too.”

“Let’s hope that’s the case,” Jen said. She put on her helmet, careful not to mess with the bandages around her neck. As an added precaution, I applied the cure directly to the wound. The chief did tell me that the cure worked topically too when he was explaining how he discovered it on accident. “Are you ready to go up?”

“Yeah. Pass me a spear?” I abandoned the shield when I carried Jen. She told me I was stupid, and she was right. She only got bit on the neck; there was no reason for me to carry her at all when she was perfectly capable of walking. But what’s done is done. Besides, a shield’s unnecessary if the infected are all dead, and if the infected aren’t dead after this much time has passed, then I’ve got much bigger problems than a lack of a shield.

With a spear in hand and a bag of the cure on my back, I unbarred the door and pushed it open. It was quiet. The fight must be over. The only reason the chief wouldn’t be shouting out orders is they’re not needed anymore. I suppose there’s another reason: everyone’s dead and can’t talk. I sincerely hope that’s not the case.

My heart pounded as I made my way down the hall, expecting an infected to jump out at any time. Even though it’s unlikely, it doesn’t hurt to be safe. That’s why people wore seatbelts before the outbreak. Though, automobile accidents were probably one of the leading causes of death. I miss those days, when the only thing I had to worry about was someone else’s stupidity getting me killed instead of being eaten alive by zombies. Now I have to worry about both.

The stairs creaked when I stepped on them. I wanted to take my helmet off to listen better, but it wasn’t worth the risk. I thought I heard a sound.

“What was that?” Jen asked. She must’ve heard it to. “It sounded like laughter.”

“Laughter?” I’m not sure if that’s what it was. Would people really be laughing? Even if all the infected are dead, half of us died too. It’s not a laughing matter at all. If anything, there should be swearing and shouting.

“Listen, there it is again.”

It … really did sound like laughter. Not the joyful kind of laughter, but the deranged kind. It’s hard to describe the difference between the two, but after hearing it, it’s obvious. “Did someone go crazy after the fight?”

“You went crazy during the fight.”

“That’s … okay, maybe a little.” For the sake of the group, I shouldn’t have abandoned the formation to take Jen away. However, if I was put in that situation again, I’d do the same thing in a heartbeat, except I’d bring my shield with me.

Even though it seemed like we finished killing all the infected, I didn’t let my guard down while maneuvering my way through the chief’s building to the exit. It wasn’t very far. There were two bodies lying on the threshold.

“Is that … Michael?”

Michael was the corpse on top. It was easy to tell it was him thanks to his gloves. He always wore a thick, rubbery one since he had to handle corpses as a painter. He said it prevented his hands from smelling like death—which it won’t be doing anymore. Since he’s dead. Shit. I didn’t see Loo. When I got closer to the door, enough to see outside, I saw someone lying to the side with familiar-looking hair streaming out of their helmet. “And there’s Sarah.”

Jen sighed. “And I liked them too. …Hey, if they become infected, and we cure them, what happens? They come back to life, right?”

“I suppose they would, but it won’t be pretty.” The cure’s meant for the living: the elderly and the young and the bitten—at least, for now. Only one infected has been brought back, and she’s not right in the head, clearly missing a lot of screws. I guess that’s the price to pay for coming back to life. Personally, I’d rather be dead.

Before Jen said anything, there was another burst of laughter followed by a high-pitched voice. “You think you can kill me? Even I can’t kill me! Die, demon!”

What kind of lines were those? Demon? “The hell is going on?”

“Are people … fighting each other?” Jen asked, looking over my shoulder.

“Looks like it. How about we go back down and wait it out?”

“Sounds like a plan.”

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Virlyce

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