Being a prison guard is easy. With everyone’s hands and legs tied, I don’t have to worry even if someone turns out to be infected. The hunters coming back from an expedition get special treatment, but their limbs are bound as well. Knowing they’re going to die changes people. Someone you thought you could trust might stab you in the back. But since they’ve risked their lives searching for supplies, the least we can do is be courteous during the waiting period. Unlike the newcomers’ cells, the hunters’ cells are cleaner, and wooden planks are put up on the inside for privacy. The job isn’t difficult, but it’s annoying at times. When someone needs to use the bathroom, either I or Jen have to lead them outside. The previous wardens didn’t give their prisoners that luxury, saying it was a risk. If an infected person decided to say they needed to use the bathroom and bit them while they were still sane, they’d be infected too. And it’s a very real risk; some people have the mentality of crabs in a bucket. They’ll pull people down with them instead of graciously passing on. But sometimes risks are necessary, especially since neither I nor Jen want to clean out shit-filled cells.
But other than watching over people, there’s another unpleasant side to my job. And that’s being an executioner. “Hey, Jen. Go call some witnesses.”
Jen’s voice sounded weary. “Another one?”
“Yeah.” The man in this cell is clearly infected: shivering, sweating, bloodshot eyes. The symptoms aren’t that much different from a fever. I suppose it starts with a fever, that’s the body’s natural response to an infection. It heats itself up, hoping to kill whatever is inside of it. But whatever it is that causes people to turn into zombies, it can’t be killed by a fever. At least, I’ve never seen or heard of anyone recovering after being bitten by an infected. There might be an uninfectable freak of nature out there, killing infected left and right. One can dream, right?
“That’s the fourth one today.” Jen’s footsteps echoed from behind me, going from the end of the prison to the entrance.
“He’s a survivor of The Log Cabin’s too.” The last three people were also survivors of that camp. All of them said they weren’t bitten, just scratched by the wooden spikes that were tied to the infected’s wrists. The wooden spikes must’ve been contaminated with the source of infection. Maybe they were soaked in infected blood beforehand. The person who tied the spikes to the infected clearly wanted to weaponize them and make them more dangerous. Making the spikes cause infections would fit his or her agenda. I’m not sure why anyone would make weaponizing the infected their agenda, but some people just want to watch the world burn.
“Wait, please, no. He’s not infected. You can’t kill him.”
The woman in the cell next to the man was delusional. Or perhaps she was infected as well and was hoping someone would speak up for her when her time came.
“He’s just sick. He always gets like this when the seasons change.”
“Is that so.” Never mind, she’s not delusional. She’s manipulative. He’s probably her husband or affair partner. Love makes people do the craziest things like trying to convince someone white is black. “This is normal for him?”
“Yes, that’s right. Our doctor said it was strange, but that it happened to certain individuals. Something about the changing temperatures and the body needing to adjust.”
“Oh, really. I didn’t know that. Since this is pretty normal for you, you should know how to take care of him, right? Shall I put him into your cell?”
“N-no, that’s a bit—”
“Yeah, okay, I’ve heard enough.”
“Another one, Chris?”
Jen’s back with the witnesses, Sarah and Michael. They’re the easiest ones to ask, since they’re in the building right next door. And they’re already dressed in their hazmat suits, ready to take away the infected person to turn into paint. The witness system is to prevent the wardens from randomly executing people they don’t like. Not like I’d do such a thing, but there are crazy people out there. You don’t survive in a world like this without being slightly damaged in the head.
“Yeah, this man right here.” I gestured towards the shivering man in the cell who was groaning and drooling on the ground, taking labored breaths. The woman in the adjacent cell didn’t say anything.
“He’s infected alright,” Sarah said, coming to my side. She smelled like roadkill. “Are you going to wait for him to get bitey?”
“No, there’s no reason for that.” Accidents happen. He might be a freak who’s able to bite through my shin guards. He might suddenly jump up and bite an unprotected part. There’s no point in waiting to take on bigger risks. Once we’ve confirmed someone’s infected, it’s simply better to end them right away. I think this principle should apply to those who’ve been bitten, but people like hoping for miracles: maybe this ordinary, generic person who’s been bitten won’t transform, maybe their blood is the cure to the infection. They’re delusions, but people need hope to continue living on. And once these delusions pass, we’re left with reality, and I’m the one who has to deal with it.
Jen handed me a spear. It was really just a broken broom handle with the jagged end sharpened into a point. In a fight against an infected, it probably wouldn’t be that useful, but the story’s different when the infected is bound and lying down. I opened the cell door and walked inside, flipping the man from his side onto his back by pushing his shoulder with my foot. He didn’t react, his eyes unfocused. I placed my foot against his chest to keep him steady. “Can you hear me?”
The man’s teeth chattered, his eyes still unfocused. He coughed and gurgled, choking on his drool. I lined up the pointy end of the spear with his right eye. The woman in the adjacent cell had her eyes closed, her body trembling. She was biting on her lower lip. I let out a sigh and plunged down with my weight behind the spear. There was a squelching sound, and the man stopped moving.
“If I ever become infected, I’d want you to be my executioner,” Sarah said, coming into the cell. She stood over the dead man’s head and whistled. “All the other wardens used a bat. Terribly messy.” She crouched down hooked her hands underneath the corpse’s armpits. “Grab his legs, Michael.”
The two painters carried the corpse away. Did they have any more barrels to store him in? Their space was looking pretty limited yesterday, and that was the fourth one today.
“Hey.” Jen closed the cell door behind me once I left. “What do you think about all the talk of a smart infected?”
I shrugged. “The dead are literally coming back to life to eat us. Anything’s possible.”
“That’s a fair point.”
Jen’s a nice person, trying to distract me from the slimy feeling of killing someone with small talk. It doesn’t help a lot, but it helps. But soon, I won’t need it. The more infected people I execute, the less I feel disgusted with myself. Humans are amazing. We can even become desensitized to killing. I wonder if I could ever live a normal life again. I’m not even sure the world will ever return back to normal. Maybe one day, in the far future, some scientist will develop a cure, but for now, the only thing to do is survive.