The long line into the cafeteria was moving extremely slow tonight. And I was getting worried that Spencer's spastic shivers were going to draw some much unwanted attention to his situation. He was limply holding on to my right hand, and I was doing what I could to silently comfort him...but as he pressed his boyish face up against the meat of my arm, I have to admit to being a little nervous about having him so close. I mean, not even the soldiers and doctors really know how this thing works exactly. Who's susceptible to the zombie virus and who's not. Or if it even is a virus. And they don't know which kids might be prime targets for turning into one of those things out there and which ones aren't. If what they were saying is anywhere near being true...we may not be able to trust half the people in this place. Hell, I don't even know if I can trust myself at this point!
And if Spencer were to suddenly grip my hand tighter and turn his head to take a giant chunk out of my arm right now...there really wouldn't be much that I could do about it.
Step by step, we got closer to getting ourselves a tray. I kept thinking that maybe things would be better if I could just get him something to eat and maybe lay him back down to sleep again. Maybe he was just...having an 'episode', you know?
Oh God, I hope Cain doesn't find out about this! I'm not saying that my big brother is heartless...but he has a very easygoing time of making a decision when it comes to a question like, 'it's either you...or me.' He'd throw Spencer to the wolves in a heartbeat if he felt it was in our best interest...proof or no proof. Let's hope it never comes to that.
"Alright, we've got cover for you positioned on the roof..." Said the officer from before, re-entering the hallway as more soldiers came quickly parading past us. "...Seargent Brower was very specific in his orders, so commit this to memory." Three or four soldiers stopped to hear him out and receive their official orders. "We want arms guarding the South entrance, you'll have heavy support from elevated positions on the roof. You clear as many of those things as you possibly can to provide them safe entry, but remember to conserve your ammo. Until we're able to go out on a scavenger hunt for more, we're dealing with borrowed stock."
"So...we're letting them in? All of them?" Another soldier asked.
"We're going to get them inside the gate for protection...but ONLY inside the gate!" He said. "You stop those trucks and trailers as soon as we can close off the perimeter. Stay vigilant. Anybody tries to get any further inside? You light 'em up. Make sure they know that before they try anything funny." He turned to one of the others and added, "Sarge says he wants a small team to set up a fully functional triage in the high school parking lot for anyone who might be wounded. Grab doctors and nurses that are alert! Preferably ones than have only been working for six hours or less today. We need them to be thorough. No mistakes." And then...with a grim tone of voice, he looked each and every one of them in the eye...and he said, "If we have anyone who's been bitten...anyone in the process of turning...someone's mother, someone's father, son, daughter, husband, wife...you know what to do. Are we clear?"
"Yes, Sir..." They said quietly in response.
"There are no second chances in here, ladies and gentlemen. You see a hostile? You put them down. Hard. No questions. We can't afford to have any bleeding hearts for the infected. Not now. not here. You make sure you do what needs to be done, and be quick about it. Their friends and family can cry later..."
The absolute horror of that command hadn't fully taken a hold of me before Spencer began to cough again. Violently, this time. Almost to the point of gagging on his own mucous, and clutching onto my arm with a death grip that nearly cut off my blood circulation. I looked up, and felt an icy grip of fear take me over as the officer and the other soldiers turned to see what the disturbance was.
I tried to get Spencer to let go of me, and pried my arm away from him to lightly pat him on the back and put a fake smirk on my face as I tried to keep my voice from trembling. "You ok, dude? You didn't swallow that whole Jolly Rancher candy, did ya? I told you, you've got to slow down with that stuff...heh..."
Had I been Spencer's dad, I could have had some level of confidence in my ability to protect him if they decided to come over and question us about what was wrong with him. But, I didn't have any power at all in this place. None. If they got too suspicious, they might lock both me and Spencer up in the basement with some of the other kids that I haven't seen walking around here lately.
I made the mistake of peeking up at the soldiers again, and they were staring right back at me. Shit! Shit, shit, shit!
Thinking as quickly as I could, I patted Spencer on the back again, and I stepped out of the dinner line, pulling him with me. "C'mon, bud. Let's get you some water to help wash that down. K?" We would have to walk right past them in the hallway, which made me extremely tense...but at least I thought not to glance up into their eyes a second time to give myself away. "There's a water fountain right at the end of the next hall. I'll show you." And as we squeezed our way by them, I fought valiantly to resist the urge to look back over my shoulder to see if they were watching us. Or even worse...following us.
Luckily, I seemed to have dodged a bullet with that one.
"I need my dad..." Spencer whimpered softly, coughing again.
"It's ok. We're gonna find him and make sure that he knows your alright. K? Just...try to stay...'healthy', or whatever for now." I don't know if I was comfortable watching him anymore. I really didn't. The more he shakes and shivers at my side...the more worried I become.
We walked to the end of the hall and turned the corner to get out of the soldiers' sight, and that's when I noticed a bit of commotion coming from further away. People congregating, talking, some complaining, some crying. And then there were others who were just crowding around to see what was going on.
As Spencer and I headed towards the ruckus, I could hear military personnel shouting, "Ok, we need EVERYBODY to take a few steps back! Press your shoulders up against the lockers and make room! Let us do our job!" I peeked around the corner, and I could see all of the double side doors by the gym on the South end of the school standing wide open. They must have been working pretty fast, because it seemed as if they were unloading the 18-wheeler truck and the accompanying trailers at record speeds. There was a lot of communication going on outside. Where did they come from? How did they get here? Who told them about this shelter? Has anybody been hurt? Has anybody been bitten? Were there more of them? It nearly made me dizzy to try to listen to all of them, barking questions at the new arrivals all at once...much less trying to take time to hear the answers. But after we were close enough to get a hint of what was really going on here...I happened to take notice of a familiar sight, just on the other side of the hallway.
The playful bounce and flutter of a mop of dark brown hair as little Preston tried to jump up as high as he could to see over everybody else's shoulders in the crowd. It was then that I noticed the rest of my 'shelter family' standing nearby. Even Donovan had reappeared to see what was going on. Alex was craning his neck to see if he could possibly recognize any of the faces of the people who were being released and allowed to come inside for a full exam by our doctors in the lab, and Walker seemed to be simply leaning against the wall with his head down...sulking in silence as he seemed to be struggling to make sense of the world, and possibly reality itself, all over again from scratch.
I moved closer to them, but also wanted to make sure that I was keeping a close eye on Spencer at the same time. I couldn't afford for us to get separated, not even for a minute. I can't say that I have any kind of 'plan' as to what to do with him just yet...but it doesn't involve him getting a friggin' bullet in the head just for being a little sick, that's for sure.
I don't know...maybe his dad, Officer Logan, will know what to do...if I can find him before he goes out on his supply run into the city.
We had to do a little pushing to get over to the lockers on the opposite side of the hallway, and once Alex turned his head to see my face...he smiled...and everything seemed right with the world again.
Ugh! My brain just won't let me believe that I was just passionately kissing those deep pink lips of his just a little while ago!
"Hey..." I smiled, blushing slightly.
"Hey, back at ya..." Alex gave me a sexy grin of his own, and we stared into each other's eyes for an extended moment before I felt Preston frantically tapping me on the shoulder.
"They found some more people that didn't get chewed up! Look!" He squeaked.
We were all sort of interested as they came wandering in, each one being escorted by a soldier to head straight to the infirmary. These weren't military rescues at all. It was more like...just everyday citizens that wanted to do something good for somebody else, and help out in a time of crisis. There's something really noble about that, in my opinion.
However...as I saw Alex standing on his tiptoes and examining the faces of every single person that walked by us, I could tell that he was still desperately hoping that his parents would be among the refugees that were saved from such a deadly and chaotic situation. Praying that he could actually witness them walking through those open doors so he could put his most potent fears to rest.
I know how he feels. I mean, I've been trying my hardest to postpone the agony of possibly losing my parents to this deadly apocalypse...distraction and denial being my only weapons against the onset of panic and full blown hysteria...but every time I see Alex worried about his family...I start to worry about my own. And I don't like that feeling. I'd much rather focus on maintaining a sense of hope within me. My parents are ok. We're all ok. And soon...my mom and dad are going to walk through those open doors the same way Cain and his friend Jamie did when they were rescued by the troops in this facility. I have faith in the idea that this group of new refugees will be safe, and I have faith that Spencer will get over his current illness and turn out to be alright in the end. There's nothing wrong with having faith, right? Even in a nasty situation like this one...
...Where the odds are definitely not in our favor.
"Coming through. Coming through. Give us some room..." Said a few medics, wheeling someone down the middle of the hall on a stretcher to take them to the infirmary. We all had to step aside, but...when I looked up, I saw a look come over Donovan's face that I had never seen before. It almost...wow...it almost looked like he was happy for once.
Did he recognize the older guy on the stretcher? Or did he...? Wait...
As he turned his head forward, Donovan caught sight of another boy with matted down, blond hair...a bit disheveled and looking as though he had to go through hell to make it here. His clothes were ripped, and his face was covered in dirt and dust...but Donovan stepped forward as though he didn't even notice. And with a strained voice, Donovan quietly said, "Stephen?"
The boy glanced up at him with sad eyes for a moment, seeming to follow the guy on the stretcher, which I was assuming was his father or a close relative.
Donovan stepped further forward and said, "Stephen...holy shit! You're ok?" He reached out to hug the younger boy around the shoulders, but despite his obvious familiarity with who Donovan was...he seemed to almost cringe from his touch. He looked up at him, and it almost seemed as if he was about to cry. "What happened to you? Is your dad ok? I drove by your house to look for you, but..."
A tear slid out of Stephen's left eye, and with a sniffle, he just said, "I have to go. I need...I need to go..." And he wormed his way out of Donovan's embrace...almost with a sense of resentment as he followed his father to the infirmary. And, I guess, there was nothing else to be said concerning the two of them meeting up for the first time since all of this madness happened.
I mean, I understand how traumatic this whole zombie thing can be...but I couldn't help but to wonder if there was more to this nightmarish fairy tale than meets the eye. Because the only thing that seemed more painful than the look in that boy, 'Stephen's', gaze...was the look in Donovan's eyes as he was forced to watch him walk away. There was definitely something going on there, you know?
It's weird. I don't think I've seen any visible emotions from Donovan at all outside of annoyance and indifference. Was this the same 'Stephen' that he was looking for in the staircase that one night? Are they related? They don't look related. I don't know. I just found the whole thing kind of odd.
As more people were checked out, released, and being brought into the shelter with the rest of us, I felt the hallway getting a bit more crowded. Uncomfortably so. I mean...how many people can we actually fit into this confined space? Granted, my high school is pretty damn big...but that doesn't make our space a limitless commodity at times like this. And we've still got two MORE caravans on their way? How many people are they going to bring with them?
Am I starting to get as paranoid about the people surrounding me as the soldiers are? I don't want to be afraid of everybody that I come into contact with. I don't want to suspect every person that I pass in the hallway of being a potential 'threat' to my personal safety. Ugh...I almost wish that I had never heard the soldiers talking about us kids at all.
I guess it's too late to take it back now, isn't it?
Spencer got really wobbly in the knees all of a sudden, and as I felt more of his fragile weight leaning against me, I tried to maneuver him over towards the lockers and let him slide down to sit on the floor...both of his elbows resting on his raised knees as he put his head down and closed his eyes for a bit. He was just...so...soooo...tired.
I saw Preston keeping his distance from him, and he eventually squirmed his way around me to stand closer to Alex and Donovan, hoping to keep Spencer as far away from him as possible. The look in his eyes was unmistakable. He was seriously afraid of that boy. It was like he had seen this kind of thing before, and he knew the signs. How long will it be before I take his silent warnings to heart?
"Walker?" Came a voice from one of the other refugees that were being ushered briskly through the crowd of onlookers. "WALKER!!!"
I don't think he had any investment, whatsoever, in the new rescues entering the shelter at first, but when he heard his name, he finally looked up from his moody and sullen position, and I saw his eyes open wide as he gasped out loud. "EDDIE!!!" Walker practically leapt forward and crushed the other boy with a tight hug around his neck that would have shattered his verterbrae if the other boy wasn't hugging him just as tightly around his waist. "Oh GOD!!! I thought you were dead!!! I thought...I thought....Oh God!!!" Walker whimpered, weeping openly on Eddie's shoulder.
"Me too!" Eddie said! "I didn't know what to do! I was locked in the bedroom, and I couldn't get out to see if you were ok! They just kept pounding on the door, and I was so scared!" He began to cry just as hard as Walker was, both of them refusing to let the other one go, even when the medics tried to get him to move along. "So...you came here? To the high school?"
"Some soldier guys came to find me after a long time. I was down in your basement, hiding out. I think. I didn't know what else to do. I was too scared to go outside again." Walker sniffled. Then he hugged him tight again, sooooo overjoyed that his best friend had actually survived one of the worst tragedies to ever plague human kind in general. I was kind of touched to see them reunite in such an emotional way. Something about it just seemed to remind me of how severe and how devastating this zombie virus really was for the people who were directly affected by it. It brought the horror of it all back to the forefront...and reminded me of what it would be like to truly lose the people you care the most about...
It was at that point that I noticed the crowd around us thinning out a bit. A majority of the folks from the 18-wheeler truck and the ones from the trailers that were right behind them, had either entered the high school shelter, or they were being inspected and treated for injuries in the makeshift triage just outside of these doors. There were a lot of hopeful victims that stood there for as long as they could, but eventually...that promising, optimistic, light in their eyes began to dim. Shoulders began to slump forward. And they began to slowly wander away from those open doors as they realized that the wait for any news, whether good news or bad news, was going to continue. At least for another few hours. And so the emotional torture goes on.
One of those tormented souls...being Alex. He looked so hurt. So...lost. I never wanted to hold him close more than I did at that very moment. But I also knew how ineffectual my display of affection would be in taking his mind off of the well being of his parents being violently ripped apart by the pandemonium taking over the streets right now. What good could my love do for him at a time like this?
With both Walker and Eddie crying at their surprise reunion, two of the soldiers had to tell Eddie to move along and make way for the last few refugees that were coming in. But they held on to one another for just a few seconds longer. "I have to go get checked out, dude. That's what they tell me anyway. But DON'T go anywhere! K? I'll come look for you!"
Walker sobbed, "I won't. I promise." And just as they started to push Eddie further down the hall, Walker called out to him. "Hey, Eddie! 31-30! Lucky number!" He smiled with tears in his eyes.
"Double threes! I told ya!" He grinned in return, and then was shuffled off for further examination. At least a few of us are getting the kinds of reunions that we were looking for.
Donovan, looking a bit sad and grumpy, bumped my shoulder as he walked past me and just stomped his way back down the hallway all by himself. There was no point in following him. He'd bite all of our heads off if we even attempted to make him feel better at this point.
Instead, I just moved over to Alex, and I stood behind him, wrapping my arms around his shoulders from behind. I didn't care who saw us or who was watching. I just...I needed to console him, and maybe alleviate some of his pain, if only for a little while.
Alex trembled for a moment, but eventually relaxed and just gave me a kiss on the back of my hand, allowing my embrace to swallow him up with all the love and support that I had to give him at that moment.
Maybe it'll help to restore some of his faith in the idea that things still have a chance at turning out ok...or maybe it will help him to blanket himself in the denial that's keeping us all from completely going insane in this fucked up world...
Either way...if Alex needed my love, he could have it. All of it.
Because, if things turn out for the worst...it may be all either one of us have left.