I awoke to find myself tucked into the arm chair, underneath a warm cotton blanket. Groggy eyed, I turned to find my shotgun as was instinct. My eyes scanned across the room to find 4 AM lying on the carpet floor playing with a train set we’d found the day before. The engine occasionally let out a puff of steam, which brought 4 AM unbridled joy. Her eyes lit up like a Christmas tree everytime steam gushed out of the engine’s nozzle. To me, it was one of life’s cruelest tricks. Stuck in a loop infinitely, with the only escape being death. But then again, I’m not the most optimistic person you’d ever meet.
I stumbled my way out of the armchair, grimacing as searing hot pain shot up my thigh. The virus flowing through my system was getting stronger. I knew it was just a matter of days before I had to report to the squad. It’d be quick and painless, they’d promised.
Could’ve been a lot worse if it weren’t for 4 AM.
She’d sat by me these past nights when the pain threatened to swallow me whole. She’d occasionally chide me and tell me to stop acting like a little girl whilst she wrapped a wet towel across my forehead. She had a wonderful collection of Classical music and spent countless hours educating me on the Nocturnes of Chopin as well as Beethoven’s Sonatas. I sat listening with rapt attention, flashing my rather terrible grin once in a while.
Two nights ago a group of Them tried sneaking up the stairs. 4AM shook me awake, thrust a gun into my hands and yanked me off the chair. I stumbled to my feet, felt the pain shoot up my thigh, fell and managed to get myself back on my feet with a feeble, “I’m okay.”
I cocked the gun and hobbled through the door, with 4 AM in my wake. No sooner had I reached the door that the pain returned with a vengeance. I collapsed yet again, (“You’re my fall guy.”, 4 AM used to joke.) and got to my feet again. But this time 4 AM grabbed me by the scruff of my neck and flung me into the armchair. She darted towards me and in one swift movement, kicked the chair into the path of the door, with a slightly bemused me in tow.
“Oh ,wait wait!”, She squealed as she ran back into the darkness. For a moment, things went eerily silent. And then out of the darkness, a faint sound of a piano could be heard. It didn’t take me long enough to recognize the tune of Chopin’s Op. 9, No. 2 in E-flat major. 4 AM scampered back, with a gleeful expression on her face. She cocked her gun, gave me a smile that could melt the heart of even one of Them (Like that zombie movie that came out a few years ago but was total crap.) and said, “I’ve always wanted to do this.”
She then proceeded to kick the door open and all hell broke loose.
The eerie silence returned but it didn’t linger for long. The raspy breath of Them cut through the dark like a knife and soon enough a rotting hand appeared. 4 AM looked at me, grinned and fired.
Everything slowed down instantly. The sound of the gun leaving the barrel interwoven with the music brought about by Chopin’s hands flowing across the piano coalesced into this beautiful medley as more and more of Them continued to be gunned down. 4 AM, had this manic look about her as she continued to fire at the incoming horde. I emptied a cartridge and swiftly reached for the one taped to the underside of the armchair, reloaded and let spray once more, with a sly grin slowly creeping across my face. We were enjoying this, tapping into the dark side of our nature. This is what we’d become.
It seemed like eons before the last one fell to the floor in a heap. 4 AM walked over to it, pulled out her gun and blew it’s head into a million little pieces. She then walked over to me, out of breath and brought her face dangerously close to mine till the bridges of our noses were brushing against each other.
“Feel that?, she panted. “That’s the adrenaline kicking in.”
I looked at her, shrugged my shoulders and smiled.
4 AM and I cleaned the place up the following morning. Once we were done, no one in the world would’ve believed that a massacre had taken place at the very spot, the night before. In the meantime, 4 AM had made herself at home. I usually hate people intruding on my privacy but I had to admit that that girl brought me joy in a world so wrought with bleakness. So I didn’t say much.
4 AM made herself a little hammock to cozy into on the sides of the broken wall. I’d often find her snuggled up with a book in hand. I’d find myself watching her flip through the pages as the afternoon flew by. For the first time in a long time, I really cared about someone. It was perfect. The only thing standing in our way was my impending doom. And it was getting worse. I could feel my legs slowly losing their strength. The veins in my arm had gone from bottle green to purple. My vision was getting blurry, but yet I did not tell 4 AM about it. I was starting to fall for this girl but I could never truly tell her how I felt because of what I was becoming. It was a fate worse than death in some ways. So I kept my mouth shut and continued to function as normally as I could.
A few hours ago, I went out with the patrol to retrieve any survivors. My city, lay in ruin. The bodies of people and dogs lay strewn across the streets. The silence was deafening. It should’ve made me sad, but I was at a point where things couldn’t really get any worse.
We brought in three new people that day. One had seen his family be consumed by the virus and had to hack them to pieces. His eyes bore the look of a man who had lost everything. The other two were twins, a little slow in the head collectively, but quick on their feet. The broken guy was given a gun, which he accepted without saying a word. The twins were made scouts and also had to perform double shifts as part of perimeter duty. I spent the day, orienting them with the routine, teaching them how to shoot a gun and on how to work a dagger. Soon enough, they were darting across the center circle with cat like reflexes dodging and thrusting. Watching them, I couldn’t help but smile.
It was a quarter to nine by the time I found myself climbing up the stairs. The pain came at me again, but I soldiered on. On getting to the top, I found the door slightly ajar. On instinct, I cocked my gun and slowly made my way into the room with a torch in hand. I focused the light around the room and then slowly brought it towards 4 AM’s crack in the wall. The hammock had disappeared as had all her stuff. She was gone.