He kneels in front of her, and though I hear his voice, I can’t make out the words.
The woman with the assault rifle covers me and Amanda.
Across the street, I see firelight flickering through a window as one of our neighbors looks down on whatever is unfolding in front of my house.
The driver returns.
He says, “Look, the CDC camps are at capacity. Have been for two weeks. And it wouldn’t matter if you got her into one anyway. Once the eyes hemorrhage, the end is very close. I don’t know about you, but I’d rather pass in my own bed than a cot in a FEMA tent filled with dead and dying people.” He looks over his shoulder. “Nadia, would you grab this gentleman some auto-injectors? And a mask while you’re at it.”
She says, “Mike.”
“Just fucking do it.”
Nadia goes to the back of the Humvee and opens the cargo doors.
“So she’s going to die?”
“I’d be surprised if she makes it to the morning.”
Daniela groans in the darkness behind me.
Nadia returns, slaps five auto-injectors into my hand along with a face mask.
The driver says, “Wear the mask at all times, and I know it’s hard, but try not to touch her.”
“What is this stuff?” I ask.
“Morphine. If you give her all five at once, she’ll slip away. I wouldn’t wait. The last eight hours are ugly.”
“She has no chance?”
“Where’s the cure?”
“There won’t be one in time to save the city.”
“They’re just letting people die in their homes?”
He studies me through his mask.
The face shield is tinted.
I can’t even see his eyes.
“If you try to leave and hit the wrong roadblock, they’ll kill you. Especially after dark.”
He turns away.
I watch as they climb back into the Humvee, fire up the engine, and drive off down the block.
The sun has gone below the horizon.
The street is getting dark.
Amanda says, “We should go right now.”
“Just give me a second.”
“That’s my wife up there.”
“No, it’s a version of your wife, and if you catch whatever she has you’ll never see your real wife again.”
I strap on the mask and climb the steps to the front porch.
Daniela looks up as I approach.
Her ruined face breaks me.
She’s vomited blood and black bile all over herself.
“They won’t take me?” she asks.
I shake my head.
I want to hold her and comfort her.
I want to run away from her.
“It’s okay,” she says. “You don’t have to pretend it’s going to be all right. I’m ready.”
“They gave me these,” I say, setting the auto-injectors down.
“What are they?”
“A way to make it end.”
“I watched you die in our bed,” she says. “I watched my son die in his. I don’t ever want to go back in that house. Of all the ways I thought my life would go, I never imagined this.”
“This isn’t how your life turned out. Only how it ended. Your life was beautiful.”
The candle falls out of her hand and extinguishes on the concrete, the wick smoking.
I say, “If I give you all of these at once, this can be over. Is that what you want?”
She nods, tears and blood running down her cheeks.
I pull a purple cap off one of the auto-injectors, hold the end against her thigh, and press the button on the opposite end.
Daniela barely even flinches as the spring-loaded syringe fires a dose of morphine into her system.
I set up the next four and administer them all in quick succession.
The effect is nearly instantaneous.
She falls back against the wrought-iron railing, and her black eyes glass over as the drug takes hold.
“Better?” I ask.
She almost smiles, then says, her words thickening, “I know I’m just hallucinating this, but you’re my angel. You came back to me. I was so afraid to die alone in that house.”
The dusk deepens.
The first stars appear in the eerily black skies above Chicago.
“I’m so…light-headed,” she says.
I think of all the evenings we’ve sat on this porch. Drinking. Laughing. Bullshitting with the neighbors passing by as the streetlamps up and down the block winked on.
In this moment, my world seems so safe and perfect. I see now—I took all that comfort for granted. It was so good, and there were so many ways it could’ve all gone to pieces.
Daniela says, “I wish you could touch me, Jason.”
Her voice has become hoarse and brittle, little more than a whisper.
Her eyes close.
Each cycle of her respiration becomes longer by a second or two.
Until she stops breathing altogether.
I don’t want to leave her out here, but I know I shouldn’t touch her.
Rising, I move to the door and step inside. The house is silent and dark, and the presence of death clings to my skin.
I pass the candlelit walls of the dining room, move through the kitchen, and into the study. The hardwood floor creaks under my footsteps—the only sound in the house.
At the foot of the stairs, I stop and stare up into the darkness of the second floor, where my son lies rotting in his bed.
I feel the pull to go up there like the irresistible gravity of a black hole.
But I resist.
I grab the blanket draped over the couch, take it outside, and cover Daniela’s body.
Then I close the door to my house and walk down the steps and away from the horror.
I get in the car, start the engine.
Look over at Amanda.
“Thanks for not leaving me.”
“I should have.”
I drive away.
Some parts of the city have power.
Some are in the black.
My eyes keep welling up.
I can hardly see to drive.
Amanda says, “Jason, this isn’t your world. That wasn’t your wife. You can still go home and find them.”
Intellectually, I know she’s right, but emotionally, that just ripped my guts out.