Time passes slowly when you’re half-buried, surrounded by zombies you can’t see. But surprisingly, you get used to it. Tam watched the sun rise. The long grass around her swayed and swished. She’d never stopped and paid attention to it before. It even seemed to calm Zelinski’s spirits. Her mind was constantly invaded by images of Caleb covered in blood; living dead violation; fire and smoke; pain, grief. But the images were brushed away by the gentle sweeping action of the grass.
She knew what she was going to do. If there was any life for her Varsity, it would have to be built up again from scratch. She was up to the task. It was better than trying to salvage the pieces of her old life. It meant that she would be acting on faith, and fate.
She had no watch, and if Zelinski did it was buried in the ground. But the sun hadn’t moved much when Miller came back. He didn’t attempt to be silent. As he spoke, gunshots pierced the air like fireworks. Giulianova was shooting every Wreck he could see. Miller told her it had been two hours. It felt like ten.
Tam pulled here feet from the earth. She didn’t know whether anything had happened. A miracle, maybe, like the holy communion turning into Christ’s body. They returned to the Humvee. Miller looked taller.
“I’m going home,” said Tam.
“No problem,” said Miller. “After we get you tested again at Charlie Echo. I don’t know what I was thinking back there. I’m going to kick some this time.”
“Fine,” said Tam. “Take Zelinski. But not me.” Miller started to argue. She pitied him. He was like a big brother. “I know you think I’m insane,” Tam interrupted. “But I’m done with running around in circles. I was only doing that because of Caleb. Now… I’m taking a leap of faith. If I live, I live. If I’m still Infected, so be it. I’ll kill myself before I turn.”
“You’re not being reasonable,” Miller said. Giulianova was staring down at them from on top of the Humvee like a statue in a mythical city.
Tam looked at Zelinski, who stood watching them like a rescued dog. “He’s the one who needs help,” said Tam. Miller sighed. He turned away from her. Tam looked into the field. There were some patches of flattened grass but the corpses were hidden. How quickly all of this came to seem normal.
Miller turned back. “I’ve gotta take you home anyway,” he said. “You could get killed.” Tam smiled. There was no point discussing the wrongness of that.
Giulianova called down, “I think it’s on the way, boss, more or less,” he said. “Slight detour but there’s a better route to Charlie Echo from here than to go through Rounlin anyways.” The Corporal’s sense of direction was his superpower.
So, brought her home. She averted her eyes as they drove through Varsity. All that devastation hurt her. “Give me your number,” said Miller. “When we get a result from Zelinski’s second test, we’ll let you know.” Tam gave him her house number. Her cellphone was long since lost.
Nobody spoke for a while, Tam looked at her hands and listened to the dinosaur grumble of the Humvee’s engine. “You know,” said Miller, “You’re a real trooper. I mean that.”
Tam was embarrassed. “What about him?” she said, pointing at Zelinski. Miller squirmed. “He’s got a journey,” he said.
There was little activity around Tam’s apartment building. But as they stepped out, one of her neighbours looked down from her window. She waved. Tam’s heart rose a little. A symbol of everyday life.
“Okay, I’ll hear from you soon,” Tam said To Miller. He grabbed her arm and gave it a quick squeeze, then properly let go. Giulianova winked. Zelinski hadn’t got out to say goodbye. She tried to imagine that she would meet him again. That he would be better.
She didn’t look back at the sound of the Humvee roaring down the street. She went to her apartment and soaked her feet for a while. Threw some disinfectant in there. Thought about what she was doing. She couldn’t find answers. But the decision she had made was the answer.
She rebandaged her feet from a first-ait kit in the kitchen that was like a toy. Then she found herself in the living room, staring towards the window. She didn’t know how long she had been there. What to do now? Live, maybe.
Tam went downstairs and knocked on her neighbour’s door. Her name was Nina. She was an intern studying to be a nurse. She cracked the door. When she saw Tam she smiled and then started crying. Tam didn’t cry, but she knew where it was coming from. Nina would have her own story to tell.
Tam spoke to Nina for hours. The answering machine would get the message from Miller.