Cat and Mouse Epilogue
I was shaking when Bill pushed the corpse off of me. It was the first time I'd felt anything close to fear since the construction site incident, and it was more a sense of loss then that. As weird or warped as it may sound, the Hunter had become a constant in my life these past few days, and now not only was he gone, but I could feel the bits of his skull splashed across my face. Charming.
Francis helped me up. "Damn, they ain't tried to jump us when we got to the rescue thing since now, huh? They must be getting stupider!" I was not in the mood for his normally uplifting banter, so I went to inspect the body. Luckily Louis took my place as Francis' audience, allowing me some relatively peaceful catharsis.
It was weird seeing him like this. I knew that just because I had helped him didn't mean he would not attack me again, although I had always hoped it did, I honestly did not expect him to behave the way he had. I had seen a side of him that was still human, and it was painful that the last time I encounter him was when he was filled with that animal bloodlust. I touched the scar on my check: I had hoped our final moments could have been spent as humans, even if we were enemies. But that was unrealistic and slightly creepy, and I should never have allowed myself to hope that in the first place.
In the end, he was a mindless zombie.
"Shame about that," Bill said putting a comforting hand on my shoulder. "wish I hadn't had to do it."
"Why?" I asked sincerely, "He's just a zombie! Just another infected, like the rest of them. Why is killing him a shame?" A week ago, I would never have said that, but things change.
"Bill was unimpressed. "Zoey, I had to kill a lot of people back in the war, and I knew I had to do it to keep myself and my unit alive, but I never enjoyed killing another human being. And if you have taught me anything since we met, it's the crucial difference between zombies and infected that makes this here a human corpse, not an undead one."
His mini speech spoke to a part of myself I had buried so I wouldn't be overcome with grief, but even then it wasn't enough to change my mind. This thing at my feet had tried to kill me, and his final act had proved his death was not a bad thing.
"Thing I like about you, kid, is that you can make that kind of distinction and not lose your damn mind." He let his hand fall from my shoulder. "War changes us all, but you're still the movie loving zombie fangirl you were when we met. And while I admit this boy certainly isn't like you and me, he still was somebody, even after he got infected, there was the odd encounter where his humanity shined through." I looked over at Bill in a bit of shock, wondering if he was secretly a mind reader. "What's great about you is you know that better than any one of us. Right?" He said it in a way that it might as well have been myself asking.
This Hunter… when I thought about it, we were a lot alike. We had both been thrust into abnormal situations, and found ways to rise above them. Sure, he wasn't as lucky as I was, but he had definitely been surviving better then the other people we had encountered. But the more I thought about our similarities, the more our differences stood out, and I felt, well, sad. Bill was right: my ability to recognize their human qualities helped me keep my own, and that was probably my greatest strength, or at least what kept me from becoming a sociopath. But this Hunter could not keep that change at bay (the change war brings) and now he was dead, and the last shred of respect I held for him was gone too. You could almost call it tragic. I certainly did.
My hand went to my cheek again, but I stopped it prematurely. There was a lesson to be found here. This Hunter taught me something. He had taught me how to live on my feet, but he also taught me to never let go of my humanity, no matter the circumstances. His inability to remain human had led to his death, and the loss of the only tie to it he had left: me.
"Well fuck that!" I had found a new conviction. I was going to live dam it, that sure hasn't changed, but I was gonna live the best way I possibly could. As myself. I knelt down, took his claw in my hand, and cut my palm with it. One last drop of blood for our animal sides, so we could be fully human wherever it was we were headed. I would never forget him, even if it was in a way I never would have expected.
"Uh, Zoey? You OK, girl?" When I turned around I saw the boys staring at me, and I felt myself blush.
"I'm fine. I was just… thinking about how cute this Hunter might have looked before he got infected." I teased.
"Yuck!" Francis was clearly disgusted. "Ain't that like necrohumping?"
"Hey, I can sympathize. Even an infected would look better than you Francis!"
And just like that, we were all joking around again, ready for whatever life wanted to throw at us. Bill gave me one last worried look of course, but I gave him one back tat said everything was going to be OK. I touched the scar on my cheek one last time.
Yeah, everything was going to be OK.
End of Story