Last chapter... Thanks for the reviews, of which there are quite a few for a story that hasn't had much traffic. I have mixed songs with my fan fiction, esp. "Zombieland", and I finally thought of a song for this story as I drafted this. Check chapters 1 and 6 for others.
I've been broken now, I've been saved
I've learned to cry, and I've learned how to pray
And I'm learning, learning even I can be changed.
Sybill leaned against the car, her mask finally lowered to show her face: She was old but not elderly, in the dusk between late 40s and early 60s, and had clearly been beautiful before the lesions. Austin knelt beside her, and as he looked on her it seemed to him she was beautiful for him. A light drizzle of rain mixed with her blood and his tears. "You understand now... one of you understands," she said. "We could have hunted you as we hunt the zombies, killed you before you tried to kill us... Some of us would have... But we stopped them. I taught them, not to fight you unless attacked, if even then... To hunt those who hunt you, feed on what you cannot... Ours is not to rule the Earth... only to clean up the mess."
"I promise," Austin said, "I'll always remember you. And I'll change."
"No," she whispered, "no, you won't." As tears welled in his eyes, and he tried to stammer a reply, she smiled and continued, "Sometimes you will remember, sometimes you will forget, and you will regret, but you will not change... not yet, and not for me. You cannot do that now, any more than a flower can bloom in the snow. But you will meet another, and if you think I am beautiful, she will shine in your eyes like the sun. For her, you will be all that you are, and become all you can be. Then some day, soon I think, you will grow enough to know that what you wish had been different could have been no other way. And if you grow enough, and I think you will, you will learn a harder lesson, but the one which will set you free: That what you will learn, those you love always knew, and those you wish you could ask for forgiveness, already gave it. When that day comes... then remember me." She smiled again, and was still smiling as the bleeding of wounds stopped with the beating of her heart.
Then, without his knowing when or from where they had come, the two lepers with rifles were standing over him, almost eldritch in the mist-like rain. They lifted Sybil, and before they disappeared as unaccountably as they had come, one paused long enough to lay at his feet a necklace with the symbol of the lepers, a heart cleft almost in two. The heart was ruby, and the chain, as far as Austin could tell, was pure gold.
And everybody used to tell me big boys don't cry
Well I've been around enough to know that that was the lie
That held back the tears in the eyes of a thousand prodigal sons
It was raining harder as he drove the Humvee beyond the city limits. His mood wavered between profound grief, anxiety and a sort of indignation. He would head for the Dallas area, perhaps Garland. Then he would resupply before going north. If Ohio was secure, he could still go home. He could still see his parents again, at least once. He could still... do something different. His hopes and fears were interrupted as the engine sputtered and died. Before stepping out into the now-pouring rain, he penciled in his notebook:
Rule 29: Don't drive a car without checking the fuel gauge.
Another 15 miles down the road, he added:
Rule 30: Also check the tires.
And our Father still waits and He watches down the road
To see the crying boys come running back to His arms
And be growing young