And hope has fled.
Steel your heart
The dawn will come.
– “The Dawn Will Come”, Dragon Age Inquisition
The corpse of Mrs Petersen lay between them. Katie on one side, leaning against Lindsay’s bedside; Mr Petersen and his son, Jon, on the other. Mr Petersen’s eyes were closed, his head leaning back, his hands folded in his lap. Jon lay on his side, his eyes open and staring at his mother. Both lay against the supply closet wall. No one had spoken since it happened.
Katie didn’t want to talk. She didn’t even want to look at the corpse, its husband or its son. It. Katie made herself think of Mrs Petersen’s dead body as an ‘it.’ Somehow that made it okay. She was Infected. Like Samantha and Tom. No, don’t think about them, she thought, shutting her eyes tight. That was worse. When she shut her eyes, she saw them as they were when they were alive. Then she’d see them dead in the forest or on the steps.
She shook all over for the hundredth time and felt like crying, but no tears came. Sobs rumbled up from her gut but came only as dry, heavy coughs in her chest. They hurt.
Katie snapped her eyes open and looked over at Jon, but his eyes were still glassy, still fixed on his dead mother. Again, she heard his voice but his lips never moved. Instead, they echoed in her mind over and over. Accusing. She wanted to shut them out, shut them up, but they wouldn’t.
Her dad never told her about this part. The guilt, the regret, the pain that came with knowing you killed someone even if you had to. Mrs Petersen had smiled at her with relief not hours ago. Mr Petersen helped Lindsay when Jon accidentally shot her. They were survivors too. They’d come all the way here, only for her to die. What could she do now? What could any of them do now?
Jon began to cough. Katie looked over at him, her gaze sluggish to focus. Mr Petersen had his son in his arms, the boy’s head in his lap. Jon was shivering and his lips were flecked with red spittle. Mr Petersen rubbed his Jon’s back, though his eyes barely looked at him. They were open but stared blankly at the floor. He looked resigned.
At first, she didn’t understand. The reality of it refused to come together, the horror too great. Jon was infected, his mother having wounded him. Katie didn’t need to see the bite marks to know that. The blood on his lips were telling enough. Sweat beaded on his forehead even though the bunker was cool enough to need a sweater.
“You said… you said that you had medicine?” Mr Petersen said, finally turning his gaze on Katie. She held her breath, finding the idea of speaking to him impossible. She thought, in that strange way you think when the world is too impossible to believe, that he might forget about her if she just stayed quiet. He didn’t.
“Please?” he said, his voice hitching at the end. Tears were in his eyes now.
Katie got to her feet, slowly, but she stood. With careful, wary steps, she made her way past Mrs Petersen’s body and to the supply closet door. Mr Petersen had to move Jon out of the way. He cradled his son in his lap. Jon looked so small there, just a boy. Just like she was just a girl.
It was in that moment, that fleeting lapse of time as she turned from them to the door, that she realized she would never be the same. How could she go back? Go back home to that huge apartment with her mother and their dinner guests after all this? After she’d seen corpses rise. After she’d shot someone in the head. Killed them.
Ignoring the mental voice, she went into the closet and found the antibiotics. The documents she’d read said it wouldn’t cure anything but it might prolong it. Somehow telling him that felt impossible, merely conjuring the words exhausted her to stumbling. She reached a hand out and caught the doorway, her vision blurring for a moment. How long had it been since she slept? Was it simply that taxing of a day?
A strong hand gripped her arm. Instantly, she was awake and wrenched her arm free, wheeling back to find a weapon. Instead, she tripped and fell, the bottle of pills clattering to the ground and rolling beneath a shelving unit. Scrambling backward, she reached beneath the unit, her hand finding the pistol stored there. Her fingers closed over the grip.
“Katie, it’s just me, Patrick,” Mr Petersen said and Katie looked up to see it was, indeed, him standing in the door. He held his hands up, palms out toward her. “You were falling over. I just tried to steady you.”
Katie let her hand fall away from the weapon and found the bottle of pills instead. She drew it out and got to her knees, then her feet, and handed them to him. When he took them, he smiled faintly at her, then looked back towards his son.
“These… won’t cure him, will they?”
She couldn’t meet his eyes. Everything felt like it was melting inside of her, drowning her in helplessness and uselessness. She shook her head.
“I didn’t think so,” he said, looking around the supply room. “Your father was pretty well supplied, wasn’t he?”
“Yeah,” Katie said and wished he’d go back into the other room. She didn’t like being in the supply closet. It was dark and cold and she always felt a little trapped.
“It’s like he knew something like this might happen.”
Katie froze. There was an edge in Mr Petersen’s voice that was never there before. It was very faint, well covered up, but there. He was angry. Very angry.
Could she lie to this man who had lost his wife and soon his son, too? Her dad lied to her too. She should just tell him and they could both feel betrayed. Yet, something held her back and kept her words in her throat. Her gaze stayed on the floor and she pushed past him.
This time, his grip on her arm was hard and fierce. He spun her around, his eyes narrowed. When he spoke, his voice was very low, almost a hiss.
“What is Poveglia?”
“What are you talking about?” she said, but knew the shocked look on her face gave her away. Lying was never her best skill.
Mr Petersen pulled her back inside the supply closet and pushed her against the wall, his body blocking any escape. His grip tightened, his eyes full of fire and anger.
“Give me the list.”
He struck her. The blow came so swiftly that Katie didn’t have time to close her eyes when it came. She felt like the inside of her head exploded in pain, her vision blurring and flashing with stars. She stumbled, but his grip on her kept her from falling. Her hands balled into fists and she swung for his stomach.
He was faster though, and stronger. He caught her arm as she swung and twisted her around in something akin to a bear hug, holding her arms tight across her chest. She could smell his breath on her, could feel warm tears dripping onto her hair.
“My son… I need the list. Where is it?”
“I don’t know what you mean!” she said, frantically trying to think of anything like a list. Her mind raced and, in a moment of clarity, remembered a list of names. One of them was crossed off.
“Don’t lie to me!” he said, squeezing her harder. She swallowed, the fear and helplessness fueling her rapidly beating heart. How could she get out of this? What would he do to her?
He shoved her forward, towards her father’s safe. She tripped and fell to the ground, going to her knees. The safe was right next to shelving unit where the pills had fallen just a minute before. Her eyes went to the bottom shelf, where the gun was secured beneath.
“I know your father has a list of names. I want it. Open the safe. I know it’s in there. He said it would be in there.”
She swallowed. Her eyes moved from the unit up to the safe.
“I don’t know the combination.”
“Bullshit,” he said and she heard steel pull from leather. She turned to see him holding a knife. He wasn’t holding it to her though, he was indicating the door. The room beyond.
“Get me the list or… Or I’ll kill her.”
“Why!” she said, wishing the pleading sound in her voice wasn’t so strong. She wished she was stronger, smarter. She should have anticipated something like this. Why would he need this list? It didn’t make any damn sense!
“Because… I can’t lose my son too. I can’t. So, get it for me, please? I don’t want to hurt anyone.”
But he would. Katie was not a good liar, but she could judge others fairly quickly. He didn’t want to hurt anyone but there was a hardness there, a desperation. She knew that feeling well.
Her hand slipped beneath the shelving unit and grasped the pistol. In that instant, he saw what she was doing and rushed her, yelling. She got the pistol around, flicked off the safety, and prayed it was loaded and charged.
The knife descended, plunging for her abdomen. She pulled the trigger once, twice, three times. Something cold pinched her left arm and Mr Petersen crashed into her. Another shot went off in that instant, muffled by his body. A burst of red mist erupted from his back.
Then she was on her back, his weight on top of her. He vomited and began to shake, his legs drumming against the floor. She screamed and shoved him with all her strength, horrified and pissed off and afraid all at the same time.
He rolled on his back and red spittle bubbled across his lips. His eyes were half-closed and staring at the ceiling. Coughing, he choked out a word she couldn’t make out, then exhaled a short, wet breath. The room went deathly quiet.
Katie turned to look at her arm. The knife had cut her just below the shoulder and bled generously. She safetied her weapon and then set it down, very slowly and pulled off her sweater. The wound wasn’t too deep and she quickly found a bandage for it. She did it mechanically, her mind on autopilot.
After, she checked Mr Petersen’s pulse and found it absent. He was dead. She’d killed him, just like she’d killed his wife. Her legs felt weak, her feet unsteady beneath her, but she had one more thing to do. Reaching over, she picked up the pistol.
She found Jon shivering on the floor, his father’s coat draped over him. More black blood was drying on his lips and his hair was drenched with sweat. He made short, gasping breaths.
Why did it take you so fast?
It didn’t matter. She decided it was almost better this way. She knelt by him and licked her lips, then turned her gaze on Lindsay. Her friend had slept through it all. She’d given her some strong painkillers and Lindsay didn’t weigh much. Katie hoped that was it.
Grabbing Mr Petersen’s coat, she pulled it over Jon’s head. She shut her eyes, trying to hold back the sob that wanted so desperately to come. She swallowed it and put the pistol against his head.
“I’m sorry,” she said, meaning it, and pulled the trigger.
It took Katie almost half an hour to drag all of the corpses into the secondary exit. The Infected were still outside, so there was no chance of getting them outside.
The door was located behind the wall of the supply closet. Behind it was a dark crawlspace that led twenty feet to another metal door. It was into this space that she dragged and pushed the dead family. Once she closed the door on them, she cleaned the floors and took a quick, cold shower.
For what felt like hours, she lay next to Lindsay, holding her tightly and letting the warmth of her push back the chill inside herself. It never went away completely, but for a time, it was manageable. Katie decided that would be enough.
Sometime later, Lindsay finally opened her eyes. She said nothing at first and the two of them merely held one another. Finally, she asked about the Petersens. Where were they? Are they okay?
“They left,” Katie said, lying to the only person who would believe her.
END OF BOOK ONE