Daylight faded and with the darkness came a deeper silence. The helicopter was surprisingly quiet when all the doors were shut, its rotors beating rhythmically overhead in a constant, muted pattern. Lindsay dried to sleep several times, but never for very long. Each time, she woke suddenly terrified, but could not remember the nightmare that caused it.
She didn’t know where they were or where they were going. It didn’t matter. Katie was sick, maybe dying, and she didn’t know what else to do. How she’d gotten out of the hospital, Lindsay didn’t know. In truth, it didn’t matter either. She was alive.
At least for now.
Katie lay on the floor, covered in blankets and secured with some makeshift harnessing to the seat struts. Lindsay tried to make her comfortable though Katie never was coherent enough to say anything. The fever had broken twenty minutes earlier but her skin still felt cold and clammy.
“The fever breaking is a good sign,” the other woman, Major Richards, said. Lindsay remembered her from the medical room, the doctor who had helped her. She didn’t trust her, but there was little harm she could do. Lindsay held the only thing that might help anyway.
Lindsay found herself nodding to the woman’s question. She wanted to reach into her jacket and pull out another vial of the supposed cure and inject it right away, but she didn’t dare. Once a day, that was the way. That was what she’d been told.
“You love her, don’t you?”
Lindsay looked up, confused at the question at first. Major Richards was back in her seat. She met Lindsay’s eyes and didn’t look away. There was something in the way she smiled, very faintly, that made Lindsay sad, but she couldn’t think of why.
“You don’t have to tell me. It’s all right. You must have seen a lot of things, wherever they took you. I’ve seen the look in your eyes a hundred times. Men coming back from war or some other kind of hell have it.”
Lindsay didn’t know and didn’t care why this woman was talking to her. She lowered her gaze to Katie instead and smoothed some hair from her forehead. Her fingertips brushed over her cheek and then down onto her shoulder. Katie was shivering slightly and Lindsay slid from her knees onto her side and lay next to her, hoping her body heat might help.
I’m here, she thought. I’m not going anywhere, ever.
“I’ve known men that have that look, and they’ve taken their own lives, or they’ve withdrawn from life so completely that no one can reach them. The things you’ve seen, or done, will change you. Have changed you.”
“So what?” Lindsay said. She found the woman’s voice irritating and wanted her to shut up.
“You saved her. You brought her back here. Despite everything that’s happened, you held onto that. She might never regain her old strength, and might need you for the rest of her life. I hope you sustain one another.”
Lindsay reached over and took Katie’s cold hand and squeezed it. How could she not save her, after all Katie had done for her? She’d saved Lindsay’s life, given her shelter, and taught her to survive. She owed her everything.
“You might not want to hear me say any of this, and now is not a great time… but whatever happens, hold onto that. Hold onto that feeling. Don’t let the horror consume you… it…”
Lindsay lifted herself onto her elbow and looked up at the major. She was staring out the small window of the helicopter’s door. That sense of sadness seemed to deepen and it made Lindsay feel guilty for her earlier thoughts.
“I’ll try,” Lindsay said.
The major turned her gaze back on Lindsay and nodded. “I tried, you know? He was such a brilliant man. He had such a vision, such… enthusiasm. I thought he could do it, I thought that, together, we could make everything right again. But it was too much, the horror was too much.”
Lindsay frowned. Who was she talking about?
“When he died? When I saw him lying there in the snow, I thought I could save him again. That this time, I’d do it. But I couldn’t. I never could. The man I… that man was gone a long time ago.”
The major put her face into her hands and began to weep. Her body shook but no sound came, or it was drowned out by the constant low thump of the helicopter. Lindsay turned away, put her head on Katie’s shoulder, and closed her eyes.
This time, when she slept, she dreamed of an endless black plain. She stood at its center and far off in the distance was a pale, white light. In that light, she saw Katie, sitting and waiting for her. And in the darkness, the monsters waited.
She woke with a gentle hand on her shoulder. The young man, James, was leaning over her. He was smiling, excited.
“Hey, get up, come look,” he said and moved back to the co-pilot seat. Lindsay slid herself to her knees and moved between the pilot and co-pilot stations. At first, she didn’t see it in the darkness, but then James pointed it out.
Several giant lakes spread out on either side of them. They were so immense that Lindsay almost didn’t see the entire length of them. But the moon was bright and provided just enough light. Instantly she knew where she was. When she spotted the walls of the settlement, she nearly broke down into tears.
Those walls were formed from cobbled together scraps of metal and formed the outer perimeter of the settlement. The whole thing was raised up on platforms, with shelters of metal and wood forming a make-shift town. The center of the town was the only thing on ground level, which had a variety of crops growing there.
Bill was already on the radio, trying different stations.
“Is anyone on this frequency?” he called over and over.
Finally, someone answered.
“Hello? Who is this? Who are you?”
Bill began to grin.
“Refugees. I have some survivors looking for a place to stay.”
There was silence for a time before the voice returned again. It sounded hesitant but friendly. At least, Lindsay thought it sounded friendly.
“Set down just by the south side.”
New Hope, Lindsay thought. This is Camp New Hope.
She left them and returned to Katie’s side. Katie’s eyes opened, but didn’t seem to see her. Lindsay touched her cheek, relieved to see that the redness in her eyes was gone. Her skin was warmer too.
Katie smiled at her and it made Lindsay’s heart leap into her throat.
“Hey,” Katie whispered.
“Hey,” Lindsay said.
“I feel like shit.”
“You look beautiful.”
“You’re the worst liar ever,” Katie said and closed her eyes again. She was smiling and Lindsay hugged her. She didn’t let go until the helicopter landed and the doors were thrown open.
There were people coming. They all held torches, flashlights… and weapons. Lindsay gripped Katie’s hand and took a deep breath. They won’t let us in, not if Katie’s sick… not if they find out…
A hand squeezed her shoulder and Major Richards knelt beside her. She looked into Lindsay’s eyes and then down at Katie. When her eyes met Lindsay’s again, they looked away.
“I saw you give her something,” the major said in a whisper, as Bill stepped out of the helicopter, holding his hands out, palms up. He began to speak, but Lindsay couldn’t listen. She swallowed, suddenly afraid.
“I know what they sent you for out there… did you find what he wanted you to find?”
Lindsay considered lying, considered saying anything but the truth. What did it matter now? She shook her head, staring back at Katie, who was confused and gripping her hand.
“Good,” Major Richards said, then smiled at her and left the helicopter. She called out that she was a medical doctor, and that she had a sick patient. Lindsay’s heart turned to ice and she looked around for her gun.
“Infected?” someone shouted.
“No,” the major said. “Just a bit of the flu. The fever’s broken. Nothing to worry about, but she could really use a warm place to stay.”
Lindsay waited, her heart beating loudly in her chest. Katie gripped her hand and tried to sit up. Lindsay reached down and helped her, and together they moved to the edge of the helicopter’s doorway.
“We don’t want any sickness here,” a male voice said.
“She’s well past the infectious stage–“
Lindsay’s head snapped up. She knew that voice, but it couldn’t be. It was another dream, another hallucination. It wasn’t her.
Lindsay’s mother stepped away from the crowd. In her hands, she held a flashlight and she was dressed in jeans and a coat that were both too big for her. Her hair was short, as if cropped quickly with scissors or a razor. As she stepped closer, Lindsay saw that she was healthy, that her skin was normal.
She was alive.
“Lindsay? Oh my God, Lindsay!”
And then her mother was there, pulling Lindsay into her arms and hugging her tightly. They both began to cry.
“Oh my baby girl, oh God Lindsay, you’re alive. You’re alive!”
Lindsay pulled away, turning to look at Katie.
“Is that Katherine Fox? Oh Jesus, she’s hurt or…”
“No mom, she’s just… sick. Like the major said.”
Lindsay turned to look at Katie. I am an awful liar, Lindsay thought but she was telling the truth. Katie would be cured. She knew it. It wasn’t a lie.
Katie looked back at her, a worried look in her eyes. Lindsay squeezed her hand, willing her to understand, to accept her words. After a moment, Katie squeezed her hand back and nodded.
“You know these people?” someone shouted from the crowd. Lindsay’s mother turned and addressed the crowd.
“This is my daughter and her friend! You have to let them in!”
“You will let them in!”
For a moment, the crowd seemed to deliberate. James, Bill and Major Richards were standing near the front of the helicopter now, watching that crowd with caution. Then, James stepped forward.
“My name is James Fitzpatrick, a captain in the United States Air Force! Bill and I can help you! There’s a place, not far away where we can get you supplies and solar power! But these people… the girls and Doctor Richards, they need a place to stay.”
“Says you! We’ve been lied to before!” The voice came from somewhere in the crowd and it got the lot of them murmuring.
“The kid’s telling the truth. We can help you,” Bill said, but Lindsay wasn’t sure he was even heard over the others. Her mother’s face was a mask of fury and fear. They weren’t going to let them in. They were going to turn them away.
Then she remembered a young man on a radio, someone who once tried to help her. She slid off the helicopter stepped forward.
“Is Zach Evans here?” Lindsay shouted.
“Yeah,” said a man, who stepped forward. He was tall, skinny, and wore a tattered military uniform. “I’m him.”
“Zach? I’m Lindsay Volk, we talked on the radio.”
There was silence for a moment before he seemed to understand and then looked to her mother, then back at Lindsay.
“Is Chris Fox with you?”
“He didn’t make it,” she said and reached back to squeeze Katie’s hand.
“Please, Mister Evans!” her mother said. “This is my daughter…”
Zach stood there for a moment and then nodded. “All right. Let’s get you inside, that chopper’s bound to bring the Infected anyway.”
A gate was opened and they began to walk towards it. Inside, Lindsay saw warm, yellow light like a welcoming beacon. Katie leaned heavily against her. She had five more days of injections to give her, five more days of lies, but she’d do it. She’d find a way.
Once through the gate, other faces were there to greet them. She saw people from her town, Mister Kender, her high school history teacher; Jenny Sanders from her math class; Josh Anderson from gym. Some had survived. It was like a little piece of home, though it felt like something from another life.
She stood there, staring at the faces of those she used to know. Inside, she knew she was different somehow. Changed. She looked at Katie and realized that no matter what, she was the only person who could know, who could understand her anymore. The past was gone and this place, here with Katie, was her future.
“Lindsay? Honey, come, we should find a place for Katie to lie down. Are you feeling okay?”
Lindsay looked away and saw Major Richards, already kneeling next to someone, checking their pulse or temperature. She saw James talking with Zach and Bill, plotting maybe. When her gaze found Katie’s again, she smiled.
As dawn broke that morning and Lindsay sat with Katie at her bedside, she wasn’t sure if things would ever be okay, or that she would ever be whole again. The faces of the dead still haunted her, the screams of those she’d killed still echoed in her mind. In her dreams, they would visit her again and again and the pain might never fully heal.
What she did know was they were both alive. Their time together might be short, but for now they were happy.
And that was enough.