Tookes was in his room, sitting at the desk. There were two candles burning on either side of a book and he was completely absorbed in his studies when he heard Baker screaming as he ran full speed up the hill and across the back lawn. “Mrs. Tookes, Victor, it’s lil Maxie. He’s been fuckin’ bit.” His voice cracked and Baker sounded desperate.
Tookes lept out of his chair, turning the antique wooden desk chair over in the process. On the way to the stairs, he quickly glanced into Max’s empty room and then took the steps three at a time to meet Baker on the back porch. Baker was holding the quivering child in his arms. Max’s face was red and flushed – beads of sweat coated his forehead and upper lip. There was an angry looking bite mark on Max’s arm. There were marks where a pair of incisors had broken the skin. Two small streams of blood ran down the small boy’s arm, joining together at the elbow. The blood had stopped, but the bite looked painful.
“He’s real fuckin’ hot, Tookes,” Baker said as Tookes took his son from him. Max was so hot he was nearly burning his hands.
Oh fuck. Max, come on Max, you’re strong buddy. You can beat this, he thought desperately.
The man ran back upstairs, carrying the small boy and gently laid him down on the floor of the bathroom. He immediately started running the last of the day’s hot water into the tub. Everyone had learned to shower in the late afternoon, when the water in the five hundred gallon black plastic tank on the roof was as warm as it would get. Now fully dark, the water in the solar heater would have cooled some.
Tookes knew he had to get his son cooled down, but if the water was too cold it could throw the small boy into shock.
“Victor!” Candi yelled at the top of her voice. “Max is burning up!” She swiped the temporal thermometer across his forehead again. “This thing says he’s at 105.”
“Lets try the other kind,” Vic said, digging in the closet for the old under-the-tongue style thermometer. He shook the thermometer as he’d seen his mother do his whole life and stuck the end under Max’s tongue. “Hold that there. It takes like three minutes,” he said.
“He feels like his skin is on fire!” Candi was nearly hysterical with worry.
“Remember when you’re sister’s son had that fever so high he had convulsions? She said their doctor told them to put him in a warm bath and alternate Motrin and Tylenol every two hours. I’ll start the tub.”
Victor shook himself out of his memory. He stripped the small boy’s clothes off. By the time he was done there was two inches of water in the big tub and Sharon was there. Leo stood just outside the door, leaning against the frame. She needed to stay out of the way and as much as her heart was in her throat to be next to Victor, she knew that it was not her place. Being there for him after this took precedence and she would always be there for him no matter what.
“He’s got a huge fever, Mom,” Tookes said to Sharon. “Last time Max was bitten, I caught it early and got Tylenol into him. But I don’t think his fever went this high. What if this bite is worse? What if this bite is too much for his body to fight off?”
Sharon grabbed her son’s hand and squeezed it reassuringly. She wasn’t going to leave their side.
Tookes could feel himself approaching panic and took a few breaths before he lifted Max gently over into the water. His son was still unresponsive and his skin bright red, flush with the heat. Victor ran his hands across his son’s light hair and asked, “Mom, do you have any liquid Tylenol or Motrin?”
“Maybe down in my bathroom,” she softly replied. She still held her son’s hand in hers. “He’s such a good father. He loves that boy so much,” Sharon thought. “I wonder if there’s anything Victor can’t accomplish.”
The shower curtain blew outwards towards the door and less than two seconds later, Leo was back by the door with a bottle of baby Motrin in her hand. She tossed it towards him and Tookes caught it with ease. He read the label. The dosage for a two year old was half a teaspoon and that was as high as this bottle went. It was for babies, not children, but it would have to be enough. I opened his mouth and poured about half a teaspoon in his mouth, closed it and rubbed his throat to make him swallow it. Vic repeated that process three times so Max drank a total of a teaspoon and a half.
Once the medicine was in him, he sat back and waited. There wasn’t much else that he could do. Sharon dug up a thermometer from a first aid kit in the hallway and checked his temperature every fifteen minutes. Max soaked nearly two hours in the tub. Shortly after we gave him the second dose of medicine, his fever dropped below 104. Tookes lifted him out of the tub and cradled his son in his arms. Leo had gone into Max’s room and grabbed some fresh PJ’s which Vic lovingly put on him. He carried his son back to his room and put him in his bed covered by a sheet and a quilt. Tookes fell asleep sitting on the floor beside Max’s bed with my arm under the back of his neck.
Sharon checked on them both throughout the night. Her son and her grandson, the loves of her life.
Vic checked Max’s temperature the moment the sun rose the next morning. There was no change. It had been four hours without fever reducer and his fever was still 104. Tookes administered more Motrin and watched him for a few minutes. Again, he ran his hand through his son’s hair and down the side of his face. Max’s breathing was slow and steady and his chest was rising and falling steadily. Zombies didn’t breathe. He put his hand on the tough little boy’s forehead. He was still hot sweaty. Hot is better than cold, thought Victor. Zombies don’t produce body heat.
Tookes left him there in bed. He needed to get someone to sit with him for a few minutes while he grabbed some breakfast. Stopping by Leo’s room was the obvious choice. Tookes peered into her room and saw that she was sound asleep. Checking his watch, he noted that it was only 5:20 in the morning; still early. Leo was laying on her right side with one of her hands up by her face. She is so beautiful, he thought to himself. He crawled into the bed beside her and kissed her on the forehead. A small smile spread across Leo’s face as she snuggled up against him.
“Morning, Leo,” he whispered, “I need a favor. Can you go sit with Max for a few minutes while I go get some food, some coffee and a new book?”
“Sure, Vic,” she said. Sleep was heavy in her voice. Vic rolled over on his side, and laid his arm over her. Leo suddenly realized how much she missed his touch. He kissed her forehead before she got up, pulled on some clothes and walked out of the room towards Max. Tookes felt his eyes growing heavy, but he resisted the urge to crawl back under the warm covers and go back to sleep. Before the urge became undeniable, he climbed out of the bed and walked downstairs.
On the kitchen table there was a brown paper bag with my name on it. Inside the bag was a note from mom that just said;
You’re a great Dad, you make me proud.
I love you,
He cringed slightly and thought, I feel like a shitty dad. I let my not-even-four year old son sneak out of the house and get bitten by a zombie. A zombie that he told me was his friend and I believed him. Why did I believe him? He is a baby. He’s three years old.
Sharon had left a butter and cheese sandwich and an apple sitting on the table for her son. Victor ate hungrily and then went outside for a quick smoke. They would need to either start growing tobacco, or he would need to kick the smoking habit. The cigarette supply wouldn’t last forever. He walked down the 300 year old brick sidewalk, around the edge of the old summer kitchen building and up towards the parking lot.
He walked past his cherished 4Runner. The wrecked truck reminded him of the trip down here, almost half a year ago. He thought about life before all this. Working every day in an office, thinking he felt fulfilled, being satisfied with his life. These days people fought and worked and bled for everything they had. The four of them had nearly died on several occasions defending this place. Many people had died defending this place, just a few nights ago. Victor had several of their funerals to attend today.
He thought about his friends back in Pennsylvania and wondered if any of them were still alive. He hoped that Ben and Melissa were still alive. Ben was a US Marine, who’d gotten out of the ‘corps after ten years, and worked as a recruiter for the company Tookes worked for. His wife, Melissa, worked from home, and kept their three kids. If anyone could survive this, Ben could. Tookes had made the mistake of going on a hiking trip with Ben once. They walked twenty-two miles in one day. Tookes stumbled into camp on the verge of death; Ben went for a run after the hike. At least he took his pack off first, thought Tookes.
He hoped Angie was alive. Tookes, Angie and Candi had been best friends for years. Angie had the cutest little daughter who was born on the same day as Max. Angie and her daughter Sarah had accompanied the Tookes family to Florida on vacation the year before. One of Victor’s favorite memories was laying on the beach with Candi and Angie, watching the two children play in the surf. That had been the trip of a lifetime for both families. These days those memories were to be cherished, there weren’t going to be any more carefree trips to Florida.
He was tired. He wondered if super-hero’s ever got tired. The four of them hadn’t stopped fighting the “forces of evil” for months. Real people had died; he had gotten himself shot once and beaten up countless times. Only his freakish immunity to zombies had kept him alive. I am ZedMan! he thought. Bumbling his way through a post apocalyptic world, ZedMan is sworn to kill every zombie on the planet! Victor thought about his ridiculous promise to kill every zombie in the world. It sounded absurd. He considered the futility of that and for the first time, he formed the thought of giving up. It really was an insane proposition. Victor Tookes, mild mannered corporate middle manager, on a quest to save the world. Maybe I should just stay here. Maybe I should just keep Max alive, build a huge wall around this place and start a new life. Maybe saving the world isn’t my job, he thought.
There were other humans with super powers out there. The four of them had run into people with their exact powers not 50 miles from here. Why was it his responsibility and not one of theirs?
Because they’re dead. You killed them because they were bad people. The thought entered Victor’s mind. It didn’t sound like one of his thoughts. It sounded more like Max.
He flicked his cigarette into the tall grass as the sun began to peeked up over the horizon. He then turned back towards the house. Victor had already been gone about twenty minutes and was feeling himself drawn back to Max’s side. The sun was moving quickly; it was half-up over the horizon already. There was some rustling up by the garden and Tookes felt compelled to check it out. He changed his direction to walk up towards it.
About five feet later, he identified the cause the rustling. There was a man laying in the tall grass around the garden, inching towards Tookes on his belly. The man wore a red flannel shirt and the remnants of a green John Deer baseball cap. After a few more steps, Victor was certain it was a zombie. Reflecting back, Victor realized that he hadn’t seen one this close to the house in a very long time.
He didn’t have anything on him that even remotely resembled a weapon. “Another stupid mistake, Tookes,” he said to himself and walked towards the ghoul. It was pulling itself along by the arms. The sunlight grew brighter with every step he took and every step brought him closer to the pitiful creature. Eventually, Tookes stopped and watched it struggle across the grass.
Its legs trailed behind it, broken and useless. One of its arms ended in a stump with a bit of crushed bone sticking out. The bone was worn to a sharp point. It flopped the dead arm up over its head and down in front of it, moving the corpse forward about an inch before the arm bone slipped, digging a semi-circle furrow in the grass.
Victor walked past the zombie and towards the old carriage house where all the gardening tools were kept. The heavy wooden door scraped the concrete of the driveway as he slid it open. Inside in the dim light, he made his to the back of the shed and hefted a mattock. The slightly rusty tool had a pick on one end and a flat, slightly curved blade on the other. He thought about all the times he swung this thing digging out tree stumps. With the mattock you could get the flat blade under a root and then pry back on the handle, popping them like matchsticks. It was a back breaking device to use all day long. It was a heavy, rough duty digging tool. He walked back out of the carriage house and took a practice swing with the mattock. Rudimentary, but it would do the trick.
He walked back to the slithering corpse and knelt down a couple of feet in front of it.
“Morning, old timer. I’m sorry that your life came down to this. I’m sorry that these fucking creatures came here and did this to you and…I’m sorry that I now am the one that has to end this torment.” He stood up and heaved the heavy iron blade up over his head and said, “I’m sorry for what’s happened to you,” and he brought the pick end down into the creature’s skull. As the long pointed iron pick pierced his skull, he felt the zombie’s body go limp. The creature struggled briefly before finally giving up. Tookes finally felt it rest. “Rest in peace,” he said softly.
If not you, who? Every one of the great accomplishments in the history of mankind were started by one man. It’s a job, and someone has to do it. If everyone asks “why me,” who would do it? Tookes had always considered himself a “do-er.” He could hear his father say “Son, there’s two kinds of people in this world, big-picture people and “do-ers.” The world is full of big-picture people and what it needs are more “do-ers”.” This was my life now. This was what I was made to do.
Victor trotted back to the house, feeling a renewed sense of purpose. He dropped the mattock off by the back door and stepped into the kitchen. Sharon and two other people were busy preparing breakfast for all of the people of their little settlement.
“Mom,” Victor said, leaning against one of the kitchen counters, “I killed a zombie up by the garden. I’m anxious to get back to Max but the corpse is still there. Do you think you can find someone to get rid of it?”
“At the garden? That’s a little worrisome. We haven’t seen anything that close to the house in a long time,” she said, glancing at her son before returning her attention to the potatoes she was cutting.
“I know,” he responded, “It was just a dragger. It probably took it four months to make it from the old Vaughn riding ring to the garden. But still…”
“Ok, I’ll have Ron take care of it,” Sharon said. “Give Max a kiss for me.”
On the way up to Max’s room, Tookes grabbed one of the re-filled bottles of water and trotted up the stairs. As he entered the room, Leo looked in his direction. She was laying on the bed next to Max.
“Any change?” Tookes asked her.
“None,” she replied softly, “But at least we know he’s not getting worse…”
Tookes sighed as he sat back down on the floor beside Max. He slid his arm under Max’s neck and kissed him on the forehead. In minutes, Leo was fast asleep again with Max on the bed. Victor sat on the floor and went to sleep with his head laid against the mattress.