I sat on the back of the Humvee, my rifle sitting across my lap. I gripped it tighter, carefully going over our mission again.
“You’re being deployed into Atlanta. You may not come back, and that’s gonna suck but you’re gonna have to deal with it. Anyways, here’s your mission: you fight. Kill every one of those **** things that you come across. If someone else gets bitten, you shoot them. If you get bitten, you either shoot yourself or get someone else to do it for you. Your best friend gets shot, you shoot them. No exceptions. Because if you get bitten you turn. You die. Aim for the head. Anywhere else won’t kill ‘em. Not the chest, not the stomach, the head. Get the brain and you kill it.”
I looked around at the other soldiers sitting on the Humvee with me. At the soldiers on the ones driving behind us. All those people who probably won’t live past today.
Next to me, Mitch was fidgeting with his rifle. I nudged him with my elbow, smiling at him.
“Nervous?” I asked. I didn’t realize I was nervous until I said it. My voice shook. He looked at me and smirked.
“Look who’s talking,” he said, a thick southern accent dripping from his words. I rolled my eyes, turning my gaze to the towering buildings in the distance. The happiness in the air quickly dissolved, leaving us with cold, hard fear. When I turned back, Mitch was back to fidgeting.
“Hey… can I ask you a favor?” I asked. My voice still shook no matter how hard I tried to keep it steady. He looked up at me and raised an eyebrow.
“Yeah, what is it?” he said. I took a deep breath, the knot in my chest tightening.
“I can’t slip out. I have a unit to lead. But you… you could get out. So I want you to leave. Take a Humvee, drive out, and go find Emily. Find her before the patrols do. And… give her these.”
I pulled my dogtags off, holding them out. He hesitated, but didn’t argue. I think a part of him knew that I was right, and that I wasn’t getting out.
“I will,” he said. His voice was steady, an air of confidence rolling off of him. He tightened his fist around them, slipping them into one of his vest pockets. Suddenly, the Humvee lurched to a stop. It’s time.
I hopped off of the Humvee, my boots clicking when they hit the pavement. I slung my rifle over my shoulder and turned, moving forwards. I joined the stream of soldiers moving into assembly. General Johnson climbed on top of one of the Humvees, bringing his fingers up and whistling. The crowd fell into silence. We all watched Johnson, waiting for him to speak. A mist had settled over the city, obscuring the tops of the taller buildings from sight.
“Alright soldiers, welcome to what very may be your last day on Earth. Enjoy it while it lasts. Now, before we send you into the city, we are making some last minute changes. We’re in need of soldiers back in North Carolina to do hospital patrols at Baptist. We are sending ten men back.”
Johnson pulled a sheet of paper from his back pocket, unfolding it.
“Alright, Betjeman, Brooten, Eastwood, Eister, Fajtova, Frey, Hamade, Milofsky, Statlender, and Wyche, you’re going back.”
I turned and exchanged a glance with Mitch when I heard Wyche. He’s going back. Fate seemed to be playing ball in my court.
Mitch and the other soldiers whose names had been called silently filed over to one of the Humvees. Brooten jumped in the driver’s seat, revving the engine. They drove out as the rest of us separated into our units.
We walked into the city, the mist making it hard to see more than a few feet ahead of us. Then, like stars making their first show in an empty night sky, the first walkers came into view. Then, in just seconds, ten turned to a hundred. Gunshots echoed around me the walkers began to drop like flies.
We advanced, but soon we were overwhelmed. Screams began to pierce the air, the strange groaning of the walkers drowning them out. Suddenly, walkers came up on all sides, surrounding my unit.
“Fall back!” I heard myself shout, but the noise was drowned out by screaming. I fired my rifle at the advancing walkers, but for every one that fell three more came to take its place.
Suddenly, there was a tug on my arm and a sharp pain. I turned to see a walker, a woman with short blonde hair, burying her teeth into my arm. I jerked my arm away, firing into her head, but it was too late.
Blood flowed from the wound, and as I was trying to stop it another walker climbed on top of me, digging its teeth into the back of my neck. I let out a strangled scream as more piled on top of me, ripping me apart.
As the life drained out of me, memories of Emily flashed in front of my eyes, her sweet voice filling my ears.
“Papa, what’s that one?”
I stroked her soft hair, wrapping my arm around her.
She pointed to another constellation.
“And that one?”
I blinked, a new memory flickering across my vision.
Emily’s giggles filled the air as I lifted her up, tossing her into the air and catching her before she hit the water.
“Spin me!” she shouted. She stuck her arms and legs out and I began to spin in a circle. Her toes grazed the surface of the water, sending droplets into the air. Her laugh was like a song, one that I never wanted to forget.
As the last bit of my life drained from my body, I saw her one last time.
I held Emily in my lap as we sat in front of the fireplace. The warmth spread to us, her little body curled up in my lap.
“What’s gonna happen when you’re gone?” she asked. She tilted her head up to look at me, her eyes wide with curiosity.
“What do you mean when I’m gone?” I asked.
“Like, when you die. Or if you go missing one day.”
I smiled at her and brushed her hair away from her face.
“It doesn’t matter if I’m not physically here, because I’ll always be here.”
I placed my hand on her heart, and she smiled. She wrapped her little hands around my hand and leaned her head against my chest.
“I love you, Papa.”
“I love you too, Emily.”