Tommy got up and left in a hurry, head stooped, clutching his arm. He headed out into the trees. Some looks went around the campfire. I was finished dinner, so I figured I could take this one. I stood up slowly, and picked up my machete.
Graham nodded too, from across the fire. He went to the RV, and came out with the one remaining gun we had bullets for, a big heavy revolver. I didn’t have to ask how many shots were left. We all kept count in our heads: 11. We saved them for each other.
Graham looked at me, and I looked at him, and we gave each other a sad little shrug and then followed Tommy, who wasn’t doing much to keep quiet.
We found him just out of earshot of the camp. We were far enough from the fire that our eyes adjusted, and it didn’t seem all that dark. The sky will still a bit blue. It was beautiful out here, especially since the light pollution from cities died of years ago.
Tommy knew what was happening. He kept his back to us, but we could heart him sobbing and see the stoop of his shoulders, plus that little shudder they always make.
Graham held the gun and stayed to one side of me. I let the machete hang down at my right.
“I don’t want to die,” Tommy finally said.
“We know,” I said.
“It’s such a little one.” He held up his arm, and there it was, the bite mark. They like to grab arms.
Graham gave me a look. He’d decided he wasn’t doing the talking.
“Yeah,” I said. “You never know whether a bite will get you or not. I’ve had worse than that. Bad luck, man. Just bad bad luck.”
“Yeah,” he said. “Really really bad.”
He was quiet for a while, holding back the crying. I remember thinking it was a pretty dumb to be embarrassed about anything now, but everyone gets to go out the way they want. We didn’t talk about it much, but that was kind of a rule, within reason.
He turned around and looked at us, looked at the gun and them machete. But I looked at him. They look a particular kind of sick just before they turn. You get to know what it looks like.
“It’s better this way,” I said, nodding my head at the gun.
His face twisted up again.
“It’s okay, Tommy.” Graham finally spoke up. “You can cry. I would.” But Graham wasn’t crying. Neither was I.
That’s when Tommy screamed, “How can you be so fucking calm!?”
Graham’s eyes darted around, watching the trees for movement. I’m sure mine must have, too, but all I remember is Tommy’s eyes, red with crying, terrified. He was past reason, deep into that specific kind of selfishness that takes over when you’re afraid for your life.
I said, “Tommy,” and then realized I had to stop using his name. You think you’re reaching someone when you do that, but they can tell. “You’ve got to let us do this. One to the head. Fast and painless.”
He asked me, “How do you know it’s painless?”
And honestly, I didn’t. How could I? But what I said was, “Because you die right away. No twitching. No screaming. Just dead.”
“You just don’t want me to turn,” he said.
Graham looked at me, confused. I shook my head at him, like shut up, man.
“Of course not,” I said. “Do you? Do you want to go through that? We’ve all seen it. I would take a bullet over that.”
Tommy was quiet for a few seconds, way too long to answer that question. “Maybe it doesn’t matter.”
I could feel Graham tense up. I’m sure I did, too. I must have. This was taking way too long, and screaming could attract more of them. If he turned, we’d have to fight him. But they don’t run towards gunshots. We wanted to make it fast and clean. For us. For the camp. Tommy was already dead.
“Hey,” I finally said. I figured, I’d try something. “Look at the clouds.”
Tommy looked up, over our heads.
“No, those clouds,” I pointed behind him and took a step towards him, just one step.
Tommy closed his mouth and nodded a couple of times. He turned around slowly. “Yeah. Clouds.”
Graham and me took two more steps. He pointed the gun at the back of Tommy’s head, and I lifted up the machete, just in case. It was dark, and I’ll never know for sure, but Tommy’s skin looked grey. I hope it was.
Graham shot him, right through the head.