All Is Not Lost

[ZA competition] A bond formed over peanut butter and killer rabbits is a bond that can survive the apocalypse... Or so the saying goes.

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5. ...kill the wabbits

    It had been a week. Not the longest amount of time in the world, but long enough for Kevin to get bored again. And lonely. He spent a good deal of time reading, but that was a strict daytime activity, for he thought it best to save his few candles for a time when they might be more crucial than mere entertainment. 

    In his boredom, Kevin had set about fortifying his house. Or, well, the house he’d taken over. One morning, he’d looked out the kitchen window and seen two bunnies lurking at the edge of some bushes in the lawn. Since then, he’d set up the traps he had, then fashioned some more from the copper wiring he’d ripped from the walls. That activity took most of a day and had the net reward of one dead rabbit. How satisfying. 

    Sometimes, Kevin would wander the streets. He wasn’t sure why at first; they were gross - dirty, littered with trash and bodily fluids. Oh, and bodies. The silence was what got to him. It hadn’t been so bad in the forest; even before Rowan arrived, there were the sounds of birds and small (possibly rabbity) animals and the rustling of leaves. It was calming really, listening to the sounds of nature. Back then, he could imagine that he was on a camping trip. A long, strangely solitary and stressful camping trip, but still. Now, there was only the whistling of the wind on the broken window panes and the flapping of unrestrained shutters. 

    Kevin felt like a ghost here. 

    It probably didn’t help that bodies were laying around. That was likely to unnerve even the most down-to-earth person. Sometimes, Kevin thought he could feel their glazed, decaying eyes watching him. A chill would run down his back, a voice would whisper in his ear, a touch would burn his shoulder. But there was never anyone there. 

    Kevin missed Rowan in the weirdest way. He missed everything he’d hated about the kid. The murderous slightly psychotic tendencies, the standoffish deflections, the stoic silence. Something about those qualities left questions in his mind, and now that Rowan was gone, they’d never be answered. They held promises of more, of change, things waiting to be discovered. There was so little of that left in this apocalyptic world - so little to unravel and look forward to. So little happening; everything was in the past. Lives had been lived, and those books were closed. Rowan was one with pages left, a story still waiting for a resolution.

    Damn, you’ve been reading too much, Jacob commented from whatever recess of Kevin’s mind he tended to lurk in. Since Rowan had gone, Jacob had featured more and more frequently in Kevin’s thoughts. It was with a heavy feeling of guilt that Kevin wanted Rowan back - if only as a talisman, a distraction to keep Jacob out. 

    As much as he missed his best friend, hearing him was driving Kevin crazy. He wanted Jacob back, he really did, but not like this. With every word Jacob muttered in his his mind, it brought the fresh pain of his death, of the deaths of everyone close to them, and such memories threatened to cripple Kevin. He longed for the simplicity of a mind as quiet as the suburbs around him. 

    With nothing better to do, Kevin set about burying the dead. It was hard, tiring, and gross work, but it was strangely satisfying. He had been one of the sole lucky ones who had escaped infection; the least he could do for all the unfortunate souls who didn’t was to give them a resting place that wasn’t their front steps or the dirty pavement. 

    Kevin started with the family in the first house he had tried to enter when he had arrived. The smell was rancid, choking him with rot and decay. But it had to be done. With a handkerchief tied over his mouth and two elbow-length rubber gloves on his hands, Kevin set about his work, methodically digging, dumping, and covering up. 

    It took all day, but at the end, five fresh - and admittedly shallow - graves marred the overgrown lawn in front of the house. Kevin wiped the sweat from his brow and threw a glance at the horizon, where the sinking sun was turning the sky the color of blood. At the edge of the forest, there was movement. Kevin squinted into the brightness and could make out a human form stumbling towards the town. He picked up the shovel from where he had propped it up against the side of the house and brandished it like a club. The figure stumbled closer, but was still too far away for Kevin to make out any distinguishing features. 

    Kevin was content to let the figure come to him; he was tired, and there was no reason to go seeking trouble. However, after a few minutes of the slow moving approach, Kevin got impatient. He didn’t have all day. By God, he had things to do, places to be, people to see. Or… something like that. 

    Shovel in hand, Kevin walked out to the end of the road. He squinted. He did a double take. He did a triple take. “Rowan?” he called, just as the other boy collapsed. Dropping the shovel, Kevin jogged forward, kneeling over Rowan in the grass. “Rowan, dude. You okay?” There was blood on his clothes. That was probably indicative of violence. Kevin the First Class Sleuth makes another stunning deduction, Jacob commented dryly. 

    Rowan coughed a little laugh. And then passed out. So there was that. 

    Kevin looked at him warily hands hovering over his body. He didn’t want to touch the other kid; after all, if he’d been bitten, if he’d been infected, then one touch would be all it would take to spread. Even so, Kevin could see the blood soaking his pant leg, and there was no way he was going to leave him here to bleed to death. Or, even if the wound wasn’t as bad as it looked, night was fast approaching. So close to the forest, if the bunnies hadn’t bitten him already, they’d be sure to. 

    With no other choice, Kevin lifted Rowan bridal style, trying his best not to jostle the injured leg. His arms were burning from digging those graves all day, so it was good that Rowan was light. Shockingly light, actually. So much so that Kevin wondered how much food he had taken with him when he left; it hadn’t seemed like much, but Kevin figured he had just misjudged how much they had all together.

    After a brief struggle with the doorknob that Kevin won, he managed to get Rowan inside and lay him on the couch. He was still unconscious, and now that Kevin had touched him, there was nothing stopping him from examining the wound. If Rowan was infected, Kevin was infected; the damage was done. 

    Rowan’s pant-leg was soaked and stiff with half-dried blood, so Kevin carefully cut it away with a knife. Underneath was a gaping gash, the dark skin of his muscled calf marred by a cut at least six inches long. Smaller cuts, and what looked suspiciously like bites surrounded it, peppering Rowan’s ankles. Kevin’s stomach turned, not from the sight as much as the thought that he had come this far only to end up infected after all. But that would come later; he had eight hours or so before the virus would start manifesting. Eight hours of speculation and dread. 

    Rowan’s leg was still bleeding, and when Kevin noticed this, he snapped out of his worry and hurried upstairs, rooting around in the bathroom’s medicine cabinet. When he returned, Rowan was awake, sitting up and looking around warily. 

    “Hey,” Kevin said from behind the couch. Rowan jumped like a frightened rabbit, and Kevin held up his offering of peroxide and bandages to show his innocence. “I’m just gonna patch you up, alright?”

    Rowan gave a nod, and Kevin rounded the couch, kneeling down in front of him. The light was fading, and Kevin knew that if he didn’t hurry, he’d have to break out the candles to finish the job. After pouring a generous amount of peroxide on the wound - at which Rowan’s jaw clenched while he stayed impressively silent - Kevin wrapped it tightly in gauze. “You should probably have stitches, but…” Kevin trailed off. 

    “Thanks,” Rowan muttered. 

    Kevin rocked back on his heels, looking up at the other boy. “So, you gonna tell me what happened to you?” 

    “Bunnies,” Rowan retorted. “What did you think?”

    Raising a brow, Kevin tilted his head. “Dude, I’ve seen you with that knife. You’re like Buffy the Bunny Slayer. How’d they get you?”

    “There were a lot of them,” he defended. “I went after a nest, and it was bigger than I thought.” Gesturing to his leg, he added, “This was because I slipped on a rock.”

    “So they bit you?” Kevin asked.

    Rowan shrugged. 

    “Is that a yes or no?”

    “Yes,” Rowan admitted. His dark eyes searched Kevin’s, as if he was waiting, judging Kevin’s reaction. 

    A weight settled like lead in Kevin’s stomach. “And I touched you. So now I’m infected. Is that what you’re saying?” he asked slowly. 

    “No,” Rowan replied, dropping his gaze. “At least I don’t think so.”

    There was a loaded silence for a minute. “Explain,” Kevin prompted. 

    “I don’t think I was infected.”

    “But you were bit.”

    “Yeah,” Rowan confirmed. He picked at a loose thread on his mutilated pants. 

    Kevin sighed, standing from his crouch and sitting on the coffee table instead, so that he and Rowan were at the same level. “Okay, listen. I suspected you were bitten, and I could’ve left you out there to die. You could be bleeding out or eaten by rabbits by now,” he said. “But I took a risk and picked you up and brought you in here. I didn’t have to do that. You owe me. So I want to hear everything, from the beginning.” Rowan’s face was unreadable, so Kevin continued, “I feel like you’re hiding something, so go way back. Back before all this started.”

    “Pass.”

    A flash of anger flared in Kevin’s chest. “You don’t get to pass. You tell me or I’ll throw you out right now. This is my house, and you’re injured. I could take you in a heartbeat.”

    Rowan sighed, and Kevin knew he would give in. “Fine,” he said. “But for God’s sake get me some food and water first.” 

    “Fair enough,” Kevin agreed. He headed for the kitchen, and when he returned a few minutes later, he held two cans of cold ravioli and two bottles of water. He handed one can to Rowan, fork sticking out of it, and sat down with the other. 

    Delaying the inevitable, Rowan spent some time picking at his food. After a few minutes, just when it seemed like Kevin was going to have to pry answers out of him, Rowan began, his voice quiet and emotionless.

     “So, it was my dad. My dad started the apocalypse.”

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