Semester of the Dead, Chapter 9
All this time people thought that I was this carefree guy. They feel like things don’t get to me. I smile all the time. Being happy meant everything to me. Even when the world went to shit. Even when people started dying. Happiness is in everything. It is in the rain, cool and fresh, just as deeply as the sunshine, for they bring forth different emotions. Happiness is enjoying the moment, being present for that gift that is living, and allowing it to become intense.
There’s something about knowing you are infected. All the happiness starts to leak out like a fucked up tire.
What if someone found out? Would anyone love me? This virus had etched itself out in my blood. I felt alive. I felt healthy. But I knew at any point that would change.
“How couldn’t we have known?”
The question was a good question. It came from Lyle. He’s pressing his hand under his chin. It was a fair question. All this time we’d been played like lab rats and we felt as though we were the lucky ones. We felt as though we had been chosen to survive. We were wrong. I look around the room we are in.
The laboratory was as quiet and cold as a morgue. We’d spent the night here. The scientists had run tests on us and now they’d let us go in the private area with nothing on but hospital robes. We finally looked like what we were to them this entire time. An experiment. A failed one at that.
“We need to go back,” I state, “Warn President Beric.”
“Channing, keep your voice down,” Missy hushes me harshly.
It was a research laboratory. The white-coated scientists moved in choreographed silence as they drew pipettes of fluid from one tiny tube and transferred them to others. The hum of machinery was like a soft whisper in the background. The aroma was mostly an undertone of bleach. They wanted things clean. They didn’t even touch us without gloves. Across the back wall was floor to ceiling windows revealing a view across the abandoned city towers and spires being reclaimed by nature that could only be described as stunning, but the scientists appeared not to notice, transfixed as they were by their experiments.
All I can feel now is anger. Anger and embarrassment.
“A horde is going to Little America. Even if they survive without the resources from the CDC they’ll turn into those…things,” I realize.
“If we go back then we will turn as well,” Lyle reminds me, “Our percentage of survival is increased if we stay here and did what the CDC wanted.”
The CDC wanted to abandon this place. Little America was nothing more than a lost experiment to them. One that they didn’t plan on spending any more time on.
Lyle is hard to read. He states facts as though they were detached from emotion. He’s all data-driven. All he cares about is the numbers. He was the smartest guy I knew but sometimes his kind of smarts didn’t work in the situation we were in. What concerned me is Missy.
She’s quiet. Real Quiet.
“You aren’t thinking about abandoning them, are you?” I ask.
I’m asking more for Missy than Lyle. We were all team leaders but Missy was the one who people went to in enough situations. I assume it’s because she was that tough tell-it-like-it-is kind of girl.
She rolls her eyes at me, “Of course I’m not going to abandon them. We just…we need a plan.”
“Our plan is obvious. We sneak out of here and go back before the horde takes over Little America.”
“The obvious isn’t always the best plan.”
Just as she’s saying that it’s clear that we have some company. I’m surprised at who it is as they walk over to us. It’s the people we came looking for. The other group. The group we came to save. Iggy, Mitchell, and Valentina. They enter the room seeming to be enthralled in their own conversation when we walk in.
“What about them?” Lyle asks.
Missy shakes her head, “They know we are sick. I’m sure Dr. Serrano has shared it with them. Let’s just worry about ourselves for now. We don’t know who we can trust.”
She had a point, especially when Iggy and Valentina walk in. Valentina starts towards me but it becomes painfully clear that Iggy pulls her back. It’s not that he just holds her back but he makes a face. A face that tells me he was told about our infection and he didn’t want his sister anywhere near that. I see Valentina’s face at that moment.
“Why are you here?” Iggy asks.
He doesn’t smile. He’s not a smiling kind of guy. Maybe at one time, he was. Maybe surrounded by some people. That was gone though. Long gone. They say the opposite of love isn’t to hate. It’s indifference. That’s how Iggy looks at me sometimes. He doesn’t try to hide it. If you weren’t his friend you meant nothing to him. For all he cares, I could be one of the Cold Bodies out there tumbling about.
“We came to save you,” Missy responds.
“Who says we needed your saving?” Iggy asks.
“A show of appreciation would have been fucking nice. Wouldn’t expect that from you, though, I see,” Missy responds.
It’s interesting to see Iggy and Missy at it. They were both these Alpha personalities in their own way. I think the same thing that attracted Missy to Iggy in the first place is the same thing causing them to have this intense awkward interaction that the rest of us don’t want to be a part of.
“Thank you for coming,” Valentina interrupts her twin adding in the spark of civility that is clearly missing from Ignacio Serrano.
“You guys OK?”
This is coming from Mitchell. He probably doesn’t mean it, but it comes off in a certain way.
“Why wouldn’t we be?
“Just making sure,” Mitchell states, looking specifically at me when he says it, “Listen if there is anything we can do for you in your—situation, just let us know.”
This gets an intense eye roll from Missy. They felt bad for us. At least Mitchell did. Iggy just stands there getting indifferent, crossing his arms as though he would rather be somewhere else than be having this conversation with us. Luckily we don’t have to feign the group dynamic a lot longer because we are interrupted. What surprises me is who interrupts us.
“Dr. Serrano has prepared lunch for you—-except for you Iggy. There’s something she needs you to come handle.”
It’s the weird girl. I believe her name is Luna or something. She was young. Too young to work for the CDC but I guess in fucked up situations like this, beggars couldn’t really be choosers. The rest of us leave with the weird girl while someone else escorts Iggy to somewhere else. Somewhere they aren’t telling the rest of us about…
As I’m walking out I notice Luna staring at me hard.
Something about this girl creeped me out.
We follow Luna to a lunchroom where sandwiches are provided for us. Luna leaves us there and I’m glad she does. She is so weird. That’ Iggy returns and when he does it’s a big thing.
“Oh my god…how is it possible?” I hear Lyle screaming out.
I get up. I literally get up. Iggy comes to join us for lunch and he had someone with him. That person is Sunday. Seeing Sunday again shocks the fuck out of me. He was alive. I watch as the others seem just as excited to see him but I’m the only one standing up. I’m the only one looking at him. Again. Knowing he was alive changed everything. All of a sudden my heart beat so fast.
Iggy looks over at us, “Sunday has been through a lot. If we can just give him some space.”
He’s talking mostly to Valentina and Mitchell who are crowding him. They give him some room and I watch how Sunday just sits quietly down and starts drinking milk. Iggy sits right next to him in this protective manner. Sunday just looks weird though. He doesn’t look bad. He’s just as attractive as ever.
“How is this possible?” Lyle asks again.
“He’s special…” I whisper.
“Close your mouth,” Missy whispers pulling at me, “If you stare at him any harder your boner is going to rip a hole through your jeans.”
I sit down hard, realizing that even though Sunday’s face was buried down, Iggy was looking my way. Iggy did not look pleased.
“Is it that obvious?” I ask.
I couldn’t help it. The man was too perfect. His smile was soft with a hint of femininity, his strong bone structure was all male. I let my gaze linger disregarding the invisible security gate Iggy was building around his friend. Finally, reluctantly as though he’d just experienced something horrible, he lifts his head up. He gazed back, unguarded and calm but only for a minute before shooting his head down.
Something was wrong.
“This is a test,” Missy whispers to me, “To grow some balls and finally tell him you’re interested in him.”
“This coming from the person who hasn’t mentioned anything to Iggy?”
“Iggy is intimidating. Look at Sunday. He looks like a little puppy.”
I look over at Sunday. He’s searching around the room. I catch his attention with a wave and a smile. I try to be as welcoming as possible. The cafeteria is big and we have sat quite far away from Iggy and his group. I don’t think it was intentional. We were just two different groups so it just sort of happened. However, I wish we hadn’t now that Sunday was here.
I notice when Sunday catches my eye he turns. Something was wrong. He turns and runs out of the room. He’s very emotional over something.
I get up ready to follow him but Iggy beats me to the punch.
I should have known Iggy would be there for him before anything. I don’t know why their friendship made me feel so uncomfortable. Iggy was straight. At least that’s what he told all the girls back in Little America who asked. And a lot of girls had asked. But he also came off as very unavailable. It’s as though he couldn’t be bothered with girls outside of his sister. And there was one guy outside of his family he cared about.
“Guess I can’t beat out years of history,” I whisper.
I don’t know if anyone hears me. I don’t care. Maybe Missy has a point.
I’m the only one who doesn’t eat. I don’t even sit. None of this is sitting right with me. We were taking our dear sweet time here when Little America was in danger. I didn’t understand how Missy and Lyle were so calm. It pissed me off quite frankly that they would eat food from the people who did this to us.
“You not feeling it?”
I turn and notice Mitchell standing there. He smiles at me. He’s cute in his own sort of way. He’s a bit socially awkward like he doesn’t belong in this world nor the world before this. Sometimes he does feel like he was a grown-up version of one of those Harry Potter kids. Like Malfoy. Just without all the attitude.
“Didn’t you hear? About Little America.”
He pauses. He heard. I’d been around Dr. Serrano for less than a day and she already let us know what was about to happen. They’d been here for a little longer.
“Serrano mentioned the attack. Said it was a lost cause,” he says pointing out the window, “Says she is going to take us Northwest towards Pittsburgh. She says there is a small community there that we can live in.”
“And just abandon my friends?”
“I didn’t mean to say it like that…”
Of course, he didn’t. Everyone was worried about survival. Not me though. I had friends there. Real friends. People who I had gotten close to in the vault. Some I liked. Some I hated. But they were all young people like me. People who wanted a future. They didn’t ask for this. They didn’t sign up for this. I wasn’t just going to leave them to die.
“Well now you get it,” I tell him, “Hard to have an appetite when your home is facing death and destruction?”
Mitchell is a nice guy. I know he doesn’t mean to be an asshole at this moment. Maybe I’m just being sensitive. He keeps looking at me. Looking at me hard. Looking at me like he wants something from me. Even after it gets awkward he continues to look. He continues to stare. And then finally after a few minutes of awkward silence, he speaks again.
“You are such a good person. You know?” he tells me, “Always smiling. Always positive. You’ve never said a bad thing about anyone ever. How is it you’re so perfect?”
I laugh, “I’m not perfect. I’m just me.”
“Well, you’re perfect to me. Especially when you start talking about Little America being home. It makes me wonder…”
“That’s what Little America is to me,” I explain to him, “It’s a new home. I know what you’re thinking. A bunch of kids who are carriers for the virus doesn’t seem much like a home.”
“That’s not true,” he replies, “When I first came to Little America, you guys welcomed me and my group with open arms. You gave us a house. You gave us food. You gave us clothes. You didn’t have to do that. You are good people. I knew that night you came over.”
“What happened that night, I got so drunk.”
“You don’t remember?”
Mitchell looks a bit hurt when I say that. I’m surprised that he does. Hell, in all honesty, I’m surprised he is over here talking to me at all. Whose to know when the virus will be activated. Dr. Serrano made it clear that the lack of S3909 would cause it to activate.
“We were talking. You were telling me stories about you and Sunday. And about you guys traveling. And that you had a boyfriend…”
“Yeah, what about after?”
“Don’t remember after.”
He looks away. Something is definitely wrong. Something is definitely off with the way he responds to me. I hurt his feelings.
“Did I say something wrong?” I ask.
“Just that I thought you would remember. It was so…real to me,” he explains.
I get nervous at that moment, “Well I remember we had an awesome conversation. I let you know you were a cool guy. And then I told you that I probably couldn’t make it home and wanted to sleep on the couch.”
“Do you remember what I said?”
“I said that you might as well stay in the house with me,” Mitchell explains and takes a deep breath, “Said my bed had more than enough room.”
He gets quiet. Real Quiet.
“Wait, we didn’t—–did we?”
I had passed out. I didn’t remember any of it. Not even a little bit. I look over at Mitchell and I can tell that he remembers everything. No wonder he is standing here having the most awkward conversation with me.
And then I notice something else. I notice the way his smile seems to melt as he looks at me. The way his feet are pointed towards me and he leans in when I talk as though trying to get a sniff of my breath. I notice the way he keeps trying to get closer and closer even now. He’s close. Way too close.
“Yeah, we did. We had sex…”
He leans in and touches me. He grabs me. His hand pressing up against mine in the most sensitive way I’ve ever been touched in my life. A part of me doesn’t want to hurt his feelings. I wasn’t attracted to Mitchell. Just not in that way. It wasn’t about how he looked. He was cute enough….just not what I was aiming for.
“Oh my god Mitchell, I’m so sorry,” I state, “I was drunk beyond belief.”
“Don’t apologize,” he explains to me, “It was magical. You inside of me…exploring me. Feeling on my insides. Digging deeper and deeper. You cumming inside of me.”
That’s when he does something I don’t expect. He grabs my hands and makes me cup his ass. I’m shocked because he does this with the others close enough to see what he’s doing. Valentina has completely raised her eyebrows clearly being alert at what the hell is going on. Then I notice my friends. My friends who clearly knew what I was interested in and they would have known a long time ago if that included Mitchell.
“Listen Mitchell…there’s something you need to know,” I start trying to explain to him, “When I came to your house I was really interested in—-”
I am about to say Sunday. I am literally trying to get it out. I think he deserves to know the truth. I wasn’t interested in you. I was interested in Sunday. The fact that I got so drunk and ended up with Sunday’s best friend was bad enough. The fact that Sunday’s best friend was confronting me right now made it 10X worse.
“There’s something you need to know too,” he interrupts me aggressively, “You were only the second person I’d ever had sex with. I always said that I wouldn’t have sex unless it meant something. Before that night I thought life was over…”
“Oh my god…”
“But that night. You MEANT something. That night I knew I had something to keep living for.”
That’s when I see tears falling down his eyes. I wonder how long he’s been waiting to have this conversation about how he felt about me. I wonder how long he has been holding it all in. Probably about as long as I had been holding onto my feelings for Sunday. It seems like Mitchell was a faucet of emotion right now and there was no stopping him.
That’s when he leans over and grabs my hand. It felt good knowing that I was able to bring this kind of joy to someone. And here I am knowing that I wasn’t interested in Mitchell in that sort of way but feeling as though it would be hard to hurt him at this moment.
“Yes…I was considering suicide. My first love was lost to me. I felt betrayed by my best friend. My group felt like I was the weakest link. I was going to leave the group. I was going to go walk beyond the wall and just let the Biters kill me. That night. I had written out the note and everything. And then I met you.”
Fuck. My mind is going a thousand miles per minute at this moment.
All of a sudden my mind races.
“Listen you’re a beautiful person. Don’t ever give anyone—including me the power to dictate whether or not you deserve to live. We’ve been through a lot but you deserve life. You deserve happiness—even if that isn’t with me. Regardless of who it’s with. I want you to find your star and shine. Don’t let anyone dim it.”
“Channing—You think I’m beautiful?”
That’s all he got from everything I said to him. Never mind that I said “beautiful person”. That didn’t matter to him.
At this moment though it wasn’t even about me. At this moment it was about him. It was about Mitchell.
“Yeah. Yeah, you are.”
That’s when he does something I don’t expect. It hits me hard. I shouldn’t have let it happen but how the hell do you stop someone who is literally telling you that you’re the reason they didn’t commit suicide. So I let him reach forward. He grabs me and he kisses me. I don’t kiss him back. I think it’s bad enough I let him kiss me.
And I wonder if I can help him find a bit of happiness. Even if it’s temporary. Even if it’s just a fake kiss. By the way, his face lights up I know that I’ve given him that.
But I can’t help but be selfish.
What about what I want?
What about my feelings for Sunday?
“New couple?” we are interrupted.
It’s by Valentina. She smiles as she walks over. Fuck. He had done it on purpose. Not only that but he was holding my hand. I try to shake it off but it doesn’t work. Mitchell is literally grabbing onto my hand and I don’t want to hurt his feelings any worse by pushing him off especially in front of his friend.
“No…” I quickly state.
“We’re working on it,” he clarifies with a boyish laugh that he shares with Valentina.
I swear I see Valentina give him a wink. I’m not sure what the wink means but usually, it means that there is something the two of them discussed that I’m unaware of.
“Listen—thank you for being there for him,” Valentina states, “I was watching you guys across the room and I just had to come over. By now you know my mother’s plan.”
“I don’t agree with it,” I state, “We can’t abandon Little America.”
“I didn’t come over here to suggest to you that we should.”
“Then why’d you come over here?”
Before Valentina can let me know why she had come over to talk to me the alarm sounds. The sound is pulsating!
“What the fuck was that?”
My emotions can wait at this point. I’m not sure what’s going on but I don’t think an alarm in a situation like this can be anything but bad.
We run to the windows trying to find out what’s happening. The alarm rotated between about six different annoying noises of varying pitch and volume. It sounded like a disco for the anti-christ. That’s when we see all these cars pulling up. Gunshots break loose. They aren’t shooting at the Cold Bodies out there. They were shooting at the CDC security. The gates were falling! They were falling fast.
They were vehicles of all different shapes and sizes. One thing was clear and one thing was very clear.
They were not friends.
“They are inside the building!” Ignacio states returning with Sunday in his hand.
I’m confused, “Who are they?”
“Same people that attacked us at the gas station,” Missy responds.
“They call themselves the Remnants,” Sunday tells us, “He’s here for me. He’s here for me.”
“He?” I ask.
That’s when he points to the window. The glass window we can see a boy standing. The boy is standing in the middle of the courtyard. He is dressed like the other Remnants. He fits in. I’ve definitely seen him before at the gas station. Missy notices him as well. This boy meant business. He was definitely frightening, to say the least.
Missy screams, “We need to get out of here.”
“Not so fast,” we are interrupted.
We turn to see Dr. Serrano. She seems unconcerned with what’s going on outside. She seems unconcerned with the fact that her facility was under attack.
“What’s going on here?” I ask,
“You have two choices. You can come with me to safety. I have the serum to keep you alive. Or you can go back to Little America. If the horde doesn’t kill you then the virus inside of you will. In either of those options, Sunday comes with me.”
That’s when I turn and see Iggy grabbing Sunday. He grabs him in a way of trying to restrain him. I’m confused by it.
“Iggy, what are you doing?” Missy asks.
Iggy literally has his arms around Sunday and begins to pull Sunday towards his mother, “I’m protecting him.”
Bullshit. He was holding him against his will. I wasn’t going to have it. There was no way in hell I was going to be cool with it.
I am about to go after Sunday but right when I take a few steps I see a girl with a gun. It’s the batshit crazy girl Luna. Luna has a gun pointed at me.
“Like I said. You have two options. Come with us or leave. Either way Sunday is coming with us,” Dr. Serrano states.
She seems cocky. Between her overzealous son and the Luna, I am sure she feels like she has all the manpower she needs.
“I choose Option 3.”
No one expects it. Especially not me. Valentina jumps forward wrestling the gun out of Luna’s hands. She had been walking closer the entire time and no one noticed anything. Hell, I had assumed she was just helping her brother or something. Valentina clearly wasn’t though.
When she gets the gun from Luna she literally points it at her own mother.
“Valentina don’t be stupid—-”
Valentina shrugs, “As I stated mother, we are taking option Number 3. You are going to come back with us to Little America. And you’re going to figure out a way out of this for us. You’re smart enough. I’ve been your disappointing daughter long enough to know you always have an answer.”
“You don’t know what you’re doing Valentina,” Iggy says, “This is my only chance to keep you and Sunday safe…”
Dr. Serrano agrees with her son, “Listen to your brother Val. Going back to Little America is a suicide mission. Everyone will die there. EVERYONE.”
“I have confidence you’ll find a way to keep us alive,” Valentina states, “And if you don’t…well…guess you’ll just die with your experiments.”