Kris woke with a gasp and found himself alone.
The bare plywood walls seemed to taunt him. He rolled over looked out the narrow slit of a window to the outside world: It was daytime, and his friends were missing.
“H-hello?” he called out. He moved to sit up and found his red Hawaiian shirt and cargo pants plastered with sweat. He’d never wanted a shower more in his life.
His head pounded. He strained to remember what had happened. The last thing he recalled was being bitten. He was suddenly aware of the throbbing pain in his left arm. He winced as his fingers brushed the wrapped bandage.
Kris grabbed his rumbling stomach with both hands. With a grunt, he forced himself to his feet and shuffled toward the door. He tried the knob. Locked. He pounded weakly on the cheap wood. “Hello?” he cried. “I need help.”
No one answered. He gave up, too tired to continue, and sat opposite the door, beneath the window, hoping his friends would show up soon.
Sky came first. When a thug shoved her into the room, her face went from dark and brooding to ecstatic and disbelieving in an instant. “Kris!” she shouted. She rushed to his side and squeezed his neck in a hug. “Oh, my God, I can’t believe you’re up!” She put her hand on his forehead. “And you’re fever’s gone down!”
“Um, i-it’s nice to see you too.” In spite of the pain, Kris mustered a smile.
“You must be starving. Here. I snuck these out of the kitchen.” She pulled two apples from her pocket and handed them over. Kris bit into one, grateful for the nourishment.
“What were you doing in the kitchen?” Kris asked, wiping juice from his chin with the back of his hand.
“These assholes are having us work while they wait for you to wake up and prove that you aren’t infected,” Sky answered with a roll of her eyes. “But at least they didn’t kill us.” Her eyes fell to Kris’s wounded arm. Sky gently took his hand in hers. “Kris, I’m sorry they did this to you.”
“It’s okay,” Kris said. He pulled his arm back, almost like he was ashamed of the injury. “I mean, it saved us. Right?”
Sky sighed and spoke softly so as to not be overheard. “For now. What happens if Tony lets us go in exchange for the antidote?”
“I dunno,” Kris said with a weak shrug. “C-could we make some weird mixture and give it to him, and then tell him it’s the antidote?”
“Yeah, but he’ll want to test it,” Sky said. “On us.”
“Why?” Kris asked. “I mean, aren’t I proof enough?”
“You’re proof an ‘antidote’ exists,” Sky said, using air quotes, “but you’re not proof that whatever we make is the antidote. He’ll probably think whatever we make is fake, and he wouldn’t be wrong.”
Kris leaned his head back into the wall and closed his eyes. He was too tired for this nonsense. He should have just taken Marko and Ed to the RV, let them have it, and prayed they’d let them free. Now he was deeper into a lie he didn’t know how to crawl out of.
Jamar and Arthur entered the room next, both covered in sweat and dirt.
“Well, look who’s decided to join us in the land o’ the living,” Arthur grunted as he lit a cigarette and collapsed in the corner.
“Thank God you pulled through,” Jamar said with a smile.
“H-hey, guys,” Kris managed. He wasn’t used to so much attention, and he wasn’t sure he liked it.
“Where’s Kurisu?” Jamar asked Sky.
“Little Miss Molly decided to keep her a bit longer.”
“And not you?”
“I can’t cook for shit, Jamar. Everybody knows that. Your taste buds will thank you later; trust me.”
“What about you two?” Kris asked. He noticed Jamar and Arthur were sweating and covered in a layer of dirt.
“Grave diggin’,” Arthur answered. “These people have been through hell.”
Jamar nodded in solemn agreement.
“I don’t feel sorry for ‘em,” Sky said with disgust.
“Neither do I,” Arthur agreed, “but it’s not pretty out there.”
“Not even the kids are spared from this madness.”
At this, Sky frowned and sighed. “Let’s just focus on how we’re gonna get out of here.”
“We can’t make a move until Tony does,” Arthur said between a slow drag. “And at the rate he’s goin’, that could be a while.”
It wasn’t. The door flung open and Kurisu rushed inside. Tony and his goons loomed outside the door.
“So it’s true,” Tony said, stepping inside, his silver pistol on his belt. “Three days after a bite and you’re still with us when most men turn within the hour.” He clapped his hands as if he were impressed.
He looked at Kris’s friends. “My people tell me you’re good help.” He paused, sniffed, looked down, and put his hands in his pockets. “I feel like I owe you all an explanation.”
Arthur scoffed. “All you owe us, buddy, is our freedom. And all we owe you is a bullet in the chest. You let us go now and maybe we give you an IOU instead.”
Tony actually smiled. “Ya know, the last group to come through this shithole of a town was just like you guys: strong, determined, a little bit crazy. I’ve lived in this neighborhood my whole life. I grew up alongside those families upstairs. I learned to trust.
“This group didn’t deserve that trust, but that didn’t stop us from giving it away anyway.” Tony bit his lip. “We paid the price for my naivety; they stole our food, water, medicine, you name it. We lost people because I decided to trust.” Tony ran a hand through his ink black hair, still knotted at the back. “So maybe you can’t forgive me, but maybe you can understand why I wanted to shoot all of you when I saw you stroll into my neighborhood armed to the teeth, huh?”
The group remained silent. Kris wasn’t sure what the others saw, but he saw a broken man at the end of his rope. He wasn’t sure that excused having a zombie sicced on him, though.
“I have a proposition: You give me the antidote, and I give you your freedom, including your guns, RV, everything. With that freedom comes the opportunity to stay here, with our group.”
“Are you fucking kidding me?” Sky said.
Kris glanced at the others. They each wore the same expression of disbelief.
“Why the fuck would we want to stay here with a bunch of maniacs who had a zombie bite one of our own just to prove he wouldn’t turn?”
“I understand you’re upset, and you must hate us, but you’ve all proven your worth here. There’s strength in numbers. Just think about it, hm? You can tell me your answer in the morning.”
He left them to think, but it seemed a decision had already been made.
“There’s no way we’re staying here,” Sky said. “Right?”
“Seems the women got a conscious into ‘im,” Arthur pointed out. “He can’t kill us without gettin’ shit from the others, but he still wants our gear. This is his ‘solution.’”
“This guy sicced a zombie on Kris,” Jamar said. “He’s completely unpredictable. When we say no, what if he kills us anyway?”
“We still have to come up with an antidote, too,” Kurisu noted.
“I’m making him an offer of my own tomorrow,” Arthur grumbled. “He either accepts it, or we take as many of them down with us as we can.” He moved to turn over and added with a scoff, “Oh, and happy Independence Day.”
With that, he laid back and closed his eyes, leaving the others to exchange nervous glances.