It's late when he stumbles into her house, sweat shining on his face, tears dripping down his cheeks. Uninvited, unexpected – no less welcome.
Her siblings are upstairs, the TV blaring with a movie, but she was downstairs for the moment, making popcorn, and she's there to receive him.
She greets him, surprised, happy, wonders why he came here.
He says nothing – just holds out his arm, mutely, and she can see it right away.
The bite mark is prominent, prints of teeth etched deeply into his skin, a tiny trickle of blood. The skin around it is already beginning to fester; she recoils. Is it what she thinks it is?
His nod answers; it is all she needs to know.
A moment of panic – the edges of her brain blur; what to do now? The first thing – warn the others upstairs? Try to figure out a solution? Arm herself? Get out?
"Mason," she calls upstairs. "Sam, Ray – come down. Now."
Her voice is calm, but they must hear the distress in it because the noise from upstairs stops – the movie is paused – and she can hear their footsteps.
The first pop comes from the pan on the stove, where the popcorn is, but she doesn't pay it any mind, instead sitting on a stool beside him as the others come into the kitchen.
He hasn't said a word yet, choked up by distress or fear, she's not sure, and she wonders again why he came to her. Why he assumes she'd help.
Because her whole family is the only one in their town crazy enough to actually prepare for something like this? – and she looks again at the perfectly-crescent marks in his arm and wonders why it had to be him.
Her brother reaches the bottom of the stairs, does a double take. "When did he get here?" and he holds out his arm again, displaying the bite mark, and Mason goes pale.
She nods, mutely. "Yes, it's what you think it is – where were they?" she asks, turning to the boy on the stool, who is turning paler with every second.
"My house," he says softly, numbly – "my parents."
His house isn't so far away. And if his parents were the ones –
Her parents – her and Mason's mother, Sam and Ray's father –
Where are they?
Quick errands, they said, they'd be back soon – but they've been gone a long time.
Havoc is coming. It's coming to them, far too quickly.
They need to get out of here.
"Did you warn anyone else?" she asks him. "How long ago did this happen?" She indicates once again his arm.
"About ten hours," and he sways on his stool. She puts a hand behind his back, holds him up. Shivers run through her.
She knows that he is finished – knows there's no hope anymore – but why does she still hesitate to tell him what he needs to know?
Mason is talking quietly to Sam and Ray, they are running for the closets where the guns are hidden, but her vision is centered only on him.
"What do you want us to do?" she asks, finally, her voice a whisper.
"There's no way of stopping it," she says.
"They'll be here soon."
"We need to get out."
"You need to get out."
She cringes, looks once more at his arm. The skin looks diseased – is diseased. The sight of it makes her want to cry.
"There's no stopping it now," he says. Echoes her words from earlier. "It's too late for me."
Silence, and then she speaks again.
"What do you want me to do?"
Sam comes over to her, shoves a gun into her hands. The metal is cold, heavy, but she's used to the feeling of it. Sam touches her shoulder gently, a gun of his own in his hands.
"What do you want me to do?" she asks again.
He closes his eyes, touches the gun in her hands.
"It's too late."
The words ring in the silence. She wonders how long it will be silent.
"Call the parents." Ray's voice is loud in the empty kitchen. "If they answer, tell them what's happening. If they don't" –
She doesn't finish the sentence. We'll have to assume that they caught up to them.
Mason picks up his cell phone, hits speed dial. One ring, and then the automated voice. Your call has been forwarded to the automatic voice-message system –
He hangs up.
"Prepare the bikes," she tells the others. "I need a moment."
She listens hard in the silence – no telltale moans are echoing, but she knows it's only a matter of time. They left the door open, so she can hear what's happening with them.
She looks down at him, sighs. "I guess it's the only way?"
"I love you."
She hadn't intended to say that, had always hesitated before, but now –
He needs to know.
His eyes are closed, but he doesn't look surprised. His breathing is shallow.
"I should be surprised," he says finally, "but I'm not, for some reason. I feel like I've known it all my life."
"You probably have."
His hand flutters, rises, finds hers. His eyes open just a slit. Is this the last time she'll see them?
She presses his hand between both of hers, looks at him, waits. Is he going to answer?
"I love you, too."
"Have you always known that?"
"Somewhere deep down," he smiles, weakly, "I think."
"I guess I kind of knew it, too."
His eyes drift closed again. She leans down to him, face inches above his, and he opens his eyes again.
"You're beautiful, you know."
She gives a watery smile.
"I should have told you earlier."
"We can't change the past."
His voice is faint, barely there. She closes her eyes – how often has she wished for this moment? Why does it have to happen now?
She leans closer to him, presses her lips to his. Softly, gently. A first kiss – and a last.
The lock on the shed clicks, the voices grow louder.
"It's time to go," says Sam, softly, puts a hand on her shoulder again. As though he is giving her strength.
She looks back down at the prone figure.
He opens his eyes one more time.
"Do it. Now."
The eyes close again, and she presses the gun to his temple. He flinches at the cold metal, but he doesn't pull away.
"I love you," she says again.
"I love you, too."
She pulls the trigger.