A few hours had passed. Cory had woken up and was busy playing video games with Nick. Max normally would not have allowed Nick anywhere near a video game, but playing outside was simply too dangerous, with headphones on the boys were quiet as church mice. When Max had suggested moving one or both cars into the garage, Stewart had said to move the cruiser in. When she went out to move it she found a girl in the front seat, a very scared, bloody girl. The girl wouldn't talk to her, but Amelia had coaxed her name, Erin, out of her using food as a bribe. Erin's arm had been cut open in a ragged manner and she would not say what had happened to her. Amelia cleaned her up and put her with the other children, who were confined to the second story of the house.
After moving the cruiser in Tom and Stewart looked it over as best they could. Neither of them were mechanics, so they went slow and looked for obvious damage. After ten minutes of looking and not finding any problems they came to the conclusion that the cruiser had come through in remarkable shape. They pulled it out and drove the Cadillac into the garage to check it over, it was completely unscratched and ready to roll.
With all the other adults busy Max and Sarah were left to talk. At first they just held each other, then Sarah started crying. Over breakfast she had spoken with Amelia and learned what had happened to Diane. By noon Sarah no longer felt good, she described it as having a case of the flu. Her stomach felt like it was being tied in knots. When she and Max checked her wound in their master bedroom it was red, swollen and filled with a foul smelling green and yellow pus. They both cried then as they cleaned it up as much as possible. At dinner time Sarah did not help out with preparing the food, a thick sheen of sweat covered her face and plastered her hair to her head. She didn't eat dinner. As night came on the group took heavy winter blankets and sleeping bags out of the closets and garage and hung them over all of the upstairs windows, to keep light from getting out and giving away their location.
Sarah went into her bedroom and called Max and their kids in and shut the door.
Amelia spoke quietly with Stewart and Tom downstairs. “She looks like Diane did, before she turned.”
“So she isn't going to make it? How much longer did Diane last after she got to this point?” asked Stewart.
“About half the night, maybe six hours.”
“Shit, what are we going to do? We can't kill Max's wife!” said Tom.
“I don't know, I don't know. We'll think of something.” replied Stewart.
They went on to discuss piling furniture on the stairway and hiding out up there for the night, looking around they didn't have much left to move, most of the furniture in the living room had been moved in front of the door or pulled into the kitchen to barricade the patio doorway.
Inside Max's bedroom Sarah told the kids how much she loved them and would always love them, then had Max bring them to Nick's room. Max went back into his bedroom alone and shut and locked the door behind him.
“You have to Max. I won't become one of them.” Sarah pleaded.
“Don't ask me to do that, you can't and I won't. What if someone comes up with a way to reverse it? Then you would be gone forever.”
“Max I am going to be gone forever. I can feel it, it hurts. It hurts so bad. Just do it, please?”
“Stewart then, send her to do it. I don't want to run around like one of them, I can't do that, killing and...and eating other people. Becoming one of them! They were evil! That won't be me.”
“No, no one is going to do anything...final. We will figure something out.”
“Max this isn't a mountain you can climb, this isn't a game you can win by putting more effort into it. This is it. I got bit. I got infected and I am going to die. Tonight. You cannot sit there and say you are going to figure something out.”
Max bowed his head into his hands and sobbed. Sarah continued, “You have to do it. I want you to do it.”
Max raised his tear stained face and looked at her. Giving her a curt nod.
“Good, should we go into the back yard, away from the kids?”
Horrified Max said, “I'm not doing it now! You are still alive!”
She smiled at him, “Better now before...I turn. At least we could get away from the kids and they wouldn't have to see. If you wait until I change we could be out there all night, plus if I stay here it would be a mess to clean up.”
Max just stared at her, then with some anger in his voice he said, “You are going to die and you are worried about the mess it would make in our bedroom?”
Sarah shrugged, “I am being realistic. If you wait until I change you would have to shoot me here, then drag me out past the other bedrooms, maybe the kids would see, maybe not. Then you would have to deal with the blood and stuff. It is better to just go do it now and get it over with, before the pain gets worse.”
“No, I think I can do it after you turn, but no way, no way can you ask me to do this before that happens. I would always think maybe we were too soon, maybe you would fight it off, maybe you wouldn't turn out like the others.”
It was Sarah's turn to nod, “I won't make a murderer of you, any more than I would commit suicide. When I am gone you have to do it, it won't be murder then, so don't think it will be.”
Of the two of them Sarah was the more religious. Max was always the one who attended church 'just in case', he felt he that an hour of fellowship was not as important as a week of treating people right, but went with Sarah at her insistence. Sarah was far more apt to obey the commandments to the letter than Max and had very strong feelings on things like abortion, suicide and murder. During their college years she had even been arrested protesting at a candle light vigil the night Colorado put one of its murderers to death. The two of them had gone around several times about raising the children in the church, Sarah did not approve of Max's casual attitude regarding their religious education. It was for this reason alone, Max surmised, that Sarah would not put a gun to her own head and pull the trigger right now. Suicide was still a mortal sin and she fully expected to be waiting for her family in Heaven when they joined her.
“Max you have to promise me to take care of the kids when I am gone.”
“What the hell kind of a thing to say? I'm their father, I am not going to run off just because you are not around.”
“Oh I know you will be there for them, but I know how you are too. I want you to promise to make sure they continue, you know, in the church, if it is possible. It is what I want.”
“The church? What church? We will be lucky if the kids live to have kids, the way things are going.”
“I know but promise you will, if you can?” Sarah's face was pale and still sweaty.
“Dammit I thought I was going to get to weasel out of that.”
“This isn't a joke and you still haven't promised, it is my dying wish Max!” Sarah said seriously.
Sighing heavily, like a good martyr, Max replied, “I will do my best, you don't expect me to be all biblical on them right?”
“No, I couldn't squeeze blood from a rock, but you have to promise me that you will bring them up in the church. Say it.” she pressed.
“I promise I will do my best to raise our children in the church. There, good enough?”
She nodded and leaned back against the pillows piled behind her.
“That is just like you to make me promise that. I mean who says 'dying wish' anymore? That is only the stuff you see in movies!”
Sarah smiled, “I win another battle after all these years.”
“Oh you've won your share and we both know it.”
The smile stayed on her face and she nodded, “Sure, so have you, that is what being married is all about. Give and take. We had some good times?”
“We never made it to Hawaii.” Max said regretfully.
“Think about what we did do. We have two great kids, we took them all over, me and you traveled around like vagabonds after college before settling down. We have a strong family.”
“Yeah, I guess we do. It was Nick who settled us down as I remember.”
“Oh yes, he gave me pains developing and gave us pains the first six months of his life, the kid never slept!” said Sarah.
“Remember the drum set?” Max asked. Sarah's dad had given Nick a junior drum set for Christmas when Nick was four. “I just about banned your dad from the house after that!”
“Yeah but he gave us the car, it was the way his humor worked. Still I wasn't too sad when Nick 'lost' his drum sticks after a couple weeks.” said Sarah.
“Oh, I took one of them. I just couldn't stand it after awhile.”
“That's alright, I took the other a day later.”
“You did?!” Max was surprised.
“Yeah, I figured out you had snagged the first one, so you left me to finish the job. Typical really. I always wondered why you didn't snag both of them?”
“Well, I thought it would be suspicious if he lost them both at the same time. I actually thought he lost the other one on his own.”
“See? We are still learning things about each other. Well, you about me anyway.”
“Yeah, you were always the sneaky one, me? I am a straight arrow, predictable and reliable.”
“You come around eventually.” Sarah conceded.
Max just looked at his wife for awhile, then started crying again. “What am I going to do? What am I going to do without you?”
Sarah hugged him close and whispered, “Live. Take care of the kids, but live your life.”
They stayed that way for awhile before Sarah finally said, “Max, I want to go to the attic.”
“Let’s go to the attic, then, if you have to do it, no one will see and you can just leave me here in our house. I know you aren't going to stay, right?”
“We haven't made plans yet.”
“You didn't come to get me and the kids so we could all stay here, I know you are going to go somewhere. You can leave me in the attic, let me stay where I had so many good times.”
“In the attic?”
“Max.” Sarah said sharply, “You know what I mean. The attic is closer than most people get to be to their homes when they die. Say a prayer over me for the kids and then just go. Come on, let’s move up there now.”
“Is it time? Already?”
“No, but I keep feeling weaker and I don't want you to have to carry me up there. Where we slept should still be there, I will just curl up and go to sleep. I will be okay and you can do what needs to be done after.”
They went out into the hall together and Max pulled down the stairway ladder using the rope he had tied to it again. As they went up Max noticed someone had cleaned all the fallen insulation up out of the hallway and put a piece of wood over the hole on the attic side to keep more from falling out.
Sarah settled down among the kid's sleeping bags and stuffed animals, then pointed at the kid's pillows, “You better toss these down, Jessica likes her own pillow and I don't want her to come looking for it later.
Stewart's head popped up at the attic access. “Everything okay up here?”
“Yeah, Sarah is going to settle in here.” Max replied.
“I...yeah, okay, I can see that makes sense. How are you doing Sarah?”
“I have been better, I feel weaker by the minute, maybe you can ask Amelia what comes next?”
Stewart didn't shy away from the question, “I did. You die. Then come back. I am really sorry Sarah. I wish there was something I could do.”
“It isn't your fault Jane.”
“Do you need anything?” Stewart asked.
“For tonight? No. But take care of Max and the kids for me, will you?”
“I had planned to, once we figure out what we are doing from here. I think we will talk about that...tomorrow. Well if you don't need anything else I am going to duck out of here. Max...don't do anything foolish, okay?”
Stewart just nodded and climbed back down the ladder into the house. Max heard her talking softly with Amelia, then they moved off out of hearing range.
Max turned back to his wife, “So, how are you feeling now?”
“Achy. Do you know if it gets worse?”
Max shook his head, “Why don't I go get some acetaminophen?”
Sarah shrugged her shoulders, “I guess it won't hurt anything.”
Max climbed down to retrieve the medicine. Amelia and Stewart were at one end of the hall, opposite of where Max was heading, he stepped over to them to see what they were discussing.
Amelia saw him coming and asked, “How is Sarah Max?”
“I don't know, feverish, sweating. Amelia how was it with...Diane? Is Sarah looking like she did before she...died?”
Amelia's small smile faded and she looked towards a hallway wall, she nodded slowly, “I am sorry Max, she is going through the same thing, the same way.”
“It's okay Amelia, I just wanted to know, you know?” Amelia nodded.
Stewart asked, “You look like you came down for more than to shoot the breeze Max, what are you after?”
“Acetaminophen.” Max shrugged, his eyes were watery and wet, “I know, not likely to be the cure-all we need, but if it eases the pain.” He shrugged again.
“Sure Max anything. You have some here or do you want me to go get some?”
“What? Oh no it is after dark now, I wouldn't dream of sending you out for any. Anyway we have a ton of the stuff, we bought a jug of it from the warehouse store awhile back.” Max walked back to the linen closet just inside the bathroom.
The women followed him and Stewart said, “It is probably a bad time to bring this up...”
Max raised his hand up, “I think I can do it, after, you know, she changes, she made me promise. I can't do it before, 'cause I would always wonder if she would have changed or not.”
Stewart nodded, “You got the gun then?”
“Always now.” the pistol was tucked into Max's pocket, he pulled it out, “I don't want the kids to see it, I didn't want to scare them any more than they were already.”
“Fair enough, if you..if you want me to take care of it Max, I will understand. I know you would do the same for me.” said Stewart.
“No. I got this. With you two watching my back and keeping an eye on the kids for me...well that will make things easier. Just yell if anything happens that you need my help with.” said Max
“Don't worry about the kids Max” said Amelia, “I have them in Jessica's room, the boys are playing video games, the girls have a bunch of those little animal things all over the floor, Erin is playing even.” said Amelia.
“Okay, just give me tonight and we'll figure out what to do in the morning. Amelia, it will be tonight won't it? I mean is Sarah looks like Diane did?” Max was fighting to stop from crying in front of them.
Amelia leaned over and hugged him and he started to cry in earnest. Stewart stood awkwardly by for a second then embraced both of them, they stood that way outside the bathroom door for a few minutes, then Max excused himself to the bathroom, where he composed himself before climbing back into the attic.
Sarah noted him coming over to her and said, “I thought you forgot me.”
“Never, I just...”
“Shhhh...it is okay Max, I know, I heard a little...it is okay, really.”
Max broke down again and his wife hugged him close, they stayed that way for the longest time, both of them drifting off to sleep, the acetaminophen forgotten.
When Max woke next Sarah was shuddering, her body contorted upwards in the middle throwing Max off of her onto the boards next to the bedding.
“Sarah!” Max whispered harshly, “Sarah! Are you okay?” He fumbled around trying to find a flashlight. Below them in the hallway, Max heard Tom call out something.
Sarah continued convulsing, while Max searched, a square of light appeared on the ladder below, illuminating the attic enough for Max to find the small LED light he had been looking for. He frantically pressed the button on the end and flashed the light over to where his wife should be.
As he pulled it up Sarah lunged at him. “No Sarah!” She pushed him backwards, somehow Max rolled over and got up. Shining the light over her Max saw that she was tangled in the bedding, which had gotten caught on the edge of a wooden box they had stored in the attic years ago. Max fumbled in his waistband for the pistol and stepped back to brace himself on one of the wooden boards just when Sarah pulled free of the blankets. She stumbled into him knocking him backwards, for a second Max thought he had fallen through the ceiling, then he realized he had been pushed through the open attic access. His head and shoulders impacted the wooden ladder and righted his body as he fell. During his fall he lost his hold on the gun. Max ended up on the hallway floor, trying to figure out if he had been hurt or not. Above him, one of Sarah's hands was visible grouping around in the empty space leading down to the ladder. Then Tom was there with a gun and flashlight in his hands.
“Max! Are you alright?” he asked.
“Uh, I don't know, watch out Tom, Sarah turned!”
Tom glanced up, then heaved the ladder upwards with a one handed push, grunting as he did so. The attic access closed with a thud, blocking Sarah's groping hand from view.
“That won't hold if she steps on it.” Max said.
“I know, we need a board or something to prop it up.”
Stewart stumbled out of Nick's room, “What is going on? What happened?”
“Sarah turned.” Max said, gingerly trying to get up off the floor, Stewart put a hand out and they both paused when they heard movement in the attic.
Stewart turned to Max accusingly, “You didn't do it? I told you I would if you couldn't...” she stopped as she saw Max shaking his head.
“I fell asleep, when she woke up I tried, but she tackled me and I fell down the hole.”
“Shit. Now what do we do?”
“Get a board to prop up the attic.” said Tom.
“Do we have any left?” asked Stewart, “We used everything we had to barricade the back doors.”
“I think I know where there is one, gimme a second to make sure I didn't break anything.” Max felt his ankles, arms and ribs while they watched him.
“Anytime now Max, no rush or anything.” said Stewart.
“Fine, good enough.” Max leaned over and picked up his flashlight, “I gotta run to the garage and into the back yard real quick. Will you guys stay here?”
“Sure, be careful and quick, okay?” answered Stewart.
Max stumbled down the stairs, then headed through the living room, which had one candle lit providing a small amount of light. The kitchen was lit the same way, just enough to be useful, but probably not enough to let people outside see anything. Heading into the garage Max grabbed a saw off of the wall above the workbench and quietly unlocked the back door, he peered out and flashed the light around his back yard. He didn't see anything, so he eased out the door, muffling the flashlight against his leg. He headed for the patio behind the house, when he reached the edge he stopped and risked a quick look with the light. The old two by four board that they had used when they poured the patio was still on the edge. It had been years since the patio had been poured so the wood was not in very good shape, but it was long enough. Max bent down, and tried to pull the board out. It was embedded in the dirt and didn't want to cooperate. He moved to one end and used the saw as an improvised shovel to clear the dirt away from the board. Having cleared a place for him to get a hand under it Max lifted the board up easily. He pulled it along behind him as he ran, all efforts at deadening the light forgotten as he went into the garage, he slung the board ahead of him alongside his minivan, then turned and shut and locked the back door of the garage.
Max hauled the dirty board into his house after stuffing his flashlight into his front pocket. The board and saw made a clumsy burden, somehow he managed to get them up the stairs to Stewart and Tom. Amelia was outside of Jessica's door in Sarah's robe, the door was closed behind her.
“That looks a little long Max.” said Stewart.
Max held up the saw, which he noticed was bent at the end from using it as a shovel. Stewart nodded. Max lifted the board and saw that he needed to take off a couple of feet to make it fit as a wedge against the attic access door. He opted to take off about a foot and a half, he could trim more off if he needed to. After sawing frantically he lifted the shorter board into place. It would not fit directly, however with it propped diagonally, one end where the hallway wall was, it fit snuggly against the door. Up above the shuffling continued, never quite getting over the access.
“Probably she won't climb onto the access, the ladder is folded up on it, she'll probably wander around the rest of the attic, so this is just a precaution. In the morning I will get screws and my drill and drill the access shut.”
Stewart looked at him and said, “I can do it Max, still if you want me to.”
With Amelia and Tom looking on Max leaned against the wall and said, “No, let’s just leave it like this for now. I am so tired of all this...really.”
“Will she come through the ceiling?” Tom asked, pointing up at the hole they had repaired before.
“Maybe, it is lathe and plaster over the rooms, only the hallway and master bedroom are sheet rock. I don't know which is stronger, thank God she didn't balloon up into a fat woman after we got married, she is still pretty light. I think she will be okay. The gun is up there.”
“I don't think she will figure out how to use it Max.” said Amelia, “They don't get smart right away.”
“I think they get smarter by eating people.” said Tom, they all looked at him. “Like vampires, I mean most of them are very dumb, only a few are pretty smart, some of them can talk. It is as good a theory as any.”
The other nodded.
“That goes along with what Juan said this morning. So now what?” Max asked Stewart.
“We are rotating sleeping, Tom is on now.” Stewart looked at her watch, “He has another hour to go, then Amelia, I take last watch so I can get the coffee going. You are not 'on' tonight. We figured with” Stewart looked upwards, “that going on you would be busy. Why don't you crash on the couch so if something happens you can be woke up real quick by whoever is keeping watch?”
“Okay. I am sorry Stewart, about this, if I could have, I mean I was even, going to do it, I mean.” said Max
“Don't worry about it. I am crashing in Nick's room. We'll deal with Sarah in the morning, okay?”
Max and Tom went downstairs and Max settled on the couch. Tom turned on the television and flipped through all the channels, seeing only static.
“Turn on the satellite TV, see if they have anything.” suggested Max, “Here let me do it.”
Max flipped through four hundred channels of television, a few channels were showing old movies, one Spanish channel was still broadcasting music videos, but all the news channels were off the air. Max put the remote down and chatted with Tom for a short time before he drifted off to doze fitfully the rest of the night.