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For the first time in days Darren wasn’t thinking about how hungry he was. Worries about the mounting pile of bills and next month’s rent faded when the outbreak happened. Keeping them out was the only worry. He and Mitch Kline, the poor old bastard that owned the only other cabin this far up the mountain, boarded up all the windows and doors downstairs. After that his only worry was making sure Beth and the kids had enough food and his own hunger. It was easy to put such things out of mind with the cold teeth of a hacksaw resting on his shoulder.
Chris, his eldest, stood behind him. Darren was glad Chris had grown to be stronger than him even at seventeen. Otherwise his son may not have been able to hold him down so forcefully to the kitchen table. They’d only had enough rope to tie his left arm in place. Still, he had to tell Chris to wrench his arm up further behind his back and press down harder.
His wife stood to his side with the saw. He could feel the blade of it shaking with reluctance against his skin. It made his nerves even more jittery than they already were. He cranked his neck around to look at her. “Beth, baby, we need to do this.” She nodded with tears in her eyes, but wouldn’t speak. “When you start, you can’t stop. You have to keep going until it’s off. Close the wound as fast as you can.” Beth nodded again. “If you don’t… I’ll die. You understand?”
She nodded one last time and placed a wooden spoon between his teeth. He clamped down on it and clenched his eyes shut. His palms were sweating and his heart was beating in his throat.
“Daddy?” Sally’s worried little voice drifted from the kitchen doorway.
Sudden relief surged through Darren with a sigh as the blade lifted from his skin and the saw clattered to the table. “Daddy’s fine.” Beth’s voice was weak, cracked with sniffled sobs. She ushered their little girl out of the kitchen into the board-sealed living room and secured the lock. A few seconds later the saw was back on his arm and Darren knew there would be no more interruptions.
The teeth of the saw bit viciously with the first cut. Spasms of pain jerked through Darren’s body uncontrollably and a muted scream forced past the wooden spoon as he bit down harder causing it to splinter in his mouth. But the rope held tight and Chris managed to keep him down. Blood gushed from his arm onto the table and trickled onto the linoleum floor. With every cut the saw dug deeper, sending waves of nausea through his stomach. It didn’t take long for Beth to reach the bone.
Hot sickening pain surged through every nerve running through Darren’s body. That, coupled with the zipping sound the blade made as it worked its way through his humerus, caused an explosion of vomit from his mouth and he screamed as loud as his lungs would allow. Distantly, he could hear Sally crying through the locked kitchen door. “DAAAADDYYYY!”
The saw finally severed the bone and Darren actually felt relief when Beth started cutting through the rest of his flesh. He could feel the blood spurting from the stump where his arm had been and he hoped she moved quick to stop it.
She did. Another surge of blinding pain shocked his entire body and the stench of burning flesh filled his nose as Beth pressed the white hot iron against the wound. Its surface wasn’t quite large enough to cover the wound so she pulled it away and pressed it back to seal every last bit of bloody tissue. At last, it was over.
Darren blacked out.
His dreams were filled with… whatever they were. They had filled his dreams every night since the outbreak began. Some were freshly risen, blood and gore caked onto and hanging from them. Some were more decayed, with bits of bone showing through their maggot infested meat. All of them smelled like rot and they all had the same milky white blind eyes.
It was always the same dream… his attempt to get to the grocery store with Mitch. The news reports had all warned people to stay inside with their doors locked. But they had been without food for almost two weeks. When radio and television went down it was obvious no help was coming for them and they would need to find food.
Knowing the streets in town would be choked with cars from the initial outbreak, they’d decided to go on foot. Walking would be quieter and there had been less people in the woods, meaning fewer of them. Traveling down the mountain seemed like the best option. They were mistaken.
Twenty minutes into the walk five of them stumbled from behind a formation of rocks. Mitch shot one of them through the head before Darren could stop him, sending a cracking echo through the forest. Soon thirty of those damn things surrounded them.
It was only Mitch tripping over a root as they ran that saved him. He turned to help but they had already fallen over him. Darren gazed in disgusted fascination as every last one of them tore at each other for their turn to rip meat from the poor bastard’s bones. Kline’s screams followed him the whole way back to the house… but he was alive.
How many times his psyche subjected him to reliving the trip Darren couldn’t say. Despite the throbbing pain of the left side of his body, he was happy when his eyes finally fluttered open.
His mouth was dry and his body weak. How long had he been asleep? He twisted his head to look around. Chris and Beth had moved him to his bed. Two bottles sat on the nightstand. Tylenol and Jack Daniels. Darren was happy to see both, but needed food in his stomach before he would be able to use either. Beth sat in a chair on the other side watching him tearfully. “Is it over?” His voice was a sandpaper rough croak.
She shook her head. “You hungry?”
“Did you guys eat?”
Darren nodded and watched as she ambled out of the room. He hated to think of what they might have to do if the epidemic didn’t end soon.
A few minutes later Beth came back with a plate and silverware. She sat them on the nightstand and helped him sit up some in the bed. Moving around without his arm was going to take some getting used to. Once he was seated she handed him the plate and he inspected the contents.
They had saved him the thickest and meatiest part of his arm. Darren looked at it, hesitating to even touch it. Steam rose off it from the plate and it started smelling sweet, not like the burning flesh when they sealed the wound. His belly started to grumble and hunger won over revulsion. Darren lifted the chunk of meat with his bare fingers and bit into it with a starved and salivating mouth. It was the best thing he’d ever tasted.