I focused back on him, trying to control my urge to panic, “What do you mean ‘they’re learning?’ They’re dead, they can’t learn.”
“In humans, the brain doesn’t immediately stop function for a bit after death if the fatal injury wasn’t brain-related. This thing, this virus, must be keeping the brain functioning to some kind of capacity even after the heart stops. I’m no neurologist, but that’s just a guess.”
“What makes you think that?”
Rodriguez opened his mouth to speak, but his head started to drift down, a weak pant being the only thing coming from him.
No. No no no. This can’t be happening. I need him, I need Rodriguez. I can’t do this alone.
Without thinking of his current state, I reached over and grabbed him by the shoulders, carefully rocking him awake. With every shake I did I saw tiny pieces of his skin fall to the ground, black and decayed, but I continued shaking to wake him up. I pleaded for him to open his eyes again, to have him stay by my side during this time of suffering and disease, to not leave me alone in such a destroyed world. My vision started to get cloudy from the stream of tears I couldn’t control. I didn’t even bother to wipe them away.
“Please, Rodriguez, don’t leave me! You’re the only reason I’m even still alive—you can’t die yet.”
The sound of breaking wood intensified. It was only a matter of time before they broke through. And if Rodriguez was really gone, he could lunge at me at any second. My brain couldn’t help but return to reality. I let go of his shoulders and got up, slowly backing up to the other wall of the hallway. I shook my head, trying to get rid of all the emotions that wanted to burst out of me. From here on out my main priority was to focus on survival. And to start that process, I managed to cease the shaking in my body and get a steady aim at Rodriguez’s head. I quickly wiped the tears with the sleeve of my jacket to make sure I was really aiming at the right spot. I was. I checked the magazine to see if it was loaded: ten bullets, soon to be nine. I had to take a deep breath to calm my nerves, even if it just lasted a moment.
I’m sorry, Rodriguez is all I thought. To make it quick and effortless, I didn’t even bother to slowly pull back on the trigger like he taught me. I immediately pulled it back all the way and felt the small recoil travel from my hands, through my arms, and end in my shoulders. I choked on a few tears that I tried to keep suppressed.
The piece of wood finally snapped in two and the doors flew open. The first line of the decaying bodies fell flat to the ground, causing a tumbling for the rest behind it. That was my signal to run for my life and not look back. I took one last glance at where Rodriguez was, a bright red blood splatter on the wall where his head is. The hole that reached through his head was like a dirty kaleidoscope made of bone and flesh.
I mumbled “I’m sorry” as I got onto my feet and dashed down the hallway, away from the dead.