Left or right, up or down, soup or salad. Life is full of choices. For Tom, making the right choice was usually simple: pick the option that worked best for Tom. He never thought how his actions would affect others, only how he could benefit most. Tom always seemed to make the right choice at the right time. Even though he was only two years out of school, he had been climbing the corporate ladder much faster than his senior colleagues. His future was bright. That is, until the dead made the choice to rise.
After the initial outbreak, Tom joined the other refugees at Hancock International. He never imagined he would learn to call it home. He had passed through many times on business trips to New York and Washington, hating it more with each flight. He would sit and stare out the window at the tower as he waited for his delayed flight to board. “They’re just doing this to mess with us. If those jerks in the tower wanted to get us out on time, they could,” he muttered to the stranger seated beside him. “If I was up there, there wouldn’t be any more delays.”
Tom’s wish came true a few days after arriving. He didn’t want to join the Corps, and there was no way he was going to do KP. He took a position in the tower. His job was to help watch over the grounds. From his perch, Tom could see the entire airfield. It was peaceful. Kids played games and couples went for walks. Sometimes Tom would even forget that just a few miles away thousands of people had lost their lives and then had come back from the dead.
At first, Tom liked the slower pace of this new position, but he longed for the hustle and bustle of his former life. To help pass time, he would play around with the instruments and knobs in the tower. With all flights grounded by the FAA, Tom figured it was safe to experiment. “Flight 17, this is the tower, you’re clear for takeoff, but let’s just say we’re delayed and see how the passengers take it,” Tom calmly spoke into the headset. “There’s not a cloud in the sky, but we’ll tell them it’s raining in D.C.”
Suddenly, the headset crackled, “Who is this? Where are you? What are you talking about? Flights are grounded!” the mystery voice yelled out. “Identify yourself!”
After picking himself up off of the floor, Tom had to decide whether or not to respond to the voice. He nervously replied, “Name’s Tom, I survived the outbreak in Syracuse. I’m at the Syracuse Airport with a couple hundred others. Who’s this?”
“My name’s Ethan. I’m outside Scranton. Sounds like you had the same idea we had. But there are only 73 of us. It’s not the most ideal of situations, but we’re safe for the time being. I’ve been trying to contact anyone for a few days now. You’re the first voice I’ve heard. It’s like the rest of the world’s no longer there.”
Tom and Ethan continued to communicate with each other over the next few weeks. They would share stories of life before the outbreak, Ethan had been the groundskeeper for the Scranton-Wilkes Barre Yankees. They mourned the loss of their fellow Zoners and the abrupt end to another promising season for the Yanks. They quickly became close friends, even though they had never met.
As the weeks went on, Tom could see that things had changed in the Zone. The children weren’t out as much, fewer people went walking for fun. With every passing day, the food supplies decreased. Many wondered how they would survive through the long Central New York winter that was quickly approaching. The P&C nearby had already been picked clean, and most of the food on the shelves had gone bad weeks ago.
As bad as things seemed, they were worse for Ethan. His group was staying at a small airfield that lacked the security of the International Airport. Zack could show up at anytime for a snack. They huddled together in the back of two tractor trailers. Tom felt bad for Ethan’s situation, but there was nothing he could do. Tom noticed that their conversations always turned to the conditions at Hancock. He thought that if Route 81 wasn’t impassible, Ethan would probably load up the trailers and head north. Tom didn’t think the Zone could handle six dozen new members.
With winter fast approaching, Tom began to sense that Ethan’s situation was getting desperate. “How’s the weather up there, buddy?”
“It’s about normal, I guess, Ethan. It’s the only thing that’s been normal around here.”
“Hey…Listen,” Ethan spoke nervously. “What would you say if I told you we were thinking of heading north.”
“That’s suicide! You’d never make the drive. The roads are blocked.”
“I never said anything about driving, Tom. It turns out that one of my group used to fly planes for a living. We could be out of here in the morning and be there by noon.”
“You’re joking, right?” Tom knew he wasn’t joking. He also knew that they couldn’t afford to feed seventy three new mouths.
Tom didn’t sleep that night. He hadn’t told his superiors about the guests coming to dinner, but he couldn’t tell Ethan his people weren’t welcome. For the first time in his life, Tom was faced with an impossible choice. Neither worked out well for Tom. He would have to either face starvation or deny his only friend left in the world. After thinking it over all night, Tom finally made a choice.
He waited anxiously for Ethan to contact him before the departure time. Tom had vowed never to have a flight delayed under his watch, but this was different.
“Ethan to watchtower, requesting clearance for takeoff…”
Tom interrupted his transmission. “They’re here! They got through the fence!” he shouted into the microphone. “They’ve killed everyone, I’m the only one left. Ethan, stay away!”
“Tom! What? How?!”
“One of the cleanup crews returned with an infected crew. The driver didn’t know about the bite until it was too late. Everyone’s dead. I managed to barricade myself in the tower so I could warn you before your flight. I’m sorry, Ethan, there was nothing I could do.”
Ethan was speechless, he didn’t respond, so Tom continued, “I’m not going to let those ghouls get me, I’m going out on my own terms.” Tom slowly lifted a handgun and pulled the trigger.
After the bang there was just silence. Slowly, Tom unplugged the headset, set down the gun, and began to cry.
Tom had made his choice. He hoped it was the right one.