The world outside was eerily quiet. Dead silence rang through John’s ears. His wife and two children were lying on his bed before him, the fresh blood still pooling on the surface mixing with the gasoline he had poured under a minute ago.
He stood silently smoking his fourth cigar, his stomach heaving from the adrenaline, the smell of the corpses, the gasoline fumes, and the nicotine. The first cigar was for his wife, the next two were for each of his children, and the last was for the part of him that had died with his loved ones. He finished the Hampton Court, dropped the butt at his feet and said his final I love you as he lit the bodies of his family aflame with his Army insignia Zippo that his wife had gotten him off of eBay for Christmas the first year they were married. He never went on a mission without it.
Slater was standing in his office, a glass of brandy in hand. He couldn’t control the shaking anymore. The shock was hitting him and he didn’t like it. A military instillation nearly fell; somehow the Infection had reached his country’s soil. The war was now on the home front. He only hoped the right to bear arms would come in handy when trying to recruit a militia. In front of him were maps of North Carolina and a digitally updated map of the situation that was deteriorating fast.
Suddenly the door burst open. Meaker stomped in, his forehead glazed with sweat, his uniform caked with dried blood. This was one of the only times Slater had ever seen him without all his combat gear on. Meaker had taken it all off for the sake of speed, but even so, he could not be fast enough.
“Why didn’t you get me the support I needed?” Meaker screamed. Slater turned from the maps on the wall to face his subordinate.
“I needed every man to hold this base and you know that Sergeant. I did wha-”
“That’s bullshit and you know it, Captain! You could have spared a Blackhawk and you know it. My team held this base without any air support.” Two clean paths cut through the dirt on his cheeks. Slater had never seen Meaker so emotional in all their years of working together.
“Sergeant, I don’t owe you an explanation.”
“They are dead, Tom,” the broken man spat back.
Slater’s eyes dropped. He could see the pain in his old friend’s eyes, but rank superseded friendship. It took a few seconds for him to respond.
“You will do well to address a superior officer with the appropriate conduct and tone, Sergeant!” Slater set his glass onto his desk. “It’s bad enough you went AWOL. I should court martial your ass where you stand!”
“Then court martial me, Slater. Ship my ass to Leavenworth for all I care.”
Slater sat in his chair and looked into the empty eyes of his sergeant. Meaker was under his command, he was his responsibility. He knew without even asking what had happened, and he couldn’t say that he wouldn’t have run ten miles to have the chance of saving his loved ones, either.
“John, get hold of yourself. I can’t have you doing this shit again. You’re one of my best men, a good soldier, and a good man. I’m sorry for your loss, I am, Sergeant, but right now I need every one of my soldiers to be able to perform their duties. I’ve never doubted my trust in your ability to get a job done. Can I still count on you or not?”
Meaker stared ahead for three seconds before straightening his posture.
“Yes, Sir…” He saluted and stormed out, unable to figure out who to blame–himself for not running faster? Slater for not giving him a Helo like he asked?
Ultimately Meaker’s blame fell on the Captain.
Slater turned in his chair to look at the digital maps of the situation. Things were going to get much, much worse before they got better. If they ever would.
Years later in the Blue Zone
The Sergeant stood in the tower, looking out towards the setting sun. Meaker had heard Slater coming from a mile away, even though Slater had walked slowly as to not disturb Meaker’s “peace” till the last possible moment.
“How are you Sergeant? Wishing you had listened to me when I told you to go west?”
John smiled but didn’t say a word.
Slater stood behind him. Meaker had all his gear on, except for the helmet sitting atop a radar console. He observed the soldier for life before noticing the wedding ring still tightly clasped onto his left ring finger. The stones had fallen out, most likely buried in some ghouls face.
“You really loved her…”
The sergeant’s head dropped slightly before raising again to face the sun.
“Yes, sir. Yes I do.” He didn’t even feel Slater pat him on the shoulder.
“I’m sorry John. We have all lost in this war. Don’t hate me for not letting you get your revenge. Turning you loose on the rest of the world would cost me my best man. After this war is over, you will have your vengeance, and humanity will survive.”
Slater slipped a small white tube into Meaker’s pocket before walking down the stairs back to the ground level.
John pulled the Macanudo Hampton court out of his pocket, opened the tin tube and took a long whiff of the cigar inside. He slowly pulled the cigar out and held it in his hands, rubbing his thumbs along the dried leaf wrap. He pulled his bayonet out and cut a small hole in the base, then sheathed the blade in the holster on his right thigh.
“After this war is over, Slater, I’ll have my revenge. Not before.”
Meaker lit the cigar with his Army insignia Zippo and took a long slow drag, the orange embers lighting up his face as the sun dipped below the horizon. He grabbed his helmet, strapped it on, and walked down the tower stairs to make his nightly run outside the wire as he did every night, alone.