The boy was probably around fifteen or sixteen, terribly short for his age but not uncommon in these parts. It was his height and small stature that mattered now as he scrambled over fallen furniture and avoided his pursuers. I could see him through the dirty, cracked windows of the department store but I couldn’t hear him pant, curse, or scream. Well, he couldn’t really do the last as that would only attract them.
I was hiding. And while I felt a pang of sorrow for what might befall the boy, he was not my immediate concern. He was not my flesh and blood. He could die but not my little brother Johnny.
Crouching behind a fallen ATM machine, I brought up the M16 rifle and aimed at the possible exit the boy might take. I was a good shot thanks to my father who trained both his sons to use guns at an early age. My hand didn’t shake as I saw the boy crash into the hard plexi-glass doors with them right behind him. His eyes bulged out of their sockets when he felt their teeth sink into his shoulders and thighs. I took the safety off. There was no point in killing them but at least I could grant mercy to the poor child writhing in agony and terror in front of me.
Besides, I couldn’t risk him becoming a monster. Shit, the world didn’t need more of them. There were too many already. So I squeezed the trigger and the life went out of those brown, innocent eyes.
Later I went to where Johnny was waiting. The kid was practically jumping up and down in joy at my arrival. I motioned for him to quit it but secretly I was happy to see him, too. Since our parents died, we had been looking out for each other. Even though I was the big brother, Johnny was more intelligent. He soaked up knowledge and it was his ideas that kept us alive this long. I was the muscle and he was the brain. We were a team, relying on our own expertise to outwit them.
“Here,” I said, handing him what I scavenged from various ruins.
Johnny took the knapsack and examined its contents. He whistled when he saw the candies I found at the Mini-Stop some five kilometers away. He said, “Life is sweet.”
He was always the optimist while I was the realist. Only he could say something like that but the truth was that I liked hearing him spout positive things. It kept me sane after all I had done to protect us from them and other people.
We walked together amidst the remains of Araneta Center in Quezon City. This once bustling commercial district was eerily quiet. Cars were abandoned. Doors were either padlocked or broken. Everything was stained with blood. Everywhere we went reeked of death.
There was no need to talk. It was dangerous to be noisy when going home. Even though most of them had moved out somewhere else to feed, stragglers remained. Like those that stalked and killed the boy this morning.
Once you were bitten, you changed. Into them.