“If when we met I was the person I am now, would you still have wanted me?”
“If you were then the person you are now, I think the person I was then would have been far too intimidated to have even considered it.”
I manage to aim a halfhearted smile at the floor.
“But I can tell you this much,” Piotr continues, his words hardened by his Russian accent, “I would have been in awe of you. And I would have done anything to be near you. And yes, I would have loved you.”
I can’t bring myself to look at him, so I look instead through the large glass window before us at the pale man lying strapped to a white hospital bed beneath white fluorescent lights, his five-months pregnant wife standing by his side in a white Hazmat suit. My daughter. A large black handgun in her gloved fist.
Across from her on the other side of the bed stands an orderly, also in a Hazmat suit, also armed.
My focus shifts to the fifty-five-year-old woman reflected in the glass. To her graying hair and olive skin. To the weariness that has crept into her eyes when she wasn’t paying attention.
“I don’t know why I never saw this coming,” I say. “I should have. I should have known that one day the Fever would get wise. That it would realize I was hunting it and take its revenge.”
“You don’t think-” says Piotr before I interrupt.
“Don’t worry, I haven’t lost my mind. I don’t really think the disease has consciously targeted my family. But fact remains, I never really accepted the possibility.”
“You know, Piotr, of all the people in this world, you irritate me the least.”
Piotr smiles at that.
“It’s almost time. I’d better go in.” I pull on the hood of my own Hazmat suit and move to stand at the door to the Operating Room. “Let’s get this road on the show.”
“Meryem,” Piotr says as I open the airlock door. I look back at him. “Be careful in there.”
I nod, turn, and step into the OR.
My daughter had insisted she do this on her terms, that she pull the trigger herself, and I had finally relented, on the condition that an armed orderly be present in case she hesitated.
Her husband’s chest rises and falls with each machine-induced breath. His skin is fallow, thin and translucent as the pages of a Bible, his light brown hair gone gray, his beard like the needles of a cactus.
“Meredith,” I put my hand on my daughter’s shoulder. “It’s time.”
She nods without taking her eyes from his. Together the orderly and I let a white sheet float down over my son-in-law so that it comes to rest just below his chin. I lean over to the white console with its black buttons and open a Plexiglas shield to expose the candy red switch beneath. With a downward flip of the switch the room goes quiet but for the hum of the fluorescents overhead.
“Goodbye, Stephen…” Meredith whispers. “I love you.”
Her husband shudders as what life remains lifts from his body. For several moments it seems nothing more will happen, and Meredith begins to shake at my side with grief. I know better than to look away.
His eyes open. There is a curiosity about them, a look of wonder. He smiles up at my daughter and I feel myself go cold with dread. A feeling I’ve not felt since the first time I saw a cadaver reanimate in med school.
The Fever has restarted his brain. We now have fifteen seconds before the disease disperses throughout the rest of his body. Fifteen seconds before a bullet to the head will do nothing to put his body down.
Meredith smiles back at her husband’s corpse, and I know at that moment she won’t be able to do it. The body begins to mutter some indiscernible sounds, and with the realization of its captivity the expression in its eyes changes. Fury.
I look to the orderly and nod. It’s as he pulls back the action of the gun that I notice Meredith reaching for the body on the bed. “Meredith, no!” I turn to the orderly, “Don’t shoot!”
I pull her back just as the corpse bites air still warm with the taste of her fingers. The weight of its lunge sends the bed crashing to the white tile floor, the roaring body still strapped to the metal frame.
Meredith and I back into the corner as the orderly runs around the bed to get a clear shot. “Now!” I yell. “Shoot it!”
And that’s when the dead man speaks. He says my daughter’s name.
Gunshots ring out in the room, and the corpse’s head explodes. Dark red blood sprays across the white Hazmat suit of the orderly, who looks up from his unused weapon to me, then to the girl beside me.
My daughter screams, and I turn in time to see her smoking gun drop to the floor with a clack. She throws her arms around me and hides her face in my shoulder.
I start to speak, but I have no words. I have no words.