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In the hot summer, the sun was in the empty sky. At noon the next day, the blazing heat caused the road tarmac to feel like it was melting.
They arrived in the suburbs of S city.
“How did this happen?” Zhang Min took off his sunglasses and muttered.
In front of them was a run-down toll gate. Zhang Min exited the car. Many people rushed out from the toll booth, every single one of them shouting in fear. They had seen the opportunity to rob the car, Zhang Min immediately sat back in the car, turned the steering wheel and left the highway section.
“Brother Wang, hey, can you hear me?” Zhang Min put on the earphones and said anxiously, "Yes, we are almost there, there is still a twenty-minute drive. Ok, no problem, what about sister-in-law and Xiaoshan?”
Jue Ming was looking at the people outside the window. The moment Zhang Min entered the car, he immediately stopped and looked away.
“Where is he?” Jue Ming asked.
Zhang Min unable to look around, drove to the designated location on the phone and replied, "He's not at home, it might be a little crowded later. You’ll have to sit at the back, darling.”
Jue Ming understood and nodded. Zhang Min parked the car in the parking lot behind the two-story building. He looked left and right, but there was nobody.
The roadside trees were languishing, the empty streets were littered with rubbish. The overturned trash cans were pushed around by the hot wind, clattering as they gently rolled.
After they had entered the highway, Jue Ming had slept for a night. Zhang Min hadn't closed his eyes even once for the past forty-eight hours. At this moment, he was no longer able to keep his head from drooping in front of the steering wheel.
"You sleep,” said Jue Ming.
Zhang Min nodded, fatigued. He leant sideways, using Jue Ming’s thigh as a pillow. He hazily said, “Call me after he comes.”
Jue Ming sighed and looked out into distance dazedly.
The father and son duo waited in the car for people. For a moment, Jue Ming cupped his left ear, then cupped his right ear as he tilted his head to listen. He raised his hand and touched Zhang Min’s handsome face whose eyebrows were furrowed.
Jue Ming used his fingers to brush his father’s eyebrows, then he raised his head and looked up.
In the distance, a group of children were walking aimlessly underneath the scorching sun. Their hands were raised slightly, dragging their feet as they crossed the road. There was one little girl whose head was sunken in, and the neck was stuck in an unnatural posture.
Jue Ming squinted his eyes, the people they were waiting for were Zhang Min’s business partners. His name was Wang Bo, a middle-aged man in his early thirties; he was also a comrade-in-arms that was introduced by his company commander when he was a soldier.
Wang Bo was married, his wife was very beautiful and he had a four-year-old daughter. Zhang Min used to bring Jue Ming over to play, the couple liked Jue Ming a lot.
Jue Ming also liked them a lot, but of course with his personality, his expressions weren’t very enthusiastic. Wang Bo’s daughter was close to him. Whenever Jue Ming was a guest, he would accompany her and take her to the playground. As she played, he would watch from the side.
Jue Ming’s suitcase also had Xiaoshan’s stickers attached to it.
After three hours passed, Jue Ming shook Zhang Min, saying, ”Dad, he’s coming.”
Zhang Min woke up with a dry mouth and supported himself up. He looked out calmly and saw a middle-aged man standing next to the sidewalk. It was Wang Bo.
“Only one person?” Zhang Min had an ominous premonition. “Darling, go sit at the back,” he said then exited the car.
As soon as the door was pushed open, the heatwave swept over. Zhang Min hurried over to his friend and found Wang Bo absentminded. He took Wang Bo’s arm, slung it over his shoulder and supported him to the car.
Jue Ming turned to look at Zhang Min. His eyes following Zhang Min until Zhang Min had supported Wang Bo into the car. Wang Bo looked exhausted, his face was grey and he didn’t look like a living person. His eyes were sunken.
Zhang Min inspected Wang Bo’s forehead and felt his pulse. When his fingers were pressed against the pulse, he was speechless.
Jue Ming took a bottle of mineral water. A minute later, Zhang Min said, “Heatstroke... how is the pulse so slow? Drink some water.”
Wang Bo nodded. When he raised his hand to take the mineral water, a piece of bitten red flesh could be seen on his wrist. Zhang Min was shocked and asked, "Got bitten by a person?”
Wang Bo gasped for a moment, then opened his mouth and said, "You guys go quickly, don’t worry about me.”
Zhang Min said, "What kind of words are these, where’s sister-in-law and Xiaoshan?”
Wang Bo shook his head as if he had just experienced a thrilling battle, and muttered, "I don't know.”
Zhang Min said, "Is Xiaoshan not at home? Is sister-in-law not with you?”
Wang Bo seemed to have thought of something, and said, "She... took Xiaoshan back to her family.”
Zhang Min's eyebrow’s furrowed, Wang Bo’s words didn’t quite match what he said earlier, but he didn’t continue pursuing that thought. Jue Ming took out the medicine box. Zhang Min took out bandages and bandaged Wang Bo’s injured wrist.
"I'm dying," Wang Bo said. "Brother, don’t care about me, both of you quickly leave."
Zhang Min said, “How can I just not care about you?!”
Wang Bo said, “I was bitten, I’m scared... that I’ll spread the infection to both of you.”
"Stop talking,” Zhang Min said. "You rest for a while. When we came here, the toll station was already administering vaccinations. We've already been vaccinated. We’re going to bring you for treatment now, Brother Wang hold on.”
Zhang Min looked at Jue Ming, he was afraid Jue Ming would be in danger. Jue Ming said, “It’s okay, I’ll take care of him.”
Zhang Min nodded, he and Jue Ming had already been vaccinated. there should be no problems. He went back to the driver seat to start the car and drove back to F city.
It was another long journey. The car had nearly run out of fuel in the middle of driving. Zhang Min was at the back of a gas station, it was completely devoid of people.
The convenience store was empty, Zhang Min looked around in all directions, and said, ”Darling, come out, walk around a while and pee.
When Jue Ming had exited the car, Zhang Min pulled the gas pump and refuelled the car himself. He also said, “Don’t go too far.”
Wang Bo coughed violently in the car, Jue Ming was pulling up his pants zipper as he came over. Zhang Min said, "I'll go check up on him.”
Wang Bo coughed for a while. Coughing violently, he pushed the door open and vomited blood out onto the road.
Zhang Min hugged him, lifted him out of the car and leaned him against the car tire. His slender fingers pulled his eyelids up and he inspected Wang Bo’s pupils.
Wang Bo breathed slowly, and powerlessly said, "Xiaoshan..."
Zhang Min said, "Don't think too much, sister-in-law and Xiaoshan will be fine.”
Wang Bo’s face was almost yellow, slowly saying, “Brother, have you seen them?”
Zhang Min asked in a whispered tone, “What? Don’t tell Jue Ming, he'll be scared.”
Wang Bo glanced around, Jue Ming walked into the convenience store.
Wang Bo asked, "Is Jue Ming somewhat better now?”
Zhang Min nodded. “No longer a headache, he loves to speak now. Who are you talking about when you said ‘them'?”
Wang Bo nodded his head, took out a gun from somewhere on his back and placed it in Zhang Min’s hand, saying, “Hit their heads.”
Zhang Min took it and looked Wang Bo in the eyes. Wang Bo said, “It’s a kind of virus, older brother knows... those who get bitten by them will be infected, becoming neither truly dead or truly alive.”
Zhang Min inhaled deeply and whispered, “Can’t we just cure it?”
Wang Bo shook his head, Zhang Min said, “Brother, when I was going home, I've seen a lot of them. They said it was rabies, so what's the real reason?”
Wang Bo said, "No, I’m not sure, big brother took Shanshan... to the hospital to see.”
Zhang Min held his breath.
Wang Bo said, Once the virus’s symptoms take place, there’s no curing it. The whole hospital was full of people acting strangely... patients, they said that these people were already dead. They're unable to think and don't know anybody. There’s only a small electrical charge in their brains. The energy in their bodies is being consumed... body heat is very low... only bestial instincts are left, biting... and eating.”
Zhang Min asked, “Those... those dead people are still able to live?”
Wang Bo looked at the blood-red sunset in the horizons and muttered, “Not alive. Their stomachs are torn, their intestines flowing out. Their hands and feet are broken, but they will struggle. They don’t feel any pain... unless...”
Zhang Min asked, “Unless what?”
Wang Bo looked at Zhang Min’s eyes, his face was almost completely grey. His eyes were deeply sunken, his lips became blue as he slowly said, “Hit their heads, and destroy their brains. Or break their necks, the spinal nerve ending... *cough, cough*!”
Wang Bo began coughing again, Zhang Min was busy with supporting him and said, “Because the brain still sends instructions to the limbs through the spinal neurons, thus it is necessary to cut or break their spines. That should be what you meant.”
Wang Bo coughed and nodded. Zhang Min and Wang Bo were both in the pharmaceutical business. They knew a little about Western medicine theory. Even though Zhang Min’s family were Chinese medicine practitioners, he understood once he heard what Wang Bo said.
“They're no longer human already.” Wang Bo grabbed Zhang Min’s hand, saying, “Be sure to shoot.”
It wasn't known when Jue Ming was standing behind Zhang Min, staring at Wang Bo. Wang Bo said his dying words, “Brother, if... I become like that, you must... break my neck or shoot me. Do you understand, brother?”
Zhang Min said, "No, you can be cured. You must hold on, Brother Wang.”
Wang Bo couldn’t help but smile. He rolled over and climbed into the car’s back seat.
Jue Ming stared at the gun in Zhang Min’s hand. Zhang Min unloaded the gun and put the bullet away. Then he pulled Jue Ming’s hand, and couldn't help but firmly hold him tightly in his arms.
The two cuddled for a while in the dusk, Zhang Min said, “Hungry?”
Jue Ming nodded.
Zhang Min said, “Dad is going to go find something to eat, have you seen the store?”
Jue Ming said, “Nothing left.”
Zhang Min said, “There's always something left, come.”
He held the gun in one hand and held Jue Ming’s hand with the other. They entered the gas station convenience store. The convenience store was turned upside down. Obviously after waves of passersby cleaned the store of items, the shelves were a mess. Zhang Min looked into the storehouse in the back, the sound of a car could be heard outside.
A couple had stopped at the gas station to refuel. Zhang Min immediately exited the store, pulled Jue Ming behind him and guarded him. The two people looked out.
The man pulled out the gas pump and stared at Jue Ming vigilantly. Zhang Min said, “Hello, brother.”
The man didn't answer, Zhang Min took out a cigarette from his coat and stepped forward, offering one. “Answer this, did the both of you come from F city?”
The man still didn’t say anything, neither did he come over to take the cigarette. When he had finished refuelling, he began reversing out. Zhang Min asked again, “Are you both vaccinated already? What is the situation like at the toll station... stop for me! Otherwise, I’ll shoot!”
The man never answered. Zhang Min pulled out the gun, only when the woman in the car began screaming, did the man raise his hands up immediately.
Zhang Min said, “I don’t have any malice, when I finish asking then you can go.”
The man said, “Yes... we came from there, but you’re better off rushing... the army has already entered.”
Zhang Min nodded and said, “It’s okay, you can go.”
The man immediately jumped into the car like a rabbit and drove away.
Zhang Min put away the gun, there was a lot of helplessness in his eyes. He went back into the store to move things.
“Handsome,” Jue Ming suddenly said.
“What?” asked Zhang Min.
“Dad is handsome.” Jue Ming smiled.
Zhang Min was crying and laughing, but he had a warm feeling in his heart. He said smilingly, “It's the gun which is handsome. Come darling, let you eat this.”
He handed a few jellies to Jue Ming and asked him to go back to the car. He picked up a cardboard box, it was filled with the leftover things he had managed to scavenge from the convenience store. Inside was: canned luncheon meat, canned beef, instant noodles, chewing gum, mineral water, vitamin C tablets and several packs of cigarettes that he had pulled out from the vending machine.
He stuffed the cardboard box into the rear boot and took out two bottles of two-litre Nongfu Spring. He drank a few mouthfuls and asked, “Darling, drink some water?”
Jue Ming, “?”
Zhang Min raised the bottle and gave him a few mouthfuls of water. The two people then used the water to wash their hands. Zhang Min poured the cold water over his head. His hedgehog-like short hair was wet, even his white shirt was almost transparent as it stuck to his bronze back muscles.
They had wasted two large bottles of water. Zhang Min lifted the fuel pump and refuelled the bottles with gasoline and then placed them inside of the car.
In the back seat, Jue Ming was replacing the bandages on Wang Bo. His bitten wrist was almost purple and black, the flesh smelled bad. Jue Ming poured some hydrogen peroxide on the wrist, a slight sound could be heard. Wang Bo didn't blink at the pain.
Zhang Min held the steering wheel straight and looked back for a moment. He whispered, “Darling, come sit at the front.”
Jue Ming wrapped the bandages and moved to the front passenger seat. Zhang Min drove the car up the highway and would turn to look at Wang Bo from time to time.
“Dad,” Jue Ming suddenly said.
Zhang Min whispered, "What?”
Jue Ming said, “I think Xiaoshan is dead.”
Zhang Min swallowed his saliva, he had also already guessed it. Wang Bo had been inconsistent with what he had said, he also had a remorseful expression on his face when he mentioned the zombies. Plus the wound on the wrist... a scar in that position made him involuntarily think of Wang Bo hugging his infected daughter and his hand getting bitten by her fiercely.
Zhang Min stretched his hand out and touched Jue Ming’s head softly, saying, “Don’t think about it, sleep for a while. Obey me.”
Wang Bo's breathing was getting heavier and heavier. With asthma-like symptoms, his chest and lungs felt stuffy. Jue Ming awoke a few times, when he looked back, he only thought that he was soon on his last breath before he would die.
Zhang Min went so fast that it was only midnight when he arrived at F city.
The lights outside the toll booth were still on, waste paper fluttered in the wind everywhere. There were no human voices. In front of them were roadblocks that had been set up by the army before the toll station. The entire road was empty, there were no cars going in or going out.
In the distance, a person wearing a white coat standing inside a temporary infirmary could be seen.
“Brother Wang?” Zhang Min stopped the car at the side, let out a breath and patted Wang Bo. “Wake up, we will be right there.”
Jue Ming looked at the place suspiciously. Zhang Min exited the car and carried Wang Bo out. Wang Bo made a vague sound, his feet dragging on the ground. Zhang Min slung his arm over his shoulder and hurried to the infirmary.
Jue Ming grabbed the handle, and the two people pushed open the door. Zhang Min hurried inside.
He placed Wang Bo on the bed in the outer room, and like a gust of wind went past a room divider, only to see nothing even though he had clearly seen a person in the room earlier.
Jue Ming looked around in all directions and found that there were still unused disposable needles in the iron box.
Jue Ming ripped open the needle packaging, inside the needle was a blue-coloured medicine. He remembered that this was the one he was injected with when he came before. He pushed the needle upwards.
Zhang Min turned to face the room divider, his breath suddenly stopping.
In front of him was a bloody corpse. The doctor wearing a white coat was the person who had vaccinated them two days ago.
At the moment the doctor was in front of a female body, grabbing her viscera and stuffed them into its mouth. Zhang Min slowly retreated one step at a time, wanting to let Jue Ming escape.
Jue Ming threw the needle into the iron box, causing a crisp sound to sound out. Zhang Min thought, shit, and loudly shouted, “Run quickly!”
The zombie doctor turned its head at that moment, letting out a vague roar. It knocked over the room divider and rushed towards Zhang Min. Jue Ming couldn’t help but be frightened and knocked over a medical rack. When he turned his head, he saw a face that was completely unrecognizable.
“Ah-- !” Jue Ming finally cried out loudly.
A gunshot rang out! There were four to five zombies inside the infirmary. Zhang Min was trapped before he could even retreat. Behind the knocked over room divider, one could see that the small medical office was full of broken medicines bottles rolling on the ground. Unexpectedly, the female body lying on the sickbed also fell to the ground, leaving blood as it crawled towards them.
Another gunshot rang out. Brain matter splattered the wall. Zhang Min dragged Wang Bo out of the infirmary, slammed the door shut, and shouted, “Run towards the car!”
Zhang Min staggered as he carried a heavy and comatose Wang Bo towards the car. Zhang Min raised the gun, then a moment later a loud crash could be heard. The window glass was broken, and out rushed a zombie.
Zhang Min fired another shot again, the loud noise woke Wang Bo up.
Jue Ming had dragged Wang Bo halfway to the car. Suddenly there was a sharp pain in his shoulder. A loud scream pierced through the night sky.
“Darling--!” yelled Zhang Min, rushing towards Jue Ming. He saw Wang Bo biting Jue Ming’s shoulder. The blood rushed out, splashing Wang Bo’s face.
Zhang Min rushed to the mutated Wang Bo and pushed him away from Jue Ming’s body. Wang Bo couldn't help but struggle. He glared at Zhang Min’s neck and knocked him onto the ground. The gun flew far and landed away from him.
"Ah, ah--" Zhang Min screamed, his elbow was bitten by Wang Bo. They were both veterans. Wang Bo became a zombie without any prior warning. Zhang Min was caught off guard and wanted to pry him off of him, but Wang Bo was very angry. The two rolled around on the ground a few times.
Jue Ming trembled and gasped. That one shot had hit and burst Wang Bo’s head.
Zhang Min vacantly pushed against the car trunk, swaying once he staggered to his feet.
Both of them had been bitten, the skin on Zhang Min’s elbow was open. The wounds were so deep that bone was visible. Jue Ming’s bitten shoulder was hidden by the bloody flesh, the blood soaking the shirt.
Three hours later, underneath the highway from F city to S city, by the lakeside.
There was a bonfire at the lakeside, the car was stopped nor far from the fire.
Zhang Min leaned against the car tire, holding his adopted son in his arms. He looked down at Jue Ming. “Does it still hurt?”
Jue Ming shook his head.
Zhang Min said, “Don’t be scared, just wait for the wound to heal.”
Jue Ming said, “We will both die, we will become monsters.”
Zhang Min whispered, “Don’t say that, darling, you won’t become a monster.”
Jue Ming said, “The doctors were also vaccinated, but they also became monsters. The vaccination was useless.”
Zhang Min was silent.
“Do you still remember,” Zhang Min opened his shirt, looked at the bonfire and said, “the day that I met you in the mountains?”
Jue Ming didn't speak, leaning against Zhang Min’s chest.
Zhang Min smiled and said, “After dad was discharged from the army, there was no one at home, I also didn’t have much money. I went to find medicinal ingredients that day, and when I met you, luck slowly began to get better. After owning a company, we bought a house, no longer needing to rent a house to live in. You see, you're the one who brings good luck to dad.”
Jue Ming said, “En.”
Zhang Min lowered his head and caressed Jue Ming’s forehead and said, “We won’t become monsters.” Jue Ming didn’t answer, his ear was attached to the left side of Zhang Min’s chest as he listened to his heartbeat.
Jue Ming said, “I’m not afraid of turning into a monster. After turning into a monster, I won’t be able to find you. You transform first, after you finish transforming, eat me. I’ll be inside of your stomach then.”
Zhang Min smilingly said, “Eat you?”
The darkest moment before dawn, the bonfire gradually ceased burning.
Jue Ming said, “Sleepy, dad.”
Zhang Min endured the sadness within his heart and said, “Sleep. You haven’t slept properly the entire time on the road.”
Jue Ming said, “When we wake up, we will have become monsters. I won't be able to see you anymore.”
Zhang Min remembered the zombies that wandered around and their red eyes. He whispered, “Yeah, I won’t be able to find you when you run around, what should I do?”
Jue Ming held Zhang Min’s hands tightly.
Zhang Min smilingly said, “There’s a way. Find some rope and tie us together.”
Jue Ming laughed and said, “Not bad, let’s do it.”
Zhang Min pulled some rope from underneath a car seat, also finding clothes. He said, “En, wear this and you’ll look good.”
After Jue Ming put on the clothes, Zhang Min tied the end of the rope to Jue Ming’s waist. He himself was wearing camouflage military trousers and put on a close-fitting vest-- it was Jue Ming’s favourite. He then tied the other rope to his own waist, tying the knot tight.
Thirty centimetres of rope was left between the two so that they could move.
Jue Ming thought of what would happen after turning into a zombie. He, a small zombie followed Zhang Min, a large zombie. Tied together by rope as they walked aimlessly in the wilderness. He couldn't help but be happy at the thought.
Zhang Min knew what Jue Ming was thinking, and was also happy.
They were both so sleepy that they couldn’t speak. Zhang Min hugged Jue Ming, opened the car sunroof. The smell of late summer grass was blown towards them by the night wind.
“Don’t eat me,” Jue Ming said drowsily.
“No.” Zhang Min said. “I won’t eat you, darling.”
As the night passed, the sun was in the centre of the sky. The sunlight passed through the window into the car.
Zhang Min woke up, he was so hungry that it was uncomfortable. He looked at the soundly sleeping Jue Ming in his arms and was embarrassed by the thought of biting Jue Ming. He thought with trepidation, ‘Have I turned into a zombie?’
Zhang Min looked around, the headache was numbing. He propped himself up, the rope moving slightly. Jue Ming was still asleep, his face was still white and red.
Zhang Min looked at the car window, everything he saw in the reflection was as usual. Zhang Min carefully untied the bandages on Jue Ming’s shoulder. The wound was not purulent or rotting. The bitten place was dry and covered with a layer of bloody skin.
Zhang Min looked down at his arm again, the wound had already scarred.
Zhang Min pressed his fingers to Jue Ming’s wrist. His pulse was regular and smooth, there was no trace of the signs that Wang Bo had shown that day.
A beam of light entered the car from the sunroof. Outside the cicadas were singing endlessly, and it was once again a new day.
This chapter is migrated and/or formatted by our fellow chicken enthusiast(s), Cat.