I don’t dare kiss her goodbye. I sit at her eye level, on my knees in the thick carpet of leaves. Darkness is falling. The chill in the air does little to sooth my feverish skin. She sniffles into my shoulder, tiny arms wrapped tight around my neck.
“But I don’t want you to go.” Her voice is muffled in my hair.
I keep my tears in check. I won’t risk infecting her. The bite on my wrist throbs, reminding me I don’t have much time. I shouldn’t risk holding her, but….
My arms clench her tiny little body closer to me. She feels soft, and warm, and alive.
She senses my hesitation. “I go with you, Mommy?” She pulls away from me, tears vanishing into a bright grin.
Maybe she should. Maybe I should just end this now. My bag lies open on the ground. Her sippy cups are filled with water and all the food is open so she can get to it. The plastic bags are a safety hazard, but then, so are the zombies.
Is it worth it to leave her? Without me she’ll die of dehydration, or starvation or… worse. I glance down at the gun holstered at me hip. Wouldn’t it be better to…
“No,” I choke, blinking back tears. This isn’t fair. I can’t do this. I can’t leave her, but I can’t possibly..
She pats my face. “You okay, Mommy?”
I take a deep shuddering breath. There’s a chance isn’t there? Someone could find her, and take care of her, and raise my baby. With any luck she’ll live long enough to forget me.
Oh god, she’s going to be so scared here at night. If she makes it until night. And one of those things will find her and..
My gut clenches. The bite on my arm is on fire. I can almost feel the virus rushing through my blood. It will change me until instead of seeing my beautiful baby girl, I see food. If I stay, I’ll rip her apart. And she’ll be so scared. She won’t understand. How can she?
She pats my face. “It okay, Mommy. I kiss it aaaaall better.” She leans toward my arm.
I jerk away. “Nononono.”
Her little face contorts into a pout, her bottom lip trembles.
I shush her before she has a chance to wail. “It’s okay, you’re not in trouble.”
“But, I kiss your boo-boo,” she insists.
Maybe I should let her.
Pain wrenches through my gut, and I let her go. I rise to my feet, stumbling away from her.
“Mommy?” She holds her arms out, toddling after me. “I want up.”
Tears course down my cheeks. I don’t have much time. I need to get as far from her as possible before I pull the trigger. Noise gets their attention. All I can give her now is a a chance. Isn’t that what mothers should do? Give their children their very best chance.
“I love you,” I whisper. Then I turn and run.