"Elliot was infected," I said to myself. "His blood was on the bullet. And now it's in me."

"Eva, are you okay?" Wyatt asked, holding a hand over his eyes to shield them from the pouring rain. I didn't answer.

"How could we not realize?" I asked.

"Realize what?" he asked as he walked towards me, but I stepped back. "What's wrong?" He reached a hand out and touched my arm, but I flinched and moved back again.

"Don't touch me!" I screamed. A sudden surge of fury raged through me, taking me by surprise.

"Eva, calm down!" Jo said. "C'mon, let's get inside. You'll feel better once we get out of this storm."

"No," I said. "I won't. I won't feel better."

"What the hell is going on?" Ben asked.

"I'm infected!" I screamed, finally admitting it to the others and myself.

"Eva, you're not infected. We've been over this," Wyatt said. "You weren't bitten, you were shot."

"Exactly!" I said. "I was shot by a bullet that had just burst through Elliot's head. And Elliot was infected."

They all froze, suddenly understanding what was happening.

"No," Wyatt said quietly. "That can't be ..."

"It is," I said. "It's happening. I can feel it. I've got a fever, I feel sick and starving at the same time, and I have a migraine that is driving me insane."

The water continued to rise over the bridge, but no-one moved. The shock was too much.

"But it's been almost twelve hours since you were shot," Jo said. "If you were really infected, you'd have turned hours ago."

"Not necessarily," Ben said. "It was only a small trace of his blood. It'd take much longer to go through her system. But now that the symptoms have emerged, who knows how quickly it will progress."

"I don't want to turn," I said. "I have to die."

"Are you kidding me?" Wyatt said. "You're not dying!"

"I have to!" I protested angrily.

"We can figure something out," Jo pleaded. "Let's just get back in the RV and go. We'll find another way ..." It looked like she was crying, but with all the rain I couldn't be sure.

"There isn't another way," I said. "I don't want to do this, either. But we don't have a choice."

"I'll do it," Ben said. "I took Elliot's gun, it's in the RV. It'll be the quickest way."

"Get it," I said, and Ben ran to the RV. I stood tall, doing my best to act tough, but I was petrified. I could hear Dixon in the RV, barking at the thunder claps as the storm rolled by.

"Eva, please," Jo said, her bottom lip trembling as she tried to hold herself together.

"I don't want to die," I said, looking back and forth at her and Wyatt. "Knowing I only have a few seconds left to live is devastating, but the only thing that terrifies me more than dying is the thought of becoming one of those ... things." I took in a deep breath, trying to prepare myself for the end. "I refuse to become a monster." My mind felt as tumultuous and chaotic as the raging waters at my feet. Minutes earlier I was sleeping soundly, surrounded by my only friends in the world, headed to our salvation. Yet there I was, standing in front of the people I loved, saying my final goodbye.

Ben stepped out of the RV with the gun in his hand and started walking towards me.

"No!" Wyatt said as he pushed him back. "We're not doing this!"

"We don't have a choice!" Ben yelled, pushing him back. "It's her or us."

Wyatt kicked the wooden barrier of the bridge, cracking one of the posts. "But we're so close!" he yelled, clenching his fists in frustration. "This time tomorrow we'll be in Sydney, and in a few days we'll be saved. This will all be over."

"For you, yes," I said. "It will be. But for me, it's already over. It was over the moment that bullet hit me."

Wyatt shook his head in denial, but the pain in his eyes told me he knew I was right.

"Ben," I said. "Hand me the gun. I want to do it myself."

"Are you sure?" he asked.

"Yes. I don't want any of you to have to live with that burden. It has to be me."

Ben held the gun out, and I took it with shaking hands. It felt heavy and slippery from the rain, and just holding it gave me a feeling of dread.

Jo couldn't hold it in anymore, and she burst into tears. She draped herself over me, holding me tight.

"Thank you for being like a sister to me, Jo," I said, unable to stop the tears from rolling down my cheeks. "Your friendship is what got me this far. I love you more than anything."

"I love you," she said. "So much."

Jo stepped back, covering her mouth with her hands as she sobbed. I looked at Wyatt, the despair on his face too much to bear. It felt so cruel to have to say goodbye to him when only a few hours earlier I was telling him I loved him.

He started walking over to me when thunder cracked loudly over us, making me jump. A strong whooshing sound followed, and I turned my head to see a rush of water hurtling towards the bridge. Before I could tell the others to run, the wave had hit us hard, knocking us all off our feet. The gun slipped out of my hand as I struggled to find something to hold on to.

"Eva!" Jo called as she held out her hand. I took hold of it, trying to keep my head above the water. She was holding on to the side of the bridge, but it was breaking apart from where Wyatt had kicked it. It couldn't hold our weight for very long. Wyatt and Ben scrambled to their feet and started helping Jo pull me in, but I knew it was futile. There was no point in them risking their lives to save me - I was doomed no matter what.

I looked up at Jo with sadness in my eyes, and she knew what I was thinking. She shook her head, but I knew what I had to do.

I took one last look at the people who had become my family, grateful that they had been by my side throughout such turmoil. I used my last second above the water to do something I'd never done until our nightmare started all those weeks ago: pray. I prayed for their safety, I asked God to help them get to Sydney, to help them survive.

And then I let go.

The last thing I saw was their distraught faces as they watched me get swept away.

I let the water take me under, and hoped it would be over quickly.

_______________________

Wondering why I've changed the titles/covers? I wrote a blog post all about it at jenmariewilde.com.

Tweet me: @JenMarieWilde.

Before It Fades (The Eva Series #3)Read this story for FREE!