Max ignored his brother's comment, assuming that in all the shock and panic he had become confused.
Although the two brothers hadn't spoken much recently, they had always been close growing up. John had idolised his older brother when they were kids, constantly copying everything he did. As they grew up, things kind of shifted the other way. John got a job in TV, which he loved; he was wealthy and settled down with a family. Max wished he had done the same, but now he had a chance to be there for his brother again, when he really needed him.
Max felt ashamed that he hadn't spent more time with John over the past few years; now he might not get that chance.
It was true that John was always the dependent one, but Max hadn't realised until now just how much he needed his brother too.
"C'mon, get up John! We need to get you to a hospital!" he shouted at his little brother, grabbing him underneath his good arm.
"Max..." John started calmly, his brother still frantically trying to hoist him to his feet.
"Max..." he said again, but Max continued to force John up.
"MAX! Look at me!" John finally screamed, wriggling his arm out of Max's grasp.
"Max, I've read about this...I've seen this, it doesn't end well for me. There's nothing you can do anymore except leave. Leave and survive!" John yelled, brushing away his tears.
"Don't be stupid John! It's a flesh wound, with doctors nowadays they'll fix you up in no time," Max replied, not truly listening to what his brother was trying to explain.
Max ran to the kitchen to fetch a tea towel before pressing it tightly against his brother's wound. The towel was soon stained red with blood dripping onto the floor. The drops soon turned into a puddle, then a stream flowing down Max's floor. It was more than a flesh wound. John was growing visibly weaker, but carried on explaining as if it were a mosquito bite.
"The vaccinations seemed to work for some people, but there simply weren't enough Max. You don't know how hard it was for me just to get one! All I know is that without it, if you get bitten, your body slowly shuts itself down...and then you turn into one of...them," John explained, spitting out the last word.
"But you've had a vaccination! It might work for you! Don't give up on me mate!" Max shot back urgently.
"They don't work on everyone, and besides...I never even used it," John said, looking down at the floor.
"What do you mean you never used it?" Max questioned.
John nodded slowly towards the bag he had brought with him, clearly trying to hold back the excruciating pain he was in. His face was strained and he had bitten his lip so hard it was oozing blood.
Max scrambled over to the bag, still unsure of what his brother was trying to explain. He unzipped the top and fumbled around, pulling out clothes and food until his hand wrapped around a long, thin box. He opened it, looking at his brother for an explanation, but nothing came. Removing the layers of material and padding within, Max retrieved a glass syringe full of a glistening orange liquid.
"This is the vaccine?" he asked with excitement, jumping up and running over to his brother, ready to inject it into his arm.
"No!" John shouted angrily. "Max, I've been bitten. It's too late for me, the vaccination may have worked but it's no good after I'm already infected. It's not a cure. I'm sorry," John cried.
"Then why the fuck didn't you use it?" Max barked.
"I couldn't get hold of you Max. I didn't know if you were alive or dead, or if you had managed to get vaccinated yourself. Truth is...I brought it here for you," John said, clearly growing weaker and weaker.
"You idiot. You fucking idiot John!" Max wept, hitting his brother repeatedly.
"I don't want to live in a world without Grace, Max, but there's still something out there for you, there's still someone out there for you. So take it," John whispered.
John cautiously unwrapped Max's fingers and took the syringe, poking the razor sharp point into his brother's arm and pushing the orange liquid out until nothing remained. Max did not resist, maybe because of shock, maybe because he had finally accepted what his brother had told him.
"I don't have long left, okay? You need to get your things and get out of here. Go and find other survivors and stay safe, Max," John strained.
Max sniffed, blinking back the tears, and said, "I want to stay here with you first, until...until the end."
"I don't want you to see me like that, and believe me, that's not how you want to remember me. Please, just go!" John urged.
"I just wan-" Max began to argue.
"No! Just do this one thing for me, Max! Just go, please!" John yelled as loud as he could, recoiling from the immediate pain.
Max hugged his brother gently and nodded. He couldn't argue with his dying wish. Anger surged through every part of his body; anger and sadness. He would not show it in front of his brother, not now. He had to be the brave one for once.
Max snatched up his bag and searched around his apartment for additional essentials. Extra clothes and food were carefully packed. Max was taking more time than he needed, as he couldn't yet bring himself to leave John behind. It occurred to him that he may need weapons for fending these monsters off, so he packed knives from the kitchen and fetched an old baseball bat from underneath his bed.
As he turned back towards where his brother lay almost motionless on the floor in a dark, deep red pool of his own blood, Max stumbled and lost his footing. He looked down at the dirty floor to see his gun, which had fallen from the table in all the commotion. He stepped sheepishly over towards his brother and gently shook him, fearing that he may have already slipped away, but John's eyes flicked open once more.
"You know...you don't have to become one of those, one of those things," Max said softly, not knowing how to say what he really wanted to.
He raised the gun into his brother's eye line, but John simply shook his head and laughed.
"You hold on to that mate, you'll need it more than me," he said.
Max slipped it into the top of his bag, and looked back at his brother, "Listen John, you know I..."
"I know Max," John said before Max could find the words. "Me too," he smiled.
Max looked down at the baseball bat. It was made from expensive varnished wood and had been gifted to the boys by their grandfather when they were young. Gold engraved letters glimmered down the middle of the bat, reading simply 'For Max and John'.
"Do you remember when Grandad gave us this John? We used to play that stupid game against the kids across the street," Max reminisced.
"Undefeated champions bro," John chuckled, his laugh quickly turning into a cough as blood dribbled down his chin.
"I remember that one time..." Max started, but was quickly interrupted by his brother.
"Max, stop delaying it, you know you have to leave."
Max opened his mouth to argue but was swiftly shut down by his dying brother.
"Go now! Please!" John continued, pushing Max up with what little strength he had left.
It felt as if there was this infinite weight on Max's shoulders as he struggled back to his feet. His little brother, slowly dying in his arms, was begging him to leave him.
It was the single hardest thing Max had ever done.
He stumbled to his feet, his entire body a shaking mess at the prospect of saying a final goodbye to the one person left he could call family. Tears streamed down his cheeks, but he knew he had to go. He couldn't bear to see what came next, and John didn't want him to.
As Max opened the door to leave, John called out, "Oh and Max, one more thing!"
"Anything," Max smiled.
"... Survive," John whispered as his eyes finally shut for the last time.
YOU ARE READING
Life After Death (#1)Horror
*HIGHEST #31 IN HORROR* FEATURED + WINNER OF NINETEEN AWARDS + NBR SPOTLIGHTED! Max is in his late thirties, stuck in a dead end job, no wife, no girlfriend and no friends. In the midst of depression, and contemplating ending it all, he is plunged i...