"So, what's your friend like?" Ruby asked suddenly, breaking the long silence that had fallen between them.
"Emma's a college professor and a doctor." Logan said with a smile, waiting on her reaction.
"How'd a guy like you get to be friends with someone like that?" Ruby asked incredulously.
"I've asked myself that a few times. But what it comes down to is that things just sometimes work out that way." Logan said honestly.
"I tried calling my friends, but none of them answered..." Ruby said quietly.
"You're alive. That means you gotta keep goin." Logan said gently.
"But I don't know what to do. I'm only twelve." Ruby said weakly.
"You're awful grown up for a twelve year old. I would'a guessed fourteen, at least." Logan said with a smile.
"My dad says that I'm growing up too fast and that I should be happy being a kid for as long as I can." Ruby said frankly.
"All dads say that. It's part of the job requirement."
* * * * *
"Can you pull over? I don't feel too good." Ruby said suddenly.
Logan looked around for a convenient place to pull off and noticed the sign announcing a rest area up ahead. "Can you hold on for a minute or two?"
"Maybe. I think I'm gonna throw up." Ruby said in a low voice.
Logan speeded up.
* * * * *
"How you doin in there, Ruby?" Logan called from outside the ladies room.
"I'm okay. I think it was just my nerves." Ruby called back.
"Good. I'm gonna make a pit stop, then we'll be ready to go again." Logan said as he walked toward the men's room.
When he walked in, the smell alerted him to what he was going to see.
Two dead bodies were huddled together on the tile floor.
Logan was about to look away, when a spark of recognition caused him to look more closely.
All the death he had witnessed in the past weeks had been of people he didn't know. Seeing Bobby and John's bodies brought the reality home to him in a way that nothing else would.
He didn't have any words to say or any tears to shed for the pair. He stepped over their bodies and went about his business as though he had never seen them... but he had. The stark reality wouldn't be denied.
* * * * *
"Are you okay?" Ruby asked when they were back in the truck.
"Yeah. How bout you?" Logan asked quietly.
"I'm feeling better. I think it was just nerves." She said quietly, and Logan knew that she was thinking the same thing that he was.
"What do you think happens when you die?" Logan asked in what he hoped was a nonchalant voice.
"Why would you ask me that?" Ruby asked in panic.
"Because it could happen to either one of us. I'd just like to know what you're expecting, so if it happens, I can pray or light a candle or whatever it is that you do to see that someone gets to go to the good place." Logan said frankly.
"I don't know." Ruby said quietly.
"Is it that you don't know, or that you don't want to talk about it?" Logan asked frankly.
"I've never really thought about it, much. I mean... I'm twelve!" Ruby exclaimed as tears welled in her eyes.
"Well, if it makes you feel any better, I don't know either." Logan said honestly.
"Yeah. It does make me feel better." Ruby said quietly.
"But not talking about it doesn't make it go away. What do you think?" Logan asked curiously.
"I've heard all that stuff about God and heaven... I guess it could be like that." Ruby said uncertainly.
"It could." Logan agreed.
"I guess, I mean, I don't want to die, but if I'm going to, I guess all I'd really want is for someone to... care. I don't know if prayers or candles or anything like that makes any difference at all, but I just think that if someone was there to say goodbye, and, like, mean it. That'd be enough." Ruby said thoughtfully.
"If it happens, I'll be there." Logan said quietly.
"What about you?" Ruby asked curiously.
"I never saw nothin that made me think that this wasn't all some big thing that happened all on it's own. No God, no mystical powers, no ghosts or nothin like that." Logan said thoughtfully.
"So what do you think happens when you die?" Ruby asked quietly.
"Nothing." Logan said simply.
"What do you mean?" Ruby asked in confusion.
"I mean, nothing. You just stop. The person you were is suddenly not there anymore and all that's left is meat." Logan said frankly.
"So you don't believe in heaven and hell?" Ruby asked slowly.
"Nope. If you think about it, what were you before you were born? Nothing. You didn't exist. So I figure that when you die, you go back to being that."
"I think I'd rather believe in heaven." Ruby said quietly.
"There's lots of things I'd rather believe, but that don't make 'em true."
Ruby watched Logan drive for a few minutes, then quietly said, "You may be right. But I still think I'd like to know that when I'm gone, someone will be there, saying goodbye."
"I already promised."
* * * * *
"Why are we stopping?" Ruby asked as she felt the truck slowing down.
"We'll be reaching my friend's house before too long. I just want to call ahead and see what's going on there before we just show up out of nowhere." Logan said honestly.
"You can use my cell phone." Ruby said as she rushed to take it out of her jacket pocket.
"You can try, but I'm bettin that there's no service." Logan said simply.
After a few tries, Ruby quietly said, "You're right. Nothing."
"Never was much of anything like cell service in this area." Logan said without concern.
"Are you worried about your friend?" Ruby asked in a whisper.
"A little. But if she ain't there, or they're all sick, we'll just go on up to Canada." Logan said simply.
Ruby nodded that she had heard.
* * * * *
"Em, is that you?" Logan asked uncertainly.
"Logan? It's good to hear from you. How are you?" Emma asked with concern.
"I tried, Em. I swear. They just let it loose too quick for me to stop it." Logan said regretfully.
"You have a way of taking a one in a million risk and making it pay off. This time it didn't work. That's nothing to be sorry about." Emma said gently.
"How are things there, Em?" Logan asked quietly.
"Like you, I've done my best and taken a one in a million chance, and it hasn't paid off." Emma said regretfully.
"What's wrong?" Logan asked cautiously.
"We're all infected here. I still don't know how they delivered it, but there are now at least two distinct forms of the virus. Everyone in the mansion was infected with the original strain, the one designed to kill mutants." Emma said gravely.
"Everyone? Does that mean that you..." Logan trailed off, knowing that that was exactly what she meant.
"Stay away, Logan. If you're not infected, then don't come here. Get as far away from civilization as you can and stay there." Emma said firmly.
"Is there anything I can do?" Logan asked in a low, serious voice.
* * * * *
"It looks like we'll be movin on up to Canada." Logan said as he climbed into his truck.
Ruby was slumped against the passenger window, apparently asleep, when Logan noticed something red, clutched in her hand.
Reluctantly, he pulled her fingers open enough to see the tissue that she was clutching, drenched in blood.
He placed his fingers on her throat, already knowing what he would discover.
Logan carefully picked up the girl's body and lifted it out of his truck, careful not to cause it any unnecessary damage.
After a look around the unfamiliar little town, he spotted a church about half a block away.
"Like I told you. I don't know, either." He said quietly to her as he walked.
Stepping into the church, he was confronted by the smell of dozens of bodies, scattered everywhere.
Determined to complete his task, he walked down the aisle, stepping over countless corpses as he did so, until he finally reached the altar at the front.
He gently placed the young girl's body on the altar, then looked up at the enormous crucifix on the wall behind the pulpit.
"You treat her right, or you'll answer to me." Logan said firmly, then knelt by Ruby's side and gave her a gentle kiss on the forehead before saying, "Goodbye."
* * * * *
"Logan! I didn't think you'd be coming!" Emma said in surprise as she met him in the hallway, outside the common room.
"I didn't think so, either. I was travelling with someone, but... let's just say, that if it's possible for me to get it, I got it." Logan said quietly.
"I've studied your physiology enough to know what to expect, but I'd very much like to see how the virus is impacting your systems." Emma said carefully.
"You always did say the sweetest things to me." Logan said with a grin.
"Come downstairs with me. We may not have a lot of time." Emma said seriously.
"Do you think there's any way you can make a cure with my blood?" Logan asked curiously.
"Considering how this virus was designed and knowing how your healing factor operates, my instinct is to say 'no'. But we won't know if we don't try, right?" Emma said as she stepped into the elevator.
"How are you doing, Em?" Logan asked with concern.
"It's there. I know it's there. I'm using every skill, every tool, every drug at my disposal to keep me going. If there's a way to beat this damnable thing, I'm determined to find it." Emma said firmly.
"That's my girl." Logan said with a grin.
"I am NOT a girl. And I'm most certainly not YOUR girl." Emma said indignantly.
"You never let me get away with anything." Logan laughed.
Emma gave a single nod, then stepped off the elevator.
* * * * *
"So, what's the verdict?" Logan asked when Emma pulled back from the microscope.
"It's worse than I thought." Emma said gravely.
"Give it to me straight. What are we talking about?" Logan asked seriously.
"The virus isn't being impeded, but your healing factor is healing the damage caused by the virus."
"So, since your healing factor isn't putting up much of a fight, the virus will slowly but surely propagate and thrive within you. If nothing changes, it will eventually be strong enough to actually kill you." Emma said seriously.
"Okay. I get that." Logan said quietly.
"No. I don't think you do. This thing is going to try to eat you alive, from the inside out, but your healing factor is going to keep repairing the damage. So what you're going to experience is an increasing torture that will likely drive you insane before it kills you." Emma said firmly.
"So, what's the bad news?" Logan asked with weak humor.
"Your healing factor negates most pain medications." Emma said bluntly.
"Last I checked, the opiates still worked on me." Logan said quickly.
"Yes. And I don't want to know how you checked. But that's true. Your healing factor does seem to ignore opiates. So when the pain gets to be too much to bear, do what you have to do, but be aware that if you use too many..."
"I promise to go into rehab if I survive." Logan interrupted.
"If you use too many, your healing factor will likely adapt and start nullifying the opiates." Emma continued.
"So only use as much as I absolutely need to." Logan said with a nod.
"I wish there were something more I could do for you." Emma said quietly.
"Have a beer with me." Logan said with a grin.
"You're a classy lady. I never asked you out because I thought you wouldn't be interested in a guy like me. But now... how about having a beer with me?" Logan asked hopefully.
"The things I do..." Emma said with a shake of her head, then firmly said, "Fine. One beer."
Logan smiled, then gestured toward the hallway.
* * * * *
As Logan pulled away from the mansion, he felt a momentary twinge of regret at leaving Emma to face what was to come on her own. But if her predictions about his condition were true, and he had no reason to think otherwise, then there were some things that he wanted to do before he either died, or became nothing more than a wild animal, ravaged with unending pain.
His original plan had been to go north and live in seclusion, but knowing what he did now, he didn't see any point to that.
His first stop as he drove south was in the small town where Ruby had died.
After a stop by the local hardware store, which was deserted, he helped himself to a pickaxe and a shovel.
Next, he went to the church and retrieved Ruby's body.
Although he considered going to the local funeral parlor and getting the biggest, nicest coffin that they had to offer, in the end, he decided that a simple dirt grave would be enough.
As he was digging, he had to stop once for a coughing fit, and noticed that he was coughing up blood.
He only took that as a sign that he needed to keep moving if he were going to carry on and fulfill the rest of his plans.
Once a suitable grave had been dug, he placed Ruby's body gently on the dirt in the bottom and stopped to look at her.
"I wish you'd had the chance to grow up. I bet you would've been a remarkable woman."
That being said, he began to fill in the grave, ignoring the sweat and his churning stomach as he did so.
Grabbing a case of beer for the road, Logan got into his truck and started driving south again.
Even though he had lost the light, he knew what his next destination was and wouldn't be diverted from his plan.
He didn't know why it seemed so important to him, but for some reason he felt that this was what needed to be done.
As a road sign announced the rest area ahead, Logan slowed the truck, so he would have the maneuverability that he needed.
When he saw the rest area facilities, he crossed the median and pulled into the northbound rest area.
* * * * *
"Hey, guys. I didn't forget you." Logan said as he walked into the restroom.
The two bodies were still there, right where he'd left them.
"Let's get you guys outta here." Logan said, then picked up the first of the two bodies.
He thought that the body was that of Bobby, but in the meager light, he couldn't be sure.
After a moment, he supposed that it didn't matter, as he carried the body to the back of his pickup truck and gently placed it inside.
A few minutes later, he carried the other body out of the rest area bathroom and placed it more or less beside the first one.
"I know we wasn't best buds or anything, but that don't mean that I wanted you to have a state highway toilet to be your final resting place. How's 'bout I find a nice place with some trees or somethin' like that for you?" Logan said as he spread a tarp over them.
The smell on his clothes was horrendous by now, but he mostly put that out of his mind as he drove south, searching for a suitable final resting place for the two boys he had briefly known at the mansion.
* * * * *
"What do you want?" A trembling voice asked from behind the counter at the cheap little motel where Logan had stopped.
"A bed and a hot bath would be nice." Logan said honestly.
"You're not sick?" The person, he couldn't tell if it was a man or woman, asked from out of his line of sight.
"Actually, yeah. I am. But if you'll just toss me a key, I'll leave ya alone." Logan said seriously.
"Yeah. Promise." Logan said quietly.
A hand reached up, and it seemed that the person he was talking to was a female.
She grabbed a key and threw it wildly toward him.
There was no way that Logan could catch the wild pitch, but once he retrieved the key, he said, "Thanks. I'll be outta your hair in the mornin."
"Just go." She whimpered.
Logan shrugged, then walked out to get back into his truck and drive around to his room.
* * * * *
The shower was a welcome relief.
Despite a few aches and pains and a bout of nausea during the night, Logan was mostly well rested as he left the motel room.
Like the night before, the parking lot was deserted except for his truck.
He glanced into the bed of the truck, to be sure that nothing had been disturbed, then got back on the road, still heading south.
His search for a radio station proved to be fruitless. There was nothing but static.
The next town he approached seemed to be emitting a lot of smoke, so he did his best to get past it quickly, so as not to be caught behind burning debris.
Finally, he came to a stretch of open road that looked rather inviting.
The early autumn sunlight was promising warmth and the trees still hadn't begun to turn, so it had an almost summer feel.
"Here." Logan said as he spotted a stream that ran parallel to the road.
It took him a few minutes, but he found a spot where he could pull off.
* * * * *
The ground here was much softer than the last he had dug.
Logan made quick work of the digging, then began carrying the bodies to the makeshift grave.
"Here. I found you a nice spot, by a river and under a tree. Not that you guys will notice, since you'll be together." Logan said as he placed Bobby's corpse on the moist earth.
"Don't worry, Ice Cube. John'll be here to keep you warm in just a minute." Logan grinned as he walked back to the truck.
He lifted John's stiff corpse out of the truck and carried it over to the grave with little effort.
"There you go. Nice and cozy. I know you guys'll take care of each other, so I'm not worried bout'cha." Logan said as he started to fill in the dirt.
"Who are you talking to?" A young man asked cautiously, as he approached.
"My friends here, that I'm burying." Logan answered honestly.
The young man stayed several feet away and watched as Logan continued to fill in the hole.
"You sick?" He finally asked.
"Yeah. What about you?" Logan asked as he used the flat of the shovel to pack the slight mound of dirt on top of the grave.
"Yeah. I woke up with it this morning." The young man said as his eyes filled with tears.
"What's yer name?" Logan asked as he walked back to his truck and tossed the shovel into the back.
"Travis." The young man said in a quaking voice.
"Wanna beer?" Logan asked as he reached into the passenger side of the truck and pulled out two.
"I'm only nineteen." Travis admitted shyly.
"What's that matter, now?" Logan asked as he walked to Travis and offered the beer to him.
"Yeah. I guess it doesn't." Travis chuckled as he accepted the beer.
After a long drink of beer, Travis quietly said, "You don't look sick."
"Maybe not, but I am." Logan said as he leaned back against the side of the truck, then took a long, slow drink.
"Everyone I know is dead." Travis said quietly.
"I know lots of people. So I can't say if all of 'em are dead or not. All I know is that I'm still alive, so I'm gonna act like it." Logan said firmly.
Travis took another drink of his beer, then said, "I don't know what to do."
"Sing a song. Dance a jig. Go down to the football stadium and dress up like Marilyn Monroe." Logan said with a smile.
Travis laughed, which ended in an agonized cough.
"Or don't. I'm just sayin, you got one last chance. Make the most of it." Logan said frankly.
Travis took a drink of beer to try and quell his cough reflex, then he quietly said, "It may sound stupid, but there's one thing that I've always wanted to do."
Logan looked at Travis inquiringly, but didn't ask.
"My mom has all these little porcelain figurines that she's collected all her life... ugly little things. Ever since I can remember, she's constantly been after me to watch out for her 'pretties'... I hate her 'pretties'. If I'm gonna die anyway, I'm gonna make sure those ugly smirking little pieces of glass die before I do." Travis said firmly.
"Do you live around here? Need a ride?" Logan asked as he looked around.
"Nah. All I have to do is walk across that field and I'm home." Travis said peacefully.
"Go to it, Kid. Time's runnin out."
"All I need is five minutes and a baseball bat."
Logan nodded, then watched as Travis ran across the street, then climbed the fence into a vast field.
He took one last drink of his beer, then dropped the can as he walked toward the newly filled grave.
"I don't know how these things work. But, if there is something after... keep an eye on Travis for me, would'ja?" Logan asked as he looked at the mound of dirt.
After a bittersweet smile, Logan turned and walked back to his truck.
He looked up and down the long, empty road, then shrugged before getting in and starting to drive North.
* * * * *
"Em... I don't know what you expected your end to be like, but this somehow seems right." Logan said as he looked at her pale body behind her desk.
He walked to her and easily lifted her into his arms and carried her body out of the room.
"I think I done enough gravedigging for a while. I'm sorry if that seems disrespectful, but I'm feelin like shit about now." Logan said as he walked toward the elevator.
"Besides, everything you did in your life was enough of a memorial. You were an amazing woman and a good friend. If that ain't enough ta git ya inta tha pearly gates, then screw'em. They don't deserve you." Logan said as he waited for the elevator doors to open on the lower level.
* * * * *
"Here, I'm gonna put you in the isolation room. I see you already got a few people in there, so ya won't be alone." Logan said as he awkwardly opened the outer door.
Once again, the smell of death assaulted him. He was barely able to keep his stomach contents at bay while he gently placed Emma's body in a chair beside the window.
"I hope you won't think too bad of me, but I'm gonna go upstairs and get hammered. This has been one bitch of a day." Logan said, then closed the isolation room door.
For anyone who has read the story so far, and you are reading it again, SURPRISE! This is not the book 6 you thought it was. This is a brand new book. You will discover some details regarding Logan's lonely and painful life, and his realization that if he weren't already completely alone, he soon would be.
Darryl AKA The Radio Rancher