Characters: Sarge, Dean, Sam (Gen)
Summary: The end of the world always happens on a personal basis.
Author's Notes: I started this for super_summer last year, but just couldn't get it to finish until revisiting it a year later. My episode was "Croatoan," and this character was one of my favorite parts of it. Many thanks to deadbeat_nymph, who helped me wrangle through some of the issues with verb tenses once again.
Also for my Switch25 table, this is "Betrayal."
It's a quiet little town, big enough to offer the basics. Medford's not that far away, and there's the Internet these days. Times have definitely changed.
He didn't grow up around here, of course. Outside Tulsa was where he started, but after the war he couldn't find a way to go back home. He traveled the West for a while, seeing the sights and looking for answers. Crater Lake was beautiful—a glimpse of the hand of God—and Rivergrove had fishing.
Fishing was his second love.
Evangeline married someone else while he was off fighting. She didn't want some soul-sick soldier like him—her last letter said as much. Back then, he was so worn down that he let her bitter words destroy him. He walked away from the reminders of his past and found a new spot to settle in and start again.
When he first came to town he stuck out readily, his color and comfortable drawl alike. People got over it—over him, over themselves. He built a reputation for being a hard-worker and a straight shooter, and nobody cared who'd stopped loving him five states away. After awhile, he almost believed that he didn't care either.
He saved money for three-and-a-half years to set up his own place, a little bait shop. It wasn't anything fancy, but it was a good start. His hand-tied flies and fishing-hole maps of the nearest ten rivers were a decent draw—the business from the tourist trade paid the bills. Before long, he came to realize that if fishing itself was good, then the whole package was better—boat rentals and guided tours.
That would be his future, he decided right then.
Plans kept a man from being distracted by what he didn't have, kept him from the memories of Evangeline's perfume and the way she used to linger on his name (Mark… she'd say, slow and wondrous like he was everything she'd ever wanted or ever would). He tried to focus on becoming the kind of man who was content—never joyful or lighthearted, simply happy to have what he could.
By now, he can certainly admit that he's succeeded. He's built his business up over the years, good and steady, and it's going as strong as ever. He still runs the place himself some six days a week. Nice town, nice people, and they like and respect him. They don't look to him for telling jokes, but that's probably all for the best.
One morning, an odd-couple pair shows up asking questions and claiming to be U.S. Marshals. He doesn't buy it, but there's a whiff of something sincere about them both—even when the short-haired one tries to shine on up to him (like he won't catch on, like nobody's ever done that before). They ask about the Tanners, Duane in particular, and Duane's all right—not the kind to get into trouble. The younger brother is a smug-assed punk, but aren't they all. His own younger brother is God's blessed gift, with Mama always carrying on about it until the whole thing finally just wears thin.
Now, the sergeant doesn't hear anything much about those two young men after they leave the store. People are too busy rushing out of town to have time for gossip, and the atmosphere's gotten more than a little unsettling. Any fool can tell something's going on.
He goes home for lunch around eleven-thirty, but there's a knock on the door before he even makes it to the kitchen.
"Hey, Bob, how've you been?" he asks.
Bob Rogers doesn't answer, just smiles creepily and brings his hand around from behind his legs.
Jesus, a hatchet. Why the hell is Bob bringing me a hatchet?
Suddenly, the hatchet is coming right at him. He reacts quickly, cold-cocking Rogers with a deck chair, but it hardly slows the man down—Rogers is a maniac, incredibly strong. One minute the sergeant thinks he can escape inside the house, and the next there's a hole in the front door and Rogers is coming through it.
Thank god for that hunting rifle.
Back in the 'Nam, there'd been talk about specialized diseases—germ warfare and such. Most people had thought it was pure paranoia. The village locals had talked about curses and enchantments, but that was as ridiculous as manufactured epidemics or mind control.
Up until now.
Having a neighbor he nodded to on the street this morning show up in serial killer mode is the kind of thing that'll change a man's mind.
Bob Rogers has a wife and kids he won't be coming home to anymore, and that thought is just sickening—the sergeant hasn't felt anything like it since the War. The blood on the porch can wait, he decides… he has a widow to talk to, and then he'll be making his statement to the police.
He doesn't even get past Rogers' driveway. The bodies of the man's wife and two little boys tell the sergeant all he needs to know.
Stumbling down to the main road on foot, he ducks behind a tree when he sees Sheriff Trebane chasing Deputy Musgrove with a shotgun. Not following the man, chasing him. Something's loose in this town, and it's definitely not good.
The sergeant goes back for his service revolver before heading toward the shop again. Time to pack up the truck and get the hell out of Dodge, until the crazy's done blowing through.
The roar of an engine coming down the road grabs his attention, and it's that Marshal from this morning—or whoever he is. Seems like the trouble came to town about the same time he did.
"You one of 'em?" the sergeant demands, his gun as steady as ever.
He's not expecting to get the same question in return.
The two of them drive back to meet the guy's partner, guns trained on each other the whole way in case the beast surfaces from behind the mask. The ten-minute drive seems unusually long.
When they get back to the clinic, the partner's news is that the rest of the town's as crazy as Rogers was, and that he's also got someone in custody.
Someone local, so of course the sergeant knows her. At least, he did.
The Marshal kills Beverly Tanner when she 'turns,' and it's the second time today the sergeant has watched someone familiar change over from human to a rabid, homicidal monster. Feels like a dream he ought to be able to wake up from.
Virus, Dr. Lee says, and the Marshals back her up. Something with an incubation period that doesn't strike until hours later. God knows who might be next.
Duane Tanner turns up, asking about his parents. Poor boy doesn't even know. Worse yet, the one kid (the Marshal, or whatever—damn, but he's young) has Duane tried and convicted and on the verge of execution before anyone can make him simmer down. His partner finally manages to get through.
The two of them go off to confer (or gather their heads) while the rest of the people at the clinic sit around eyeing each other nervously. The doors to the outside world are locked, and they're all just waiting for each other to succumb, if that's how the thing works. It's tense and morbid.
Dr. Lee finally clears Duane, but her assistant Pam surprises them all by suddenly attacking one of the boys—the tall, worried one, who looks more like a kid than ever right now, lying there on the floor with that virus-laden gash and staring at it like he doesn't remember how it happened.
The boy's a living casualty now—and it's so much harder than dying outright. The sergeant's seen it before in battle, seen men bleeding-out slowly, or lingering in pain until infection finishes the job.
The other one—his brother, it turns out—is staying to the end. The rest of them leave in a hurry.
The sergeant gives Duane a lift out of town. Funny how neither of them is leaving behind anyone who matters, even though Duane had a whole family here just this morning.
Yesterday, a new waitress at the Crystal Waters Café served the sergeant breakfast. He'd stopped stirring and stirring his coffee—the liquid black was like the wonder of Evangeline's eyes—to notice the blue flecked with gold in the eyes of the pretty woman standing there in front of him. Her name was Marie, and she was five years divorced with no kids. She loved the beauty of the great outdoors, and she had the most incredible smile he'd seen in years.
The first real possibility for something since the last century, and the sergeant knows it's probably gone already—caught up in that whirlwind of destruction back down the road behind them.
He's still thinking about what he lost and wondering what lies ahead, when Duane speaks up suddenly, asking him to pull over.
"I've got to make a call," Duane explains.
They're in the middle of dark nowhere right now, on the side of the road with nothing anywhere in sight. "There's no phone out here," the sergeant protests. His head must still be spinning, because it makes no sense and who's Duane got left to be calling anyway?
"I've got it covered."
Duane's voice is oddly flat and the sergeant looks over, wondering for a second if just maybe—
Something slices across his throat. The blood spills hot and wet, seeping through the dizziness and bewilderment.
No… He realizes what it means and knows he can't do anything about it. Evangeline, he thinks, his heart betraying him in the end. Will she ever know?
Then it's too late for the sergeant to wonder anything ever again.
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