Jase a few minutes later to find him petting Betsy. The motions seemed as soothing to him as it was for the dog. I set down the plastic bowl full of water near Betsy, but I doubted she’d drink. Her eyes had closed, her breathing labored.
I put a glass of water on a shelf near Jase before taking a seat across from them. The news had said that dogs didn’t turn, that bites were simply fatal, but I kept a close watch on both the collie and the teen, anyway. I’d left the .22 in its holster but had it ready.
“Mom turned first,” Jase said softly. “Dad told me to leave the room, but I stayed and watched. He shot her. Right in the head. He had to shoot her twice before she quit moving. God, the blood…” He sucked in a breath. “Then Dad, he turned the rifle on himself, but he just couldn’t do it.” He rested his head on the wall behind him. “We’re Catholic, ya know. He couldn’t do it. He shot Mom because it wasn’t murder since zeds don’t have souls. But he had to be able to get back to Mom.”
I stayed silent. I didn’t voice my thought that Frank had been selfish. No boy should be asked to kill his own father.
As Jase spoke, his voice became stronger. “So he handed the rifle to me. He hated himself for it. I could tell. But I didn’t mind. He was my dad, ya know? He raised me good.” His voice cracked and it took him a couple breaths to continue. “It was my turn to take care of him. But, then he started to turn…and then I…”
He looked at me then. “I couldn’t do it. When he looked at me, I thought that he was still in there, somewhere, but then he came at me. I stumbled back and tripped. Dad—no, he wasn’t Dad anymore—when he growled at me, I knew he was gone.”
Jase’s gaze went to the collie, her breaths had become weak and shallow. “Betsy was yapping, and then she jumped at him. Can you imagine a twenty-three pound fur ball flying through the air?” He chuckled, and then put his head in his lap. “He picked her up, just like he did every day to let her kiss him. Except this time, he bit into her. God,” he cried out. “He just kept biting and biting. Betsy was crying out so loud. I raised the rifle and started shooting. I shot at him until the mag was empty, but he didn’t even slow down. So I ran at him. I used the butt of the rifle to nail him in the head. I don’t know how many times I hit him before he finally let her go.”
Jase sighed. When he spoke again, the words were just a whisper. “At least Dad’s with Mom now.”
I found lip trembling. “I’m sorry about your parents.”
“It’s my fault. If I’d shot him when I should have, Betsy wouldn’t have been bitten. She’d be fine now. She jumped in to save me. It’s my fault .”
“No,” I scolded. “We all make our own choices. You waited because you loved him. Betsy attacked because she loved you. Don’t drown out her bravery with your regret. Honor her by holding memories of her bravery.”
He sniffled and scratched behind the dog’s ears. “You’re a good girl, aren’t you, Betsy Baby.”
The dog showed no reaction, and Jase leaned forward and hugged onto her.
My vision blurred, and I looked away, while the boy said good-bye to his dog.
After several minutes, when I was confident that Betsy wasn’t coming back, I climbed to my feet and stepped outside to give the kid space. From inside, I could hear Jase sobbing.
I walked out to the small shed, grabbed a shovel, and picked out a patch of grass under a shade tree. It took me over forty minutes to dig a hole that would hold a twenty-three pound bundle.
By the time I returned, I was pleasantly surprised to discover a boy, not a zed. Jase’s face was red and blotchy, but he’d stopped crying. His hand rested on Betsy. His eyes held a faraway look that I’d seen in Clutch’s gaze every now and then. It was a look of someone who’d been to hell and didn’t get out in one piece.
Something tugged Jase back, because his eyes