A nightingale had died during the night. Now it lay next to my boot; wings folded, legs rigid, body half-covered by grey leaves from the dead rose bush. The rest of the garden, like those around it, had been dealt a severe blow by the blight. Everything but the others’ biohazard suits was grey and pale.

The others entered the house while I dug a shallow grave with my bare hands and held a small funeral for the feathered beauty that was no more. My young self would have been proud of the animal funeral. But there was no longer time for childishness or true grieving. There was the living to think of and the dead to bury.

I turned at the call of my name to find my Watcher in his pristine parrot-bright biohazard suit at the house’s front door. I glanced down at my own hands covered in sparrow-coloured dirt. For some reason the plague chose not to kill me, but only infect me, leaving me a monster. Yet I could always feel it in my blood, pumping through veins tired of fighting for another day if another day meant more of this.

“There’s dead inside the house,” the Watcher said.

I sighed, nodded, braced myself, and rubbed a hand over my stubble-covered chin. Today I would dig more graves, whisper more last rites, say goodbye to pale strangers before covering with the earth they would once again become. But I would not sing for them. They deserve a voice better than mine to send them off to the lands of eternal life. I dusted my hands on my grimy pants and tried not to think how I must look unwashed and unshaven. Good only to deal with the dead they say God deserted.

Like a child I glance to the sky, to where the silver crescent moon still hung faintly in the pale morning sky, and wonder whether I had been forsaken or spared.

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