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The Graham's Resolution Series Bundle

The Graham's Resolution Series Bundle

The China Pandemic was published 6 years before current events.

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🔵 Click to Read the Synopsis 🌲🌲 🦌

Published in 2013 👀

"I feel my heart clench as I watch the life drain out of this woman’s eyes. I’ve been through so much suffering because of the disease, and now here is this stranger asking me to accept her four-year-old son into my care.

The child wails inconsolably in his mother's arms while I struggle to keep myself composed. We have to move quickly if we will reach the cabin in the woods before nightfall, but a wild-eyed man is blocking our path. How can I make it through without drawing attention to us?" -Graham Morgan

🔵 Introduction

(Published in 2013 👀)

Some said that China’s intent to develop the H5N1 virus merely came about as an attempt to culture a vaccine, knowing the nation’s dense population would be at catastrophic risk if attacked by such a virus. Others said that China’s motives had always been sinister, and that they had developed a weaponized form of the virus. In the end it didn’t matter what the intentions had been; having tinkered with Pandora’s box, and without safeguards in place, they had unleashed it. And not only on their own people; it spread like wildfire across the globe, exterminating more than six billion souls. The million or so who were still alive were somehow immune, but they were carriers. As for the virus itself, it became known simply as the China Pandemic.

🔴 Chapter 1

A Fate Worse than Death

Shivering in the pounding Pacific Northwest rain, Hyun-Ok needed to see for herself what threat the grim man in the distance posed. She’d heard him yelling before, followed by a gunshot blast and then a terrible scream. Having already counted him an unsuitable candidate to offer her the aid she needed, she had to be certain he wasn’t an immediate threat to her and her son. 

With a death grip on the bed of the parked black pickup truck behind which she had taken refuge, Hyun-Ok gasped in horror as the crazed man powered up a small, worn backhoe. He scooped his victim up with the bucket, then spilled him, still alive and screaming, into a massive fire he had kept burning all day in a Dumpster. 

She slinked away, her broken sobs bringing on a coughing fit from her own infected lungs. The agonized screams finally stopped, and Hyun-Ok grieved in silence for the unlucky man’s soul as sparks flew skyward. She must escape this part of town! The grim man, Campos, had posted no trespassing signs, and his actions told her he meant it. 

She was her son’s only hope, and there was little time left to ensure his future. The disease weakened Hyun-Ok more each day, and she knew she would soon die. She could not leave her five-year-old to fend for himself with the likes of Campos around. Her days of scouting had told her there was only one person left to consider; the search had already taken up too much valuable time and energy, and Bang had to be in caring hands soon. 

The one she was thinking of had one more to bury anyway. She might as well spend what little time she had left with her son. 

Hyun-Ok recovered from her coughing fit as best she could and continued her journey home. She would need to make the trip in silence through the forested night, hidden from the few remaining people. Since coming to the realization that Bang showed no signs of the virus she had been venturing out like this, into the dark, every night. 

One by one those around her had died off as she cared for them, Bang always at her side. Her elderly mother had been the first to go, followed closely by her father. Shortly after that, her husband, though he desperately clung to life, not willing to abandon his wife and son.

Covered in the sweat of fever, and her words rasping, Hyun-Ok had assured him his son would be fine and urged him into a peaceful beyond. “I will be with you soon, my love,” she’d told him with tears streaming down her face. As weak as she was at the time, the tears had surprised her.

The endearment, and the true meaning of her words, had sparked something in her dying husband. His eyes darted from Hyun-Ok to Bang, who was standing at the bedside. In brutal agony, he drew himself up to gaze at his son’s face. “He must not be left alone and defenseless in this world gone mad!”

Hyun-Ok tried to comfort her husband with words, pushing him gently back toward the mattress, and she revealed her plan to safeguard their son. Her husband held them both close, praying aloud to an unhearing god that he could draw them with him as he slipped away.

That was just a week ago, and that night, after Bang drifted off to sleep, Hyun-Ok had gone out canvassing for the few remaining survivors in the neighborhood. Cloaked in black and defying the many dangers, she spied on the others and assessed them based on instinct alone. She estimated six hundred had originally occupied this immediate area in the Seattle suburb of Issaquah, and with only a 2 percent survival rate there should be twelve survivors—now known to be carriers. Of those she had only found seven.

Tonight she immediately discounted the first person she came across, two streets over, as being too elderly to be the guardian of a child of five. This lady only had a year left in her, if that. Hyun-Ok’s boy needed someone younger to carry him through life, at least into his teens. 

The man she found next made her uncomfortable. She observed him decidedly grieving for his lost family, sitting out in a lawn chair in the night, yelling obscenities. He taunted and waited for the starving dogs, now gone wild, to smell him out. He shot at them, but it seemed to her that he was only trying to provoke an attack. She could sense his massive sorrow and knew his intentions were suicide by mauling if he could manage it. If not, he would likely soon take his own life. Sadly, she suspected that happened a lot with survivors.

Hyun-Ok crossed the highway unseen and found a scantily clad woman picking apples from a tree in a vacant lot. She knew the woman would attract the wrong kind of attention and wouldn’t be a good choice for her son’s welfare.

The man she had finally chosen seemed the only one capable of being her son’s guardian. Not only that, but something about him—either the way he carried his tall frame or the thoughtful dignity with which he buried his loved ones—assured Hyun-Ok that the neighbor named Graham would prove himself the best guardian. She knew that she could trust him with her boy. Knowing that as soon as Graham’s father passed away he’d have no more to bury, she could take her boy to him going on her own journey into death. One more day, she thought. But before then, I need to write to him about Bang.

With a sad smile, she stepped through the maze of parked vehicles, listening attentively to all sounds and alert for any dangers. She glanced back at the glow in the distance one last time. The last remaining obstacle would be to make Graham understand that he needed the boy as much as the boy needed him. She knew that would be the greatest challenge. She had to convince him of that or her son would be doomed.

🔴 Chapter 2

Digging Graves

The frail man reached out to his son. Through tears, Graham gently grasped his father’s shaking hands as he lay dying. He knew it was the closest they had ever been. 

Graham reaffirmed that he would go on as they had planned, that he would always keep the rifle beside him. Through drowning coughs his father reminded Graham that taking his own life was not part of God’s plan; it would only ensure a soulless wandering in the afterlife and would prevent him from ever again joining his departed family.

Having seen the signs so many times before, Graham knew the end was drawing near. He became desperate, knowing that the difference this time would be him standing alone without a soul known to him. His father’s wheezing came in shorter gasps, his eyes drew quiet, and his face sank into itself. Graham went from the desperation of losing his father to praying for mercy and a quicker end; he could take no more of this torment. Just like all the others, one by one, they all died in anguish.

Graham could not understand why he still lived. He had watched helplessly as his wife Nelly had died, taking their unborn child with her. Then his dear mother left him, followed by his sister and four-year-old niece. And now his father.

“What will I do without you?” he asked.

“Do what I have taught you, Graham. Make good decisions along the way, and don’t regret anything. You’ll do fine. Always know that I’m proud of you.”

Graham wiped spittle from his father’s lips and clutched his hand. 

When death finally came, his father assumed a peaceful demeanor and said for the last time, “I love you, son.”

Exhausted from the night’s endless vigil, Graham rubbed his face. Tears of frustration, fear, and loss streamed down through his light brown whiskers. He had not shaved since way back when things were normal, and he did not care if he ever shaved again. Food, and even the very air he needed to breathe, had lost all importance. He could only wonder how he could possibly go on without his father’s strength and guidance.

With his last racking sob, Graham took a deep breath. “Buck up,” his father would have said sternly. And that’s what he decided to do. He was now the father of the clan, and he continued as if there was a family to lead.

There was only the one last grave, though this one would be the hardest to dig. Such little consolation would have to do at this moment. Everyone he’d ever known was now gone: all of his family, friends, and acquaintances. From the lowliest beggar to the wealthiest tycoon, no class had gone untouched; even the president had died. This was an equal opportunity pandemic; no one could be accused of racism or class warfare.

With only the blue shadowy morning light peering in on them, Graham reached over to close the blue-veined eyes of the man he loved and admired.

“Good-bye, Dad,” he whispered, kissing him on the forehead. He wrapped the edges of the white bedsheet slowly around his father’s body; it was a skill he had learned through repetition. Then he left the room, walking lightly so as not to disturb the peace.

* * *

His father had asked Graham to leave space in the middle of the other four graves in his mother’s prized rhododendron garden. On one side lay his mother and Nelly, and on the other his sister and niece. His father had wanted it that way so he could “safeguard the ladies.” Graham had known that his dad, always the gentleman, would hold out to the very last, until after the ladies had gone.

In October the soft loamy ground would still shovel easily, though it would freeze soon enough. The autumn rains were often misty, but this morning it rained as if it meant it. The digging would have to wait.

Graham dreaded this final act almost as much as when he’d buried his beloved Nelly. He slumped down in his father’s living room chair and sobbed uncontrollably. “Where do I go from here?” he yelled, grabbing his water glass and flinging it across the room, where it crashed against the wall. 

But he already had his answer; his father had already made him commit to certain plans. Graham remembered this but asked aloud, “What for?” He continued to sob, frustrated by the lack of answers.

He left the bedroom, walking to the dining room window to peer out into his mother’s garden. He saw the fading leaves of the rhododendrons, and the memory of their spring flowers made him wish he could somehow share his grief with Nelly.

After the pandemic had started, he and his wife had fled to his parents’ isolated home from the chaos that had come to Seattle. With Nelly’s teaching job suspended due to futile quarantine efforts and Graham’s job as a math professor gone, it only made sense to get the hell out of their apartment in the city. The decision became final when shots rang out one night, waking him from his sleep and causing him to clutch his pregnant wife securely against him. The next day they learned their neighbors had been murdered for their food supply. Fearing that he and Nelly were next, he packed the car and they left.

As humanity died off, people turned on one another. Fresh food was at a premium, and even preserved foods were running short. The immune preyed on the living; they desperately searched for dwindling food supplies because the grocery stores were no longer being stocked. To make things worse, counties had implemented quarantine roadblocks in an ill-fated attempt to lock infected populations out, thus making residents prisoners within their own communities.

Even though Graham had been raised by a Marine Corps father, he staunchly believed in gun control. He blamed easy access to guns for the various school shooting tragedies and railed against the ongoing wars fought abroad. These views had been furthered in the liberal-minded schools and universities he’d attended and subsequently taught in.

Having grown up in the Northwest, Graham embraced its culture and ideals, unlike his mother and father, who had kept their worldly views to themselves. They had never taken sides publicly nor tried to push their own views on their children. They had wanted Graham to become his own man in their troubled world.

Though Graham’s dad had insisted that he learn to hunt at a very early age, Graham had never owned a gun of his own. His father often tried to convince him to have a pistol with him for protection, especially since he was married and lived in what his dad thought a dangerous neighborhood. Graham had always refused, and had even tried to convince his father that those were the old ways of thinking and that every situation could be reasoned out peacefully.

His father, of course, doubted this based on his own experience. While he worried about his son’s attitude, through the years the older man’s subtle teachings provided Graham with the skills he needed to survive. He wanted the boy to be prepared regardless of personal ideals or political affiliation. They spent a lot of time in the wilderness. Even at their family cabin, where all manner of survival skills were keenly disguised as camping or hunting lore, he tricked his son into learning.

They would sometimes arrive at the old cabin that had been retrofitted over the years with running water and electricity to find both unavailable. Graham’s father would then show him how to set up solar panels for power and how to sterilize the nearby lake water. He also taught him how to hunt and cook outdoors over a wood fire. Graham now realized how clever the man had been in those early days to teach him so well. 

Before it all came apart, Graham and Nelly had been happy and enjoyed healthy lives; they had just celebrated their second year of marriage. She was a planner and a list maker and, not surprisingly, had their futures all mapped out.

Graham usually arrived home first and got dinner ready for them. On one particular day, Nelly had been down with a cold, so he’d planned to make her favorite knockoff of a soup they both enjoyed from a local Italian restaurant, the one with sausage and kale. He was startled that evening when he found her home from work early, balled up and crying on their bed. She was not one for weeping fits, so he knew something terrible must have happened to her as bent down to comfort her. She resisted, and sat up to face him. “I’m pregnant!” she blurted out through tears.

“You’re what?” he asked, stunned.

“I’m pregnant. We’re going to have a baby, and it’s way too early. It’s not part of the plan. Now I won’t be able to get my master's degree.” 

He pulled her toward him, even though she struggled and kissed her swollen red lips. “You’re so silly, Nelly. We’re going to have a baby! It’ll all work out. I love you!”

But nothing did work out. Soon later the pandemic came, and it took Nelly and their unborn child.

Now that he was all alone, Graham wondered how many in the neighborhood were still alive and how many would, as his father had warned, have “evil intent.”

The pelting rain had dwindled to a light mist. Graham retrieved his slicker and shovel from the garage, and his rifle from beside the door. A rifle: it felt as natural to him now as carrying his keys. Anytime he ventured outside he had it slung over his shoulder; indoors it was always within arm’s reach. “At all times,” his father had insisted.

Graham knew it was time. His throat tightened as he tried to suppress more tears. Out among the rhododendrons he leaned the rifle within reach against the garden shed. The wind picked up as he stood and listened. He and his father had made a practice of this early on; the act of listening had become one of the rituals of survival. The silence should be filled with familiar sounds, and the total absence of them could mean trouble. There were very few familiar sounds now.

No distant train could be heard, no planes overhead. No lawnmowers, or cars’ squealing belts, or the ever-present roar of Interstate 90 passing through town. Neighborhood chatter and children at play were now only past memories, but they were the sounds that Graham missed. 

What he did hear was often met with the natural instinct of fight or flight: the howling of a dog (or was it a wolf?); the noise of dogs fighting over prey, as fear-inducing as any distant gunshot; the occasional scream, though in recent days these had become less frequent. This was what Graham chose to distract himself with while bending over the soaked loam next to the mounded grave of his mother; the ruminations of a world gone silent.

As sweat dripped from his nose he heaved each shovelful with vengeance, using the activity to release some of his anger. He continued to toss shovel after shovel of dirt, ignoring the pain in his back and shoulders.

Then he could not help it. Graham broke down again as an image of tossing a ball with his father in that very spot crossed his mind. He dropped the shovel and put his hands on the back of his neck. He fell to his knees in the damp grass. “No, this cannot be happening,” he cried, lifting his face toward the sky.

At that moment, out of the corner of his eye, Graham spotted a form in gray next to the barberry bush. It was so slight that he nearly missed it altogether. In one fluid motion he quickly retrieved his rifle, cursing himself for not noticing something sooner.

Graham leveled the rifle and aimed, grief fueling his anger. “Get back! I will shoot you!” The shape slipped back around the corner, but he knew it hid there. He could sense its presence, but had no idea of who or what it could be.

“There is nothing for you here, so please leave,” he added more calmly.

Then a muffled coughing signaled someone around the corner. Graham knew it was not his imagination; he took several wide side steps to view the hidden space, then adjusted his aim to get a visual of the one who dared intrude upon his private grieving.

A slight female form stood against the house, hooded, bent over in a futile attempt to restrain a persistent cough. When the cough lessened, she lifted her head to gaze at Graham. Her eyes pleaded with him as she raised her hand up in a gesture to show she meant no harm.

The frail woman limped forward, stopped, and raised her hands again. Graham could tell she was weak with the disease, and after she took a couple more steps he could clearly see she would not last more than an hour or so. Her face showed all the signs he’d seen before, and the fact that she was able to stand was a miracle alone. Her whole body rattled with the endless coughing. Graham walked within fifteen feet of her and lowered the business end of his rifle. He met the woman’s pleading gaze with his own, knowing her dying breath might come at any minute.

She must be one of the few still alive with the virus. But not for long

“I am Hyun-Ok,” she said, barely audible; it was the voice of a woman weakened and scarred. She gestured vaguely behind her. “This is my son Bang.”

Graham took several steps back and held up his hand, knowing right away what she wanted from him. He shook his head. “No, I can’t take on someone else.”

She shuffled forward a few steps and pleaded again. “I have watched you, you’re a good man. Please, you’re the only one. He is immune, like you.”

Before she could say any more, she stumbled on the rocky driveway, falling to her knees and coughing again. Bang ran to her side.

Surprised at seeing such a small child, Graham slung his rifle over his shoulder and took several steps closer to her. He’d never taken any notice of the danger the virus might cause him. Hell, he’d even tried to catch it once Nelly had passed away.

Graham lifted the dying woman’s small frame into his arms while the boy watched his every move. The child trailed him closely as he moved toward the house.

He had few choices here. He could not watch this woman die right in his driveway, especially with her child there; he doubted his father would have allowed this either. He opened the sliding glass door with one free hand while the lady continued to cough in his arms. He could not see the boy, but knew he was close behind. He laid her down on the living room sofa and heard the boy slide the door closed. Graham pulled his mother’s red floral quilt down from the back of the sofa and laid it over the tiny woman.

He watched as the little boy ran to his mother’s side. She reached for him, and once she regained control she reached for Graham’s hand as well. She looked at him with desperate eyes.

“Please, Graham, you must take him, there is no other,” she said.

He wondered how she knew his name. “Let me get you some water,” he said, trying to stall the conversation. It dawned on him how cruel her plight must feel, knowing she would leave a young child alone and helpless in this new world.

“No, there is so little time now,” she mumbled. “Please don't bother.”

Graham no longer felt so sorry for himself; he knew the boy’s predicament was much worse than his own, but still he felt unprepared to take him on as a responsibility.

Hyun-Ok grabbed his hand to keep him close.

Before she uttered another word, she joined her son’s small hand with Graham’s. “You need him as much as he needs you. Please, take him,” she continued, crying.

Graham found himself nodding as he became more aware of her desperation. At any second she would perish right there on the couch in front of her son. He could not take any more heartbreak. 

He gave in.

“I’ll take him. I’ll take care of him.”

To bring her peace, he lifted the child onto the couch next to his mother. As Bang cried, Graham’s voice cracked. “It’s okay. I promise to take good care of him.”

He wanted to give her this gift. He’d had no control over the loss of his loved ones, but he could at least give this stranger peace. He wanted to show her some humanity in her dying moments. He missed the kindness of the living.

Hyun-Ok looked up at him, and Graham saw that the same peacefulness that had come over his father just before dawn was now coming to her. Her face softened and she managed a weak smile, moving her eyes from Graham to her son. She blinked away tears and her smile faded. Then her mouth fell open. The spark of life was gone just like that. She had completed the transfer on borrowed time.

Graham stared at her for a few moments in silence. He heard a low, muffled cry starting deep in the boy, who remained curled up next to his mother. Graham could understand his sorrow; the boy, too, had seen too much death—and so early in his life. He stroked Bang’s head as the boy clung to his mother’s side, sobbing.

Graham gently closed Hyun-Ok’s eyes and laid his hand on the boy’s shoulder. “It’s going to be all right,” he said, but Bang pulled away from him and clung to his mother. 

Graham stepped back. He shook his head, cursing himself for the promise he’d just made. He walked away, leaving the little boy there. He now had another grave to dig before sundown.

🔴 Chapter 3

The Dark before Dawn

Graham dug the dead woman’s grave next to his beloved Nelly’s; he wanted to think that the two would have gotten along in the living world. They both loved children, and he didn’t think he wanted this brave little lady to be alone. This just seemed like the right thing to do.

Exhausted, he trudged back inside, stomping the dirt off his boots at the door. The boy still lay at his mother’s side. Graham knew this wasn’t a good sign. What if I can’t get him away from his mother’s dead body?

He walked over to the boy and shook him awake. Eyes just like his mother’s, but now rimmed in red, looked up at him.

Hey, kid, what’s your name again?” Graham asked. The boy hesitated. 

“Look, my name’s Graham. What’s yours?”


Graham wasn’t sure he heard it right. “What?”

“Bang!” the boy said and rolled over, weeping. 

“Come on, Bang, I need your help,” Graham said.

The boy closed his eyes and buried his face in his mother’s side.

“Hey, come on. We have work to do,” Graham insisted, pulling him away from his mother and off the couch. Bang began to kick and scream, landing a lucky strike against Graham’s shin.

“God dammit, kid!” He held Bang firmly by one arm, and pulled him, kicking and screaming, into his father’s bedroom.

“Look!” Graham said, pointing to his dead father and yelling over the crying. Bang quieted and looked up at Graham, terrified. His eyes and nose were running, and he tried to stop his sniffling. 

“We have to bury him, and then we’ll bury your mother,” Graham said in a stern voice. “But I need your help.”

Graham let go of the boy’s arm, and Bang took hold of the dead man’s sheet. Graham took a deep breath. 

“All right, Dad, here we go.” Graham worked his arms under his father’s lifeless body, which had already begun to stiffen. It was easier to lift than he had thought it would be, and he cradled his father against his chest.

“You follow me,” he told the boy. He didn’t expect him to be happy, or even quiet; he just wanted to give him a part in the task to keep him busy. Bang followed him through the house and out the door. Once outside, Graham stopped for a moment and buried his head in his father’s shoulder. “I’m so sorry, Dad,” he said, wishing he knew of a more dignified way of transporting him.

The late afternoon sky was gray, and more rain was on the way. Graham laid his father at the edge of the grave, then jumped down into the hole and looked up at Bang. Somehow the boy had quieted, maybe because he had something to do, or maybe because he was stunned with so many dead people around. Whatever the reason, Graham was grateful.

“Okay, you help me get him in here,” Graham said, struggling to hold back his own emotions. “Try to give him a little push.”

Graham dragged his deceased father over toward him. The boy helped push as much as he could, which was barely at all. The body started to sink to the bottom too quickly in what ended up in more of a controlled fall. Graham couldn’t help but cry. He settled his father neatly within the grave and started to climb up out of the hole. The first thing Graham noticed above ground was the kid had completely disappeared. He looked all around the yard but saw no sign of him.

“Shit!” Graham said, followed by, “Hey, Bang!”

Graham ran to the back door of the house, thinking that perhaps Bang had gone back to his dead mother’s side. But looking through the glass door he couldn’t see the boy. Then he heard a yell and a dog barking from the front of the property.

Graham grabbed his rifle and ran to the front of the house to see Bang running down the street with a pit bull at his heels. He yelled and ran toward the dog, startling it enough that it turned in his direction. Graham aimed and fired, killing the attack dog instantly.

Knowing they had caused a commotion enough to attract other predators, Graham didn’t delay; with one arm he grabbed Bang, who was crying and kicking, and ran home, closing the gate behind them. He then sat Bang down in the grass and knelt next to him.

“Okay, okay, be quiet! It’s done now. The dog is dead,” Graham said. He felt guilty for forcing the kid to behave, but he needed him to quiet down. Graham went to the front gate to look for more dogs; so far there weren’t any. 

“You need to be quiet or the other mean dogs will find us,” he said, rubbing Bang’s head. The boy tried to stifle his crying. “Are you okay? Did he bite you?” 

Bang shook his head. Graham took a rag out of his pants pocket and wiped the tears and snot away. The little boy’s chest heaved with his effort to hold back his sobs. 

“I know this is tough, but you can’t run away from me. Your mom wanted you to stay with me so I could take care of you. I promised her. Please don’t do that again. Now, come on, let’s finish our job.” Graham got up and headed back to the graves, taking his rifle with him all the while keeping an eye on the street for more dogs. If he were lucky, the dead, rather than he or Bang, would attract predators.

“We need to be quiet out here, okay?” he said to Bang. The boy followed slowly behind him at a slight distance.

Graham knelt at the edge of his father’s grave, as if in a moment of prayer or meditation, then stood up and grabbed his shovel. When Bang walked over, Graham handed him a smaller shovel.

“Here, you can use this one,” but the boy just started shaking his head and crying again. “Fine,” Graham muttered in frustration. “Just sit down there, then.”

He reluctantly picked up a shovelful of dirt and slowly swung it over the hole. He started at his father’s feet and carefully dropped in the soil. He grabbed another shovelful, and another, but when it came time to cover his father’s face he was reluctant. He didn’t cry, but still he shook with grief.

The next thing he knew, the boy shouted out as a dog snarled close behind them. Graham looked up and saw two more. He reached for Bang and pulled him away just as the dog bit into the kid’s jacket. He flung the boy behind him, toward the edge of the grave. Bang scrambled away from the edge, bawling. Graham swung the shovel at the attack dog and smacked it in the head. He then grabbed his rifle, putting a bullet into the skull of the stunned dog.

“Get out of here!” he yelled at the other two.

With its teeth bared, head down, another dog came at him. The third tried to edge around him toward the boy. Graham shot the closest dog squarely in the forehead, so close that he felt the misty splatter of blood on his face. 

The last dog tried to take advantage by lunging at Graham, but it was too little too late. Using the gun barrel as a club, he knocked the dog to the side. He had just enough time to squeeze off a shot, wounding the dog in the hip. He cocked the rifle one last time and fired.

Nothing happened. He was out of ammunition, right when an enraged and wounded beast was coming after him. He tossed the rifle down and grabbed the shovel again, slipping in the mud and falling on his side. The injured dog locked its teeth into Graham’s pants leg.

He swung the shovel with all his might. There was a clang and a yelp, but he still felt the dog pulling on his pants. He swung again and finally heard silence. He scrambled to his feet.

Bang just stared at the dead animal. The growling had stopped, but the boy’s bawling did not; he was nearly hysterical. Graham dropped the shovel and grabbed him by the shoulders. “Shhh, be quiet, or more will come,” he told him in a harsh whisper. He left him there and quickly filled in his father’s grave, mounding the dirt deeply and looking all around him as he did.

He tossed the dogs’ bodies in a wheelbarrow, and then went back to kneel again at his father’s grave. Though Graham had never been a religious man, he hoped now that all of his loved ones were in a better place. His heart ached as he smoothed the mounded dirt with his rough hands to level it out.

“It’s so hard to say good-bye, Dad. I don’t know what I’m going to do without you.” Then he remembered what his father would expect of him. He stood, grabbed his rifle, and led the sobbing boy inside the house.

There was still the boy’s mother to bury, and dusk was quickly falling, so he knew he had to hurry. Bang immediately ran to the body, and Graham could tell this was going to be a battle.

He used a rag to wipe mud from the rifle quickly and reloaded it. “We have to bury her now,” Graham said when he was done.

“No!” the boy cried.

“We can’t leave her here. It’s getting dark, and we have to do it now,” Graham said gruffly, walking over to the couch. Bang put his arms around his mother as if to guard her. Graham pulled him back by the shoulders and said, “Look, kid, we have to do this right now. You can either help or you can stand back. Don’t make me lock you in a room. The least you can do for your mother right now is be strong and help me.”

Graham pulled the red floral quilt down from the back of the couch wrapped it around Hyun-Ok, much as he’d done with the others. At first Bang just stood there sobbing; then he began patting her wrapped legs. As Graham started to cover the rest of Hyun-Ok, he noticed a necklace with a medallion. He took it off her body as the boy watched. He then reached for Bang, who pulled back, clearly untrusting until he realized what Graham was trying to do. He let Graham put the chain over his head. The medallion landed with a thump against Bang’s narrow, bony chest.

“She has a book in her pocket there,” the boy said, pointing to her gray jacket. They were the first words he’d spoken other than his name and “no.”

Graham felt in her coat and found a small journal in a leather sleeve.

“Is this for you?” Graham asked Bang, who just shrugged, not knowing the answer.

“Well, you hold on to it for now,” Graham instructed. He continued to wrap Hyun-Ok but stopped when he got to her face.

“Go ahead and say good-bye,” he said to Bang.

The boy sniffled, and then kissed her on the cheek. He hugged her one last time and stroked her long silky hair.

Graham looked outside and realized the night was coming quickly. He pulled the boy back gently from his mother. “Okay, it’s time. We need to get her buried now.”

The boy watched as Graham covered her face with the quilt. “No, no, no!” he cried again. Bang tried to tear the quilt off, and Graham had to pull him away, restraining him. He knew this was heartbreaking for the boy, but he didn’t have a choice. 

“Look,” he said, “we have to bury her now or we’ll have more trouble with the dogs. Do you want that? Your mother wants you to be safe and stay alive. We can’t do that if there are dogs attacking us.”

Bang looked miserable and confused and just shook his head again.

“All right then, let’s get this done before dark,” Graham said, slinging his rifle over his shoulder.

He picked up Hyun-Ok’s light frame and led the small procession out to her last resting place. The boy followed, unable to suppress his grief. The closer Graham got to the grave, the more Bang struggled to pull the quilt away, and Graham ordered, “Knock it off!”

When they reached the grave, Graham lowered Hyun-Ok’s body to the grass at the edge of the hole. Bang pulled more of the quilt off, exposing her feet, and Graham pushed him away, landing him on his rear. 

Looking around first for any more predators, Graham jumped into the hole. “Give me a hand, kid,” he whispered, but the boy ignored him.

Graham pulled Hyun-Ok’s body into the grave and gently lowered her to the bottom. Bang scrambled over to the grave’s edge, again yelling, “No, No!”

Graham quit worrying about the kid and instead shoveled dirt into the grave as quickly as he could with Bang crying all the while. He felt awful having to do it this way, but the circumstances left him with no choice. Nightfall meant predators.

By the time Graham finished it was nearly dark, and Bang’s sobs had faded to whimpers. Graham, exhausted both emotionally and physically, began to smooth the mounded dirt atop the grave. To his surprise, Bang shoved his hands away and began smoothing it himself. Graham let him do it.

Another howl pierced the backyard silence, sending a chill up Graham’s spine. Not knowing the kid’s religious beliefs, he said, “Okay, kid, hurry up and say good-bye.”

The boy said something in what Graham assumed must be Korean, but he wasn’t sure. He knelt beside the boy and bowed his head. He hoped that bringing Hyun-Ok into his home had allowed her to pass peacefully. Out loud, so the boy could hear him, he said, “Just like I promised, I will look after your son.” Graham heard another howl, then reached over and picked up Bang, who leaned, now spent and tearless, against his shoulder.

What will be left when the world falls silent?

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