Collins’ thoughts disappeared completely. The pain searing across her forehead and between her legs melted away as she knelt beside the corpse of the now completely dead girl. No sound emanated from either of them. The slight chill in the air gave rise to an opaque steam drifting off the entrails of the young girl. Collins watched this final presentation of life exhaled.
Unsure of what to do with a body no one cared to notice, Collins closed the dead girl’s eyelids. Then she dragged a crusty sheet from a pile of garbage within arm’s reach to cover the young girl’s remains. She did not cry. She did not feel.
One assumes great remorse in situations such as these. Perhaps one feels guilt for not helping when need arose. Some claim guilt for surviving while another does not. Most assume one feels pity for the child laying in such a state. After all, not only was she tortured beyond what average minds can comprehend but she will likely be forgotten, never to be thought of again by any living creature except the insects and vermin who will set to eating what is left of this poor thing. One may even believe blossoming thoughts of “Why” or adding a spiritual component of “Why, God, why?” None of this passed through Collins’ mind. It just lay dormant.
Walking home Collins’ pants, still clinging to one ankle, dragged behind her. In the fog of the moment, she did not care that her whole bottom half was exposed to the elements and to many prying eyes as she made her way into the street. Nobody ran to her aide. Rather, they stood still watching as she shuffled lazily until she got to her apartment complex. Even inside the complex where neighbors frequently disregard each other’s existence, those making their way to the entrance from their apartment or vise versa stopped and gawked at the disfigured corpse walking past them. It was not until Collins tried her door that she acknowledged her pants around her ankle. Her keys were in a pocket.
Collins stumbled into her apartment, instinctively turned on her television and walked away. Then she stopped near her bed. She stood there, still, for some time, listening to pundits mid-conversation discussing this plight on the nation’s people.
“Those with this disease who even have jobs need to be tested. We can’t just have these Wretches in positions they are no longer qualified to administer. Those jobs should go to hardworking people who deserve them. Not criminals unwilling to die.”
“How can we evaluate all Wretches in an economy where our government is struggling to balance budgets as it is,” asked the pseudo-reporter before insinuating, “You’re not suggesting the government spend more money, Governor. Are you?”
“It’s because of the current economic situation that it is so important to make sure valid, living, citizens are holding jobs. The more living breathing, warm-blooded citizens we get working again, the faster this economy will turn itself around. The sooner we can move on.”
“I think the Governor’s point,” a second pundit broke in, “is well put. But I think something needs to be made very clear here. These Retards…”
“Now that language isn’t really necessary, Congressman,” interjected the reporter.
“Don’t get me wrong. I would never use this language in discussing anyone with a serious physical condition. I mean, I have a nephew who is developmentally challenged. I know what he goes through. I’ve been there. But it’s the appropriate terminology for something like this that has a dead body with a dead or dying brain that is retarding the movement of businesses around the country and retarding the growth of this economy. Sometimes the truth hurts. And right now the truth is that these Retards are hurting the public at large. I’m not going to stand by as hardworking citizens are literally killed by Retards just because some liberal cry baby wants honest, hardworking citizens to pay for these selfish Wretches. That’s why, if I’m elected President, we will have no reason to test Retards, Wretches or whatever you want to call them. They will have to either live like everyone else or die like everyone else. ”
“What we need to understand,” broke in the Governor, “is I don’t hate Wretches. My administration works closely with them. I want them to succeed. But their refusal to speak the language, to try to work, and quite frankly, to want to do anything productive, shows their lack of compassion for the greater good. I mean, come on, they are already neglecting their loved ones by refusing to die. They are, I don’t need to remind the audience, undead people. I will continue these efforts if elected to the highest office of the land.”
“You mean undead things. They cease to be humans the moment they go against human nature, and worse, against the law.”
“We need to remember,” broke in the Congressman, “These are not law abiding citizens. After all, it still hasn’t been proven these Wretches are not terrorists. And, frankly, any person who produces terror among a nation of people is a terrorist. We need to treat them as such. If elected, I will do just that.”
“You wrote last night, Congressman,” the reporter started, “in a press release that quote ‘good solid countrymen should be put in these jobs.’ How do you intend to do this without raising taxes on those same hardworking people?”
“It’s simple. Demand employers fire all these infected Retards and put qualified individuals in their place.”
“But what do we do with the Wretches employers fire?”
“Frankly, I don’t care. And I don’t think anyone else will either.”
“But just last year your campaign focused on fairness and equality for all, even the infirm. What do you say to critics who suggest you are flip-flopping for votes in the coming election?”
“What is unfair is that these people refuse to die. Look, I’m scared of dying just as much as the next person. But the sooner these Retards stop suffocating our economy and get out of our way, the better off we’ll all be.”
“We’ll have to leave it at that for today,” the reporter began his daily end message.
As the reporter’s voice trailed off behind patriotic theme music, Collins drifted to the bathroom to assess her situation and clean up. What she found would haunt her mind from that point forth.
All the skin on her forehead was still intact. Instead, the bearded man branded her with a well-carved, almost artistic “W”. No blood trickled from the open wound. Each slice simply separated pale blue skin with midnight blue canyons cut through her forehead in the shape of a W. She touched it. It stung like a fresh cut. Still, no blood.
A shower. I need a shower. Get out of these clothes and wash all this away.
She puller her blouse and bra off being careful to not brush against her tender forehead wound. Trying twice to kick her pants off her foot, she sat down on the toilet to pry them off but jumped, gasping for air as everything between her legs that touched the toilet seat lid burned as if the lid was a prepped branding iron. Collins settled for using her free foot to hold down her pant leg while tugging her other foot until it came loose.
The shower water was warm. Her forehead and thighs screamed in throbbing pain as cleansing water connected with them. Every ounce of her being wanted to sit and let herself be taken by the water, enveloped in fits of tearful rage. But her wounds refused to allow such frivolities. Though her heart beat at a significantly reduced rate, each pulse sent shots of unspeakable anguish through her body. Her attackers had long since run off but they left behind horribly painful reminders.
Collins stood in the shower with her face against the spray. She did not want to touch any part of her body. What did not hurt to touch made her feel dirty for not being painful to touch. She could not reach out to the shower walls to hold up her weak knees, she feared reaching out and finding the bearded man, or worse, the young girl still choking on her last breath. The longer Collins remained in the shower, the less she cried. Soon her tears dried up completely leaving her soaked and emotionless.
How much time passed in the shower, Collins could not gauge. When she opened her eyes again it felt like she woke from a long slumber. Confused, she turned off the water. Standing staring at something far beyond the shower’s tiled wall, she realized it was not fear building up inside her cold gut. Something else entirely fermented. Whatever it was fed off the spastic pulses of pain in her forehead and between her thighs. Rather than stealing energy from her, her wounds provided her new found energy. As the pain increased so did the creature growing inside her.
Sleep did not come easy that night. Between the growing beast pitted in her stomach and throbbing wounds, her thoughts wandered slowly from the bearded man to the young girl, to the mobs she witnessed beat infected people probably killing them in the process as well. Next morning Collins noticed she left the front door open a crack. She hated open doors. Yet something inside told her not to care any more, that there would never be another closed door.