Days passed. Collins did not step foot outside her studio apartment. Fear had nothing to do with her solitude. Rather, something brewing inside her kept her in place. Whatever it was, it perched on her tongue but refused to budge. She felt it sitting there. In time she knew that dark passenger would blossom. She just needed to wait for it.
Her recent eating habit turned routine. She knew now who, or what she was. A Wretch to the world at large. Abomination not by choice. However, none of this meant one did not maintain civility. Just because one appears barbaric and backward to others does not mean one truly exists within a lesser scope of ethics, morals or basic principles. Collins still sat at her small two-person table eating with proper utensils. She cleaned her dishes, dried them, and put them away. There was still something she thanked every so often for her blessings, as seldom as they were presented as of late. Blood still pumped through her chilled veins, though not as often. Pain receptors still electrocuted her at appropriate times. She bled and breathed like other people, though to a lesser degree. Why, then, was she the outsider? Why was she the Wretch?
Then she remembered portions of her research.
Once one realizes they are the Other, the person who can never be good, never be clean, realize this, and embrace it, only then does one break free of the chains. It is not the role of the Outsider to comply with another set of mores because another does not approve. It is the role of the Outsider to demand equality. Equality, not tolerance. And not erasure or degradation through tags of backward barbarism.
They want a Wretch? I am a Wretch.
Twenty-four hour news channels regurgitated the same angry rhetoric. Wretches were taking jobs other, more qualified, citizens could occupy. These abominations were primordial humans with no impulse control, no morals. With such diminished mental capacities they ceased to make reasonable decisions. It then became the greater society’s obligation to care for these Wretches making appropriate choices for them.
A Congress full of fresh blood passes new laws. A new President signed each without batting an eye, or a head.
Wretches were obligated to resign from their current positions to make room for unemployed Normals, who were more capable. If they did not give resignation, such decisions would be decided for them. With lack of impulse control, they were obligated to segregate from Normal, able bodied citizens. It would be all too easy to walk past a Normal person, feel the urge to eat, and attack that Normal person.
Publicly, at least initially, Wretches were suggested to segregate for their own safety. Normal people need not hold themselves responsible for their actions if Wretches were needlessly putting others in harms way. It is, after all, the Wretch’s choice to enter public spaces without proper escort.
Collins despised listening to this banter. Her mental capacity was hardly compromised. She saw the unnecessary hatred and unwarranted fears. Still she listened. Her television was never turned off any more. The more she listened to it, the strong the creature inside her grew. Soon it would reach maturity. Then she would know what to do. She felt it.
She began rationing her meat reserves. The fewer trips to the grocery store or outside at all, the less likely something negative would result. With slowed blood flow comes slowed metabolism. Her true hunger was always present. Sitting down to eat an entire Thanksgiving meal of raw turkey, ground round, ribs, giblets, and various steaks filled her stomach but never fought back her urges. Those remained. So, it was pointless to give in to the urges except for necessity.
Still human by any medical definition, at least until that too was changed to meet political standards, she had to eat. That did not necessitate she had to eat constantly, or large portions, only what was necessary for survival.
She wondered if nuns felt similar urges and if the urges ever subside over time. If so, there was hope for her on some far off horizon. If not, she was not sure how long she could continue this charade. Even the best intentioned people fall off the wagon.
That is what repentance is all about, after all. Right? Forgiveness for indiscretions brought on by ingrained urges.
Pundits continued on about different ideas of what to do with these Wretches that cannot function with rational thought. This discussion was spliced with footage of Wretches meandering city streets, heckled by demonstrators of CAWZ or Citizens Against Wretched Zombies.
Other laws passed suggested a level of tolerance. It was now illegal for Normals to kill an ‘Infected’. However, the state began putting to death ‘Infecteds’ for any crime that put them behind bars, and some crimes that would not have put them behind bars. They had already broken the law-natural and legal-the state simply protected its nation from those unwilling to comply.
Creating words from nothing like using ‘Infecteds’ was a sign of tolerance. Whatever caused this condition, it was not choice. But tolerance should never be an end point which one strives for. Tolerance places temporary bandages where stitches and medication, if not amputation, is necessary.
The word ‘Wretch’ on the other hand, separates Infecteds from the rest, suggesting instead a sort of Otherness. Adding insult to injury, ‘Wretch’ includes cartoon characteristics of thoughtless beings set on global domination by eating brains of living passersby. None of this is true.
While perusing books on her shelves, her television still cackling on about Wretch attacks but only showing footage of the ‘afterthought’ of demonstrators attacking Wretches, she stumbled on a book that, though she struggled with it, at least she could read. It used less complex sentence structures. Thumbing through several pages of underlines from earlier readings, she realized what she needed to do. Something clicked in Collins like an unseen being changing the channel inside her. Suddenly, her mind worked again. Not to its former glory, of course, but its absence of thought drifted into sound.