Among Others: 13th Chapter

No news. Just Chapter 13 of Among Others. Enjoy.

(Edited and polished 1/2/12)

Another week under her belt, her food stuffs stockpile dwindled to a level of necessary replenishing. Her wounds had not yet healed because of slow blood flow but they were closed, a welcome change from the rest of the week. She showered and dressed. Noticing the time on her phone, it was early morning. Several missed calls from Miller, each accompanied by their own individual voicemail.

Never heard it ring. Must have been on vibrate.

Miller’s voice was taut. He made no mention of the incident outside City Hall. Chances were, he knew nothing of it, though his voice suggested he feared something happened after she left. Collins had not panned the audience as she left; there were far more pressing concerns. Getting out alive.
Poor Chris. He must think I’m dead. Realizing what she just thought, Wouldn’t be much different from before, would it? He thinks I’m already dead. I should text him.
It irritated her how she struggled with the QWERTY keyboard. It became apparent that slowed blood flow also affects fine motor skills as well.
Hopefully this does not become a problem.
It took longer than she hoped but she mustered a choppy text to Miller explaining she was as fine as one could hope to be in her current state. Before she set her phone down to apply concealer for her trek across town, Miller responded.
“OMG Helen! You’re alive!”
Yes, I am, Chris. Somehow ‘OMG’ just seems to detract from the emotion. Oh well.
“Yes, I am. I just wanted to let you know,” she eventually typed back.
“Why did you not respond to my calls.”
Really? Can’t I put my cell down before you blaze through another text?
“Didn’t hear it. I’ve been doing my WRETCH duty of staying away from you NORMALS.”
This brazen comment kept her phone quiet long enough to finish applying concealer. Since the attack, she did not replace her mask. She no longer felt ugly in her own home.
A changed woman, she still could not walk in public without her mask. Not yet. Moreover, it took extra work to cover over the barely scabbed “W” carved into her forehead. When finished, it was about as visible as anything else on her face. Proud of her skillful concealment of the ‘W’, a certain sense of humiliation lingered somewhere betwen the ‘W’ and the skin-toned goo.
From close range it was obvious she wore enough makeup to make circus clowns jealous. At a distance, she might have better luck convincing passersby. It was more important to not raise suspicion than to convince anyone of anything.
She washed excess concealer off her spider veined hands. It was the first time she did not feel disgusted by their appearance.
Collins’ phone danced on the bathroom sink as it buzzed.
“You know I don’t feel that way, Helen,” Miller finally responded. His feelings were hurt. She felt bad, for how she made him feel, not for what she said. She meant what she said.
“I know, Chris. Don’t worry about me. I’ll be OK.”
“Let me know if there is anything I can do.”
“You’d be the only 1 I told.”
“Take care, Helen. Please.”
She signed off with one last text, “I’ll keep in touch. Till then, things might be quiet at my end. But don’t worry. I’m fine.”
Miller was a good person. Collins knew this well. But no Normal would understand her position. How could they? It was believed Wretches had no pulse or thought process or even moral impulse surge protectors. If such were true, Collins would not be conversing with her long-time friend or sitting in her apartment eating reasonably portioned meals at a table with proper utensils. She would hunt her Normal prey and eat them where they stood before their heart stopped beating. The thought of biting into a living creature whose heart still beat made her salivate.
No. Sorry, Helen, you’re not going to. That’s not who you are.
She was not that Other.
Checking her phone again for the time: mid-morning. Three hours passed between texting Miller and putting on her mask.
Maybe his texts came fewer and farther in between. Damn this slow reaction time. Of all the horrible side effects, why slow and stupid? Bedridden or actual death would be more appealing. Well, at least there will be fewer people at the store at this hour. I can get in and out, I think.
Fewer prying eyes, the better. Less people to convince that she was a Normal. She closed the door behind her, locked it and left.

No matter how often she walked those streets, the eerie quiet still tapped at her spine. Even the demonstrators were missing today.
Perhaps city officials did as they claimed they would, managing to keep us Wretches indoors allowing life for all those Normals to continue unabated.
Unwilling to chance someone noticing her slow demeanor, Collins continued to walk at a rushed pace. Just as she walked though the grocery store parking lot, she came upon four Wretches knelt over something in an alleyway.
Memories of her attack trickled into her mind. All the details of being held down, the sensations, the sour breath of the bearded man, the poor young girl beside her who did not fare so well. All of it flooded its way back into her head.
This was not the same alleyway, she made efforts to avoid that end of town. Not because of any fear for safety, real or imaginary, but because she did not want her mind to do what it was currently doing: recreating that incident. Passing several other alleys prior to this one without internal incident, the four Wretches bent over their prey must have triggered her memories. Rather than diverting her eyes or scurrying away to finish her route, she found herself pulled into them out of pure curiosity.

She stood back several feet to not catch their attention. Spending so much time focused on staying safe by avoiding people, one begins to fear even the ones they need not fear. What they stood over made her recoil: a large dog’s corpse, still steaming in the morning chill. As unhuman as the government had people believe, Wretches were human enough to lull man’s best friend into a sense of security before snapping its neck and eating its innards.
Collins twitched with unhinging urges she managed to contain thus far. To be sure, she knew of her urges; seeing what those temptations were capable of, though still tempered, scared her. She could not put her finger on it, but there was a difference between eating prepackaged meats from a market counter than scavenging the urban landscape for defenseless creatures to kill and tear apart. The process remained the same, but psychologically, Collins accepted the necessary evil of the former as a civilized form of her true cravings.
Collins moved forward again after the initial shock. One of the Wretches popped its head up like a lioness from her fresh kill. She was about the same age as Collins. Her face was just as blue from starving for oxygen as her own. Her eyes caught Collins’. As if judging the threat level Collins presented, she looked her up and down. Collins assumed the woman was perplexed to see a Normal but smell nothing sweet from her direction.
Oh my! Normals do smell sweet, don’t they? Keep it together, Helen.
Collins stared back at the woman. This was the first time she had come in contact with another Wretch since the outbreak. She wondered if she looked as barbaric as the woman in the pack did when she ate at her table. Blood dripping off of chunks of flesh dangling from the woman’s mouth made Collins hate who she was. Then the Wretch woman’s three other pack members looked up at the woman, then at what the woman was staring at: Collins.

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