Among Others: 16th Chapter

This zombie e-saga is getting into uncharted territory for me for bunches of reasons. I’ve only ever written a story this long once before. And that story STUNK! This one only smells bad. Real bad. Second, the ideas and the characters are completely new for me. I’ve never written a female main character and I’ve never written such disturbingly graphic scenes in my short writing history.

Without further adieu, here is Chapter 16 of Among Others:

Collins did not know what to do with the coming days so she passed time in her now overcrowded studio apartment teaching her four new guests Sign Language. The old man wearing overalls caught on quickly and was her only beacon of hope in anyone in the group learning anything substantial.

The young man with the broken nose sobbed when he was conscious. Where his two front teeth were, no longer bled, but his nose was still broken. With his permission, Collins attempted to reset the bridge of his nose. The crack and pop sounds it made brought them both to vomiting. However, it did look better than after the fall but nowhere near its former normalcy.

The woman with knotted red hair tried to pay attention to Collins as she progressed through simple and common words in Sign but it was like building sandcastles with tweezers. Within two weeks, though, the woman started speaking back to Collins in single word responses.
The fat man, who Collins now realized smelled of sardines and musty gym lockers, contented himself to sitting watching television. Moving only to scratch himself or roll to the bathroom, Collins left he be. Feeding an entire household also became challenging.
Not having prepared meals for more than one person in close to two decades did not matter, nor was it important to ensure everyone liked what was on the menu three times a day. These otherwise common problems were mute points when feeding refugees who were accustomed to scavenging for scraps of tainted meat morsels in trash bins along city back streets or gnawing on dead animal carcasses in alleyways. Besides, cooking was also obsolete.
Difficulty stemmed from a kitchen table, or the card table that doubled as a kitchen table, that only had two chairs, and an apartment too small to dish out meal portions to each of her four guests and herself without dropping something on the floor, breaking a glass, starting a shoving match between the fat man and the young man with the broken nose when he was conscious.
None of them were satisfied with their portions. Collins knew this by the look on their faces when she handed them their plates at every meal. Still they each looked up at and thanked her with what Sign they could manage. That is, except for the fat man in the white t-shirt. He expressed his dissatisfaction with more force. Pointing to his engorged stomach before throwing his plate to the floor. Being plastic plates were cheaper than ceramic, the extra plates Collins purchased were durable.
The fat man would then make his way to what counted for a kitchen to find larger snacks. This continued for the first week before the young man with the broken face, who had until then done little more than sob in a corner due to lack of pain killers, stood between the fat man and the cupboards he was reaching for to pillage. The young man’s glare at the fat man would have scared any hardened criminal and turned away the hungriest human except his missing teeth gave him an appearance one could only pity. That was the last time the fat may threw away his portioned meal.

Collins knew the rations she dished out were small, almost insulting, but they were necessary to limit the frequency of her having to travel out of the apartment. They could not be trusted to not raise neighbor suspicions while she was gone. Then again, if she piled each plate a foot high, their bellies would still beg for more. What all their stomachs really wanted Collins could not, or more accurately, would not, offer. Not yet, anyway.
The time was not right. She did not have their full allegiance. Loyalty was paramount to any group, especially one of this small size. Nor did they understand enough Sign to guarantee successful communication.

As the days passed, the young man with the broken face sobbed less and less. After a while, he even stopped flinching every time he chewed food during dinners. Collins forgot what the young man looked like before smashing his face three weeks ago.
Showers happened in shifts after the sun set every evening. Nobody in the studio apartment ventured out into the world or exerted themselves enough to break sweats but Collins decided that, in large part because of the fat man who smelled of sardines and musty gym lockers, everyone had to shower daily to keep from raising concerns from neighbors. Besides, just because Normals believed they were barbaric, did not mean they had to act like it.
Like children, all four had to be poked and prodded toward the bathroom to shower. Only the old man his routine. Once in, everyone took extraordinarily long showers. So much so Collins had to set time limits and knock on the bathroom door as their respective time was up. Between ensuring fair portions at mealtime and herding everyone into the shower every evening, she found herself exhausted. The last one to shower, she just sat on the toilet trying to collect her thoughts, the few that she had. She even found herself napping for a few minutes here and there.

She did not know how long they could hold out in her small apartment or what she was waiting for. The two Wretches she met in the back of her complex might be dead for all she knew. Out of the bathroom she faced the television the fat man was watching, 24-hour news piped in loudly. She listened as pundits barked about how Wretches were taking good jobs from hard working Normals throughout the country.
Self righteous A-holes.
As the brouhaha took place just off camera, live streams of city blocks around the country played. Protesters chanting “Our country, our jobs” and “Go home, leave us alone”. The camera panned crowds of protesters before nonchalantly making sure to get several wandering Wretches in frame.
Why don’t they do anything? Why do they just walk around like they don’t know what’s going on.
None of the Wretches in frame took notice of the Normals screaming at them. And, if they did, they certainly gave no indication of it. This only lead to louder chants from demonstrators who were then drowned out by pundits complaining about how Wretches serve no good purpose to this great country except to bring down morale and live well on Social Security benefits they never earned. So called apologists for ethical treatment of Wretches spoke only of how Wretches simply do not understand that what they are doing is hurting their country. Apologists explained that it was the duty of Normals to reeducate them.
“In essence,” one apologist stated, “it is our obligation as forward thinking peoples to help Wretches see the error of their ways, learn the language again, and reintegrate back into society becoming productive citizens once again.”
“They don’t want to learn to be more like us. They want to use us like leaches on the back of this great nation. Besides, they are nothing more than carriers for a disease spread by terrorists.”
The camera broke away to a Congressman speaking from underneath his anti-bacterial mask, “I have introduced a bill that I hope will be voted on by week’s end. This new bill, if passed, will make English the official language of our great nation.”
If Collins’ slowed blood flow could boil it would have done so. Tonight would be the night. No more sitting around wondering what to do or when to do it.
To prepare for this evening’s plan, she did not feed her new roommates. It was essential that they be as hungry and irritable as wretchedly possible. They took no notice of their lack of food as they appeared to have no functioning time reference. Instead, they became irritable, shoving each other. Collins intervened a few times when the fat man and the woman with knotted red hair started slapping one another. All except the old man wearing overalls.
The old man sat at the kitchen table and stared down at his blue-veined, skeletal hands. He did not appear sad to Collins so she left him to his own thoughts, whatever and how infrequent they may be.
She knew the other three were easily moved, easily swayed to do what she wanted them to do. Or, in the case of the greater community, what the greater community did not want them to do. They were easily molded.
If the mass public can be swayed to believe Wretches are something other than normal human beings with needs, wants and desires, there’s no reason Wretches cannot be easily swayed to act against that public, whether or not they want to.
Perhaps if she manipulated enough Wretches to stand up and be counted, she could reenter society. As it was, she and all her fellow Wretches were forced to live in secrecy, accused of the worst of all terrible things in an industrialized society, of a lack of ambition. Tonight would show, at the very least, that lack of ambition was not a forgone conclusion among Wretches’ character traits.
Collins gathered her guests together, “Are you hungry?”
They all nodded, rubbing their bellies like starving children waiting for Thanksgiving dinner prayers to end. The old man just looked up from his hands.
“Do you know why you are always hungry no matter how much you eat?”
Three of the four shook their heads. The old man wearing overalls nodded slowly as a tear trickled down his cheek.
“Why,” she asked the old man.
“We don’t want meat.”
“What do we want?”
“Human flesh.”
The fat man never stopped rubbing his large stomach, “I am hungry.”
“We all are,” Collins told them. “But not tonight. Tonight we feast.”
The eyes of the woman with knotted red hair widened, “But we can’t. It’s wrong.”
“No. What is wrong is that we are forced to live in the shadows while Normals rule over us.”
Collins stopped long enough to take a deep breath, “The sun is down. People will be sleeping soon. We will break into two homes and feast.”
She was not sure if it was fear, worry, or confusion sitting dimly on their faces.
“But we will want to hide our faces. You will all have to wear the concealer I wore when we met.”
The young man with the broken face shook his head, “No make up.”
“Okay, then, you can live like this. Hidden. Scared. Worried about what others think of you.”
He resisted no more.
She pulled containers of concealer out of her pockets and handed them to each of her guests.
“Put this on. There is a mirror in the bathroom if you need it. If you want help. Ask me. I will help you.”
The fat man and the woman with knotted red hair slathered the concealer all over their faces in excitement. The young man with the broken face examined the container in his hand before looking back up at Collins. She nodded to him to get started. The old man wearing overalls shuffled off to the bathroom opening his container as he went along.
It took her four guests longer than she hoped to cover their faces and present themselves for approval. Even more time was wasted as Collins had to touch-up most of their masks. Only the old man wearing overalls managed to not need any touching up by Collins. Checking her cell, the time was half passed eleven. Plenty of time to find the perfect homes to invade.

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